Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is it August 13th yet? Because I can't watch one more Tropic Thunder commercial.

Hollywood Reporter has an article on the upcoming Hollywood satire Tropic Thunder that includes a few interesting points amid the is-this-movie-gonna-bomb? speculation:

So why all the bullish forecasts for "Tropic?" One reason: a months-long attempt
by marketing mavens to stimulate word-of-mouth on a film considered tough to
sell via conventional means.

Much of the humor in "Tropic" derives
from grotesquely exaggerated violence in combat scenes. There is a lot of
industry-insider humor as well, but that's never going to be a selling point to
the general public.

And good luck pulling together a TV commercial
or theatrical trailer based on the broader comedy bits from any R-rated

"For most movies, you have the opportunity to use the best
material and visuals for the picture itself to sell the movie," Paramount vice
chairman Rob Moore said. "On an R-rated comedy, most of the movie you can't
actually use (because of graphic content). So that's why we had to focus on
stimulating word-of-mouth, with people talking about the crazy, hysterically
funny moments in the movie that you can't show. One scene was even tough to get
approved for the red-band trailer."

This is, of course, a problem a lot of movies are facing now. How do you seize upon the newly flush market of R-rated comedies and effectively promote them when the general commercial marketplace still needs to be fairly clean? Viral marketing is certainly a way to go, and seems to be the way chosen by DreamWorks. But THR failed to mention a potential misstep on the parts of the producers: starting the virals too early.

Okay, fine, The Dark Knight started doing its virals last year, but they were largely confined to the more rabid fanbase that doesn’t know the word fatigue. Tropic Thunder, on the other hand, had its trio of stars do a bit on the American Idol finale in May, then did the now-infamous viral parody during the MTV movie awards. The trailer’s been attached to quite a few summer movies. Tie-in websites have been launched. A tie-in energy drink is in the works. And we’re still two weeks away from the opening. I gotta admit, I’m tired of it already, y’all.

And that’s sad, because I’m definitely in the category of “insanely excited for this movie” and if I’m feeling the fatigue, what’s the more general opinion? I mean, I was crazy excited when I first heard about it, crazier excited when the first pictures of Downey in his makeup surfaced last year, superdupercrazy excited when the MTV Movie Awards aired, but sometime between now and then I hit my Tropic Thunder saturation point. Now, I’m more intrigued by Mirrors, also opening that weekend, which has shown me just enough to prickle my interest without giving it all away. I may even try to go see it that weekend, even though these days I rarely have the time/energy/patience to see two movies in one week. (Fatigue or no, my Wednesday is reserved for Thunder.)

But really, best case scenario, the whole of Tropic Thunder is as hilarious and biting as those moments I’ve seen a million times in the trailers and commercials, in which case we’re all in for a treat, but there’s always that awful possibility that we’ve already seen the best it has to offer. Which wouldn’t be so bad if I’d only seen those best moments once or twice, but by now I have them memorized.

I think the marketing for Tropic Thunder was certainly on point contentwise, it was exactly the kind of savvy, creative angle needed to get the gist of a movie like this across to the general public. But it should have started more like a month and a half, two months tops prior to opening. The rub there, though, is that two of the major marketing tentpoles were attached to time-specific television events (MTV Movie Awards, American Idol), and those events tend to not exist in the TV deadzones of June, July, and August. I just don’t think a very special episode of Wipeout would have had quite the same impact. (Though I'd pay good money to see Stiller take it in the junk on the suckerpunch wall and watch Black bounce off the big balls.) So really, Tropic Thunder might have been better off opening in late June, far enough away from Iron Man to capitalize on RDJ’s hot streak without triggering Downey exhaustion, before Hancock (which we all thought would be bigger) and The Dark Knight (which was every bit the monster we knew it would be) blew into town, before viral fatigue hit. But it’s too late to do anything about it now. The movie’s been getting decent buzz from the reporters at AICN and The New York Times who’ve seen full cuts, which leads me to hope that the trailer scenes are among the best and not simply the best. And at the end of the day, fatigue be damned, I’ll still be there opening day. Because if I’m not, I fear the producers will send the Montauk Monster to my house to eat me. Or shave me. Or decompose on me. Or whatever it is that thing would like to do to me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Seven Underrated Vintage Nick Shows

Most 80s babies know that back in the early 90s, Nick had some pretty sweet programming. It boggles my mind to realize that, once upon a time (1993, to be exact), you could sit down on a Saturday night, tune into SNICK, and see Clarissa Explains It All, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and Roundhouse all in one shot. It’s such a bounty of awesometude that it reminds me of the heady television days of fall of 2002.

Nick in the 90s yielded a fairly impressive bounty that is still remembered fondly by Gen-Yers. And rightly so. There was All That, a sketch comedy show that featured multiple non-white and plus-sized actors and actresses, a feat that current television can’t manage, apparently. There was Clarissa Explains It All, which gave us Melissa Joan Hart and a cat named Salem…no, my bad, an alligator named Elvis. And then The Adventures of Pete and Pete, which featured a catchy theme song (“Hey Sandy” by polaris, available on iTunes, FYI) that clocked in at almost a minute long. An entire minute, imagine that. What are we given now, on average, for TV credits – fifteen seconds? A quick flash of the logo and bland music? Followed by cast credits over the opening scene? (I’m looking at you, Pushing Daisies, Reaper, and Gossip Girl.) Lame.

But for every fondly remembered Nick show, there’s another that never makes “You know you were a child of the 80s if…” lists, never gets namechecked on Facebook, never gets the props it so richly deserved. And hey, I’m guilty, too. This whole post was prompted by a friend mentioning The Tomorrow People to me, causing a “Waaaait a minute, I remember that! Wow!” moment that I feel compelled to share. So here are seven shows you might have forgotten, even if you can still hum the Camp Anawanna song and do some of the Roundhouse dances.

1) Show: Hey Dude (1989-1991)
Overlooked In Favor Of: Salute Your Shorts
Why It Rocked: It feels like a precursor to the hilarious German dude ranch segments of Malcolm in the Middle. Hey Dude was every bit as funny as Salute Your Shorts…which is to say: in retrospect, not very, but when you’re nine, tremendously.

2) Show: Wild and Crazy Kids (1990-1992)
Overlooked In Favor Of: GUTS, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Double Dare
Why It Rocked: It didn’t have a pie coaster or the sturm und drang mythology of Legends of the Hidden Temple, but it did have the lesser Gooding brother as a host.

3) Show: Welcome Freshmen (1991-1993)
Overlooked In Favor Of: Roundhouse, All That
Why It Rocked: The sketches weren’t bad, and the kids were relatably gawky.

4) Show: The Tomorrow People (1992-1995)
Overlooked In Favor Of: The Secret World of Alex Mack, Animorphs
Why It Rocked: At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot of teen-aimed sci-fi/fantasy – this was in the dark days before Harry Potter and Twilight and Uglies et al – so having a sci-fi teen with an intriguing premise was pretty damned awesome.

5) Show: My Brother and Me (1994-1995)
Overlooked In Favor Of: Keenan and Kel
Why It Rocked: It was a funny yet down-to-earth sitcom that didn’t have any particularly goofy sitcom stock characters (stupid dad, screechy mom). It was just a normal family, but funny. Plus, it had a character named Goo.

6) Show: Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994-1997)
Overlooked In Favor Of: Ren and Stimpy
Why It Rocked: It wasn’t as oddball as Ren and Stimpy, but what could be, and what would want to be? It was still a fun, subversive ‘toon.

7) Show: The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo (1996-1999)
Overlooked In Favor Of: Clarissa Explains It All
Why It Rocked: Post-Nancy Drew, pre-Veronica Mars, this was a fun show about a smart, persistent girl that had its cute moments.

Monday, July 28, 2008

To YA or Not YA

Today, I got a call from one of my German ex-roommates. She’s one of my closest friends in this world (though not, for now, physically, though she’ll be stateside again come November) and tends to rely on me, “the English major” (close enough), when she has translation questions. So with little preamble she says, “What does it mean, to sit on pizza?”
“Pizza?” I said. “Like…the food?”
“Um. I assume it means to sit on pizza.”
“But that isn’t an American phrase? ‘You look like you’re sitting on pizza’? ‘Cause some guy just said that to me.”
“Were you sitting on pizza at the time?”
“Then I have no idea.”
I can’t even imagine what American idiom got mistranslated there.

Believe it or not, that isn’t what I wanted to blog about, but I’m still baffled by that odd conversation. Anyway, the NY Times had an interesting article last week about authors who straddle the YA/adult markets. There is an interesting delineation between the two markets, one that I’d suspect is more based on marketing than content. The most interesting facet of the article to me is the authors who wrote books aimed at the adult market that ended up being published as YA.

I was one of those precocious, superannoying kids who was always reading a few years ahead of the “age appropriate” books. When R. L. Stine launched the Goosebumps series in 1992, I was ten years old, the age at which the series was aimed. Alas, I never got too into Goosebumps because at that point I’d been reading the Fear Street books, whose target age was closer to 13-16, for a few years, and after FS, the Goosebumps books felt too watered down and kidish. My childhood reading was defined by the books of R. L. Stine, Christopher Pike, L.J. Smith, Caroline B. Cooney, Diane Hoh, Lael Littke, and others. (I also loved the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz. They’re mostly remodded urban legends, but the accompanying gruesome illustrations elevate them into something new and horrifying.) These are the stories that made me want to be a writer. But at the same time, my dad was feeding me a steady diet of O. Henry, Ambrose Bearse, H.H. Munro, Hemingway, Dickens, and other classic writers. (My mom, meanwhile, was feeding me V.C. Andrews and Danielle Steele and Dean Koontz. Andrews alone was enough to warp a child.) So while I was reveling in the soft-grade gore and scares of my fave YA writers, I was reading more challenging stories that developed my reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. To this day, I'm still an advocate of balanced reading.

