Friday, 30 September 2011

Pan Am Pilot review

Pan Am is a new series airing on ABC that centers around the lives of four Pan Am stewardesses. It also takes place in the 1960s, so there’s an inclination to compare it to another retro sixties show, Mad Men. While there’s no doubt that the success of AMC’s critical darling was a key factor in getting this show picked up, Pan Am is very different from Mad Men in all terms, including quality. For good or ill, better or worse.
Like I mentioned previously, Pan Am is a centerpiece show with four stewardess and to a lesser extent two male pilots flying on a brand new Pan Am jet plane. Oh yes, the sleek aesthetic of jet age is in full display here, with the pilot opening in a spotless New York airport that almost looks like the set-piece from a retro Sci-fi flick. Everything is clean and shiny from the bright blue of the stewardess’ outfits to the glittering gleam coming from the jet aircraft.

Each character has their own separate story hook that carries through the pilot and their backstory is told through flashbacks. There’s Maggie, played by Christina Ricci, the forerunner of the show. She’s a bohemian free-spirit who gets called in to work a flight after being grounded due to the disappearance of another stewardess. The character is a looking glass, a way for modern audiences with supposedly more advanced views on gender roles to identify with and thus get an introduction to the setting. Why she’s so progressive and spunky that she even changes into her uniform while in the back of her cab to the airport, and even tells the cabbie to keep his perv eyes on the road. Cute. I would call her the fanservice of the show, but the whole thing is forty-five minutes of fanservice so I’ll just move on.

Kate (Kelli Garner) is another one of the stewardesses and she, gasp, seems to be have herself two story hooks. The first is a spy plot straight out of John Le Carre. I shit you not. She’s been tasked by a mysterious government agent to steal a German passenger’s passport and replace it with a fake. I’d say that this feels tacked on and forced except for events later in the episode that I’ll get to in a moment. There’s not much more to say about this character other than that.

The second of Kate’s hooks is her sister Laura (Margot Robbie), the new girl onboard who is also on the cover of Life Magazine which did a piece on the new flight attendants. She’s somewhat reserved, and naïve and gets smacked on the ass by her female supervisor after she gets her weight checked. I’m guessing this is a nod to the blatant sexism and what we’d consider sexual harassment nowadays that was prevalent back then, but it just kind of feels both forced and weak. The fact that it’s a woman superior doing it loses its impact since it comes off more as a quirk than anything approaching social commentary. This’ll be a constant throughout the episode so better get used to it.

Laura is also trying to start a new life at Pan Am, and actively avoiding her old life, which to be fair didn’t seem all that exciting. She was set up and pressured to wed a man she didn’t love by her overbearing mother. In a flashback that seems lifted straight from Lifetime network movie, she realizes that she needs to live her own life and she and Kate make a getaway in a red convertible while the wedding guests look on in confusion and their mother shrieks at them like what the producers thought a 1960s overbearing shrew sounded like. That’s about it, let’s move on.

The last character is Colette, played by French-Canadian actress Karine Vanesse, who plays a French stewardess who’s sleeping with a man who just happens to be on the same flight as she is. He also happens to be traveling with his family who Colette didn’t know about and which means she was unknowingly having an affair with a married man. While this sub-plot is a clichéd, Karine Vanesse is probably the best actress on this show and imbues her scenes with a subdued and subtle passion that actually gives her character some screen presence. Out of all the cast,

Oh yes, and there’s the pilots too, but their such drab and forgettable characters that I’m not even going to get into them cause I think I’d fall asleep while trying to even remember their names.  One of them was supposed to be engaged to the missing stewardess but things happen and yadda, yadda, yadda.

The plot of the show is pretty much exactly what I explained above; a series of minor sub-plots that never really come together. In that sense the show seems like Desperate Housewives in that regard. Not that I’ve really watched Desperate Housewives, but that bored afternoon on their TV Tropes page filled me in as much as I care to.  I will say that the final five minutes of the show actually manage to show some creativity and smart writing, as what I took to be previous plot-holes were explained quite well. It’s not

Essentially the theme and I suppose the premise of the show is that these stewardesses are a new breed of women (it’s actually commented on by the aforementioned two pilots while drinking in a Parisian pub) that can be both good looking, sexy and independent. There’s a shot at the end of the episode where the characters are walking in a row to their plane, one hand clutching their bag while the other is held up daintily before them, and Laura looks back to see a little girl watching them and winks at her. I suppose this is meant to imply that the little girl and thus her whole generation are inspired by the Pan Am stewardesses to become the smart, sexy, independent women of the future, but I’m not buying it. Mostly because the characters, for all their implied independence, are still meant to be good looking servants to a largely male passenger base. Not exactly what I’d call empowerment.

Where Mad Men was subtle about showing the changes that were going on in the 60s, and showing the dichotomy between the past and today, Pan Am seems to be almost going through the motions. The only person who smokes is the ‘evil’ German, the only people who display sexist behavior is their female boss, and the only truly feminist character is a bland pastiche of a beatnik who seems to rail against the system while at the same time serving coffee and tea to the men. Like the stewardesses themselves, the show is shiny, pretty and at times engaging, but don’t try to strain yourself looking for any deeper meaning.
Rating: C+

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Real is Relative

How to do a story in 100 words using three out of five words. Of course the usual suspect is responsible. Check out some of the other entries, too.

The man known as Bishop handed her the briefcase. She knew that wasn’t his name. Then again people called her Ivy, and that wasn’t her name either. 

“So it really works?” she asked.

“Of course. A simple cocktail interacting with human enzymes…”

“Alright, I get it,” she interrupted. She licked her lips as she inspected the contents.  Pure grade ‘lollipops’.

“When do I get paid ?” he asked.

