Wednesday, March 31, 2010

One Woman Rails Against Maggie Rodriguez*

*As of the end of 2010, Maggie no longer graced the set of The Early Show, thereby saving me from countless morning screaming matches with my TV. CBS, the neighbors thank you.

Every morning as I get ready for work, I can be counted on to yell at my TV. More specifically, I can be counted on to yell at Maggie Rodriguez, co-host of The Early Show on CBS.

Now, I'm not in the hospital on bedrest, but I do watch The Early Show every weekday morning. I truly enjoy Harry Smith, live colonoscopy or no, and frankly I prefer our local affiliate's news team over any of the other networks, so CBS wins my viewership. Maggie Rodriguez, however, infuriates me so completely, you'd think I'd have the sense to not watch her. Clearly I don't, but I can at least vent my frustrations within the exceptionally narrow readership of this blog. (You know I love all 6 of you following along.)

1. Maggie Rodriguez is desperate to be a journalist. Desperate! Any time she is interviewing someone for what could be considered a "hard news story", she repeatedly and consistently interrupts her interviewee mid-sentence to angrily and assertively restate her question, even if the person is calmly and unevasively in the process of answering that exact question. She does this, no doubt, because she thinks this is what real journalists do. They go after the hard stories, they press their issues, and they never take no for an answer. So basically, Maggie Rodriguez is a journalist in a soap opera. Most people are visibly taken aback by this incredibly rude (not to mention obtuse) practice, but I have to admit I get a thrill on the few occasions someone has the balls to snap back at her. Like, seriously, give a person a minute to freaking answer, psycho.

2. Maggie Rodriguez has exactly zero objectivity. Make no mistake, she interrupts EVERYONE on those "hard news" items -- war, politics and social policy all qualify -- but if she happens to disagree with the basic philosophies (stated or assumed) of the person in question, her interruptions are even more obnoxious, almost always calling out the most lopsided, propaganda-filled point she can find. It's not that her opinions are wrong, per se, though it's fairly easy to discern that she and I don't lean the same way politically, it's just that she makes her opinions so painfully obvious to one and all. And, seemingly, in direct opposition with her desire to be taken seriously as a journalist. So now she's not merely a journalist in a soap opera, she's anchoring a FOX News clone on an episode of Law & Order.

3. Maggie Rodriguez lives for sensationalism. If there is outrage to be gleaned from a story, be it hard news, human interest or entertainment buzz, Maggie Rodriguez is there to exploit it. Even create it, sometimes. Erykah Badu in the nude at the Grassy Knoll? Maggie harps on the fact that there were CHILDREN present, as if the worst thing that could ever happen to a child in this world would be to see a woman's naked body, much less Erykah Badu's in the middle of some performance art. I'm neither defending nor supporting Badu, but it seems to me this is not the most important, or even the most interesting, aspect of the story. Or, hey, a killer whale tragically drowns a Sea World trainer? Every single one of Maggie's famed interruptions is about how that whale has ALREADY KILLED TWICE BEFORE, like we've got Shamu the Ripper on our hands. Nevermind that she has no information whatsoever on the first trainer's death and has chosen to ignore the fact that the second death was entirely the fault of the nimrod who broke into the killer whale aquarium. Nevermind the fact that all of these people died by drowning and not by being eaten (which, in case you were unaware, is how a killer whale would kill you if that's what it was out to do). Those stories are not nearly as interesting, as outrageous, as sensational as a serial murdering orca, let's face it, but when she puts her emphasis on something so clearly intended to rile people up, it completely undermines her as a reliable news source. It's like Stephen Colbert, but not funny.

4. Maggie Rodriguez has no idea what she's talking about. Literally, no idea. It goes in line with the sensationalism and the interruptions, in a way, because both those practices erupt from her not having a solid foundation on the topic at hand to start with, but it also extends far beyond the standard segment. Her interviews with celebrities on their latest projects are particularly amusing, especially if you have any knowledge whatsoever on the project because it is instantly clear that Maggie Rodriguez does not. Her questions are inane, irrelevant and consistently unoriginal. And she is not all too bright when discussing cooking or products or animals either. After one taped segment in which the focus was to discourage people from getting dogs unless they were ready for them, and to never get a dog that wouldn't fit your lifestyle, Maggie's first statement was that she thought everyone should go out and get a dog now. I'm not even kidding. Another time there was a feature on the push to get healthier food on the breakfast and lunch menus at schools, particularly in poverty districts, where the increase in childhood obesity is at its most severe. Maggie's question was whether it was even worth it to give them healthy food in school if they wouldn't have access to healthy options at home. What?!? Seriously, Mags, that doesn't even make sense. Now you're an SNL skit of Nancy Grace and Kathie Lee Gifford's unholy love child.

