Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 in Television: My Picks

2008 wasn’t exactly television’s best year ever. The writer’s guild strike shut down television for a few months, and the ripples were felt all the way into the fall season, which had little in the way of interesting new fare to offer, and promising 2007 shows lost either their audience (Pushing Daisies), their creative drive (Dirty Sexy Money), or both (...Dirty Sexy Money) in the downtime and never recovered. But a few episodes did manage to stand out in this rocky year. Here are my picks:

30 Rock: “Believe in the Stars”
Oprah’s guest turn was everything I wanted it to be and more. As hilarious as the first twenty minutes are (Tracey in whiteface! Leia Liz!), it’s the final reveal that makes this episode a classic.

Entourage: “The All Out Fall Out”
In a season that was hit or miss creatively and stuffed to the mercury-laden-gills with filler, this episode, which featured Ari throwing down against his rival Adam Davies with hilarious results, stood out.

Fringe: “Same Old Story”
The creepy giant baby medical mystery that showed just how intriguing – and gross – this new show could be.

Gossip Girl: “Woman on the Verge”
I was torn between this episode, “New Haven Can Wait” (for alma mater pride – no, not Yale, Columbia! Which played the part of Yale! Unconvincingly, for anyone remotely familiar with the look of either campus!) and “It’s A Wonderful Lie” (for delicious Chuck/Blair sniping), but I finally settled on this episode from the end of Season 1, for the wonderful, “less judgey Breakfast Club” rare show of camaraderie among the Upper East Siders.

House: “House’s Head”/“Wilson’s Heart”
I haven’t been a fan of other House episodes that made a cast member into a patient (like the Foreman episode from a few seasons ago), but this one works beautifully, and the ending makes me cry every time. Farewell, Cutthroat Bitch, you will be missed.

Lost: “The Constant”
If this episode – featuring Des and his long lost love Penny in a head tripping time travel love story – didn’t make you tear up even a little, you have a heart of stone, my friend.

One Tree Hill: “Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.”
One Tree Hill, against all odds, has actually gotten better as each season goes on. (Then again, most of Season 1 left it with nowhere to go but up.) This completes the trifecta of television episodes that wrenched my heart out this year as the OTH gang dealt with the senseless shooting death of one of their friends.

The Office: “The Surplus”
This was the first episode in two seasons that reminded me how effing funny this show can be. Pam’s passive-aggressive notes were classic.

Pushing Daisies: “Comfort Food”
I had a hard time narrowing it down to one episode of the dear, delectable, dead-as-a-doornail Daisies, but I settled on this one because it featured an appearance from Beth Grant as Marianne Marie Beetle, reprising her role from Daisies creator Bryan Fuller’s other tragically-cancelled-before-its-time show, Wonderfalls.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "Samson & Delilah"
The second season started with a bang - a lot of them, in fact, as the Connors fled from Cameron gone rogue. Also, John lost his loopy locks, and Shirley Manson made her debut as the freakiest urinal/robot to date.

Weeds: “Lady’s A Charm”
Nancy makes her first, hilarious run down to Mexico. A great ep in an uneven season.

So that’s it! My best and worst movie lists will be delayed until 2009 because I want to see a few more of the recent releases before I finalize my picks (though I doubt anything will knock Cloverfield off the #1 spot), which, by the way, my 2009 movie wish list includes fewer studios packing all the good stuff into the last two weeks of the year. As for my 2009 television wishlist, I’d love for some miracle to save Pushing Daisies. I’d love for 30 Rock, The Office, and Gossip Girl to remain as strong as their past few episodes have been. And I truly hope that Dollhouse isn’t a complete mess.

Have a safe and happy New Year, drink too much, and sleep it off tomorrow!

2008 in Music: My Picks

I don’t listen to a varied enough swath of music to do any kind of definitive Best of ’08 list. I'm sure there's a lot of great stuff that I don't listen to. All I can do is offer up a few of the albums that made me ridiculously happy this year, and a few that didn’t.

My Favorite Albums of 2008

The Glass Passenger – Jack’s Mannequin
It’s hard to remember a time when Andrew McMahon’s music wasn’t in my life and my ears. Actually, it’s not that hard – it was 2002 and the musical landscape was so bleak that I had actually completely turned away from popular music to the glittering embrace of showtunes for seven or eight years straight. But then a friend sent me an mp3 of Something Corporate’s “Konstantine” and I was effectively lured out of my Broadway cave. (This dovetailed nicely with the bleakening of the Broadway landscape, when movie musicals and jukebox musicals were starting to take over.) When Andrew moved over to his side project, Jack’s Mannequin, I was worried that the sound I had enjoyed on the first three SoCo albums would be destroyed. That became the least of my worries when Andrew was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. It hit home because here was someone my age, someone who was so young and seemed so healthy, diagnosed with the same disease that had ultimately killed my grandmother (she technically survived breast cancer, but the chemo had caused leukemia, and her body was too weak to fight off a second horrible disease). Instead of doing the press tour for the first Jack’s Mannequin album, Everything in Transit, he was in and out of the hospital getting treated. When EIT finally dropped in August, I was instantly in love, but it was also difficult listening to the frothy, bouncy, Southern California sun-infused songs knowing how much the songwriter’s life had changed since writing and recording them. But Andrew bounced back, and I was lucky enough to be at his first post-treatment concert in New York City at Irving Plaza in April 2006. It was an emotional experience on both sides of the stage, as Andrew had received the leukemia diagnosis while in New York, and he commented several times throughout the night about how difficult it had been coming back to the city that held such dark memories for him, but how being in a room filled with friends and supporters was doing much to turn his feelings around. So we come to The Glass Passenger – the first album Jack’s Mannequin has released since then, the first one that reflects his battle with leukemia. And don’t worry, it’s still the classic Jack’s/SoCo sound, but if his earlier work sounded like a Southern California day, then this is a Southern California night. A cooler kind of warm, beaches still pretty but with a foreboding edge, neon replacing sun. From the moody/sexy “What Gets You Off” to the classic SoCal pop-ditties “Suicide Blonde” and “Miss California” to the you’ll-get-through-this anthem “Swim” to the album ending one-two emotional punch of “Orphan” and “Caves” – there’s not a bad track on this album. And Jack’s Mannequin/Something Corporate does something that I personally find amazing: each album improves on the last. Every time I think “This is as good as it gets,” I get proven wonderfully wrong. And I look forward to getting proven wrong again and again, as long as Andrew keeps writing. Especially if he gives me lyrics like these, from “Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)” – I can think of no better rallying anthem in these troubled times:
"I need something to believe in
A breath from the breathing
So write it down,
I don't think that I’ll close my eyes
‘Cause lately I’m not dreaming
So what’s the point in sleeping?
It’s just that at night I’ve got nowhere to hide.”
To the sleepless, this is my reply:
I will write you a lullaby.

You’re Awful, I Love You – Ludo
It’s hard to believe that this time last year, I’d never heard of Ludo. I feel like I’ve loved them forever, but in fact, it wasn’t until “Love Me Dead” was used in a House promo that I heard of them. But I fell hard for the band, this album, and their back catalogue to boot. “Good Will Hunting By Myself” off their debut self-titled album is the meanest, funniest breakup anthem ever. And The Broken Bride is that rare concept album that’s as tuneful as it is moving. But You’re Awful, I Love You is definitely Ludo’s best album to date, from beautiful songs like “Mutiny Below” and “Streetlights” to quirky fare like “Go-Getter Greg” and “The Horror of Our Love” to my favorites, “Topeka” and “Lake Pontchartrain.” These guys also put on a fantastic live show, and I’m happy to say I’ll be starting off 2009 right by seeing them in concert in February.

Raise the Dead - Phantom Planet
How sad is it that Phantom Planet can release the best album of their career and break up in the same year? If this is to be the last call from the band that gave us “Big Brat”, “Knowitall”, “The Local Black and Red”, “In Our Darkest Hour”, “Nobody’s Fault” and, oh yeah, that other song, then at least they’re going out at the top of their game. Raise the Dead is technically a concept album, but the songs all stand alone, and each one is catchier than the one that preceded it. "Raise the Dead" and "Do the Panic" are dead infectious, while the moodier songs like "Quarantine" and "Demon Daughters" will crawl under your skin and stay there. This is what Phantom Planet does - did - best, mixing bright cheery pop with unsettling, darker fare. Viva La Planet.

