Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An American Girl in Saxony-Coburn Or: A Royal Pain

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I started a series on the Young Adult fiction I read as a, ahem, young adult. As of today this series has been revived by a lucky thrift store find!
Written by: Ellen Conford
Publication: 1986, Scholastic Inc.
Original Price: $2.50
Purchase Price: 27¢

At one point or another, every girl imagines herself as a long lost princess. When our parents nag us to clean our rooms, when we can't afford that pair of $120 jeans, when the radio in our hand-me-down car won't work...we pretend there was some great mix-up. In truth, we were born to royalty and somehow switched with some lowly commoner. Sadly we are forced to deal with her petty white girl problems when we should be wearing satin ball gowns and riding in a carriage.

Of course it's all just a fantasy brought on by decades of Disney exposure. No girl would really give up her family, friends, and home for a life of glamour and pampering. Right?

Even though she was born in the microscopic European principality of Saxony-Coburn, fifteen-year-old Abby Adams is just a normal girl from Kansas. That is, until the day she learns she was accidentally switched at birth by a doctor drunk on elderberry wine. It turns out she is Dolores Theodora Marie Celeste, Princess Florinda XVI, heir to the throne of Saxony-Coburn.

Abby heads to Europe and is given the royal treatment. Her birth parents are all right and princess lessons are interesting. She even enjoys the media attention, especially from Geoffrey Torunga, a twenty year old journalist. However, Abby misses her basic freedoms and Dolores, her "twin", is not taking the switch well at all. And worst of all is Prince Casimir of Arcania, Abby's betrothed. His creepy amorous tendencies and hobby of taxidermy are major turn offs.

But Saxony-Coburn is broke and Abby's marriage will save the country from ruin. In a mere three weeks, on her sixteenth birthday, the wedding is set to take place. Abby must find a way to save herself from the horrid arranged marriage before it's too late. Geoffrey stages an assassination attempt and Abby escapes.

As you probably guessed, Abby is not really Princess Florinda. The evidence, a confession written by the drunk doctor, was really a forgery penned by an anti-royalist group. Dolores happily marries Casimir. Abby returns to the States with her family. Geoffrey writes her every week and plans on visiting in the fall (sure he will). And the story will soon be made into a miniseries.

I first checked this book out from the Whitman County Library back 2000 and was an immediate fan. In fact, this might have been my first Ellen Conford book. Conford is a drastically underrated author from the Golden Age of YAF*. Some of her other books include Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate and Seven Days to a Brand New Me. Anyway, one of the reasons I loved it so was due to the innocent (but requited!) romance between Abby and golden Adonis Geoffrey. This time around I was amused by Geoffrey's...well, perfection. I mean, the guy has no faults! He speaks French and English, he was an Olympic downhill skier, he rescues her from the evil Casimir...sigh. No wonder I'm screwed up about men.

A Royal Pain is lighthearted and fun. Never for a moment do you think Abby is really Princess Florinda. You never fear that she will marry Casimir or that he will takes his husbandly rights every hour on the hour. You know it's one of those books that'll have a Just Kidding ending and Abby will be back in Kansas in time for dinner. And that's okay. We need simple rompy PG books like this one. A Royal Pain is great for a Disney Channel Original movie, and I say that with the utmost respect for Disney Channel Original movies.

We all known YAF is timeless, meant to be consumed by every future generation, but sometimes a few signs of the times slip through. Let's look at the 80's-isms found in A Royal Pain.

Essence of '86
  • Along with her clothes and personal items, Abby insists on bringing her stereo box (another name for boom box?) from America. 
  • Abby wears leg warmers to stay warm in the drafty palace and there is no reference to her being a ballerina.
  • No VCR's in Saxony-Coburn. :-( 
  • "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees is played at the ball, unironically.
  • Abby roller skates around the ballroom while blasting a Def Leppard cassette tape. (It was most likely Pyromania released in 1983).
  • Abby and her family play Trivial Pursuit, which of course is still played today but reached its sales peak in 1984.
  • The miniseries version of Abby's story will star Morgan Fairchild (who was 36 in 1986!), the anti-royalists will be communists (yes, I know there are still communists, but I'll bet they're Russian communists), and her pet dog will be played by Benji.
  • Other references, not necessarily dated: Abby's brother watches Leave It To Beaver. Prince Albert (Abby's birth father) is a fan of Humphrey Bogart and Cap'n Crunch. Dolores has a stuffed Snoopy doll. Abby watches The Mouse That Roared (1955) on TV in French. Prince Casimir resembles Tony Perkins from Psycho. The Wizard of Oz is playing at the local movie theatre. Geoffrey says saving Abby is "just like Raiders [of the Lost Ark]". 
*That's right, 1970-1986 = fucking Golden Age of Young Adult Fiction. You saw it here first, folks!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

