Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hating NBC is the New Olympic Sport for America

The Virago is not a sports fan, generally speaking. In fact, the only time she ever cares about sports is the Olympics. It's supposed to celebrate the best of humanity, to show that nations can come together in a spirit of peaceful competition and inspire the rest of the world to dream bigger, work harder, and appreciate one another's accomplishments.

Unfortunately, the London 2012 games are being spoiled for Americans by NBC's terrible coverage, from the botched, edited, and delayed airing of the Opening Ceremonies forward. If you missed any part of the opening ceremonies, tough luck, because NBC won't let you see it on video. The Virago missed seeing Kenneth Branagh do THE TEMPEST scene and will NEVER forgive NBC for withholding that footage. Do you hear me, NBC? Never! The Virago does not need lowbrow, garrulous TODAY SHOW hosts to explain Shakespeare to her. For that matter, she doesn't need NBC execs to decide what portions of the program she wanted to see, like the 7/7 tribute.

The coverage of the actual events has been no better. Like many disgruntled Americans, the Virago has taken to Twitter and other realms of the internet to keep up with events as they occur. The TV coverage during the day is completely useless, never mind that the biggest events are happening then and could be broadcast live. No, six hours later we get cut up coverage that pushes more ads than Ryan Lochte does tires when he's training. Missy Franklin's heroic back-to-back swims lost a lot of their drama when NBC chose to insert another event in between them and break the whole experience up for viewers. Women's gymnastics tonight will be another glutton-fest of ad time, dribbling out the footage until the latest possible moment even though millions of kids are huge fans of the sport and could have watched the whole thing live earlier in the day if NBC wasn't determined to squeeze every last viewer out of this opportunity and seriously tick them all off at the same time.

The Virago does not usually watch television at all. The Virago watches the Oscars, the Olympics, and local tornado coverage (which is serious business here in North Alabama). That's it. NBC is doing an awfully good job proving why people like the Virago are leaving television behind.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Day with the Duke on August 1

Turner Classic Movies kicks off its 2012 Summer Under the Stars program with an all-day celebration of John Wayne on August 1, which will thrill some classic movies fans and irritate others. John Wayne has always been a polarizing figure – people either love him or hate him. Younger women, in particular, often tell me of their disdain for Wayne and for Westerns in general. Now, I happen to love the Duke, which might be an odd thing for a feminist literary scholar to admit, but there’s a lot to be said in John Wayne’s defense, and these highlights from the TCM lineup provide some compelling evidence of the star’s true value.

Take STAGECOACH (1939), for instance. As the Ringo Kid, Wayne is a younger, gentler outlaw figure, courting Claire Trevor’s fallen angel with deference and tact. Viewers who are only accustomed to the old, craggy Duke of the late 1960s and early 70s might be surprised at the smooth, handsome features of the youthful star. Wayne was already 32 when STAGECOACH was released, and he had been in Hollywood for more than a decade, but the film represents a major turning point in the actor’s career as the first film he would make with director John Ford.

THE SEARCHERS (1956) is the film many consider the best of Ford’s pictures with Wayne; it has even been called the greatest example of the entire Western genre. Wayne takes a much darker role as Ethan Edwards, a man obsessed with finding his niece (Natalie Wood) after Comanche raiders kill her family and kidnap her. If you don’t think John Wayne could act, try watching this picture and thinking about how much of the story is left in the subtext, with only the characters’ expressions to suggest what is really going on. 

In opposition to the heavy drama of THE SEARCHERS are films like RIO BRAVO (1959) and MCLINTOCK! (1963), where the Duke shows his lighter side. Whether he’s being flustered by Angie Dickinson or rattled by Maureen O’Hara, Wayne has a wonderful knack for playing the manly man utterly confused by the womanly woman. You don’t think that John Wayne can be funny? Try the scene in RIO BRAVO in which he plants a big kiss on Walter Brennan’s cantankerous old Stumpy.

Finally, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) shows Wayne playing a character much older than himself, a sentimental widower who still visits his wife’s grave and questions his place in the world on the eve of his retirement from the Army. Despite his name, Nathan Brittles is really quite a softie, taking a very paternal interest in Joanne Dru’s heroine and her romantic conflicts. 

What all of these films have in common is a Wayne character deeply involved with the women in his world, which is fascinating given that Wayne is so often held up as the ultimate macho star. We think of Wayne with a rifle in his arms, but just as often it’s a woman he holds. The rifle determines the outcomes of other men’s lives, but the woman dictates the destiny of the man himself. This dynamic makes Wayne’s Westerns endlessly interesting to me, and the films being shown on TCM offer a great chance to catch the Duke in action with a variety of leading ladies and in several different modes. It’s also a perfect opportunity for viewers who don’t think they like John Wayne to give the star another chance.

