Blue Valentine

12 01 2011

Last night I dragged one of my favorite man-friends kicking and screaming to see Blue Valentine, an incredibly depressing movie starring Ryan Gosling about the slow, agonizing disintegration of a marriage. Ok, honestly, he was not kicking or screaming, I’m just saying that to protect his dignity.

I felt bad that he had trudged straight from the gym through the snow and sleet to see this movie with me, so I bought his ticket. We sat down in the theatre, and the credits started rolling.

Him (craning his head around): I think I am the only dude in here.

Me:  Yes, but you shouldn’t be discouraged by that.

Him:  Am I supposed to do something if you start crying?

Me: Like what?

Him: I dunno, like, put my arm around you or something?

Me:  No. Stop talking.

Him: If I start crying, will you put your arm around me?

Me:  Are you being serious right now?

Fortunately, the movie started, and the movie ended, and neither of us cried.

But for the record, it was a really brilliant and heartbreaking film, the performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, and I highly recommend it to everyone [who is not imminently considering or approaching marriage].


You Had Me At Hello.

29 11 2010

Every time I go home for Thanksgiving, I feel like I’m getting exponentially older by the year.  My favorite thing to do in Louisiana on a Friday or Saturday night is to dodge people’s phone calls, pet my dogs and argue with my male-dominated family over what movie we’re gonna watch.

This year, I’m feeling sentimental about my baby 17-year-old brother heading off to college, so I decided I was going to pin him to the couch and force him to watch “Dead Poets Society” with me, despite his insistence that he was going to hate it.  It’s pretty much my favorite movie ever, and I was convinced that he would be able to relate to the story, since it’s about high school boys learning to ‘seize the day’ and defy their parents’ expectations.  Plus, the quality of “Dead Poets Society” is not really a subjective matter anyway–  you don’t decide it’s good, it just is inherently good, and if you can’t see that, then the problem is not in the movie but somewhere buried in the folds of your defective, pea-sized brain.

So the whole family gathers around and we put on the movie and I am giddy with delight, just hanging on Robin Williams’ every word as he teaches these stuffy rich kids to appreciate poetry, looking over at my brother every 30 seconds with a stupid grin on my face to make sure his facial reactions to the movie are conveying a sufficient amount of enthusiasm.  I mean, sure, the story is overblown and contrived, and the music is waaay melodramatic, and nobody actually talks the way these kids talk, but how can you not be inspired by the way Robin Williams gets these rich kids out of the classroom and makes them shout lines from poetry as they kick soccer balls and rip out the dumb introductions to their English text books and stand on their desks and yawp?!

So my favorite scene happens, where all the boys have this assignment to write a stanza of original poetry and read it to the class, and this really smart, but really shy kid (Ethan Hawke) has a horrible fear of public speaking and thus tells the teacher he didn’t write a poem when he obviously did, cause he’s awesome. To pull him out of his shell, Robin Williams points him to a picture of Walt Whitman on the wall and gets him to ad lib an amazing poem in front of the class.

Here’s the scene:

So my eyes actually well up with tears as I’m watching this scene, because I’m a gigantic English dork, and I look over at my brother and he is… wait for it…

texting someone on his iPhone, completely oblivious to the emotional upheaval happening in Robin Williams’ classroom.

And it occurred to me that kids these days are so freaking overstimulated by technology and so accustomed to the 2010 movie, in which either the titillating special effects take the place of a well-crafted story (i.e. Avatar) or the movie is so close to reality that it feels more like a documentary than a movie (i.e. Hurt Locker), that they have all but lost the ability to suspend disbelief for a beautiful (if melodramatic at times), special effect-free, sentimental story.  Now I know how my dad feels when he tries to force me to watch “Laurence of Arabia,” and I fall asleep during the opening credits.