What you have before you is perhaps the longest review of Some Kind of Wonderful ever written. Bathroom breaks will be needed. Read at your own risk.

There's just no way around it. No one can write a proper review of Some Kind of Wonderful without first discussing Pretty in Pink. So let's grit our teeth and think of our favorite Hollywood celebrity while we go through this, okay?

In 1986, John Hughes wrote and produced a film about an arty and fashionable (but smart!) poor girl named Andie (Molly Ringwald) who (for some reason) starts liking dreamboat rich kid Blane (Andrew McCarthy). And (also for some reason) he likes her back. All would be fine and dandy if it weren't for Duckie (John Cryer) Andie's quirky and fashionable (but straight!) best friend who carries a not-so-secret torch for her. Also, Blane's typical asshole BFF Steff (James Spader) also (for some reason) likes Andie and gets jealous when she goes for Blane! Uh-oh!

Pop quiz! Who do you think Andie ends up with?

A. Duckie, obviously! He's the faithful best friend who's always been there for her!
B. Blane. I mean, it's Andrew McCarthy! No one was hotter in 1986 than Andrew McCarthy.
C. No one. Andie realizes she's only 18 and she'll find someone better in college.
D. Steff. He's rich. And everyone in the 80's is obsessed with upward mobility.

If you chose B, then you've seen the movie before, you cheater! Yes, THE PROM Blane confesses his "love" for Andie, and Duckie gives up and sends her after him. Then she and Blane make out in the parking lot as the credits roll.

While Andie the Character's decision making process could be discussed ad nauseam (and has), it is not important to us. What is important is that it wasn't the ending John Hughes wanted. He, all along, intended for Andie and friend-zonee Duckie to live happily ever after. But test audiences and studio execs and Molly Ringwald preferred Andrew McCarthy's Blane. Thus the ending was changed and in retaliation, John Hughes wrote a script where the best friend and the main character end up together. (Oops...spoilers).

Some Kind of Wonderful is the story of Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz), an aspiring artist from a lower-middle class neighborhood. His best friend (and only friend, really) is Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) a drumming tomboy from a broken home. But underneath her punky clothes and tough attitude, Watts is secretly in love with Keith and perfectly content to keep it secret. That is, until he falls for Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), The Most Beautiful Girl in School. Alas, she is dating handsome, rich, philandering, materialistic jerkass Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer).

Does it sound kind of familiar so far? Yes, well, this is one of the many reasons people didn't take to SKOW. Most saw it as a gender reversed Pretty in Pink. Which I'll admit, on a bare bones level, it is. I could sit here and write an entire compare/contrast essay on these two movies, highlighting every Watts vs. Duckie and Hardy vs. Steff point, but that would simply show how these films are far more different than alike. So here is where we say goodbye to Pretty in Pink and concentrate solely on Some Kind of Wonderful.

So, after our initial introduction, Keith gets it into his head to ask Amanda out on a date. She says yes, but mostly just to piss Hardy off. Amanda's friends think she's gone crazy and insist she break the date with Keith and go back to Hardy. After all, this upsets their entire social structure. Ya!

Like several of Hughes' films, there isn't really a "plot". Characters just move through their day to day lives and conversations are what turn the tables and raise the stakes. Most of SKOW deals with the characters' reactions to the Keith-Amanda date. And the last third is the date itself.

