From the Jaws of Hollywood Madness
There were good things and bad things about working the reception desk at a Hollywood management firm. You have to deal with the constant ringing of phones, but you get to pass along the problems that come with those phone calls to assistants. You get to meet all the clients, as they have to get through you in order to get to the people they need. That’s fun. Being Los Angeles and the entertainment industry, even the delivery people are more attractive than you. That’s not as fun.
The best part is the walk-ins though. We were listed in all the entertainment directories, so oftentimes people would walk in off the street to try and solicit reprensentation. We would get tons of fan mail for the actors we represented too. I wonder if this day and age people still send fan mail via snail mail, but that is neither here nor there.
Our offices were located on the second floor of a three floor building we shared with a dentist and some sort of office, maybe casting? We all shared a courtyard with a communal elevator. The elevator opened up on one end of the courtyard, and from my desk I could see out the glass doors that someone was headed our way.
Sometimes, that offered me the chance to warn people folks they didn’t want to hear from were on their way. Other times, it gave me 15 precious seconds to primp before Justin Chambers from Grey’s Anatomy walked in. Then there was the time I had 15 seconds to process that Jaws was coming straight towards me.
I didn’t know him as Jaws at the time. I immediately recognized him though. It tends to happen when a seven foot tall man with very distinct features steps off an elevator. People just say to themselves, “Hey, that is the guy with the nail gun nail in his head from Happy Gilmore.”
You may know him as Jaws from the James Bond movies or by his real name, Richard Kiel. Either way, he lumbered off the elevator, then had to walk with his head ducked, as he was too tall for the patio walkway. He ducked his head even deeper to walk through our front door, then approached my desk.
"Good afternoon, does Guymon Cassidy still work here?"
He did not. He left before I even joined the company, but it was a mistake people made all the time. I explained he was no longer with the company, so Kiel explained what his purpose was.
But first, he dropped a paper wrapped package on my desk with a thud that had me immediately jumping to the conclusion a human head was inside it. I braced myself, fearing what was coming.
Turns out Kiel’s mission was an innocuous one. He was a big James Dean fan and trying to fundraise to get a nonprofit performing arts center built in his name. In order to drum up interest, he brought a brick.
Yes, a brick.
But not just any brick.
He unwrapped the paper package to reveal a brick certified to be from James Dean’s high school in Marion, Indiana. It had papers to prove it and everything, though I do wonder how one certifies a brick. He asked if there might be any talent on our roster that would possibly be interested in donating. I suggested a couple of names on our top talent manager’s roster. Kiel responded enthusiastically, as he was quite the Ted Danson fan, and suggested speaking to his manager.
"I’ll leave the brick with you," he said with a smile. He then thanked me again, smiled the friendliest smile as he shook my hand, and left, off to deliver another brick to another building. I smiled to myself, both at the gentleness of his demeanor and at the absurdity of the situation.
I IMed my boss:
"Nail gun guy from Happy Gilmore just gave me a brick from James Dean’s high school."
While I waited for her to respond, another manager came in and saw the brick.
"You building a house?"
I explained the story, and he became super intrigued, offering to take the brick to the top manager’s office, clearly intent on presenting it as a brick he discovered specifically for a special client. As he did, my boss appeared in the doorway.
"Drop the brick," she barked.
For the next three months, it was a back and forth battle of brick thievery in our office that was my favorite thing to kepe me sane in an otherwise high stress position. There were ransom letters, undercover after hours operations, and the kind of hijinks straight out of a James Bond movie.
so, when I heard Kiel passed away today, my mind immediately went to nail guns and bricks, two of my saving graces when trying to tackle the wild world of Hollywood.
In Hindsight: The Last Kiss
The problem with going to movies on first dates is you run a risk of seeing something terrible. Especially if that first date is in September, a time generally known as a movie wasteland.
So, that is how eight years ago I went on a date and ended up seeing a movie about a guy who is a cheater. Yeah, that kind of cheater. Not the “oh let me copy your math homework” variety. The “I boink other girls” variety. So yeah…It was a little awkward.