By contrast, my parents and I watched “The Kids Are Alright” with Julianne Moore on Saturday night (big weekend!), which is an all-too-real movie about a modern lesbian married couple with two kids and the complicated relationship they develop with their sperm donor.  There’s a scene where Julianne Moore and Annette Benning, the moms, have this awkward, graphic sex scene while they’re watching gay man porn and the kids overhear everything and then later ask their moms why they’re into gay man porn if they’re lesbians, and my mom looked over at me with her face all squinched up and said, “I feel really uncomfortable and creepy right now, like I’m a peeping Tom spying on somebody’s personal business.”  And I’m pretty sure the director would take that as a huge compliment, because the movie was not supposed to feel written, it was supposed to feel like a reality show. I can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Have you ever noticed that all the best movies from the 80s and 90s– Jerry Maguire, Forest Gump, A Few Good Men, Dead Poets Society–seem really, really dated when you re-watch them in 2010 and compare them to the movies coming out right now? The emotional crescendos corresponding with the sweeping musical crescendos and dramatic scenery, like that horrible song “Secret Garden” in Jerry Maguire that plays when Jerry and Zellweger are standing across the street from each other in the moonlight before their first date,  just jab their fist in your face and demand that you shed a tear over the love or grief or humiliation or triumph that is exploding out from the screen.  And you do, or at least I do, and it’s just really fun.

Why do we have this need for movies to represent an ugly, gritty, entirely unsexy reality?  Whatever happened to pure, unbridled escapism?

Just saying.


Can Openly Gay Actors Play Straight?

14 06 2010

Did any of you see the controversial Newsweek article that criticized Sean Hayes’ performance in Promises, Promises, because he’s too gay to play a straight romantic lead?  Hayes, who plays the flamboyantly gay Jack on Will & Grace, now plays a character on Broadway who is supposed to be madly in love with his co-worker, played by Kristin Chenoweth.  But Newsweek wrote of his performance,

“Hayes is among Hollywood’s best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm. (The fact that he came out of the closet only just before Promises was another one of those Ricky Martin ‘duh’ moments.) But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is.”

At this year’s Tony awards, Hayes took a shot back at Newsweek by passionately making out with his costar on stage:

While I think his response is pretty awesome and I feel bad that openly gay actors with extraordinary talent always get pigeonholed into gay or supporting roles, I have to admit: I understand where Newsweek is coming from.  It’s not a particularly PC position to take, but it’s honestly difficult for me to believe a gay man in a straight romantic role, and it can really affect my experience of a film.

Part of the allure of watching a really hot actor and a really hot actress fall in love onscreen is the feeling you get that that the two actors might actually mean it, Brangelina or LiznDick Burton-style.  Even if we know that Ben Affleck is married to Jennifer Garner, it is still easy to believe that he had genuine chemistry with Jennifer Aniston on the set of He’s Just Not That Into You, which is why I cried in that scene where he does her dishes.

The other part of the allure of a rom-com is the remote fantasy of that actor being into you. If Ben Affleck suddenly divorced Jennifer Garner and came out of the closet, I don’t think I could watch any of his movies again in the same way.  Every time I saw him kiss a girl in a movie, I’d be thinking, He’s not even enjoying this.  He probably wishes he was making out with Matt Damon.  And that would ruin the movie for me.

I think there’s a good reason why, magically, NONE of the major players in Hollywood are openly gay.  Cruise, Clooney, Pitt, Hanks, Travolta, Jackman, Damon, Affleck, Denzel– is it possible that all major movie actors are straight? No, it’s not.  Some of these guys make a life choice to stay in the closet, probably pay women to marry them (ahemKatieHolmescoughcough) and pop out some kids to complete the effect, because otherwise they would not be billionaires.  I’m sure some of them have boyfriends on the side to help them cope with a secretive, oppressive life in the closet, and I hate that it has to be that way.  But it’s true– Clooney would not be Clooney if he went out partying every weekend in a pink tutu and angel wings.

Celebrities don’t get to have normal private lives, gay or straight or otherwise.  That’s the price they pay for getting paid billions of dollars to have their makeup done and prance around on camera and act like someone else.  I think that’s pretty fair, don’t you?