Without much of a plot, characterization is fucking necessary and this film has it in spades. Even Hardy Jenns, the most easily maligned of our four leads has something to him. Usually we see the prom king at the top of his game, plowing his way through a field of freshmen girls without consequences. But Amanda dumps Hardy because of his cheatin' ways. His pride is hurt. How dare she dump him, the Hardy Jenns? While I think many would just move on, Hardy chooses to take a slow revenge. He made Amanda and now he will destroy her.

Hardy Jenns is one of those villains tailor-made for our hatred. He represents the worst kind of yuppie spawn while still being believable. And that's the kicker. While...ahem, similar characters seem like parodies of themselves, I truly believe there are manipulative bastards just like Hardy who walk the earth.

The Big Asshole on Campus is a teen movie trope we all know and love, but it must be discussed how Amanda Jones is not what you might think. Of course, when we first see her she seems like the typical selfish backstabbing slut-faced ho bag. Her early scenes concern fucking Hardy, sitting in Hardy's car while he torments Keith, sneaking back to school after she's fucked Hardy, and then shamelessly flirting with the driver's ed. teacher to get out of detention. Amanda doesn't do anything particularly bad but she's not a character we necessarily like.

However, she wins some points after finally breaking up with Hardy and accepting a date with Keith. Even when her friend Shayne (Molly Hagan) gives her an opportunity to weasel out of it, Amanda says she couldn't do something like that. (It just one little date, people!) After denying Hardy's attempt at reconciliation, he turns her friends against her and Amanda finds herself friendless and a social pariah. Her date with Keith is all she has left.

During the date is when Amanda really shines and where she gets to defend some of her flaws, which I will lazily put in quote form:
"I don't think anybody thought anything about me other than I look good standing next to him. And I went along with it because I'd rather be with somebody for the wrong reasons than alone for the right ones."
And later:
"I feel so terrible for what I've been doing. I hate feeling ashamed. I hate where I'm from. I hate watching my friends get everything their hearts desire. I gave in to that hatred and turned out what I believed in..."
So, the girl's got issues, but she owns up to her problems. She has every intention of changing her ways.

Admittedly, I hated Amanda Jones through most of my first SKOW viewing. Shockingly, I was on Team Watts so that came with the territory. But as Amanda became more sympathetic and not just a faceless cunt after Keith, I struggled. Being a likable character just made it worse. How could I hate her? I couldn't. For better or worse, Some Kind of Wonderful taught me that not all love interests/girlfriends/what-have-you's aren't all bad. They're just like you and I...only luckier.

At the center of SKOW is Keith Nelson, our atypical 80's teen movie protagonist. Just how is he atypical? For one, he isn't out to just get laid. Sure, it's crossed his mind, but Keith has a deeper interest in Amanda. Unlike Hardy and probably hundreds of others at his high school, Keith wants to discover the real person behind the perfectly coiffed hair. Here we have a character who appreciates physical beauty but knows without inner beauty, there is no point.

But even though Keith has a good heart, he's still an Outcast. As he says:
"I like art. I work in a gas station. My best friend is a tomboy. These things don't fly too well in the American high school."

Art is Keith's true love and for some reason, this makes him Unpopular. His sister claims he is "the weirdest guy" at their school. WHY? Okay, he likes art, but so what? It's not like he dresses like a "freaky art kid" if you know what I mean. He wears jeans and t-shirts, nothing that would attract negative or positive attention. In the crowd scenes at school he isn't harassed, just ignored.

As for the gas station, I find it admirable and impressive that Keith works there. It's obviously not his first choice but he embraces it and actually fixes the cars. We see he is logical/mechanical along with his emotional/artistic tendencies.

While Keith is a fine main character with depth and personality, I think everyone would agree that Some Kind of Wonderful is Watts' movie.

On the outside she's a tough-as-nails, slightly androgynous punk rock chick. She drums, she smokes, she wears boys underwear and she has no qualms about shoving a drumstick up your nose if you cross her. You don't fuck with Watts. But because this is a John Hughes movie, Watts is more than a stereotype. Underneath her leather jacket and baggy tank tops beats the heart of a loving, sensitive individual.

It's established Watts' home life is pretty shitty and she and Keith have been friends since at least the third grade. Although we are never given a window into the origins of their friendship, it's my belief that Keith was Watts' savior of sorts; she could go hang out at his home instead of at her own broken one. It seems natural she would fall in love with him as they entered adolescence.

