Category Archives: movies

don’t wake me; i plan on sleeping

The Oscars! The Film Experience Blog pretty much captures my feelings about it. It was an international year, with all the acting awards going to (deserving) Europeans for small movies that nobody saw, so, naturally, I was happy. There was no Crash this year, or even a bloated, self-important genre picture like Dreamgirls or the Departed, to suck up some of the valuable energy and even-more-valuable awards.

The women generally looked like they had all received a memo from Gil Gates to participate in a virtual checkers match: half were black and half were red. My favorite from the red team was Her Majesty the Queen, Helen Mirren. I had no favorites from the black team. They were dull as dirt, even adorable little Juno MacGuff.

I was giggling at some of Jon Stewart’s lines for a while: who, after all, can resist a good Gaydolph Tittler joke? He seemed to find himself pretty funny, too, or at least he seemed amused by the whole evening’s endeavor, even as he was Trying more than he did in ’06 to play the game. He was responsible for my single favorite moment of the evening, when he brought Marketa Irglova back onstage to give her short, eloquent speech about dreams.

Which brings me to the subtext of the evening. Barack Obama! Everyone was harping on “dreams” and “change,” and what with the various languages and accents issuing from the microphone it really seemed to be his night.


Post Brooklyn hipster haircut, I have a new celebrity doppelganger! We are not quite twins, as she is a blonde. (Also she is a mother and grieving ex-girlfriend and she’s probably taller too.)

I’m finally catching my breath a bit having hosted 3 friends over the last 2 weekends and celebrated a V-Day and an anniversary. The last included good food and a trip to the Natural History museum where we had the following conversation:

E: How did they figure out what the speed of light is again?
B: I don’t know. It must say here somewhere …
E: (after fruitless searching) That’s okay. I’ll just go home and look it up on Wikipedia!

I also rounded out my viewing of the Best Picture contenders. I enjoyed and appreciated There Will Be Blood, which I thought was on a par with, and eerily similar to, the Coens’ No Country For Old Men. Mysterious American monsters! The untamed West! The pointlessness of everything! Search for money, search for god, search for justice — it all comes out in the wash. TWBB was less scary, more grim, and made me laugh out loud at points, while NCFOLM was concise and terse. Neither passed the Ms. test but both were interesting and intelligent enough that I didn’t really mind.

Still, for my money the best movie of 2007 was 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which brilliantly captured life under a fascist regime that renders the smallest personal decisions needless complex and potentially life-threatening. If only the Academy, not to mention public opinion, didn’t value men killing each other over women doing anything.

… and it’s over

I have been a media glutton lately. Observe:

WEDNESDAY – Knocked Up. And if you think my reaction was conflicted, compare it to the spitting ire of the Flick Filosopher.

THURSDAY – An advance free screening of Becoming Jane, essentially Shakespeare in Love-lite with James McAvey as a hotter version of Joseph Fiennes. Where did all these smoking hot British men come from all of a sudden? Back in the day, our selection was limited to the admittedly more-than-acceptable Ewan MacGregor. Now he’s jostling for space with Colin Firth, Clive Owen, Daniel Craig, and Glen Hansard from Once, not to mention the whole cast of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Where were they before I got engaged?

FRIDAY – LA Story for Mr. Ben’s sake. I fell asleep halfway through since, before we settled in, we’d spent an indefensible amount of time trying to pick out the Perfect Bedset. What this means in practice was that we spent several hours with our ears to the computer screen, waiting to hear the sweet song of the Comforter-Pillow-Sheet-Duvet Combo that would really complete us as a couple.

SATURDAY – Chapter 2 of Angels in America with my viewing posse. I own the DVD so that, when I mention it Kushner’s version in conversation and someone hasn’t made the 6-hour chunk of time available to subject themselves to it, I can offer it up. (This is also why I own the A&E Pride & Prejudice, Pulp Fiction, and any number of other pieces of Essential Viewing.)

