A book review – Unbreakable


I’m exhausted. Why, might you say? Because I’ve just ground my way through former tennis player Jelena Dokic’s harrowing autobiography Unbreakable. Unbreakable. That’s probably close to what you need to be not to be tempted to blow your brains out when Jelena – I assume we’re on a first name basis now that we’ve shared so much – adds more heartache and abuse to her unbelievable tally for the umpteenth time around page 250. There’s a saying that goes something like « whenever you think it can’t get any worse, it does ». Well, this book is evidence of that if there has ever been any.

I’m no psychologist and I’ll try to steer clear from drugstore psychology here but I don’t think I’d be crossing the Rubicon of human decency if I said that the mental and physical abuse Jelena Dokic repeatedly suffered at the hand of her father during her entire childhood set her up for a lifelong quest for some sort of twisted replacement for Damir Dokic, the tennis dad from hell. The person who turned her into a refugee twice (from Croatia to Serbia and then Australia), denied her a normal childhood, repeatedly assaulted her, had her switch nationalities twice, had her sign over all her earnings to him and prevented her from developing any kind of friendship with anyone. Oh and to add insult to injury (quite literally) he also enjoyed throwing tantrums courtside and in the media. All of which triggered acute depression in his daughter.

Formula 1 driver Enrique Bernoldi is the first one to take over as her first ever boyfriend. He obviously turns out to be a control freak who goes so far as to fly halfway across the globe to keep an eye on her. Getting rid of him proves almost as painful as leaving her family household. There’s just enough space for a lousy coach, Borna, to come in and take advantage of her financially. Since Jelena has never been given the opportunity to make a decision for herself, both situations drag on forever, especially the latter. Being in a committed relationship with Borna’s brother Tin – who seems to be the anti-Damir Dokic this time – sure doesn’t help.

The most disturbing thing in all this being that she blames her drop in the rankings on all this drama (seemingly rightfully so) and hints at the fact that she got her best results while under duress. Stockholm syndrome much? I can’t help but think about this quote from Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower: « Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve. » Especially when there’s never been anything to compare it to.

At this point, knowing everything about the five elements of a plot leading to a resolution by way of a climax, you might think that’s it, we’re done, Jelena is going to play tennis happily ever after. Hell no. In the wake of her recovery from depression, her body starts to give way, as if all her mental health issues weren’t enough. Injury upon injury will end up forcing her to retire at 29. How sadly fitting for someone who was never taught how – and that she was allowed – to make a decision on her own.

You end up yelling at the book even though you know she can’t really be blamed for any of it. And that’s the thing. Nowhere in this narrative does she accept any responsibility (for her tennis-related failures, not her being beat up by her father obviously). It’s always her dad’s fault (don’t get me wrong, no one denies this one!), her ex-boyfriend’s fault, her coach’s fault, her fellow Australian players’ fault, Tennis Australia’s fault. The most difficult aspect of this memoir might therefore be trying not to be tempted to doubt her word  at any point and think she might be more of an attention-seeking drama queen than a martyr, the very thing she’s accusing her father of.

Why would she lie though? Reality is so much stranger than fiction in her case and this book feels so much like the therapy session she was denied for decades that believing her really sounds like the only sane option. As she reaches a conclusion, the take-home message is all about understanding and raising awareness, not self-pity. In Dokic’s own words (and not her dad’s this time), « as you now know, my story hasn’t been a fairytale, but I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me – I am luckier than most. Healthy. No longer a victim. I am a survivor. And I will always find a way. » Tennis wasn’t to be, at least not in the long haul. Life is still a viable option.

In short, this story is so acutely distressing that it forces you to get personally involved and this review – my own personal shrink session I guess – clearly proves it. So, by all means, read Jelena Dokic’s autobiography but get ready for some emotional turmoil and, yes, exhaustion. You will need at least a fraction of the tremendous courage Jelena herself had to summon to finally make her predicament public. Watching Deadpool 2 right afterwards like I did to blow off some steam might not be the worst idea either.


Picture: By Steve Collis (originally posted to Flickr as Dokic) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


A TV review – Designated Survivor


In these troubled times of North Korean nuclear threats and indirectly government-sanctioned white supremacist rallies, fiction is probably the best refuge one can find from an orange shitstorm that can’t seem to be weathered. In this context, Designated Survivor is ABC’s honest (however feeble) attempt at resurrecting The West Wing (1) through a Donald Trump counternarrative.

