Friday, December 21, 2007

Max's Top 10 Films of the Year

All in all, I thought it was an extraordinary year at the movies—certainly the best in recent memory. (That might explain my rather self-indulgently long list of “honorable mentions.”)

1. No Country for Old Men- The Coen brothers have a created a nouveau Western of sickening violence and dread. Javier Bardem’s villain will chill you to the core (yes, the ridiculous pageboy somehow makes him scarier); Tommy Lee Jones breaks your heart as the mournful town sheriff who realizes that he’s no match for today’s lawless landscape; and, in the Coens’ masterful hands, there’s unspeakable menace in every crawl space, keyhole, and corridor. Oh, and did I mention that the film is darkly funny, too?

2. Juno- She’s whip smart. She’s balls-out funny. She’s a little crabby. In short, Ellen Page’s Juno is unlike any movie heroine you’ve ever seen. Partly this is because first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody has written a character—a pregnant teen who decides to give her baby to a squeaky clean Yuppie couple—for the ages. And it’s also because, in Cody’s muse Ellen Page, a true star is born. The tomboyish actress wins us over with her snub-nosed beauty and droll way with a one-liner, and breaks our hearts by showing us the secret longing beneath that snarky exterior.

3. Sweeney Todd- So what if Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter aren’t great singers? They’re great actors, and they bring Stephen Sondheim’s ghoulish characters delightfully (and gruesomely) to life. It seems that director Tim Burton was born to adapt his play. His extraordinary visual flair, his passion for the macabre, his affinity for the world’s freaks and outcasts—all come together perfectly in this eye-popping, blood-spurting, brilliantly entertaining production.

4. Lars and the Real Girl- Man-child buys a sex doll on the Internet and believes her to be his real girlfriend—friends and church folk play along to help him “work through” his delusion. The premise shouldn’t work—we expect it to either be a tawdry sex comedy or some unbearably precious indie creation—and yet it does, miraculously. Give credit to the cast—Ryan Gosling as the man, Patricia Clarkson as his wise therapist, Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer as his befuddled (but doting) brother and sister-in-law. But mostly give credit to a dazzling script by Nancy Oliver—she manages to bring out the universal in her absurd premise, making Lars’s predicament both slyly funny and unexpectedly touching.

5. Into the Wild- There are those who think that Christopher McCandless—the real-life young man of privilege who dropped out of society, renamed himself Alex Supertramp, and died, horribly ill-equipped, in the wilds of Alaska—was naïve, selfish, self-aggrandizing. And there are those who think he was a poet, a prophet, an inspiration. The beauty of Sean Penn’s perfectly calibrated film—anchored by a starmaking performance by Emile Hirsch—is that he manages to show that both sides were right.

6. There Will Be Blood- Paul Thomas Anderson’s devastating portrait of a corrupt oil man (Daniel Day Lewis) who wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting Texas town in the early 1900s is deeply weird and undeniably brilliant. Some have criticized the film’s gory, rococo ending: Did they not note the film’s title?

7. Ratatouille- The Triplets of Belleville meets Tom and Jerry meets the Food Network. That’s one way to describe this beautiful animation (from those geniuses at Pixar . . . who else?) about a gourmet rat in Paris who teams up with a hapless chef to create culinary—and movie—magic. As the voice of the cranky critic who is simply waiting for one truly great meal, Peter O’Toole nearly steals the show.

8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly- How can you make a film completely from the P.O.V. of a man trapped in a waking coma (so-called “locked in syndrome”) who can only express himself by blinking his one good eye? Director Julian Schnabel does it, masterfully, by focusing on that one-eyed perspective—people loom, they come in and out of focus, they step out of frame—and by letting our hero’s memory and imagination (including a still healthy libido) soar. That this is based on the true story of Jean Dominique Bauby, the French Elle editor who was struck down by a stroke in the prime of his life (and who blinked out the autobiographical work that the film is based on) makes it all the more powerful.

9. Atonement- At the onset of World War II, a precocious young girl (haunting Saoirse Ronan) makes a horrible mistake: she accuses a promising young man—her sister’s lover—of a crime he didn’t commit. The reasons why she told this lie—and the consequences of her actions—are revealed in surprising and devastating ways. With the brattily beautiful Keira Knightley as the slightly haughty older sister, dashing James McAvoy as the ruined young man, and Vanessa Redgrave, in what amounts to a cameo-as-master-class, as the doleful adult version of the little girl.

10. The Savages- An adult brother and sister have to care for their estranged father, who is dying, while both still dealing with the consequences of his abandonment. Laura Linney gives what is possibly a career-best performance as Wendy Savage, a pushing-40 playwright who is having a joyless affair with a married man, and who takes perverse pleasure in both her own lies (she drops them like tiny, conversational atom bombs), and her own melodramatic sense of nobility (it’s her martyr complex that allows her to lie with such guilelessness.) Watching Linney work with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays her world-weary brother—a man who hides his own vulnerability behind a baggy parka and pounds of girth—is a rare cinematic treat. We get to watch two of America’s great actors play off each other, in a script (by Tamara Jenkins) that is worthy of their gifts.

Honorable mention: Away From Her, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Crazy Love, The Hoax, I’m Not There, Lust Caution, Rescue Dawn, Rocket Science, Sicko, Superbad, Waitress, Zodiac.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I’ll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours . . .

All-time Favorite American Idol contestant: Fantasia Barrino

All-time Favorite Project Runway contestant: Jay McCarroll

All-time Favorite America’s Next Top Model contestant: Lisa “eat a cookie” D’amato

All-time Favorite Top Chef contestant: Sam Talbot (duh)

All-time Favorite So You Think You Can Dance contestant: Danny Tidwell (okay, this whole post was just an excuse to post this picture.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I’m Not a Miracle Worker: The Project Runway recap

Not sure I can take much more of the emotional rollercoaster that is Project Runway.
First, poor Jack has to leave to deal with his scary facial staph infection. I felt really bad for him. Yes, I had disliked him early on, based on his body-by-silicone looks and the major bitchface he has on during his, “I’m in—they’re out!” of the opening credits, but he really had grown on me. Plus, he was talented. Boo.
(On the bright side, have you all heard that he is dating Top Chef’s Dale? Hooray, Dale!).
So just as I, and Sweet P, had dried our eyes over Jack’s departure, in walks Chris! Yay, our big gay teddy bear is back!
You see? Emotional rollercoaster.
Guess who else was finally beginning to grow on me? Yes, Steven. (Note to contestants: Try to avoid my good side.)
I used to think he was dense. Now I think he’s drolly funny (and, okay, a little dense).
For example, when the “real-sized” models marched onto the stage, he figured they had to be the contestant’s mothers and sisters: "Until I realized I didn’t know anybody,” he sighed.
Slyly clever? Or dumb as dirt? You make the call.
Interesting how he—and apparently all the rest of the designers—regarded that beaded polyester wedding dress as a trap, whereas both Michael Kors and Chris thought it was the pick of the bunch. (Apparently, Kors’s MOB obsession also extends to actual brides.)
Back to the studio, where Elisa is telling her client, that she’ll make the dress “a little fa!”
“You know, I was going to say that!” her client adds helpfully.
(You were?)
Steven, meanwhile, is getting a lesson in “what they say versus what they mean”:
So when Steven’s client says: “Did you consider any other color or did you go directly to black?”
What she means is: “Why are you dressing me like Darth Vader?”
And when Tim Gunn says, “I think you’re really courageous to discard this dress so summarily!”
What he means is: “You gonna lose.”
Also, I call bullshit on Jillian. I like Jillian as much as the next gal, but the challenge was to make a garment using the client’s favorite outfit, not the same color as the client’s favorite outfit. I hate when contestants brazenly break the rules and don’t get taken to task for it. (Chris probably would’ve been better off last week if he had just ditched his shoulder pads altogether. But that’s all water under the bridge now. Deep, cleansing breaths, Max. . .deep cleansing breaths)
Okay, everyone break out the O’Doul’s: Ricky is crying again. (Something to do with making his client feel beautiful, bladdy, bladdy blah.. . not that I’d feel particularly beautiful in that outdated gold tunic with denim capris.)
Oh, how Christian, the little hipster elf of fashion, is getting on everyone’s nerves. He always finishes his garment way ahead of schedule, he always loves, loves, loves what he has done, he’s always snarking on the other designers, and, well, he’s kicking major butt in the competition.
Loved when Sweet P said, “It is still illegal to hit a 12 year old?”
Ha. Don’t hate, people.
Actually, in fairness, this is not a hateful group at all. In fact, they have to be the nicest group of designers ever. The way everyone pitched in to help glue white trimming to Steven’s ugly Amish MOB dress was inspiring. Or maybe it’s just because they knew he was toast.
Hey, where have they been hiding that cutie patootie head designer from The Gap? I’m just sayin’ . …
Judging highlight? When Michael Kors told Chris that his dress looked like, “A Paris hooker from the 50s” and Chris had to pretend to be all offended and you can tell the he was secretly like, “Yesssssss!”
Thank goodness Chris didn’t get voted off this week. We didn’t want him to be the Ambreal of Project Runway. (Sorry, I have ANTM on the brain).
So Christian wins, deservedly so. His outfit was stylish and youthful and hot.
So it came down to Elisa vs. Steven. I really didn’t want Elisa to go. Partly it’s because she gives good recap soundbite. Partly it’s because she looks more like Justine Bateman’s sibling than Justin Bateman does. And partly it’s because Steven’s outfit really was a monstrosity. On the bright side, somewhere a Mennonite is going to get a real find on eBay.