As for Watts' tomboy image, it probably began as a way of fitting in with her one-off mentioned brothers and then became an easy guise. Watts feels for Keith so deeply it frightens her so she over-compensates by acting and dressing like a butch bitch. Unfortunately she is stuck in her own imagine and Keith doesn't think of her as a "girl". But that's the tomboy's lament; should I smile because I'm your friend or cry 'cause that's all I'll ever be?

Watts has the most interesting character arc in the film. Of course she is jealous when Keith mentions his interest in Miss Amanda Jones, but she believes he doesn't have a shot in hell. And there's no use fretting over something so unlikely.
Watts: "You couldn't score her in a million years. A. You're too closed up and shy to even approach her and B. she'd kill you. Chicks like her have one thing on their mind and you don't make enough of it to matter to her."
Keith: "You can't judge a book by its cover."
Watts: "Yeah, but you can tell how much it's gonna cost."
Keith: "Whoa, that's deep."
Watts: "You want shallow call Amanda Jones."
As SKOW continues on, Watts maintains her suspicion and jealousy. She's certain Amanda is playing some horrible prank to get her evil bitch rocks off. Watts and Keith eventually quarrel over it and we see that her jealousy is more than just romantic; if Keith dated anyone, let alone Amanda, he wouldn't have any time for her and she would be utterly friendless, cause let's face it, girlfriends don't like girl friends.

Then Keith learns of Hardy's plan to invite him and Amanda to a party after their date so he and his sycophants can beat the shit out of him. Keith, foolishly, still wants to go on the date. Watts agrees to help him prepare for it and offers to chauffeur the couple so she can be close to the action.

Mary Stuart Masterson's performance is like a soliloquy. No one but the audience sees Watts' love and jealousy and secret triumphs and painful realizations. The only character she interacts with is Keith and he's too caught up in his own shit to notice anything. The viewers feel closer to Watts because we have a deeper insight into her internal thoughts and we end up caring more about her than Keith.

There are so many wonderful moments in this performance, such as the scene where Watts tries to make Keith jealous by flirting with some random guy. Her bubbly out-of-character "Keith! Hi! What's up?" is great... is her reaction when the guy congratulates Keith on his date with Amanda.

Of course the most memorable moment of the movie is the practice kissing scene. On the day of the big date, Watts asks Keith whether or not he feels he can deliver a kiss that will sweep Amanda off her feet and then offers her services as practice run. It's a great scene that is better watched than explained by me.

In a way, it's a little sad and masochistic; the only way Watts can get Keith to kiss her is to pretend to be Amanda. Perhaps it was her last little attempt to change Keith's mind about the date. Maybe if this kiss sweeps him off his feet, he'll call the whole thing off. No dice. However, the kiss is scintillating and my favorite in all of cinema.

In the midst of the love quadrangle action are subplots about Keith's social-climbing sister Laura (Maddie Corman), his budding friendship with skinhead delinquent Duncan (Elias Koteas), and most importantly, Keith's father (John Ashton) who rides his back about going to college. Oh yeah, to pay for this date with Amanda, Keith empties his college fund. His dad is reasonably pissed. And this is where the movie loses me a bit.

Right from the beginning of the film, we know Keith doesn't want to go to college. He wants to be an artist. Still, he works at a gas station and puts the money in the bank, probably to indulge his father. So it doesn't bother me when Keith decides to spend the money on something other than college. But Amanda? I mean, that's $4,200 (I read the production draft of the screenplay). $4,200 for one date. Granted, he buys her a pair of diamond stud earrings which, I dunno, is probably half of that? (Diamonds aren't my best friend).

This is where the materialistic 80's-ness really bleeds through. Keith intends to prove to Amanda that he's just as good as Hardy. But Amanda already knows that money ≠ good guy. Despite using him to get away from her D-bag boyfriend, we see plenty of Amanda's attraction to Keith's endearing charm. She knows he doesn't have money and she doesn't care. This is about Keith proving to himself that he is just as good as Hardy & co. and in the 80's that means $$$.