In the show’s version of reality, the president is an outsider and hasn’t even been elected due to extreme circumstances. However the similarities to our current situation stop here. Our man is a registered independent who gets things done through bipartisan support, diplomacy and rational thinking. What’s more, he actually sounds like a fairly educated and articulate adult. In other words, he is a slightly unrealistic breath of fresh air. His main antagonists are terrorists (well, duh!) but they are of the homegrown kind this time around: white Americans whose religion is irrelevant to the plot (but I want to say Christian, however shocking it might be for some bigoted readers) and whose status is never dismissed as that of « disturbed loners » just because the color of their skin isn’t dark enough to fit the terrorist bill. Captain Obvious going against the grain with his broad brush would probably be more subtle in his approach, granted, but the effort deserves some recognition.

All the ingredients put together by Aaron Sorkin in his iconic (and idealistic) political show 18 years ago have been somehow recycled by David Guggenheim in order to construct his counternarrative. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (yes, there is such a department) Tom Kirkland (Kiefer Sutherland) is America’s designated survivor after the attack on the Capitol that effectively destroys two of the three branches of the country’s government. He therefore becomes the Acting President of the United States under the Presidential Succession Act (2), hence the non elected status mentioned above. When disaster strikes, who better than 24‘s Jack Bauer to fit Jed Bartlet’s shoes? Especially since the mere thought of Ben Carson as the person currently serving as aforementioned Secretary in real life is bound to send shivers down the most stoic viewer’s spine.

While they aren’t even remotely living up to Josh, Donna, Toby and Sam’s legend (at least not just yet), Natascha McElhone (First Lady Alex Kirkman) Italia Ricci (Chief of Staff / adviser Emily Rhodes) and Adan Canto (Chief of Staff / adviser Aaron Shore) still make for a solid and highly likeable team. Kal Penn (Press Secretary Seth Wright) deserves a special mention as CJ’s successor in the part since his past as a member of Barack Obama’s administration (simpler times…) obviously informs his polished performance as a White House insider. Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci wouldn’t have stood a chance. Well, that is if reality hadn’t become much stranger than fiction lately. Maggie Q (FBI agent Hannah Wells), who seems to have ended her streak of questionable career choices (Live Free or Die Hard to name but one), and Rob Morrow (reporter Abe Leonard) of Numb3rs fame complete the highlights of a high-profile cast.

So if watching the news is as disturbing an experience for you as it is for me these days and if you have enough time – and money let’s face it – on your hands to work out how to use Netflix on your brand new Apple TV, pure escapism is awaiting in the form of Designated Survivor. Sorkin’s show worked as an idealized version of Bill Clinton’s presidency for seven years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, let’s hope Guggenheim’s alternative facts (3) about an unlikely run for office will stick around long enough for viewers to say the same. Unlike reality, it comes with pause and rewind buttons.

(1) If you’re not familiar with it, go check it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_West_Wing

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Designated_survivor

(3) This one’s on you, Kellyanne.

Picture: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Kiefer Sutherland) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Desperate Housewives – an informal essay (away from conservative principles)


Marc Cherry at a GOP event in 2006.

Views are mine and obviously biased.

Let me preface this by coming out and say that I love Desperate Housewives, I really do. All right. For the handful of people who haven’t stopped reading yet, here goes: I’ve been watching the whole show for the umpteenth time at the very least, I’ve lost count (yup, my writing is slightly better than my math). Umpteenth time’s a charm as they say. Except that it’s also when it hit me: I’ve been watching a show that was mainly created as a vehicle for an extremely conservative platform. These reactionary views wouldn’t have felt out of place in pre-Civil Rights America as a matter of fact. A quick scan through Marc Cherry’s Wikipedia page seems to support that sudden nagging feeling. The show’s creator was apparently described as a “somewhat conservative, gay Republican” at some point and is a registered GOP member*, which explains many of the show’s themes and much of its ideology but also some of its contradictions. Desperate Housewives is a seasoned cook’s recipe seemingly made of light-hearted ingredients with the occasional dramatic pinch of salt that make for a heartwarming break at the end of a long day on the job for Average Joe and Ordinary Jane. But make no mistake, underneath that suburban veneer, the show’s underlying message is far from being as uplifting as Steve Jablonsky’s soundtrack.

Tom and Lynette Scavo’s daily lives and roles are probably the best example of the show’s core values. There couldn’t have been a more perfect example of the stereotypical Cold War nuclear family. Tom, husband, father and sole breadwinner. Lynette, wife, stay-at-home mom dealing with everything domestic. Even when Lynette goes back to work and Tom tries (and mostly fails, let’s be honest) to get to grips with their four kids’ antics (with a fifth one soon to be on the way), the show’s writers manage to insert meaningful reminders of the only acceptable state of affairs in their eyes. Their conversation about firing an employee at their new pizza venture immediately comes to mind.

Lynette : You pulling rank on me ?

Tom : Look, at home, you get to be in charge, and you decide how we discipline the boys, what car we buy, everything. […] Look, when I go home, basically, I check my balls at the door, and that’s fine. It works. But for this to work, when you walk through that door, you gotta check yours.