A shot rang out from behind them, and Bishop’s body hit the floor a moment later.

She smiled. It wasn’t just their real names they were hiding from each other.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Seeker of the Lost

Another week another flash fiction. The usual suspect is the instigator for this one with the image above as the impetus. Please to enjoy!

      Donald Carter stared out, past his own image reflected in the plexi-glass window of the star cruiser and out into the yawning abyss beyond. He shivered thinking of the cold desolation that was deep space. Where others saw stars, he saw only the darkness in between.
      “Father?” a voice behind him asked. He turned around to see Commander Sherovich, the cruisers first mate looking at him with a concerned look on her face. “Are you all right? You’ve been standing there looking out for a while now.”

       “It’s nothing. Really.” Donald said. “And please don’t call me Father. I left the clergy a long time ago. Right after the war actually.”

       There was an awkward pause as Sherovich bit her lip and shuffled her feet. Donald sighed, knew exactly what she was so desperately trying to summon the courage to ask him.

       “You want to know why I’m doing this don’t you?” he asked even though he knew the answer was yes. “Why I’ve spent so much of my own money hiring this vessel on what everybody’s calling a fool’s quest?”

       She nodded, glad that he’d said it and not she.

       “It’s quite complicated really, but I guess it boils down to one thing.” He took the holopad from his belt, used it to project the image of a star system so ingrained in every human’s memory even though no one had set a foot on any one of the planets there. “Hope.”

       “I-I’m not sure I understand. Why would you hope to find any trace of them? The Xin? They’re-they were…”

       “The enemy? Sometimes I wonder about what makes an enemy, what sets man against man. Or in this case, what sets man against alien. I can’t help it really. It’s in my nature even now that I’m no longer a priest.” Now it was his time to bite his lip. “Especially now that I’m no longer a priest.”

       “But they were our foes. If we hadn’t wiped their home planet and any colonies we came across they would have done the same to us. There was no other way.”

       “Really? I was there on the front lines during the Ganymede invasion. I’m probably one of only a thousand who saw the enemy face to face and lived to tell the tale. Do you want to know what I saw when I looked into their eyes?”

        He took her silence as a consent to continue.

       “I saw the same as what I saw in our own soldiers eyes. I saw pain, and sadness, and hatred. I saw the overwhelming desire to flee and escape the carnage around them. And most of all, Commander, I saw hope. Hope that they might make it through the battle, make it through the war, and return home to a life untouched by war.”

        She stared at him, and he could see that he still hadn’t answered her question. Not fully.

       “Where did your ancestors come from Commander Sherovich? I mean, back when they lived on Earth which country or region did they hail from?”

       “Both my grandparents were from The United Russian Federation.”

       “And most of my family were from North America, specifically the old United States area. Just a few hundred years ago, at the dawn of the nuclear age, my country and yours were locked in a Cold War, with both sides possessing the means to annihilate the other and the world itself even. If we had behaved back then the way we did with the Xin, odds are neither one of us would be having this conversation today.”

       “I’m not sure I buy your analogy, especially when you remember that it was they who attacked first. We only fought back to protect ourselves.  They gave us no other choice.”

      Donald thumbed his holopad again, this time brought up a strange view of a hologram artwork he was certain the Commander had never seen before.  A humanoid figure, surrounded by a ring of people, held a torch high above her head, illuminating the darkness around them. Commander Sherovich gasped when she realized that it was a Xin who wielded the flame.

       “This Commander, is the reason I left the Church. I was on the archaeology team that was sent down to the Xin’s homeworld after we decimated it to find out more about them. What we found was nothing like what we’d faced on the battlefield. They weren’t a warrior people, they were a civilization of scientist who practiced a philosophy of learning. This figure here is a motif shown over and over again, meant to symbolize their eternal search for truth in a darkened universe. We also found their data files about us, what they’d gathered from long observations from afar and interceptions of our news feeds. You know what it contained?”

       She shook her head.

       “It was us at our worst, a compilation of violence, war and genocide. They only attacked us because they thought we were savages, that we would wipe them out if we weren’t stopped ourselves. They didn’t believe they had any other choice. After we got back our research was confiscated by the army, and the Church told me I’d be better off shutting my mouth and never mentioning it ever again. That’s when I told them where they could shove it and I left. Probably the only smart thing I’ve done in my whole life.”

         Sherovich studied him for a moment, then walked up and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek.

       “You are a very strange man, Fa -, er, Mr. Carter. Very strange indeed,” she said as she made her way to the bulkhead door and opened it. She stopped and looked back at him. “I’m not sure if I agree with what you are doing, but somehow I hope you find what you are looking for all the same.”

        The door swooshed close behind her and he was left alone in the room.  He turned back to the stars view and thought about her answer. It would have to do he supposed. He was a still a priest in all but name. He was used to living in a world where half-wins were victory enough. For a moment then, the void beyond seemed a little less dark.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Finger Fucked

This was an interesting one.  Chuck Wendig's terrible minds challenge was to craft a story about revenge. Sounds simple, n'est-ce pas? Of course there was a kicker and this time we only had 100 words to tell the whole story. Since I have a tendency to kinda go over the word count on these challenges (dun-dun-dun!) the real trick wasn't telling the story, so much as telling the story in as few words as possible. Coming in at exactly 100 words is Finger Fucked. 
Please to enjoy.

Candy felt the sweat and semen pool between her legs. She grabbed the pack of smokes on her bedside stand and lit two up, offered the second one to the equally sweaty man lying in bed beside her. He took it with his left hand and Candy couldn't help staring at the large wedding ring he had on.  She reached down and grabbed another large thing of his. She took a drag from her cig and blew out smoke that twisted about in the afternoon sun.

This'll teach that bitch Jenny from accounting to mess with me, she thought, smiling.