Hot Guys in Helmets

adam driver rolling stone

The cover of this week’s Rolling Stone

So because we’re total pop culture junkies and apparently sheep, the hubs and I have already subscribed to Disney +, and we’re watching The Mandalorian. And yes, we love it, and yes “Baby Yoda” is the cutest darned thing ever, and yes I think it’s a great addition to the Star Wars canon, and I can’t wait to see how it comes out. But as a romance novelist, I have another reason for liking it that has absolutely nothing to do with any reasonable consideration of story or production.

The Mandalorian is really hot.

Which is crazy, right? I mean, we’ve never seen his face. If his vows to his compatriots are to be believed, we aren’t ever GOING to see his face. Setting aside that this story has no room for any kind of romantic subplot and that sexuality is almost certainly a non-issue in the first place, why should a guy in full armor with his face completely covered make me want to start pricing helmets as a Christmas present for my husband? Consideration of this burning question made me start thinking about all the masked and helmeted heroes that have given me the vapors over the years. Some of them, like the Mandalorian, stay masked all the time. Others use the big reveal as a signpost to character or purpose; with faces bared, they become someone else. But in every instance, the mystery of the mask adds hugely to their love monkey appeal, whether they mean it to or not.

1 – The Other Star Wars Guy: Unlike my little sister, Alexandra Christian, I’m not really a Kylo Ren fangirl. He’s a little too damaged, a little too controlling, a little too brat-prince batshit crazy to work as an object of my vicarious desire. But I must admit, that big moment in The Force Awakens when Baby Vader takes off his mask and reveals the soulful eyes and misshapen beauty of Adam Driver hit me right where it was meant to. That’s the moment for Rey and for the audience when we start hoping he can be better. And how well his story works for us going forward depends very much on how effective that reveal continues to be every time he does it–you’ll notice that by the end of The Last Jedi, he’s barely ever wearing his mask at all. If we’d never seen him in the mask, if we didn’t have that contrast, he would be stripped of a whole lot of his seductive power. I’ll be very curious to see how the mask as fetish is played out in The Rise of Skywalker.

2 – The Stig: I had never heard of the TV show Top Gear until I married my husband. I don’t even drive. And yes, the lead host of the show’s heyday, Jeremy Clarkson, was an absolute horror show of white male privilege; his own co-hosts referred to him as “the orangutan.” But in every episode, their “tame racing driver,” The Stig (a joke about how all the best racing drivers seem to be Scandinavians named Stig) would test drive some incredibly exotic and impractical dream car around the track and set a best possible lap time. He never appeared without his helmet; the mystery of his identity was a running gag throughout the run of the show; they sold promotional teeshirts that read “I Am the Stig.” When the real live guy in the helmet, Ben Collins, finally outed himself in a book, he was fired from the show and pilloried forevermore by the rest of the presenters. Collins is a pretty nice-looking guy. But The Stig was Hot As F*ck. He never showed his face; he never even spoke. But he drove, better and faster and harder than any other human on the planet, all with perfect calm, perfect cool, perfect efficiency. And I think that was what did it for me, just watching this man perform at the absolute top of the game he had chosen without ever breaking a sweat. If I had seen his facial expressions changing, heard him talking about engines or describing the thrill, I don’t think I would have been nearly as affected. The mystery of the man inside this magnificent machine was what flipped my switch completely, and I doubt very much I was alone.

3 – The Dashing Rogues: These are the kind of guys Errol Flynn used to play, guys like The Scarlet Pimpernel and Antonio Banderas as Zorro and, more particularly, Cary Elwes as The Dread Pirate Westley in The Princess Bride. (I know, I know, the Dread Pirate Roberts was his secret identity; Westley was his real name.) Elwes was playing the Platonic ideal of this archetype for laughs, but it worked as more than just a joke because he looked and sounded amaaaaaaazing doing it. And he works the transformation; he fully embraces the power of the mask. When he leaves as the Farm Boy, he’s serious, determined, and blandly besotted–the male version of his beloved Buttercup. But when he returns in that black mask with that ridiculous little mustache, he’s snarky Superman. It isn’t just that he can out-fence, out-fight, and out-wit all comers. It’s that he takes such obvious delight in his powers. Hiding his identity frees him to embrace his inner bad guy even as he saves the girl. And it’s very, very sexy.