(Season 3, episode 14, “I Remember That”)

Way to condone gender-based traditional roles as they were constructed in what is commonly thought of as a bygone era, at least in the Western world. Needless to say that Bree Van de Kamp, pitch perfect housewife and kitchen fairy, Susan Mayer, klutz extraordinaire who wouldn’t be able to take care of herself if her life depended on it and shopaholic, materialistic, self-absorbed and mostly idle Gabrielle Solis don’t do the cause any favors either. Edie Brit might be the only major female character that could pass for a modern professional woman. If she wasn’t depicted as a heartless slut instead, that is. She must be another one of those damn Democrats.


Doug Savant (Tom Scavo) in 2009.



Felicity Huffman (Lynette Scavo) in 2010.

Among all these somewhat clichéd female characters, Bree clearly stands out. As a registered Republican, proud gun owner and NRA member, avid churchgoer, bigoted gay basher, typical suburban housewife and wealthy country club cardholder, Bree is a poster child for the conservative establishment. Most progressive viewers might dismiss her as comic relief or some sort of foil but she is meant as a major character and, unlike Edie, mostly supposed to be taken seriously. This suggests that Bree’s views, far from being discarded as ludicrous, are in fact to be taken at face value as the show’s main message for the audience to go home with. She is therefore potentially much more influential than one might have thought at first. The fact that she literally gets away with murder (among other things including driving under the influence, failure to report a crime – manslaughter in her son’s case, abandoning her son on the side of the road, you name it) further supports the theory according to which Cherry is clearly favoring her and the brand of conservatism she stands for. She even ends up getting elected as a local (conservative) representative down in Kentucky of all places not long after adding accessory to murder to her already long rap sheet and yet again making a total mockery of the American justice system in the process. Then again, in Bree’s America, where people sport t-shirts that proudly say « we don’t call 911 » within a Texas flag topped by a gun, the justice system isn’t really needed. The proverbial « good guy with a gun » is usually there to save the day according to the diehard urban myth. Float the idea that decreasing the number of guns in a given room might improve everyone’s chances of going home in one piece and Fairview’s favorite redhead will tell you that « when one of them is in [her] hands, then there’ll be enough guns » (season 7, episode 18, « Moments in the Woods »). I guess it’s settled then.

Life Ball 2014

Marcia Cross (Bree Van de Kamp) in 2014.

However, Bree doesn’t exactly have a monopoly on dodging the law. On Wisteria Lane, crimes have no lasting consequences as long as you’re rich, preferably white (with the notable exception of the Solis family as the token Latinos on the show), privileged and deemed respectable by the rest of the community (if you happen to be black on top of all this, you might also be able to keep the cops away but that might cost your son his life, Betty Applewhite learned that the hard way). Paul Young gets off scot-free after committing murder (even though he managed to get in trouble for a crime he didn’t commit later on), Andrew Van de Kamp avoids being charged with hit-and-run, Bree ducks criminal negligence in addition to her other above-mentioned felonies and Carlos Solis manages to settle with the State in order to dramatically reduce his sentence for embezzlement (not to mention the fact that he isn’t even a person of interest in Bree’s trial for a murder he committed in the grand finale of the show). As long as you can pay your way to freedom, negotiate a settlement with a friendly neighbor, threaten unfriendly ones or all of the above, you’re in the clear. Committing a crime – fraud through sham marriage – is actually easier than questioning the pre-Obamacare health system preventing Susan from affording surgery. Once again, this is well within the realm of present-day conservative doctrine although Marc Cherry couldn’t have known that the world would actually end up being ruled by an orange-skinned Law Evader in Chief at the time. How eerily prescient. In that regard, the series finale encapsulates every single previously mentioned occurrence as Karen McCluskey performs the mother of all evasions by getting Carlos and all the housewives off the hook as well as avoiding charges on the grounds that her advanced age and rapidly degrading health would probably cut it just fine. Fair enough. Truth be told, the only character who seems to be paying everyone’s dues to society, even when his innocence is self-evident, is the local plumber, Mike Delfino. Susan’s proverbial bad luck can’t carry the blame on its own. A lower social status and paygrade will do that to you.