Fast Times At Barrington High - The Academy Is...
Unlike Jack’s Mannequin, I’m sad to say I actually love each new The Academy Is... album a little less than I loved their first one, Almost Here. But I really, really, really love Almost Here, so I still really love Fast Times At Barrington High. For their third album, TAI went back to high school for inspiration and came out with songs about first love and second love and cougar love and all that good stuff. Now that that’s out of their system, I can’t wait to see where they’ll head to next. This album has some solid tracks including “After the Last Midtown Show” and “About A Girl.”

Honorary Mention: Folie a Deux – Fall Out Boy
It sometimes takes me a while to get into a new album by one of my favorite bands. I’m one of those listeners who often has to hear a song quite a few times before I truly like it. (And sometimes, songs I love quickly are ones that I tire of quickly as well, so it’s usually in a band’s favor if I take a while to warm up.) And since this hasn’t been out for even a month, I haven’t fully cleaved to it yet. But the first single, “I Don’t Care”, is classic FOB rocktasticness.

I Wish I Loved This More: Pretty. Odd. – Panic! At the Disco
It’s funny, back in June I emphatically recommended this album, and to be sure, I listened to it for most of the summer. But as soon as the air cooled, so did my feelings towards this album. The same thing happened with their first album, too, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. For me, Panic! albums are like perfect summer crushes – heady, intense, and over in a month or two. No staying power but fun while it lasts.

And Then There’s...: Vampire Weekend
My friend recently downloaded some songs by Vampire Weekend. Shortly afterwards, his computer died. Mere coincidence, or early signs of AI self-awareness with the ability to commit suicide?

My 2009 Music Wishlist:
I’d love to hear some new stuff by Head Automatica, OK Go, We Are the Fury, and Franz Ferdinand. I would also like Phantom Planet to un-indefinite their hiatus.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Movie Review Index


Friday the 13th
My Bloody Valentine 3D


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Diary of the Dead
The Duchess
Eagle Eye
Funny Games
Ghost Town
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The House Bunny
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man
Lakeview Terrace
Midnight Meat Train
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emporer
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Pineapple Express
Rachel Getting Married
The Reader
Repo! The Genetic Opera
Revolutionary Road
The Ruins
Saw V
Sex and the City
Slumdog Millionaire
The Strangers
Tropic Thunder
The Visitor
The Women
The Wrestler

You can access this list any time from the side bar on the main page.

Movies: Milk

Some movies have a message, and some movies have entertainment value. Many have neither! (Doomsday, I’m looking at you, you exorable piece of dross.) But a few, those happy few, have both. Milk comes at a time when something hateful like Prop 8 can pass, when gay marriage and adoption rights are not the no-brainer they should be, when we’re not as far away from Stonewall as we might like to think we are.

As a movie itself, Milk manages what many true stories turned cinema don’t, which is to keep the tension in a narrative we all know the outcome of, whether from history itself or from the movie’s press junket. And as a message movie, well, it’s hard to ignore the parallels between now and thirty years ago, though even if you were inclined to ignore them, director Gus Van Sant expends no small amount of energy hammering that point home.

The movie has an awful lot going for it. The performances across the board are nuanced, crisp, and unexpected. Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk is flawed and realistically rendered, while Josh Brolin’s Dan White is sympathetic even as he’s committing unforgivable actions. Brolin plays White as a man constantly on the brink of being good, choosing right, not doing what you know he will do. It makes his final act all the more heartbreaking as you wonder what small act might have prevented this tragedy. James Franco does solid work as Milk’s longtime lover Scott Smith, though his part as written is so even-keeled that it doesn’t give the tack-sharp Franco any real chance to spread his glorious wings. His performance earlier this year in this summer's Pineapple Express is actually more a credit to his acting abilities than this one. Emile Hirsch gives the real scene-stealing performance as Cleve Jones—his frenetic energy onscreen is something to behold. Victor Garber also makes the most of his few scenes as Mayor George Moscone. The film is a visual marvel as well. There’s one scene of Dan White playing with his baby, seen only in the reflection of a television tuned to Harvey Milk speaking to a reporter, that easily ranks as one of the best shot scenes you’ll see all year. And Van Sant deftly weaves archival footage in among the movie scenes so seamlessly it’s not always possible to distinguish between the two.

For all Milk has going for it, however, there are a few flaws that keep it from outshining the other big ticket Oscar-baiting movies of the year. Many of the small, human moments are lost to the political machinations. There are two scenes of Milk speaking by telephone to a boy in a wheelchair. These scenes are stunning and let Milk the man connect with the audience in place of Milk the politico, who dominated the film. But these are only two brief scenes. Adding some similar interactions would have gone a long way towards giving some depth and variance to the story. Van Sant also underestimates the intelligence of his audience with several spoon-feeding gestures designed to deliver the message to audience members who were too busy texting to Get It. For example, there’s a ham-handed, blatantly foreshadowing scene early on with Harvey and Scott in bed, where Harvey says that he’s 40 and has never done anything important with his life, and wonders whether he’ll live to 50. Well, if you’ve seen any of the trailers you already know what part of that statement will be reversed and what part won’t. The scene itself is mostly forgivable, but what isn’t forgivable is Van Sant’s insistence upon rerunning the scene towards the end, as clearly the audience isn’t bright enough to make the connection between the end of the film and a scene from a whole hour and a half earlier.

But the one thing I can’t get past is the woman issue. Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg is asked to represent her entire gender, and while she certainly does an admirable job, the nearly complete lack of women in the film is absolutely unconscionable. I cannot fully respect a film that’s trying to make a statement about one marginalized minority that completely cuts out another. When Kronenberg, an out-and-proud lesbian, makes her grand entrance into Milk’s circle, the boys boo and hiss at the appearance of a woman, even if it’s a woman who is fighting the same exact fight they are, who as a fellow homosexual is every bit as discriminated against. When she says that rumor has it Milk’s boys hate women, only Harvey makes a transparently weak attempt to refute it.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen lesbians pushed aside in favor of gay men when it comes to the gay rights movement and visibility. Listen, I’ve worked in theatre and I’ve worked in publishing/media. I’ve met no small amount of gay men in my life, enough to know that gay men do not conform to any specific, predictable pattern of behavior any more than do their straight counterparts. That being said, I have met a few that conform to the fun, bubbly stereotype of female-empowering, boob-grabbing, glittery balls of awesome. (And, confidential to straight men, if you ever want to have a bit of fun, go to a gay bar one night – if a straight woman’s in there accompanying her gay BFF for the night, you can usually grab her breasts and say all sorts of lewd things to her, and get nary a knee to the balls for it because we’ll just assume you’re one of the boys having fun!) But I’ve also met a few who conform to that other, less flattering stereotype – the gay men who are just hateful towards women (like Stylista’s DyShaun) and would be happier living in a vagina-free mantopia. Which is a ridiculous stance to take because there are plenty of hateful straight bigots who would love to live in a gay-free world – so I don’t understand how anyone who has been the subject of hate and prejudice could turn against another marginalized group in a similar way. I’m aware that I come from a position of relative privilege. I’m white, and I’m straight, and though my family is solidly working class with no completed college degrees on my father’s side, I clawed my way up into and out of a good school (with a mountain of debt to show for it) with the vague hope of getting some upward class mobility for myself, something I would not have even had the opportunity to do had my background been, say, solidly lower class. But I am trying to break into an industry that clearly favors the male gender. And while I haven’t been mutilated, forced to wear a burqa, or prevented from driving, I have been in situations where I was fully cognizant of the fact that I was being treated differently – often worse – solely because of how I was born. It wasn’t pleasant and it is not anything I would wish to turn on any other person who’s been made to feel less because of their gender, sexual orientation, religion, or skin color. No movement for equality can effectively advance over the backs of others – that will only result in a lot of trampled bodies littering the ground while the majority remain the majority.

