Sunday, January 26, 2014

Nick Fallon Lives!

Welcome back, little Lazarus! Friday's Days of Our Lives was absolutely everything I wanted it to be. Any time the show gathers a bunch of characters together for an event, be it a wedding, a Christmas tree ornament hanging or, in this case, a christening, it's bound to be good television. There was a sense of anticipation and dread hanging over the entire ceremony, as Julie impatiently insisted, repeatedly, to Hope that they needed to question Gabi regarding Nick's whereabouts, while Sami, Will and Sonny implored the Horton women to just wait until after the christening to put the screws to the emotionally distraught Ms. Hernandez. Meanwhile, Abigail grew increasingly suspicious of EJ's involvement in the cover-up and his motivations for sleeping with her. I really like what's going on between EJ and Abby. I think James Scott and Kate Mansi have good chemistry and their dynamic is compelling. When EJ tries to intimidate Abby he is truly imposing but Jack Deveraux's daughter has proven that she can hold her own against him. To me it's a breath of fresh air after the EJ and Sami histrionics and scenery chewing that the show has relied on for far too long.

I also love that Julie has been made such an integral part of the story. Usually Julie just pops up for a day or two at Christmas so it's been such a treat to see Susan Seaforth Hayes front and center in a major storyline. I do love the dynamic between Nick and Maggie and I'm disappointed that their relationship has been all but forgotten at this point but it makes sense for Julie, a former Horton wild child, to be one of Nick's biggest supporters, since the Horton black sheep torch has clearly been passed to the Fallonator. The Hortons have always been more interesting to me than the Bradys so I like that they're taking center stage these days. I loved that Julie was so concerned about Nick and just wouldn't let it go despite everyone insisting that she was overreacting and being meddlesome. It was so satisfying to see someone in Salem express genuine concern over Nick. The fact that Julie was that person just made it better. And her dynamic with little sister Hope provided some fantastic levity. Hayes and Kristian Alfonso are delightful together.

I fully expected Nick to stroll into the church mid-christening but the ceremony went off without a hitch. Despite my frustration with Gabi, Will and Sonny of late it was a sweet, lovely scene. As the guests began to file out of the church it became apparent that the major players in the story were going to be the only ones left to witness the shocking final act. And even though I knew it was coming Nick's return was absolutely thrilling. I can't remember another Days scene that made my heart pound like it was pounding when Nick walked in, quietly closed the sanctuary doors behind him and said "Sorry, am I interrupting?" The way Blake Berris delivered his line led me to believe that Nick might have amnesia. I was hopeful that we'd get a sweet, clueless Fallonator for a while but then the preview for this coming week was released, showing that Nick has returned to Salem for revenge. Once again, I feel conflicted about the direction Days is heading with Nick. I'm sure I'll enjoy seeing Nick make Sami, Kate and Gabi squirm but I hope his scheming doesn't land him back in prison or really most sincerely dead. 

I'll try to stay positive. Maybe Nick will stick around and eventually turn his focus to fixing his own life instead of wreaking havoc in the lives of others. Maybe one day he'll be paired with a woman who truly loves him. I would like to see the character written as more than just a troublemaker though I certainly don't want him to be redeemed outright. More than anything I just want him to stay. Anything that ensures that it alright by me.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Flowers in the Attic (2014)

Like a lot of women my age, I went through a Flowers in the Attic phase during junior high school. And like a lot of women my age, I've never entirely been able to leave the attic behind me. I'm a sucker for personal nostalgia and the creepy, gothic V.C. Andrews best seller about children locked away in the attic by their greedy bitch of a mother and their cold, religious fanatic grandmother still holds a very strange and special place in my heart. I actually watched and fell in love with the movie version of Flowers in the Attic before I read the novel or any of its sequels. And despite the fact that the 1987 adaptation gets a lot wrong I still get a kick out of watching it (if I find it when I'm switching channels I'm usually hard-pressed to pass it up and I still have a decent portion of the dialogue committed to memory). I was at first curious and eventually deliriously excited about Lifetime's new made-for-tv adaptation of the story. The casting choices were solid and Lifetime promised that they'd "go there" with regards to the incest in the novel, as opposed to the earlier adaptation, which conveniently overlooked that rather essential plot point. I had pretty much convinced myself that this new Lifetime version was going to be exactly what I'd been waiting for since I was a pre-teen.