Ho Hum: The ANTM Finale

Okay, you can view Saleisha’s big win in one of two ways:
As a soul-crushing march to the inevitable, where a girl who went to Tyra’s “become a Tyra clone” camp and was already featured as a model on The Tyra Banks Show gets the expected victory. (Yes, that’s Rami from Project Runway whose clothes Saleisha is modeling. . . at this rate, we’ll have Donald Trump auditioning for The Apprentice)
Or, you can view it as a triumph over a seriously butt-ugly haircut. I prefer to focus on the latter.

But of course, I’m ahead of myself.
Sooo much to talk about!
First, let’s talk about Chantal’s magical powers to interpret Tyra Mail. I’m not sure if this is a useful talent going forward in life, but you can not deny that the girl has skillz.
Chantal clearly plays the odds, which led to her second week blunder where she read: “For now you can all go crazy!” as a clear indication of makeover week.
But she recovered nicely a few episodes later when she correctly surmised that “You will be aMUSED” meant that they were going to “teach us to be inspiring!” And this week, she knew that “it’s time to show me your flava” meant “Cover Girl flavored lip gloss!” (I sooooo would’ve guessed giant clocks around their necks.)
However, before we start handing out mensas, she later proved that metaphor is a still a shaky concept for her when she said of Jaslene: “I want to be in her shoes—cute little yellow strappy shoes!”
She also added, convincingly in this case, that she would be the perfect Cover Girl because she’s “friendly, loves life and loves . . .. delicious fruity lip gloss!”
Hard to argue with that.
Sweet girl, that Chantal. Massive ego.
Speaking of massive ego, Tyra was in rare form last night.
I loved the queenly nod she gave to start the fashion show. Dressed in silk robes, carried by foot servants to a throne, wordlessly nodding to start the ceremonies, you could tell that Tyra was thinking, “Yes, this feels just about right.”
Later, she complained (disingenuously) about how hard it is to be up there all alone to deliver the winning verdict, to which Miss J helpfully replied: “I’ll stand with you.” It was hilarious to see the wheels spinning in her head: “Must. Have. Spotlight. Can’t. Let. Miss J. Steal. Thunder.”
“But I couldn’t see past your afro,” she quickly quipped. Nice recovery, Ty-Ty.
Ah, poor Jeneh. I knew she was toast. All she did was take the “some of the strongest photos I’ve ever seen,” according to Tyra. But you know, this isn’t actually a model competition, it’s about inner beauty as well. (Because, yeah, Naomi Campbell is such an inner beauty and that really hurt her modeling career.) Hey, Jeneh, I’ll take your surly, sarcastic inner beauty anyday over those girly girls who “spew rainbows.”
Meanwhile, did you see how Saleisha just totally broke down when she was in the bottom two with Jeneh? Not a quivering lip. Not a girlish tear trickling delicately down her cheek. Full on, snot-coming-out-of-her-nose, puffy eyes, mascara-bleeding bawling.
It was here that I thought, “Dag. Saleisha won’t be able to take it if she loses.”
Chantal, bless her heart, has the kind of unshakable blonde-girl confidence that allows her have setbacks and bounce right back. A little lipgloss, a pair of strappy shoes, a Starbucks Frapuccino and she’s good to go.
Saleisha, on the other hand, is a fragile creature. She would have lost her shit if she didn’t win. Not that it really mattered.
Saleisha owned the runway. She looked like she’d walked the runway countless times. (Because she had, people!). Chantal looked wobbly. (And, uh, the person whose idea was it to pair giant trains with guys on stilts? Fire that person.)
So Tootie—er, I mean, Saleisha—wins. Good for her. See you at Walmart.
One last conspiracy theory for the season: Why was there no Cover Girl of the Week last night? We all know that Heather won again. So why not show us? Maybe because it undermines the Saleisha victory that, well, nobody was clamoring for. I'm just sayin' . . .

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Harriet Stole My Cap and Scarf

And then begged me to photograph her. She's such a diva.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Do Not Try This At Home

The above, sadly, is my sorry attempt at closing the chicken tikka masala lid on the Indian takeout I ordered last week.
As you can see, it was a bit of a trainwreck. My fingers turned orange, the plastic lid was warped and ripped. All of that pressing of the edges and flattening of the the top gave me a headache. (If I wanted to work that hard for my food, I’d cook).
Can we officially start a movement to ban that kind of takeout container? It doesn’t work. (And the aluminum? Not exactly “microwave friendly.”) It seems clear to me that the people who sell that container have never actually
ordered takeout food. Also, they possibly hate me.
Cardboard cartons, people. That’s 300,000 years of Chinese civilization put to good use.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how I finally got my lid closed: Scotch tape.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Give This Woman an Oscar!

Nothing against the Dames (Judi and Helen) or the K(C)ates (Winslet and Blanchett) or even the Aussie twins (Nicole and Naomi)—all brilliant actresses, indeed—but it’s time that we started valuing an acting treasure on this side of the pond.
Quietly, and with little fanfare—annoyingly little fanfare—Laura Linney has been amassing one of the great film careers of all time. And yet where is her Oscar love? True, she got nominated for her breakout role in You Can Count on Me. And she was also nominated as Best Supporting Actress for 2005’s Kinsey. But she certainly should have been nominated for her role as the actress/wife on The Truman Show. All cheerful detergent commercial on the outside, Linney’s Meryl was in fact this close to a complete meltdown. (And when she finally blows, oh how she blows.) She played a similar role in this season’s underrated The Nanny Diaries as a Park Avenue Mother from Hell. No actress is better at showing the brittle side of American bonhomie. She brings that certain kind of well-bred perfectionist neuroticism to great comic heights—both hilarious and heartbreaking.
She was weak-willed yet defiant in P.S., as an insecure college administrator who played cruel games with her cocksure young lover. She was nearly perfect in The Squid and the Whale, as a loyal wife who chose not to be so loyal anymore. She was tragically smitten as the dutiful sister in Love, Actually. She is fearless when it comes to showing female sexuality—playing characters that are sexually brazen, sexually needy, or sometimes both. And yet, nothing.
But we can remedy that this season. Linney gives what is possibly a career-best performance in The Savages, as a pushing-40 playwright who is having a joyless affair with a married man, and who takes perverse pleasure in both her own lies (she drops them like tiny, conversational atom bombs), and her own melodramatic sense of nobility (it’s her martyr complex that allows her to lie with such guilelessness.) Watching Linney work with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays her world-weary brother—a man who hides his own vulnerability behind a baggy parka and pounds of girth—is a rare cinematic treat. We get to watch two of America’s great actors play off each other, in a script that is worthy of their gifts.
Oscar wins rely on a bit of luck. You need to be in the right film, in the right year, with of course, the right amount of studio muscle behind your bid.
To Fox Searchlight, I say this. This can be Laura Linney’s year. As of today, her biggest competition is Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (and she’s—gasp—French!). And Julie Christie in Away From Her (uh oh, another Brit). So do what you have to do: Take out full page ads in Variety. Send The Savages (plus a clip reel of all of Linney’s great overlooked work) to every voting member of the Academy. Make her a Dame if you have to. (Is there an American version of becoming a Dame? An Oprah Winfrey endorsement perhaps?). It’s Laura Linney’s time, people. Make it happen.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I'm Not Catty Like That: The ANTM recap

As we speak, I am looking at Bianca’s portfolio.
And here she is, scowling in a smock and skinny jeans.
And there she is, sneering from a rock climbing wall.
And there she stands, looking like the most pissed off sunflower in the garden.
And oh hey, it’s Bianca giving the evil eye in front of a bunch of oil cans
And so on.
The funny thing about Bianca is that she has the kind of freakish alien beauty—light-bulb shaped head, eyes wide set—that usually cleans up on America’s Next Top Model. But in this case, not so much. Those photographs were like windows to her Mean Girl soul.
(How fabulously harsh was it when Tyra told her to have her siblings take Polaroids of her before she considered approaching an agency? Translation: Girl, you ain’t ready yet.)
And thank goodness Jeneh wasn’t eliminated. I’m sorry. Just take a look at the group shot. To me, Jeneh clearly stands in the crowd. Her eyes, as Twiggy noted, pierce. Saleisha is second. Chantal is a distant third. Bianca looks, well. . . why kick a model when she’s down?
And yet so much talk lately about Jeneh’s fading personality. And her impenetrable sarcasm. And her swan song. Give the girl a break. So she’s homesick. Big whoop. Her pictures are still, to borrow a word from Project Runway’s Christian, feroche! (Is feroche the new fierce? Discuss among yourselves.)

Not much to really talk about this episode.
Heather won Cover Girl of the Week in absentia, just as predicted.
Classic moment: Bianca beginning to read Heather’s letter: “Dear Jeneh” . . .
Chantal and Jeneh were overdressed for elimination (but where else can they wear their Chinese couture gowns?).
Tyra referred to Bianca’s “gorgeous spirit” and I threw up a little bit in my mouth.
Chantal got called first. Huh. Her warrior pic was cool, but her group shot was weak. She looked constipated.