Milk comes close - very close - to being a great film. But with one entire half of the human population underrepresented, it’s only a good movie.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Movies: Australia and Changeling

As with most Baz Luhrmann movies, Australia will only be truly appreciated by a small group of fans, and probably not until long after it has left the theatres. (Which, at least in my area, it already has.) While this three-hour epic isn’t as visually creative as Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, the big beating heart under the rough and tumble western façade is pure Baz. The movie feels more like a sprawling miniseries than a movie, which may explain why it did so poorly in the theatres of our ADDled nation, where viewers rarely have the attention span to digest one thoughtful story, let alone three packed into one. But Australia is well worth your time – all three hours of it. It’s as lush a love story as you’ll see in years. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman’s relationship is more adult than Baz’s other star-crossed lovers, but no less passionate. And for once, you won’t use up an entire box of Kleenex watching a Baz movie. You’ll use up half a box in the middle, sure, but for once Luhrmann leaves his audience with hearts intact, and I think the movie is no worse off for ditching the sucking-air-from-chest impact for a bit of hope. This is easily one of my favorite films of the year.

And then there’s Changeling. I had great hope for this movie, but it fell irrevocably flat in the second half. The first half, driven by Christine (Angelina Jolie)’s search for her son and fight against a male-dominated, corrupt justice system, zips along nicely with good tension and acting. Jolie’s performance is not very layered – she see-saws between a wet-eyed, plaintive “I want my son back” to a snarling, animalistic “I WANT MY SON BACK!” for the duration – but has its effective moments. But the mystery is resolved with half the movie to go, at which point the film completely deflates. I understand when you’re working with a real life story and you want to cover certain events, you can’t always work with a traditional climax, but I feel like someone of Clint Eastwood’s skill and verve could have found a way to keep the tension going through non-linear narrative or something of the like. The ending itself is a bit of a sour note, too, as a text overlay tells you how Christine spent the rest of her life in false-hope limbo. Not exactly uplifting or giving of closure. Still, it’s in the least a historically interesting story, an unflinching look at the difficulty women had – and sometimes still have – navigating a patronizing legal system.

Lyons and Mankiewicz Desecrate Corpse of Siskel, Laugh

Earlier this year, Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert were booted from their syndicated movie review show At the Movies and replaced with Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies and the embryonic Ben Lyons, who comes from E! but whose best credential for the job comes from being the loinfruit of film critic Jeffrey Lyons. While Richard Roeper lacked the dearly departed Gene Siskel’s gentle intelligence that was a nice balance to Ebert’s tottering loopiness, Ebert and Roeper were at least solid reviewers whose show was entertainment in its own right. Then came Ben and Ben.

I put a finite amount of stock into movie reviews to begin with because my own taste runs idiosyncratic to most mainstream tastes, and the things I love tend to be universally loathed by critics and even my friends. Someone recently suggested I have bad taste, and I countered that maybe I’m a maverick, and they counter-countered that maybe I’m a maverick with bad taste. Fair enough. Either way, it doesn’t make movie reviews very useful for me personally. I like Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, because their reviews are informative and well-written even if I don’t ultimately agree with many of their verdicts, but they’re about the only ones I can stand. And yet, as I’ve mentioned before, every week I watch At the Movies. Why? I can’t fully answer that question myself because this show is just terrible, and there’s not even the schadenfreude value I derive from, say, certain Fox News shows.

Then again, that’s not fully true. After all, it is kind of fun to watch Mankiewicz and Lyons snipe at each other like passive-aggressive little bitches for thirty minutes a week. Lyons, who’s about two decades Mankiewicz’s junior, for example, has lately taken to calling his co-reviewer “Mank” and “Manky” on air. Next week, I swear he’s gonna tweak Manky’s nose. It’s amusing to see the vein in Mankiewicz’s forehead throb a little every time Lyons does that. And Lyons has always been ludicrously soft in his reviews, mostly because he clearly has his eye on being more a part of the movie world than just dishing out reviews. To be an effective reviewer, you really do have to euthanize your dreams of actively participating in the field you’re reviewing. But this week, Mankiewicz took Lyons to task after he positively reviewed Bedtime Stories (which is produced by Disney, which produces At the Movies, FYI): “I don’t know where to begin. I didn’t like one part of this movie. You weren’t right, I believe, about any single point you made in this entire review.” To which Lyons chuckled in the vacant way frat boys tend to when you’re verbally castrating them, and they’re confused because you’re using hard words and, hey, bro, can’t we just hug it out or am I gonna have to roofie you again?

Not that Mankiewicz is without fault either. He kicked off his review of Special with, “The name of the movie is actually Special, unfortunately, the movie itself is not.” That’s just...I can’t even.... I can’t. I can’t. Jesus, that’s bad. That’s the kind of clever line you come up with while on hour five of an all-night bender, and you write it down because it’s oh my god so brilliant you’ll make millions off this...but then you sober up in a day or two, look at it, and go, “Oh man, thank god I didn’t drunk text that to anyone.” Then you burn it. And scatter the ashes to the seven continents lest it reform itself. You do not say it on national television.

But Lyons is just the worst, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Two months ago, Ebert chided Lyons for, well, being an insatiable starfucker. Which again goes back to needing to separate yourself from whatever you’re reviewing. This is a problem with any TV show that reviews movies, though, because there’s usually some kind of ethical problem afoot when the same studio putting out a movie is bankrolling your cushy reviewing lifestyle. (This is, of course, becoming an issue in print media as well as more conglomerates stick their fingers into all sorts of pies, but it doesn't seem nearly as rampant yet.) But watching At the Movies, I sometimes want to break out a flowchart of who-owns-what to figure out why Lyons and Mankiewicz pan or praise movies seemingly arbitrarily. I’m sure following the moneytrail will clear a lot of that up. Lyons is just...unsettling. He looks like that intern you don’t ask to get you coffee because you’re pretty sure he’ll spit in it, or worse. He recently summed up his review of Yes Man with “I say ‘no’ to Yes Man,” which is almost as bad as Manky’s Special quip. He’s just vacant and entitled

There is one good thing about the show, however. Mankiewicz has taken up Ebert’s mantle of creepy overshares. He ended his review of Marley and Me with, “The film got sweet and tender and finally focused, and at the end, in a crowded theatre, I hugged a total stranger.” Thanks for the nightmares, Mank!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Morning Show Madness

What the hell is wrong with morning news shows lately? Back in high school I'd watch The Today Show every day while getting ready for school, and I seem to remember it being somewhat normal, with Katie, Matt, Al, and Ann having fun but acting like regular human beings, not Bellevue escapees. And then I worked evenings for a while, then went to college and scheduled all my classes around my nocturnal habits, so I went a long time without watching any television before noon. But my current internship requires me to watch a copious amount of morning TV, and holy heck is it all insane. Over on The Today Show, Katie's gone, Matt peaces out halfway through the broadcast, and they've added a fourth hour hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb that regularly devolves into alcohol-fueled shenanigans. And the other morning shows aren't faring much better, either. Here are just a few of the recent wacky morning show clips I've found and edited:

*On Good Morning America, a disgusting demonstration of a Baby Alive doll causes Diane Sawyer to double over in embarrassment while her co-anchor mumbles "I know this is important, it's not good television but I know it's important...". The producer then cuts suddenly and inexplicably to commercial.

*In The Today Show's hilarious fourth hour, Kathie Lee decided to teach the world all about Irish People when Enya comes to visit. Specifically how we all look alike, and how we can all play either the flute or the violin. I took lessons on both when I was a kid, and my kindest act of altruism to date has been the cessation of said lessons. I'm not completely musically hapless, however - I sing very well, which is more than I can say for Kathie Lee, whose lack of pitch doesn't stop her from joining in on a gleeful slaughtering of Silent Night! A week prior, she'd made a joke about rising to fame via the "casting couch" that suddenly doesn't seem so jokeish.