I don’t know if it is because I was so concerned with the date going well or because the movie legitimately wasn’t up my alley, but I left the theater with a less than stellar opinion of the 2006 movie “The Last Kiss”. To me, the movie seemed relatively pointless. Why would I want to watch Zach Braff cheat on his lovely girlfriend (played by Jacinda Barrett of Real World London fame) to go run around with a child in college played by Rachel Bilson? What was the point of this? Was I supposed to sympathize with this greedy dude taking advantage of young impressionable girls?
At the time, I was about to turn 23. My date was a couple of years older, and, at the time, I was still too young and naïve to realize he was just one of many guys I was going to encounter in the next eight years who was scared to death of settling into anything.
You can credit growing old, I suppose. Working around the notoriously unsettled poker community probably deserves some credit too. Either way, what I didn’t know then is a lesson I have learned in spades now: The Zach Braff character isn’t a horrible person—he’s just a guy nearing 30 who is absolutely petrified that he may commit to something that isn’t what he wants.
Upon rewatching this movie on a whim a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly felt like I was being educated, not irritated. To hear Braff’s character talk to his friends about why he can’t commit to marrying his girlfriend even though he is having a baby with her didn’t seem as whiny as it did that first time around. I mean, as a female who doesn’t have commitment issues, I am on the girlfriend’s side here, but I also began to comprehend just why this situation that seems so unassuming to me can be so frightening to guys. The scenes in which Braff and his collection of male friends interacted felt like a glimpse inside the minds of the dudes who had baffled me the past eight years. Oh, I thought. Finally someone is articulating what these guys could never quite say.
But, much like Sex and the City, I wonder how much I misunderstood the movie as opposed to how much I have changed over the years. The way I viewed the “other woman” character makes me think this movie isn’t necessarily aging well, it is more that my age is giving me a better perspective to appreciate it. Originally, I felt terrible for the Bilson character, a seemingly naïve college student who believed this man really cared about her, believed he was leaving his girlfriend, and believed she wasn’t doing anything that bad.
On the second viewing though, I basically found her to be Darth Vader. Just completely evil. This girl was scheming, conniving, manipulative, and freaking dangerous. She knew exactly what to say to get her way. She also knew this dude was very much taken and not going to not be taken without her pushing the issue. So, she did all the stuff that gives us girls a bad name. Pretending she is fine with a situation she is not fine with, then acting crazy when she doesn’t get her way. She was something out of The Hills—a frightening Kristin Cavallari clone who revels in manipulating people and situations.
If you’re reading between the lines here, I am officially a chick in her 30s who realizes how difficult it is to compete with girls in their 20s who learned all those girly lessons Dolores never taught me because Dolores didn’t know a damn thing about how to get a guy to do what she wanted.
If you’re reading between the lines of this whole post, what was an awkward first date in 2006 was a life lesson about why so many of these first dates didn’t pan out over the past eight years. It was some reassurance to us girls that the problem isn’t always that we aren’t good enough. It was a tragedy of why relationships can be so hard. And it was yet another reminder in a recent string of reminders that, as I get older, things that used to make no sense at all can suddenly become crystal clear.
I Couldn’t Help But Reminisce About Sex and the City
When people ask about my favorite television shows, I always seem to forget “Sex and the City”. In the ten years since the show has gone off the air, I have to admit I had kind of forgotten about it. I caught the movie on TV, but didn’t bother to see it in theaters. I openly rolled my eyes when I saw the trailer of “Sex and the City 2”, a movie I knew immediately I never wanted to watch.
I am not sure what exactly happened along the trajectory from loving this show to openly mocking its movie sequel. In college I was rather fond of the show. My roommates and I would obtain VHS tapes with episodes from a family member wealthy enough to have HBO. We would laugh at the antics, though most of them seemed pretty outlandish, identifying with each of the characters (for those wondering, I am a Charlotte. Let’s be honest though…most girls say they are Charlotte).