There’s definitely something to be said about these authors who write YA and adult fiction. I figure it works like a honey trap. Lure the kids in with candy-colored vibrant YA, and they’ll follow their fave authors to more challenging adult-aimed fare. But it also raises the troubling question of, how can you even tell whether you’re writing for YA or adult anymore, when the line is getting so blurred? I mean, tons of my adult friends have read Twilight, Harry Potter, and His Dark Materials, all of which are aimed at YA. I myself read the latter two, and will probably check out Twilight just to see what the hype is about. I also recently read Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy in an effort to get a bead on what the current YA market is like. (My overall thoughts are that it’s good, I would have loved it when I was younger, but it’s hard to be drawn in by a narrator who spends two-thirds of a trilogy mind-altered and unlikable.) And I just recommended The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, an adult-marketed book, for my 11-year-old nephew. So where is that line?

A few months ago, I sent a short story I’d written off to my most trusted professor. When we sat down to talk about revisions, he opened up with, “Is this young adult, or mainstream?” I was taken aback – it had never occurred to me that it could be viewed as anything besides mainstream. Granted, it was written from the POV of a sixteen-year-old girl, but that isn’t unusual in literary short stories. (In fact, according to another trusted professor, that’s all I’m currently qualified to write about. He believes that you need ten years of perspective before you can really write well about your experiences. Of course, this is a rule all writers break, but it’s food for thought.) “Because if it is young adult,” he continued, “then I don’t have many suggestions for revision, I think it’s solid as is. You’d just need to tone down some of the sexual stuff, and maybe modify the transvestite character.” I asked him what his suggestions would be if I was aiming more for mainstream. “Well, in that case, you need to do some work to flesh out and complicate your narrator, tease out the narrative, ramp up the conflict, add more descriptive passages, the usual.” Ultimately, we decided to go for the revisions necessary to bring it up to speed for mainstream. I’m not averse to writing for YA, but there isn’t a large market for YA short stories, and I didn’t want to tone down the sex and sexuality in my story.

This is a line that I suspect will continue to be fudged for a while, as YA books get racier and more adult, and more adults read YA-marketed books. For another, more recent NYTimes article on reading, check out Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? Ironically, I haven’t read the whole thing yet, because I’m currently too mentally scattered and inattentive to read long articles (yuck it up, Nicholas Carr), but what I have read raises some interesting questions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bechdel Bites Back

A friend recently linked to a great article on why Pepper Potts rocks on this incredible website, The Hathor Legacy. It’s a fantastic site that explores the role of female characters in a variety of media. There’s even an article on why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test. Needless to say, the blog was quickly added to my Google reader. It also made me want to do an update on my Girls Watch Movies (And They're...Ambivalent?) post.

But first, I have to address some nagging criticism generated by my own mind. See, I never considered myself particularly feminist. I mean, aside from my work for furthering animal rights and FGM awareness, I’ve never really thrown myself into much activism, really. I figure we all have our purposes in life. Mine has yet to reveal itself, but I know that I should leave the real political rallying to those who are just better at that stuff than I’ll ever be. But then I started keeping this blog and started forcing myself to think critically about the current state of pop culture, which turned out to be kind of a downer, thanks to the distinct lack of go-go-girl-power in these parts nowadays. And the thing is, I realize that there are a lot of underrepresented groups in Hollywood – basically anyone non-white, non-straight, non-male. God help the black lesbians who hit that trifecta of the shat upon. But one of the basic ways to categorize humans is male versus female. Nearly everyone on this planet (excepting those who identify as third-gendered or those born with both sets of genitalia who choose to remain third-gendered) falls into or self-identifies into the category of male or female. If we can't break the tradition of underrepresenting even this simple binary, how can we hope to break down the walls preventing the other forms of diversity from manifesting in mainstream media?

So! For those too lazy to click this link and see my explanation in the first Bechdel post, here it is again:

For a movie to pass the Bechdel test, it needs to
1. Have to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

I’m only counting movies released in 2008, though this time I’m expanding it from movies I saw into the theatres to also include movies watched on DVD/OnDemand, as long as they were released in America in 2008. My criteria for judging disincludes minor/background characters (a female character has to appear in at least two scenes to count), and doesn’t count conversations shorter than roughly ten lines (five per actress).

1) Hellboy II: The Golden Army – 1/3 – There was Liz and Princess Nuala. They didn’t chat much.

2) The Ruins – 2/3 – I feel like I’m being generous here. I do remember Bland Girl Character #1 and Bland Girl Character #2 sharing a scene alone while they were spelunking in the ruins, and they talked about how creepy the ruins were. Not exactly scintillating stuff, but then, most of the characters were pretty bland in the movie, so at least the girls are equal to the guys there.

3) Shutter – 3/3 – This almost didn’t pass until I remembered that Jane and Seiko do share a couple of scenes where they discuss spirit photos, proving once again that horror movies, for all their other crimes against women, tend to do fairly well on the Bechdel test.

4) The Dark Knight – 1/3 – Three major/supporting female characters (Rachel Dawes, Det. Ramirez, Barbara Gordon), none of whom talked to each other and all of whom seemed to lack agency through most of the movie. Yikes.

5) Diary of the Dead – 1/3 – Two female characters who kick a fair amount of ass. I honestly don’t recall them having a real conversation though. But the candid camera style of filming does make that difficult since everything is filtered through the (literal) lens of the male narrator.

6) Jumper – 1/3 – The only thing preventing it from being 0 for 3 is my generosity in counting the mother, since she did have two (very brief) scenes.

So, still looking pretty bleak. But! I plan on seeing Mamma Mia! sometime this week, and my Netflixed 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days is sitting on top of my television now waiting to be watched. I suspect both will be Bechdel friendly. So hopefully the next update will be a little more heartening.

Also, I have to admit, the Bechdel test is very rudimentary and doesn’t allow for more subtle readings. Iron Man and 27 Dresses both scored 2/3, and while 27 Dresses probably springs more readily to mind as the female-friendlier of the two movies, the fact is that Pepper Potts kicks all sorts of ass, saves the day, and takes no guff from her crazy-assed boss and his crazier-assed nemesis. (Rare qualities in a comic book female.) Whereas Katherine Heigle’s character in 27 Dresses…mopes a lot and worries more about people-pleasing than being her own woman. The Bechdel test definitely doesn’t reflect that kind of variation. And the most female-empowering movie I think I’ve ever seen, a short underground arthouse film called Grace Has Mace, would only score 1 of 3 since there’s only one woman in it. So take all of this with a grain of salt. Because the quality of female characters is as important a factor to consider as the number of females and specifics of their conversations. To that end, of this batch, I’d say the girls of Shutter and Diary of the Dead kick the most ass and show more agency than most women in horror movies. More agency than most women in a lot of current movies from all genres, for that matter. I’d say that while horror was not exactly great to women in the 70s, 80s, and even 90s, it’s the one genre that seems to be actively trying to get some more women on the screen in ass-kicking capacities. When they’re not getting splattered across the screen, of course.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Media Mashup: Tax breaks (that allow the rich stay rich), Clueless: The Video Game, and Sesame Street goes hipster

Some interesting entertainment news stories rolling down the pike today. First up, Nikki Finke reports that Jon Favreau has appealed to the Governator to get some tax breaks in place for Iron Man 2 (and all of H’wood, really) in an effort to staunch the flow of recent runaway productions. It brought up an interesting point I hadn’t even considered and now I feel kind of bad. See, when I heard Ugly Betty was enticed by the NYC tax breaks into jumping to the east coast for the upcoming season, I was happy for two reasons. One, I hate shows that are very NYC-centric but obviously film in Los Angeles, because as authentic as the citycentric storytelling may be, the look is always so fake. (See also: Seinfeld.) Second, I’m always buoyed by the hope that I might actually be able to someday work in television without having to relocate to Los Angeles, because I am very, very pale, and it’s not yet clear whether I could habitate in such sunny environs for a long period without suddenly immolating. But my little happy bubble was pierced when I realized that, as usual, the below-the-line workers are getting screwed in this deal. And while it’s easy enough to shrug and say, “Hey, at least there are plenty of other productions in Los Angeles, and with Ugly Betty in NYC, now all the city crew members won’t have to jockey for same few jobs on Gossip Girl and the Law and Orders,” and while I’m sure the left-behind Betty crew will quickly find work elsewhere, it still sucks to work somewhere for two years, get attached to your coworkers, then suddenly get the boot.

And then, hey, here’s some bizarre news. Variety reports that Paramount is ramping up for a slate of casual videogames aimed at girls. First up, adaptations of Clueless, Mean Girls, and Pretty in Pink. Mean Girls: The Video Game? I think I’ve played that one already. It’s called “working in media”.