I leave you with various nicknames I’ve seen for Bianca on the TWoP message boards:

Here, I’ll add one of my own:

And I'm out.

Pleather or Not. . .The Project Runway Recap

To lead or not to lead. That is the question.
Actually, it’s hardly a question at all. Here’s the answer: DON’T LEAD. It never ends well.
Of course, usually the contestants have no choice. They get “lucky” and “win” the leadership by submitting a good design. (However, if I were a contestant on Project Runway, I would specifically give crappy sketches to Sarah Jessica Parker or Miss America or whoever, just so I didn’t have to be the frickin’ team leader.)
But for this challenge—updating outmoded trends like shoulder pads, fringe, and cut-outs (were cut-outs ever in style?)—there was no celebrity judge, just Nina Garcia looming uselessly. Teams selected each other and then picked a leader.
Victorya obviously knows the score, because once teamed up with Ricky and Elisa, she treated leadership like the leprosy it is, screeching, “I don’t want to be the leader!” (and then proceeded to act like Miss Bossy Pants for the rest of the show). So it was that poor, befuddled, becapped Ricky became the leader. It was like leading a lamb to slaughter.
Meanwhile, Chris looked dumbfounded when he was asked to be the leader of his motley crew. (Something tells me that Chris didn’t get picked first in gym class very often.) Awww, if Project Runway were a movie and not real life, the lovable rejects of Team Chris, which also included baby-faced Steven and aging hipster Sweet P, would win. But life is not a movie and I think we all saw what was coming.
Then there was Team Star—Christian, Jack, and Kit. “Team Star is, like, hot. Like a star, like a celebrity,” explained team leader Christian. Thanks for the clarification there, Webster. Indeed, Team Star did have a nice, coherent collection—and Christian’s outsized confidence (boy never met a mirror he didn’t want to vogue in front of) is strangely endearing.
Finally, we have Team Overalls. I love the fact that Jillian wasn’t just wearing overalls—she pretty much had on the exact same outfit that the Elle model was wearing 30 years ago. Same cinched waste, same reddish belt, same dark denim. Hey, it’s a look.
So she was made team leader, probably a decent option in her case, because her team—which included the indestructible Rami and surprisingly-good-for-a-straight-guy Kevin—was strong. Basically, when they won, it was kind of like when the blond kid from the Evil Dojo beat up the Karate Kid. But hey, the best is the best.
A few more thoughts before we get to the judging:
•Love that Ricky used modern dance speak to communicate with Elisa.
•Note to Steven: Your Tim Gunn impression is soooo two seasons ago and Santino’s was way better. Just let it go.
•What was up with Elisa’s shredded shirt at elimination? Was it from the scrap pile of Sweet P’s menswear outfit?
•When Tim was talking to Ricky, Elisa, and Victorya, they totally did the Tyra Banks post-production edit on his voice. He sounded like he was talking to them from another room at Parson’s. (Wonder what he actually said?)
Okay, onto judging. Ooooh, Donna Karan: Michael Kors’s arch nemesis (right? Has to be? She also does clothing for the stylish middle aged set, just better. And she’s BFF’s with Barbra Streisand, which is every gay man’s fantasy. Oh, he must hate her so.)
Funniest moment of elimination? When the normally sweet Heidi Klum went all Third Reich on Sweet P’s ass when she wouldn’t call out a teammate. “Choose!” she barked. “Steven!” I screamed nervously at the TV, on the off chance that Heidi could actually hear me.
I have to agree with my pal Coach Kate, who sent me an email bemoaning Chris’s departure. I loved me some Chris. It’s so unfair to ask a gay man to make shoulder pads and not expect him to give us the full Krystal Carrington.
And Ricky is such a dud. How many times is this guy going to be in the Bottom 3 before they notice that he, well, sucks?
Oh well, Ricky lives to cry again and glue another cocked hat to head. Bye bye, Chris. You did
bring fun to the show. You can be my team leader anytime.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We Can’t Be Sisters All the Time: The ANTM recap

The big question: Who’s going to be Cover Girl of the Week now?
Yup, our little Heather is gone, and not a moment too soon, if you ask me.
The happiest I’ve seen Heather in weeks? When she gave that surprising little jaunty kick-step on her way out of the judging room.
She was clearly relieved—and to be honest, I was, too. To see her wandering the streets of Shanghai, looking up sadly at the skyscrapers, like some sort of gloomy Mary Tyler Moore, was more than I could take. (And what was up with Jeneh’s drive-by? Were they in a Compassion Free Zone?)
Indeed, it took some of the fun out the go-see episode, usually one of my faves of the season. (Chantal’s hot pink undies and Saleisha’s truly advanced suck-up skills were lone bright points.)
And I will say this: Next time I’m stuck in Baltimore traffic, I will repeat the following mantra, “I could be in Shanghai, I could be in Shanghai. . .” Because, man, that looked rough. (Speaking of Baltimore: You had to love Jaslene throwing the first pitch at the Oriole game in front of what can generously be called a “smattering” of fans. Guess we weren’t playing the Red Sox.)
Despite the traffic, somehow Saleisha and Bianca managed to make it back on time. And Bianca wins the big challenge: Her face floating on a barge in the harbor. Good times.
What’s up with Nigel being so pissy lately? Is being effortlessly gorgeous, talented, and rich really such a burden? Because once again, he seemed to get his knickers in a twist over Jeneh’s sarcasm. (Shades of his freak out over Caridee’s ill-advised “did you pull that pole out of your ass” joke from two seasons ago. Dude seriously can not take a joke.) I like Jeneh and don’t see anything wrong with her sense of humor. I still want her to win.
I just can’t get past Saleisha’s horrible hair (a failed attempt at making her "edgy"—she just looks like the Girl Next Door with a bad haircut) and the fact that Bianca looks like she wants to kill somebody in all of her photos. (Because the camera never lies?)
So if Jeneh is stuck with the “her personality sucks” edit (poor girl), maybe I will have to join Team Chantal. (Hey, beats being an Oriole fan.)
By the way, that opening question is a trick. I maintain that Heather will continue to win Cover Girl of the Week long after she’s gone, perhaps well into next season. As Tiffany Bosworth will undoubtedly write: “Heather is even fiercer in her absence than in her presence.”
Or something like that.

Swatch Out! The Project Runway recap

For the first time this young season, I’m starting to like Jack. Okay, partly it’s because he revealed that he is HIV positive. Somehow this makes his 2-percent body fat, hair-gelled-to-perfection vanity more tolerable. Also, he took off his pants and let others trace his pattern (sounds dirtier than it is). And finally, he carried Christian around in a man bag. What’s not to like?
I’m also beginning to suspect that fancy beard boy (a.k.a. Kevin) might, indeed, be straight. He was the only one who knew who Tiki Barber was, while the rest stared slack-jawed at the bald, thick-necked, badonkadonked specimen before them.
Geez. Designing menswear must be hard, because I’ve never seen the designers in a such a panic. I’ve also never seen such unfinished drek make it’s way down the runway.
Usually the scenario goes like this: Designers panic! they run out of time! the task is impossible! they won’t make it!!!
Aaaaaaaaaand . . .then they do.
Not this week, no siree. Instead of sending a shirt down the runway, Carmen sent down a swatch of fabric. (In a lovely shade of blue, to be sure, but a fabric swatch, people!) Sweet P’s shirt collar was a hot mess; it looked like the surviving piece of clothing after a car wreck. (And her tie was almost floor-length.) Ricky’s get-up had safety pins all over it. (“I hope they don’t see the pins,” he mumbled. Honey, Nina would notice a stray thread.) Tubby Chris, who designs for lots of men (but not the kind who wear trousers), asked Tim, “Do you think [Tiki] likes hot pants?” Even eventual winner Jack scrapped his plans for a jacket and just went with a safe shirt/trousers combo.
The biggest surprise of the show? Elisa. Who knew she was all shy? I would’ve expected her to want all of her models to be nude, so they could explore each other’s essences and roll around in the mud together. But noooo, she actually turned her back when her male model disrobed. Then she said the following: “I’ve only fitted intimately with my boyfriend.” (Sounds dirty. . .probably is dirty.)
Okay, who else thinks that Tiki Barber’s wife looks like Kimora Lee Simmons?
Who is else is amused that world class athlete Tiki Barber is self conscious about his big butt?
Finally, who thought the wrong guy won? Jack’s outfit was boring. Kit’s had real style. (Although her double-barreled winking when the designers left the runway was disturbing. One wink is cute. Two winks and you become that strange winking woman.). I also liked Kevin’s get up. And frankly, when Michael Kors says, “That outfit is more David Beckham than Tiki Barber” there’s a word for that—oh yeah, a compliment.
Speaking of which, here’s the Michael Kors Bitchtastic Quip of the Week ™: “Those trousers are built for a Boogie Nights star.” (Sounds dirty. . . well, you get the drill.)
Oh well, I was sad to see Carmine go. I like the fact that her voice was deeper than Christian’s. Also, she seemed like she had some potential drama in her. But you can’t send your model down the runway with a fabric swatch. When it comes to the runway, you can’t say, “Garment implied.” Or “Here’s a shirt: yada, yada, yada, you know the drill.” You need a sleeve, preferably two. And possibly a collar of some sort. So Carmine is OUT.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


4 stars

Two stars are clearly born in Juno, the story of a subversive small town girl (named Juno) who gets pregnant and decides—much to everyone’s surprise (including her own)—to act as a surrogate mother to a Yuppie couple. The first is the young tomboyish actress Ellen Page (she had already caught my eye with last year’s indie Hard Candy), who not only wins us over with her snub-nosed beauty and droll way with a one-liner, but manages to bring a real emotional heft to her wiseacre young heroine. The other is first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody. I must confess that I was a bit put off by this extravagant nom de plume (her actual name is Brook Busey), but damned if she doesn’t live up to the legend in her own mind. Not only does Juno have a kind of language of its own—it’s teen speak, with a whole lot of cultural references, verbal shorthands, and ironic putdowns—but it manages to take every cliché of an “angry teen in a small town” story and turn it fabulously on its head. Whether Cody is intentionally trafficking in the flip side of clichés or whether that’s just the beautifully skewed way she views reality, I can’t say for sure, but it works famously.