As I got older and started to grow my list of favorite TV shows, this one slipped through the cracks. Given that I could only see a small sliver of myself in one of four ladies of the show, it felt farcical. It felt fluffy.
It also didn’t help that I genuinely hated the leading lady Carrie Bradshaw. She was self-absorbed, she never asked questions about her friends, and she would instantly leave her gal pals at the curb if a guy came calling. Then there was the Aidan thing. As a 20-year-old, I thought Aidan Shaw was the most perfectly-crafted male character in television history. He was rugged, yet sensitive. He designed and made gorgeous wood furniture. He had a dog named Pete. And he loved Carrie so much. Carrie, on the other hand, was always kind of horrible to Aidan. No more so than when she cheated on him with the on-again-off-again troubled soul Mr. Big.
I hated Carrie SO much, flames…flames on the side of my face.
The other week, my friend Cory mentioned she was rewatching the show. We shared some laughs over how awkward the show was back in Season 1, where HBO still envisioned some sort of sexual and dating anthropology project more like the book. I realized it had been many years since I had watched the show for more than just five minutes on the E Network.
I began with Season 2 and, after no more than five episodes, I realized this show was incredibly good. Well-written, the themes of the episode structured perfectly, this show wasn’t just funny, it was a remarkably spot on story of single life with nearly every narrative bearing some resemblance to a story that had happened to me or one of my friends (except Samantha, whose life continues to bear no resemblance to any woman I have ever met).
I couldn’t help but wonder…did this show get better with age and perspective, or did I?
I think I was not the only one who became increasingly more down on the show the further removed I got from its initial airings. As shows like The Wire and Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad came along, SATC was cast aside as insignificant.
Emily Nussbaum wrote a great essay last year explaining how much these shows owed a debt of gratitude to Carrie, for she, not Tony Soprano, was the first anti-hero of the so-called Golden Age of Television.
Nussbaum’s thoughts on Carrie sum up my new feelings on a character I thought I knew so well. Don’t get me wrong, upon second viewing, I still have a long list of things I dislike about her. The difference is, this time around, I don’t hate her for it.
In fact, this time around, Carrie scares me more than anything else. Some might say I am a Carrie. After all, I am a writer, I do love my footwear, and my hair will go from curly to stick straight in the blink of an eye. Seeing this show again, I realized Carrie and I were much closer than I was comfortable with. What felt so light and fluffy at 20 felt like the humorous pathos of Mike Birbiglia at 30. Funny not because it is outrageous, but funny because it is in that sweet spot of truth between laughing and crying.
In college, I felt like none of my romances compared to the show. In hindsight I realize I had a collegiate Mr. Big, he was just 19 and still a good decade away from growing up and manning up. There was never going to be a Paris rescue for us. In my youth, I wanted to think my serious relationships were ahead of me. I was a funny kid.
I watch Aidan and Carrie now and laugh that either of them ever thought this was a relationship that could work. I can see his part in this. I can see how she did what she did.
I can also see this show more clearly for what it is, which is a romantic drama, protecting itself from the painful stuff in a sheen of sarcasm, puns, and outrageous jokes. Just like all the girls who rely on this show to learn lessons about the plain girls and the Katie girls, what happens to the last girls to leave the party, and how to have your pity party, because, yes, you have every right to be exhausted, but realize no one is picking you up except you, and, if you’re lucky, your best friends.
This show may not be the perfect friend. It may teach some life lessons, but way more dangerous than encouraging irresponsible spending and casual sex, it perpetuates the myth the guy who never quite wants you as much as you want him will one day wake up and realize you’re amazing. But even your best friends tell you little white lies sometime. The really good ones drift in and out of your life a bit too, but when you need them, there they are, growing up right there with you ready to help you whenever you need advice.