5. Maggie Rodriguez has a tin ear for social dynamics. I don't like it, but I understand these morning shows like to have manufactured schtick in place to make up for the lack of any real rapport among hosts. It's like how American Idol's schtick is that Randy boos Simon every single time he's introduced and Ryan picks on Simon for being gay and a bad dresser and Simon picks on Ryan for being gay and a bad host. I get it. It's stupid and annoying, but I get it. The Early Show's schtick is much less complex; in a nutshell, Dave Price, the weather guy, is a geek. That's it. Haha, Dave Price is a big ol' nerdbomber with no girlfriend. Or whatever. Like I said, it's stupid. The thing is, Maggie Rodriguez has no idea it's stupid. In fact, Maggie thinks it's funny. Not only does she think it's funny, Maggie thinks SHE'S funny when she plays it up. Even worse, Maggie Rodriguez thinks it's true. I'm pretty good at reading people (not as good as Edward, but then, I am not a mind-reading vampire (that you know of)), and I am here to tell you that when Maggie Rodriguez goes off the deep end about what a loser Dave Price is for being single and a big giant dork, not only does she think she is HILARIOUS, but she believes every word of it. In her mind, any grown adult who has never been married is, indeed, a total failure at life and anyone who likes theater and their dogs and science-y things like weather is a massive nerd, like it's a bad thing. Meanwhile, poor Dave Price is practically cringing on screen because while he gamely partakes in his role in the schtick and laughs most of it off, it is unavoidably obvious that Maggie hits a lot of nerves and makes him extremely uncomfortable when she gets into a rhythm and refuses to let up. Honestly, I would rather my CHILDREN see Erykah Badu walk naked down the street than to learn this is how people should treat and talk to each other, and I highly doubt I'm the only one.

Hey, Maggie, you know how you're the embodiment of a Nancy Grace SNL skit? Well, in the skit Nancy Grace is a Mean Girl.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The "Twilight" Experiment

A little more than a week ago, I had this great idea to have a group of like-minded, curious types to read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (There were follow up books and some movies too. Perhaps you've heard?) simultaneously for the purpose of, basically, seeing what all the fuss was about. And also, to make fun of it, because that is the kind of like-minded we are. To fuel the discussion, we tweeted our thoughts in between reading. Tomorrow (or, I guess, it's today now) we're going to summarize our experiences and perceptions, and I really felt the need to organize my thoughts first. So here I am.

I am very conflicted about this book, I find. First, let me just state emphatically and without condition, it is not good. The writing is poor, often clunky and awkward, the pacing is erratic, the exposition, particularly through the first half, is interminable, the plot is uneven, the voice uncertain, and the structure is, at times, painfully distracting. In fact, and I have thought about this at great length, I'm positive these technical shortcomings are the reason Bella is so widely disliked, given that it's her point of view, her telling the story. The glaring problems with the basic framework of the writing can't be overcome by Meyer's fairly clear vision of who Bella is, a characterization that starts slowly but builds steadily throughout the book. It makes her sound old but not wise, overly self-aware but also unbelievably blind, philosophical but petulant and whiny. In a word, annoying. Why would Edward, with decades of life experience and knowledge under his belt, ever love this girl so completely? Because she smells good?? It's absurd. Better writing could have, I believe, given a little more definition to Bella's character, separating the stodgy narration from the much more lively person, and saving Bella's character from the bad reputation that, frankly, I think is undeserved.

Of course, this is not to say that Bella isn't fairly silly and overwrought, but then again so is Edward. Still, the characters themselves are well-drawn and compelling taken on their own accord, at least the main ones. In scenes where they interact, the words flow smoothly off the page. It's clear Meyer has a great admiration and interest for her vampires, for they are the most intriguing. And even Jacob, in his brief appearances, was interesting and likable. Meyer can definitely build characters, and at times I even found myself graced with a truly lovely piece of prose - a sentence here, a phrase there. At times.