4 – The Superheroes: Some superheroes take the idea of a dual identity way beyond Clark Kent’s glasses, guys like Batman and Ironman and my favorite lover of the bunch, Deadpool. Unlike Ironman and Batman, whose disguises are weapons in themselves, Deadpool is hiding a deformity. The mask is his beauty look; underneath he’s the monster. It’s a very Byronic, Phantom of the Opera-kind of character, except that he’s also a total smartass. He hides from his beloved because he fears her rejection, and when he takes off the mask, it’s funny (I dearly love the Hugh Jackman mask gag), but it’s hugely romantic, too, the ultimate display of vulnerability. Batman scores points every time he shows his true face to one of his many love interests; Ironman hides from no one, but the moment Pepper discovers the suit is a big step in their relationship. But for me, Deadpool takes the prize.

5 – My Favorite: Anybody who knows me at all knows I dearly adore me some Russell Crowe. I don’t care how old or fat he gets or what kind of role he might be playing, just watching him makes my heart go pitty-pat. And I can tell you exactly the moment that unbreakable bond was forged:

Holy moley mooley moo. When Gladiator came out, my gal pals and I spent much time and breath exclaiming over that helmet. My story, “The Dragon,” in Eat the Peach, functions quite nicely as Maximus fan fiction, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. But why does that moment make such a difference? What is the deal with the helmet?

When Max puts on the helmet, it’s to hide his face from the Emperor and kick ass. He proves himself a killing machine without equal and a leader of men. Max in the helmet is the ultimate war machine in the same way Deadpool is the ultimate assassin and Stig is the ultimate driver. But when he takes it off, he reveals his fearsome broken soul. He is “the father of a murdered son; the husband of a murdered wife.” The helmet doesn’t just function practically as armor; it functions as a buffer between his anguish and the world. When he takes it off and reveals that anguish … well, all I can say is, it works a treat for me.

And I think the Mandalorian is a version of the same thing. We don’t see his face, but we do see his behavior. We see him fight and win; we see him fight and lose and keep trying. And we see him with The Child–his body language, his decisions. We see the tenderness behind the warrior. And because of the helmet, we can project onto that any face we choose. So yeah, not a romantic story. But a very romantic hero all the same.





Random Thoughts on the new Desolation of Smaug Trailer

hobbit_desolation_of_smaug_posterSo the shiny new trailer for The Hobbit 2:  The Desolation of Smaug hit the interwebs last week.  Have you seen it yet?  If not, here, I’ll wait:

Pretty nifty, huh?  The three movies of Lord of the Rings in their extended director’s cuts on DVD, taken all together as one, are my absolute favorite movie of all time.  I watch them over and over; I watch the making of documentaries over and over; I love every little detail about them, even the stuff I don’t like.  (Admit it; you know what I mean.)  So I was really bummed out by the first installment of The Hobbit when it came out last year.  It was beautiful; the effects were amazing; it was perfectly cast; Martin Freeman is all that is light and light and lovely as Bilbo Baggins . . . but damn it all to hell, it was boring.  By the time the trolls showed up, I was sneaking peeks at my neighbor’s watch, trying to guess how many more minutes of dwarven whimsy must be endured before Gollum would finally show up.  I love the story of The Hobbit.  I’ve read the book half a dozen times.  One of my first experiences as an actress was in a children’s theater adaptation where I played no less than three parts – a troll, a hobbit, and one of Smaug’s legs.  But compared to the epic narrative of LOTR, this tale of a reluctant burglar and the dwarves who grow to love him is pretty simple stuff, even if you make the lead dwarf all angsty and hunkerrific.  Stretching it into three movies is a stretch indeed, no matter how fast and loose you’re willing to play with The Silmarillion to dig up some extra plot.

So now there’s this trailer for Chapter 2.  And again, it’s gorgeous, and it does look a lot more exciting than the first one.  Except . . . the stuff that looks exciting doesn’t look much like The Hobbit.  For example . . .