SUNDAY – and the reason I began writing this entry: the final episode, at long last, of the Sopranos, widely recognized as the best television series I’ve ever watched through my fingers. The fact that I — with my famously low tolerance for violence — have found it worthwhile to experience almost a decade of this show should testify to how impressive the acting, pacing, and scripting are, if anyone needs convincing. But you don’t, right? You’ve seen the show, starting from Season 1? Cuz if you haven’t, I have the DVDs …

In a way I’m glad we’ve gotten the final episode out of the way. I’m the sort of the person that likes to have suspense done with so that I can reread or rewatch and focus on details, not plot. But I did like the finale. Very few people can do suspense as well as David Chase; I nearly fibrillated during that last scene at the diner. When the screen cut to black and a string of curses rose up from the entire East Coast, I felt the same immediate frustration and disappointment I imagine everyone did. But I also think there was something genius about that Brechtian move on DC’s part — calling attention to the medium (how many people thought their cable had gone out?), reminding us that this is just art, that we shouldn’t let our emotions overwhelm us.

Also, whether or not you think Tony died in that moment when the screen went black, you have to believe that the best of his life is behind him. He’s caught in the same self-destructive, self-obsessed patterns, only now he doesn’t have Melfi to help him pan for small shiny bits of insight. He has his wife’s and his son’s loyalty but only because he bought them; and two of the closest members of his work family are gone forever. Instead of saving babies the way Tony hoped she would as a pediatrician, his daughter will spend her life trying to save mobsters as a lawyer and it’s because of Tony. He’ll always have to live looking over his shoulder and even if he isn’t killed, the specter of Junior lies ahead of him: wasting away toothless in a New Jersey state hospital with no memory of the pride or glory that made “this thing of ours” worth dying for in the first place.

knocked up and out

Considering that when Mr. Ben and I spent Memorial Day Weekend lounging in his mom’s house in Chappaqua with friends we rewatched 40 Year Old Virgin, rediscovering exactly how funny that movie is, we naturally wanted to see Apatow’s second major at bat, Knocked Up, ASAP. Truly and duly, we laughed very hard throughout Knocked Up, but there were times that I was also squeezing his hand; there was one time that I cried; and at least once I blessed the fact that I was still off sugar. Apatow coulda given me an anxiety attack.

Nobody told me it was a horror movie! was my first comment when the lights came on, and I was only partly kidding. Knocked Up is impressive for dealing with serious topics without melting into sentimentality. But (excuse the cliche) partly because it was so good, I wanted it to be better.

As some critics have noted, Apatow can’t really do women. The main character Alison’s sister, played by Apatow’s real life wife, is a frightening, controlling, hysterical mess who does almost nothing right from start to finish. She and her husband, played by Paul Rudd, communicate so badly they barely bother to try. As even Alison, who for some reason loves her sister, points out, they’re miserable and utterly wrong for each other.

In real life, they would divorce. In this movie, that’s not an option. Following that same strange moral code, the idea that Alison would consider an abortion when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant is only discussed briefly by other, minor characters who suggest darkly that Alison should “take care of it.” Did Doc Brown abduct these characters and transport them to 1903? On Gray’s Anatomy — a network TV show! — they dealt with the subject more straightforwardly; and this movie is rated R.

I would have no problem with Alison choosing to have a baby, but you never see her make the choice — you know, consider her options, make a list, decide what she really wants. You don’t even get her looking longingly at kids or something to indicate she has a deep current of maternal instinct. It’s Life With Baby Forever or Nothing for this chick, and I just didn’t buy it. Why would a twenty-something well-off professional single woman in LA unquestioningly change her life around to have the baby of a shlubby guy with whom she’d had a drunk one-night stand? Even though Ben (the fella in question) is funny and sweet and relatively charming.

That’s problem #1 I had with the movie. Problem #2, which I alluded to earlier, is that the main model of marriage is the natural disaster of a couple of Alison’s sister and her husband. I’ve never seen a better ad for homosexuality than this movie. It seems to be saying that men & women are incurably different and can only be “trained” to live together in pseudo peace, because men are wild children at heart and women are appearance-obsessed mysteries who don’t know how to have fun.

To be fair, Katherine Heigl has some moments where she shows she’s more honest and more human than her sister. She’s not judgmental about Ben’s drug use or his layabout lifestyle (something he accuses her of, later). At one point she breaks it to him gently that he’s fine the way he is; just, the guy he is isn’t the guy for her. Great! Plus, she’s right — they would be better friends. Part of me wished the movie would leave it there, giving them full points for trying. But, yeah, part of me enjoyed the rom-com ending.

But there are also plenty of parts where she’s CRAZY, too crazy for hormones to function solely as an excuse. Why, female characters? Why must you be so off your rockers, so bats-in-the-bellfry, bricks short of a load? Could you not have pulled Apatow aside and explained in your nicest indoor voices that there’s an alternative? Catherine Keener in 40 Y.O.V. must have done that, cuz she did not fare nearly so badly.