Those are probably also what your kids are supposed to end up getting if their suburban parents don’t get them into an expensive private school, as far as possible from crowded state system classrooms. Hence Mike doubling his plumbing shifts and Susan pretty much snatching an assistant job out of the principal’s hands in order to be able to afford the exorbitant tuition. God forbid you end up being POOR. Marc Cherry has his own personal definition of poverty of course. If you can’t afford to live in a beautiful house with a gorgeous backyard and a white picket fence, you are to be deemed poor (or, as some better informed people like to put it, middle class…). This is final. When Susan realizes she will have to live in an apartment until she can get back on her feet, the shit hits the fan. Said apartment obviously looks utterly derelict, has rats and its dominant color is a depressing gray. Not to mention the fact that the only neighbors we get to meet have set up nothing short of a porn website. Fun times. It is therefore urgent for (literally) poor Susan to get back to the lane. In order to be able to do so, she has to track down a bunch of Mike’s customers who haven’t paid for his services yet. Mike let them off the hook because they were experiencing financial difficulties. Unsurprisingly, none of these debt-ridden individuals seem to give a flying fudge about Susan’s situation or improving their own for that matter. Once again, the twisted Republican version of the American Dream is delivered loud and clear. In short, the enemy ain’t poverty, it’s poor people who were too lazy to seize their star-spangled opportunities.

Mike and Susan know that full well since they would rather rent out their property on Wisteria Lane to their evil ex-neighbor Paul Young and live in a close to caricature demeaning dump in a sketchy neighborhood than accept loans from their friends. That would indeed be considered a handout or, in clearer terms, charity. As far as metaphors for conservative small government ideology go, I’ve seen more subtle. Big city spoiled diva Renee Perry and Australian-born Ben Faulkner (hello stereotypes along the lines of leaving for the outback and going on a little walkabout!) show the viewers that they did their homework before moving to the suburbs by immediately bonding over their common hatred of charity, which leads up to their dating and ultimately getting married. A true reactionary fairy tale.

And since it’s never too late for Marc Cherry to add a lesson to his ever developing Conservative 101 class, Mary Alice Young, our devoted narrator (I mean, she’s a woman, what else would she do between her chores anyway?), doesn’t fail to put the final nail in Progressive America’s coffin when Susan leaves her sick son with her ex-husband on her first day on the job:

It’s not hard to spot a mom who works outside her home. Just look for a woman who leaves her house every morning feeling incredibly guilty.

(Season 5, episode 15, « In a World Where the Kings Are Employers »)

A woman holding a job that doesn’t start with « house » and doesn’t end with « wife » is obviously unheard of in Conservative Utopia. However, when her male counterpart can’t hold on to his breadwinning occupation, all hell breaks loose. As Orson Hodge has it, « when [he] lost [his dental] practice, [he] lost people’s respect » (season 5, episode 16, « Crime Doesn’t Pay »). Are you done cringing? Now listen. You could almost hear Betsy DeVos snigger in the background, a little too far from the teacher for her own good. Well, that’s if you’re white and rich enough to move in the same circles of course.

I’ve mentioned the terms « progressive », « conservative » and « reactionary ». The dictionary’s definition of the latter is « strongly opposed to any social or political change ». Change is something that Wisteria Lane’s residents clearly abhor. The whole neighborhood actively resists change, which is illustrated by a halfway house full of seemingly dangerous ex-cons on the (again, seemingly) peaceful lane. Bree tries to be polite about it by mentioning that she’s « all for charity » but she quickly adds that her « neighborhood can’t handle something like this » (season 7, episode 9, « Pleasant Little Kingdom »). In other words, not in my backyard. The technical term for this approach is « nimbyism » and it’s right up the libertarian wing of the Republican Party’s alley.

Having said that, Marc Cherry’s atypical background somehow forces him to walk the line between hardline right-wing tenets and his own situation as a gay Hollywood artist in a world dominated by liberals. Hence a plethora of contradictions on his show. Its endorsement of hookup culture, multiple marriages and divorces almost as a way of life (although abortion is usually completely ignored as a viable option even with regards to teen pregnancies), to name but a few, might represent some of the contradictory aspects that are sure to be involved in being a gay Republican. The fact that the only major gay character in the first three seasons, Andrew, is not exactly shown in the greatest light as well as Bob Hunter and Lee McDermott playing stereotypical second fiddle to him as of season four can be seen as a symbol of said contradictory aspects.

I’m told we’re getting into the episode’s forty-second minute and it’s time for the female narrator to wrap up and put the kids to sleep. Fine. I’ll refrain from talking about the way Cherry carefully creates a window of opportunity to discuss the GOP playbook-approved difference between « good immigrants » (Carlos and Gaby, gorgeous-looking, filthy rich, phenomenally successful second generation Mexicans turned into law-abiding American citizens with just the right touch of Hispanic culture left – hell, the only Spanish words Gaby understands are her daughters’ names Juanita and Celia for crying out loud) and bad ones (Carmen and Hector Sanchez, plain-looking, overweight, dirt poor illegal aliens who go so far as to call their daughter Grace in their attempt to further pervert the American Dream) then. I won’t mention the fact that eco-terrorism is the only way the show found to bring up the environment either. Or how trying to spare what’s left of the planet had to be somehow connected to committing a crime for that matter.