I don’t know. I mean, I personally think videogames are best when they let you do something you can’t – or at least shouldn’t - do in real life. Like smack a ho and boost some rims. Personally, the only video games I’ve really ever enjoyed are the two Buffy games for Xbox and the Silent Hill franchise. They’re fun because I have always tried to limit the amount of time I spend running around the streets bashing in heads with a steel pipe, but in the games I can bash away with total impunity (except to maybe my thumbs and overall brain function). But I don’t see the point in playing a video game that lets me drive to the mall and be a catty gossip. Isn’t the reality of those activities depressing enough without making me pay $50 for the game, too?

Finally, if you’re not a regular viewer of Sesame Street (and if you’re reading this blog and in the show’s target demo, we’ve probably got some issues here), you might have missed these recent cameo appearances: Neil Patrick Harris as the singing shoe fairy, Feist singing a Sesamied version of her song "1234", and an oddly unsettling appearance by Jack Black (that sadly doesn’t feature Robert Downey Jr. whaling on his ghoulies with a hammer). That's definitely some indie cred-baiting stuff there, which confirms what we've all long suspected - Sesame Street is located somewhere in Williamsburg.

Monday Nights Are All Right For Lighting Up

Forgive me, Jenji Kohan, I have sinned. I expressed doubts about the quality of this season of Weeds, in spite of ample evidence (seasons 1, 2, and 3) of your awesomosity. Though I have to admit I still miss Heylia and Conrad, these past few episodes have been among the series’ best. Now that some of the left-behind-in-Agrestic crew has migrated to the new Botwin digs, the show is its old, sparkling self. The plots are tight and hilarious and the cast is stellar and bursting with chemistry. You’ve even noted the crackling Nancy/Andy chemistry. So, Miss Kohan, I hope you will forgive your faithful, wastrel servant for ever doubting you. Mea culpa.

As for that other naughty-lady Showtime show, I have to admit that Secret Diary of a Call Girl has greatly improved over the course of the past few episodes. Delving more into the personal life and quirks and doubts of Hannah has made the Belle portions much more satisfying. The show has definitely perked up. My Tivo Season Pass is safe, for now.

Who knew Mondays would be my go-to TV night this summer? Between House (I missed most of this season because it was scheduled against first Reaper, then One Tree Hill, so I’m catching up now), The Mole, Weeds, and Secret Diary of a Call Girl, television’s giving us all a good reason to stay in on Mondays after spending all weekend at the beach. (Which is how I assume people who aren’t fair Irish lasses requiring 60+ SPF sunscreen only to still burn spend their summer weekends. I myself prefer the mall and the movies, where exposure to the sun is negligible but exposure to annoying people is sadly all too prevalent.)

And on a quasi-television note, by now I assume everyone has seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. If not, you can still catch it on iTunes. I had some major problems with the last act, and not just in the tonal shift. Tonal shift is par for the Whedon course. No, my problems were mostly with the handling of Penny and her complete lack of agency in her fate. This article largely reflects my feelings and issues and is worth a read. That said, the project had some moments of inspired brilliance and should be applauded for its ambition and much of its execution. If Dr. Horrible made you realize that sometimes, TV-like things can be awesome on the web, too, then I heartily suggest you check out a hilarious web series I started watching a few months ago, Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show. It’s a talk show parody with lots of inappropriate humor. Episode 12, Garden Party, is a real standout and guest stars Wil Wheaton. Other episodes include appearances by Ron Jeremy, Adam Arkin, and Unicow. (And Cownicorn.) It’s hilarious, and each episode wisely runs under five minutes, just long enough to make you laugh without becoming grating. You can also catch Felicia Day (Horrible’s Penny) in another web series, The Guild. All three should provide enough viewing enjoyment to hold you over until next Monday, when apparently Nancy Botwin will be spanked by a drug kingpin. Saucy.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Horror Movie Catch-Up: The Ruins, Shutter, Diary of the Dead

Over the weekend I finally caught up, via Netflix and OnDemand, on three of the 2008 horror movies I missed while trying to graduate with some semblance of sanity intact. Who needs zombies when the halls of academia are chock full of professors and students doing their best to reduce your brain to mush? At any rate, while I was glad I saw these three movies, I was also glad my previously-hectic life prevented me from shelling out $10 a pop to see them on the big screen.

First up was The Ruins. I tried reading the book a while back, but I couldn’t get into it because the quartet of main characters was utterly interchangeable and bland. After a few chapters I tossed it aside and decided to wait for the movie. Alas, this interchangeable character problem was not alleviated in the film, although there I had the advantage of “blonde girl” and “brunette girl” and other visual clues. Not that it helped completely, there were still a few moments where I couldn’t remember which bland girl was dating which bland guy. Not that silly stuff like that really matters in a horror movie, where the imaginative gore reigns supreme, but The Ruins is kind of sedate on that end, too. It kind of flirts with psychological horror midway through, but ultimately wimps out, going instead for straight, though mild, horror. It’s not bad, but it’s pretty toothless. Worth catching on cable, but if you’re renting, go for The Descent or something else instead.

Next was Shutter. It’s made like fairly standard J-horror (though the original is from Thailand, not Japan), but it does break free from the Ring mold. For one thing, there are fewer jump moments, fewer gratuitous “gotcha!” scares. Which has an effect of making the scary moments more chilling and unnerving because there isn’t a lot of superfluous fright padding. The atmosphere does a lot of wonderful, unsettling work. It’s well acted, and though most of the “twists” are beyond telegraphed, the plot is fairly tight. Definitely worth a rental if you’re a fan of the genre.

Finally, Diary of the Dead. Now, horror is my favorite movie genre and zombies my favorite subgenre and Romero is the master of all things zombie, so I had high expectations. Well, okay, not high expectations – I felt like he had to redeem himself a bit for Land of the Dead, which wasn’t his best by far – but certainly high hopes. Overall, my feelings were mixed. There was some solid storytelling and all the tropes of the genre were present, including my favorite – comrade gets bitten, becomes enemy. And the zombies were the classic models, lurching along old-school style, none of this 28 Days Later juiced-up nonsense. But the candid-camera trope was much less seamless in Diary compared to Cloverfield. In Diary, it’s made a character trait (the wannabe documentary filmmaker who can’t put down the camera) that is commented on endlessly, and while I can understand the impulse to explain a character’s reason for doing something obviously odd, it only served to pull me out of the film again and again. (I’ll be very interested to see how the upcoming Quarantine does with this style.) Also, call me a zombie purist, but I like my undead flicks with a little less social commentary. More than any other genre, zombies seem to be the go-to pick for social commentary, and it’s very heavy-handed in Diary of the Dead. Sometimes, I just want to watch the dead rise from their graves without being reminded that I probably spend too much time on YouTube. The ending in particular is a bit too anvilicious. Still, the film has a lot going for it. Some stereotypes are subverted – the plucky blonde girl doesn’t bite it (or get bit) and actually kicks a fair amount of ass, the seemingly thuggish characters turn out to be pretty decent – and some deaths are very imaginative. And it’s a Romero zombie movie. Anvilicious or not, he’s still the best.

So if you’re updating your Netflix queue, I’d say Shutter should definitely be added and moved to the top, Diary of the Dead should be added but you can prioritize it to ship after you finish that Batman-to-Batman Begins marathon I know you’re dying to do, and The Ruins should surface on the SciFi channel eventually.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Summer Movies 6: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight: Cars on fire, cops everywhere, people running every all over screaming…and that was before I even got into the theatre.

Like most of the free world, I went to see The Most Important Movie Of All Time – or, as I am stubbornly calling it, Batterdämmerung - on opening day. I skipped the midnight/3 a.m./6 a.m. showings because I’m not invested enough in Batman to battle insane crowds. I thought a 7 p.m. Friday showing would be good, slide in between the young fanboys at the early showings and the mainstream crowds that show up after 8. I should have taken the smoking car as an omen. See, I swung by the theatre at 4:45 to get my ticket because I knew it would sell out, then I went along the highway to Staples to pick up some supplies. (For my life, not the movie. Though, in retrospect, I should have picked up some file folders to fashion into armor while I was at it.) As I was leaving the theatre’s parking lot, I noted that a car was emitting smoke. Like, a lot of smoke. Not to pull the Dumb Girl card here, but I do fit that stereotype when it comes to car maintenance. My first car died after I drove around for an hour ignoring the blue smoke rolling out from under the hood, thinking it was just…no, I don’t even know what I was thinking, there is no rational excuse, it was just pure idiocy. It’s entirely possible I’m somehow convinced cars are powered by magical, mischievous elves. Anyway, having apparently not learned the lesson that cars + smoke = BAD, I just shrugged and went, “Huh, that’s kind of weird,” and continued on my way. After spending a lot of money on corkboards and index cards and push pins, I came back to the parking lot to find it swarming with cops and fire trucks, all surrounding the burnt husk of a car, as well as several well-singed vehicles. Yikes.

(Thankfully, the theatre employee I asked said no one had been hurt, but that the fire might have been started intentionally. I hope it’s not like when people riot post-sports matches whether they win or lose. “Dark Knight rules! Let’s light shit on fire!”)

