Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do It Like a Dude

Imagine a film about a powerful, ball-busting female CEO of a major auto company. She speaks with an attractive male subordinate with a new marketing idea and invites him over to her place for a 7:30 dinner to discuss it further. He comes over, eager to talk business, but she quickly makes it clear that she's intent on getting down to business of another kind. She tosses a pillow on a nearby chaise and seductively lies down on it. Then a bottle of vodka is brought in for the two of them to share. Cut to the next morning where the guy is yawning from exhaustion at his desk.

Doesn't sound so scandalous, does it? Now imagine this film is from 1933 and there is absolutely no attempt at not insinuating that they fucked. That's the magic of the Pre-Code films, an era of filmmaking where Norma Shearer could openly tell her soon-to-be ex-husband that he's only the man she won't be fucking. The film I'm talking about is Michael Curtiz's aptly titled Female starring Ruth Chatterton as the aforementioned female CEO. Female is hardly a deep movie and it does wuss out at the end with its negative message about how women don't belong in the boardroom, but it is a damn good time. Besides its sexual explicitness, I love the way Female represents its ball-busting CEO in the first three-quarters of the film. She may be a female, but she's also throwing it in the face of all her male subordinates that, yes, she can play the same game men normally do. She didn't need to act like a male to get ahead in her company. Now that she is at the top, she's taking full advantage of the power. Chatterton's character, although entirely unrealistic in the business world, is a businesswoman icon. I've never had aspirations to become a CEO of a company but after Female, I wanted to get my power bitch shoulder pads, howl at the Board of Directors like I'm Joan Crawford, back from my first rodeo, and work my way up the corporate ladder so I can be as fabulous as Chatterton here. She's an atypical role model, that's for sure, yet she manages to best encapsulate the female businesswoman in film until Faye Dunaway in Network. A-

Monday, March 21, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

DeMille's Modern Ten Commandments

"Mom sent over a picture of herself for your new place."

"Where will you hang it up?"

Cecil B. DeMille was not particularly known for comedy but I think the best bits of his silent version of The Ten Commandments, including the above moment between laughing sinners Danny (Rod La Rocque) and Mary (Leatrice Joy), is the comedic interplay between these two actors and Danny's "good" brother John (Richard Dix). DeMille has a surprising knack with actors in his over-the-top silent melodramas that you never saw in the larger-than-life historical epics he was more widely associated with. He gets a lot more out of the excessive stylization of his actors in films such as The Cheat or The Godless Girl than he ever got out of Charlton Heston pretending he's Moses in his later version of The Ten Commandments. The silent version of The Ten Commandments is the perfect opportunity to see this difference as the film is split into two sections, one set in Biblical times and the other in "modern" (1920's) times. The Prologue depicts Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and the accompanying hedonism that leads God to strike down his Ten Commandments. There's really nothing surprising about this section of the film. Everything from the wide shots capturing every last bit of the massive set to the vague, "let me just waive my arms wildly in the air and that will get any point across" style of acting the actor who portrays Moses decided to use was old hat when Griffith employed that style in Intolerance seven years previously. The modern half, which tells the story of a devoutly religious mother and her two sons--one a believer, the other not so much, is where DeMille really gets a chance to do something interesting with the material. For what is more or less a morality play, this section is surprisingly tongue-in-cheek, mostly due to La Rocque and Joy's performances. What is perhaps even more surprising is the fact that a story which involves leprosy, a church that falls on top of someone and kills them and an exotic and alluring half-Chinese woman who precipitates La Rocque's major downfall can be so dramatically hefty. It's laughable but it also works and that's a combination only DeMille could get away with. First Half: C-, Second Half: B+

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I Am Liz Lemon #4

A new semi-regular series in which I point out moments from Liz Lemon's life that have either happened to me in the past or are currently happening to me in my own life. This will be the ultimate proof that, once and for all, I am Liz Lemon.