This post is part of the TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by ScribeHard On Film and Sittin On a Backyard Fence. The TCM celebration of John Wayne begins at 6 a.m. Eastern on August 1, 2012, with FLYING LEATHERNECKS (1951). 

The Virtual Virago also writes about classic movies as the National Classic Movies Examiner. For full-length reviews of other John Wayne films, try FORT APACHE (1948), THE QUIET MAN (1952), and THE SHOOTIST (1976).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

10 LEGO Minifigs I'd Like to See

The collectible series LEGO minifigures have been a huge hit ever since LEGO released the first wave a few years back. Series 8 has already been announced for September, and once again we'll be getting some fun new citizens to populate our LEGO worlds. For wave 9 and beyond, most AFOLs probably have a wishlist of characters they'd love to see, and of course I do, too. Here are 10 minifigs I'd love to see pop up in future series.

1) Abe Lincoln - Not necessarily as a vampire hunter, but, you know, we can customize. :) The hat is already floating around on other characters, but we need a good face, and maybe a few tweaks to a dark suit design to get the period look right.

2) George Washington/Ben Franklin/Founding Father of your choice - Really I just want the hair and the outfit. The pirates line released good period soldiers a while back, but we can't recreate the Revolution without some good leadership. I'd take Sam Adams with a pint of beer, too.

3) Civil War soldiers - The Western theme had Union blue for the cavalry, but we've never had Confederate gray. When I build Tara and Twelve Oaks out of LEGO bricks, I'm going to want to have some soldiers around. Also, it would definitely inspire a few burning of Atlanta builds.

4) Marie Antoinette/French Queen - It doesn't have to be Marie specifically, but I'm thinking big hair, period dress, & a beauty mark on the cheek. Somebody would promptly build a guillotine and start recreating la Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

5) Queen Elizabeth I/Elizabethan lady - Similar to Marie, but with the ruffled collar we are getting on the Shakespearean actor in series 8 and hopefully somewhat different big hair and/or dress. Actually, if LEGO would do one or the other I could improvise from there.

6) Guy in Lion Costume - He'd go great with the Bunny Suit, Gorilla Suit, and Godzilla Suit guys, and I'd be one step closer to recreating the Land of Oz in LEGO. Thanks for the new Scarecrow outfit in the upcoming Batman sets! Now if we can just get a robot who looks more like the Tin Man...

7) Medusa - LEGO has made some great ancient world and mythology figures in previous series, with the Minotaur being an especially neat choice. With those Ancient Greek and Roman soldiers already released, we need some more mythological monsters for them to fight. That snake hair would look fantastic on a figure, and the green body parts from the Lady Liberty figure could probably be tweaked for the rest.

8) Devil - Yes, I'm sure some parents would get upset about Little Timmy having a devil figure, but imagine the Faust scenarios, the Bible stories, the epic possibilities! He should be red, and ideally he should have a tail. They could make an angel as a complementary fig to balance things out.

9) Nun - While I'm asking for religious figures, I need some nuns. Castle builders need nuns. City builders need nuns. All God's children need nuns. Give her a guitar, and I can build THE SOUND OF MUSIC.... or AIRPLANE! At any rate, I'd buy about a dozen nuns if LEGO would just put them in a future series.

10) Waitress - I'd love to have a classic diner style waitress with the crisp outfit, the apron, and the little hat. For accessories she could have a little tray with a milkshake. Bonus feature - a two-sided face with one side showing her blowing a bubble gum bubble!

Not surprisingly, a lot of my wishes are for female characters. I'm still trying to balance out the gender inequity in my LEGO world! Keep those ladies coming, LEGO.

Friday, July 13, 2012

AFOL Philosophy: Build Until Your Fingers Hurt!

My LEGO club has a big show tomorrow, and I have been building for hours almost every day for weeks to get ready. Like most AFOLs, I go through periods of intense productivity divided by times when other parts of my life take over and I build nothing at all.

Here's a look at the layout I have been working on for our summer show!

The brightly colored buildings are all new, as is the sand green building in the center.
The red tower is new, as well. It takes a huge number of bricks to put together taller structures. This one ate up almost all of my available black.
I hope to build more bright modular pieces to continue this block. I think yellow would look nice, as well as traditional green.