*I've written before about some of the insane stuff on Fox News that I have to watch for my internship, but my favorite by far is their morning show, Fox and Friends. The anchors simply do not give a shit what they say, they're just there to have fun, man! Don't harsh their buzz! Like all media everywhere, they did a piece on Twilight the day it was released. Unlike all media everywhere, they claimed that 81% of all females - "better known as babes" - planned on seeing the movie. They also claimed that most teen girls were turned on to the series by their mothers, which, no. But I found my new favorite Fox and Friends clip on Friday, when a Hooters girl came on to promote something for the restaurant and the anchors pretty much kidnapped her and made her read half the sports update, then dragged her over to the couch for a segment. The girl clearly looks terrified, and as soon as they cut to a graphic for the "annoyance law" segment she flees, and the male anchors instead turn their attention to their female cohort. They begin literally poking her for an awkward amount of time. Later, she has what sounds like some kind of seizure on air while doing a voiceover.

By the way, in case you can't tell, one of my favorite parts of making these videos is finding the perfect still teaser screencap to encapsulate the insanity contained within the clip. If you want to see all the clips I've pulled for Gawker to date, I've been keeping a list here. That list is a mix of clips I was assigned to pull for the editors who needed them and clips I found and pitched myself that the editors chose to pick up for the site, but all of the morning show antics I linked to in this post are ones I found myself.

But that's not all! I put two Fox and Friends clips I pulled that didn't get used up on YouTube. This one is from November 21st, featuring a "new craze" (a dubious claim at best) called chain surfing, which involves jumping on a chain and trying not to fall off. It's about as safe as it sounds and I can only assume the F+F crew is trying to force the hand of Darwin and kill off some of their less intelligent viewers. (Does Fox even believe in evolution?) At any rate, the best part is at the end, when one of the anchors calls the weatherman "white boy" which serves only to confuse the oft-confused weatherman:

This next one is from December 12th, when Fox and Friends took a moment out of reporting the "news" to reassert their douche supremacy. Apparently, McDonald's put an anti-Starbucks billboard in front of Starbucks HQ in Seattle, and the Fox and Friends anchors would like to remind you that they pulled the same lame move first, with CNN, in Atlanta, back in who the hell cares because these people are insane:

I don't know when it became mandatory for morning news show anchors to drop a boatload of peyote before going on air, but clearly it's something that reaches across all channels. Look for Fox and Friends to do a trend piece on it in 2009.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I'm Dreaming Of A Christmas Where I Don't Fall On My Ass

I think this is the first white Christmas/December 25th we've had in the northeast in a while. And frankly I don't find it all it's cracked up to be since my natural klutzery combined with evil sidewalk conditions led to me sliding so epically down an ice sheet on Tuesday that I only avoided luging into oncoming traffic by grabbing onto the bumper of a parked car. So I didn't get mangled or anything, but in the brief, icy moments where death seemed absolutely imminent, I couldn't help but think: "Crap. I'm going to die wearing purple boots with little yellow ducks on them."

Next year for Christmas, I'm asking for soccer cleats.

But hey, you know who does love the cold weather? Late night comedians! Or so it would seem, judging from last Thursday's dispatches from David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and my new favorite, Craig Ferguson. Because they all told cornball jokes about the weather. (And only the rakish, devilishly handsome Ferguson seemed in on the joke of the joke.) I put together this clip, which will probably get TOS'd off YouTube any minute, so enjoy it while you can:

I also uploaded this clip I filmed at a The Academy Is... concert at Roseland Ballroom last month. It's William Beckett performing their new holiday song "Winter Passing" for one of the first times in public. It's a partial clip because my camera is lame and only does video in 60 second increments, and it's shaky because I tend to bop around a lot, but it should give you a nice woozy just-enough-vodka feeling that's perfect for whatever holiday you celebrate (or don't):

You can also see the less-vodka-y official video here.

Anyway, if you're lucky enough to not have familial obligations (or can get out of them) tonight, you can always head to your local cineplex and catch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which opens today, or Slumdog Millionaire if you haven't already. (And if you haven't, why the hell not?) As for me, I'll be loading up my car with presents and German girls (well, okay, just the one German girl, my dear friend who is spending the holidays with us) and driving out to Pennsylvania, where I'm more likely to hit a deer than luge into oncoming traffic. Really not sure whether that's a win, loss, or wash. As long as I survive long enough to see Benjamin Button (and don't perish while wearing dorkish boots) I'll be happy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

10 Most Annoying Commercials of 2008

Earlier this week, Gawker highlighted some of their picks for the most annoying commercials of 2008. While their picks are good, none of the commercials that have been vexing me all year made the list. Annoyance is, after all, subjective. If it wasn't, Miley Cyrus wouldn't have a career. So here are the ones that usually have me lunging for my Tivo remote to skip ahead.

1. Optimum Triple Play's Creepy Puppet World

Oh, god, this one wasn't going to be my number one pick, but it came on just as I was typing this. Most Saturday afternoons, in between running errands in the morning and going out at night, I watch Fox 5 for a syndicated House rerun, the evening news, and At the Movies. (Yes, yes, I live on the edge.) And over the course of those two hours, I am subjected to this commercial at least three times. I thought the Optimum reggae commercial was as annoying as they could get, but whenever I think things like that, I get proven wrong. In other news, I think Heroes cannot possibly get any worse. Anyway, this commercial is just...unsettling. I think it's the anthropomorphic angel numbers and wig-wearing chihuahua that really put it over the top.

2. The T-Mobile Companion Flight Stooges

Admittedly, I am ignorant to how this whole "free companion flight" thingamawhosit works, but if it's just a basic "buy one, get one free" deal, wouldn't it be smarter to buy two tickets and get two free so your whole family flies half price rather than buying four tickets for your family and using the freebies to blackmail someone? Oh, but then you couldn't have passive-agressive tea time with your Stephenie Meyer-lookalike friend and her mentally challenged companion!

3. Nissan Versa Makes Marc Anthony Even More Teeth-Grating

Small. Big. Minimum. Maximum. Kill? Yes.

4. Le Male Aime Le Male

I don't object to the commercial for Gaultier's Le Male cologne on an artistic level. I mean, it's pretentious and French Art Housey, but so are most perfume ads. I do, however, wish they hadn't made the cologne look like a one-way pass to Team Rainbow, because it's already hard enough convincing insecure straight guys that wearing something other than Axe won't make them gay.

5. XBox 360's Head-Splitting Adverts

There is actually a series of advertisements that pan around an XBox 360 user to show that the back of their head can hinge down and reveal...I don't know, how cool XBox is or something. All of them creep me out, but this one creeps me out the most because the woman smiles so slowly and with only one half of her face that it pretty much looks like she's having a small stroke. Not exactly what I want to associate with a product that I already know can cause seizures.

6. The Febreze Huffers

The only examples I could find on YouTube are from 2007, but Febreze is still coming out with similar commercials so my point stands. I'm not a fan of advertisements that make it seem like I'll turn into a drooling moron if I use that product. The Febreze commericals are a big offender on that front, as they seem to imply that using Febreze will cause me to throw myself down onto the Febrezed item, snorting at it like a socialite on a coke-coated toilet seat. I'm not saying that adverts that tell me I'll be instantly cool and popular by using their product are any better, but I don't see the upshot of selling brain damage as a side effect.

7. Glade Candles

Again, it's the drooling moron paradigm, with the added bonus of making Glade Candle users seem like the kind of people who would pronounce Glade as Glahday, Target as Tarzhay, J.C. Penny as J.C. Pennay, and Cabernet Sauvignon as Please Kick In My Teeth.

8. Bleeding iPods

Contrary to popular opinion, I'm actually usually a fan of iPod commercials - hey, I've discovered some great music that way! - but this one bugs me because all the paint is clearly supposed to start flowing at the same time on the "you" but the red jumps the gun and it bugs me every. Single. Time.

9. eTrade's Talking Baby

This commercial is annoying and creepy, you know what? If you need me to tell you why this commercial is annoying and creepy, I don't want you reading my blog anymore.