Watts dutifully drives the couple around but not without an attitude. In fact, she's downright snippy to Keith and tries to sabotage Amanda by hitting the breaks when the girl puts on her lipstick. Of course Watts' petty attempts do nothing even though she does get to say one of the greatest lines in cinema history.

"Break his heart, I break your face."
The first stop is a ritzy restaurant, then an art museum where a Keith painted portrait of Amanda hangs, and thirdly to the Hollywood Bowl. There Keith demands an apology from Amanda for using him. She snaps back that he is using her to get back at all the guys with more money and more power. Keith admits to the faux pas and they call it even. Then he presents Amanda with the earrings. Which again, THAT IS A HUGE FUCKING GIFT! That's like a 25th anniversary gift! Not a first date gift! In fact, no one should get a gift on a first date!

Sigh...whatever. Keith and Amanda kiss and are pretty much on their way to Couplesville. But there is one last stop: Hardy's place. Both Amanda and Watts don't want Keith to confront Hardy, but he insists it's something he has to do. By now Watts has thrown in the towel and waits beside the car as Amanda and Keith venture into a typical teen movie house party.

From here on out, SKOW can I say this? just not...something. Hardy insults Amanda and Keith defends her honor, but the scuffle goes nowhere. Duncan and his thug friends arrive deus ex machina to take out Hardy. Amanda gets in two good slaps and she and Keith exit the house. (Is it just me or would it be cooler if Watts stepped in?)

Sigh...whatever. Then it gets...I dunno...something more. As Keith and Amanda walk towards the car, he has a sudden flashback of kissing Watts. Okay, what the hell brought this on? I mean, he just triumphed over Hardy, he has Amanda, why now?

Watts, defeated, says her goodbyes and apologizes to Amanda for misjudging her. She walks off with Keith watching her like she's suddenly Botticelli's Venus. Amanda recognizes his gaga expression and gives back the earrings.
"Remember how I said I would rather be with someone for the wrong reasons than alone for the right ones? I'd rather be right. It's gonna feel good to stand on my own. Here. In your heart you wanted to give these to somebody else. Go. Go on."
And so the princess learns a lesson, and an invaluable lesson it is. In fact, I quote this to anyone in a relation-shit. I've often wondered what would happen if Amanda had not been strong enough to be single. How long would she and Keith go steady? Hmmm...Luckily we'll never know although it must be said that Amanda is now completely friendless. What happens to her?

Anyway, Keith kisses Amanda on the cheek and runs after Watts. As she walks down the street, wiping the tears from her face, she hears Keith calling for her. She turns. He smiles. He runs to her, picks her up and twirls her around. They kiss.

I will say this, Some Kind of Wonderful has taken us for a ride. The first time I watched it I didn't know who Keith would end up with or if he would end up with anyone. Let me repeat that: The first time I watched it I didn't know who Keith would end up with or if he would end up with anyone. Can you honestly say that about any other teen/romantic comedy? No, you can't...unless you're talking about an indie film, but that's a horse of a different color.

After watching this movie dozens of times, I still don't understand why Keith changes his mind at the moment he does, other than the fact that the screenplay requires it. Even I, who is in love with this movie, can admit that it's out of nowhere. While we see how clearly Watts pines for Keith, we never see him show the slightest bit of romantic interest in her. Maybe the kissing scene. But remember he's supposed to be pretending Watts is Amanda, so...

Don't get me wrong! Keith and Watts should be together! And I am thrilled with the ending. Much of what I love about Some Kind of Wonderful is what it isn't. I love how no Brat Pack or John Hughes alumni are in this movie! I love how there is no gross-out comedy or inane comic relief. I love that it's just a date between Keith and Amanda, not to THE PROM. (Although if it were a date to THE PROM, the negative reaction from the preppies would be more understandable). I love how Keith isn't a football player and Amanda isn't a cheerleader. And most of all I love how Watts doesn't endure the dreaded makeover montage. Just imagine if she did...