It looks like they’ve given Legolas some kind of romance.  Do what?  Don’t get me wrong; I loved the romantic elements of LOTR; I thought they added hugely to the overall experience of the story.  But those elements were all at least suggested by Tolkien’s original text.  I also really like Orlando Bloom as an actor and as an object for lustful perusal (though more below on how he looks in this).  But is Legolas even in The Hobbit?  I can totally deal even if he isn’t; they do go to Mirkwood where he’s from; it makes sense that he would be there.  But a elven sweetheart?  Seriously?  The only relationships I remember Legolas having in Tolkien’s original writings were his big brotherly love for Aragorn and his fun bromance with Gimli the dwarf.  He’s just not that kind of character.  Again, nothing wrong with expanding on the character, I suppose, but if I’m interpreting the tiny snippet from the trailer correctly (which, it must be said, is hardly assured), it looks like they’ve put in an angsty love connection just to bring in the ladies.  And this lady isn’t convinced.  (The fact that they’ve chosen human-shaped tank top hanger Evangeline Lilly, one of my least favorite actresses ever, to play the Elf Chick doesn’t help.)

And speaking of the elves . . . I hate their digitally enhanced shiny skin glowing with inner light.  It looks like they were going for Renaissance angel and hit Tinkerbell in Return to Toys R Us Mountain instead.  I get that the actors who play elves are a wee tad older now than they were when they made LOTR, and maybe that needs to be addressed.  But they’ve gone waaaaay too far.

Casting Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of the dragon was brilliance; he’ll be awesome.  (But oh, the bestial fan fiction the world will be forced to endure – Run, Bilbo, run!)

If we make it into the dragon’s lair in this movie . . . . what the heck happens in Chapter 3?

Why is Gandalf already so fussed about The Ring?  It’s been a while since I read it, but does Bilbo ever even tell Gandalf about finding The Ring in the The Hobbit?  He might; I just don’t remember.  But I do know that Gandalf doesn’t start making big, scary connections to Sauron until The Fellowship of the Ring.  I wondered about this when we had the addition of the scary spiders and poisonous forest and shadow in the ruins and blah di blah blah blah in Chapter 1.  They’re trying so hard to give this story the same weight and import as LOTR, but it just doesn’t work; it’s not that kind of story.

I will definitely see this; I will enjoy going back into this world.  But I’m afraid that just like with Chapter 1, I won’t feel satisfied.  I came out of every single installment of LOTR ready to buy another ticket and walk back in.  I just don’t see that happening with any installment of The Hobbit.

Wabbit Season

One of the things I did on vacation was see The Dark Knight Rises, the final dark chapter in Christopher Nolan’s dark Der Ring Des Batman-lungen trilogy.  One of the previews shown before it was for the Nolan-produced Man of Steel, aka Die Leiden des jungen Supermans, which looks, among other adjectives, quite dark.  So moved and inspired was I by this experience, my fangirl need for chaos, knowledge, and control seized me and forced me to psychically hack the hard drive of Nolan’s writing computer where I discovered his first notes for a new project:  Wabbit Season, a dark and hyper-realistic interpretation of another beloved and iconic fictional universe long revered in the collective subconscious of American pop culture.

Working Title:  Wabbit Season

Bugs Bunny:  Protagonist; small-time criminal, genius intelligence, incomplete arts education, anarchist, open transvestite, closet transsexual – Brooklyn accent, Irish descent – ties to IRA; good with bombs.  Casting notes:  Christian Bale currently preparing with carrots-only diet and plastic surgery to stretch ears.  Other possibilities if Bale unavailable and/or uninsurable due to starvation?  Will Smith?  Warner Brothers pushing Jim Carrey; too on-the-nose.

Daffy Duck:  Homicidal moralist – strong ties to Black Panther movement of the 1960s – 1960s setting?  Subtle lisp suggestive of homosexuality, self-loathing, love/hate/lust/kill fixation on Bugs.  Torture sequence involving bill.  Casting note:  take meeting with Chris Rock re:  possible dramatic vehicle.  Don Cheadle could also work.

Elmer J. Fudd, Millionaire:  Primary antagonist, industrialist, serial killer.  Owns a mansion and a yacht.  Childhood history of profound physical and sexual abuse, current addiction to whiffable drug designed by his own pharmaceutical company – turns red while under the influence.  Hunting enthusiast; obsessively drawn to Bugs in drag.  Casting note:  keep calling Tommy Lee Jones, restraining order be damned.

Secondary plotline to open the film involving dwarf mafioso Babyface Finster – Tom Cruise has expressed interest; only if he dances.  Prefer Peter Dinklage, would take Patton Oswalt if his sense of irony can be surgically suppressed.  Mel Gibson last resort.  Possible product placement deal with Huggies?

Other possible titles:  “Pronoun Trouble.”  “Despicable.”  “Hassenpfeffer.”  Trilogy?