True story: I joked about seeing myself actually doing this one day when this episode premiered, but it actually happened about a year ago. I was getting ready to make dinner for myself one night and decided to make a box of mac & cheese I had just bought. I knew I had left it on the floor by the rest of my food and looked there multiple times, but could not find it. I asked my roommate, who had just been cleaning, if she had seen the bag that had my mac & cheese. She helped me look for a second but we still came up empty. Finally, she admitted that she may have accidentally thrown the boxes away while cleaning. I kept my cool but I literally wanted to flip the dining room table over. It wasn't until much later that I got the irony/humor of that moment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Lovely, Oscar-Winning, Cameo-Filled Dream

As a movie-lover for the better part of the past decade, I have had many a daydream about someday winning an Oscar. Despite the fact that my best shot at winning one would be in the writing categories, I often dream big and imagine snagging an acting trophy. We can try and pretend that the other awards are just as glamorous and important as the acting awards but there's a reason the Best Sound Editing winner gets cut off after 30 seconds while Natalie Portman gets to ramble for four minutes. My dream for the past year has been to be discovered by a director, become his lover/muse, let him mold me into a proper actor and snag an Oscar for my troubles. This is all despite the fact that I have no control over my facial expressions or my voice. Hey, no one said it was going to be easy.

The reason I bring this all up is because last night I had an amazing dream where I won an acting Oscar. Best Supporting Actor, to be more specific. But, curiously enough, I don't remember the moment where I was awarded the prize specifically happening; the dream only covered before and after the big moment. If we're being honest, the dream actually started in Britain on the eve of the outbreak of World War II. I was a student and one of my classmates was Zac Efron. I'm pretty sure we were dating and other classmates knew and accepted it, which is surprising since pre-War Britain was not exactly the friendliest towards homosexuals (not that any society really was, to be fair). Anyways, the only part I really remember from this part was a moment where Zac was being chastised by someone in the middle of class and he was about ready to start sobbing. I was also in the class, sitting with a couple of my friends. They were asking why I didn't rush over and comfort him. I launched into this beautiful monologue about how I had no idea how to comfort someone, how I would feel awkward putting an arm on his shoulder and telling him that everything would be okay. Basically, I loved him but I had no idea how to express it. It was a tender moment that I wasn't sure how it fit in with the rest of the dream but I finally figured it out: this must have been my Oscar clip! You know, the scene they play right before they announce the winner. It sounds like the perfect moment if I was going for the supportive girlfriend nomination that happens nearly every year (not usually in Supporting Actor, but you catch my drift).

Apparently the clip worked because the next morning I was at my house with my little gold man in tow. What really surprised me was the fact that I wasn't taking my Oscar everywhere I went. I always figured that after I won, that little statue would be coming into the bathroom with me. I would not let anyone forget for a second that I was a fucking Academy Award-winner. If someone disagreed with me, I'd shove that Oscar in their face and say, "Do you have an Oscar? What's that? You don't? Then your opinion means nothing!" In other words, I'd be even more obnoxious than I already am. In the dream, however, I was surprisingly chill. I walked outside and started talking to my neighbor Emmy-winner Jane Lynch. She was filming a new sitcom, a "celebreality" parody show, in her own house. We had a wooden fence between our yards, much like the one between the Taylors and Wilson on Home Improvement, and bantered for quite a bit. At some point previously, I had guest starred on her show and I made a particularly amusing quip about how she had to write her lines on my car mirror because she couldn't remember them when I was on her show. Okay, so it's not quite so good in retrospect but it worked in the dream. Maybe Jane was just in awe of my Oscar?

After that delicious snark session, a previous Oscar-winner stopped by to congratulate me: Christian Bale, of all people! I'm pretty sure he still had that horrible beard nonsense going on, which is a shame, but I still appreciated the gesture. What slayed me about his visit, though, was the fact that he called my acceptance speech "sassy." Ha! Can you imagine Christian Bale calling anything sassy, let alone an acceptance speech by little ole me?