10. Axa Equitable's 800 Pound Gorilla

This is a metaphor many people already seem to have a lot of problems with, and now thanks to Axa, the wrong version will be even stronger to the weak minded. Guys? Seriously. The elephant in the room is the unpleasant thing you intentionally ignore. The 800 pound gorilla is the thing that can do whatever it damn well pleases because IT'S AN 800 POUND GORILLA. Different metaphors, different damnassed metaphors!


But all is not lost in the land of commercials! Most of the good ones have just gone to cable - such is the way of television migration. Two standouts this year came from Showtime, one for Weeds and one for Dexter. These are commercials that often prompted me to halt my incessant Tivo fast forwarding to watch every time they came on, they're like little works of art in their own right.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Piven Gets Plowed

Following a bout of mercury poisoning, Entourage star Jeremy Piven has exited the Broadway revival of Speed-the-Plow. Playwright David Mamet told Variety: "I talked to Jeremy on the phone, and he told me that he discovered that he had a very high level of mercury. So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer." Hilarious! (Shut up, Mamet.) Broadway vet Norbert Leo Butz and Felicity Huffman-schtupper/Head Automatica song-subject William H. Macy will take over the role through the show's conclusion in February.

There's an important lesson to take away from this whole debacle. No, not to avoid eating fish in the tri-state area, any moron can tell you that. No, the lesson is this: write your reviews in a timely manner. Because I saw Speed-the-Plow over Thanksgiving weekend, and I was going to buck my Mamet-hating trend for a moment and recommend you see it based on the strength of Piven's performance and the performance of Raul Esparza. But I got busy, distracted, and now Piv's out of the show and I can no longer wholeheartedly recommend it. Piven and Esparza had fantastic chemistry that tore the stage up, making Speed-the-Plow the first Mamet play to not ping my rage-o-meter. (My only-partially-rational hatred for David Mamet is legendary in my circle of friends. I once had a professor ban the topic of Mamet altogether in one of my classes since every mere mention of the man set me off on a five-minute, largely incoherent rant.) Elizabeth Moss was a weak link, basically reprising her Mad Men character, which is fine if you like her Mad Men character - I don't. Of course, to be fair, Piven was basically playing his Entourage characer, but I never tire of Ari Gold's shenanigans, so maybe I'm biased. And Esparza always owns every role he steps into and while this was no exception, I'm not sure he's a good enough reason to see the play, which is mostly entertaining with some good zingers but ultimately clunky and not exactly complex. Ah well. Guess everyone can go back to seeing August: Osage County.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Most Fun You Can Have With Someone's Hand Inside You

There are few things that can't be improved by the addition of puppets, and of those few things, well, it's probably not for lack of trying. One of my favorite episodes of Angel was "Smile Time", where the titular vamp turned all felty.

So I was delighted to turn up this puppet rendering of the song "Zydrate Anatomy" from one of my favorite films of 2008, Repo! The Genetic Opera. You can read my original review here and compare the puppet version with the film version. Thankfully, only one of the clips contains full-frontal felt-on-felt action.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In Other News, the Sky is Falling

Do you like books? Reading? The publishing industry? Well then, my friend, the line starts here to throw yourself off a cliff because the world as we know it is coming to an end. So says the gloom and doom "publishing veteran with more than a decade of experience" on GalleyCat. According to this anonymous insider, the ground will shake, the sky will turn to blood, fire will rain down, and Borders bookstores will all shut down. This will set off a horrifying chain of events:

Agents will either go out of business or severely cut their staffs. Fewer books means less money and many agents will not be able to make a living. Some might say that fewer books will mean more time and attention will be paid to individual titles—not so said the wise man. Why? Because publishers will have to reduce their head counts if they sell fewer books and the axe will cut across sales, marketing and editorial depts. The glory days of book publishing are gone.

Not that anonymous is all too sad to see it crumble, because apparently the whole business is full of vipers and rats trying to screw each other over. I'm sure my friends who work in the industry would have some choice rejoinders, but few could match the spice of literary agent Janet Reid:
Well I have more than a decade of experience in publishing. In fact I have almost two. And I've got one thing to say to this: shut the fuck up already. [...] If you've worked for ten years in an industry you don't value or respect, with people you find distasteful, that says more about you than it does about the industry.

Listen. Literature exists beyond publishing. Some of the greatest works in our canon found their ways to an audience before the existence of moveable type and literary agents. And while it's sad that John Kennedy Toole didn't get to reap the rewards of his posthumously-published A Confederacy of Dunces, the fact is that his work went on to find an audience and influence other writers long after he'd died. Times have been financially good for a while now, and as a result, most facets of media have gained some unnecessary bloat. Vanity books have been published, vanity imprints have been opened, vanity magazines have been launched, vanity web startups have come and gone. Some genius got the bright idea to relaunch Knight Rider. This recessidepression is simply going to cull some of the excess. Some genuinely good works of art will alas suffer as collateral, but ultimately I think each industry will come back healthier than before, having shed some dead weight. I saw a lot of the same distress in 2001, when I was working in theatre in New York City before and after 9/11. For a while there everyone was convinced the NYC theatre scene was doomed (once we stopped fearing the world itself was going to end, of course), and for a while things did look dire, sure. But here we are, seven years later and still kicking. Okay, Broadway is clogged with crappy jukebox musicals and movie-to-stage adaptations and more revivals than original plays because everyone's too financially scared to take a risk on something new, but cool things are happening Off- and Off-Off-Broadway. The theatre industry survived despite weathering something terrible, and I've no doubt the media industry will do the same.

Which isn't to say it won't be hard for some genuinely good works of art to get published in the coming days, weeks, months, years. But if you want to write - not be a writer with all the perceived trappings and fame that are available only to the lucky few in even the best of times, but to honestly just write - you will continue to do so in between your shifts at Starbucks, when you have downtime from answering phones, after your EMS shift, and you will do so even knowing your works might not reach anyone in your lifetime. If you're smart, you'll set up a literary will to make sure they have a solid chance of making it out even after you're toes up. Neil Gaiman has a good guide to setting one up.

I understand the impulse to run through the streets shrieking that the sky is falling, I do. I graduated college in May, and the awesome entry-level media position I thought I'd snag by now has yet to materialize. But I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. In August, I went on a job interview for editorial assistant at a pretty awesome publishing company. I ultimately lost the job to someone who'd been working as an assistant editor at another company before she'd been laid off, and obviously someone whose B.A. ink hasn't yet dried can't compete against someone with 3+ years of real world experience. I now feel less bummed about losing out on the job because the company just did a major round of layoffs so chances are I would have been out on my ear by now even if they had picked me anyway. At the interview, the editor asked me whether I was optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the industry. I told him I'm an optimist by nature, but a pragmatist by experience, and I know that the only sectors of the publishing industry that will survive the coming lean times are the ones who are willing to re-think the way they do business and adapt to our changing culture. For many sectors, this means embracing online media. And there may be hope on that front, as the annual Best American Short Stories compilation and the Pulitzer Prize will now start considering online entries, which nicely dovetails with several literary journals and magazines going digital-only. It's Darwinism at its finest - adapt or die. Adapting, soldiering on, these are all good ways to cope with our changing industry. Running around like a headless chicken is not an efficient way to cope. It does, however, give me a hilarious idea for a short story. One I'll work on in between temping gigs and job interviews.

Media Mashup: Twilight gets new director, release date, Isaiah Washington defects, and nobody drinks anymore.

