penny dreadful: so damn wonderful

Penny Dreadful promotional shot

penny dreadful promotional shot

I spent the whole weekend binge-watching seasons one and two of Penny Dreadful. It’s been a long time since I was so into a show, it speaks to my little black heart. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you do.

I hadn’t had a chance to see it before this weekend because I don’t have Showtime, but they offered a free weekend of shows on Hulu, so I dove in. I wasn’t so sure I’d like it as I got into the first episode – it seemed they relied a lot on the big blood sprays for impact, and I hate that. I don’t want the whole budget spent on gratuitous effects, you know? Shock value is not my thing, I much rather have a great script and intriguing plot. Luckily, those things came through enough for me to stick with it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I love that it plays with all those primal, mythical dangers and fears that keep us tense and looking over our shoulders – vampires, werewolves, mad scientists and monsters, god, the devil, witches, and ill wishes. It respectfully references classics like Frankenstein and Dorian Gray, and stories based on fact like that of Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory, while remaining true to the character of the original stories. It doesn’t over do, because these things have impact enough in their primal state without beefing up from over-enthusiastic writers and directors who don’t have faith in their audience’s appreciation of well-told tales. In fact, the stripped down impact of these stories are what make them that much more believable, and keep our senses on alert.

Penny Dreadful has very good actors, interesting and fully developed characters, wonderful sets, and great atmosphere. The language is not dumbed down, and they do their research. These aren’t the cheap, melodramatic stories of the original penny dreadfuls, these are classic and classy. It’s just so much FUN! I’m looking forward to season three.

And I think I’ll add an appreciative little post script here for one of the most beautiful, most sensual and real lovemaking scenes between two beautiful boys that I have ever seen.

the old romantics

Since Saturday is Valentine’s Day, let’s talk romance, shall we?

turner had a thing for turbulent seas and turbulent landscapes sprinkled with a few idylls, just for confusion's sake

turner had a thing for turbulent seas and turbulent landscapes, sprinkled with a few idylls, just for confusion’s sake

Romance as in the period of Romanticism in philosophy and art that came about out of the French Revolution and Industrialization. Yes, the French Revolution and Industrialization. I didn’t know that.

I didn’t know much of anything about Romantic art and literature, only that it involved Keats and the Shelleys and Turner and, apparently, Goya? None of which appeal to me, so I had little reason to explore it. However. I came across a three-part documentary on the Romantic period (1800 – 1850), and found it completely fascinating. It’s called, funnily enough, The Romantics, and the three parts are Liberty, Nature, Eternity. It’s written and presented by Peter Ackroyd, a well-known critic of English history and culture. Oh, and includes some very good looking actors playing the roles of Keats and Shelley, and David Tennant is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who shows up first and was a big plus for me. He’s what kept me watching for those first few minutes, and by the time his role was finished, I was completely sucked in.

And now I come to the part in which I’m asking myself why the hell I’m writing about a documentary on the Romantics, apart from the flimsy excuse of Valentine’s Day? Well, because I love it when something unexpected shows up to pull at me and interest me in something I previously gave little thought to. True love, that is. Because everything is so much more complex than it may seem on the surface, and finding that out is fun. I found out The Romantics weren’t just some flopsy poets and painters fluttering by, leaving soppy poems and strange paintings in their wake. It’s an entire movement, which, for the time, was completely radical. Dangerously so, to the powers that be. Atheism, cynicism, protest and drug experimentation and free love – it’s all here, and it all stems from huge changes that were happening in Europe, Britain, and yes, the United States, too. It was a sort of domino effect brought on by the masses being fed up to the eyeballs by the gentry, and taking matters into their own hands, for good and ill, along with and followed up by advances in science and technology and a whole new aesthetic. The jail sentences for daring to think differently, and simultaneously for the inherent guilt of privileged birth; the slaughter of thousands by the very convenient and efficient new toy, the guillotine; the renewed appreciation for nature brought on by industrialization, the sorrows of child labour and people used as cogs in the machines – it’s all pretty intense, and it begets some intense responses from the thinkers and artists of the period.