At this point it was an hour before the movie, so I went inside because it was a little too crazy outside, what with the smoking husks of cars and all. I figured I’d chill in the lobby and read my book or something, but I was (stupidly) surprised to see people were already in line. (The fact that I continue to be shocked by really logical things is a source of constant surprise in my life.) So instead of reading I got in line. And here’s where I have to derail for a rant. You know what is the height of assholery? Saving a spot near the front of the line for your fifteen friends. One or two, fine, but fifteen? When I got there, there was a group of three ahead of me and a pair in front of them, so I was sixth in line. By the time they were ready to let us in, the assorted friends of the three jackasses in front of me had arrived – all fifteen of them. The only reason they got away with it was because the line was wrapped around the wall so that no one behind me could see the fifteen cutters. I didn’t say anything, but when they opened the gate and people literally started dashing down the hallway screaming, I was able to outmaneuver them – it’s easier to push one body through a crowd than a phalanx of fifteen. So I managed to snag a seat right in the middle of where the group had apparently been planning to go (the row before the handicapped section, where you’re guaranteed to have no one in front of you to block your view and unlimited leg room), forcing them to grumble copiously and split up a bit. I had to laugh at that.

But anyway! The movie itself. There’s not much I could say that hasn’t been said (and said and said) by every news outlet. Is The Dark Knight the most important movie of all time? No, but it’s a damned good one. Probably the best in a strong summer. Here are some things that jumped out at me:

+The biggest plot twist of the movie is that there are still plot twists. I was absolutely shocked to realize there were a few “holy shit” moments and plot twists that hadn’t yet been exposed in the exhausting media shitstorm preceding Batterdämmerung. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth braving the crowds this weekend just to get those amazing, unspoiled jaw-dropping moments before they get unleashed in full force.

+The greatest testament to Heath Ledger’s performance is that, five minutes into the movie, I completely forgot all the backstage tragedy. His performance overshadows his personal life, which is exactly how it should be.

+Aaron Eckhart’s hair is really distracting. Really. It looks very…strawish and plasticky. The color is weird. The cut is weird. The texture is weird. I don’t know if they were going for a plasticine Ken Doll look to fit the theme of his character’s transformation from Harvey Dent to Two-Face, but I had trouble focusing on whatever he was saying onscreen because I was too focused on his weird hair.

+That said, the styling was fantastic on the Joker and Two-Face prosthetics. Definitely Oscar-worthy.

+Also distracting is Christian Bale as Batman. As Bruce Wayne he’s fantastic, none better, but when he’s in the suit doing the weird voice and flat delivery, it’s just…off. Luckily, he doesn’t actually spend a lot of time talking while batsuited up. But as I said, his Bruce Wayne is flawless.

+Maggie Gyllenhaal was a vast improvement on Katie Holmes, and I say this as one of the seemingly few who still like Katie Holmes post-Cruisebotomy.

+Of all the creepifying Joker scenes, I think the tops has to be the one where he’s upside down but it’s filmed rightside up, giving it this really eerie effect. Brilliant.

+The film is probably a bit too long, but I can’t point to any really extraneous parts, and I don’t foresee too much griping on that front from the very satisfied audiences.

So yeah. Will the movie change your life? Not unless you didn’t have much of a life to begin with. But it’s a fantastic movie with a solid story, amazing effects, and unbelievable performances. It brought me back to the summer of 1989, when my parents took me and my cousin to see the first Batman movie with Michael Keaton. I was seven and it was my first grownup movie, the first time I was allowed to see that movies could be more than candy-colored escapist fluff. (With, you know, some parental death thrown in for good measure.) I was enthralled, right up until my cousin booted in her popcorn and I moved down the row as far away from her as possible to disassociate myself from the stench of buttery bile. Then I went right back to being enthralled. That’s what The Dark Knight did for me. Made me forget cars infuego, pushy fans, and backstage tragedy, and just remember how much movies can kick ass.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Television: The Wonder Year

Hey! Guess what’s finally out on DVD today! Birds of Prey: The Complete Series! I’ve been waiting for this since the fall of 2002, a.k.a. the Golden Age of Television. And oh, was it a golden age. Unconvinced? Here are five good reasons why fall of '02 was the best time to be a television fan.

1) Three Whedon Shows Were On the Air
Seems crazy now that we’re all patiently waiting for Dollhouse to premier this fall so we can welcome Joss Whedon back into our homes an hour a week, but once upon a time we were able to get a Whedon fix three whole times a week. In the fall of 2002, Buffy was in its uneven-but-ultimately-awesome sixth season, Angel was in its rock-solid, unparalleled, and brilliant fourth season, and Firefly’s light had not yet been snuffed out by the bloodthirsty Foxmonster. Which brings us to…

2) Our Collective Programming Innocence Was Not Yet Fully Shattered
Fall of 2002 represented the last period in my life when I wasn’t overly cautious with and bitter towards the netlet-in-denial and its habit of savagely killing shows. Sure, Fox had prematurely cancelled one of my fave shows, Dark Angel, the spring before, but I hadn’t yet felt the sting of losing Firefly and Wonderfalls (which Wonderfell in spring of 2003) in one year. Speaking of prematurely cancelled one-season wonders…

3) Birds of Prey Kicked Ass
I think I was the only one who watched and enjoyed this show. It was cheesy, fine, but it had some real moments of brilliance and loads of potential. And the final fight is a kickass, Xena-worthy Sapphic throwdown that finally explained why so many of my lesbian friends were fans of the comic series – way more text than sub.

3) Spymommy Reigned Supreme
Alias was in its phenomenal second season, the last one that featured Bradley Cooper as a regular, the last one before Sydney and Vaughn went all weird (and Sydney went missing for a few years), and before Francie went bye-bye because she didn't like coffee ice cream. Alias season two was a brilliant Wagnerian melodrama centered around the dysfunctional antics of the whole Spyfamily, and I still say it's one of the best television seasons ever.

4) Charmed Didn’t Suck
Charmed was in its fifth season, a.k.a. the second to last season before those last two seasons which are so unspeakably bad I pretend they don’t exist. While season 5 relied too heavily on Wacky Transformations and Fairy Tale Creatures of the Week, it was still a solid season, probably the best after Doherty left.

5) Some Gone-But-Not-Forgotten Shows Were Not Gone Either
In 2002, you could still turn your television to the following awesome-but-since-cancelled shows: Dawson’s Creek, Boston Public, Everwood, Gilmore Girls, Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle, Friends, Less Than Perfect, Just Shoot Me, Bernie Mac, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, What I Like About You, and Grounded For Life. At least most live on in DVD form – and the release of BoP gives me hope that some of the beloved stragglers (Boston Public!) will come out soon, too.

So yeah. 2002 rocked. (Lots of go-go-girl-power opportunities to see girls kick ass fighting monsters/aliens/criminals/supervillains, too. Alias, Angel, Buffy, Birds of Prey, Charmed, Firefly…and if you go back to spring you could include Dark Angel and Roswell.)

Of course there have been amazing shows before and since, but the fall of 2002 was such a bounty of awesometude that I can only hope one day television will again have so many great things going on all at once.

Anyway, aside from running out and buying Birds of Prey: The Complete Series on DVD, here are two things you should do right now:

1) Run over to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and watch the first act of the newest Whedon masterpiece.

2) Run over to iTunes and download “About A Girl”, the first single off The Academy Is…’s upcoming album. It’s very bouncy and awesome, going in the slicker vein the band started with in Santi, but with a kind of retro kick.

Bite-Sized Televised Horror

Are you watching Fear Itself on NBC (Thursdays at 10)? If not, why the hell not? Okay, the episodes have been a little uneven and have shown a little too much preference for law-and-order based stories (detectives, escaped convicts, etc), but the show gets major points for not shying away from gruesome and downer endings. It’s not afraid to go there, wherever there is – the land of red-tinted corn syrup with a hint of Bosco, maybe. Most importantly, it’s brought back the great tradition of anthology shows to primetime.

I love anthology shows. My dad raised me on anthology television shows and short stories, which I either responded favorably to because of my ADD or which helped cause my ADD…chicken/egg, that. Anyway, this week’s episode was penned by AICN’s Moriarty, and if you check out his blog before the show airs, you can snag a copy of the script, which is awesome if you’re an aspiring television writer or anthology TV enthusiast.

Unfortunately, the genre isn’t well represented anymore. The closest shows I can think of currently are Law and Order (and the various spin-offs) and Doctor Who, neither of which are even really anthology series, but they often utilize a Monster of the Week format that make them easy for casual viewers to watch. (When I was working evenings a while back, L+O was the only show I could watch because I knew I could miss four or five episodes and come back in having missed nothing of import.)

In honor of NBC resurrecting this waning genre, these are my Top 5 Anthology Television Series:

1) The Twilight Zone
This is the mother of them all and still the best. When I was growing up, New Year’s Day was spent at my grandmother’s house, and when my dad and I managed to wrestle the remote away from my football-loving uncle and cousins, we always put on the TZ marathon. Nowadays, of course, the SciFi channel runs a TZ marathon for every holiday imaginable – “Oh, hey, it’s Guy Fawkes Day? Time for a Twilight Zone marathon!” – but back then we looked forward to it all year. My favorite episode is “Time Enough at Last”, with Burgess Meredith, and if you haven’t seen it already, hop on over here and watch it stat. My dad prefers “The Lonely” which is of course a wonderful episode as well, but doesn’t compare to that last shot of Meredith’s Henry Bemis amidst the ruins of the library. (After “Time” and “Lonely”, I have to go with “Nick of Time”, which features a young Shatner and a winking devil head which my dad gave me a replica of (the devil, not Shatner) for a graduation gift. Yes, I have a weird family.)

2) Tales From the Dark Side
SciFi has recently picked this one up in syndication, and alas, it hasn’t aged as well as TZ. It’s a lot cheesier than I remember. But I still love the opening theme, and there are some solid episodes. I recently tuned into one penned by George A. Romero, he of the zombie empire. That’s half the fun of these anthology shows, you know. Seeing where directors, writers, and actors cut their teeth, or even where established storytellers took their good ideas that just couldn’t sustain a full-length feature but made perfect 30-to-60 minute pieces.