Like I said, I still enjoy watching reruns of Desperate Housewives like there’s no tomorrow all these years down the line and the story’s paradoxes might be part of the explanation. Blatantly ignoring Fairview’s conservative streak including cringeworthy gender roles, prehistoric values and inconsistent morals is definitely another one of those parts. This last one is getting increasingly hard to pull off though. All right, let’s face it, I do have to confess that the show’s finale still gets to me even though, once again, Marc Cherry manages to remind us that it’s all about Trump’s chosen few at the end of the day (I know, anachronistic reference, but still a fitting one): the show ends as Lynette enjoys her new hot shot New York City CEO position and her penthouse overlooking Central Park, Gaby has her own money-making fashion TV show and Bree gets elected as a GOP state senator in the Deep South. If those jobs were the norm, we’d be able to praise the show’s writers for their progressive gender role reversal. Let’s hope trickle-down economics will help Susan, Julie, MJ and the baby pay off Julie’s student debt and make a decent living. Just kidding.


Picture 1: By No machine-readable author provided. Flo~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 2: By Kristin Dos Santos (Doug Savant) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: By The Heart Truth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 4: Manfred Werner/Tsui – CC by-sa 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


A book review – Darkly Dreaming Dexter


Jeff Lindsay

Children. I should have killed him twice.

Whatever made me the way I am left me hollow, empty inside, unable to feel. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. I’m quite sure most people fake an awful lot of everyday human contact. I just fake all of it. I fake it very well, and the feelings are never there. But I like kids. I could never have them, since the idea of sex is no idea at all. Imagine doing those things – How can you? Where’s your sense of dignity? But kids – kids are special. Father Donovan deserved to die. The Code of Harry was satisfied, along with the Dark Passenger.

Jeff Lindsay, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, 2004

Writer’s block is a… hold on. Nope. Already wrote that last year when complaining about my lack of willingness to expose my prose to the world. Or to produce any for that matter. It had been half a year at the time. Almost thirteen months down the line, here I go again. As you might have noticed, my enthusiasm for both reading and writing usually ebbs and flows. Weirdly enough, it is somehow connected to how many *insert appropriate judgmental adjective here* papers I have to grade a week. My Dark Passenger, in a way. But enough about me. Jeff Lindsay deserves all the credit as far as said rekindled enthusiasm is concerned. Who? Exactly. What if I mentioned Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz or Jennifer Carpenter? Ring a bell? Yes, somewhat predictably, Dexter Morgan has become a household name as the main character of Showtime’s acclaimed TV show Dexter while leaving Jeff Lindsay’s novels in the shade. Who? Oh come on, don’t be a smart a… lec.

So here’s yet another rant, this time on behalf of unheralded Jeff Lindsay (he’ll thank me later), whose remarkable(1) talent I almost overlooked because of the sheer quality of a show (its first four to six seasons at least) which is after all a mere adaptation. The ingredients are fairly simple but highly efficient. The same Miami blood spatter analyst by day who turns into a merciless – but abiding by a very strict Code – killer by night we all remember from the show, an equally despicable boss and – that might be the one key element the show has been able to really enhance – somewhat understated supporting roles including Dexter’s sister’s Deborah (Debra on TV) who doesn’t seem to be suffering from Tourette’s syndrome as much as her small screen self just yet.


Jennifer Carpenter (Debra), Michael C. Hall (Dexter) and Julie Benz (Rita)

However, the main reason why some characters might seem a little more subdued than they should be is the overwhelming presence of the story’s protagonist / first-person narrator, this ‘sociopathic vigilante’ as Wikipedia puts it. Indeed, Dexter’s voice is quite unique and the written form makes us more aware of it as we readers have to heavily rely on it to make our way through Lindsay’s plot. This literary device is akin to that which makes Emma Donoghue’s Room so much more compelling on paper than it is on the big screen for instance. Except that in this case, instead of a five-year-old’s thoughts, we’re getting those of a quirky vigilante complete with caustic humor. Triggering such a response in an avid Dexter viewer is no mean feat, believe me. It’s not as if I don’t know what’s supposed to happen or I haven’t seen Michael C. Hall’s staggering performance as everyone’s favorite serial killer. His unlikely appeal was already disturbing enough as seen through a camera. Here lies Jeff Lindsay’s seamless brilliance in his craft.

