Monday, February 27, 2012


This "Downton Abbey" thing. I'm watching with 50 percent interest and 50 percent sense of obligation to keep up with the conversation and 50 percent for Maggie Smith. I love epic television shows, especially to watch in bed, and especially those without too much head-stomping and woman-assaulting (those months of "The Sopranos," "The Wire," and "Boardwalk Empire" were a nightmare factory.) And I loved "Big Love," so, you know, I can get sucked into the melodrama of socially restrictive, kind-of-incestuous white people trying to hoard their questionably gained fortunes. I want to believe. I really do. But this is the show everyone is twittering about?


Drink every time Cora does the head-bowed eyes-tilted up lips-closed smile. This is one of her two expressions, the other one being when she forgets and actually raises her head like a normal person and looks concerned. Probably surprised at the view.

Drink every time the Earl has an outburst of righteous rage as he once again makes an ethically obvious decision. It's like the President at the climax of an American action movie, every time. Except on a tiny, sputtering English scale.

Drink every time you see Matthew's mouth poised partially open, his tongue hovering shyly just inside like a little pink fish. (Once you notice, this happens hideously often.)

Drink every time someone says "ma-MA" or "pa-PA." Then shoot me.

I think watching the hopelessly addictive "Manor House" some years back may have skewed me hard. It's the PBS reality show set in an Edwardian manor in the same period. After you watch the poor staff working 16-hour-days to the point of total physical and nervous breakdown, while the upstairs family say things like "I've never felt so cared for in my life" and take to calling their tween son "Master Jaunty" (seriously),  the shine really goes off the landed gentry. 

Also it probably doesn't help that right before "Downton" I watched season one of "Homeland." Say what you will about its politics (I have a whole abandoned post that attempts to but I gave up), that show was so debilitatingly exciting that anything afterward was doomed to feel limp and banal. I quaked through the finale. Before that, it was two seasons of "Treme," a show full of pleasure and unruliness and ramshackle joy.

Speaking of which: is there any pleasure in Downton Abbey? I am hard pressed to think of a situation where people actually seem to enjoy themselves for more than a moment. (Maybe Edith driving the tractor.) It is all genteel false smiles, or small suppressed private smiles, and the rare wicked smirk. How anyone's Anglophilia survives the show intact is beyond me.

I mean, I like it. I'll keep watching it in bed until PBS takes away the free stream. The widespread fervor just confuses me.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I prefer to go to movies knowing as little as possible about their plots, preferably nothing, so I went into Mosquita y Mari with only a few keywords I'd scanned from the local film festival program--teenage girls, Los Angeles, Chicana, queer. I liked the sound of it but what is more predictable than an indie-film coming-of-age story? I came expecting it to be decent, flawed, another sympathetic sigh of a lesbian movie.

Instead, it was just good, good, good, all the way through, the kind of movie that fills your chest so the weight lasts for hours afterward. The film is about two fifteen-year-old girls in the Huntington Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. They go to high school, they study together, they find an abandoned chop shop that becomes their secret hangout, they pile onto a dirt bike, they share headphones, they wear tight black jeans every day, and they fall into an intense friendship. I have never seen a film that captured this kind of teen girl friendship so perfectly, the love and fascination and tension and jealousy of it.

The word "gay" never appears. None of the same old tropes of queer coming-of-age stories are recycled here. Instead a whole complex world, personal and cultural, engulfs you. I don't want to say anything about the plot or even post the trailer here because it contains some of my favorite moments in the film which are so subtle. But go see it. It is pitch-perfect in its nuance and understated intensity.