Guardians of the Comedic Comic Book Movie
It feels like I might be the only one out there these days, but I don’t like comic book movies. I don’t even much care for comics. As a kid I was more into books. The comics I do remember having were mostly Disney-related, Ducktales I think (a woo hoo). They were okay I suppose, but the budding snob in little me wrote it off as kid’s stuff.
As I grew older, I never got into super hero movies, with one exception. I loved Batman, namely the old episodes of the Burt Ward and Adam West show that would run on cable late at night. It was at this point in my life that I discovered two words I would learn to love: camp and kitsch. The on-screen “Ka-Blams!” and “Pows!” were great. The movie, which assembled all of the villains of Gotham on a submarine (yes, a submarine), was the most outrageously campy thing I’d ever seen and I loved every minute of it, especially the Bat Shark Repellent.
It took me a while to get into the Tim Burton Batmans, but by the time Joel Schumacher got his hands on the franchise for Batman Forever, I had caught up to the Batman curve, and, even though most people hated it, my friends and I loved it. After all, Chris O’Donnell. But in addition to our crush du jour, the movie, which is best remembered for the villains The Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones) than Batman (Val Kilmer…yeah…).
Here’s where I’m going to lose you though. I would watch Batman Forever a hundred times over if offered the option between it and any of the Christopher Nolan movies, which I universally detest. They are just so damned serious. Kids, he is a guy dressed up like a flying rodent. His peers include Bartok, Batty Koda, and Dracula. He’s not Hamlet. So why are we making these movies that are just so serious? Same goes for Daredevil, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, X-Men, Thor, and the pensive Ang Lee-directed Incredible Hulk.
I just can’t take the severity. The fun of comic books to me has always been the camp and the irreverence, which is why The Avengers is just about the only super hero movie I’d abided by in the past five years—until Guardians of the Galaxy came around. I had written off the move based on the trailer, telling my friends, “I just don’t think I can get behind a raccoon with a machine gun.”
I was wrong though. I fully support the machine gun, the raccoon, the talking tree, and every other absurd part of this movie. I don’t even care that the ending (mild spoiler alert) basically amounts to the Guardians linking arms and doing the Care Bear Stare. Because this movie was what all the other comic book movies weren’t—It was a ton of fun.
Rather than blame the raccoon, he was really a great example of why this movie worked. The movie kind of openly acknowledges the story is stupid and doesn’t really matter. From the awesome title shot with a dancing Chris Pratt, you understand this is just supposed to be a romp that you don’t think too hard about. In fact, if you start to think through some of the logic points, you’ll start getting annoyed cause some of them don’t make a ton of sense.
The only part of the movie that was a drag? All the stuff with Thanos, the villain of the next Avengers movie. Yes, the Marvel universe needs to keep raking in the millions, but this trans-film storytelling is effing obnoxious, especially if you are doing everything in your power to avoid it.
So, if you’re on the fence about Guardians of the Galaxy, I encourage you to jump on over. As someone who hates comic book movies, and, as a result, hates most of the big blockbusters these days, I wasn’t just pleasantly surprised, I was genuinely giddy that finally these comic book movies are getting fun again.
Here’s hoping they keep it up…
Your Move, Chief
There is a moment in The Fisher King where Robin Williams’ character, Parry, a deeply disturbed homeless man, says goodnight to his love interest Lydia (Amanda Plummer) after a perfect first date. As he stands in front of her stoop, smiling about their first kiss, the filmic manifestation of his inner troubles, The Red Knight, appears down the street on horseback. Knowing this hallucination means a breakdown is imminent, Parry falls to his knees in the middle of the road and desperately begs for the demons to stop haunting him. “Please let me have this,” he cries. He does not get it though.
When I watched that scene last night, my eyes welled up as I realized how eerily fitting the moment was for the day. I don’t often think about the aftermath of the date when I think about The Fisher King. I think about the moment immediately preceding it, where this nonsensical, crazy homeless man gives Lydia the kind of pep talk that only works in movies. It is a speech about how incredible she is, delivered to her after she admits all her insecurities about dating and men, insecurities I think just about any girl can relate to. It is a speech I have spent the better part of 20 years returning to, cueing it up after a rough first date or a guy got my number and never called.