An update to the story of Catherine Hardwicke getting dismissed from the Twilight franchise, Summit has found a new director, Chris Weitz. This is the guy who drove the last "next Harry Potter" would-be franchise, 2007's dead-duck The Golden Compass, into the ground. So, you know - good choice. And now they've announced the release date for New Moon - November 20th. Of next year. Which is pretty ambitious considering they haven't yet finalized the script or cast (it's still up in the air whether Taylor Lautner will reprise his role of Jacob, who has a much larger role in the sequel and is supposed to be at least a foot and a half taller than Lautner), or even started filming. The date is probably not the best choice, either. Richie Fay, of Summit's distribution department, told THR: "Same time, same place. If it's also the same gross, we'll be very pleased. Hopefully, we'll have even better results." That's all fine and well, but they seem to be forgetting a few things. Like how Twilight dominated its release largely because its only competition was Bolt, since Twilight assumed Harry Potter's abandoned release date. Proven-performer Harry Potter had already done all the work of scaring off the competition, leaving that date wide open. 2009 is a different story. That date is already occupied by the Guy Ritchie-directed, shirtless-Robert Downey Jr.-starring Sherlock Holmes, which might siphon off some eyeballs from Twilight. (Hell, Holmes has already got my opening night ten-spot.) And something tells me the rushed sequel schedule isn't exactly going to improve upon the laughable effects of the first movie. But, hey, if I had a successful franchise with a built-in audience, I'd probably do everything in my power to run it off the rails, too!

In other movie news, AFI has announced their Top 10 films of 2008, and I was happy to see that Iron Man made the list. The rest of their picks are pretty predictable, but it was nice to see Man getting some love.

Fall Out Boy did an a capella performance in Washington Square Park yesterday, to help promote their new album Folie à Deux, which drops today.

Isaiah Washington has gained dual citizenship with Sierra Leone. His ex-Grey's Anatomy castmate T.R. Knight, who was effectively outed by Washington a couple of years ago and who is possibly eyeballing his own Anatomy escape, would probably love to see Washington full-out defect to Africa.

Some production company has tired of reality shows about (relatively) poor people acting stupid and is now casting for a show about rich people acting stupid.

The potential SAG strike is still looming on the horizon. Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and other SAG members are speaking out against a strike. The Writer's Guild strike earlier this year crippled the industry, and we weren't even in the throes of a recessidepression at the time. Another strike could be devestating for all the below-the-liners who count on steady employment to avoid becoming, you know, homeless.

And in real world, non-media news: did you know nobody in New York drinks anymore? Funny, I seem to recall witnessing a whole room full of people drinking just last week. Then again, maybe we're cutting back because we now have to pay for our own drinks, or because we're all on medications that are contraindicated for alcohol. (I'd venture that the former is more of a deterrent than the latter. I'm sure nothing bad can come of mixing Adderall with Red Bull and vodka.)

Finally, in the grand (yawn) tradition of end-of-the-year listicles, enjoy this Time magazine round-up of 10 Oddball Stories from 2008. Nothing like reading "Night of the Corpse Skull Bong" to make you feel better about yourself. Hey, maybe you're unemployed, uncreative, unchallenged at your job, unpantsed, whatever - at least you don't snort coke out of baby skulls! Just don't celebrate your restraint by having a drink, because goodness knows that's just gauche these days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

2009 Golden Globe Nominations

The Golden Globe nominations are out today. Not a lot of surprises to be had. Most of the nods are for the awards-baiting flicks that haven’t even been released or wide-released yet, making it a little difficult to weigh in. But the Globes do often paint a decent thumbnail of what we can expect from the Oscar noms in January, so for that they’re interesting. Here are the motion picture nominations. I haven’t included the television nominations because they’re just a watered-down version of the Emmy awards, but if you want to check them out for yourself you can do so here.



Not a lot of surprises. I knew Australia would unfortunately get shut out. I know a lot of people hoped for a Dark Knight nod, and the Oscars may still surprise us there, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Ditto Wall-E. I am surprised, however, that Reader got a nod over Milk considering the bad buzz Reader’s been garnering. Even though I haven’t seen most of the nominees because they haven’t yet been released (which, hi, can we please stop stacking all the awards-baiters on Christmas in the future?), I’m still rooting for the under-Dog.



Could this be Kate’s year to bring home Oscar gold? Hard to say. At least she’s not competing against herself since the Weinsteins positioned her Reader role as supporting. Anne and Angelina both did wonderful jobs in their roles, but I didn’t feel like Angelina’s was particularly special, and not compared to Anne’s balls-to-the-wall, gutsy turn.



Voters love a comeback story, and since Robert Downey Jr.’s The Soloist was pushed to '09, that leaves a spot open for Rourke.



I think Burn After Reading has an edge with the Coen Bros. still riding on their No Country buzz from last year, but VCB could win in an upset.



Sally Hawkins got a lot of good buzz for her Happy-Go-Lucky turn, but the character might be too one-note to snag the award.



James Franco was good in Pineapple Express, but if he wins this award it will be because of his performance in Milk and overall good standing in the acting community.



The dog and panda don’t stand a chance.



I’m surprised Bashir didn’t place into animated, and I’m surprised Let The Right One In didn’t get a nod.



From what I know of the play that Doubt is based on, I don’t think either of the nominated roles here are meaty enough to win the category. I’m betting on Cruz, and maybe Winslet if Winslet doesn’t get lead actress for Revolutionary Road.



No Franco for Milk? That’s a surprise. Tom Cruise is a really, really big surprise. His role was funny, but award-worthy? Hardly. Glad that Heath got the nod. And I’m thrilled Robert got a nod, but they’re not gonna give an award to a role performed mostly in blackface. Downey’s Thunder nod is only because RDJ is Hollywood’s favorite sweetheart at the moment, and they couldn’t possibly nominate two superhero movie characters in one season (his Iron Man performance was heads and shoulders above his Thunder performance, and above most other performances this year to boot), and The Soloist isn’t eligible this year. This will be an interesting category to watch.



I think Boyle will get this in lieu of Best Picture.



If Roth's adaptation of the Fitzgerald story is strong enough, he could snag this.




Music by: Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman
Lyrics by: Peter Gabriel
Music by: Clint Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
Lyrics by: Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
Music & Lyrics by: Miley Cyrus, Jeffrey Steele
Music & Lyrics by: Beyoncé Knowles, Amanda Ghost, Scott McFarnon, Ian Dench, James Dring, Jody Street
Music & Lyrics by: Bruce Springsteen

I would have liked to see Repo! The Genetic Opera get a nod in either of these categories, along with Australia, but ah well. There’s still hope for the Oscars.

Movies: Slumdog Millionaire

If Slumdog Millionaire is a fairy tale, then it’s more in line with the original, Grimm versions where toes are hacked off than the Disneyfied takes where little mice help you get dressed. There’s plenty of magic, sweetness, and a happy ending, sure, but Danny Boyle and Co. spare no amount of grit in getting you there.

Thanks to Boyle’s deft direction and Simon Beaufoy’s tight screenplay, Slumdog flits effortlessly back and forth between two narratives. One has the grown Jamal (Dev Patel) defending his winning streak on the Indian version of Who Want to Be A Millionaire? to the suspicious authorities who don’t believe that a “slumdog” could get so many answers right without cheating. The other narrative shows the younger Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as the Youngest Jamal, whose scenes are all in Hindi with subtitles in contrast to the rest of the film’s English, and Tanay Chheda as Middle Jamal) growing up in the slums, falling in love with Latika (played by Freida Pinto, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, and Rubiana Ali from oldest to youngest), sparring with his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail), and learning everything a young slumdog needs to know to survive (and win a game show).

The prize money is hardly the point for either the movie or Jamal, who only went on the show to attract the attention of his lost love Latika. The real thrust of the story is Jamal’s rough and tumble childhood and unflagging devotion to Latika. Slumdog spins admittedly familiar elements – star-crossed love, a ragtag group of orphans overseen by a menacing Fagin-like figure (Ankur Vikal), brothers at odds – through the kaleidoscope of Mumbai and Indian culture and winds up with something utterly entrancing. As the movie unfolded at the tiny Angelika Theatre in downtown New York City I noticed something amazing. The after-work audience, who started out as restless and chattery as after-work audiences tend to be after being trapped in cubicles for eight hours, quieted down, becoming entirely engrossed in the film, until – to my immense chagrin - I realized I could perfectly hear the squeaking of my Chucks against the floor. (I was engrossed, but that didn’t make me any more able to sit still after spending eight hours at a desk.) It’s hard to think of many flaws to nitpick. The movie makes its only stumble at the very, very end, when clumsy, saccharine dialogue is used where silence would have resounded louder, but this little misstep can be forgiven in light of all the beauty that precedes it. Slumdog is a simple story, beautifully told.