Take, for example, Juno’s step mother (Allison Janney). At first we find out that she has a thing for dogs and likes to cross-stitch pictures of French bulldogs. Oh, we’ve seen this before: A homey, kitschy character who will be the source of ridicule. But no, in Cody’s script, the stepmother is salty and smart, with lots of fierce love for her weird step-daughter. Then there’s the couple that Juno is planning on giving her baby to. The husband (Jason Bateman) is an aging hipster with a music studio in the basement and a Sonic Youth obsession. The wife (Jennifer Garner) is a high strung over achiever, who frets that Juno will change her mind. You think you know what’s going to happen to this couple—and how Juno will relate to both characters—but you’ll be wrong.
Indeed, I loved all the characters in this movie—from Juno’s exasperated but adoring dad (J.K. Simmons, shining in an against-type role), to her hot-for-teacher best friend (Olivia Thirlby), to her unlikely impregnator (Michael Cera), a shy, knobby-kneed colt of a lad that Juno is wise enough to recognize as the coolest guy in school. I loved this hilarious and sneakily touching movie for what it is and, yes, for what it promises: I can’t wait to see what comes from these two stars next.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I Wish I Could Get the Joke: The ANTM recap

I’m going to keep this quick, because it’s Thanksgiving and people are snacking in the next room, which is basically torture for me. (You have to understand this about my family: when we are not eating, we are either talking about eating or having some sort of pre-meal snack.)

So. . . random thoughts on last nite’s episode.
I was absolutely thrilled when Heather went on a Shanghai shopping spree and didn’t take Bianca. I’ve gone back and forth when it comes to Bianca: Is she really a bitch? Or is she just playing one on TV? Well, I’ve decided that she is the real deal. Every single time somebody else gets a bad critique, there’s Bianca grinning with unmasked glee. And she has a way with an eviscerating putdown (“Lisa, if you go home, what are you going to do?”) always cloaked in a “who me? aren’t I cute?” coo.
So after the cruel little joke she and Saleisha played on Heather over the bed (yeah, Saleisha, you’re on my list now, too) I couldn’t have been happier when Heather won the Crouching Model challenge.
As Bianca had said earlier, “I don’t want to hang off buildings. I want to go shopping.”
And now here was the moment of truth. Heather wins the challenge, gets a shopping spree and picks. . . Chantal! Hooray! It's Chinese New Year in November! (Cut to adorable scene of "giants" Heather and Chantal being fawned over by the Chinese “little people” in the market).
Speaking of Chantal, if I was making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who’s naughty or nice (sorry, they’ve been playing Christmas music at the mall), Chantal would totally be on my NICE list. She is really growing on me. Not only is she gorgeous, in an all-American, toothy, Christie Brinkley kind of way, but she’s, as my mom put it, “Sweet as sugar.” It was Chantal who came to Heather’s defense over bedgate. And it’s Chantal who has managed to stay above the fray this entire catty competition.
More thoughts . . .
Can Jaslene’s commercials actually be getting worse? Or was this one just particularly bad because she gushed over the translucence of her Cover Girl product while wearing enough caked on makeup to make Tammy Faye Baker blush.
Indeed, Jaslene is so godawful I’ve developed a new system for rating the girls’ Cover Girl commercials this week: BTJs (or Better Than Jaslenes.) Starting with the premise that all the commercials were BTJ, it was now simply a matter of grades of superiority. So, from 1 (the closest to Jaslene in suckitude) to 5 (the most superior to Jaslene, actually resembling the human voice in conversation) I will now rate the commercials:
Saleisha: 5 BTJs. (I thought this was damn good.)
Bianca: 3 BTJs. (Spoke in her natural voice. The problem: Her natural voice is irritating.)
Heather: 1 BTJ. (Deeply, troublingly bad. Although she does have a breathy delivery that might bode well for a career as a phone sex operator.)
Jeneh: 3 BTJs (Would’ve been best, if she hadn’t flubbed her lines.)
Chantal: 4 BTJs. (Spastic, cute and bubbly.)
Lisa: 1 BTJ. (Deer trapped in the headlights.)

Speaking of Cover Girl, oh how I laughed and laughed when Heather won CGOTW again. Kandie Lewis wrote: “Heather is a wonderful role model for young girls!” Was this before or after Heather went all Carrie in the shower? Ah, bless.

More thoughts. . .

I want Twiggy’s shirt.

Nigel and Bianca are drinking from the same bitch cup. (“She has no beauty from within,” he said of Jeneh. Later he noted of Bianca, “I’m not particularly impressed by her performance.” Even Miss J was looking at him sideways—that is if he/she can see sideways from behind that giant fro.)

Finally, shocking to see a bottom two of Lisa and Heather. Certainly two of the most beautiful girls of this—or any—season. But I sort of understood why. Heather’s disability is beginning to really affect her performance. It was just a matter of time, I suppose. And Lisa’s insecurities got the best of her. A shame. Because as they scanned her portfolio in the end, it had to be one of the most gorgeous ANTM portfolios I’ve ever seen. I mean, truly stunning.
Farewell sweet Lisa. Grow out your hair. Embrace your timeless beauty. And as Tyra would say: Never dull your shine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Spit take: The Project Runway recap

Oh dear. And I thought the designers from past seasons were jealous last week, when the newbies got all those fancy fabrics to work with.
But this week,
ay dios mio, they really flaunted the new production budget, didn’t they?
In seasons past, so-called fashion icons have included flight attendants, mailmen, and Miss America. This season, in week two no less, they’re rolling out Sarah Jessica Parker! Carrie Bradshaw herself, people. It’s no wonder that big ol' lovable ’mo Chris was crying. Who’s coming next week?
Speaking of crying. New drinking game: Drink every time Ricky cries. At first, he seemed all newly fierce and confident when he switched up models on the runway. But then, after his original model was eliminated (as if he didn’t see
that coming), he started bawling. . .and pretty much didn’t stop until the episode ended. Come to think of it, when playing the Crying Ricky drinking game, consider O’Douls. (In fairness, I thought his belted dress was quite fetching and even had a chance to win.)
Ah, the one woman entertainment emporium that is Elisa was at it again. I love this woman, with her diaphanous dresses and her nonsensical new age ramblings. Elisa seemed genuinely surprised that Sweet Pea wasn’t familiar with the “spit mark” technique of essence imbuing. At first Sweet Pea assumed, reasonably under the circumstances I suppose, that this was in lieu of a chalk mark. But Elisa set her straight: “I want to imbibe it with energy and essence,” she said, as matter-of-factly, as if she had just uttered, “I want to lengthen the hem line a bit.” But damned if Elisa didn’t pull it off again. Her polymorphic capey thing (no, I have no idea what it means either) was pretty sweet.
But not nearly as sweet as the dress of our rightful winner, Victorya. I hate to be a front runner here, but Victorya is really emerging as my favorite designer of the competition. I’ve loved both of her pieces—a lot. Girl has taste.
By the way, how obvious was it when elaborate facial hair boy (aka Kevin) tried to take credit for Victorya’s dress?:
SPJ: The colors really work.
Kevin: Thank you.
SPJ: I really love how you listened to what I said.
Kevin: Thank you.
I hate to break the news to ya Kevin, but not only did you not listen to SPJ (she picked Victorya’s design, not yours) you left girlfriend hanging in the dreaded unfinished handshake. Yes, go back and watch the tape. You burned Sarah Jessica Parker with a hand
forsake. Way to go, genius.
Another genius move that also backfired? Carmen Webber trying to subliminally sear her name into SPJ’s subconscious. “Carmen like the opera and Webber like the baller,” she explained. Two side notes on that honey:
1. Just a guess here, but SPJ probably isn’t much of a hoops fan.
2. That Chris Webber reference feels very 1999. You might consider changing your last name to Ming or Duncan.
Carmen, of course, wasn’t chosen. Instead, she was paired with the overly confident Christian, who I still kind of love despite his fashion misfire this week. (Christian highlight: When the camera panned to him primping himself during the model styling session. Hey, a boy can’t be expected to
ignore all those mirrors.) This is the second week in a row that Christian has completely defied Tim Gunn’s advice. Last week, it worked. This week: Not so much. His Wang Chung-inspired get up was a world of wrong. But at least it led to it the Michael Kors Bitchtastic Quip of the Week ™: “Put on some big button earrings and you’re on The Facts of Life.” Tootie, call your office.
As for Marion? Too be honest, I hated his little hats so I was happy to see him go. Sorry if that’s a fairly shallow assessment, but hey, it’s episode two, what do you expect?

