by James Killough
There are a few things I just don’t get about popular culture, but which most people seem to go bat shit about. One is Michael Jackson. I never got him. I hate his voice, it sounds creepy; he is one of two people who will cause me to change the channel or turn off the radio/TV the instant I hear him squeak. The other is George W. Bush. And his dancing looks silly, like he’s a gaudy Sicilian marionette being manipulated by a meth head. The way he dressed was also ridiculous, eccentric in a bad fashion way, because he was absolutely insane. And his infantilism made me embarrassed for him; I wanted someone to cover him up, to help him not be himself so much.
I don’t get vampires, either. I think it’s for the same reason I don’t really date guys from my socio-cultural background: effete and posh isn’t a turn-on. Add pale, slimy skin to that and I’ve got myself a stomach-churner every time I see one of those dudes bare his fangs, be he Alexander Skarsgård or not.
To be frightened by something I need to buy into it, like with the first two Alien movies. Vampires just look like snarling drag queens with bad dentistry. They’re camp as tits, as the Brits would say. Which I suppose is why True Blood is so successful. Now in its fourth season and stretching the limits of credibility to such a degree it’s in a parallel universe, the show is as camp as kitsch can be. Alan Ball had better redeem himself, fast; he was a hero of mine. Or he could always finance a project of mine with some of the vast amounts he’s made from this tripe.
I don’t find anything funny or appealing about kitsch, so I usually sit through episodes of TB without expression, devoid of admiration, sometimes cringing at the lines, more often wincing at the overly ambitious production. Those HBO budgets…
I’ve never liked Anna Paquin as an actress, for a start, and that’s a major problem when she’s the lead. I did like her in The Piano, because it was a lovely, fluffy-skirted feature-length period music video, and I was on drugs so that sort of crap was appealing at the time, but I was enraged when they gave her the best supporting actress Oscar for it, not least of all because she was wearing an enormous frozen blueberry on her head when she accepted the statuette. She resembled the characters from Sugglepot and Cuddlepie, an old hand-me-down fairytale book my Aussie mother gave me as a child, weatherbeaten, water-stained and I swear printed on eucalyptus leaves. Paquin beat out Holly Hunter, her co-star in The Piano, who was nominated for her role in The Firm. Hunter was likely angrier than I was, by far, as Rosie Perez must have been and, yes, Emma Thompson. Except, being British, Thompson was no doubt aghast rather than angry.
It’s absolutely ridiculous for a pubescent girl whose only previous acting experience was playing a skunk in a school play to have won over those women. Paquin herself knew it, and no doubt still gets those involuntary shudders of embarrassment whenever she thinks about it.
Sure enough, Paquin has never shown that she can act, that she was ever worthy of beating out someone with Emma Thompson’s skill and training, who was also nominated that year as Best Actress for Remains of the Day, which she lost to Holly Hunter for The Piano. The 1993 Academy Awards were what the Marines call a clusterfuck, helped no doubt by Spielberg arm-twisting and guilting the entire town into voting for Schindler’s List, which I have to admit was a very decent film, better than the competition. (That was also the year Tom Hanks outed his acting teacher while accepting the Oscar for Philadelphia.)
Paquin would be my nightmare of an actress to work with if I needed her to deliver a nuanced performance. I think she’d be great for a sitcom, though. Her voice alone is still wearing that frozen blueberry cap and gasping with surprise for having unjustly won an award. The gap-toothed thing is too specific to allow her to play a range the way, say, an Emma Thompson can, disappearing into a role and allowing you to believe the reality of her performance. Even in X-Men, it’s Anna Paquin pretending to be Rogue.
But Paquin is nothing if not very smart. I’ve seen her handle her own on Chelsea Handler, who is as fast and fierce as a rattlesnake, and Paquin was extemporizing, completely at ease with Handler. It wasn’t rehearsed. She’s obviously a clever girl, well spoken, funny. She understands her limitations and hasn’t exceeded her grasp by trying to be the next Meryl Streep. I have a lot of admiration for people with so much self-awareness; it’s a quality that often eludes me.
And it has to be admitted that Paquin has an amazing body. She clearly works hard on it and must starve herself judiciously.
As unengaged as I am with True Blood, I am charmed by The Big C, which is uncharacteristic of me because it’s basically a thirteen-episode chatty quirky indie Sundance Festival film, which as I have said many times before I can’t stand. What happened to make me love it is this: I was ambling along watching the first season back to back thanks to the little internet gnomes at Vuze (or whatever bit torrent download service that hadn’t yet been slapped with an injunction), who fetch me these things out of the magic of the ether. Suddenly, there was this scene where the teen son discovers that his stage-four cancer-riddled mother has bought him birthday presents for every year up until his thirtieth birthday and kept them in a garage to find after she dies, and he starts weeping, and lo and behold I was in puddles of tears myself. That takes a lot.
I have been The Big C’s bitch ever since. I will even overlook Cynthia Nixon’s teeth and lipstick lesbian drag, which is better than it was in Sex and the City. And that takes a lot, too.
The thing about knowing an actor or two is when they appear on screen you tend to notice the littlest things others might overlook. The original star of my film Hatter, Alan Cumming, plays a Jewish campaign manager from Chicago on The Good Wife. I know Alan very well at this point, well enough to have squabbles and stuff (I think we might be in one now, I’m not sure; he’s not speaking to me). It’s a great performance, but Alan is Scottish and every so often I hear his brogue poking through his Jewish.
It’s the same with English actor Hugh Dancy, who has been making an appearance this season as Laura Linney’s cancer friend on The Big C, someone she meets in a rather contrived encounter at the beginning of a clinical trial they are both in.
Dancy’s character, Lee, is gay, and likes bear daddies, which hasn’t been seen before. There’s a wonderful bit in a bear/leather bar as Linney and her husband, the always superb Oliver Platt, are given a crash course in bear culture. Lee goes off and has sex with a panda bar (a hairy Asian, very rare) in a back room of the bar, then tosses his number when he’s given it. I personally don’t do that. Seems so rude. I just make sure the paper the number is written on is still in the pocket of my jeans when I put them in for a scalding wash. Oops!
Or I used to do that. These days, with numbers being input into smartphones, you can’t get away with losing someone’s number so quickly. That doesn’t mean you don’t forget who they are, which makes for some interesting memory games when you’re delayed at an airport with nothing better to do than clean out your address book, and try to recollect who “Bryan IT Guy From Gym Bar” was and if you actually had sex with him, or was, as is more likely with me these days, just a passing notion.
But I digress. The reason seeing Hugh Dancy on The Big C is sometimes jarring isn’t because his accent slips. It doesn’t. It’s because his character owns a wine bar and he’s continually pouring extremely expensive bottles of the best vintage. However, Hugh and I belong to the same drinking club in London (if you want to drink past pub closing, these memberships are necessary), and I know he’s the cheapest bastard in the world. He’ll sit there all night nursing a glass of tap water until someone buys him a drink. So when he shows up at Linney and Platt’s Thanksgiving dinner with an entire case of fine wine I went, “No fucking way!”
Next up for my premium cable reviews will be my assessment of the final season of Weeds. Maybe I’ll tell the story about how I got into an email spat once with Mary-Louise Parker while I was pretending to be someone else, and got the psycho bitch to back down. Or maybe I won’t.