All of the fringe characters, by the way, are hilarious. My favorite are the Good Cop/Bad Cop E! TV executives for whom Alison works, but everyone’s pitch perfect, ad libbing their hearts out and clearly having a great time. I’d give the movie an 8 for the Vegas sequence alone. Maybe it’s because I’m getting married so all of this cuts close to home. But I really wish it had been just a little bit better.

Interesting factoid: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lindsey Lohan, and Anne Hathaway were all considered for the part of Alison. Throw Selma Hayek and Jessica Simpson into the mix and you have a regular Rockette line of the bustiest thin ladies of Hollywood. Clearly the character needed to be pneumatic, but why? Did the first draft featured a huge flood that Alison needed to survive? Not that I’m complaining; it makes me feel less alone to see the stacked ladies. Although for all the gratutious tit shots, it’s worth noting that Heigl keeps her bra on throughout. You see three shots of the baby crowning but not so much as a nipple. Oh, Hollywood.


I celebrated a snowy St. Paddy’s Day here in New York the only logical way: I enjoyed Burmese food in the company of Mr. Ben and a couple of his friends, and then (finally) saw Pan’s Labyrinth. To kill time before the show, the group of us wandered around the upper-LES a bit, eventually venturing into Katz’s Deli to see what there was to see. Although, like 3/4 of those assembled, I’d never been there before, I felt an odd sense of deja vu scanning the huge crowded cafeteria, attributable either to my connection to a Jewish oversoul or to my having seen When Harry Met Sally too many times.

I think I mentioned, I’d been afraid to see Pan’s Labyrinth — it turns out I had good reason. It’s a beautiful film, really well-crafted from the sound effects on up, and, like Children of Men, it’s a serious punch to the gut. In fact there are a number of similarities between the two movies, and um, *SPOILERS AHEAD*:

– violence, of course, the random senseless kind;
– the grim realities of life under fascism;
– the necessity of underground resistance movements, although that’s dealt with with more complexity in COM;
– both have main characters who die at the end of the film while
– a baby lives on.
– COM is sent in the near future while PL was set in the recent past. Both arguably are about risks of today.

PL upset me more. It was harder to watch. A grown man giving his life for something, even one as lovely as Clive Owen, can’t be as harrowing as a little girl giving her life for nothing. It took me a few minutes to get past my original emotional reaction to that and be able to appreciate the artistry and the creativity, the way that the same themes emerged in the real life storyline as did in the fantasy one. Not to mention the wonderful actress from Y Tu Mama Tambien for whom, at least, the movie ended well. That’s some comfort.

"only Gay screen call"

Best news item not picked up by the press: before Anna Nicole Smith was Anna Nicole Smith, she had a lady lover! A serious one too. Observe:

Powledge recalls their first year together as one filled with happiness. The two exchanged vows of commitment on the diving board at Smith’s home in Spring, and Smith gave Powledge a diamond ring. Smith avoided wearing a ring herself because of the questions it might raise, Powledge said.

They shared some wild times, frequently going out on drinking binges and not knowing how to get home. Smith once stopped her car and asked a passing jogger to drive them home after a particularly lively spell of inebriation.

The pair also got tattoos to declare their love for one another. Smith paid for a tattoo of her face and name to be inked across Powledge’s shoulder blade, strategically placed to cover another woman’s name there. Smith later received a tattoo of Powledge’s initials below her bikini line, unable to display such art anywhere else on her body because of her career as a model.

Powledge blushes, giggles and covers her face with her hands when asked if Smith reciprocated her affections in the bedroom.

“She was very considerate. Very sweet. Very,” she said bashfully.

Yikes! And: awesome!

Of course, the article’s spin on ANS’s lesbian liason is pretty dippy. It has to go out of its way to call Powledge “the plainer looking and less feminine of the pair” — because God forbid we wander off the Butch Meets Femme page. And “affections in the bedroom”? Is there a less kinky way of refering to sex? Can you think of one? I’m really asking.

I’m impressed Powledge toughed out the relationship as long as she did, what with ANS making her wear “wigs and dresses to give herself a softer look in New York” once they moved to the Big Apple, not to mention ANS’s “Real World”-type behavior: cheating, drinking, drugs. Eventually of course the women split and the article notes, wistfully, “No matter what the cause of Smith’s death is ultimately determined to be, Powledge shares others’ assessment that she likely died of a broken heart.”