The thing that really kills me, though, is how ingeniously commercial it is. Seriously, it's like Meyer found the exact right formula to create two ideal teen heartthrobs - extreme archetypes distilled into their purest form and given angelic good looks, patience, and subdued libidos: the bad boy, reformed but still undeniably dangerous, with the heart of gold, and in New Moon (which I started reading today once I mostly got over my embarrassment from wanting to) there's the uber good guy who is always righteous, even in violence. I'll tell you now, the first one is, has been, and always will be my type. God as my witness, I am firmly on Team Edward. But it's easy to see the allure of the other as well, and that's what makes this series so brilliant. Granted, the writing isn't great, but it's passable. And if Stephenie Meyer or anyone else has the time, dedication and persistence to publish something so simple yet so clever and get kids reading passionately, then I'm all for it.

Now I must go devour the rest of this book. I swear, I feel like a 15 year old fangirl, but if I don't get Edward back soon I might fall into Bella-style levels of despair.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I finally got some items out of draft mode and fully published, as you can see below. Hope you enjoy them.

Why "Titanic" deserved the Best Picture Oscar and "Avatar", emphatically, Does NOT

With the Oscars this weekend, I felt I had to address a very large elephant in the room, and that elephant's name is Avatar. Some people see significant parallels between Avatar and director James Cameron's last movie-making monstrosity, Titanic, and use those parallels as justification for their belief that Avatar is the best and most obvious choice to win the Academy's highest honor on Sunday. To wit, they are both massive, record-breaking blockbuster films with relatively (or, in the case of Avatar, not-so-relatively) weak scripts that nevertheless are so awe-inspiring and mind-blowing visually that you can't help but be amazed. I am here to discredit this belief, once and for all, for while I was very happy with the Titanic win and find it as deserving now and I found it then, Avatar simply doesn't measure up. Not against Titanic, and not against this year's other competitors.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit some things:

1. I saw Titanic 6 and a half times in the theater. Probably 3 or 4 of these instances occurred before the Oscars. One was a full 8.5 years later, during a summer movie series downtown. The half viewing happened when I walked out of Lost in Space and so desperately needed a palate cleanser I hopped in to the theater next door, then halfway through Titanic. Clearly, I love this movie. Love it as much as I positively loathed Avatar. This fact is irrelevant. Everyone has tastes and preferences and I can be just as objective, if not more so, than anyone else.

2. I am in love with Leonardo DiCaprio and have been since roughly forever. Something about him on Growing Pains all those years ago stuck with me. I don't know what it was or why, but I noticed him, I remembered him, and I grew to love him. And he grew to deserve my love because not only is he a great actor (seriously, What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries still haunt me with how brilliant he is), but that latest Esquire cover is HOTT. This fact is also irrelevant, because I will freely and readily admit this is my least favorite of his performances, one that I have found stiff and awkward (partly due to the script, which I will address momentarily) with only brief shades of charm and emotional heft.

That out of the way, let's get down to business.

The most prominent reason Avatar is sub-par, as a film, is its lack of story. There is literally nothing new or inventive or even interesting about this "conqueror comes to know the people he's conquering and leads them in overthrowing the other conquerors" tale. It's been done, and done, and done. And not only is it a tired and overused premise, it's an outdated and offensive concept. These poor tree huggers are going to wail and moan and sway beseechingly when their homes are destroyed, only bothering to stand up and defend themselves when this wiser, stronger outsider completely masters their culture inside of three months and incites them to fight back. With his help, they can prevail. How is this any more enlightened or empowering than literally calling them "savages" like Cliche' McCliche'erson, the assembly-line Corporate Weasel?

Even its attempts at story are inconsistent and confusing. Why would Neytiri spare Jake's life when given a sign that he's special by the sacred dandelion seed, only to have an adolescent mini tantrum when she's asked to train him? Why, if she's betrothed to the future chief dude, is there no hesitation on her part, nor any fallout whatsoever, from her mating (ew) with Jake? How are we supposed to care about this love story when it received all the time and nuance developing it as did Simba's advancement into adulthood (while traipsing across a log, singing "Hakuna Matata") in The Lion King?

