Friday, March 26, 2010

Better Than Expected

As the only male biped in the house, I get subjected to some things which, to be fair, would not be my first choice of activity. Tea parties, makeovers, crafts involving glitter glue and suchlike. I do not say this by way of complaint, as I am given a tremendous amount of latitude by the ladies of my household, in addition to Costco-sized portions of tolerance. The fact that my children repeatedly clamour to watch "The Trouble with Tribbles" and my wife not only endures our nerdy nonsense but actually plays D&D with us makes the aforementioned tribulations seem the merest of trifles. Just tonight, Fenya stayed up past bedtime to finish watching Harryhausen's work in Clash of the Titans with me while I typed this.

The same applies to our viewing habits, for the most part. There's far more things I watch that they won't (or probably shouldn't) than vice-versa. I have learned to overcome my initial resistance to a couple of films, and even when the movie hasn't necessarily been to my taste, the time spent together more than makes up for it. To be sure, there is a certain degree of shot-calling needed here; I have managed to thus far steer clear of the Hannah Montana/ High School Musical variety, but I was only too happy to watch Hairspray, which not only has some catchy tunes, but is delightfully subversive for a mainstream musical.

There have been a couple of pleasant surprises along the way. About a month ago, we watched the 2007 remake of St. Trinian's. I only had foreknowledge of St. Trinian's after working with a bunch of Brits at Games Workshop while living in Toronto, and it was referenced a number of times after Games Workshop released a line of female warriors called the Sisters of Battle. Most of them remembered a series of movies from the '50s and '60s, but these were actually based on a series of cartoons by Ronald Searle. Racy stuff for the time, in many ways.

The movie is a fairly standard issue New Girl Versus the Cliques, Bad News Bears sort of scenario, but it won me over mostly by being neither as squeaky clean as I'd expected, nor as raunchy as I feared, striking a nice balance that didn't make me cringe too much whilst watching it with my daughters. When the New Girl gets her first look at what awaits her at St. Trinians School for Wayward Girls, she gets on the phone to her father and tells him "It's like Hogwarts for pikeys!" which made me laugh quite a bit. Rupert Everett does a great turn in Alastair Sims's shoes as both the headmistress and her brother, getting lines like, "Ah, Ms Bagstock, your girlish laughter hit me like the lash of a hunting crop." Colin Firth is always enjoyable to watch, especially with Everett in drag as the foil, and Stephen Fry also shows up a a quiz show host during the finale. It's a good time with a surprising bit of edge for a PG show, and I think I can even recommend it to my friends who don't have kids to watch it with. Try having your nostalgia hat on if you watch; it's the kind of film we would have liked when we were boys, if we had been girls, if you know what I mean.

Tonight, despite my protestations, I was subjected to 17 Again, with Matt Perry and Zac Efron. And again, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. There is very little in the movie that you won't see coming, but there are a couple of moments that I didn't expect. And frankly, the whole premise of the main character going to the same high school as his kids provided a couple of 'ick' moments, as does the whole making cow eyes at his separated wife/friend's mom. But at least the bit where he expresses disapproval of his daughter's (Michelle Trachtenberg)bullying boyfriend gave me an opportunity to turn to Fenya and say, "If you ever date a guy like that, they will be pulling him out of the river at some point."

The high points then:
* Matt Perry's best mate, Thomas Lennon, is his dorky classmate who has struck it rich and indulged his every nerdly dream: his walls are festooned with weapons and movie props, and he sleeps in a bed shaped like a landspeeder.
* When Efron (as Perry) announces his intent to return to high school, he asks Lennon "Didn't you ever want to do high school again?", he replies, "No. I'm rich and no one has shoved my head in a toilet today."
* My favourite bit of dialogue:
Ned Freedman: It's a classic transformation story. Are you now or have you ever been a Norse God, Vampire, or Time Traveling Cyborg?
Mike O' Donnell: I have known you since, what, first grade? I think that maybe I would have told you!
Ned Freedman: Vampire wouldn't tell, Cyborg wouldn't know.

* Michelle Trachtenberg is pretty good at playing a high school girl, and why not? She has got about, I dunno, ten years experience at it now?
* They don't bother to make the guy dating the main character's estranged wife into a dirtbag or buffoon; I appreciate it when they pass up the easy shots.
* Sterling Knight, despite having a name befitting either a D&D or Golden Age comics character, does a great job as Matt Perry's son (and Zac Efron's buddy), with a great balance between surliness and earnest awkwardness.
* They don't waste a lot of time on the 'things are a lot different in high school now', focusing instead on the incongruity of 17 year old Efron spouting 39 year old Perry's values during a class on human sexuality: "Yeah, abstinence! That's a great idea! Who's with me?"
* There is some decent dialogue to be had. For instance, after hearing his wife's friend discuss how she is going to help her 'get back into play', Efron jumps up with, "You are still married, you know. If this were Afghanistan, you would be pulled backwards through the streets by mountain goats with your hands cut off... just saying."
* Despite being a tweener poster boy, Zac Efron shows some real comic timing chops, and his physical comedy fu is pretty strong.

All in all, for something not entirely intended for me and that I went into with a fair dose of skepticism, it was a pretty enjoyable show.

My ability to relate to the entertainments of my daughters will surely diminish in the years to come, if only temporarily. Hopefully there will be a few more pleasant surprises like these two along the way, and maybe even afterwards. If nothing else, they are helping me to keep an open mind.

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