In other words, whether you enjoyed watching Dexter’s killing spree twelve weeks a year between 2006 and 2013 or you had never heard of that Dexter dude before reading this review (and let’s be quite honest, you still don’t understand all the hype surrounding him), dash to the closest book store (just kidding, type in the address of your favorite slave-owning shopping website) and go on a rampage. Did I mention there were eight books? Oh and did I allude to the fact that the first book (published in 2004) gave away the basis of a major plot twist that wasn’t written into the TV adaptation until the end of its sixth season in 2011? More proof that no Dexter fan had even opened the first book that paved the way for the show’s success and Jeff Lindsay had been utterly ignored as a trailblazer. Anyway. Rant over. Whatever you do, get acquainted with America’s most beloved serial killer one way or another. Both versions provide more than enough food for thought regarding the dichotomy between state-sanctioned justice and individual vigilantism to curb the most insatiable appetites.


Michael C. Hall (Dexter)

(1) I would have gone for ‘tremendous’ but a certain orange someone has ruined this otherwise beautiful word for me lately (and probably forever).

Picture 1: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 2: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: By Kristin Dos Santos (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A movie review – 10 Cloverfield Lane


Writer’s block is a nasty thing. I wrote my last piece on The Program over six months ago and today is the first time I have even remotely been willing to put words on paper (so to speak) since I last pressed the publish button in October 2015. Rant over, let’s move on to yet another one of my increasingly numerous rants. That’s what old age does to you.

Here goes. I can’t believe I almost missed 10 Cloverfield Lane because of all the hype surrounding The Revenant and Spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, both were decent but nowhere near this latest nerve-racking experience in terms of getting you on the edge of your seat without letting up until a few seconds into the ending credits. This feat was achieved mostly thanks to one man. However, despite towering over the rest of the cast, John Goodman pulling a DiCaprio at the 2017 Oscars and getting rewarded for his storied career remains almost as far-fetched as aliens settling in the Deep South. Too bad. Not only is he in a league of his own (as usual) in this movie, but I’m also pretty certain the Spanish subtitles enhanced his already stellar performance.

Joke aside, after sitting through movies in three different countries, I decided to add Spain to my tally. Little did I know that Madrid would amaze me with its Swiss-like punctuality. 8.30 on the dot, no commercials, no trailers, hang on to your hat. This is probably the first time I’ve almost missed the beginning of a movie while being physically present.


Good thing I ended up giving the opening credits my undivided attention before it was too late since I was in for a treat. Indeed, dear old Goodman isn’t the only gem lurking around J.J. Abrams’s surprisingly consistent plot. I know, he didn’t have anything to do with the writing this time but I’ve never missed an opportunity to take a pot shot at Lost‘s creator ever since I watched said show’s appalling finale. Guilty as charged.

Anyway, back on track. John Gallagher Jr, of The Newsroom fame, starts his bearded Hollywood blockbuster career with a bang (quite literally) and, of course, Mary Elizabeth Winstead takes everyone by storm after seemingly burying her career as John McClane’s daughter in the last two abysmal Die Hard installments, not to mention her being typecast as a horror movie damsel in distress (or scream queen, as Wikipedia has it). I can already hear people whispering in the back: some might say that her part in this movie labelled as a claustrophobic science fiction psychological thriller is a little too close to her usual bread and butter for comfort. But hey, stop interrupting me and go form your own opinion on her acting.


Let me now be as cryptic as the official trailer and say no more about the plot and its not-so-predictable-after-all twists except that the screenwriters explore at least three usually distinct genres in an extremely disturbing way and almost go so far as to break the fourth wall toward the end when… well, you’ll see when. So get some tapas and cerveza, reel your way to the closest movie theater, lower your guard a little and get ready to be taken off the 2016 Oscars beaten track to 10 Cloverfield Lane, Middle of Nowhere, Louisiana. Oh and check your inner monsters at the door, the movie is awash with those already.

Picture 1: By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 2: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: By iDominick [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A movie review – The Program

You might remember my review on Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race. That book compelled me to dig up more and more Lance Armstrong-related stuff, including Alex Holmes’s chilling documentary Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story. When I read that one of Irish journalist David Walsh’s books on the topic (Seven Deadly Sins) was going to be adapted for the big screen, I was intrigued to say the least. How could Stephen Frears still cycle on such a beaten track without just going through the same old stages? So off I went, nineteen bucks and sixty cents lighter, I was ready to enjoy The Program in my wildly overpriced seat while sipping my soda that was nothing short of a rip-off. Little did I know that I was in for yet another fraud. And I’m not talking about Lance Armstrong himself.

As a French-speaking English teacher, I can’t allow myself to completely refute the idea of a French actor impersonating Michele Ferrari but I hope you got the fact that it’s still frowned upon in my book. Off the record. Anyway, Guillaume Canet pulls off a surprisingly decent Italian accent in what must be his second or third language. His resemblance with the infamous Ferrari being uncanny (horrible pun barely averted, I hope you appreciate the effort), I’ll turn a blind eye to a few French lapses in his intonation here and there. His duo with Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong is arguably the lone victory this movie will be able to brag about in the coming years. While not quite as impressive as leaving all one’s opponents in the shade on top of the Alpe d’Huez, Foster’s performance as the evil genius of cycling is quite convincing, at least physically. Indeed, his gaze is eerily Armstrong-like at times and some of his antics don’t leave a lot to be desired as the yellow jersey of douchebags despite bouts of stilted acting.