3) Monsters
This one also had a huge impact on my childhood. When I was growing up, my mom worked weekends, so while she did most of my rearing Monday through Friday, Saturdays especially fell to my dad. We’d usually go to one of NJ’s assorted historical attractions during the day, come home, make dinner, then watch Doctor Who (episodes featuring the Fourth Doctor on WLIW) and Monsters. This one definitely wasn’t meant for kids – it aired at midnight, actually, and my mom woulda skinned my dad if she knew what he was letting me watch. And she almost did skin him when one episode - “The Farmer’s Daughter” - gave me nightmares for weeks. And I don’t scare easy. The only other movies that have had the honor of giving me fullass check-under-the-bed-wake-up-screaming creeps are Child’s Play 3, The Blair Witch Project, Pulse, and Dead Silence. So yeah, Monsters was actually pretty scary. It’s in syndication now on a channel I don’t get, Chiller, but I wish like hell they’d put this on DVD.

4) The Outer Limits (Modern Series)
The one thing you have to give anthology shows, they have kickass credit sequences. In fact, all five shows on this list have fan-freaking-tastic and iconic credit sequences. I think Outer Limits is a little more hit-or-miss than the other shows on this list, but it had some great episodes, and you can still catch it at odd times in syndication. Definitely worth checking out.

5) Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Okay, I never found any of these actually scary, but keep in mind I was already watching the grownup anthologies at the time. Compared to some of the shit going down on Monsters and Tales From the Darkside, Are You Afraid of the Dark? was child’s play. But some of the stories were interesting, and it stands as a legend in the minds of my weaned-on-SNICK generation.

Honorable Mentions: Tales From the Crypt, Amazing Stories, Poltergeist: The Legacy (not a true anthology, closer to The X-Files in model), Freddy’s Nightmares, and the lone non-sci-fi/fantasy title on this list, MTV’s Undressed.

So check out Fear Itself on Thursday. What do you have to lose? Best case, you’ll get a kickass hour of television, worst case, at least you won’t have to see any of the characters ever again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

No More Sex, Please

Oh, great – looks like they may be gearing up for a sequel to the Sex and the City movie. Please. Stop. Now. Stories have a natural lifespan, and SATC is well past its prime. My problem with the Sex and the City movie goes beyond the wonky structuring. See, with a rom-com movie, you know that over the course of two hours you’ll have a meet-cute, a series of wacky circumstances keeping the happy couple apart, and then the joyful reconciliation/first kiss right before the credits roll. But TV shows are trickier. A lot of television shows have the obvious moment in the pilot where you see that two people are destined for each other – think Ross and Rachel on Friends, Luke and Lorelai on Gilmore Girls, Lucas and Peyton on One Tree Hill, and of course Big and Carrie on Sex and the City. And usually somewhere between seasons 1 and 3, they get together and all is well with the world. Except, oops, the show got renewed for another season, and extended happiness makes for boring television, so now the viewers are treated to a few years’ worth of angst, breakups, alternate couplings that some viewers get attached to even knowing they’re doomed (sticky real-life drama aside, I still miss Brooke and Lucas on OTH) before the series finale and final uniting of the power couple. Meanwhile, secondary couples, ones not preordained by the pilot, are often allowed to get together and, with some bumps of course, stay together in a functioning relationship. Think Monica and Chandler on Friends, Sookie and Jackson on Gilmore Girls, Nathan and Hayley on One Tree Hill, and Miranda and Steve/Charlotte and Harry on Sex and the City. At any rate, after six seasons, Sex and the City disassembled and reassembled its characters a dozen times over, finally getting them all to good places by the series’ end. And the movie and its potential sequel are pointless because you know the characters will mostly end up right where we left them at the end of the television series – we’re just paying $10 to see more time-wasting machinations that tread storywater until the credits are ready to roll.

Not that I can blame them for wanting to go for a second movie. Right now, Sex and the City is the fourth highest grossing movie of 2008 and will remain so until Batterdämmerung strikes on Friday. Yeah, it turns out women watch movies, and occasionally want to see other women on the screen. But wise up, Hollywood. Women aren’t hungry for more Sex and the City – they’re hungry for more movies about women, period.

So instead of throwing up another bit of storytreading fluff – Will Carrie and Big stay together?! (Yes.) Will Carrie navalgaze via Macbook and staple roadkill to her head?!? (Duh.) – how about developing some new go-go-girl-power movies instead? Superhero movies are superhot, but Wonder Woman is not. Why the hell not?

And hey, how about throwing some promotion towards The Women, due out on September 12? I’ve seen the trailer for Eagle Eye, which comes out three weeks after The Women, before three different movies recently. The Women has been in development since 1994, with Meg Ryan as one of the few actresses attached the entire time. Think about that. 1994. A year sufficiently far enough in the past that a current movie can be set during it and be called a period piece. After spending 14 years in development hell, the least the movie deserves is a little bit of promotion from the studio. If a trailer for it isn’t attached to the chick-friendly Mamma Mia! next week, I’ll be so angry. Which is, of course, par for the course, because women are nothing if not angry.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Big Brother is (Worth) Watching

Tonight’s the season premier of Big Brother 10, and you know what that means – summer has officially begun! (Actually, summer’s almost over, but shh.)

I’m a latecomer to the show. I watched season 1, back when it took a backseat to Richard Hatch’s naked antics on Survivor: Borneo. But as I have an inexplicable tendency to only watch the first season of reality shows, I checked back out until last summer when I friend got me sucked in. It's the perfect, mindless summer show. And Big Brother After Dark on ShowtimeToo is even better, because it's television white noise. I can pop it on and it keeps me just distracted enough get a ton of writing or editing done without fear of getting sucked into actually watching. (Except if they go all Caligula on our asses - that you gotta watch.)

I know from watching seasons 8 and 9 (and 6 and 7 on tapes provided by the aforementioned friend) that the first few weeks of any BB season are fairly slow. But then, around week 3 or 4, something magical happens – everyone simultaneously falls down the rabbit hole. Having lived through similar experiences a few times, it’s hilarious to watch play out on television. See, something happens when you spend all day and night with the same group of people. It can happen when you go to summer camp or away to college, or even when the majority of your social network is culled from your co-workers (this happens a lot in retail/service and has proved fertile territory for Gen-X Hollywood – Clerks, Empire Records, Caffeine, Waiting…). Suddenly, your world shrinks to this tiny, tiny group, and you have a seemingly endless capacity to obsess over the quirks and perceived slights of those around you. You fall under this spell of scheming and fretting and fixating, and the spell isn’t broken until you get yourself out of that environment and are reminded that you have a life and family separate these people. And this happens at summer camp, college, work – places where people have distractions, other things to do. Aside from a few competitions and some jockeying for house position, the Big Brother Hamsters have nothing to distract themselves from falling down the rabbit hole. So while I know tonight’s episode will be fluffy get-to-know-you filler, I’ll be trying to guess which Hamster will flip their shit first. But if we don’t have anyone equal to BBUK’s Kathreya, I’m asking for my money back.

And speaking of so-cheerful-they-might-be-brain-damaged people, Kelly Ripa hosted a stiletto run last week to raise money for the March of Dimes. Excuse me? Are you seriously telling me that the most go-go-girl-power way to raise money for MoD is to round up a bunch of women and give them shin splints? I just…wow. And also, ow.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Summer Movies 5: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The Dark Fate of Humanity if We Keep Abusing the Earth (According to Hollywood)

1. Plants will intelligently design themselves to kill us. (The Happening)
2. We will be forced to live on a spaceship, where we will regress into overgrown, consumption-driven toddlers. (Wall-E)
3. Elves will declare war on our asses. (Hellboy II: The Golden Army)

Anyone else sensing a pattern this summer?

I mean, come on, Hollywood, I’ve finally gotten into the habit of turning off lights and a/c in rooms I’m not occupying, I stopped buying physical CDs, 90% of the time I remember to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store…okay, I still take hella long showers, eschew Nalgene water bottles because of the possible cancer threat, and I can be lackadaisical in my recycling, but I’m making an effort, okay? So how about letting me enjoy a Hollywood blockbuster without trying to make me feel like a bad person?

That said, I really enjoyed Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Having seen the first movie roughly five hours before I went to see the second (thanks to the wonder of Tivo for letting me catch up on all the movies I missed while in college!), it was pretty easy to see the evolution between the two. In the first movie, the Rupert Evans character of John Myers felt superfluous, despite being given the oddly cheesy Final Voiceover of the movie. The character was apparently created for the film, and it felt fairly obvious his only function was to be a cipher through which the world of Hellboy was explained to the audience, so it’s not surprising he was tossed aside with a one-liner (transferred to Alaska) in the sequel. Also, I may be wrong, but I think they moved the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense from Newark in the first movie to Trenton in the second. (As a Jersey girl, I thought it was hilarious and fitting for that kind of place to be in Newark – it sure would explain a lot.) If they did, I’m surprised the notoriously nitpicky about continuity fans of comic book movies haven’t already begun to riot.