goya just freaks me the fuck out

goya just freaks me the fuck out

I joked about the actors, but really, they play a helpful role in enhancing all of these things for the audience, not through tepidly role-played days in the life, which doesn’t happen, thank god (or rather thank Ackroyd) but by offering quotations from the words and thoughts of the time. Romantics are kind of tittered at today, foisted off as fodder for adolescents in the throes of hormone rages, but it just isn’t so. Wordsworth and Coleridge and Blake and Diderot pointed out some pretty egregious pitfalls in the roads mankind were taking, and thanks be to them for it. Who else but the thinkers and poets and painters do such a thorough and graphic job of reflecting back the failings of human nature? And the triumphs, too, because of course it wasn’t all blood in the streets and soot covered children. It was progression.

This is a most brilliantly done exploration of a time that abruptly and sometimes violently pushed society forward, right into the place we now find ourselves. It’s helpful to know how we got here, and perhaps gives us a glimpse of, or at least an inkling about, where we’re headed.

less of a drag, more of a race

a tribute to jinkx monsoon as little edie

a tribute to jinkx monsoon as little edie

So far I’m still on with season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I enjoyed the first two seasons, but three, four, and five left me tepid so I wasn’t counting on six to hold my interest. But I’m on board with this one, the queens are diverse enough to keep things interesting and I find redeeming qualities in most of them.

Last night was the Snatch Game episode, everyone’s favourite, although usually there’s really only one or two on the panel who have any chops at all, so I never got that. We made out better this time around, though there could’ve been a few little tweaks. Time for my unsolicited and too-late opinions.

Bianca as Judge Judy and Adore as Anna Nicole were wonderful. I was more impressed with Adore’s performance because Judge Judy was an obvious fit for Bianca. Courtney should’ve been Ukrainian Human Barbie, don’t you think? She could’ve switched out of her naturally bubbly spirit and taken things into plasticville, talked about her air and light diet, and pulled it off beautifully. Milk is the personality twin of Phyllis Diller – she could’ve even brought that pinocchi-nose of hers into play! And Laganja should’ve channelled personality twin Mariah Carey. I love Darienne, she has chops but I don’t think we’re seeing the best of her. If she would’ve gone a little more pop culture forward with someone like Rebel Wilson, she would’ve stood out more. She could’ve at least focused on a parody of current day Paula Deen, apologizing awkwardly over and over again for everything she said, and sticking her fingers up some cream filled Twinkie holes for a new ladyfinger dessert. Oh, Gia. I don’t know about her. She needed someone to whom she could apply her natural snark, but I can’t think of a celeb fit. Which I guess kind of sums things up. I liked Joslyn as Theresa Guidice, but she proved she could’ve been a better Fran Drescher than Courtney. And Ben was surprisingly the perfect Maggie Smith. I think Trinity could’ve pulled off Nicki Minaj if she had focused on her twitter personality.

So here’s where I think we’re headed with the top three: Ben and Bianca, of course. For contenders for the third spot, at this point it’s a four-way between Darienne, Adore, Milk, and Joslyn. Courtney will win Miss Congeniality, she’s such a package of sweet cheerfulness and girl power support.

I miss April.

looking for now, losing out later

Jonathan Groff as Patrick, Raúl Castillo as Richie

Jonathan Groff as Patrick, Raúl Castillo as Richie

I caught up with Looking last night, thanks to my free-for-three months gift of HBO due to a cable billing boo-boo. Damnit, I’m getting hooked on this program so when my time is up, I’ll be facing some serious withdrawal. Program pushers. They aren’t being generous, they’re being sneaky! But I can’t afford it, so although I was glad to hear that Looking has been renewed for a second season, I’m already grumbling about missing out.

I wasn’t completely sold for the first few episodes, and I was especially unhappy with Mister Patrick’s shady reaction to Richie, the charming guy he meets on a bus. Patrick is supposed to be from Colorado, and yet, he has an oddly ignorant reaction to Richie being Latino. What? Realistically, Patrick would have had a much greater chance of meeting and dating Latino men in Denver than he would in San Francisco. So why is he acting like he’s from Ohio? It’s inaccurate, and frankly, a very off-putting aspect of his character. He’s either completely oblivious, or a complete dick.

