Oct 26, 2015

personal best: TV dramedy: the unbearable lightness of bunheads

[Formatting note/advance precaution: all links open in a new window.]

"I think that the film Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it's true lightness." – Alicia Silverstone

“A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person.”  Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

It’s just that a mantle of sadness hangs over this most stylish of comedies — weightlessly, like a silken web — and afterward, I always feel as if it’s quietly drifted onto me, too. “Holiday” never cheers me up, but it always opens me wide.
-Stephanie Zacharek

Not to take away from the excitement from the next phase of Lorelai squared, but someone has to…years from now, after Netflix informs us of those four words, when Dean and Jess and coffee-cubed are nothing but dust…

‘Bunheads’ will stand as Amy Sherman-Palladino’s masterpiece. If there is justice. Which there is not always.

The biggest compliment I could pay to the show is that I don’t have words to do it justice. I mean, I’ll try, but if the excessively verbose banter at the speed of Sorkin-squared dialogue of the gals of Stars Hollow could always be summed up as such, the Bun Broads always add up to more than the sum of their quips.

This has become a clich̩ in the Tumblr era, but I mean this as sincerely as possible РMichelle is my spirit animal.

I don’t necessarily mean that in the aspirational way – if Lorelai was the mother we always wanted to have or to be, Michelle is the – well, not a mother, exactly.  Or a daughter.  Or a teacher.  Or…she’s not anything but being. 

Becoming.  It would be easy to sum up Gilmore Girls as Rory’s coming of age story, but Bunheads dares to ask – how long can one still live in that story?  At what age are we really grown up?  And, most importantly, what happens when the stories we tell ourselves to survive differs from the narrative hand we are dealt?

As Carrie Bradshaw might put it – Bunheads can’t help but wonder – when can we say “get me rewrite?” And what happens when we do?  What does it look like to transverse the hundred decisions and revisions that we can’t quite reverse?

Kushner said the world moves in only one direction – forward.  But that’s a lie.  Zacharek cautions us against the desire to rewind and rewatch a perfectly choreographed combo move – Bunheads shows us the steps behind it.  How we run to stand still.  How a double pirouette is, itself, a thing of beauty.  Even if one only makes it to one and a half turns.  How sometimes, when one runs out of words or excuses, it’s time to dance.  Even if that dance, like Robyn's, that dance is entirely on one’s own.

All these grand pronouncements might make it seem important.

But Bunheads never pretends to be a great drama.  It has nothing but quips, nothing but low stakes, nothing but moments.  But those moments become…well, everything. 

If Mad Men is the one prestige drama I could live with for the rest of my life to endlessly rewatch as it illuminates how life actually is versus how life is on prestige shows, Bunheads is the only comedy/dramedy I’d put beside it. 

As James Poniewozak stated in Time Magazine:
“[Gory prestige dramas think] you need “stakes” to hook viewers. You need, that is, a sense that that the characters stand to gain or lose something important, and in the “important” sweepstakes “getting violently murdered” generally trumps everything.
That’s understandable, and it’s at least somewhat related to real life. You, I, and everyone will die someday–though probably not at the hands of a biker gang or zombies. But death is not the only thing that makes your life worthy of your attention. There’s growing up, finding your limitations, learning who you are. There’s being grown up, being forced to reassess your life, figuring out who you still can be. There’s wanting things and pursuing a calling–which does not always have to be building the largest meth operation in the Southwest.”
Growing up, learning who you are, figuring out who you can still be.  Even in episodes where nothing, narratively, seemingly “happens,” what could be more valuable as a mirror to our lives?
[Look how it echoes Zacharek’s love letter to Holiday, the most under-rated of Grant and Hepburn’s films:
"With characteristic ease, director George Cukor poses some big questions — What do you want out of life, and whom do you want around you while you do it? — but he’s so nonchalant about it, they dissolve like cigarette smoke in the air."]
Also, more than any show in recent memory, Bunheads demonstrates the value of the pleasures of music and pop culture and dance and MAKING art and living through the crappy day to day minutia and trials of life being totally intertwined.  Which is to say, it shows that sometimes art for arts’ sake gives us enough to live.  There are no ‘Glee’-like narrative build-upsover a season to regionals, no reality show-borrowed episode long ‘challenges.’
The only challenge is living. And dancing.
And accepting that sometimes having the audition is enough.
Even if one never get’s a callback.
That even if one leaps into one’s dream ballet to express oneself to “Istanbul,” one’s toe shoes always have to crash down on Constantinople’s earth.
This makes Bunheads seem WAY more depressing than it is. But it is precisely the opposite – it’s a filigreed and engraved gossamer-silked party invitation.  Yet paper cuts hurt deep.
More than any show in recent memory, Bunheads doesn’t switch between the two modes of comedy and drama – rather, like the ideal romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s, any sweetness is made more valuable by the underlying darkness and vice-versa.
I am trying my best to avoid spoilers, as I was, and this show is best experienced blind, so…
Let’s focus on the pilot, in parts, then:

Michelle gets quickly engaged. She is sent to ‘Sparkles’ by her mother-in-law and everything plays out as a comedic scene which it still is until… :


And it’s a laugh line because Truly is telegraphed as a kinda crazy person but…

It’s also not.  It’s also so real it hurts.

Then there's, well, the "fat" girl, going to her ballet mentor/teacher (KELLY BISHOP IS QUEEN YASSS) for advice:

- Madame Fanny?
 - Yes, boo? 
 -Um, about the joffrey auditions next week, I was thinking I was going to try out, so I just wanted to ask you should I? 
- Well, it certainly can't hurt.
- I know but should I? I mean, am I wasting my time? I mean, I know that if I could dance like Sasha And I know that I can turn and I can jump, but I'm not a boy, so I just wanted to ask you should I try? 
-Ballet is very hard, boo.  And a lot of it does depend on how you're made.   You have to be realistic.  You're a big-boned girl.  You have a tummy.  Your waist is very short 
- Okay, thank you.
- But none of that means you shouldn't try.  Right?

I am not remotely joking when I say that this devastated me more in the pilot than 2.5 seasons of Emily and Lorelai fighting.  Because with Gilmore, Emily and Richard are OBVIOUSLY the most perfect actors but they are written as villains...

Actually, that's not the most amazing HOLY SHIT line in the pilot:  It's Fanny SNARLING



Bunheads is what happens if Lorelai gained self-awareness - genuine, actual, human self-awareness rather than "look at me, ain't I cute!?" self-deprecation.  And if all the Rories could actually act.

Minor dialogue spoiler for episode 2:
Truly: "I blame you"
Michelle: (genuinely, not quippy) "Me too."

Again, Zacharek: "It may be that “Holiday” scares me a little: I love it not just for its wit and its tenderness, but for its ruthlessness."

This is...my perfect show,  The quips function as barbs, the barbs function as quips and everything is bittersweet.  Not too bitter nor too sweet.

Again, to paraphrase from Stephanie's Holiday essay - one day, I'll ask someone for another Bunheads and they'll say, "there isn't one, sweetie."

It isn't like another show that has ever been on TV.  It's a dramedy.  It's a musical.  It's serious and sweet.  Bittersweet.  It's a high school show, a gilmores spin, a soap, a melodrama.  It's sublime and it's ephermal and it's lasting.  It is about being a teacher and student and mentor of...well, as Chaz and Roger taught us.  Life itself.

I once pitched it to Zacharek via Twitter as "Pitch-Perfect's snark with a Jacques Demy heart."


Sep 23, 2015

Oh, God, I'm in a college town and everyone wants me to play beer pong

‘It’s not a game.  It’s not something you play.’ - George Clooney as Jack Foley in Out of Sight 

Beer pong.  Quarters.  Flip cup.

Amateur hour.  Totally gauche.  Dude, seriously?

Do you know what my favorite drinking game is, kids?


Of all the aphorisms we could apply - and we live in a world of easy slogans and ready aphorisms and jaunty rhymes - beer before liquor, liquor before beer.  One in the pink.  Two in the stink.  Cooking is an art, baking a science.  Spielberg’s WW2 film is prose, Malick’s poetry.  Truth is stranger than friction.  At night all cats are fifty shades of gray - and so forth and et cetera.

Of all of them, the answer to the riddle that is ‘what is drinking?’  - by which, it must be noted, we refer to proper cocktail culture.  Artisan alcoholism.  Learned lushness - the answer to that riddle. my friends, is simple.

Drinking is alchemy.  A cocktail worthy of being dubbed, as Don Draper once put it, simple but significant?  It’s fucking alchemy.  (And any worthy cocktail should first and foremost meet those two qualities before any others.)

The transformation of earth into gold.  Fire into air.  As the strict dictionary definition puts it, a psuedoscience.  But it still has the word ‘science’ in it and, despite what a large portion of the country would have you believe, the word ‘science’ means it FUCKING WORKS.  Even if some of the finer details remain a mystery, it’s still fucking science, Mr. White, and therefore can be intelligently designed.

Let’s go with one of the most classic of classic cocktails, the Little Black Dress of things served stiffly and up - a Manhattan.  

Now, every bartender, every bar, every region, every state will have its variations.  But there is still a fundamental original recipe we must refer to.  As Julie Andrews once put it, let’s start at the beginning, for it is, a very good place to start.

In the beginning, man created whiskey.  And it was good.  And from whiskey’s rib was borne forth bourbon.  And it was good.  Some would even say better.  

The bourbon is the base.  The pillar.  

And, lo, from a land shaped like a boot came to us vermouth.  Varied.  The variety in this case is sweet.

Those two basic ingredients.  Strong.  Sweet.  Less of the latter than the former.  Then a bit of bitters.  Ice.  Stir, strain.  A cherry.  That’s it.

So simple.  Becoming something so significant.  

I can explain it.  Give ounces.  Brands.  Numbers.  Labels.  Exact stirring times - a minute at minimum to maximize the magic - but because this is alchemy, a pseudoscience, there is still something mysterious and divine and unknown as to how those pithy parts creating something so much greater than their sum.

Go ahead.  Play your quarters.  I’ll be over here practicing alchemy.

And, kids, when you want to experience one of the true pleasures in life - and, like any true pleasure - eating, fucking, verbally jousting - the most important thing is to do it with passion and with abandon because it will all be over in an instant, not an Instagram - have a sip of her - of my Manhattan.  On me.

As someone smarter than me once put it, ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever.’

And as those shills at Stella put it to sell you, ‘she is a thing of beauty.’

Ain’t she?

May 14, 2015

it's a mad mad mad mad mad mod world...


Was in the midst of taking a friend's MM cherry by showing him the pilot...this post is going to be  even more impassioned due to anger caused by post-eating.


DID A FEMALE DOCTOR JUST APPEAR - one specifically who has a degree and specialty in psychiatry/psychology - show up to tell Pete and Don pre-the Lucky Pitch - that while SMOKING WILL KILL YOU, due to the writings of MOTHERFUCKING FREUD, we know that the psyche/id has a death wish.


Betty begins pursuing a degree/doctorate in psychology.

We see her reading Freud, specifically.

She gets FUCKING LUNG CANCER FROM SMOKING but the death wish is so strong that she FUCKING LIGHTS UP in the motherfucking car right after she gets her diagnosis.

She actually GETS HER DEATH *WISH* - emphasis on *WISH* - BY *CHOOSING* HOW TO DIE?!?

Didn't the black waiter in the show's very first scene of the show respond to Don's "Readers' Digest says [smoking] will kill you!" with a dismissive "[You know] *women* love their magazines," thus telling us slyly RIGHT FROM THE BAT that the character who would perish from lung cancer in the show would be female?

Is one of the FIRST bits of wisdom dispensed to Peggy, Don Draper's new secretary, from Joan, "they say they want a secretary but what they *really* want is something/somewhere between *a mother and a waitress*."

Secretary.  Mother.  Waitress.

Did that seriously just foreshadow Don's endless cycle of running toward/away from and mixing up himself with and mixing up the roles of secretaries, mothers (ummm...oh right, *what* was the moment when Don knew he wanted to marry Megan?) and WAITRESSES.



Isn't this episode set on the eve/day of the Campbell's wedding night and day...

Isn't the brochure Peggy is reading while at the ladyparts doctor to sort out contraception an informational pamphlet about sex entitled, "On Your Wedding Night?"

I mean, right there we're tipped off to Peggy and Pete banging and the conception that is about to take place on his Wedding Night.

Pete tells Trudy, "Of course I love you, I'm giving up my life for you."

Isn't this stripper/burlesque dancer at Pete's bachelor party performing in front of a curtain in front of a group of leering men seemingly *remarkably* similar to the gal at the vets' party?

An affair.  

A conception of a bastard/illegitimate child.

A wedding night.  A wedding day.  A marriage.  

The birth of the bastard child.

The abandonment.

A honeymoon.  A Campbell child.  A divorce.

A job.  A promotion.  A partnership.

The end of the affair.

After everything, seven seasons later and where are we?

Walking away from the other woman.  Women.

Away from the office.

Taking care and custody of the Campbell child.

Heading towards Wichita.

But heading towards Trudy.

All so he can say to her, after everything...

Only to have the meaning be reversed, to be true, to be new but the words are the same.

"Of course I love you.  I'm giving up my life for you."

Soon there will be another Pete and Trudy Campbell wedding day.

All the DB Cooper speculation, all the theories, all these seasons and years later, why did we ignore the only way it could end?

They told us right from the end how it would start.

They told us right from the start how it would end.

Spinning back to the beginning.  Traveling along Don's Carousel into the past.

What's the last scene in the pilot, again?

Oh, right, the reveal of Don's family.

Or, in other words: "Surprise, it's Betty."

Where are we right now?



It was going to be Lucky and cancer and Don and dying and Betty all along.

She was there right from the start.

Every new beginning is some other beginning's end.

Apr 17, 2014

the tipsy televisualist: The (Hanni)Blooming Rose

So...in case you haven't heard me talk non-stop of late about how Hannibal is the best show on television, let me say it once again: Hannibal is the best show on television.  To the point where I attempted to throw a brunch/viewing/pool party - which, I know, you're thinking Hannibal + food = EW!, but trust me - that sadly had to be delayed.  However, my neighbors ended up coming over the next day for a GoT-viewing fest that got, well, a bit cray. So, in the spirit of #honoreverypart , I decided to make use of the leftover fruit and wine.  While dicing up strawberries and sloppily pouring wine, I found that my kitchen was beginning to resemble a crime scene.  Which led to one of those flashes of inspiration - hey, why not create a Hannibal-themed cocktail, esp. because 'The Bee's Knees' factored into Cleo's 'Takiawase' recap?

So. I give you, The Blooming Rose.  Or the (Hanni)Blooming Rose, if you prefer.  Which, while I don't necessarily approve of #hannibloom , I do certainly understand why it is happening. Alana has her reasons.  

[I can't quite figure out how to do accent marks on this new macbook yet, but one is supposed to be there. As in, rose, the wine between red and white.] 

You will need the following:

  • A large carafe, that holds between 2 and 3 liters of liquid.
  • 2 cartons - usually one pound per carton - of Strawberries.
  • 1.5 L of red wine. So, two normal bottles. Or a magnum/large bottle/box.
  • Sugar Cubes. 
  • Peychaud's Bitters.
  • Orange Bitters. [I used Fee's Bros., though there's a variety available.]
  • Ginger Ale.
  • Adorable Fox Basket from Target. [Optional.]
Let's take a look at our set-up, shall we?:

Some notes before we get to step one:

First, a note on the wine.  While Dr. Lecter would probably devour me for using BOXED wine, it makes absolutely NO SENSE to break one's budget for any wine that one is using for Sangria-ish purposes. Think about it - are you really going to make a Mimosa by cutting Dom with OJ?  Of course not.  I went with Target's Vitner's Red (a) there's a Target within stumbling distance of my house, so 'hey, let's go get wine!!!' after [SPOILER EVENT] on GoT seemed like a good idea at the time and (b) I think the Target-brand wine is pretty decent, for what it costs.  If you want to be apropos and break out a Chianti, do so. And you could make this incredible fava bean-containing braised chicken dish.

Next, sugar cubes are a MUST for cocktail crafting.  I always have some in the bar. Some recipes may call for a (tea)spoonful of sugar , but it's a HELL of a lot easier to just rely on cubes.  Plus, it's more fun to watch cubes dissolve. 

Finally, if you do not already have bitters on-hand, you might as well pick up Angostura bitters along with the Peychaud's and the orange.  Those three bitters are used in an infinite variety of cocktails, so they're handy.

Now, to the actual recipe part:
  • Dice and de-stem your strawberries and place them in the carafe.
  • Pour the wine in the carafe, completely covering the strawberries.  Not enough?  ADD MOAR WINE.
  • Soak a sugar cube in Peychaud's. Soak another in the orange bitters. Toss them both into the carafe and shake until they dissolve.
  • Place the carafe of the boozy strawberry mixture in the fridge and leave it there overnight, if possible.  At least let them soak for a good 6-8 hours.

[Since Fuller did 'Mockingbird Lane' and we're crafting a pop-culture-themed cocktail, I thought displaying @TimFederle 's awesome book would be apt.]

Grab a champagne flute and toss a Peychaud's-soaked sugar cube into it. Muddle it, pour a dash of Ginger Ale to dissolve it or simply leave as is. Fill the flute up halfway with the strawberry-infused wine. Top off with Ginger Ale. Garnish with boozy berries, as desired.

[Sidenote: I initially decided to go with Ginger Ale rather than topping with champagne or citrus-y sparkling water simply because it is the secret ingredient in one of my favorite sangria recipes. Since, I've tried it with Lemon Perrier instead, which makes a delicious yet significantly lighter variation.]

We have a beverage that, like Hannibloom itself, is complex.

A Peychaud's-soaked sugar cube may look pretty in pink or simple and sweet.

But, like Alana and Hannibal coming together, what happens when pink meets blood-red results in the sum of the parts being far more intriguing.

Dec 15, 2013


Finally, a chance for The Academy to placate those who continue to bemoan the 23-year-long injustice of Goodfellas not winning Best Picture.  David O Russell gets all up in classic Scorsese and may have found the chocolate to his peanut butter in the process, finally making a near-perfect Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of a movie out of his “let’s toss everything together and see if it’s tasty” approach.  I’ve seen less delighted folks on Twitter dub this “Mediocre-Fellas” which may be amusing, but is totally unfair.

I like Scorsese as much as the next cinephile, but in a LOT of ways, I find Gangster Mode Marty to often be the least interesting Marty.  The Departed was in no way the Best Picture of that year, much less the best thing Scorsese has done in the last decade.  (That would be The Aviator, folks.)  Worst of all, even the worst attempt at the next “great” crime movie tends to have no trouble getting made and is over-praised by sheer virtue of its genre because it’s butch and is thus automatically awesome since "wouldn’t it just be SO COOL, dudes? To be Mickey or Nucky?"  Do we really NEED another “Magic City” or “Mob City” or American Gangster or Gangster Squad on our screens this year?  Much less this glut continuing for the next ten years?

Yes, as it turns out. What we needed is David O Russell.  His faster, funnier, looser touch cuts a swath through the solemn self-seriousness that plagues so many of these also-rans as they try desperately to convince us that they’re not making a shallow crime movie, they’re making a Scorsese-level smart one.  I don’t think Russell is trying to convince us of anything, much less the beaten-like-a-dead-horse trope that “crime doesn’t pay.”  Crime, as it seems here, seems to pay AWESOMELY.

It looks awesome, sounds awesome, and dresses awesomely while also being utterly ridiculous-slash-patently absurd, even when shit gets dangerous and real.  Like the con men and women of the film, David O Russell has confidence. Supreme confidence that crafting a sublimely entertaining movie IS art, in and of itself.  You know, like the ultimate master craftsman of artful entertainments Steven Soderbergh does.  Surfaces can be substantial and don't let anyone tell you any different.

This is one of the least Oscar Bait-y Oscar Bait movies in recent memory, in the best possible way. It glibly tosses aside the “oh, I’ll just make a boring prestige biopic that dully and dutifully recounts events because as long as I have great actors, I’ll win statues” formula (I’m side-eyeing you SO HARD still, The Queen) with its cheek-tonguing opening punchline that “some of this actually happened."

Like the hair, American Hustle is big, bold and brassy.  It’s funny in parts, it’s sad in parts, it drags in parts, but it never stops being eminently watchable and utterly original.  It’s got a song in its heart, a boogie in its shoes (and nights) and a throbbing rock-hard erection in its bell-bottoms.  That’s right, it’s not only straight-up hilarious, it’s also straight-up horny as hell.  You thought carnality and sexiness disappeared from American movies - movies made by and for grown-ups with grown-up desires - by the time the 70s ended.  You thought now such things could now only be the province of premium cable dramas.  You thought wrong.  David O Russell has come along to restore your faith and should be awarded handsomely for it.

Have pretensions of prestige all you want, but watching attractive people wear great outfits and say clever things as they try to talk each other into fucking * IS* one of the great sublime pleasures of movie-going.  And it’s art.  If you think otherwise, might I remind you of the first movie to pull off the total Oscar sweep a la Silence of the Lambs or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest?  Yeah, that happened one night.  One Oscar night long ago, a funny-sexy-flirty flash of the gams was deemed as worthy of recognition as the BIG DRAMATIC ACTING of playing gay, crippled or fat.

Most importantly, for someone who gave up on one of those premium cable dramas early on as “Boardwalk Empire” made me feel like the new slogan should be “you’re not just an HBO subscriber, you’re also Paz de la Huerta’s gynecologist,” this movie does accomplishes a rare and refreshing thing by being a mob movie/con caper that’s ALL. ABOUT. THE. WOMEN.

David O Russell gives them the best outfits, the best lines, and the biggest moments.

He lets them be funny and crazy and sad, fierce and vulnerable and fearless and scared, totally open and totally inscrutable.  He lets them be human and complex.  He lets them be everything, usually all at once.  (“Everything.  All At Once.” is totally the motto on the Russell family crest.)

His camera might as well be the hands of a moon-eyed, punch-drunk, horny teen who just landed a chance with the Prom Queen, because he can’t keep seem to keep it off them for more than a minute. But he not only passes the Bechdel Test, he can’t seem to pass up a single opportunity to interrupt the ostensible plot to give Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence another line to knock out of the park or scene to steal. He treats them lavishingly and lovingly, basking in their incredible beauty AND their formidable talents.  He never stops tossing them the keys so they can take over driving the plot.

There is no doubt that he’s just as intensely and insanely in lust and love with them as the dudes he’s written to be crazy about them are.  Amy Adams’s con persona consists of not changing her appearance whatsoever and adopting an ever-shifting English accent.  That’s all she needs to do to convince people she holds the title of Lady Edith.

The homage to the greatest romcom con woman of all time couldn’t be clearer and Russell creates a movie worthy to be called a delightfully duplicitous,  Dionsyian-driven, disco-dancing daughter of The Lady Eve - by way of classic Scorsese meeting a Soderbergh caper.

All while being undeniably a David O Russell movie.  Impressively, he pulls off the feat of not only working in an entirely new genre than his last two pictures, but manages to reunite all the main actors from those films - half of which he directed to Oscar wins - while avoiding the reunion trap of relying on the same tricks that won previous praise.  Instead, he is constantly remixing and refreshing his troupe in ceaselessly-shifting narrative and emotional combinations from scene to scene.  He can toss in new performers like Louis CK to great effect while driving his old reliables to different heights, exposing previously untapped qualities and new depths of talent.  I mean, who among us would have believed in Amy Adams's sex appeal enough to let her play the part of an absolute sex bomb goddess?

Is it perfect?  No.  Is it shaggy?  Yes.  Shaggy and messy and too much is this man's wheelhouse.

Jennifer Lawrence's long-suffering Rosslyn can’t seem to help herself from saying whatever she’s thinking or doing whatever she wants, like starting kitchen fires by putting metal in the microwave - or as it's dubbed here, “ the science oven.”   David O Russell works the same way – but his “everything AND the kitchen sink AND metal in the science oven” approach has never been more enjoyable or more expertly accomplished.  He’s gone from indie auteur to enfant terrible to persona non grata to Oscar comeback kid in the span of two decades.  Now he finally has the clout and freedom to make pretty much whatever kind of movie he wants and, my god, we should let him do it.

Because a slightly imperfect but totally refreshing take on a moribund genre is a dozen times more satisfying than a boring but perfectly plotted prestige picture.  Give me a romcom/dramedy about mental illness-slash-sports-movie-slash-ballroom-dancing-let’s-put-on-a-show movie rather than a solemn self-serious take on the struggles of bipolar disorder.  Give me a con caper with a screwball comedy love quadrangle interrupting a mob movie period piece. Give him an Oscar, give him these actors, give him all the money he needs, and give him a leash long enough to let him explore and explode whatever genre he wants to do next.

Given how the dancing sequences were among the best scenes of SLP and the bravura sing-along Jennifer Lawrence does here of “Live and Let Die,” I’m personally hoping he’ll tackle a musical.  How amazing could it potentially be?  This amazing: in American Hustle, he manages to take the song *most* overused by cinema to signify how wild-and-crazy the 60s/70s were - "White Rabbit" - and manages to do it in a way that's so fresh, funny and fantastic that I actually gasped.

Will his next movie be pitch-perfect?  Probably not.  Will it be shaggy?  Undoubtedly so.

Will it be as well made, acted the hell out of and superbly entertaining as American Hustle is?  Who knows?  If we've learned nothing else, we've learned that David O Russell will never stop surprising us.  But no awarding body should wait to reward his talent two-decades down the line with an unwarranted better-to-recognize-you-later-than-never Departed-style win when he's earned it now.

Feb 18, 2013

gold men & metallic boleros: 2013 OscarBlerg - HOBBITTIME

So, I am DETERMINED to participate in what I recently dubbed the Annual OscarBlerg this year.  For those of you who know me but not my friends, Holly, Livvy & Jesse have been a part of an online Oscar roundtable for years and it is AMAZING and BITCHY and silly and serious and brilliant and fun all at once.  In other words, it approaches the Big Awards exactly as it should be approached.

[The title/heading, for what it's worth, stems from the insane METALLIC PYTHON BOLERO that Jennifer Hudson wore to pick up her 'Dreamgirls' trophy.  It was so spectacularly bizarre and WRONG that Holly and I not only screamed out simultaneously when it appeared on the red carpet, but also clutched each other for reassurance whenever it appeared.  We regularly bring up said METALLIC PYTHON BOLERO without context and mention that we must 'Never Forget' its insanity.]

Alas, I am SEVERELY behind in my viewing this year.  Without any good excuses as to why.   Should I not manage to binge the unviewed nominees in a mad rush over the next week like LiLo binges on cocaine or Hathaway snorts up attention, I still want to make *some* contribution.  So I shall be covering what I *have* seen, film by film rather than by category.

Let's begin with the spiteful, irrational rant that will likely result in Livvy hopping on a plane to LAX ASAP to punch me directly in the face.  Ready?

The film: 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'
Nominated for: Best Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Achievement in Production Design, Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Snubbed For: Nothing.
Should Be Dropped From these Categories: All of the above.
Deserves?: Hooooooooo, boy.  Here we go:

So, at the end of Susann's novel 'The Love Machine,' a character ends up being at a party in which someone is beaten senseless with an Oscar and somehow sorta takes the fall while the circumstances make it falsely seem like this was part of a gay crime of passion.  [The details *may* be Seconal-hazy, but I believe those are the basics.]  *That* fate is kinder and better than what Jackson & company 'deserve.'

Retroactively revoking all the LOTR statuettes as though they were caught doping is better than they deserve.  Having everyone believe that the only reason they won in the first place is because of a Palance/Tomei name-calling snafu is better and kinder.

No, what Jackson and every single person on the crew of this "film" - which, yes, the airquotes around film are deliberate and we shall get to that momentarily - is no less than a burgundy-lipped Melanie Laurent gathering up every single hard drive in existence containing the 48 FPS 3D HFR LOTR:TH:AUJ and setting it ablaze while forcing Jackson and company to watch as their cinematic crime burns and the avenging angel cackles magnificently.

Truly, words fail me at trying to capture the visual experience that was viewing this in HFR.  And, yes, I saw it at a VERY good theater displaying and projecting it in the quote-unquote 'proper' or 'intended' fashion.  (Alas, this dreck ended up being the very last thing I saw at Grauman's Chinese before they lamely were sold and became TCL Theaters)

It wasn't merely 'different' or 'new' or 'unsettling.'  It was ACTIVELY WRONG.  And bad.  It looked bad & wrong.  Unnatural and too natural at the same time.  Far too real-slash-far too fake.  Any sort of motion or action - especially motion within the frame *combined* with camera motion - seemed like it was being played on fast-forward rather than unfolding naturally.  The bizareness of how HFR ruins the simplest cinematic action was jarringly noticeable in any close-up of hands - which, this film has a lot of.

Note that all the nominations for this film fall under visuals.  And I will not argue against the fact that the many accolades and awards that the LOTR franchise are merited.  But not anymore.  What previously looked *right* and good and correct now looks flat-out wrong.  The wiglines and the seams and the sets all *show* now.  You aren't being magically transported to Rivendell anymore.  You are being shown what Holly and I both dubbed a Kinkade Painting.

The thing is, the decision to shoot and distribute this in HFR wasn't a spur-of-the-moment undertaking.  It was carefully thought out and planned - and yet, the visual shoddiness and wrongness made me think that no one on-board even looked at dailies at any point during the years of production.

How visually wrong is HFR Hobbit?  I would rather sit through a Stephen Sommers's film festival because at least Sommers is not serving up mediocre visuals while screaming at me that this is the FUTURE OF MOVIES.

Stop the future, I want to get off.

The ego, audacity and sheer hubris displayed by Jackson saying at the first hint of criticism that "NO NO NO, the audience will get USED to it after 10 or 20 minutes" or "Well, LIFE doesn't have a frame rate so this is more true to life!" or "it makes the 3D smoother!" (it didn't do so remotely, BTW - the 3D Imax Visual Feast of the Year was Prometheus, by a mile) is making James Cameron seem humble and grounded.

Nov 25, 2012

in which we talk about the thing I do not talk about

It will be two years in two weeks or so, give or take.   It feels like it was yesterday and it feels like it was a decade ago at the same time.

If you are one of the few to actually know me outside this blog, outside this nom de plume, you know that my mother and I have//had a relationship that is best described as "it's complicated" from the Facebook pull-down menu.  If you are among those few to know me well, you know she's gone.

I'd like to pretend I'm doing fine.  I'd like to pretend it didn't happen.  I'd like to pretend the world spins forward, just as it had before.

But that's impossible.  It is the thing that can not be undone.  The irrevocable.  The demarcation between 'before her' and 'after.'  The Rubicon, the Styx, the Hellmouth.

I can apply Wite-Out to as much of her memory as possible.   Redact.  Leave my life looking like the Watergate transcripts.

(Longtime readers may notice that I completely deleted the post in which I called her a big fat bitch, kinda, for her Christmas Card that should be the stuff of LEGENDARY EPICS, in terms of passive-aggressiveness.  But she WAS being a big fat bitch.  But now she's dead.  So I feel guilty calling her that.  Then I feel guilty about whitewashing the past, as though rewriting our history does her a disservice.)

But that doesn't bring her back.  Doesn't make it any less real.  Any less hard.  Any less now and possibly forever.

It's hard not to feel alone.  Feel bereft.  Feel abandoned.

One of those hazy childhood incidents that became a source of ongoing jokes between us was when I somehow lost myself in a toy story and stood there muttering to a cashier that 'mommy come back, mommy always come back' until she did.  Then one day she doesn't.

The absolutely, hilariously, poignantly tragic thing?  It was stairs.  This woman survived being born with a hole in her heart (literal, not just metaphorical), survived breast cancer and radiation and a double mastectomy, survived nearly 60 odd years of the trials and tribulations that we call life.  And it was a missed step in our back staircase that took her down.  Broke her spine.  Would leave her a quadriplegic.

And if you know my mother, you know that a life in which she could not dance would be no life worth living.  So she chose not to.  We chose not to.  We had to find documents and wills and powers of attorneys.  We had to plead her case before a tribunal of medical experts and hospital staff to assure them that we would not sue them for complying with the wishes she had made clear to us for decades.  She had to desperately plea her case - after a surgery left her vocal cords useless but her mouth able to mouth words  - had to plea her case to a shrink, to a nurse, to God.  To die.  To stop.  To end.

The hardest thing is trying to believe it wasn't an ending.  To our story.  To her.

I'm not what you call a religious man because my family did religion like they did everything else - weirdly, uniquely and like no other family I know.  At best, I could be described as a sampler of spirituality without settling down to strict adherence to any one religion.  Which is kinda how she did things.  I always gave her some snark for being so new-age-y but what do you expect of one who came of age in the Age of Aquarius?   And while she turned much more to Catholicism in the wake of her father's death, I do not have such cold comfort.  Such explanations.  Such reasons.

The biggest bullshit aphorism ever perpetuated is that 'everything happens for a reason.'

The world is not reasonable.  The twists of fate are not reasonable.  Mankind is not reasonable.

No reason or afterlife or narrative arc you could come up with will justify a world without her in it.

I can only try to write that narrative from now on.  The after.  It's how I can honor her.  Remember her. Keep her here, keep her now, keep her alive.

She used to always ask me why I didn't write about her.  Why, if I wanted to be a writer. Why, if I wanted to make it.  Why, if one should write what one knows.  I told her that no one would believe it was drawn from life.  That no one would believe she was real.  She was much too much for life, much less art imitating such.

But here we are, two years later.  And all I know is that she is - was - the realest woman I've ever known.  And loved.  And lost.