The pacing was a lot better in the second movie, without all that pesky exposition to get out of the way. Of course, there is some exposition – we need to know why an elf is mad at us (answer: humans broke an ancient truce to leave the woods to the elves) and what he’s gonna do about it (gather the scattered pieces of an ancient crown to raise an undefeatable golden army). Several of the final “twists” are pretty much telegraphed well in advance if you’ve ever seen a movie ever. It reminds me of the part in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang where Harry says, “Okay, I apologize. That was a terrible scene. It’s like, 'Why was that in the movie? Gee, do you think maybe it’ll come back later? Maybe?' I hate that, when the TV’s on talking about the new power plant; hmmm, wonder where the climax will happen? Or that shot of the cook in The Hunt for Red October…so anyway….”

Still, the movie moves along at a brisk pace. Maybe too brisk in the middle, when two large fight scenes are stacked right on top of each other with no respite to exposition, banter, and otherwise let the audience catch their breath, but that’s a small quibble. There’s solid humor, good action, and even some character development, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Interestingly, Hellboy at times felt like an inverse of that other big summer movie, Wanted. (Despite using some awesome slo-mo effects and gorgeous, lush visuals.) While the characters in Wanted believe in killing one to save thousands, some of the Hellboy characters risk the world to save one. Not very pragmatic, but then, pragmatism makes for short movies. “Hey, John, wanna go on this really dangerous quest to find an ancient relic?” “Nah. Sounds kind of dangerous.” “Good point. Pass the Funyuns.”

I walked out of the movie happy I’d gone to see it, feeling quite good. Then, driving home, Bambi shot in front of my car and I had to slam onto the brakes hard as shit to avoid making venison and, you know, dying. In that brief moment between thinking death was imminent and realizing Bambi and I were both unscathed, I had a single thought: “I can’t believe the last movie I’ll see is Hellboy.” Later on, having avoided two more prancing deer (I swear to god, been driving ten years and never saw one single deer on the road, and then I see three on three separate roads in one night?) and arrived safely home, I thought about which recent movie I would have preferred to be my last. I realized, if we’re talking summer movies, it would probably be Wanted, edging out the feel-good Wall-E, as what I’d want to go down as having last seen. If all 2008 movies are contenders, then it’s Cloverfield, no question. (Iron Man runs a close second.) So there you have it. Hellboy II: The Golden Army – solidly entertaining, lots of humor and heart, but not necessarily the last movie you want to see before you die.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Teflon Celebs

Curious as to whether Rilo Kiley had released any more music videos off last year’s Under the Blacklight since "Moneymaker" and "Silver Lining", I hit up YouTube. After a few RickRolls (yup, sad to report they’re still out in force) I found that the sad answer is no. So I re-watched "Moneymaker" instead. That video never fails to crack me up, although I suspect that wasn’t the intention.

See, with Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley went from the contemplative folksy rock we knew and loved from earlier albums (Take-Offs and Landings (2001), The Execution of All Things (2002), and More Adventurous (2004)) to synthy sleazy crass and gorgeous poprock. And though the album took a while to grow on me, I think it’s since surpassed More Adventurous to become my new favorite Rilo Kiley album.

So why does the "Moneymaker" video make me giggle? Because, spliced in among shots of writhing guitarists and unsavory locations, there are shots of lead singer Jenny Lewis cavorting with real (I assume) porn stars, trying to look all badass and instead looking…. How do I explain this? Okay. So there was this girl I knew in high school. She had such a sweet, unassuming comportment and a perfect, cherubic face. But she’d do these horrible things in a really guileless manner. She borrowed one girl’s car and wrecked it, borrowed another girl’s boyfriend and gave him the gift that keeps on giving, crabs, which he passed back on to his girlfriend. Stuff like that. Stuff that would get most girls kicked in the teeth, or at least socially blacklisted. But this girl just had such a way about her…let me put it this way. The newly-crabbed girlfriend ended up letting this girl cry on her shoulder about the injustice of it all. And that’s how it always went for her. Oceans parted in her wake.

Now, I’m not saying Jenny Lewis gave anyone crabs or totaled any cars, she certainly seems like a very down to earth and normal musician (rumor has it they do exist), but even if she had, who would believe it or care? Look at her. She has a face that says “I can do no wrong” and, you know what? Judging from her career, I’d say that’s accurate. So when I see her cavorting with porn stars and trying to look disaffected, I just wanna pinch her cheeks and laugh. She can do no wrong and damn anyone who says different.

Lewis isn’t the only teflon celeb around, either. Look at Will Smith. He could be photographed standing buck naked on Wilshire Boulevard, holding a bucket of dead kittens in one hand and the half-devoured corpse of a small immigrant child in the other, and everyone would just go, “Aww dip, Will, you’re so funny! When’s your next movie coming out?”

There is, however, an inversely maligned creature roaming Hollywood, maintaining the balance in the entertainment universe. The best current example is Colin Farrell. He could single-handedly rescue a bunch of nuns from a burning convent and the tabs would still make it out like he only did so to secure the sexual gratitudes of the nuns. Poor Farrell. He’s so misunderstood in all his newly heroinhobochic glory. But it’s a small sacrifice to ensure that the sun keeps shining on Jenny Lewis.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Downey Rides Again

Though he still has two movies on deck (August's Tropic Thunder and November's The Soloist), a lot of Hollywood watchers have been waiting to see what Robert Downey Jr. would pick as his next project now that Iron Man's officially rocketed him back to his deserving spot on the A-list. Well, he's made his choice. According to Variety, he'll star as the titular character in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. Say it with me now - hrm.

There's a lot of factors to give one pause. The project is based as much on the comics series as Doyle's books. It might go head to head at the box office with another recently greenlit Sherlock film starring Sascha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell. (No, really.) It's being directed by Guy Ritchie, who by the time shooting rolls around might be up to his ass in alligators with a Madonna divorce imbroglio. Downey's British accent was at times dodgy in 1995's Restoration. And yet? I'm optimistic.

Downey has good taste in movies. He hasn't really been in anything wretched, and on the few occasions he's ended up in a stinker, well, he has enough charm and charisma to sell dildos to nuns, so the experience is still enjoyable. (I mean the movie experience, not the nuns+chucks experience.) He apparently has exacting standards when it comes to scripts, and now he has regained the clout necessary to exercise said exacting standards, so I assume the Sherlock script doesn't blow. And Guy Ritchie didn't always suck - remember Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels? So yeah, this isn't the first movie I would have pegged Downey signing on for with his newly re-minted success, but his movie choices have always been eccentric and varied, and he's always knocked it out of the park. It'll do, 'til Iron Man 2 comes out.

Magazines: Even Whiter Than Before!

Thanks to the holiday weekend, my Entertainment Weekly arrived on Tuesday, instead of last Friday. I sat down to read it last night – because on Tuesday I was too preoccupied with hoofing it halfway across Manhattan because the Lower Upper East Side is a cesspool that is not easily reached by civilized transit (the subway) – and, holy cow, for issue #1001 they’ve totally redesigned. With a lot of whitespace and greyscale. And I am…not sure how I feel about it.

I love Entertainment Weekly. Most magazines, I flip idly through and read a few articles at a time over the course of a week or two before I toss it into the bin. But EW, man. I sit down and read it cover to cover, every week. And I have a hard time recycling old issues, as my cluttered coffee table and closet can attest to. So I take a redesign about as lightly as I do a friend getting a nose job. Whether it’s for better or worse, it’s still different, and acquires acclimating.

Is it better or worse, though? Whitespace is certainly trendy. When I worked as an editor on my college magazine, I remember a constant struggle to reconcile one designer’s love of massive amounts of whitespace versus my love of articles that were longer than, say, 200 words. It’s interesting, though, how this plays into the way EW has played with color schemes for a while. In the 90s, the layout was very modern, a lot of black with muted dark red and blue and green accents, very boxy and classy. Then, sometime between March 2003 and October 2004 (judging by the older issues I was able to dig up) they redesigned. It was a color explosion, bright everything, and a lot of the front of book articles eschewed borders. Really eschewed borders. Particularly low-rated items from weekly charticle The Bullseye (“They shoot, we score: rating the biggest hits and misses in pop culture this week.”) were relegated to the margins of the next two or three pages. I was not a fan of the new look, but it grew on me. I did appreciate being able to easily find the green-coded television section when I wasn’t sure what to watch on TV that night, and the FOB had a nice flow to it. But here we are, with a whole new design, and it’s back to being less colorful. But whereas the 90s-era EW was dominated by bold, dark splashes, this new version is very light and austere.

For comparison’s sake, I threw together some scans of the last two designs and the newest design of the News + Notes front page:

It’s a lot less colorful (not in terms of which colors are used, but where), though certainly not boring. In fact, the newly-muted design really makes the graphics and photos pop. Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous. But while the structure is back in the front of the book and the articlettes no longer look ready to float off into space, the pages are now a little too busy. In fact, I got a headache trying to read the FOB, because my eyes kept flicking from article to charticle to sidebar – three or four per page – only digesting a word or two from each. This is, of course, largely a failing of my ADDled mind, but the old design never gave me so many problems. It’s also no longer as easy to flip through to specific non-feature sections like books, movies, etc.