20 05 2010

I don’t know what’s more embarrassing: the fact that I paid $10 to go see “Babies” in the theater last week, or the fact that I was riveted and on the edge of my seat for the entire 2 hours of random, plotless baby footage.

For those of you who will never see the movie, I can tell you that it’s exactly what you would expect it to be.  A camera follows these four babies around for the first couple of years of their lives.  There is no story, no fiction at all, and barely any dialogue– it’s literally just a beautiful, extended home video about 4 toddlers growing up in very different parts of the world.

They cut to the Tokyo baby, and she is sitting by herself in a room full of toys trying to figure out how to get this one yellow stick into this one blue hole. Every time she fails, she throws herself on the ground and screams as if the world is ending, and it’s hilarious.  Then they cut to the Mongolian baby, who is sticking his entire arm into a goat’s mouth.  The goat is clearly confused, but it doesn’t bite the baby because the baby is so innocent looking.  Then they cut to the African baby, who is playing in the dirt with a pile of flies as his mom shaves his head.  The African baby is pretty much the cutest baby on the planet, just very smiley and laid-back and easily self-entertained.  Finally, they cut to the San Francisco baby, who is having to endure a Mom and baby yoga class with this awful new-age teacher and didgeridoo music.  The baby just gets up and walks out of the class, clearly pissed that she is having to do mom-baby yoga with a bunch of yuppies while Mongolian baby gets to play with live goats.

What really surprised me about my experience of this movie is that I was actually repelled by the San Francisco and Tokyo babies.  I thought that I would think the babies were all cute in their own little ways, but no.  The city babies weren’t cute, I hated all the stuff– the strollers, the cereal choices, the toys, the bouncy chairs, the doting adults.  The babies in Mongolia and Africa were just so much more peaceful and happy and simple.  They would be sitting in a tub of water and a yak would come up and drink out of the water, and they would just giggle. Silly yak!  Get out of my bathtub!  But if a yak walked up to the San Francisco baby, the mother would probably mace it in the face and sue the city for negligence, or something.

I thought the movie was going to give me baby fever, but instead, it made me afraid to have a baby in this overstimulated, consumer-driven world.  Man, it’s not gonna have a chance!  I want to move out to Mongolia when I get pregnant and let the farm animals help raise my kid.  No baby showers, no plastic toys, no over-complicated strollers and expensive day-cares.  Just sticks and grass and buckets of water and wild animals.   I’ll have to bring a sturdy espresso machine.

How to Train Your Dragon…

21 04 2010

…just surpassed “Sword and the Stone” as my favorite animated movie of all time.  The animation, the medieval setting, the story, the characters, the clever one-liners, the anti-war-mongering, animal-loving message– totally adorable.  It’s as great for adults as it is for kids, but it definitely made me want to run out of the theatre, grab as many small children as I could find, drag them all back into the theatre, buy them some 3D glasses and watch their little faces as the movie unfolds.  Le sigh.

Rotten Tomatoes page, in case you don’t believe me:

Pregnancy Pacts, And Other Stupid Decisions

26 02 2010

In the summer of 2008, 17 girls at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts turned up pregnant– more than four times the average number of pregnancies in previous years at the 1200-student school.  School officials and reporters across the nation began to speculate that the girls got pregnant on purpose, particularly after the school nurse noticed that girls were flooding into the school clinic to take pregnancy tests and acting more upset when they received “negative” results than positive.

On June 18, reporter Kathleen Kingsbury made a big splash at Time Magazine when she published an article claiming that the girls had confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.  The high-school fathers, obviously, were not in on the pact, and were all very dismayed to hear that not only had they been manipulated as part of this master scheme, but that they were likely to be paying child support for life and facing charges of statutory rape for having sex with minors. Whoops– bet the sex wasn’t worth it!