And there are other, nitpicky things: Why is the science-y guy suddenly ragging on Jake about his lack of study and knowledge when he'd previously been hospitable and gracious towards him? Why was their school shut down? Why was Grace banished? How long have they been there that seemingly ever Na'vi alive knows English? Why the throwaway line about Jake going blind if he plays with his connector-hair? What does that mean? Is it significant? What the hell is this floating rock for anyway? What makes it so valuable? Is it seriously called "unobtanium", of all things, REALLY?? What takes that villainous army Colonel so long to die anyway? Is he just that badass??

These things are so overwrought and ridiculous, if it weren't for the effects this movie would be laughed out of theaters, I kid you not. But a movie is more than special effects. It doesn't have to be deep or complex. It doesn't have to involve tragedy or disease to be important, but it does have to be about something. A film that exists solely as a showcase for its amazing advancements in visual effects is nothing but an advertisement for new technologies. It's a two-and-a-half hour video billboard. It's a Powerpoint presentation.

Titanic is different; it has a heart. Given, Cameron was probably aided, story-wise, by the fact that the story of the Titanic is true, allowing him to cull from actual events and accounts to lend some authenticity to his otherwise admittedly thin writing abilities. But even though the ending of Titanic was known going in -- it is a matter of historical record, after all -- Cameron was able to make the film about the journey, the maiden (and final) voyage of a legendary ship. He even starts with the end, so to speak, in that the film begins in the present, at the actual wreckage, and our first introduction to Rose tells us that, at some point, she took Jack's name. So the film is more of a memory, a nostalgic look at a fascinating and terrifying event, that embraces and enthralls its audience with its story as much as its heart-dropping effects. Yes, as in Avatar, many of Titanic's characters are stereotypes -- Rose's mother, Cal, the wince-inducing Fabrizio -- but unlike Avatar, Titanic has an emotional center in its main character. Rose, the Kate Winslet memory and the Gloria Stuart present, is strong and scared. She's brave and hesitant. She's thoughtful and spontaneous. Introspective and flighty. She's disdainful of her position and entrenched in it. And ultimately, these are all the things that a person is, with different shades of personality that run the gamut of emotions. No one is just one thing -- like Avatar's laughably brash Grace, feisty Neytiri, soldier-boy Jake, or countless others. Winslet and Stuart gave us someone to care about in Titanic, which is why both received acting nominations, whereas I couldn't care less about anyone in Avatar because the whole thing was utterly disconnected from real human emotion. Clearly, given Avatar's grand total of zero acting noms, many Academy voters feel similarly. And how can you feel connected, really, to a character that is essentially a cartoon? A transformative, technological marvel of a cartoon, but a cartoon nonetheless. Not a Pixar cartoon, mind you, because those beings have souls, but a lifeless, soulless, action figure. A video game.

Dalton Ross said today on The Early Show that, while he thought The Hurt Locker would win Best Picture and Best Director, he felt Avatar and Cameron should win those categories. His argument, in a nutshell, is that Avatar was amazing to look at, and that Cameron did things nobody else has ever done before. My response, in a nutshell, is that's why the Academy has Scientific Achievement Awards. Best Picture and, by extension, Best Director, are about something more.

Look at the nominees that shared space with Titanic in 1997: As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential. This is a varied and interesting group of films right here, each one of them outstanding because of its emotion. L.A. Confidential was gorgeous, but also heartbreaking. The Full Monty was hilariously fun, but also touching. Good Will Hunting was witty, but also insightful. As Good As It Gets was absurd, but also heartfelt. Titanic was stunning, but also devastating. Each one of these films made a really strong case for being in the running that year, and any of them would've been justified in taking home the statue. The fact that Titanic did may have been influenced by its box-office and its effects, but it wasn't exclusive of its story and characters. This year's nominees, an overwhelming and excessive list of ten, share a lot of those same characteristics. Up, Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and The Hurt Locker all fall into line with the same kinds of qualities as the 1997 list. They are interesting, original, stunning, tense, gut-wrenching, tragic, and uplifting. Any one of them could walk away with the prize and get no argument from me, though my personal favorite was Inglourious Basterds, a captivating and thoroughly entertaining film. But even most of the people I know or have talked to who liked Avatar agree it shouldn't win Best Picture. It's a fluff piece -- the "World's Largest Cheeseburger" of the movie world. A technical achievement, sure, but in no way the best thing you've consumed all year.

It doesn't deserve to win.