So it should come as no surprise that the new Flowers in the Attic did not live up to my expectations. That's not to say I disliked it. I liked it quite a bit. It improves upon the original adaptation in several ways. But it makes some missteps as well. For one thing, it feels very rushed. The Dollanganger children are locked away from the world for years but the passage of time never sunk in for me because the pace seemed so brisk. I was messaging with a friend during commercial breaks and she remarked that we should've created a Flowers in the Attic edition of BINGO to keep up with all the crucial plot points from the book as they popped up in the movie. It made me realize that there was something very perfunctory about the way this new version was unfolding. It's far more faithful to the source material but in a very paint-by-numbers kind of way. Almost as if the filmmakers made a checklist of things they were determined to get right since the first version got them wrong. So, yes, in this new version the older children are closer to the ages they were in the book. And yes, the mouse is correctly named Mickey rather than Fred and Cory dies after eating poisoned donuts rather than poisoned cookies. And, of course, Corrine does not die on her wedding day at the end of this one. She just takes off and leaves her kids for dead and then they escape with very little fanfare, just like they do in the book. The problem for me is that, for the most part, things just happened one after the other and the scenes and characters weren't given much breathing room or a chance to really develop. The plot unfolds like a power point presentation. With the exception of a handful of intense moments it's kind of lifeless.

Maybe it will be better if I watch a second time and skip commercials. I felt like every time the story started to become emotionally charged it was cut short by a commercial break. It was jarring. And, I know this is a Lifetime movie but I needed it to not feel so much like a Lifetime movie. For all that the original version gets wrong I did love its creepy gothic aesthetic and haunting baby-doll musical score. This new version was too bright and shiny and the score was too upbeat. Visually it felt very generic to me. The one place where this version absolutely excels over the other is in its casting choices and its characterizations. Kiernan Shipka is a wonderful Cathy - strong and stubborn and full of life and anger but still so naive and innocent. Mason Dye is equally strong as Christopher. He may come across as kind of wooden at times but that's correct. Christopher is entirely hung up on the lies his mother feeds him and the story she spins and the image he thinks he ought to project and preserve to make her happy. It should come as no surprise that his mannerisms seem, at times, like play-acting. As he becomes more disenchanted with his mother that facade starts to crumble and he goes to a darker place. By the time he and Cathy admit that they're attracted to one another and consummate their forbidden relationship he's become a much more imposing and unstable presence. And, yes, the movie "goes there" with the incest but in the most conservative, least disturbing way that it could. Shipka and Dye do the best they can but they're restricted because of the glossy way in which that aspect of the story is presented.

Like Dye's Christopher, Heather Graham's Corrine is also wooden and overly theatrical at times. I found it distracting at first but, like Christopher, Corrine is a woman who is entirely swept up in the image she is supposed to be projecting. Graham's wide-eyed China doll shtick is really quite perfect for a character like this. She lies to win over her father, she lies to win over her new husband, she lies to all her parents' rich friends who come to Foxworth Hall for lavish parties and she lies, cruelly, over and over again to her poor children. Even before her husband is killed she's a bit frosty and dismissive as a mother. She believes she was only ever cut out to be an ornament to a successful man. She's a trophy. A beautiful construct that is almost entirely devoid of human warmth and compassion. She cares for nothing outside of her own comfort. She liked her children well enough when it was convenient for her but she has no qualms about getting rid of them when they become an obstacle to her efforts to secure her father's fortune. She is one of the most infuriatingly narcissistic characters I've ever encountered. Graham is to be commended for making her as vile as she ought to be. 

But Flowers in the Attic's greatest strength is Ellen Burstyn's amazing turn as Olivia, the grandmother. When I was young I was fascinated and terrified by Louise Fletcher's version of this character, which is basically a riff on her Nurse Ratched performance from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Fletcher is certainly a commanding and imposing presence but there really isn't anything to the character beyond that. Burstyn's Grandmother is every bit as frightening but she's also allowed to show flashes of compassion and humanity. She's even allowed, at times, to be vulnerable. Like the book, the movie suggests that Olivia's hatred for her grandchildren does not come easily to her. Her antagonistic relationship with her own daughter forces her to regard her grandchildren with cold indifference even though, at times, this appears to be extremely difficult for her. She's certainly no better than Corrine and the children suffer because of both women but I felt like I could understand Olivia's point of view and, at times, muster a bit of pity for her. The relationships in the story are richer and more nuanced because this fearsome presence has been rendered a little less frightening and a little more accessible.