As a teenager, I had the words of this monologue Scotch-taped to the wall of my bedroom. Once I got into high school, the childhood posters, including the menacing hook from Hook, slowly came down, replaced by a massive collage of movie magazine pictures and typed-up versions of some of my favorite lines from my favorite movies. There was The Fisher King, Ben Affleck’s monologue from Chasing Amy, the park bench opus from Good Will Hunting, the hellfires and holocausts speech from Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, and more than one Keating speech from Dead Poets Society just posted up around the room. I thought it was arty. My mom thought I was using too much Scotch tape.
Eventually I gave up on the stuffed animal hammock in the corner of the room, which housed my Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids, and my darling Apu from Aladdin, just one of many pieces of merchandise from the film I watched relentlessly as my elementary school days came to a close. My obsession with movie materials shifted from toys to videos themselves, and I began to amass a collection of VHS tapes. Early on, with minimal allowance money and the trips to Suncoast Video at the mall few and far between, I co-opted some of the family library, starting with Mrs. Doubtfire and Cool Runnings.
The toys went in the closet for a little while, but eventually ended up in storage to make room for a growing collection of vintage clothing. I raided my mom’s old belongings, taking her denim blazer, her vinyl jacket with butterflies stitched on the back, and an inexplicable amount of tapestry-like vests made of yarn. Mom and Dad lived in Boulder for much of the 1970s, and, believe it or not, Dolores got kind of granola-y for a little while. I fashioned myself Pam Dawber from Mork and Mindy, a 1970s gem also set in Colorado, that was part of the great Nick at Night era of my preteen days. My best friend Lindsay and I would tape the marathon nights of our favorite shows when the channel ran Block Party Summer, then we’d watch the tapes over and over again, laughing at the humor, silently patting ourselves on the back for discovering entertainment our peers, who were more preoccupied with Chris Farley and Adam Sandler, naively thumbed their noses at, not realizing what they were missing.
As high school wound down, the colors of my wardrobe muted and I started shopping at Express more often than Gadzooks. I still brought my lunch to school in vintage tin TV lunchboxes, but it was time to grow up and look ahead to things like college. The application process was pretty daunting, as I picked too many schools to apply to, and many, including my dream school, USC, had a second application for the film program. The application required two essays. The first, was a discussion of a movie that made you love movies. I chose Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a movie at least five other kids accepted to the program chose as well. The second submission was supposed to be a film review. I chose Dead Poets Society, as I thought it reflected my serious side. I wrote as eloquently as a 17 year old could about the beautiful yet stark snowy landscapes, the subdued performance of Robin Williams, and how much of the important stuff in that movie happened offscreen, believing at the time that this was some sort of keen observation, the kind that could get a girl into film school.
I did get into film school. I even met a boy there, just days after beginning freshman year. We went on long walks and talked about movies, and moonily stared into each other’s eyes. I was too timid at the time to show him too many of my favorites, because I always liked the Classical Hollywood stuff my USC peers didn’t appreciate as much. I pretended to enjoy the Kubrick movies he made me watch. I suffered alongside him when he had to watch and critique the original The Wicker Man.
Then he showed me The World According to Garp, a small and peculiar little film from the 80s that captured my heart. It was John Lithgow as the pro footballer turned transvestite that steals the show, while it was a young Robin Williams who anchored the film as the titular Garp, stepping back to let Lithgow have the limelight. I showed him The Fisher King in return. He said he liked it. I think he was telling the truth.
Now, at 30, my room is devoid of the movie posters and the monologues. Just one stuffed animal remains, tucked away in the closet for no one to see. But when news of Robin Williams passing got to me, I immediately felt the pang of loss nonetheless. He had been there for all of it, my childhood and adolescence. Not just there, a central figure. When I was a kid having a rough time grieving over her dad, he was there to make me laugh. He solidified the relationship between me and the best friend I will ever have, as two girls who spent an hour freaking out at the realization that Mork from Ork first showed up on Happy Days before getting his own show. He was even around for my first big love, helping us find some common ground between two hugely different tastes.