When Bale left, I went back to my BFF Jane Lynch for some girl talk. She was taking a break from shooting with a new guest star: Candice Bergen. Yes, Murphy Brown herself was also in my dream. I told you this was an all-star ensemble! Candice was everything you'd expect her to be with that voice and that disapproving sarcasm. The way Jane and Candice were talking, it kinda reminded me of the episode of Will and Grace where Candice Bergen makes a cameo as Karen's best friend/arch nemesis.

As I was leaving Jane and Candice and heading back into my house, I half-jokingly mentioned that I was disappointed I hadn't heard from Oprah yet about doing an interview since I was a hot shot Oscar winner. I know I said I was half-joking but, come on, this is me we're talking about. You know that I would win an Oscar just so I could sit down and have a conversation with Oprah. Well, after I had been home for a bit, I heard a knock at my back door. I went to answer and there were two people standing there, one holding a camera and another holding up some kind of monitor. They turned the monitor on and who do you think appeared, ready to speak with me about my Oscar win?

Up until this point, I had been really cool about winning the damn Oscar. When I saw that face, though, I completely lost it. I screamed, "OPRAHHHHHHH!" in the highest-pitched voice you can imagine. It would be totally embarrassing if it wasn't me we were talking about. Just imagine what I would have done if she had actually been there?

This is where my dream ended, unfortunately, as I had to get up and go to work. How dare they interrupt Our Lord and Savior trying to interview an Oscar winner?! Sorry if this was completely long-winded and dumb but I thought it was just so ridiculous and specific that I had to share it. Now I need to plot how I'm going to win my own Oscar.

A Birthday Tribute to My Dear Friend Kelli

One of my best friends on the planet is turning 23 today. So, as a way of celebrating this joyous occasion, I thought I'd make a post full of things that remind me of her. Happy birthday, Kelli!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Do people want their real estate advice from someone who leads or someone who follows?"

"I'm betting these babies come back in a big way. Buy low, sell high. People are gonna see this and say, 'That guy's high.'"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Five Films That Made Me a Critic

A few weeks ago, the hosts of the newly revamped At the Movies, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Christy Lemire, took a break from reviewing the latest flicks and spent the half hour discussing the five films that made them want to become a critic. The show was a riot, mostly because Christy insisted on picking obvious films (The Wizard of Oz, The Breakfast Club) and was almost embarrassed by her one excursion outside of Hollywood (Nights of Cabiria) while Ignatiy picked relatively obscure films, even from iconic directors like Jean-Luc Godard and D.W. Griffith. But, afterwards, the exercise stuck with me and I thought it would be fun to talk about here.

It Happened One Night The one that started it all was one of those happy, random moments that you can only describe as divine intervention. For some reason, I had been researching the greatest movies of all time and saw that this 1934 comedy had appeared on multiple lists. I remember being curious that a comedy--a romantic comedy, at that--was so widely beloved when, at that time, I perceived that dramas = quality. I decided that I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I went out and rented it. Having just been previously obsessed with old TV shows like I Love Lucy and The Jeffersons, watching old stuff wasn't anything unusual for me. Seeing It Happened One Night for the first time, however, truly changed my life. I adored the film so much so I watched it twice in two days. Having such a positive experience with Capra & company, I decided to start exploring other older films to see what they offered. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gone With the Wind When I first saw Gone With the Wind in junior high at my mother insistence, I had no clue that it would someday end up as my favorite film ever. I enjoyed the film but it was in no way life changing. Cut to a couple years later when I decide to start reading the novel on the spur of the moment. I start slowly but eventually I can't put the damn thing down. Then, one day during Spring Break, I'm tearing through the last couple hundred pages, crying like a baby the entire time even though I knew exactly what was coming. My love for the novel led me back to the movie and it instantly became my favorite. To this date, there are very few movies in my life I think I've seen more times than this nearly four-hour beast (Spice World and Aladdin quickly come to mind). If It Happened One Night ignited my passion for movies, Gone With the Wind cemented it.