Instead, Watts remains true to herself and still wins the guy. She doesn't drastically change her personality either, but matures as a result of being forced to deal with another person within her and Keith's private association. And Keith, having been through an adventure himself, decides he was chasing after something that doesn't exist. Keith forgoes the materialistic desire of having gratuitous arm candy. Keith chooses the real woman who actually knows him and cares about him.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 16

Day 16 - A Sequel Song

"Judy's Turn to Cry" - Lesley Gore, I'll Cry if I Want To (1963)

You've probably heard "It's My Party". It's a short little story song about a girl having a birthday shin-dig. Her boyfriend Johnny is spotted holding the hand of a girl named Judy and now they are no where to be found. The girl decides to sulk and cry because it's her damn party and she'll cry if she wants to. Suddenly, Johnny and Judy return and she is wearing his class ring!

The song was a huge hit and remains one of the best known Oldies to this day. Yours truly even performed it at a talent show. [holding for your applause] Teenage Lesley Gore was thrust into the spotlight and briefly became America's sweetheart. And there is no way America's sweetheart could be left with a broken heart, so a sequel song was rushed into production.

Let's play a game. If a song came out today about a girl who's boyfriend dumped her on her birthday for another girl, what do you think the conclusion would be? Why she would kick his worthless, cheating ass to the curb, of course. And then she would meet another guy. A great guy with moves like Jagger and pumped up kicks. But this was not the case in 1963.

"Judy's Turn to Cry" begins with a recap of earlier events, but Lesley assures us that her tears were cried for naught because Johnny has come back to her. At another party, Johnny and Judy are making out so our narrator goes on the rebound and kisses another guy. Johnny sees it, get jealous, and punches out the poor sap who only wanted some lip action. Johnny still loves her and apparently, Judy is left to cry on her own.

Obviously, this song is a product of its pre-women's lib time. However, I'm certain that these types of shenanigans--girls throwing themselves at someone else to make their ex jealous--happen all the time. It's just not acceptable to write a song about it.

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 15

Day 15 - A One Hit Wonder

"Bad Day" - Daniel Powter, Daniel Powter (2006)

After a much deliberation (and a long hiatus), I have chosen the top selling song of 2006 for this post. "Bad Day" is what you call a true one hit wonder meaning no other Daniel Powter song has since charted on the Hot 100. You would think that the artist with the biggest selling song of the year would go on to have a illustrious career but this is not the case. In fact, this isn't even the first time this happened; in 1958 Domenico Modugno top the year end chart with "Volare" and never again graced the pages of Billboard
. I digress...

As you know, I pretty much ignored anything Top 40 throughout my high school years. But I was still definitely aware of "Bad Day". I liked it fine. Nothing to go through the trouble of downloading on Limewire though. I never minded the song until my senior prom. Some douche bag DJ actually played "Bad Day" prom. Yes, it was the #1 song at the time, but Jesus Christ, prom is supposed to be dancing fun happy times not a bad day. Unfortunately, it put me off the song and I totally blame the DJ who went on to play Chris de Burgh's horrendously soft rock "Lady in Red." Fuck him. Fuck him. He ruined my prom. (Not really). I digress...

Recently, I've been listening to songs from my high school days and I have grown fond of "Bad Day". While the lyrics are somewhat depressing, the melody is uplifting and I can't help but feel good when I hear it. I think the song had such an appeal because everyone has bad days. Duh. The song sympathizes with you but isn't pushing you into a dark corner of melancholia. Tomorrow will be better.

Fuck that DJ though.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Message From Your Blogger

I've been looking around this blog lately and it sort of sucks...Especially when it comes to my movie reviews, which are sentimental garbage and suffer from painfully extensive plot summaries and superfluous screen caps. So, I think it's time Popped Density went in for some liposuction and a face lift.*

You see, there's this blog I read, and the writer is doing a John Hughes retrospective. I have a very uneasy feeling that he will soon be taking a steaming dump on top of my favorite JH movie, Some Kind of Wonderful. I'm going on the offense and writing my own insightful, intelligent, critical (and yes, probably still insufferably sentimental) review of this movie before he can sink his fangs into it and suck it dry.

Some Kind of Wonderful will be my guinea pig. If I like what I do, then I'll continue to write my reviews this way...and probably fix the ones I've written. But if I don't like this new style, I have every right to go back to the good ol' way. Savvy?

Review to follow...

*Yes...still trying to find a layout that doesn't aggravate me within two weeks.