James Marsden: Unlucky in Love?

Having just seen Enchanted (my quick review: delightful—and Amy Adams pretty much rules), I feel compelled to discuss the curious case of James Marsden.
Now, take a good look at the picture above. There he is: Delicate bone structure, piercing blue eyes (artfully color coordinated with his tie and shirt, I may add), tulip-shaped lips, a head of hair that would make Bruce Willis weep—pretty much spectacular, huh? So why, I ask you, is this man constantly being cast as the cuckold, the heroine’s second choice?
It started, innocuously enough, with
The Notebook. In that, he was the overly polished fiancée of Rachel McAdams. We knew she belonged with scruffy, ardent Ryan Gosling. The fact that Marsden is empirically better looking than Gosling (who can look like a dashing leading man one minute and a claymation Fred Astaire in the next) only added to the romance. No, no, no, she doesn’t want the perfect suitor. She wants our perfectly flawed hero instead.
But it continued. Next up, Marsden was in a little-seen film called
The Heights (not great, but worth checking out). In that film, he played a gay man struggling to be the perfect heterosexual mate to his fiancée. The problem is, once his betrothed (Elizabeth Banks) finds out that future hubby is gay, she seems relieved to be rid of him. Again, I encourage you to look at the above picture. If this dude were my fiancée and I discovered he was gay, I would be pulling my hair out, rocking back and forth in a corner. Oh, and also. . . I’d probably marry him anyway. But not the Banks’ character. She’s like, “Later.”
Marsden is probably best known for his role as Cyclops in the
X-Men movies. And I don’t need to tell you that Cyclops is involved with Jean Grey and she pretty much craves bad boy Wolverine. Once again, as with The Notebook, Marsden plays the sweet, dutiful boyfriend who just isn’t the hunka hunka sex machine that is our male lead.
Moving right along, we’ve got Marsden in
Superman Returns. You guessed it. He’s Lois Lane’s freakin’ fiancée! I think we all know that she only has eyes for The Boyfriend of Steel. As for the child who Marsden thinks is his—suffice it to say, the little dude is very, very strong.
And last night I see
Enchanted. This is what sent me over the edge. Same deal: James Marsden is a dashing animated prince (come to life) pursuing his “one and only” while she’s making googly eyes at McDreamy. Guess how this fairy tale ends.
Okay, people, what gives?
It seems fairly obvious that Marsden is, in fact, too handsome for his own good. We want our male lead to have some sort of humanizing flaw. Marsden is cursed by his own physical perfection. Still, you’d think at least
occasionally he’d get to play the guy who, you know, gets the girl. In real life, I’m pretty sure Marsden has no trouble getting the girl (or the boy, or whatever he’s into). And I’m pretty sure his partner isn’t looking over his or her shoulder thinking, “Yes, he's an Adonis. But is he really right for me?”*

*I just read on that Marsden is married with 2 kids. Let's just hope that Clark Kent doesn't move in next door.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Train Wreck: The Project Runway Recap

Welcome to the most gaytastic season of Project Runway ever! Let the hair pulling begin!

Oh, how I love drag queen outfitter Chris, who is like the (overfed) love child of Ricky Gervais and Nathan Lane. “You want me to make a dress out of salad?” he says with been-there-done-that fabulousness. “Already have!” (Cut to a pic of a transvestite in a truly fierce iceburg lettuce skirt.)

Then there’s Maryland’s own Christian, he of the Edward Scissorhands hairdo, the outsized attitude, and (possibly?) the talent to match. As Heidi aptly noted of his weirdly wonderful puffy sleeved jacket, “It grows on you.”

Next there’s that puddle of insecurities Ricky, who I just want to throw a quilt over and give a hug (he barely survived with his competent, but uninspiring mini dress.) Son, you need a thimble over all your skin.

Also noteworthy, Kevin “I’m not gay!” from New Jersey. Huh. No straight man I know has a beard that complicated.

Let us not forget Rami, who has already designed for the likes of Jessica Alba. (Does this dude really need the competition?) He won the first challenge, despite the fact that his dress looked like a toga (albeit a toga made of very expensive fabric) and Michael Kors dropped my new favorite fashion putdown, “MOB”—as in mother of the bride. (Oh no he di’in’t!) Rami’s kind of hot, in a Eurotrash, Right Said Fred sort of way—much hotter in my opinion than six-packed Jack, who is the designated heartthrob of the season (and knows it)—but I kind of can’t wait to see his ego get knocked down a few pegs. Agreed?

Speaking of hot? Are the girls gorgeous this season, or what? Carmen is the actual former model, but to be honest, half of these designers could be models. Of course, they are as crazy as they are beautiful.

We have a girl named Sweet Pea who, apparently, turns into Mean Pea (heh) when crossed and used to be in an all-girl biker gang. We have another girl who goes by the nickname “Pistol” and favors berets. And we have the looniest of them all—Elisa, who makes marionettes, uses her own body as a dress form, and drops lots of metaphors about the sea and the earth and the wind. Elisa is the kind of woman who would inspire last season’s rosette-happy Angela to say, “Wow, what a flake.” The disgusted look on Tim’s face as Elisa smeared her fabric with grass stains was priceless.

Which, of course, brings us to the first challenge. I bet contestants from past seasons are PISSED. They had to make dresses out of shower curtains and corn husks and coffee filters, and these divas get $50,000 worth of fabric? However, as one of the designers pointed out—sorry, I forget which one—creating a piece that is supposed to define you as a designer is an intense, philosophical question. No gimmicks out the gate. Be fierce, or be gone.

As for the aforementioned Elisa, she is lucky to have survived. Hers was the “train wreck,” as Nina called it, of my title (get it? Her train was an actual wreck?) The hilarious part was that underneath all that fabric (and metaphor) was actually a pretty cool dress. I also loved the way she huffily collected her mounds of dress as she was asked to leave the runway. It was like, "I'm taking my train and leaving!"

I also dug the dress by Victorya, even if there was a little too much bondage in that garment for my taste.

I already told you what I thought of Rami’s dress: Overrated! (But then again, Tim Gunn said it was stunning—so what do I know?).

I would’ve picked Christian for the win. And no, it’s not a Maryland homeboy thing. It's just that his outfit kind of ruled. I anticipate a catfight between Rami and Christian, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Alexis and Crystal threw down on Dynasty!

No Moo Shu For You! The ANTM recap

I wonder if Heather’s domination of Cover Girl of the Week is in jeopardy with her little “I called shotgun on the shower” meltdown. It’s not that we haven’t seen other girls go postal over similarly insignificant things, it’s just there was something scarily intense about Heather’s anger. (As Saleisha said, “I think she wanted to do voodoo on me.”). In the past, the signs of Heather’s disorder have been flimsy at best: She’s often shown withdrawn, sitting away from the other girls, staring into space, or—in a nice touch from last night's episode—beatifically arranging flowers. But this was the first time she seemed out-of-control. I worried for her.
Ahhh, who am I kidding? No doubt she will win CGoTW again and we’ll get Ashley from Madison writing in to say, "It was FIERCE the way she went all naked gangstah on their skinny asses."
(Speaking of Cover Girl of the Week, the glamorous life of Jaslene never ends. This week WalMart, next week....Sam’s Club! Hey, a girl can dream.)
Meanwhile, big props to Chantal for correctly deciphering the “you will be aMUSED” Tyra mail. When Chantal said, “They’re going to teach us to be inspiring,” I wrote in my notes, “wow, randomly good guess”—and damned if she wasn’t right. I’m sure the other girls were sure they were going to an amusement park.
You gotta laugh over the counter programming here: As Project Runway instantly becomes the preferred reality show of fashion-conscious TV viewers, ANTM does their own little mini version of the show. (Although I thought they took it too far when Benny Ninja told the models to “make it work.”)*
I don’t have much to say about the little fashion show except I’m pretty sure Bianca’s designer wanted her to channel Cleopatra, as in Queen of Egypt. Not Cleopatra Jones, as in queen of the blaxploitation pics. Whatev. Once again, Jeneh ruled the runway and wuz robbed.
The little desert photo shoot was cool, although I wish they had made it a little more clear that the car wasn’t actually about to blow up.
Finally, so harsh to have all the girls jumping up and down, thinking they’re all going to China before the elimination. It reminds me of a joke my father once told me:
An army sergeant finds out the mother of one of his soldiers has died.
He doesn’t know how to break the news and tries to come up with the most sensitive way to do it.
So he lines up all his troops and says, “Everyone with a mother please step forward. Not you, Miller.”
Oh well, I guess you could say that Ambreal got two bonus weeks. Kind of a shame, because I thought she looked gorgeous in her photo this week.
Also, what’s up with the new conventional wisdom that Lisa is fading in the competition? Uh, didn’t she win the Enrique Iglesias challenge last week and get her named called first? Oh well, they tried to pull that same shit on Jaslene from last season and look at her now! Clean up aisle six, bitches!

*Just kidding. He didn’t actually say that.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Have You Seen This Mascot?