No matter what age though, his sentimentality was always present, keeping me hopeful and my chin up. He played characters who suffered, but still found joy in the little things. He could deliver a big, arguably naively optimistc, monologue about seizing the day or the joys of a first kiss and I would buy every second of it, even though I knew this was just a fairy tale from the movies.
To watch a scene that has had as profound an impact on me as the first date of The Fisher King only to have it followed by the gutpunch of a man pleading on his knees to just have a little happiness before the sadness overwhelms him again was just too much to take. It was too poetic, too spot on, and just too sad. This man never met me, but he was a massive part of the life of a girl obsessed with pop culture, who sought hope in long monologues and found it there. To think a man who likely inspired that kind of hope and enthusiasm in most kids of my generation couldn’t inspire it in himself is devastating. As the tear rolled down my cheek, as Parry sprinted down the streets trying and failing to outrun his demons, I fell into a deep sadness, the kind I needed a Robin Williams monologue to snap out of.
So You Think You Know Feet
Last week on “So You Think You Can Dance”, I was wholly underwhelmed at the performances, then dealt a punishing blow as two of my favorites, Carly and Serge, were eliminated instead of Casey (whose existence on this show I still have to be reminded of each week) and Jessica (aka Muggylicious).
This week, the top ten performed, this time being paired with All Star members of past SYTYCD casts. Perhaps the influx of exceptional talent explains why four of these dances truly struck me and only a couple struck me as duds. Trying to pick one number proved impossible, but I did manage to narrow my favorites of the week down to two. The first one might surprise you…
Yup, that’s right, it’s Jessica. And she is still entirely too muggy for my tastes. Just watch her and you’ll notice that, unlike her partner, her expressions don’t really flow. It is literally like she choreographed her face. “On two I am gonna look tough, on four I am gonna pout my lips, and on six I am going to open my mouth as if I have surprised myself with my own adorableness.”
You can find an example of how to make your face work in these character-based routines in her partner, the greatest participant in SYTYCD history, tWitch, who manages to still be adorable and charming even though he has fake gray hair and a pillow stuffed in his stomach. The precision of his moments is astounding, but even more impressive is how they can be so sharp and yet so fluid. Jessica, who is a jazz dancer by trade, does a great job of keeping her moves crisp and clean, but up against a lifelong hiphopper like tWitch, you can’t help but notice his groove is just unparalleled.
Both do a great job, but most of the kudos go to the choreographers, marrid duo Tabitha and Napoleon aka NappyTabs. These two are some of my favorites on the show, because they can take a genre like hip hop and put it to 1930s style music, turning into a character piece that has more in common with a Looney Tunes cartoon than a dance to a rap song.Props as well to the costume designers, who help these two really channel their characters with some solid styling.
The second number I want to talk about is about as polar opposite from this first one as is possible. Labeled a “contemporary ballet” piece, this duo with Chehon and Jacque (she is the contestant, while Chehon is the All Star) is stark, minimalistic, and just stunning to fans of ballet.
So, if you’re not too into dance, this is probably too inside baseball for you. This is for hardcore dance fans who appreciate lines, musicality, and just watching people with exceptional technique show off their exceptional technique.
Rather than try to win you over to the greatness of this piece, let me instead explain why it is a big deal this is happening on the show. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, tap and ballet are incredibly precise dance genres. It takes a lifetime to master them, and, unlike other, less technique-based genres, it simply isn’t fair to ask the contestants to try and pick them up in the span of a week.
You’ll notice Jacque is on pointe (ie wearing pointe shoes). Believe it or not, you can’t really ask some of these girls to put those on, even if they are accomplished dancers. The tapper Valerie, for example, would likely hurt herself if she tried to do that if she doesn’t have ballet training.