I'm pleased that this new version of Flowers in the Attic exists. It's still not quite the adaptation that I wanted but it was a noble effort. The performances definitely make it a worthwhile viewing experience. Maybe someone will try again in another couple of decades to create a more faithful version of this cult classic. Third time's the charm, right?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Welcome Back, Nick Fallon?

The Days of Our Lives forums I frequent are all a-flutter with speculation that Nick will return to the land of the living during Arianna Grace's christening. By tinkering with its timeline to make the christening coincide with the one year anniversary of Nick and Gabi's failed first wedding attempt the show has all but announced that this is when Nick will return. It's been close to two months since Nick went into the Salem River and while I'll admit his appearances in the nightmares and hallucinations of Gabi, Sami and Sonny have been highly entertaining they are all too brief and infrequent. I knew going into this story that I would have to endure a period of purgatory while Nick was presumed dead. And while the plotline has been fairly compelling in the way that it's brought certain characters together it's safe to say that my patience is at an end. I need Nick to be alive. Now.

The thing that's made the story especially difficult for me has been the way all the characters involved in the crime and the cover-up have reacted to Nick's alleged demise. It makes sense that a reptile like EJ wouldn't bat an eye when his beloved Samanther comes clean about her part in the killing but I found it infuriating that Sonny and Will initially reacted with moral outrage before basically shrugging their shoulders and getting on board with protecting three of the most incompetent criminals Salem has ever produced. Sonny's reaction and weird turnaround has been the hardest thing for me to take. Yes, Nick tried to rape Gabi. Yes, she was absolutely in the right when she took a rock and smashed it against her attacker's temple to defend herself. Everything that happened after that was indefensible. Sonny as much as told the ladies this when he first found out what they'd done. Then suddenly he decides that what they did was bad but it would be far worse if his partner's baby lost her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother because their crimes were exposed. Ok. I get that he's a man in love so I can rationalize it. But why does Sonny also have to become Gabi's friend and confidant? Unlike his co-conspirators, Sonny actually knows that Gabi was complicit in the kidnapping of Melanie. He's kept this secret from Will because Will and Gabi are friends and share a child. At this point Gabi has to assume that, in the future, she can continue to screw up, break the law and then expect other people to cover for her. And not just cover for her but coddle her and reassure her that she's a lovely person and a precious little princess that deserves to be protected. And Sonny is more or less alright with lying to Will about the mother of his child.

Say what you will about Nick. I know he's not a good person or even a very nice person but he's resourceful and self-reliant. He doesn't expect other people to clean up his messes for him. Next to him Gabi looks infantile. And unlike Gabi, whose past misdeeds are conveniently overlooked, Nick's crimes are constantly thrown in his face. Even when he owns up to his bad behavior, apologizes and attempts to right his wrongs he is scorned. Before today I would have said that I not only need Nick to be alive but that I also need him to wreck the lives of everyone who was involved, even after the fact, in his "murder." I have yelled obscenities at my television for weeks on end, telling myself that this will all be worth it when my beloved mad genius returns and exacts revenge against his many enemies. Now I'm not so sure. 

I thought I had finally accepted Days decision to write Nick as a much darker character. I accepted this in part because I'd given up hope that he'd be written as anything other than that. At this point I don't know what to expect. What has been happening with Nick since he went into the water? What would his state of mind be like after an experience like that? Will he remember everything? Will he have amnesia? Will he fake amnesia to get an advantage over his adversaries? Is it a foregone conclusion that he'll return to Salem hellbent on revenge or will his brush with death change him in some profound way? Is there any possibility that he will find a modicum of redemption?

When it comes to Nick I often assume the worst, since allowing myself to hope for anything good for him usually ends in heartache. And whatever happens I know I'll be happy to have him back on my screen and alive again. Whether or not he'll stay for long after his return is still anybody's guess. I hope he'll be around for a good long while. Hope is a dangerous thing for a Nick Fallon fan to have but, still, I can't help but have it.