Thankfully, I am not a small child. If so, my hopes and dreams would’ve been crushed at the Ravens game this Sunday.
No, I’m not talking about the performance of the offense—I’m talking about my encounter with Poe, one of the Ravens' three avian mascots (the other two are named Edgar and Allan—sadly, I’m certain many fans have no idea why.)
Let me just say a few things about mascots. Personally, I’m not a big fan. Actually, as a small child, I was just sitting there, minding my own Happy Meal, when Ronald McDonald—hair frightfully red, skin a ghastly white—descended on our peaceful table and scared the living crap out of me. I cried. My mom had to whisk me out of there before I “upset the other children.”
I also understand that the life of a mascot is a hard one. You’re wearing a big, oafish, brutally hot suit. You have to wear the same cheerful, dorky expression on your face no matter what you’re feeling inside. People want to touch you, or take their picture with you, or mess with you. Some people even have inappropriate sexual fetishes about you (but that’s a topic for a whole other blog post).
But for the most part, you’re doing it for the kids—and the occasional wide-eyed adult.
Which brings me to yesterday’s game.
The Ravens were playing terribly—had been all season—and the fans were on edge. I had already dubbed the deceptively mild-mannered guy in the seat behind me “Senor Rage.” It was then that Poe showed up.
Now, my pal Pallavi was very excited about this turn of events. It seems that mascots very rarely made appearances in this section of the bleachers. Pallavi might be a 27 year old woman, but she has a certain childlike
joie de vivre about her. She was very excited to get her picture taken with Poe.
But as Pallavi was positioning herself for a good photo and our friend Alicia was readying the camera, I saw something that they may have missed.
Just as Poe was descending the stairs, a clearly inebriated man slapped him heartily on the back. Poe stumbled and almost fell. The drunk guy then emerged from his seat to continue the sloppy “I love you, maaaaaan” form of affection. At this point, I saw Poe whisper something in the guy’s ear. This was shocking enough—mascots are never supposed to break that fourth wall. What’s more, I don’t think he was saying, “And what’s your name, friend?” because the drunk guy kind of blanched, mumbled an apology, and meekly made his way back to his seat.
Now Poe was heading toward Pallavi. You could tell he wanted to get the hell out of the bleachers.
I almost said to Pallavi, “You may want to leave Poe alone now. He’s having a bad day.” But it was too late.
“Can I get a picture?” Pallavi pleaded. Pallavi is very hard to say no to.
So Poe wrapped an arm around Pallavi and waited for the picture to be taken. Just then, another guy kind of manhandled him.
“Don’t f**king touch me!” Poe hissed loudly.
Everyone heard. Fans collectively recoiled from this suddenly scary dude in a bird suit.
If you could’ve seen the happy-go-lucky, beatific smile evaporate from Pallavi’s face, it may’ve actually broken your heart.
Poe stumbled angrily down the steps.
Now maybe this is something I don’t know about the Ravens. Maybe Edgar, Allan, and Poe all have different personas—like
The A-Team. Perhaps Poe is the angry one: “This is one bird you do not want to mess with, or he will go Tell-tale Heart on your ass!” But I don’t think that’s the case.
We never saw Poe again.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

These Are Not Flattering: The ANTM recap

Welcome to Tyra’s Video Ho bootcamp, where models learn to slink, crawl, and slide down a pole—er, I mean, a wall—but not in a slutty way.
Oh, how I loved those God-awful taupe colored body suits (“these are not flattering” Sarah remarked, in the understatement of the century) which actually gave a boost to my self-esteem: Wow, even models look like ass in a skin-colored body suit.
Naturally, Tyra was not wearing beige. She was wearing a black bodysuit, which, granted, I wouldn’t be caught dead in in public (or even, quite frankly, in the comfort and privacy of my own home), but still made her look better than her poor, camel-toe-sporting protégées.
I also loved how Tyra managed to mention that she appeared in videos by Lionel Richie and George Michael but neglected to mention her own craptastically wonderful stab at music stardom.
(Is it just me, or is Tyra snuggling with herself in the opening moments of this video? If so, this has to be the most honest moment ever committed to film.)
But props to Tyra for noting that Heather has a kind of Tim Burton, goth sex appeal. With her pale skin (I didn’t think she could get any paler . . . yikes, how wrong I was), lost girl eyes, and gangly limbs, Heather does sort of have a cool, Corpse Bride thing happening.
Indeed, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when they picked Lisa as the featured girl in Enrique Iglesias’s video:
“We want that gothic look, that vampire look, so we pick. . .”—and just as I’m mechanically mouthing the word “Heather” at the screen, they come up with —“Lisa”?
But a few moments later order was restored in the universe when they added hastily, “OhyeahandHeatherisfeaturedtoo.”
Poor Bianca. It drives her completely insane that Heather is skating through the competition. Seriously, if the worst smack you can come up with is, “You’re so beautiful you don’t have to try”—you are losing touch with your Inner Bitch. (I truly believe that if Bianca knew that Heather owned Cover Girl of the Week, it would send the poor girl over the edge.)
I’m not even going to discuss the obvious editing anymore. There’s just no point. The girl who boasts about her unparalleled awesomeness learns a valuable lesson in humility and ends up in the Bottom Two. The first girl to talk in the episode gets sent packing. There it is. Mystery solved.
Oh? Heather’s fainting spell? A little alarming, but not too bad. After all, you’ve seen one dehydrated/frostbitten/malnourished model, you’ve seen them all.
As for Ambreal, I was so relieved that she bypassed the Bottom Two. Can you imagine: “Last week? When we eliminated you? Yeah, we meant it. Peace.”
Finally, poor Sarah. A model who had the temerity to actually get skinny. Sacre bleu! Oh well, I hope she gets over this experience and goes back to those carefree, madcap, size 6, pulling tissues out of her nose days. Don’t change, Sarah!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

No Country For Old Men

3 and a half stars

It’s impossible to talk about
No Country For Old Men without first discussing Javier Bardem’s hair. It’s an overgrown pageboy, silly, and even a touch fey—and it’s the most unlikely hair you will ever find on a chilling sociopath. I use the word “chilling” quite literally here: Every time Bardem’s Anton Chigurh appeared on screen—moving slowly, dragging his most uncanny of weapons (a lethal cattle gun powered by an oxygen tank), surveying his prey with an unblinking, supercilious gaze—a little involuntary shudder went down my spine. If you think you’ve seen it all in film—think no villain is menacing or bad ass enough to scare you—I suggest you reserve judgment until you see Bardem’s horrific creation.
Of course, Chigurh is the Coen Brothers’ creation, too. Many critics are saying that
No Country For Old Men represents a return to form for the prodigiously talented brothers. I agree, to an extent. Yes, it’s great—pretty damn close to perfect (alas, it meanders a bit toward the end)—but it doesn’t feel like any Coen Brothers film I’ve ever seen. It’s not a surrealist exercise in paranoia, like Barton Fink. It’s not a vivid, rococo gangster film like Miller’s Crossing. And it’s not a tongue-in-cheek ironyfest, like Raising Arizona or Fargo. No, this is a much more sober and serious work than anything I’ve seen from the “boys” before—although it is quite funny at times. The palate is dank and gray; the film moves slowly and meticulously, almost as if it were being directed by Chigurh, himself.
The story—based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy—is set in 1980. It follows Llewylen Moss (excellent Josh Brolin), a Vietnam vet living in Texas who, while hunting stumbles across several dead bodies, a trunkload of cocaine, and two million dollars. His mistake, you see, is not that he takes the money—although he does, with an almost workmanlike nonchalance (the character is a fatalist of sorts; he remains singularly unfazed by this extraordinary turn of events)—but going back to the scene of the crime to give the lone survivor a jug of water. (This is important for the audience’s loyalties: Before that, Brolin’s Moss seemed almost as cold as Chigurh.) He gets shot at, and suddenly several people are on his trail: Freelance killer Chigurh, a gang of Mexican guns for hire, a dandified bounty hunter (Woody Harrelson), and the film’s heart and soul—town sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones).
It should be said that, at this point, Jones has become something of an invaluable screen presence. With his creased face and squinty eyes and his air of mournful irony—he brings a much-needed humanity (and humor) to the proceedings. It is Bell who embodies the phrase of the title: He
is too old for this shit—this end of decency; this kind of amoral lawlessness that has become the landscape of American crime. With the exception of Chigurh, who has his own perverse code of behavior, there is no honor among thieves in No Country For Old Men—just greedy suckers getting in the way of the most terrifying cinematic monster since Hannibal Lector. As for Jones’ Bell? At least he knows when to get the hell out.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Leave Kobe Alone!