It was, however, difficult to watch the scenes in Mumbai in light of the recent terror attacks on the city, especially when anti-Muslim crusaders attack the slums in a scene rivaling the gunning down of Bambi’s mother for sheer heartbreak, but Slumdog is nothing short of a love letter to the city – warts and all – and the joyful, Bollywood-style dance scene at the end goes a long way towards applying a bit of balm to the still-raw situation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stylista: Tools For Fashion

I’m willing to admit I was perhaps a little hasty when I said Red Eye might be the worst show on television. I’d forgotten all about Stylista. Stylista is a reality show on the CW by the masterminds behind America’s Next Top Model. It airs tonight at 9 p.m. if you’re feeling masochistic (though your time would be better spent watching one of the last ever episodes of Pushing Daisies at 8, and then re-watching it again at 9). The prize is a job at Elle magazine, a paid New York apartment for one year, and a clothing allowance at H&M. The judges are Elle’s Anne Slowey doing her best Streep-as-Wintour and Joe Zee doing his best...whatever. The contestants are pretty much universally the worst people in the world.

Each week viewers get to watch the wannabe fashionistas stumble through lame challenges ripped off from The Devil Wears Prada, and it would probably be an innocuous enough show in brighter economic times. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the earlier SOAPNet flop, The Fashionista Diaries, except that Diaries had no "prize" and Stylista manages to be even more staged. But in case you haven’t heard, all media everywhere is curled up, sobbing and shivering, trying to stave off death by gulping down gin and thinking of happier times in a very Dickensian manner. So it’s an extra special little knife-twist to know that one of these twits will land a job that most of the unemployed media-types would sell their left kidney for. In related news, I am willing to barter a kidney in exchange for an editorial assistant position at a New York magazine or publishing house - e-mail me for details (and include your blood type)!

To say that every one of the contestants is unfit for the job might be an exaggeration – the first few were booted off before we could survey the extent of what I presume is, judging by the performances of their peers, their general unworthiness to lay grubby fingers on a mouse and click on InDesign. So hey, maybe the cute Columbia guy with the funky hair isn’t a total tool, but we’ll never know because he got booted off first and instead we were left with DyShaun, who nimbly worked every gay male fashionista cliché but included the unwelcome addition of being a petty, misogynistic hosebag with no sense of style. And Megan, who might actually be Rosemary’s baby. And Johanna, who takes herself way too seriously for the insane, inane world of fashion.

The only contestant I was rooting for, Kate, was booted last week. (Before her, I was rooting for the guy who dressed like a character out of A Cockwork Orange, because his faux British accent amused me, as did his ascot.) Kate quickly made enemies of everyone in the house because of her inexperience, large and uncontainable chest, and...nope, that’s just about it. It was a pretty grisly show of girl-on-girl crimes week after week. Kate had limited fashion experience but good instincts, and she seemed genial enough. A little annoying, willing to throw everyone in arm’s reach under a bus and then find another bus to throw that bus under, sure, but compared to the other harpies she was stuck working with, she at least had something resembling manners. It was brutal and uncomfortable to watch DyShaun and Megan snipe after her week after week, so at least her elimination will spare us those shenanigans in these last few episodes. Never have I seen so many inept, ill-mannered morons bleating together in one place. None of the Stylista nimrods deserve a job at Elle – they deserve to have their faces chewed off by the very wolves that raised them. The knowledge that one of these ninnies might take this job, rise through the ranks, and be in a position to oversee me one day is enough to make me curl up into a sobbing, shivering ball and gulp down a bottle of gin. And I don’t even like gin.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This is an Ad-Man's Brain on Drugs

If drug ads are supposed to make doing drugs look like a bad idea, then these two British PSAs fail. Fail delightfully, in a droll British way. Because they seem instead to have the effect of making one want to do enough of whatever the ad departments did that led them to this:

What child wouldn't be delighted to find their own Pablo the Drug Mule Dog under the tree/menorah this holiday season?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hardwicke Off 'Twilight'

Nikki Finke is reporting that Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke has been fired from the film franchise. This should come as a shock to anyone who has been watching the film’s grosses creep higher and higher. Often, a successful movie outing helps to guarantee the creatives and actors their spots in sequels in hopes of replicating the success of the original, though of course there are always exceptions.

This comes as a blow to everyone who was excited to see a female-helmed film do so well. In fact, Twilight was the highest grossing film helmed by a solo female director. And I certainly feel like Hardwicke did an admirable job of excising the dopier parts of the book and delivering a solid movie adaptation. But what bothers me here is not that a female director, and a good director, is being fired. No, what bothers me is the language being thrown around to describe the situation. From Nikki:

The word from inside Summit is that Hardwicke, the acclaimed Thirteen director, "was 'difficult' and 'irrational' during the making of Twilight," one insider explains to me.

.. and Summit thought Hardwicke's [CAA] agent Beth Swofford was alternately ineffectual and hysterical."

Emphasis mine. It makes my skin crawl to see certain words applied to women…it’s the same old quandary women in the workplace have always faced: if we’re too aggressive we’re labeled bitches, whereas our male counterparts are simply aggressive. go-getters, and other positively-couched traits. I just can’t see anyone calling a male agent “hysterical” and I certainly haven’t heard of many male directors getting fired for being “difficult” when the final product is solid (and solidly profitable).

Of course, a lot of it probably comes down to money as it so often does. Hardwicke has made no effort to keep quiet her gripes about the stingy budget for the first movie. From the upcoming Entertainment Weekly cover story (the third of the year, by the way):

As of press time, Hardwicke — who now holds the record for best opening-weekend box office for a female director — hadn't signed on. But she spent much of the weekend sequestered in meetings with lawyers, agents, and studio executives. She felt hamstrung by her modest budget through much of the Twilight shoot. ''I had more elaborate stunt sequences designed and very crazy, cool stuff that I wanted to do,'' she says. ''We had locations taken away. We had five days cut before we started to shoot. But, you know, I kind of got past that, I just had to let it go.''

After the grueling production, Hardwicke now wants to make sure the studio shows her the money to properly tackle New Moon's tricky plotline — which includes location shooting in Rome and several characters who must realistically morph from teenage boys into werewolves. Summit's Feig has nothing but praise for Hardwicke, but he maintains that the sequel doesn't necessarily demand a bigger budget. ''I don't think there was anything excessively lavish about Twilight, and yet the world was fully realized,'' he says. ''We'll do exactly the same thing with New Moon.'' Still, the studio might want to throw more money at the universally trashed special effect that was supposed to make Pattinson sparkle magically in the sunlight but left him looking merely sweaty. ''People make realistic CGI dragons, so you wouldn't think making people sparkle would be that hard,'' says Meyer.

Keep in mind New Moon requires sets that look like Italy and werewolf transformations and, yes, it would be nice to see vampires that sparkle instead of glisten. And the effects for Twilight were reviled by even the hardcore fans, so throwing some extra money at the sequel should have been a no-brainer.

So maybe Hardwicke and Summit just couldn’t see eye to eye on the budget and that’s fine, I have no problems with someone being fired because they’re not the right fit for the job, but if this was a male director, would the words “irrational” and “hysterical” really be bandied about? And, of course, as the Republican party learned from the Sarah Palin debacle, one vagina doesn’t necessarily replace another and Twilight fans won’t necessarily be placated by the hiring of another female director in Hardwicke's place, but I would hope that there will be some disgruntled rumblings if Hardwicke is replaced with a guy with the assumption he’ll be able to keep his icky emotions in check.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Alternatives

Take some time away from your shopping (or from contemplating the horrors of consumerist America) with some quality entertainment tonight. Here are a few suggestions.