Anyway, I remember being captivated by the story when this article came out after a string of movies that glamorized teen and accidental pregnancies– Juno and Knocked Up to name a few– and wondering whether Hollywood had anything to do with this high school pregnancy boom.  So a few weeks ago, when the made-for-TV Lifetime movie called “Pregnancy Pact” aired, I was sitting on my couch with a biiiig bowl of popcorn and a smile.

My curiosity about these girls and their idiotic decision was insatiable, and the movie did not disappoint.  It followed the girls from the initial stages of making the pact to peeing on a stick at the guidance counselor’s office, to drinking til they passed out at a graduation party when they realized their boyfriends didn’t want the babies as much as they did (uh… duh.).

I had SO much fun watching this movie, in fact, that my friend Ashley and I spent the entire next day watching a marathon of the reality show “Teen Mom” on MTV.  Here’s a clip of Farrah fighting with her parents over the fact that she wants a social life despite the fact that she has a 9-month old to take care of.

If that didn’t steer you teenagers away from getting pregnant, here’s a clip that will, from MTV’s other reality series, “16 and Pregnant”:

Yea– that’s why you don’t let a 16-year-old knock you up, dumbass.  I can’t even believe Nikkole slept with that guy in the first place, much less wanted him in the hospital room while she was in LABOR. What a little twirp.  I would punch him in face if I saw him on the street.

My hope for these shameless reality series is that they shake a little sense into modern teenage girls by showing them the reality of actually being huge for 9 months, then pushing a 9-lb. baby out of a hole the size of a sand dollar, and then having to actually raise a person with or without the help of your idiot quarterback boyfriend.

As to the issue of why I find these shows so personally entertaining– well, I really don’t know.

Crazy Heart

1 02 2010

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart

All I knew about Crazy Heart before I saw it last night was that it starred Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal– two of my absolute favorite actors.  I had also read that it was the performance of Jeff Bridges’ career, which I was wary of, as I can’t imagine a better role for him than Lebowski.

I was wrong.  Jeff Bridges is in absolute top form in this movie, and his performance knocked my socks off. The plot itself isn’t the most original I’ve seen– it kind of reminded me of The Wrestler.  Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a once-legendary, Hank Williams-style country singer who is now an old, washed-up alcoholic playing bowling alleys and running outside to vomit in between songs.  While playing a small show in Santa Fé, he meets Jane (Gyllenhaal), an aspiring journalist 30 years his younger who wants to interview him to potentially jumpstart her career.

So Bad Blake, this hot mess of an old country star, begins an unlikely (but somehow believable) romance with Jane, a single mother who is a bit wary of bringing this crazy, albeit charming alcoholic around her precious 4-year-old.  And when I say precious, I mean ridiculously, absurdly cute. I can’t find a picture of him, but if I could… well, anyway.

The movie is wonderful.  I never thought that a crusty old man with his gut hanging over his unbuckled belt chugging whiskey and throwing up bile in between bowling alley music sets could be so… attractive.  But really, Jeff Bridges is a genius.  And here’s the cool part– it’s actually him singing all the songs, and he’s actually good.

Oh wait, there’s an even cooler part– Colin Farrell is also in the movie, and he plays a much more successful, mainstream, Toby Keith-style country singer who learned everything he knows from Bad Blake.  And Farrell, America’s favorite Irish bad-boy, speaks with an impeccable country twang, and actually sings his own songs too.  That’s right– this movie features Colin Farrell singing country music, and it’s almost believable.  That’s reason enough to see it.

As a fun fact, apparently Farrell agreed to do the movie on the condition that he not get paid a dime, that he not be put on the bill, and that he not have to do any press.  He wanted to be in the film solely for the opportunity to act with Jeff Bridges.

Man, I’m looking forward to awards season.  Bridges already won the Golden Globe for this role, and he’s the favorite for the Oscar.  He plays Bad Blake with the perfect mix of edge and vulnerability, and the character is fully realized, fully developed.  He breathes life into the stereotype of the old hard-livin’ country singer, fishin’ and drinkin’ whiskey in his truck.

Go see it, really.  And then let’s talk about it over a beer (cause you’ll really want one).