Breathless I first saw Breathless in one of those undergraduate film survey courses that non-film major students bitch about because they are shocked we are studying 50 year old foreign films instead of Titanic and Adam Sandler's filmography. Breathless wasn't the first French New Wave film I had ever seen--I had seen and loved The 400 Blows twice by this point--but it was the one that ignited my passion for the movement. Watching the film was literally a revelatory moment before. Never before had I seen such an engaging film done in such an atypical shooting style. Breathless was the first film that opened my mind to the idea that films were much more than its story. A scant, nearly non-existent story could still make for a fun, fast, loose, cool film with the proper director setting the right mood through such simple things as non-linear editing and costuming.

Rear Window It took me many years to come to this conclusion, but Rear Window is easily the best film Alfred Hitchcock ever made. I never really got what this film was all about until my third viewing, which happened in my very first film course. Over the years, I literally saw it in every single film course I had in college and I loved it more and more every time. Even as I was getting slightly bored with my then-favorite Hitchcock Psycho, Rear Window offered something new and fascinating every time I saw it. The main reason I chose Rear Window is simply because this film proved to me that sometimes you need to watch a film multiple times to truly get what the filmmaker was attempting and that the best films are the ones that stand up to repeated viewings.

Kill Bill Volume 1 I spoke a little about my history with Kill Bill Volume 1 before and, looking back, I really see it as a turning point in my movie watching. Normally I would have been put off by Tarantino's gore fest, but I saw something unique and special in all the violence and gallons of blood. I'm still proud that, at 16, I was able to look beyond my own limited tastes and appreciate something out of the ordinary. It was a high point in the early stage of my cinephilia.

What about you? What were the films that turned you into a movie lover?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Katy's Voice Makes 'Em Go "Uh, Uh, Ew"

For a lot of people, the PS 22 choir that closed this year's Oscar ceremony with a "rousing" and "inspirational" performance of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' was one of the show's highlights. I'm immune to this sort of corny, cheeseball fluff so I thought it was a grand waste of time, but that's just me. Anyways, Oprah did her annual after Oscar special live from the Kodak Theatre and to close her own show, she brought back the PS 22 choir to sing another inspirational song. I was watching the show with my mother and both of us were only vaguely paying attention until I heard the now infamous opening lyric "Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?" Yes, the PS 22 choir was singing Katy Perry's 'Firework' and I was about ready to bust out laughing. What an incredibly odd choice, especially for Oprah's extra special Oscar episode, but it's kinda fun, too.

Anyways, the choir is doing a fine job, singing their precious little hearts out. All of a sudden, this loud, completely off pitch shriek comes out of nowhere. My mom and I look at each other and we both say, "Who on Earth decided to mike the one choir member who can't sing for shit?" We were completely puzzled by this bad sonic decision when the curtain suddenly rises just in time for the first chorus and who should appear but...

Katy Perry

Listen, I've grown to appreciate Katy Perry in the past year--mainly because of this incident--and absolutely LOVE some of the tracks on her Teenage Dream album but girlfriend cannot sing live, especially a song like 'Firework' which calls for big high notes. She tries really hard but Katy absolutely needs an army of backup singers to drown out the horrible shrieking that her live voice produces. Katy is great in the studio and has a great pop persona but she seriously needs to take the Britney route and start lip syncing.

Here's the full video so you can witness the hilarity:

I Am Liz Lemon #3

A new semi-regular series in which I point out moments from Liz Lemon's life that have either happened to me in the past or are currently happening to me in my own life. This will be the ultimate proof that, once and for all, I am Liz Lemon.

"So what's your religion, Liz Lemon?"
"I just pretty much do whatever Oprah tells me to."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Even My Grandmother Thinks I'm Gonna Die Alone

"I'm sending $10 so you can see a movie or buy a pizza. I hope you find someone to do things that you like to do. It's more fun with other people."

Jesus, when did my grandma get the memo that I am Liz Lemon?