And in a head-scratching (no, not that kind) move, they’ve split the DVD section up into two parts, Movies on DVD (which follows the Movies section) and TV Shows on DVD (which follows the TV section). Are there people who just buy one and would rather not know of the existence of the other? I assumed everyone had the same mixed movie/TV collection I have and would appreciate getting the skinny on the new releases all in one place. It’s possible this change was implemented to allow them to fit in more reviews, though. In the current issue, for movies on DVD, there are mid-size reviews for 6 DVDs and a charticle of “Also in Stores” listing 9, and for TV Shows there are 4 (which oddly includes Wide Sargasso Sea, which is a movie…one that was made-for-TV, sure, but that seems like a weird place to split hairs) and “Also in Stores” charticles 5 more, bringing the total up to 24 (…yes, I had to use a calculator to total that up). For comparison’s sake, the June 13th issue featured one large review of Dirty Harry, 3 small reviews, an articlette on The Onion Movie, and the weekly top 20 sales chart (now missing in the redesign). So the new format certainly makes more room reviews and release blurts, but the category splitting still strikes me as unnecessary. What will happen to concert DVDs? Will they go under Movies, or will they wait until enough are released to make a Music on DVD section to accompany the Music section?

And, the biggest disappointment, Stephen King’s fantastic column, "The Pop of King", is now consigned to the barren wasteland between the front of the book and the features, page 22, instead of the last page, which is now taken up by The Must List (which, to be fair, was on the last page before King was, and filled in when he went on vacay). And while I am happy that this week’s Must List acknowledges the awesomeness that is Wipeout, I liked ending the magazine with King. (Or the wonderfully wry Mark Harris.) King’s columns always give interesting food for thought that leave my mind turning long after I put the magazine aside, but now I have to fight the mind-turning to continue reading past page 23.

Oh well. I’m sure this redesign, like the last one, will grow on me. And Entertainment Weekly still features the absolute best entertainment writing of any magazine – or newspaper or blog, for that matter. They were even wise enough to snag the adorable and compulsively readable Michael Ausiello from TVGuide. And it’s one of the proud few entertainment mags that doesn’t feature icky candid pics of celebs gracelessly shoveling food down their gullets and running to the store in ratty sweats and flipflops, lest we forget that stars are just like us (only more talented and attractive and wealthy).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, EW informs me that Mad Men Season 1 is on DVD, so I have to go update my Netflix queue in hopes of finally seeing what everyone’s been yammering on about.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Items No Longer Blind, Still Probably BS

Yowza. A follow-up to my recent post on blind items, Gawker just reported that Crazy Days and Nights is de-blinding a bunch of old items. So now names are attached…but there’s no more accountability or anything silly like that. Who needs accountability? Only lame people who are all hung up on, like, reality and stuff. And, even de-blinded, some of the descriptors used are still For example, CDaN constantly says “older, but not aging” – what the duck? I assume that means “no longer carded at bars but not yet eligible for AARP”, but to me it sounds like they all have portraits stashed in their attics, doing their aging for them.

I think CDaN squicks me out so much because it’s the blind leading the blind. At least when Casablanca or Michael Musto spout out blind items, or non-blind but unsourced bits of gossip, they’re putting their name behind it. But any jacko can start a blog (…clearly) and can post whatever they want. Hey, did anyone figure out who the mongoose-molesting actor is yet?

Ah well. There are some items I would certainly like to be true, like this awesome go-go-girl-power blurb about one of my fave actresses, Eliza Dushku. I’d like to think she’d help out a scorned chick in need.

And there are other items I simply assume are true, like the one about Gary Busey trying to buy stuff with gold doubloons (okay, CDaN said coins, but doubloons are way more fun) because “he didn’t believe in cash or credit anymore and that he was returning to the past.” I mean, come on, Busey has gone completely batty - of course he’s going around town trying to buy stuff with pirate money.

Girls Watch Movies (And They're...Ambivalent?)

A friend and I were recently talking about how so few of the recently released movies pass the Bechdel test. If you haven't the faintest what I’m babbling on about, the Bechdel test for movies that are female friendly has three simple rules:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

I decided to see whether the movies I’ve seen in theatres in 2008 so far pass the test. I’m only counting movies I’ve seen in theatres and not Netflixed, Tivoed, OnDemanded, etc, because a) I’ve seen 94 movies total since 1/1/08 and I only have a free half hour to write this entry, b) in-theatres-only will give a better idea of the current climate since those movies are all, well, current. My criteria for judging disincludes minor/background characters (a female character has to appear in at least two scenes to count), and doesn’t count conversations shorter than roughly ten lines (five per actress).

1) I Am Legend – Bechdel rating: 1/3 - This satisfies requirement one (two women) if you count the flashbacks. But, to be fair, there aren’t even a lot of people in this movie to begin with.

2) One Missed Call - 3/3 - Surprisingly passes! There are several scenes of women together talking, and not about men. They’re talking about their impending doom, but hey, baby steps.

3) Sweeney Todd - 1/3 - Has at least two women. Three, actually. And played by three different actresses to boot. (Stage productions usually double Joanna and the beggar woman. But it evens out, because Sascha Baron Cohen’s role was played by a woman in the 2005 Broadway revival.) But they don’t converse, unless you count Mrs. Lovett screaming at the beggar woman, which I don’t.

4) Cloverfield - 1/3 - Has three main women, but no real visible conversing between them. This, however, could be attributed to the characters in the film mostly interacting with the camera (Hud). In a traditional format, I’m confident J.J. would have done right by the women, as he did with Felicity, Alias, and Lost.

5) 27 Dresses - 2/3 - Two women, check. Talk to each other, check. About something other than a man, uh…

6) Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay - 1/3 - Plenty of women, not so much with the talking, but Neil Patrick Harris makes this worth the price of admission anyway.

7) Iron Man - 2/3 - We’ve got two women who do share a scene alone, so that’s check on one and two, but of course their conversation is all about Tony.

8) Sex and the City - 3/3 - This should have been in the bag, but in my opinion it barely passes. SATC has women galore who seem to do nothing but talk to each other. But nearly every conversation revolves around the men in their lives.

9) The Strangers - 3/3 - Three women, and some conversing between them, mostly revolving around killing and being killed.

10) The Incredible Hulk - 1/3 - Two women – I know, you’re probably scratching your head to think of who I mean besides Liv Tyler, but there was the one female soldier who was, of course, called a bitch and killed. Oh, and the woman who’s sexually harassed in the Brazilian bottling plant.

11) Wall-E - 1/3 - Assuming we’re gonna assign gender to robots and say Eve’s a woman, then we’ve got Eve and Mary for two women. Otherwise, it’d be oh for three.

12) Wanted - 1/3 - Well, we’ve got the obnoxious boss, the harpy girlfriend, and Angelina Jolie – three women. Not a lot of go-go girl power in this flick, though.

13) Hancock – 0/3 – Come to think of it, I’m having trouble thinking of any Will Smith movie that passes the test. Hm.

So, three out of thirteen movies pass completely. Yikes.

What do we learn from this? Not much, of course, because it’s just my skewed, opinionated sampling. But it’s interesting to note that horror movies do well with the test because there are usually plenty of women talking to each other about things other than men – namely, how to keep from getting hacked into pieces. The tradeoff being that most women in horror movies get hacked into pieces.

Of course, this list is just based on the movies I’ve personally seen in theatres in 2008. I saw Juno on New Year’s Eve, so that’s not quite 2008, but it would have passed 3/3. There are some other movies released in 2008 that I haven’t seen but that I suspect might pass: Mad Money, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Baby Mama, The Life Before Her Eyes, and Then She Found Me.

And then there are the ones I saw on DVD/OnDemand that were released in 2008: Teeth, Untraceable, The Air I Breathe, The Eye, and Charlie Bartlett. Of those, Teeth passes 3/3 (though it doesn’t actually have a lot of Dawn talking to another woman, I think the female empowerment theme well pushes it over the edge), Untraceable, The Air I Breathe, and The Eye barely squeak by (the female-female conversations, while not male-centric, are quite brief and mostly inconsequential to the story), and Charlie Bartlett, while fabulously entertaining, gets only 1 of 3.

Then again, maybe it’s my own fault, a result of the kind of movies I pick. After all, the upcoming movies I’m most anticipating are The Dark Knight, Repo! The Genetic Opera, The Midnight Meat Train, Mamma Mia!, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Mirrors, Hamlet 2, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, Passengers, and Eagle Eye. Of those, only two (Mamma Mia! and Hamlet 2) seem to be somewhat girl-friendly. But what can I say, my favorite genre is horror, followed by action/comedy. I wish like hell there were more movies coming out that pass the Bechdel test and fit those genres. I hate that my choices for go-go girl flicks are usually limited to horror movies where maybe one girl escapes getting hacked to pieces, action flicks where there’s one kickass chick among all the boys, movies that are focused solely on romantic entanglements, or naval-gazing chickfests like Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes that make me feel like a bad woman because I just can’t get into them.