As far as the rest of the cast is concerned, the main problem resides in what my closest neighbors whispered to each other during the movie. « I just can’t get over the fact that he’s Roy on The IT Crowd – ‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?' » (Chris O’Dowd as David Walsh) « Hey, wasn’t he that psycho on Breaking Bad? » (Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis) « Hey, what’s Dustin Hoffman doing there? » Famous actors are usually fine in biopics, especially when they involve the main characters and you feel like no one else could have done it quite as well (e.g. Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman in Invictus). However, when celebrities start taking over supporting roles and end up outshining their fellow cast members, the viewers’ attention is inevitably diverted from the main plot. Don’t get me wrong though, that might not be such a bad thing in this case.

The main plot. Yes, I’ve been told I have to talk about that too, so buckle up. Frears barely scratches the surface of the events that led to Armstrong’s demise and that left so many deep psychological scars within his former entourage. His rise to fame as a young rider, his cancer, his comeback as a godly figure of cycling, the man who can’t be killed, his seven Tour de France triumphs, the Floyd Landis debacle and his ensuing revelations on his former mentor and Armstrong’s confession. Nothing we haven’t seen a gazillion times on TV. No surprises there. Frankie (Edward Hogg) and Betsy (Elaine Cassidy) Andreu’s predicament as Armstrong’s main accusers looks like a walk in the park, Emma O’Reilly (Laura Donnelly) is mentioned in passing and the extra hired for his likeness to Tyler Hamilton is simply brushed aside without getting a single line. I won’t even get into the shocking ellipsis that leads Lance Armstrong and Kristin Richard (Chloe Hayward) from talking about Italian food to getting married in under five seconds.

In other words, this movie is so superficial that it fails to fully address any of the issues included in the other recent (and brilliant) pieces on the Texan rider cheat and it will leave you frustrated if you have done your homework. However, if you just got back from a 16-year vacation on Mars and know absolutely zip about « The Blue Train », I’m afraid you’ll be more than a little fuzzy on the details when asked to dwelve on the subject over dinner. The good news is that now you get to explore the Internet to lay your hands on tons of evidence and testimonies related to the case starting with the above-mentioned contributions. Happy procrastinating hunting! Don’t worry, no performance-enhancing drugs will be necessary for this feat.

Picture: By Jarrett Campbell [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hewitt, Tomic, Kyrgios & Kokkinakis – an attempt to bridge the generation gap

Hewitt in 2004

Hewitt in 2015

I’ve been reading loads of tennis articles all summer and a particular series of controversies has caught my eye. Let’s call it « Kyrgios, Kokkinakis and Tomic reach puberty ». If you just got back from a vacation on Mars, here are a few links to catch you up:





In order to shed light on these incidents, let’s rewind. August 31, 2001. Arthur Ashe Stadium. Almost exactly 14 years ago, Lleyton Hewitt uttered what could easily be interpreted as racist comments about his second round opponent James Blake and was one of the main contenders for the title of Most Hated Sportsman in America. Now let’s get back to this week. September 2, 2015. As both the Grandstand on which his match was taking place and himself were getting ready to call it a career, the Aussie veteran was cheered on by a wild crowd for the best part of three hours and a half. Hewitt was even given a standing ovation as he made his way to the locker room after surrendering to his young countryman Bernard Tomic in a classic night session dogfight. A passing of the torch of sorts in more ways than one.

Bernard Tomic

Indeed, (that’s a reminder in case you were too lazy to click on the links above) Tomic got banned from the Australian Davis Cup team in the aftermath of a statement he made about his captain and his federation a few months ago. As if that wasn’t enough, he ended up spending part of the week leading up to the Davis Cup tie in a Miami jail as a result of a loud party he hosted. Just a regular week in Bernie’s world. His rap sheet includes speeding, trespassing, resisting arrest and tanking (that one’s not an actual crime yet though) as well as a sparring partner beaten up by his dad. Tabloid articles sporting his mug shots are probably piling up in the 22-year-old’s bedroom. Wait, doesn’t this remind you of another former up-and-comer from Down Under? You know, that highly respected soon to retire former Grand Slam champion from Adelaide. A guy who used to yell his signature « come on! » following pretty much every single unforced error made by his opponents, get involved in spitting contests at the Australian Open, need a security crew in Argentina, throw banknotes at Russian colleagues during press conferences and call chair umpires « spastic ». That was in the late 90s and early 2000s. And here we are, in 2015, and I’ve just been told that apart from earning the US Open crowd’s full support on the court, he’s also been hired to be a calming influence in Nick Kyrgios’s entourage behind the scenes. As his country’s Davis Cup captaincy is in the cards for 2016, his mentorship more generally encompasses the whole new (and extremely wild) Australian generation including Thanasi Kokkinakis and… Bernard Tomic. Weird, isn’t it?

