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

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lars and the Real Girl

3 and half stars

I’m not going to lie: I went into this film with a major chip on my shoulder, pretty much convinced I was going to hate it.
For starters, I can’t stand the cutesy poster—you know the one—with Ryan Gosling sitting on a chair, a bouquet of yellow roses in his hands, and a derfy smile on his face. I have an aversion to films that sentimentalize simpletons (this is why you’ll never see Forrest Gump or Being There among my favorites) and when you consider that the story is about a disturbed misfit under the delusion that a sex doll is his human girlfriend (oy), I thought I was in for a movie that was precious or misogynistic—or both.
But damned if this thing doesn’t work. I can safely say that Lars and the Real Girl is the most improbable great film I’ve ever seen. Bottom line: I will never underestimate Ryan Gosling again. This kid is too interesting an actor—too smart in his choices—to make a truly bad film. (If you haven’t seen Half Nelson, do yourself a favor and see it.)
You see, Lars isn’t so much a simpleton as an agoraphobic—he uses the doll as a way to avoid contact with real human beings. (Of course, he never uses the doll as a sex toy—a safe choice on the filmmakers’ part, but not one I’m exactly sorry they made). And, heartbreakingly enough, Lars proves to be an incredibly great boyfriend to his doll—tender and respectful and doting. In his scenes with the wonderfully apt Patricia Clarkson—she’s the town doctor/psychiatrist who’s able to slowly tease out his true feelings— Lars reveals his overwhelming frustration with a mystifying human world.
The rest of the acting is equally splendid. Emily Mortimer is a revelation as Lars’s adoring sister-in-law: she appears vulnerable but is secretly as tough as they come. And Paul Schneider, who plays Lars’s baffled brother Gus, is having a career-making month (he’s the best thing in the turgid The Assassination of Jesse James)—his reaction shots are priceless. Also, look for the real girl of the title, newcomer Kelli Garner, who is so dorktastically adorable, she’d give Jim and Pam on The Office a run for their money.
But these performances would amount to squat if the actors weren’t working with a great script (by Nancy Oliver) and great direction (by Craig Gillespie). One of the genius conceits of this film is that Lars’s blow-up doll proves to be a useful therapeutic tool for the whole community, a kind of empty vessel into which the townsfolk can project their own hopes and needs.
In many ways, Lars and the Real Girl is exactly what I thought it would be (well except for the misogynist part): It is sentimental. It is precious. It does idealize our man-child hero. But it’s so dang smart—so droll and funny and filled with such wonderful, surprising insight that it’s impossible to resist. Hell, I may even have to buy the poster.

Friday, October 12, 2007

This is the kind of thing I'm talkin' about

Harriet is extremely cute. Get used to it.

is this thing on?

So I'm officially a blogger now. Stay tuned for more blogging goodness than you can shake a stick at.