The problem is, movie studios almost all aim for only one of the four quadrants (Males Under 25). Sure, they hope for a four quadrant smash like Iron Man (which drew in Males Under 25, Females Under 25, Males Over 25, and Females Over 25), but the second best scenario is MU25, because they know that, more often than not, us other-quadrant dwellers will see an MU25-targeted movie, while the reverse is rarely true. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that there weren’t a lot of MU25s lining up to see The Bucket List (MO25), Mad Money (FO25), and 27 Dresses (FU25). But I bet plenty of members of the other three quadrants went to see Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, an MU25-targeted film if ever there was one. Hell, I went to see it, with another FO25er, and we were seated between three MU25ers and two FU25ers and behind an MO25er who lit up an enormous spliff midway through the first act. I just wish studios would start coming out with entertaining horror and action/comedy flicks that pass what seem to be three ridiculously-easy-to-satisfy rules.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Summer Movies 4: Wanted, Hancock

There are several factors I use in deciding whether I liked a movie or not. First and foremost – was I entertained? The whole time? Second, was any wisdom imparted, was there any pithy social commentary or glimpses into the human condition? Third is financial – did I pay to see it, and if so, did I get my money’s worth? There are plenty of movies that are good when viewed gratis on TV, decent when rented, and total rips at $10 in the theatre. Hey, here’s a perfect example. I just watched Resident Evil 3 on Starz, and I thought it was pretty entertaining, but I didn’t pay to see it and I had the ability to pause at any time and go check my email if I felt my attention start to wander. Which I did, right around the Las Vegas showdown. So I’d give it, say, seven out of ten stars. But I wouldn’t be so generous if I’d plunked down an hour’s wages to see it on the big screen. With that criteria in mind, here are my thoughts on Wanted and Hancock.

First off, Wanted. Okay, the movie didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. It mashed up Office Space with The Matrix with a twist of Star Wars. But was it entertaining? Hell yes. Did I regret paying $10 to see it? Nope. Did it change my life? Well, no, but not every movie has to do that. Some can just be wicked fun. The way I see it, a movie’s primary job is to entertain me. If it’s deep and makes me think a bit, well, that’s just gravy.

First and foremost, this is a movie to be seen on the big screen. The effects are spectacular. Gruesome, but spectacular. One caveat, though – the slo-mo stuff works against the movie towards the end, especially in the climax. Because when everything is slowed down, James McAvoy’s face looks all wobbly and nebbishy, which is fine when he’s the “before” office nerd, but not so much for the supposedly-transformed superbadass he’s supposed to be by the end of the movie. Human fighting-based slow motion (as opposed to bullet/machine-based) only works for Jet Li and other super-honed human fighting machines, not for the average actor.

And okay, the fruity loom ex machina – terrible, hilariously terrible plot device. But come on, we’ve all swallowed more ridiculous and outlandish bits of frippery in the name of a cool action story. It, along with the bendy bullets, is a little bit of disbelief worth suspending. In fact, it’s probably best not to poke too hard at the seemingly anti-office life morale, either, since it seems to flip flop a tetch. (Normal life sucks! I'll be a badass assassin like my father! Oh, wait, he wanted a normal life for me! Oh, crap, what do I do now?) Yeah, basically I’m asking you to sit back, watch the movie, and don’t think too much about it. Do we not deserve action movies with airtight, totally logical plots, movies that stir the soul and make you Think About Stuff? Sure. And hopefully some will come along soon. In the meantime, I look at it this way – I spent $10 to sit in a dark room, have an enjoyable two hours filled with amusing antics, and left happy and slightly buzzed. No different than putting that $10 towards two beers at a bar, really, without the messy hangover or creepy old barflys.

And then there’s Hancock. I was highly anticipating this movie, as I highly anticipate all Will Smith movies. The guy never disappoints me, never. Even when he seems to disappoint everyone else (I, Robot). But I’d read a lot of the mostly negative reviews beforehand and so I was a little wary when I settled in to watch this. The main criticism is that it plays like two movies welded together. Fair enough. As the movie approached what felt like its logical climax - what would have been the climax had this been the fairly standard Hero’s Redemption story the first part made it out to be - I checked my watch, thinking time had somehow slipped by quickly and we were nearing the end. But no, it was only at the hour mark. Huh. Sure enough, the movie made a sharp right turn from action-comedy to weird drama. But here’s where I disagree with the critics. While Hancock plays like two separate movies, I think they’re both very good movies. I was entertained the whole time, my attention never flagged – and I have ADD so that’s a feat for any film. And a lot of the flaws might have been caused in editing. I mean, these are the people who wanted a less pornariffic title so they changed it from the original Tonight, He Comes to Hancock. Riiiiight. And then they edited it not with a surgical scalpel but a weed whacker in trying to get it from an R rating to PG-13. And then they made some really headscratching musical choices, like a whimsical ting-tingy happytime underscore to the dramatic scene between Hancock and Mary in the trailer. That’s gonna eff any movie up. Because if you step back and look at it from start to finish, the structure isn't in bad shape. The first act does set up the third act, there is a rising narrative that pays off. The story itself is pretty solid, and what changes midway through is not the narrative itself but the tone. And until the DVD release, we won’t know whether to fault the script, direction, or editing. This article (warning: heavy spoilers) lays out pretty well a few of the places it went wrong, but I disagree with point #8 that suggests the love story be canned. I think all the movie’s plots are crucial to the movie as a whole and necessary for a satisfying ending. Hancock just needed a more uniform tone throughout. (Also, let me take a moment to say that Charlize Theron for some bizarre reason looked a helluva lot like Ali Larter in Heroes, especially when she started going heavy on the eyeliner starting in Act 2.)

Now, it does pass my “Did it entertain me the whole time?” test, but I think financially it’s better off as a rental than a big screener. It’s a largely charming, at times touching, quite funny movie, but it falls short of its massive potential. So if you’re on the fence as to which movie to catch during what’s left of this weekend, my vote is for either Wanted or Wall-E dependent upon your mood, but make sure Hancock is at the top of your Netflix queue when it comes out.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Gossip, girl.

Like most people, I have a complicated relationship with gossip. I kind of love hearing juicy gossip, kind of hate being the subject of juicy gossip, and occasionally I’ll hear something so salacious and privacy-rending that it will actually make me feel like a bad person for hearing it. But I’ll turn right around and pry again.

Listen, I think it’s coded in our DNA. I’m working on this theory, see, that the current culture of celeb obsession is a trickle-down result from when the majority of the world’s religions went from pantheistic to monotheistic. I like to imagine that, back in the day, the ancient Greeks were kicking it at the Acropolis, swapping stories about the latest misadventures of the gods. “Hey, Akakios! Whatup, dawg? You’re not gonna believe what animal Zeus transformed himself into to rape a maiden this time!” When cultures started going monotheistic, attention shifted from the gods to the gods on earth: royalty. What was Henry VIII if not the Brad Pitt of his day? (Uh oh – watch your neck, Angelina.) And so it went for a long time. But 232 years ago today, we Americans said eff you to Britain, sparing us a lifetime of ginger-prince stalking. Which leaves us with what? Our own brand of royalty, of course – celebrities.

Which is fun, in its own way. I mean, it gives a lot of people a common point of reference in discussions. If I tell you that my friend Louella, who went through a lot of trouble ten years ago to get rid of Lou’s pesky penis and grow herself a nice set of tatas, has decided to go back to being Lou but is saddened to learn it’s easier to dig a ditch than build a mountain, well, your interest will probably be limited because you don’t actually know Lou/ella. (Sadly for you, this disinterest will not necessarily stop me from regaling you with stories about people you don’t know. It’s a miracle I have so many friends, really.) But for better or worse, almost all of us know what Brad and Angelina are up to, and we know (or think we know) enough about their lives to conjecture what they’re like enough to join in a conversation. Even if most of the “fun Brangelina facts” we all know are about as realistic as Zeus transforming himself into a golden shower of rapetastic rain.

But, being America, we sometimes take it too far. Having learned nothing from the tragedy of Princess Di, the paps, no longer happy to simply document a star’s own spiral of self-destruction, now seem determined to orchestrate a grisly death for Britney Spears. TMZ and Perez Hilton will get into a bidding war for the footage, naturally. And you know what? That doesn’t even skeeze me out as much as blind items. Sure, they have a tradition in celeb media. Ted Casablanca has been spewing lots of odd, thinly-veiled bon mots for almost as long as I’ve been alive. Even now, he’s still coming out with some weirdo stuff. But blind items, recently, have gotten broad and gotten weird. Gawker’s been running a lot by Crazy Days and Nights, which seems to have as much industry cred as, well, I do. “This recent-movie-starring A-list actor with C-list name recognition was recently discovered in the bathroom of The Ivy with a blowstache and a mongoose down his pants. No, that’s not a euphemism. The restaurant employee who discovered him helped the star sneak out the back door in exchange for said star helping the employee dispose of a dead hooker left behind by another celeb that I’ll halfheartedly out in a blind item tomorrow.” There. Blind item. Disseminate!

And it’s not just that vague blind items are potentially damaging to celeb reputation, although at a recent job interview, a tabloid mag forever won my respect when my interviewer told me they double-source all of their stories, and you know what, it shows – the magazine is one of the few respected tabs and it doesn’t post the same kind of wackadoodle obv-faux shit a lot of its competitors do. But at heart, blind items are nothing more than the lame, quasi-grownup version of “I know something you don’t know!”

When it comes to gossip, best to go all-in or go home. Recently, I was at a bar with two friends. This was one of those rare instances where we all had a lot of mutual friends in common, so I said, “Okay, I know one of you must know something interesting about someone we know.” To my surprise, the straight guy piped up before the girl. He says something analogous to, “Oh, well, someone we all know recently had a really bad infection that caused one of her kidneys to be removed. But, um, I can’t tell you who it was.” I think the look that crossed my face must have given the impression that my brain was close to exploding—or maybe he realized not telling me would lead to me a) badgering him at every available opportunity, b) trying to find ways to “accidentally” lift up all our female acquaintances’ shirt hems, looking for surgical scarring, which would inevitably lead to me being the center of some really juicy and baffling gossip. At any rate, he did finally acquiesce and pony up a name. But man, it’s simply uncool to play coy with stories involving loss of body parts.