If I owned a video camera, I might be inclined to make one of those Chris Crocker style You Tube posts, my face streaked with tears, screaming, “Leave Kobe alone!”
Yes, I am a Kobe Bryant fan. I realize this is a bit incongruous, what with me being a liberal and a feminist and all. (As one friend wryly put it when he heard of my fandom: “I didn’t see that coming.”) It helps to know that I’ve was a Kobe fan from waaaaaaaay back. I remember seeing him on the
Arsenio Hall Show—yes, that far back—when he was just a teenager. I thought he was absolutely adorable, with his long, lean physique, those high cheekbones, his quick, elfin smile, and his perfectly formed tiny ears (no, I don’t have a thing for ears—I have a thing for Kobe’s ears)—and, of course, I was totally charmed when he spoke Italian. (For those who don’t know, Kobe was raised in Italy before his family moved to Philadelphia.) It goes without saying that I loved the sheer physical gifts he possessed on the court: the way he moved like a gazelle, defended like a man possessed, and flew through the air, like, well, a thing that flies through the air.
Eventually, I came to love more than that—his preternatural work ethic, his fierce competitiveness, the polite way he submitted to every post-game (or half time) interview. If you’re a sports fan, the one thing you hope is that your favorite athlete will give it his all, every night, on the court. On that front, Kobe has never let me down.
The Colorado incident? Yeah, I admit I was disappointed. And scared for Kobe. But no one knows what happened in that hotel room, and the issue has been resolved legally (they settled out of court) and personally (Kobe is still married to Vanessa and last year, they welcomed a second daughter), so I don’t feel it’s my place to judge.
But this giant preamble gets me back to the real reason for this post. As it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Kobe is on the verge of being traded, the nation's insane ambivalence over Kobe has gone into overdrive. I’ve never seen a sports star so equally adored and reviled as Kobe Bryant, often for the same things (with the exception, I suppose, of Barry Bonds, but lord knows, Bonds brought that upon himself). I think it’s unfair. I think it’s hypocritical—massively hypocritical—to vilify Kobe and I want to give my take on the myths versus the reality of one Kobe Bean Bryant.

Myth #1: Kobe drove Shaq out of L.A.

This myth is close on the heels of another myth: That Shaq is this big, lovable teddy bear of a guy and Kobe is this weird, sociopathic outcast. Don’t get me wrong, I like Shaq. But I would say he’s a teddy bear when everyone is worshipping him and adoring him—which is to say, most of the time—and more like a Grizzly Bear when he’s being challenged. The truth is, it’s easy for Shaq to maintain this happy-go-lucky persona when no one dares to confront him. Kobe
was a little immature in wanting to be The Man on a team where Shaq was already the established superstar (or maybe he was just acting his age—after all, Kobe was just 19 when he joined the Lakers). But as Kobe matured, he was more than willing to play with Shaq, he was simply frustrated with Shaq’s atrocious free throw shooting, his lackadaisical (to put it mildly) approach to fitness, and the cute little tricks he pulled, like waiting until right before the season to get toe surgery. (Shaq missed a huge chunk of the season—avoidable, if he’d only had the surgery sooner). Kobe truly could not believe that someone as brilliantly talented as Shaq squandered his own gifts with laziness and seeming indifference. This, no doubt, offended Kobe to the core.
Did Kobe drive Shaq out of L.A.? Well, I do think Kobe told management that he didn’t want to play with the big fella anymore. But clearly, Shaq felt the same way (who could forget Shaq’s cruel proclamation that the “whole team is here” when Kobe was fighting for his life in Colorado?). There was no way these two men were going to coexist anymore on the court. It was always a case of pick one or the other— not because Kobe wanted it, but because
both men wanted it. Quite simply, the team picked Kobe over Shaq. Kobe was younger, more popular, and—yes—a harder worker.

Myth #2: Shaq’s great relationship with Dwayne Wade in Miami proves that the conflict in L.A was all Kobe’s fault.

For starters, Shaq came into Miami in the best shape of his life, thus demonstrating how fit he could be, if he ever actually bothered. Also, Dwayne is a smart kid: He defers to Shaq, just the way Shaq likes it. Dwayne may indeed be the MVP of that team, but he acts like a dutiful kid brother, a sidekick, a role Kobe was never willing to play (why should he?). To me, it was quite telling that, when Dwayne Wade won the MVP of the 2006 finals, it was Shaq who insisted on handing him the trophy. It was like Shaq was saying, “I allowed this to happen.” Somehow, even when D-Wade wins MVP, it’s all about Shaq.

Myth #3: Kobe brought this upon himself

There’s this incredible schadenfreude with Kobe, now that the Lakers are mired in mediocrity. The conventional wisdom goes: You see, you wanted to be The Man: How you like it now?
But I don’t think it was unreasonable for Kobe to think that the Lakers, one of the wealthiest franchises in all of sports, would build around him. How could he have known that they would instead give him a big kid with years-down-the-road potential (Andrew Bynum), another center who is a legendary draft day bust (Kwame Brown), a talented but injury prone sidekick with absolutely no competitive fire (Lamar Odom), and the worst starting point guard in the league (Smush Parker)? (Okay, they finally got rid of Smush. Ironically, he is now Jason William’s backup in Miami.) And how could he have known that when the opportunity came to win and win now—in the form of Jason Kidd, one of the preeminent point guards in the league—the Lakers would say no because they were unwilling to part with Bynum, who represented (possibly) winning down the road?
Has Kobe been patient? Yes, for 3 long years. Has Kobe been loyal? Extremely: He hadn’t complained a peep until this summer’s tirade. Has Kobe carried the team on his back? Seems to me that when you lead the league in scoring two years running—including one 81 point explosion and 4 games of 50-plus points in a row—just to make the playoffs, you’re doing more than your fair share.
I don’t blame Kobe one bit for wanting out. I’m just surprised it took him this long.

Myth #4: Kobe is a ballhog

Okay, that’s not really a myth. He kinda is a ballhog. But here’s the reality. We saw on Team USA that Kobe is more than willing to be a defensive stopper and offensive facilitator when surrounded by talent. Obviously, that was a unique situation: No team in the league is going to surround him with the likes of LeBron, Carmelo, and Jason Kidd. But I do believe that Kobe has matured to the point where he is more than willing to give up the rock, if only he had anybody to pass it to. The thing that bugs me is, Kobe is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. If he takes 35 shots, he’s a ballhog. If he tries to be a playmaker, making passes to teammates who whiff left and right, he’s accused of being a wise guy, trying to prove a point. Witness LeBron James, who had the temerity to pass the ball to a teammate in last year’s Eastern Conference finals: He was excoriated for not being man enough to take the shot. Likewise, Kevin Garnett, who is often accused of being too unselfish. It seems in this game, we encourage our superstars to be selfish, and then accuse them of being egomaniacs when they are. See? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. A final point: Even in those youthful years when he was fighting for "Who's the Man"-hood with Shaq, he still led the team in assists. (It’s true, look it up.) Imagine, then, if this newly matured Kobe had someone to pass too. I guarantee that he would. Hopefully, he’ll get a chance to prove me right.

Myth #5: Kobe owes the Lakers something

This is the latest line coming from the Lakers front office and parroted by columnists at ESPN: The Lakers stood by Kobe during the Colorado incident, picked him over Shaq, so therefore, he should return the loyalty. Ha! Double ha! Basketball is a business, people. The Lakers didn’t stand by Kobe because of some paternal love that Jerry Buss feels for Kobe. It’s because Kobe is the Lakers’ greatest asset. He fills the seats, he puts them on national TV, he wins the games, he moves the merchandise. What could the Lakers have possibly gained in renouncing him? Of course, they supported him! It didn’t hurt that, during those insane weeks when Kobe was flying straight from the legal court to the basketball court, he put up sick numbers—obviously, basketball has always been Kobe’s release, the place where he can clear his head and demonstrate his uncanny focus. If the Lakers really loved Kobe, they would’ve surrounded him with talent. They would’ve pulled the trigger on that trade for Jason Kidd. It’s as simple as that.

Okay, I’m done.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Keep a Child Alive: The ANTM recap

The title of this week’s episode was “The Girl Who Gets a Mango.” A fine title to be sure. I however, might’ve gone with something more along the lines of “Holy F*#^ing Shit!”
I mean seriously, people. Why did the powers that be at
Top Model downplay this week’s stunning development? I remember when cute little pattern-book-hoarding Keith on Project Runway got the boot they played it up for weeks. In fact, if I recall correctly, before the season started Tim Gunn was giving interviews where he would ominously say, “There’s a shocking elimination this season.”
But a girl removes herself from the competition—in the final seconds of judging, no less—and we get nothing? We get. . .a mango?!?
Does anyone suspect this was because Tyra was pissed about the whole thing? It’s like, “No one rejects Miss Tyra Banks! Miss Tyra Banks rejects thee!”
(Can you imagine trying to fire this woman? “You can’t fire me, because I quit!” Or trying to break up with her? “You can’t break up with me, because I break up with
you!” And so on.)
Because when Ebony announced at the elimination that “modeling was not for her,” I noticed for one second Tyra’s upper lip quivered—shock? anger? the beginning of tears?
Then she steeled herself and gave the patented Tyra smackdown: “You know what I think is not for you? I think it’s people telling you what to do. The most unattractive thing in the world to me is a quitter.”
If you recall, a few years back, Tyra had a rather stunning and memorable meltdown when she felt that one of the contestants—Tiffany, I think her name was—was treating the competition like a joke. This was a girl from the inner city, a girl with a lot of anger issues, a girl who hadn’t been given many opportunities in her life. When Tyra rather lustily laid into her—telling her to take her life seriously or no one else would—I thought it was harsh, but I believed it came from a genuine place. Now, I’m not so sure. Was Tyra upset that Tiffany wasn’t taking her life seriously, or was she upset that she wasn’t taking Tyra’s precious little competition seriously?
Well, Ebony’s unexpected exit meant good news for Ambreal, a religious girl who raised her eyes to the heavens, clearly believing this was some sort of divine intervention. I mean, talk about a last minute reprieve. There have been a few girls over the years who have
thought they were being eliminated—I’ll never forget the stunned, “wait, catch me up” look on Nicole’s face when she realized that instead of getting the boot she was actually going to London—but this was the first time a girl had legitimately flatlined, only to be brought back to life. It’s a miracle! (And girl, you better bring it next week. When Jay Manuel mutters under his breath, “I just want to know when she forgot how to model” this is generally not a good sign.)
Okay, okay, there was a rest of the show (although it all kind recedes into the background now) so let’s discuss some highlights.
Heather’s domination of Cover Girl of Week continues. She’s an unstoppable force—the New England Patriots of tweendom. However, as for the girl who wrote in to Cover Girl to report that Heather was “smart, sassy, and sexy!” I have two questions: “Who
writes in to Cover Girl?” And “Which Heather are you speaking of?” Our sort of awkward, slightly snarky, undeniably gorgeous Heather from Top Model? Well, in fairness, she does seem smart. . .
Of course, Heather had the break of the show when she got to meet Mary J. Blige and pose for Matthew Rolston, who—with apologies to Gil Bensimon—is quite possibly the most famous photographer they’ve ever had on
Top Model. (He taught her how to pose face forward and she absorbed that knowledge like a sponge. Good girl, Heather.)
As for Mary J., who knew Heather was such an R&B fangirl? Her “eye candy, yum” over Tyson Beckford was quite possibly the most diffident uttering of that phrase I’d ever heard. But she seemed genuinely thrilled to meet the Queen of Hip Hop Soul.
A few more things: Nigel Barker, with his little afro at elimination, actually looked like a guy I dated in high school. Unfortunate.
Is Bianca looking more gorgeous every week or is it just me?
Jeneh, despite the hay ride on her head, continues to dominate. In my mind, she is assembling one of the best
Top Model portfolios ever.
Sarah: liar, liar, shrinking waistline on fire! You are so losing weight. The pictures of that double chin on Day One do not lie.
Finally, of course, Tyra had to have the last word—again—on Ebony’s leaving. While some have pointed out that, by playing Ebony’s audition tape, it created the eerie sense that Ebony had not so much left the competition, but
died, it really was just Tyra’s ego run amok again. You see, she really did want to be a model! Told ya so! Told ya so!
Yes, that’s right, Tyra, because a 20-year-old girl has never changed her mind. You’re right, Tyra. About everything. You win at life. (Hey, I don’t want Tyra pissed at

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

3 and a half stars

Most filmmakers, if given the storyline of
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, would direct it in a linear fashion. And why not? It’s a doozy of a story: Two middle-aged brothers, both fallen upon hard times (although one, at least, with the outward appearance of success) decide to rob the mom and pop jewelry store they worked for as kids. It’s seemingly fool proof: They know the security codes, they know where the loot is stashed, they even know where the panic button is. As they see it, they get in, get the jewels and cash, get out, the store owners collect the insurance, and no one is the wiser. Oh, and one last thing: The mom and pop who own this jewelry store? Those would be their actual parents.
Great story, huh? We’ll want to see if hectoring big brother Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is able to convince weak-willed little brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) to pull off the heist and if all goes according to the deceptively simple plan.
But director Sidney Lumet, that crafty veteran of over 40 films (some, like
Network and Dog Day Afternoon, true masterpieces) has something much more interesting in mind. It’s only 10 minutes or so into the film that we see the heist—and see that it goes horribly, horribly awry.
From there, time lurches backward and forward. But because we know the outcome of Hank and Andy’s plan, the whole movie has a sickening sense of inevitability. We can’t think to ourselves, “Run away, Hank! It’s a bad plan!” when Andy lays out the details, because we already know he goes through with it—and fails miserably.
As the film continues, we see that Andy is in a largely loveless relationship with his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) who is having an affair with Hank. We see that Hank has an emasculating ex-wife and a precocious daughter (who has been thoroughly schooled in his shortcomings). We see that Andy has an expensive drug habit—one that drains him financially and emotionally. We meet Andy and Hank’s parents (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) both before the heist and after it. We discover that Andy has never felt loved by his father—and, as we witness a rather spectacular meltdown he has in the car, we begin to suspect that Andy’s whole plan had more to do with getting revenge on a father who never loved him and a kid brother who was unfairly doted on, than committing the perfect crime.
And so on.
In other words, Lumet is delving into people in crisis, and families in crisis, and what we do with our backs against the wall, and the anger and hubris that lead us to do very stupid things, indeed.
The acting is brilliant. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is already considered a kind of American treasure—and he plays an angry but proud man teetering on the brink of a breakdown masterfully—but I’ve always thought that Ethan Hawke was underrated. (To me, it was Hawke, not Washington, who deserved the Oscar for
Training Day—Washington deserved his for The Hurricane, but this game could go on all day.) He’s great as Hank—a character in an uneasy state of arrested development, still waiting for someone (his big brother? his daddy? his ex-wife?) to tell him how to be a man.
Of course, none of the main characters are even remotely likable. Not even the bear-like Finney as the father who begins to suspect the very worst of his own sons. And that’s the point. Lumet has directed a film that encourages us to positively wallow in the characters’ misery. He’s invented a new genre: Cinema

p.s. contrary to the evidence of these last two posts, I am not obsessed with the devil.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Feels Like The Devil is Really After Me: The ANTM recap

Ah, the dreaded ANTM on-screen consolation prize. It’s when two models who had heretofore gotten zero screen time are suddenly featured players. It’s Top Model’s version of “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
This week, of course, it was the fate that befell Janet and Ambreal.
As for Janet, sorry to say, I didn’t really care. Maybe she lost me at “simulated bikini wax.” Maybe it was just because I thought she looked more “surprisingly attractive soccer mom” than “next face of fashion.” Whatever the case, when the editors had essentially booked her ticket to the final two in the first five minutes of the show (as she yammered on about her curvy body type and what slobs her housemates were)—I just couldn’t bring myself to give a darn.
But what about my Ambreal? It was just last week that I pronounced she was my new ANTM bff. And all of a sudden she’s . . . singing? Saying things like, “I’m feeling really confident, it’s my time to shine!” Showing personality?
I’m yelling at my TV, “Nooooo. Step away from the cameraman, Ambreal! Run for your life!”
But of course, this was mere speculation on my part— mind-numbingly obvious speculation—but speculation nonetheless. We still had a 45 more minutes of show to watch.
And, what’s this? Heather being catty? Saying things like, “Ebony needs work all around.” Dropping phrases like “slammin’ body”? Holding court with her snarky—but surprisingly accurate—contestant analysis? Kiddo, if you keep getting in touch with your inner diva, your unstoppable reign as the Cover Girl of the Week may be in jeopardy.
Next, onto some zany trampoline challenge with Benny Ninja (does anyone else find him as charm-free and useless as I do? I prefer the Twirl Twins), that Ambreal completely owned. (Maybe she will be okay, after all?).
Then it’s time for Icecapades with my beloved Danielle (squee!) and some editor of Seventeen who is not Atoosa Rubenstein and who is trying way too hard with a cropped leather jacket thingy.
The deal was, they were supposed to be lifted in the air by a male skater (with a really unfortunate patch of doody beard on his chin) while projecting an emotion
Here’s my analysis of the emotion they actually projected vs. the one they were supposed to project.

Was supposed to project: Anger
Did project: Constipation

Was supposed to project: Sorrow
Did project: High school yearbook photo

Was supposed to project: Anger
Did project: Rigor mortis

Was supposed to project: Joy
Did project: Something stuck in her teeth

Was supposed to project: Anger
Did project: Seizure victim

And so on. . .

Actually, I thought Bianca’s joy was by far the best. It actually looked joyful (not crazed, like Saleisha’s joy.)
As for Lisa’s winning emotion “sorrow”? Suffice it to say, the Oscar for over-acting goes to Lisa. (Not to be confused with the Oscar for Worst Acting in a Commercial by a Spokesmodel in the History of TV and Probably the History of Acting, which goes to Jaslene. Can someone please tell her that shouting her lines does not make them any more believable?) But damn Lisa looked good in that Seventeen shoot with “Dani” (when did she lose the “elle” by the way?).

Onto my favorite Bianca Bitchtastic Moment of the Week ™ which was said to Lisa after the photo shoot: “Is that makeup making you break out?”
Ha! Bianca. Love ya girl. Don’t change.

Then there was the silly gargoyle photo shoot on the roof, which led to Ambreal, who is afraid of heights, to utter the line in my title. (Honey, it ain’t the devil rocking your world, it’s one Ms. Tyra Banks.)

Finally, onto judges panel, where Miss J has some sort of expanding afro thing happening. This week he looks like none other than Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington from Welcome Back Kotter. I kept expecting him to drop a “Hi there.”

So the usuals looked great:
Jeneh, Lisa, Heather.
Gorgeous Bianca took her best pic ever (usually she just looks pissed) as did always-on-the-verge-of-toppling-over Ebony, who stuns with her ability to re-animate in front of the camera.
Lisa had a little Tyra-prompted breakdown that left Bianca smirking with glee. And Tyra told her to “never dull your shine.” And Miss J said that all the other models were just hatin’.
Then it came down to the bottom two. Shocker! Ambreal and Janet, our two suddenly ready for primetime players.
Whew! Ambreal is safe. Janet goes home.
Next week, Ambreal, stick to the sidelines, my child. It’ll be much easier on both of us.

p.s. If this is your first time reading my recaps and you want to see the rest of them, please check out