1. The Psych 2008 Christmas Special

The clearly-superior-to-CBS-rip-off-The-Mentalist fake psychic / real detective show is back with a Christmas special tonight on USA. I’m sure it will air a few dozen times between now and Christmas so there’s technically no rush to go see it, but all the cool kids are gonna watch it tonight, and you want to be one of the cool kids, don’t you?

2. Australia

I’ll do a full review this weekend, but I went to go see it this afternoon and holy crap is it fantastic. Normally, anything resembling a Western makes me break out into hives, but never fear, this is a big, lush, sweeping romantic epic that’s sure to please any fans of Baz’s other movies (Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet), as well as anyone with a still-beating heart in their chest.

3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Namesake

Thanksgiving’s all about celebrating immigration (and the slaughter of indigenous people...with pie). In that vein (immigration, not slaughter), why not pick up two great books exploring recent immigration experiences, The Brief Life of Oscar Wao by Dominican author Junot Diaz and The Namesake by Indian author Jhumpa Lahiri.

Or just watch this hilarious clip from yesterday's Thanksgiving Day Parade:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Twilight: The Movie

Despite having been a shrieky, obnoxious teenage girl myself only six years ago, I have limited patience for large packs of squealing hormone bombs, so I waited for a 10 p.m. Sunday night showing before venturing out to see Twilight. The theatre was pretty empty. Two or three clumps of giddy but well-behaved young girls, two couples on a double date, and one older woman who I initially thought was saving seats for three of her friends, but who I realized later just brings a boatload of crap along to the movies and spreads it out among the empty seats around her. (Don’t take this to mean that Twilight will see an inevitable audience drop-off in the coming weeks – while it certainly might, my movie theatre is almost always that empty at shows that are before 4 p.m. and after 10 p.m., which is why I usually go before 4 p.m. and after 10 p.m.) I mention all of this only because I didn’t get the Mystery Science Theatre treatment that other filmgoers got when watching this. All the line readings were allowed to ring earnest unaccompanied by laughter, which was sometimes painful, sometimes less painful than I expected.

By now, you probably know more about Twilight than you ever wanted to, but in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks, a recap: Bella, age 17, moves from Arizona to Washington. There she meets Edward, age 17 (give or take a century), and his family of “vegetarian” vampires, who feed only on cuddly woodland animals. These vampires are more in name only than full-out Nosferatu – they don’t sleep in coffins (they don’t sleep at all), garlic doesn’t repel them (but they’re no more inclined to eat it than they are any other human food), and sunlight doesn’t harm them but they have to stick to shadows anyway because their non-human status will be given away by how their skin sparkles in the sunlight (more on that later). Bella and Edward fall in love because Edward is super dreamy and Bella smells inexplicably extra-tasty compared to other humans. Which is all fine and well until they run into a trio of less progressive (Republican) vamps who see Bella as more of a snack than a romantic interest, and so it goes. That book spawned three sequels, with ever-increasingly-complicated mythologies, half-hearted romantic rivalries, and a fanbase of squealing hormone bombs and their daughters. So how does the series fare in its first big screen outing?

Twilight as a book-to-film adaptation succeeds because it manages to stay true to its source material while still making concessions that allow it to work as a film in its own right. The trio of non-“vegetarian” vamps who scuffle with the main characters in the film’s climax appear only at the end of the book as almost an afterthought when the author realized she needed more conflict than Edward’s feeble attempts to stay away from Bella. Melissa Rosenberg wisely weaves the baddie vamps more throughout the entire plot, giving the story a firmer trajectory. Scenes and characters are artfully collapsed in such a delicate manner that will prevent both devoted fangirls and off-the-street newbies from having aneurysms, as enough of the source is protected while still streamlining it for the masses.

The casting is spot-on (although I may be biased as I read the books very recently, long after having seen countless trailers and read an interminable number of articles, so I certainly read it with these actors already in mind). It was well-acted throughout, and the chemistry between Robert Pattinson as Edward and Kristen Stewart as Bella sizzles and carries the movie nearly entirely. Pattinson said in an Entertainment Weekly article that he played the part of Edward as manic depressive despite attempts to make the film more comedic. I was worried that this clash would give the movie a weird tone, but it works surprisingly well. The movie earns a few laughs on its own terms (and not just at the expense of the cheesy effects and turgid romantic lines) while Pattinson’s performance lends it more gravitas than it rightly deserves. Kristen Stewart’s Bella is appealing, whip smart, sarcastic, and vulnerable, even if she is seemingly incapable of ever closing her mouth. The supporting cast of Bella’s high school classmates and Edward’s vamp fam are all very engaging, though none of them get nearly enough screentime. It’s hard to fault writer Melissa Rosenberg and director Catherine Hardwicke for making the movie so Bella-and-Edward centric, as they are the core that the rest of the series will be built upon, but some more balance might have been found. Luckily, the sequel has already been greenlit so they’ll get another crack at giving the audience more exposure to the other characters. (The movie is a major win for the relatively new Summit Pictures – it was made for about $37M and grossed $20M this weekend, the highest gross for a solo female-directed film to date, making it a win for those who want to see more female-helmed movies do well, too.)

The movie does have a few roadblocks that may stand in the way of it becoming a lasting mainstream hit. (Make no mistake, it will absolutely live on in the hearts of the current crop of young girls the same way Titanic and Baz L.’s Romeo + Juliet live on with my generation, and the way Pretty in Pink and Say Anything live on with the generation before mine.) The cheesy special effects, for starters. The movie was made on a limited budget, so much is forgivable, but it wasn’t necessary to have little jingle-jingle sounds accompanying the shots of Edward’s skin sparkling in the sun. Although I do have to give the movie credit for finally making the “vampires sparkle in the sun” thing make somewhat organic storytelling sense to me. When I read it in the books, it seemed utterly ridiculous and made me suspect the author had spent a little too much time out in the sun herself. “Hm, vampires bursting into flames in the sun is so cliché. Instead, my vampires will sparkle like diamonds!” Hey, I had a minor body glitter addiction in the summer of 1996, I can relate. But throughout the books the vampire skin is described as smooth, cold, and hard like stone, and sure enough, the movie effects did remind me of the way some polished marble and limestone can sparkle in the sunlight. So maybe there was actual rhyme to Stephenie Meyer’s reasoning in that detail. Or maybe she’s just a little loopy.

The movie also has a tendency to resemble a music video, which I’m sure is no problem for the target demographic but might frustrate older viewers. And I can’t say I agree with the reduction of key scenes depicting Edward and Bella falling for each other into montages of them talking, leaving us to infer that something deep is transpiring but not giving us any tangible proof of such. Granted, this is not something the book properly explored either – it’s a love-at-first-sight kind of deal for the pair, which I am not against as a rule in the star-crossed lover genre. Romeo and Juliet didn’t exactly have a heart to heart where they compared their politics, moral values, and life’s hopes and dreams before pledging undying fealty to each other, and that’s fine. But one semi-poignant conversation would go a lot further than hinting at conversations the audience can only infer are poignant. For all we know, Edward and Bella could be cooing “You’re so pretty!” “No, you’re so pretty!” “No, you’re so pretty!” to each other.

Finally, there are certain things that might seem swooningly romantic to the Clearasil set but might make older skin crawl, like when Edward confesses to breaking into Bella’s room for the past few months to watch her sleep. It’s a testament to Pattinson’s charm that I didn’t flee screaming from the theatre at that point, because I already have a paranoid streak and OCD urge to check and re-check all my windows before I go to bed each night.

Still, as with the book it’s based on, it’s easy to look past the cheesy or unsettling parts of Twilight and get sucked into the romance and adventure. There’s plenty to satisfy the ardent fans, from near-slavish devotion to preserving purple-yet-beloved lines from the book to little easter eggs like Edward recreating the iconic book cover and a cameo by the author in a diner scene. For everyone else, it’s a solid flick, entertaining and well-paced with a bevy of great actors inhabiting charming roles. It might not be The Second Coming of Potter – this fact is underscored by the trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that’s attached to Twilight, which took over Potter’s original release date when Potter got pushed back to next summer – but it’s worth parting with $10 to see, even in this economy.