But overall, I found these men to have potential for developing into complex and complete characters. I like the quieter tone the show is taking, because we don’t need more riotous and goofy shows about gay people. I got my fill of that in the 90s. This is a fresher take on friendships and relationships, and doesn’t shy away from the many facets of these characters’ personalities, good and bad. Could Patrick be racist in spite of what we presume, having grown up in Colorado, would have been wide exposure to Latino culture and people? Yes. And I’m interested in seeing what he does with that, having met a perfectly sweet and adorable man who happens to be very attached to and proud of his culture.

Russell Tovey

Russell Tovey

I am pleasantly surprised to see Russell Tovey on the series, and find it kind of amusing that everyone is gushing over how hot, hot, hot he is, considering his previous roles in a number of British programs as the awkward one, sweet but definitely not gush-worthy. The boy had grown up nicely, though. Great guns!

I’m interested in all of their stories, and find the secondary characters as filled with potential for development as the core group is. Too bad I won’t be seeing series two as it happens. Damn you, evil enabling cable provider. Damn you.

i sing the body electric

Whitman-leavesofgrassI recently watched a wonderful biography of Walt Whitman (American Masters). I knew beforehand about the significance of his lifelong work, Leaves of Grass, but I didn’t know anything about Whitman outside of what he presented through his poetry. He is the inspirational icon we all need, and this is why.

He came from a lower middleclass background, with little to inspire hope for something more. His father had big dreams, but became more and more bitter and unbalanced as he continually failed to fulfil them. He wasn’t a good example of perseverance and grace in the face of setbacks. But it didn’t discourage Walt. He maintained his own visions of success, incredibly lofty ones.

As a young man, he marched into the middle of New York with the idea of changing the world through his poetry. What? Really? Who the hell thinks they have the ability, much less the opportunity, to change the world through verse? Walt did. And though it took a lot longer than he had hoped, he did end up making a huge impact. Perhaps not world-changing, but certainly inspiring and thought provoking and incredibly forward thinking.

His first edition of Leaves of Grass was a small collection of poems, self published, with an irreverent full body sketch of Whitman in plain clothes and an almost cocky stance as the first visual. It was a “here I am” presentation that went directly opposite of the usual portraits of poets in their best clothes, and looking dignified in a cameo sort of way. It was a proper warning for what the reader could expect.

His poems gave the same full exposure to the workings of the human animal, mind, body, and spirit. There especially was a great focus on the body, the beauty of its functions, and how cleverly bodies fit together to precisely express what it is to be emotional, sensual, physical. And he didn’t hold back on claiming the same sensations, the same achievements of physical fulfilment between a man and a man. Whoa. In 1855, that took some great big balls. But if anyone was packing, it was the poet of the people, Walt Whitman.

The sheer force of the sensual experiences that he put forth – sensual in every possible connotation – brought tears to my eyes. Because how does a person live so boldly, so all-embracing, so fully engaged with the world? It would tear me apart to attempt such a thing. But his full-on embrace was the driving force behind his belief that he could be the Great American Poet, that he could put an end to the ills of mankind, including slavery, through his words. That he could so beautifully express love in all its varieties, and the sensuality of the grass beneath our feet, and the sky above our heads, and how fortunate we are to be surrounded by innumerable opportunities to engage our senses.

If that isn’t the world-changing model of how we should grab on and experience life – not just as observers, but as wholly committed participants… why finish that thought? It unequivocally is.

doing the unstuck

I recently saw an interview with Robert Smith on youtube. You know, Robert Smith – of The Cure? That 80s gothlite band? That was my lifeblood as a young’un, that was. Now, either I had forgotten what his speaking voice was like, or I had never heard it before, because it struck me rather bluntly that Noel Fielding’s character of Richmond on The IT Crowd is totally a parody of my beloved Robert. Am I slow on the uptake – did everyone else already know this?

Listen:

Robert….

Richmond….

These are the types of things I ponder when I’m doing the unstuck – trying to get the words out. This is how my mind hops around, landing on things that may or may not intersect with my needs. For instance, Robert Smith’s lyrics have very little to do with blue y-front briefs. Or so it would seem….

Also, I’m a little in love with Moss. Just so you know.