One of the things I find most fascinating about this story is that it adds complexity to ANS’s performance of hetero desirability. In the same way that in M Butterfly, Song, the male lover disguised as the ideal woman, explains, “A man knows best how a woman is supposed to act,” it makes sense that a queer woman would know how best to play the epitome of a straight woman.

But is this story threatening to her image somehow? Embarrassing? Overkill? Why hasn’t it been picked up more broadly?

Will win, should win

The Oscars are tonight! I wish I cared, but friends, there’s history here. The Oscars of 06 were an acid wash. And anyone else remember being run over by the LOTR: ROTK “choo-choo-choose me!” train in 04?

Still, I’ll watch. Of course I’ll watch. I’m the sort of viewer on whom Oscar depends: skeptical, vaguely irritated in advance, sure that redemption and understanding aren’t going to be found at the bottom of this three-hour bottle but ready to drink to the last gulp anyhow. I’ll find solace in forming opinions on the dresses and hoping Ellen says something witty, and I’ll wish I’d had the stomach to see either of frontrunners Babel or the Departed.

But! One can always prognosticate:

WILL WIN BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Little Miss Sunshine (as a “thanks for playing!”)
SHOULD WIN: Little Miss Sunshine (in sincere appreciation for how poignant and hilarious this take on the American family is)

SHOULD WIN: Borat. I am all about the funny and I don’t care how much of it was scripted.

SHOULD WIN: Jackie Earle Haley, who has never appeared in a fat suit.

WILL WIN BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jennifer Hudson. She has the best story and the most momentum. Still, I don’t believe in giving Oscars for a person’s first good performance. God knows it has done less than nothing for the careers of Kim Basinger, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Helen Hunt, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mira Sorvino … In retrospect, aren’t all of those choices ridiculous? What the Academy was actually doing there was rewarding someone pretty for trying, like giving a standing ovation when a dog rears up on its hind legs.

SHOULD WIN: Abigail Breslin, because I’ve never seen such an impressive, dare-i-say-inspiring? little kid performance; or Cate Blanchett for going toe-to-toe with Dame Judi Dench in a movie where the ferocious DJD sucked all of the oxygen out of the room.

WILL WIN BEST ACTOR: Forest Whitaker
SHOULD WIN: Clive Owen for Children of Men. Ryan Gosling was also good in his quiet, quiet way.


SHOULD WIN: This one’s really hard. Kate Winslet put her all into Little Children, and WInslet’s all is really something to see. Similarly Meryl Streep made Prada the delightful, shiver-inducing snarkfest that it was. But it really comes down to a contest between the British heavyweights, Dame Judi and Helen Mirren.

Sorry, DJD, but like everyone else, I have to go with Helen Mirren on this one too. Although as I mentioned, you were spellbinding in Notes on a Scandal, the best monster in a monster movie I’d seen in years, and I couldn’t take my eyes off you, Mirren made me feel like I understood the Queen of England. That I even sympathized with her as she struggled to realize how she had become disconnected from her time and place, or rather how time and place surged forward without her. It was a strong, silent, bravura performance, full of inner conflict and grace and self-respect without vanity; and DJD, this just isn’t your year. I don’t blame you for staying home.

WILL WIN BEST DIRECTOR: Scorcese because blah blah legacy-cakes. Give the man an Oscar already so we can stop having this conversation every other year.
SHOULD WIN: Alfonso Cuaron for the harrowing, soulful Children of Men, especially the battle scenes of the last hour.

WILL WIN BEST PICTURE: Babel, in a repeat of the “See? We’re Serious” phenomenon that brought us last year’s utterly undeserving winner Crash. Unless voters really just wanted to be entertained and distracted this year, in which case The Departed

SHOULD WIN: I don’t really know. Nothing completely thrilled me this year the way Hotel Rwanda, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Adaptation, recently, did. My top five for this year ended up being: Little Miss Sunshine, the Queen, Notes on a Scandal, Children of Men, and Inside Man. Oh Clive, when will the world love you like I do?

Note: How cute are these skirts? I wish I could buy every last one of them, except they’re each so cute, I’d be as upstaged wearing one as I would be walking an adorable golden retriever puppy. Should I really pay $60 for that privilege? Or should I just get a puppy?

media overload

It’s a little much for all of us, I have to imagine, when the Oscars are announced in the same week as the State of the Union speech is delivered. (In case you were playing a rousing game of strip poker last night and missed President Cornflower Blue, the state of the union is “strong.”)