Well, probably not that much. As a high school teacher, I often wonder how my students (especially the rowdy ones) would fare if they had a full time job instead of sitting in a classroom all day. Now keep high school students in mind and think about Kyrgios, Kokkinakis and Tomic again. They probably barely had time to go through middle school, let alone high school before being told they had to turn pro. Being a professional tennis player on the court and a celebrity off the court is definitely a full time job and probably even more so than most. Unless your name is Benoit Paire or Gaël Monfils, you never get to indulge your passion for junk food. You’re not supposed to unleash your inner troublemaker anywhere near a public place and please forget about throwing shapes on the dance floor this weekend. Everything you say or do is constantly subject to close scrutiny and within reach of the public eye in a matter of minutes. Oh and by the way, if you’re not very good at reading signals a girl you like might send you, worry no more, the tabloids will very diligently pick up on those for you. I wouldn’t blame any of my students for feeling lost and acting up if they were thrown into such a world overnight (hell, I’m not sure I would blame myself!). But then again, the whole world (ours, the supposedly normal one) has been tearing the Aussie trio to pieces all summer, somehow forgetting their age and background. Maybe give them a break?

Lleyton Hewitt got said break from public opinion quite late in his career, after he became close friends with the likes of Roger Federer he used to annoy to no end on the court, calmed down a little as a competitor, got married and got kids of his own. In other words, he settled down and interestingly enough everyone forgot about (forgave?) his past offenses. I’ve been wondering why all of this happened and there’s an extremely straightforward answer to that: that’s what most people do when they reach adulthood. This is why I think we should leave these kids alone and give them time to reach some kind of maturity, which might take a little longer in a society that is a far cry from a gated community to say the least.

Nick Kyrgios

Hewitt’s five-setter against his mentee the other night also gave me other reasons for wanting to cut Tomic and the Special Ks some slack. Indeed, despite the fact that the Australian grinder fought his way back into the match from a two sets to love deficit, he ended up throwing away a lead in the decider and losing that epic battle. I’m tempted to add « yet again » to this sentence. Hewitt has a win-loss record of 32-25 in five-set matches but if you break it down, as The New York Times journalist Ben Rothenberg did, you’ll notice that the former world No. 1’s record was 29-10 between December 2000 and August 2010 and has dropped to 2-11 between August 2010 and the present day. As Rothenberg had it on Twitter in the wake of Hewitt’s heartbreaking defeat, « Lleyton Hewitt has gone from the game’s best closer to the absolute worst. » I can’t help wondering if some of this decline is due to the South Australian’s slight behavior change on the court over the years (added to his getting older obviously). I strongly believe that a player like Nick Kyrgios’s loud and sometimes rowdy personality helps him be inspired in the heat of battle. So let’s not strip him of this potentially wonderful quality and risk impairing his game. Keep him in check, by all means, but, pretty please, don’t shoot him down.

Of course that’s unless you want to see all the prophets of doom and gloom crawl out of the woodwork to rant about this new boring generation of tennis players and to lament the loss of the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, who hated each other’s guts and were ready to take « unsportsmanlike conduct » to another level. These party poopers are usually the same people who keep rebuking the Aussie newbies when they get a chance. Wet blankets apparently have a memory like a sieve.

Thanasi Kokkinakis

I can’t resist leaving you with an absolutely savory tidbit to take home. Here’s what former chief tennis correspondent for The Times (he went down for plagiarism in the meantime) Neil Harman wrote about a certain brat in The Telegraph on September 1, 2001: « Lleyton Hewitt would never win prizes for diplomatic decorum. In Australia, a land that expected its players to fight hard and behave on the court like freckle-faced boys-next-door Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, the brash, uncompromising Hewitt has been received with mixed reviews. » « Never » can be such a strong word at times…

Picture 1: Lleyton Hewitt on court during Wimbledon, 2004. * originally uploaded to flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/david_wilmot/3357874/ * photographer: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/david_wilmot/ daramot] * licensed under cc-by-2.0 {{cc-by-2.0}}

Picture 2: By Carine06 from UK (Lleyton Hewitt) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: By Steven Pisano from Brooklyn, NY, USA (2014 US Open (Tennis) – Tournament – Bernard Tomic) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 4: By Carine06 from UK (Nick Kyrgios) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 5: By Diliff (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons