Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gossip Girl. Tomorrow.

Yes, I know tomorrow is Labor Day, but I guess since nobody watches Gossip Girl in its actual time slot anyway, why not toss the season premiere up while everybody else is having BBQ? Anyway, take in this promo that's been airing non-stop during the U.S. Open (between this and the Manning brothers, it's been a welcome change from the usual barrage of life insurance ads) and give in to the immaculate sleaziness.



Also, take note of my two favorite stills from the above promo. I'm not usually a Dan fan, but that look he gives the camera is mind-bogglingly alluring. And then there's Blair sucking down a cocktail and causing trouble with a flick of her eyebrow. Can't wait.


Friday, August 29, 2008

GOP to America: Ehh? Ehh? A Lady!


So, just to get it out of the way, the comparisons have been coming fast and furious for the new Republican VP candidate, Gov. Sarah Palin: Tina Fey. Nia Vardalos. But after watching her speak, the first thing that struck me was a resemblance to Mariska Hargitay. Mariska during a particularly dowdy day at the SVU, no doubt, but I'm sticking with the resemblance.

Anyway, lots to talk about here, because this woman seems like a total nightmare. She's been governor (of Alaska, not to get too snooty about it) for less than two years, which now makes the entire "experience is paramount" argument of McCain's look incredibly silly. So there goes their biggest gun. She's in favor of drilling in ANWR, which, as the governor of Alaska, seems particularly crazy to me. "Please! Rape the natural wonder of my home state!" Would she hand South Dakota over to the Saudis? I think she might. Of course, combine that with the fact that she's an anti-choice woman and also on the 100-More-Year ticket despite being the parent of a soldier in Iraq, and a trend starts to form.

There's more to her, of course: She loves her guns! Big fan of the moose burger! She's under state investigation for corruption! It's almost too easy to pick her apart. So much so that I got to wondering if McCain intentionally picked her as a punching bag, banking on the one reliable trend of this election season: perceived sexism. Like, is it unfair of me to hold it against Palin that she went back to work three days after her last child was born? There's a hint of "you'd never criticize a man for that" to it, but...three days? The business of running Alaska can't be THAT pressing. Not only does that run counter to the family values crowd that Palin's selection is supposed to assuage, but it also serves up a big fat opportunity to engage in the health care debate via revolving-door maternity wards.

As a cynical play for the votes of disgruntled Hillary supporters, which this selection clearly was (at least in part), I think it's a serious misfire. Not only because Palin's such a polar opposite of Hillary politically but also because it mischaracterizes the PUMA crowd as wanting to see a woman -- any woman -- in the White House. Not so. These people want Hillary. Nobody else is going to cut it. Not to mention, after the Convention this week, I can't imagine there are very many of that type left who haven't seen the light. On the other hand, it was hilarious to see a roomful of Republicans forced to collectively hold their noses and applaud the name-checking of Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton.

I'm tempted to chalk this up as a BIG advantage for the Obama camp, but if the politics of this young, dumb century have taught me anything, it's that voters will embrace even the dumbest of political maneuvers. Particularly when there are this many tiny American flags.

Ohhh, Was That Ever Sweet


Seriously, best Big Brother season in YEARS. And the more I hear about Ollie's homophobic slurs in the house, the better I feel. Let the good times roll!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Watchmen Book Club: Chapter VI


So it's All About Rorschach in this chapter, with a series of illuminating, disturbing, depressing, graphic, and horrifying sessions with the prison-appointed psychiatrist. They talk about Rorchach's childhood -- little Walter Kovacs, slow-ish bully magnet with a whore for a mother -- and his more-incremental-than-we-thought evolution into Rorschach. The shrink serves as a surrogate for anyone who has to spend any significant time with Rorschach: Drieberg, the rest of the Crimebusters, and especially us readers. Prolonged exposure to Rorschach and his poisoned worldview is, I think it's safe to say, not good for one's emotional health.

I was totally in love with the artwork from this chapter. Kovacs's mom looks so trashily pock-marked, it's incredible. And the crowding of the talk bubbles when Walter's being bullied in flashback and in prison. And the ink blots and the dog's head and Walter's ruined, dead facial expressions. Just incredible.

I like how we're given such a typical "origin" for Rorschach -- the prostitute mom, the child abuse, the bullying -- but that ends up being more or less a fakeout. His origin ends up being more an accumulation of every shitty thing about the world, piled one on top of the other.

LOVED the origin of the mask -- the viscous, heat-sensitive dye trapped between two layers of latex, both metaphor AND practical explanation -- particularly because I had totally missed this the first time I read the book, and the whole "shape-shifting mask" thing always bugged me from a logistical standpoint. My geekery is now assuaged.

I'd also like to note that, say what you will about Rorschach, the way he writes and the way he speaks is downright elegant. His words, while disturbing, are gorgeously constructed. Yes, he's repellant to be around, yes he will fuck up your mind and suck you into his abyss of misanthropy, but the guy can tell a story, can he not?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bad Ideas, Really Bad Ideas, And...This

Oh, no, no, no, no. Not good. Very bad. If this story about Aaron Sorkin writing a movie about the founding of Facebook is to be believed, very bad indeed. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I've been re-watching my West Wing DVDs lately and enjoying them very much. I'm remembering how much I really loved that show. I loved Sports Night too. I'm pretty well on the record as to how much I did NOT love Studio 60, but as the most famous person ever named after a mound of beef taught us, two out of three really ain't bad.

But the one unifying thread running through all those shows was how much Aaron Sorkin needs to never, ever talk about the internet. Because when he does, he sounds like one of those old-timey guys who fears change and is waiting for this whole wide-wide-world-of-web fad to pass so that he can go back to the days when kids plagiarized their term papers from Encyclopedia Brittanica and not Wikipedia and the only opinion that held sway on pop culture belonged to the oldest writer left in the Life & Arts section. He also sounds bitter, whiny, and petty, and he loses almost all of the intelligence and wit that characterizes his best work. And he keeps making that same joke about housecoats, too.

So, you know, why wouldn't this guy want to make a movie about the guy who invented Facebook? I'll be urgently waiting for the announcement of an open call for obese, pizza-faced losers to audition for the lead.

Puny Blogger, Don't F*CK With Charlize Theron


One of the things I have been able to glean from this year's arduous and depressing campaign season is that I'm almost as sick of the liberal blogosphere as I am of the conservative blogosphere. From bitter Hillary supporters to over-sensitive Obama partisans (...and bitter Obama partisans and over-sensitive Hillary supporters) to the whole dogpile on Edwards (who, I agree, was a total dumbass, but doesn't deserve the moral majority treatment from fellow Democrats), those blogs that had become my oases of sane political thought in the dark days after 2004 have devolved into typical political bickering. (For the most part -- I still dig the media watchdogs at Think Progress and, surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan's blog.)

The rabid Obama cheerleaders at AmericaBlog had been hanging by a thread with me (I dig the message, but they're so quick to jump on any perceived slight, and even for someone who's been as down on Hillary as I've been, they've been too over-the-top with it for me), but today was the final straw. Because today was the day they slighted both Charlize Theron and Stuart Townshend. What did those two gorgeous, loveable potheads ever do you you?? Doesn't their beauty, talent, and activism buy them the opportunity to chat with Anderson Cooper without your snide comments? I think it does!

Anyway, don't antagonize Charlize Theron. She may not seem particularly aggressive, but she got pretty Method when she played Aileen Wournos. And she can portend your doom with a mere removing of her sunglasses. Don't step.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Oh Those Mannings

Haters be damned, I think we all need to stop and recognize the contributions that Peyton Manning has made to the field of celebrity endorsement and humerous TV spots. He's really come a long way from the stiff goober he was when he entered the league. This latest ad had been all over the U.S. Open, with the Williams sisters going up against the brothers Manning.



Peyton's an old hand at this by now, so props need to be given to the other two standouts in this spot: Venus, for her "You should be" line, and Eli for his "And stop copying us!" Athletes have a pretty low bar to clear to be considered good at the acting thing, but this commercial's really firing on all cylinders.

Shuffled Off

My friend Adam Sternbergh has written this really fantastic piece for New York magazine about certain New York residents who ended up packing it in and setting up along the glistening shores of...Buffalo, NY.

It's a wonderful, even-handed article that moves beyond the Buffalo-as-punchline thing into the reasons why people might leave the city and why in the world Buffalo might seem like a suitable alternative. My perspective on this isn't as skewed as you might think. I moved back here in June after a great year in New York, and the last couple months have been...not that great. Which isn't entirely Buffalo's fault; it can't measure up after a year in New York (particularly a year where everything about New York was fresh and new and exciting), but who would expect it to? I'm psyched about moving back to Brooklyn, but as a Buffalo native, it's always going to be in my heart. I am always going to be a total Buffalo homer, and if it ever really makes good on the promise that's there (honest, it is), it's a place I'll always consider as a destination.

I love this city -- I'm ambivalent about it an awful lot, but the love side of it is fierce. Adam's article hits on a lot of familiar points with me. The commitment to drawing the creative community to the city is beyond encouraging, and I loved the shot of the artist's studio in the old abandoned church. That's downtown Buffalo for you: lots of pretty architecture that's completely empty right now, so why not fill it with artists and musicians instead of nothing? There's honesty there, too. The crappy Thai food (uh...guilty), the sad little "beach" along Lake Erie, the 47th-place "tolerance" rating (depressingly tough to argue against), but there's also that eternal Buffalo optimism that reminds me so much of my dad. My dad who called me during the pre-season football game two weeks ago to tell me the Bills were going to the Super Bowl this year. And if Buffalo's actually becoming a viable destination for New Yorkers...hell, maybe they just will.

Hello, Buenos Aires!


Okay, who else saw Gabriela Sabatini at last night's U.S. Open champions gala thingamajig? Lady looks fantastic! I was watching with my sister and was all "Holy hell, she looks awesome! She's gotta be, what, in her late 40s? Dude." But, of course, I forgot that tennis players are crazy young, so a trip to Wikipedia told me she's a mere 38. Kinda nice when you're able to "retire" at 26, huh? Anyway, she still looks great for whatever age. One of my very favorite players from when I first started watching tennis.

Did anyone else watch the Open last night? It was cool seeing all those former champions together -- every time Martina and Chrissy get together I'm worried there's gonna be an incident -- but...no Andre Agassi, no Pete Sampras, no Steffi Graf, no Jimmy Connors? Did somebody drop the ball or what? It's not like those four have gone into seclusion or anything. (I was also bummed that Patrick Rafter and Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario didn't show, but they didn't have the acclaim those other four did.)

Well, Shit.


Looks like I'm gonna have to watch Dancing with the Stars this season. I was already obligated to give half a damn, supporting the tribe and all. (And honestly, I've said this before, but I'm onboard with Lance Bass. Sure, he doesn't really DO anything all that interesting, but he seems like a totally nice guy, and he was great on Kathy Griffin's show this season. I'm down.)

But now that I hear that Lance's Dancing partner will be none other than Lacey Schwimmer, my total favorite from Season 3 of So You Think You Can Dance? I'm totally committed. God damn it. Looking at the competition, Lance and Lacey seem to have a decent shot at this, too. I'd place them as the pre-season favorites, along with Susan Lucci (those crazy-obsessed soap fans brought Kelly Monaco the Season 1 title), the kid from Hannah Montana (those Disney Channel kids have scar-obsessed fans of their own), and Misty May-Treanor, who might be able to ride some of that residual Olympic goodwill.

So, you know. Yet another television season dominated by The Dance.

Democrats Hiding Our Light Under a Bushel?

(...I wish I could be surprised.)


I admit I haven't talked about the election much. I don't feel bad about that or anything; you can go elsewhere for better, more focused political commentary. In my defense, I provide way better So You Think You Can Dance recaps than Think Progress does.

But I've mostly stayed quiet because...what is there to say? This election is such a no-brainer it's barely worth talking about. Either the last eight years have got you motivated for a change in this country's direction or it hasn't. Either a shitty economy, a war with no end in sight, rock-bottom international relations, shredded human rights, and an arrogantly corrupt regime in Washington has you practucally begging for a new set of leaders -- for a new set of ideas -- or it hasn't. John McCain represents 100 more years of war and four more years of status quo Republican control. If you don't have a problem with that, I can't say anything to sway you. Moreover, if you DO have a problem with that but you're also too busy falling for racist campaign tactics or crying in your beer over Hillary Clinton, I can't say anything to sway you either.

That being said, I watched the salient bits of the Democratic Convention last night, got choked up listening to Ted Kennedy as usual, and watched Michelle Obama do her level best to convince us that she's not a militant black lady with any scary opinions. Don't get me wrong, her speech was fantastic, warm and easy and indicative of the sparkling personality and grace she would bring to the position of First Lady.

But the commentary afterwards put a knot in my stomach. Michelle did a great job presenting herself as a daughter, a wife, and a mother, they said. Michelle was effective in convincing us she loves her country, they said. Michelle did well to avoid any discussion of policy, they said. The only way she fell short was in not making explicit her Christian faith, said Pat Buchannan on MSNBC. I guess so we all don't assume she's a Muslim sleeper agent, eh Pat?

Rather than be happy at the ludicrously low bar Michelle had to clear if these were the objectives of the speech, I got incredibly depressed. This was a speech designed to position Michelle as a wife and mother, not someone with a head for policy. I'm sure that's the politically wise thing to do, which manages to make me even more depressed. Even in a speech where Michelle tipped the metaphorical hat to Hillary for making those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, she still needed to convince the country that she's not the crazy black lady. Still needed to convince Americans that by electing Barack Obama, they won't be putting Omarosa in the White House.

I forget who said it, but one of the pundits actually praised Michelle's speech as being a good way to to show the country that the Obamas are indeed Americans. Motherfucker, anybody who doesn't already realize that fact never, ever will.

Here's the thing: Michelle Obama is a total badass, and that's what I like about her. (That's what I liked about Hillary Clinton, too, not that some of the more severely myopic Clinton supporters these days realize that when they're busy slamming Michelle while trying to extract their pitiful little pound of flesh from her husband.) It's my feeling that Democrats aren't going to get anywhere pretending we're something we're not. We're not going to get anywhere pretending our candidate for president isn't a smart man capable of complex thought and with a vision for the future. And we're not going to get anywhere pretending his wife isn't an independent-minded woman with a mind for public policy and spine made out of steel. I don't need to be reminded that she loves her kids. I don't need to be reminded that she loves her country. I need to be reminded that enough people in this country aren't so easily fooled and won't so readily be prey to their prejudices.

And I won't't know that for sure until November. Fingers crossed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Can't Wait To Read That Monkey

It makes me very happy to finally direct your attention to the new pop-culture blog at NPR, Monkey See. Come for the M&M battles and American Idol commentary, stay for the Venn diagrams (oh, that Venn diagram! I could bathe in it). But mostly stay because the blog is in the brilliant and capable hands of blogger/recapper/rommate extraordinaire Linda Holmes. Go! Read!

Watchmen Book Club: Chapter V


Chapter V: Fearful Symmetry

Three storylines play out in this chapter: Rorschach, still on the trail of this killer of masked superheroes, calls upon Edgar Jacobi once again; he's connected the dots that we hopefully already did -- that Blake had ranted to Jacobi about a "list" with Jacobi and Janey Slater on it, and now the allegations that Dr. Manhattan had given, among others, Jacobi and Slater cancer have driven him off-world. One more superhero out of the mix. Unfortunately for Rorschach, he hits up Jacobi once too often and ends up getting framed for Jacobi's murder. And, insult to injury, he's unmasked.

Meanwhile, Dan invites Laurie to come bunk with him, the better to intensify his lifetime of blue balls. (Lucky for Dan, Laurie's totally used to being around blue balls.) And Adrian Veidt narrowly evades an assassination attempt, which appears to validate Rorschach's "mask killer" theory once and for all.

This is all combined with a whole lot of Tales of the Black Freighter, including an end-tag chapter from a comics anthology detailing the history of the title and its estranged author and artist.

I think this is another one where I'm going to let you guys lead the discussion, but a few things:

-- Loved Rorschach referring to his mask as his "skin." The artwork really conveys the trauma when it's ripped off of him.

-- Interesting to compare the hero of the Black Freighter story to Rorschach: they're both using the bloated corpses around them (the sailor literally, Rorschach metaphorically in his dealings with city dwellers) in order to, for lack of a better term, save the world.

-- Funny seeing all these characters talk about how nobody would be crazy enough to start WWIII, when just in the last chapter we got that inset talking about how the Russians just might be that crazy.

-- Maybe my favorite thing from this whole chapter, the line in the epilogue about Black Freighter writer Max Shea's controversial, "blatantly pornographic" renderings of classic literary tales is pretty much a blueprint for Moore's later work on the blatantly pornographic rendering of classic literary heroines in Lost Girls.

EDIT:

-- I almost forgot to mention, but props to Aaron in the comments section from Chapter IV for mentioning the symmetrical layout of this chapter, with Veidt's assassination attempt at the center and everything else bookending that.

Let's Discuss My Weird Mistrust of Hamlet 2


So Hamlet 2 opens this Friday, not that you'd know it from reading this blog. I've been keeping mum on it, which is weird, considering this kind of indie comedy would seem right up my alley. But am I the only one feeling oversold on this? All the TV promos promising that it's the next indie comedy sensation -- the "next Napoleon Dynamite" line was a real eyebrow-raiser -- and the breathlessness with which they're trying to make this "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" thing happen...I don't know. And God help me, Amy Poehler doesn't even look that great.

The overt branding of indie films tends to bug people more than the overt branding of major studio movies. Juno caught a hell of a lot of flack for trying to be the "next Little Miss Sunshine" -- Fox Searchlight as a whole tends to market this way. That stuff usually doesn't bother me. Weird that the Hamlet 2 stuff does. It has to the song, I bet. Marketing a movie is one thing, but it's when you get to pushing a character or a song, telling us how much of a sensation it's going to be, that's when my shields come up.

I mean, I'm still going to see it. Catherine Keener looks like she's having a lot of fun, and I'm curious to see what becomes of this Elisabeth-Shue-as-herself thing. But, I don't know, I'm guarding against disappointment, I guess. And if I DO end up liking it, then god damn the marketing for making the movie seem desperate and overcompensating.

Anyway, am I alone on this?

ETA: And now, with utterly divergent opinions on the movie, I am more confused than ever.

Quotable: Krysta Now (and Friends)

I honestly started off that last post about Southland Tales intending to do a whole appreciation of Sarah Michelle Gellar's Krysta Now, but I got sidetracked by the whole unraveling the plot of the movie thing. But it's just as well, since the wisdom of Krysta Now -- and a handful of other characters from the Southland -- really does deserve its own post.


"I liked to get fucked. I like to get fucked hard. But you have to draw the line somewhere. I mean, violence is a big problem in our society today, and I will not support it. And that's the primary reason why I won't do anal."

[Bonus points for "teenage horniness" and "quantum teleportation" on the crawl]

"We're a bisexual nation living in denial, all because of a bunch of nerds. A bunch of nerds who got off a boat in the 15th century and decided sex was something to be ashamed of. All the pilgrims did was ruin the American Indian orgy of freedom."

"In my first six movies I was just Krysta, but then, in order to differentiate myself from the seventy-six other Krystas in the business, I added the 'Now.' It's all about now. 2008. Not next week. Not tomorrow. If you want to fuck me, you can fuck me 'Now.'"

"I'm fucking a very large and important man."

And of course, the classic:

"Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."


And the two best non-Krysta quotes:

"COCKCHUGGIN' 2!"

"The fourth dimension will collapse upon itself. You stupid bitch."


Southland Tales: A Second Opinion

There was a small part of me that was nervous about seeing Southland Tales again. After I ended up loving it far (FAR) beyond most people's appreciation of Richard Kelly's maligned and messy sophomore effort. Was that first screening a fluke? Was I so bamboozled by lowered expectations that my enjoyment of Kelly's inspired lunacy was overblown? What if I ended up thinking the movie was really a mess, just like everyone else did? Then I wouldn't be a special, unique maverick going against the grain! I love being a special, unique maverick going against the grain!

What I found, in my second go-round, was that the problems with the movie seemed more pronounced -- the pacing suffers from the too-numerous diversions (much as I love Amy Poehler's hilarious performance, it probably should have been cut way down); certain characters needed to be more fleshed out (Lou Taylor Pucci's wayward soldier), others dialed back (Cheri Oteri); The Rock's performance is too inconsistent; and the plot really is too convoluted once you've sussed out the emotional payoffs.

That being said, what I liked the first time around I really liked upon re-watching. Those emotional payoffs I mentioned in the last paragraph really came through here. The Seann William Scott (as Roland and Ronald Taverner)/Justin Timberlake (as Pilot Abeline) arc is something I caught onto the first time around, and it remains the key to unlocking the picture. This is Abeline's story, in Abeline's words, through Abeline's eyes. He shows us a world rapidly coming to an end, with politicians and activists and cops and Hollywood stars and scientists engaging in a series of ludicrous double-crosses until you don't know who's on what side and chaos reigns. Most importantly, he shows us officer Roland Taverner, a former soldier now literally split in two, unable to deal with his experiences and actions in battle. [One thing that became crystal clear the second time around is how fantastic Seann William Scott is in this movie. He managed to totally turn me around on how I felt about him. He's so open and vulnerable in this role -- everything Kelly needs him to be.] We know Taverner is responsible for the friendly-fire maiming of Abeline's face. We also know that he's increasingly desperate to find his "brother" and make things right with him. Then the brothers clasp hands, forgive each other...and the world ends. On the surface it makes no sense, but read the context clues, note the repetition of the dialogue, know that this is Abeline telling his story, recognize who Taverner's looking at when he's talking, then listen to Abeline's final voice-over:

"His name was officer Roland Taverner of Hermosa Beach, California. My best friend. He is a pimp. And pimps don't commit suicide."

There's your entire movie, right there, if you care to unlock it. Pimps don't commit suicide. Pimps turn the tables on the people pulling their strings. Pimps get forgiven. Pimps clasp hands with their brothers and tear the whole corrupt universe apart. Pimps certainly don't let their guilt and sorrow and despair drive them to take their own life out in the desert. Pimps don't do that.

Forgiveness also plays a part in the second big emotional payoff -- the one I didn't really grasp until this second go-round. I knew that scene towards the end where Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Rock, and Mandy Moore all tango under a hazy blue light was a beautiful grace note for three characters who spent the whole movie being pretty ridiculous. I still think that's the point, but you have to sort of graft this story arc onto the Taverner/Abeline arc to really get to the heart of it. Taverner and Boxer Santeros are parallel characters -- both went into the desert and came back split in two. Both returned with priviliged information as to How Shit Is. Both are prevented from returning to their old lives. But Santeros is the wish fulfillment version of Taverner, so he gets to have sex with the porn star, retain the affections of the Senator's daughter, figure out the secret plot, and (once again) grasp hands with the ones he loves while the world explodes around him. It's that grasping of the hands that gets me. Every time.

I'm still in love with the surface pleasures of Southland Tales, of course. Any movie that gives me Justin singing The Killers...

...one SUV mounting another...

...this glorious porn title...

...Janneane Garofalo's sad little cameo...

...Bai Ling doing this...
...and this...

...how can I not love it? I'm just happy to see it holds up to some scrutiny.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Until London!

This was mentioned in the comments, but I wanted to bring it out to the main page: big, huge congratulations to Australia's Matthew Mitcham, who managed to do all of the following things, all at once: 1) win the gold medal in the men's 10m platform event, 2) breaking China's utter stranglehold on the diving events, 3) while being the only out gay male athlete in the whole Olympics, 4) and totally adorable to boot. THAT, my friends, is what I'm talking about.


I will admit, I totally stopped watching the Olympics a good 5-6 days ago -- same as it always is with me. But now that we're over, here a quick glimpse at my favorite Olympians of 2008:

Nastia Liukin
(I didn't talk about her much, but she was by far my favorite of the girl gymnasts. Lady shows up to work, and I love that.)

Ryan Lochte
(We've discussed this.)

Rafael Nadal
(This too.)

Justin Spring, Jonathan Horton, Alexander Artemev
(The whole men's team deserves props, but these guys were the big-time highlights: Spring on high bar, Artemev on pommel horse, and Horton sticking every landing in sight.)


Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka

Actually, this one's better:


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Couple Things About TV We Should Really Discuss

(And if you don't watch reality TV, feel free to quietly abstain.)

Okay, 1) I know I mentioned it in the sidebar already, but we have to talk about last night's Project Runway -- the best episode in at least two seasons, maybe more. As far as I'm concerned, it's up there with the Nikki Hilton episode in Season 2 and the wedding dress challenge and Morganza-wrecks-Kevin's-bathing suit episodes in Season 1. For one thing, it was the "why didn't we think of this before?" nature of the drag queen challenge. And seeing the designers set free to take their ids to the limit and be as gaudy as they pleased. And the saga of Suede and Hedda Lettuce (above) was something to behold, truly. You can call Suede many things -- especially "Suede" -- but don't call him too lazy to make sleeves, apparently.

But, as with any truly fantastic episode, it was a culmination of a lot of little moments: like that epic Heidi finger snap. And Leanne (who is slowly but surely growing on me) breaking off a switch and giving Blayne's ridiculous "Licious" fetish the thrashing it deserves. Like Joe's bewilderment and (let's face it) utter fear of the drag divas (there's really "too many queens" now, eh Joe?). Like Terri's ass-kicking Kimono Beyond Thunderdome design. And that's not even getting into the drag names. I thought it'd be super difficult to top Farrah Moans, but Sharon Needles just might have done it.

And 2) is tonight's premiere of Margaret Cho's "semi-scripted" show on VH1. I put "semi-scripted" in scare quotes, because honestly, this is no more scripted than any of the reality shows on, say, VH1 or E!. Faked-up scenarios but real interactions within those scenarios? Real enough for basic cable, I say. It reminds me very much of Kathy Griffin's "My Life on the D-List," in a good way. They've both got their moms and their gays and their determination to shock people at every turn. Margaret's more upfront about her vulnerabilities, but you find that with Kathy too, you just have to be a little patient. And you totally need to check out the interview(s) with Margaret at FourFour. Her love of Rock of Love's Heather is an example for us all.

Dario Argento, You Colorful Bastard



That there is the trailer for Argento's seminal 1977 horror spectacle, Suspiria. It's long been one of my favorite movie trailers of all time, but until now, it's been the only bit of Suspiria I've ever seen. It's been on my Netflix queue forever, and I've been meaning to see it, so last night I finally watched it. I think I can safely say I've never seen people murdered in a more lushly colorful setting before!

First of all, it should be said that the sound on the DVD was atrocious, and I'm pretty sure this is the best quality DVD available on the market for this movie, which is kind of sad. Where are the audio geeks and why have they not found a way to give this movie a cleaned-up and buffed sountrack for a special edition or something? It's only one of the classic horror films of all time.
The background music was SUPER loud but the dialogue was super quiet, so I was riding the volume controls all night.

That being said, the background music might have been my favorite part -- so intense and unsettling! Even just watching the DVD menu, that music is so terrifically menacing. Loved it.

Of course, the visuals are where it's really at, with all that intense Technicolor -- it's atmospheric horror in a way I'm not sure I've seen atmospheric done, before or since. There are few things I like better in a scary movie than when the environment itself seems unreal or untrustworthy, and Argento hits that point hard. Nothing about that ballet academy seems real, with the bright red lighting coming from nowhere and the severe architecture stretching out into infinity. You get the feeling at any time the walls could melt and the floor drop out from under you. It's great.

The much-ballyhooed violence of the death scenes turned out to be, much like most ballyhooed scenes of violence, a bit oversold. It's hard to help that, with the movie released in 1977 and all. That being said, that razor-wire scene was choice. Poor Sara. Poor, dumb Sara.


Birthday!




I'm posting these, because at this very moment, nothing in this universe is bringing me as much joy as Brad Pitt in the Burn After Reading trailer. That's all the birthday present I need.

...On the other hand, if you feel like throwing a little something extra my way, you'll notice how I totally didn't add a link to my Amazon wish list to the sidebar. Because I'm totally not shameless like that. At all.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Watchmen Book Club: Chapter IV


Chapter IV: Watchmaker

This chapter offers not only a biography of Dr. Manhattan, but also the most detailed information yet about the history of this mirror-vision of the United States. It makes sense, given how much American history and Dr. Manhattan have intertwined.

I love how Dr. Manhattan's origin story is so textbook superhero. Accidentally locked in an experimental vault and hit with a blast of radiation. Might as well have been gamma rays or a spider bite. And yet the results are so atypical. Dr. Manhattan makes all other superheroes obsolete --not to mention all other weapons, armies, governments, and gods. The only thing standing between Dr. Manhattan and world domination (not to use such a cliched phrase) is his relative disinterest in the idea.

We see a lot of how Manhattan is corralled, almost immediately, by the U.S. government. "The Superman exists, and he's American," was the first public statement made. Say what you will about Cold War-era America, they were on the ball right here.

So Dr. Manhattan becomes the lynchpin for U.S. nuclear superiority, as we've heard before. The process by whch that happens isn't really much of a process at all. It just kind of makes sense for the U.S. to wrap him up tight, and Osterman doesn't put up much resistance.
What resistance he does put up is mostly sartorial in nature. You can't make him conform to your bourgeois standards of clothing, man! He's a free, naked being at heart! But as far as his misgivings about the morality of intervening in the war in Vietnam (or not intervening in the Kennedy assassination), he's bemused but ultimately passive. Whereas Edward Blake let himself be co-opted by the government because their fascist interests dovetailed, Osterman just seems to be playing out the string.

Which brings us to Dr. Manhattan's temporal displacement, which provides the structure for this chapter. He experiences everything that happens along his timeline at once. Past, present, and future, all happening, all the time. It's tough to get a grasp on what that might mean for someone, psychologically and spiritually, but it's pretty safe to say it's a big reason for Jon's bewildered and distant personality. It's no wonder he prefers to occupy himself with math and physics -- those things that are constant.

The watchmaker-as-worldmaker metaphor is an interesting one -- it made me think of Neil Gaiman and one of my favorite quotes from a book ever (the "God is a hope, a dream, a myth, a watchmaker..." paragraph from American Gods).

Some other random notes:

-- Interesting that Nixon asks Dr. Manhattan for intervention in Vietnam, while Jon makes a note of Kennedy pointedly not asking for similar intervention in Cuba.

-- LOVED that image of the nervous system with eyes as Jon was beginning to re-assemble his body.

-- Jon's conversation with Hollis Mason -- a casual dropping of his knowledge of the electric car and how, thanks to him, it would soon be cheap and easy to mass produce (and thus make Mason's second chosen vocation as obsolete as his first) -- cracked me up.

-- Interesting how the other heroes view Dr. Manhattan. Mason sees him as the death knell for "masked adventurism" as he knew it, while Adrian Veidt can only focus on the technological advances.

-- Liked the off-hand note about Edward Blake solving the Iranian hostage crisis and how it bought him immunity from his critics. So even in a universe where Reagan never got to be president (due to Nixon's dissolving of presidential term limits), at least someone gets to use the Iranian hostage crisis to their advantage.


Thoughts?

Crap, I'm In Trouble


I think I love Dan from Big Brother 10. Crap.

It shouldn't have turned out this way. Dan was the Republican Catholic school teacher who kicked off the season talking a whole bunch of mess about evil liberals and the get-out-of-jail-free nature of the confessional. Also, he was friends with Brian, who was totally obnoxious.

But soon enough, Brian was gone, Dan was without an alliance, he told Steven that he was no longer "Gay Steven" to him (it just warms the heart!), and he was giving pep talks to Renny and Michelle during the HoH competition. He's been my favorite contestant, pretty much by default, for several weeks now, but after last night's hair-cutting shenanigans with Renny, it was official: I love the guy. Shit.

This is just like what happened with BB6's James. He was another skinny/dorky Republican whose allies were few (and I think he might have lied about being a schoolteacher...or not being a schoolteacher, whatever), and I ended up loving him, too. But where James was paranoid and moody, Dan seems to be affable and goofy. Sure, James was more of a strategic thinker, but Dan makes up for that by SHOUTING THROUGH ALL OF HIS DIARY ROOM INTERVIEWS.

Anyway, there you have it. I should also mention that this season of Big Brother, on the whole, is a huge improvement from the last couple of years. The Dick/Daniele season nearly broke me, and I only barely paid attention to last spring's half-assed effort. But this summer's twistlessness has been refreshing, and while there are, as usual, players I hate (looking at you, April and Jerry) (and Ollie) (and sometimes Michelle and Keesha), none of them make me physically ill the way so many players of the last three seasons have. Dan's great, and Memphis is kind of a dick but one with a weirdly admirable internal morality, and Renny is whacked out of her mind but in a fun way.

I'm sure now that I've said this, it'll all take a terrible turn, but for right now, I'm standing by it: Big Brother has regained the "pleasure" part of "guilty pleasure."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Compare/Contrast

Compare: Ben Whishaw and Jay Baruchel

There are bigger stars with more substantial roles in Brideshead Revisited and Tropic Thunder; hell, Tropic Thunder features no less than five A-list leading-man movie stars. But the slightest, skinniest dudes on the screen are the ones who held all my attention. I don't remember thinking much one way or the other about Ben Whishaw after I'm Not There (his version of Dylan got the least screentime and no real storyline), and I never saw that Perfume movie he did with Tom Tykwer (it's in the Netflix queue now, though), but he lights up the screen in Brideshead as Sebastien Flyte, the idle-rich proto-party-boy whose mother (and her Catholicism) guilts him to death due to his alcoholism.

In what little I'd seen of Whishaw before, I'd come away with a mental image of a wan, sad-faced twig. And he certainly brings that to bear in Brideshead...eventually. What impressed me about his performance before his face went all slack. He projects a hell of a life force for such a tiny boy -- he can brighten up that frowny mug and light up a room. It's easy to see why Charles Ryder is so drawn to him. It makes the later scenes, where Sebastien's spirit is finally broken by alcohol and the Virgin Mary, all the more tragic.

As for Baruchel, I have to first run through my usual spiel (just so no one forgets): I called this one long ago. Before Knocked Up, before Million Dollar Baby, before Undeclared, before that ill-advised legal dramady with Don Johnson. Apologies to people who know me in real life and can probably recite the end of this sentence along with me because I've said it so many times but...way back to his role as Vic the Zeppelin fan in Almost Famous is how long I've loved Jay Baruchel. And after years of seeing his co-stars get famous and make headlines and win Oscars, my hope and expectation is that he'll finally be getting his due. Because, simply put, the kid is awesome in Tropic Thunder, stealing scenes from no less a performer than Robert Downey Jr. and blowing everybody else clear off the screen. Sure, it's essentially the same Nervous Kid role he's been playing for years now, but he's honed it to perfection, for one thing, and for another, the movie is smart enough to capitalize on Baruchel's capacity for pure-hearted befuddlement. In the truest sense of the word, he's the film's hero. The hero of the biggest movie in America. I told y'all so!

Contrast: Hayley Atwell and Rebecca Hall

You know, it's days like these that I really miss Fametracker. Moreso than usual. Because this situation totally calls for a 2 Stars, 1 Slot. The obvious connection between them is Woody Allen: Atwell starred in Allen's Cassandra's Dream earlier this year, while Hall shines in the just-opened Vicky Christina Barcelona. Both actresses have only been acting in features for a couple of years now. Both are stunningly beautiful; Atwell's movies have tended to hone in on this quality, while Hall's have strived to cover it up. The question that Fametracker feature would ask was: Do we really need the both of them? And my answer, in this case, is...probably not. I don't necessarily dislike Hayley Atwell, but she hasn't brought a ton to the table thus far. She was the least interesting presence in Cassandra's Dream and she's the least interesting presence in Brideshead Revisited too. I suppose I can wait until this fall's The Duchess to make an official ruling, but with Dominic Cooper, Kiera Knightley, and Ralph Feinnes on hand in that movie, I'm not holding out much hope.

Rebecca Hall, on the other hand, is totally delightful. She held her own opposite Christian Bale in The Prestige, and she was maybe the best part of Starter for 10, and given the fact that that movie starred James McAvoy and the aforementioned Dominic Cooper, that's saying something. She really shines as the Vicky in Vicky Christina Barcelona, and the only downside of the Grand Theft Movie that Penelope Cruz pulls in the film's final third is that it overshadows Hall's endearing performance. Still, this is a rather easy call. Advantage: Hall.

Capsule Review: Vicky Christina Barcelona


Movie: Vicky Christina Barcelona
Director/Studio: Woody Allen /
10 Word Review: Breezy, sexy, and wordy in a fun (and un-neurotic) way.

Best Thing About It: Woody keeps the successful European road trip going by molding his trademark dialogue to fit his cast, rather than the other way around. Tons of credit due to the cast, of course, and I'll get to them soon enough, but there was a considerable calming down of Allen's comedic style that let the laughs come from a more relaxed place, in keeping with the lingering summer-in-Barcelona setting. The plot doesn't break any new ground -- not even with all the polyamory -- but the writing is fresh and fun and other words that might also be used in a women's deodorant ad.

Worst Thing About It: I wasn't crazy about Javier Bardem's character as written; the bohemian artist with a smooth word for every woman in his life seemed more like a writer's construct than anything interesting.

Best Performance: The cast is uniformly excellent, so there's a lot of competition here. I have a feeling Scarlett Johansson is going to get lost in the shuffle here, which is a shame because this might be my favorite of her collaborations with Woody Allen. It's become cliché to say an actress does a lot with one flip of her hair, but Scarlett, the film's impulsive Christina, really does. Javier Bardem does sexy things with, as I said, a limited character. Similarly, Rebecca Hall treads well-worn character ground -- uptight East coast girl drawn away from her stuffy betrothed and towards a sexy foreign artist -- with the kind of (comparatively) plain-Jane sparkle that's become something of a trademark of hers. But all the best-in-show accolades are going to Penelope Cruz, and as much as I'm in love with Rebecca Hall, Penelope totally deserves them. The movie swims along quite nicely until Maria Elena shows up, but it hits a whole other pitch once Cruz and her scary-intense eyes start lining up potential targets of her potentially-murderous passion.

Grade: B+

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quick Olympics Notes: "Told You So" Edition

1) At least one of those Chinese gymnasts really is 13 years old. And, for the record, she's not even one of the ones I thought was most glaringly obvious.

2) Somebody agrees with me about Michael Phelps. Actually, many somebodies.

Watchmen Book Club: Chapter III

Chapter III: The Judge of All the Earth

Sorry I didn't post anything yesterday -- I'm out of town. Which also means I'm going to need you lovely people to do the heavy lifting in the Chapter III discussion. How are you liking things so far? What happened in Chapter III that got your mind working. Your barebones summary of this chapter is as follows:

Laurie breaks up with Jon the morning of his TV interview, in which he's ambushed with questions about people he's known throughout his life getting diagnosed with cancer and whether Jon's connection to them isn't a coincidence.

Distraught and confused, Jon teleports himself to the Arizona desert...and then to Mars.

With Dr. Manhattan vacationing off-planet, the Russians gather their nards and invade Afghanista. Nuclear war appears iminent.

Laurie, meanwhile, finds a shoulder to cry on in Dan, and when they get jumped in an alleyway, their old superhero instinct kick in and they kick some righteous ass.

This is also the first we see of the "Tales of the Black Freighter" comic-within-a-comic and the chatty newsstand operator/Greek chorus. We'll talk more about that in subsequent chapters.

For now: the thread is yours.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Edward Scissorhands: A Rewatchables Photo Essay

I started out just wanting to post on how awesome Dianne Weist was in Edward Scissorhands. Honest, I did. It was on HBO yesterday and there was Dianne as Peg, selling her Avon wares and being so kind to poor Edward. And acting with her hands! My God, that woman did more with a precise hand gesture than you or I do all day.


"The light concealing cream goes on first, then you blend and blend and blend. Blending is the secret."

She's so fantastic. That very first door-to-door scene with Conchata Ferrell is just perfection:
"Today I've come to show you our exquisite line of softer colors in shadows, blushes, and lipstick. Everything you need to accent and highlight your changing look."

"My changing look...that's good."

"And it goes without saying that I also have a complete collection of your old favorites. Those tried and true products we've all come to depend on, year in and year out."

"Come on, Peg, I never buy anything from you; you know that."

"I know."

"Bye."

"Bye, Helen."
By the by, you know this is an amazing movie once you realize it's cast both Conchata Ferrell and Caroline Aaron as nosy neighbors.


Anyway, back to Peg, she also shines through adversity. Consider this scene with an unruly batch of face-spackle:

"Darn this stuff!"

But she keeps at it! And is rewarded with a kicky 'do!

"Isn't it wild?"

Speaking of the haircuts, though they're all so spectacularly fug, aren't they?



I love how Edward becomes a sensation for cutting these housewives' hair in such grostesque ways. That would never happen in the real world! And since I'm now in for a penny, I'd better get in for the whole pound, so here's a whole bunch of stuff I love about Edward Scissorhands, starting with...

The Extreme Slutaciousness of Kathy Baker


She slinks, she schemes, she tempts poor Edward with ambrosia salad. She curls her toes and has a full-on hair-gasm right in Peg and Bill's folding chair. She also has the greatest introductory scene, in which she gets a poor dishwasher repairman in her sights:

"You know, on TV they say you repairmen are a lonely bunch of people. Housewives get lonely too. Although you may not realize it since they haven't made a commercial on the subject."

The Equally Extreme Wide-Eyedness of Winona Ryder


The Lackadaisical Yet Fatherly Righteousness of Alan Arkin


The Plastic Tacky Wonderland That Is the Family Christmas Tree

"It needs something else. What do you think, honey?"
"More bells?"
"More bells. Okay."

The Delightful Bitchiness of Turning Down Perfectly Good Roast Beef

"I can't eat that. He used his hands. I don't think it's sanitary."

The Many Adorable Faces of Edward


The Pastel-Meets-Gothic Set Design



Vincent By-God Price


And That Gorgeous, Danny-Elfman-Scored Ending

"How do you know he's still alive?"
"I don't know. Not for sure. But I believe he is. You see, before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards it did. If he weren't up there now, I don't think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it."

I could honestly write about this movie all day. You can tell by how I just did.