I have to say I was more pleased than expected with both results. Two of my favorite movies from this year, Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen, were both nominated for best picture, while Jack Nicholson gets to stay at home — no doubt in white jockeys and a stained brown bathrobe, facing the TV in an armchair with sunglasses to shield him from the glow, grinning at nothing, stoned out of his gourd, scotch in hand and three illegal immigrants rubbing his feet. Oh, Jack, you Hunter Thompson wannabe.

On a more somber note, I guess now I really should see The Departed. And Babel. Unless someone reliable wants to see them for me and just give me an opinion I can use? Anyone?

The SOTU was made somewhat bearable by the presence of my favorite grandmother and yours, Nancy Pelosi, is a very nice mint green suit on the dais. She made Cheney, next to her, look even more like the Dark Lord he is, and when Bush said “Madame Speaker,” he got the biggest roar of the night. Pelosi herself had to gavel for silence. It was awesome.

Other than that, he just said “terrorists” a bunch of times and “freedom” once or twice and he called it a night. His intention seemed to be to come off as bloody but unbowed; really, to me, he just seemed neutered, which is how I like my Republicans.

Tonight: Erin McKeown at Joe’s Pub!

Wrong, wrong, wrong

For years I’ve been telling people about what I called “the Ms. test for movies,” ever since I first read about it in a Ms. magazine when I was a summer intern at WIFP, a 1st amendment nonprofit. Is my memory muddled, or was Ms. quoting it from the place it originated, a Dykes to Watch Out For strip? The world may never know. At least I can attempt to set the record straight here: all credit belongs to A. Bechdel, friends, for this brilliant 3-part movie test:

1) Is there more than one female character? If so,
2) do the female characters talk, and if so,
3) about anything other than men?

You would be amazed at how many movies don’t pass this test. Good movies. Great movies, even — go ahead, count.

I don’t think you need to self-flagellate over this, for what it’s worth. A movie can flunk the Ms. Test — I mean, the Liz Wallace via DTWOF and Ms. Test — and still be quality. But for what it’s worth, one of the reasons I’ve never been crazy about Scorsese is that virtually none of his movies pass the LWVDTWOFAMT Test. It’s all-macho-all-the-time with Marty, with the glorious exception of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which you could say is the only Scorsese movie he’s only made once and which almost no one talks about.

Is it so hard to have women be real people in good movies? I mean, even master-of-macho, Russell-Crowe-worshipping Ridley Scott has Thelma and Louise AND Alien on his resume.

Children of Men, I am happy to report (finally!), does not have this problem. There are three major female characters, one of whom is named “Kee.” The name is something of a pun: the character herself is “key,” and she also does represent, in a very real way, the energy and lifeforce — you know, the qi — of not only the film but the dystopian near-future in which the film is set. In 2027, the human race has stopped reproducing and is either grimly awaiting, or actively courting, death. It’s all very Emily Dickinson.

The world is in chaos and, British propoganda claims, “only Britain soldiers on.” Or so the government would like to pretend: the only advertising anywhere is for home suicide kits, and you know a civilization has really given up when it can’t even be bothered to hawk beauty creams and liquor. Cuaron’s direction uses the same narrative efficiency he displayed in Y Tu Mama Tambien, where he made every glance out a window educational: every British flag hangs limp, every street and car and building is crumbling at the edges, every billboard you see warns of immigrants or reminds you that “avoiding fertility tests is illegal.”

That’s the first third of the film: mood, setting, understanding. The second third is Clive Owen’s journey from disaffected post-activist to a person who’s alive and cares again, a progression the film accomplishes by, perversely, taking from him everyone he loves or depends on. The last third — a fierce fight for survival — is cribbed from the Battle of Algiers, as my fellow-filmgoer Bobby describes well enough that I don’t feel the need to go into it (thanks, Bobby!) It’s a punch to the gut, as visceral and important as anything I’ve seen in years.

As long as I’m gushing, I’d like to say how happy I am for America Ferrara, who rocked the Golden Globes by (a) winning, (b) looking fantastic, and (c) giving a short, eloquent speech that made everyone cry. Hat trick! And for a worthy cause, too: I really like her show, maybe even more than Gray’s Anatomy at this point, b/c Ugly Betty serves its melodrama up with a spoonful of campy, campy sugar.