When I was eight or so, my dance teacher told me I was ready to start training for pointe. I spent the entire summer between second and third grade training my ankles in preparation, taking strengthening classes twice a week for three months before I put on my first pair of shoes.
The name toe shoes is deceptive. Yes, you are on your toes, but your toes are jammed into a hard box that makes up the front of the shoe. Many girls stuff that box with lambs wool or cotton or gel pads to reduce the pain, but it isn’t so much because your toes are bearing your weight, but because the knuckles of your toes are rubbing up against a hard surface, causing blisters. I pause to offer my one tough girl brag: by the time I reached my peak ballet dancing, I would stick my bare foot in my pointe shoe and go, no padding at all. This is why I can clomp around in very high heels all day with no problem.
Point (no pun intended) I am trying to get to is this: your ankles do all the work when you’re on pointe, so unless they are exceptionally strong, it is legitimately dangerous to stick pointe shoes on a girl without proper training. With that in mind, watch this video, look at Jacque’s feet, and notice how she makes these shoes, which probably weigh at least a pound each, look weightless. Also notice that there are several sections where Chehon is dragging her and then she rolls up onto pointe, which requires more ankle strength than you or I will ever possess. Also note that she is always completely on top of the toe of her shoe, the sign of an accomplished ballerina. Girls who aren’t as experience stand at a bit of an angle with the front of their shoe not completely on the floor. Watch this seven year old and you can see what I mean.
This is what being a dance fan turns you into…a foot fetishist.
Won’t Look Down, Won’t Open My Eyes
I’ve mentioned before that I used to be a competition dancer. I put on more make-up than is probably socially acceptable for children in most of the United States, I put on an outfit with more sequins than your average stripper uniform, and I pranced about to pop songs, songs from musicals, and twee classical music.
I have somewhat mixed emotions about the experience in hindsight. When I was in it, it didn’t seem as pageant-like as it really was. I still can’t wear eyeliner as a result of it. I appreciate the love of dance it fostered in me, but it was only after I moved on from that type of dancing that I felt a sense of artistry really began to develop within me as a performer.
Perhaps that is why I am so fascinated with Sia’s video for her catchy song, “Chandelier”. The vid features Maddie Ziegler of “Dance Moms” fame, an 11 year old girl who is constantly renowned on the show for her incredible dance abilities, but always seems to be a little too artificial when it comes to the emotion that is supposed to accompany her various performances. This artificiality is something that gets pointed out a lot in competition dance, so it isn’t surprising and it isn’t even Ziegler’s fault. She was likely taught this is what it means to emotionally connect with music. Plus, she is 11, so come on, we’re obviously gonna cut the girl some slack.
But this video…this video struck me as really powerful. I think a lot of it is the song itself, while most of the credit goes to Ryan Heffington for his remarkable and striking choreography. Ziegler though deserves a lot of love here, because, I mean, just look at her:
Some people find the video creepy. Others suggest it sexualizes the girl, which, if you ask me, seems more like your problem than the video’s problem, not gonna lie. Most people find themselves really struck at how this girl, to borrow a phrase from Center Stage, dances the shit out of it. This is some really complicated and emotionally charged choreography and she handles it deftly. Personally, my favorite sequence is at the kitchen table, where she lifts herself up by her hair and offers a sideways, longing glance, propping her chin up on her hands. The look is perfect, as anyone who has ever had a sense of longing will recognize it right away.
What I am wondering though, is how the heck this 11 year old knows about longing looks. Sure, at 11, I longed for Christian Slater or for my fifth grade crush Jacob to talk to me, but did I really understand the emotion enough to manufacture a look like that? When I was 11, I was dancing a duet to “Polka Dots, Checks, and Stripes”, which is not exactly a song that runs the gamut of intense emotions. Mostly we were instructed to “smile big” and the awards came rolling in.
Being the obsessive person that I am, I went on a search to learn more about this video and quickly learned that Ziegler basically got the same type of instruction. Instead of “smile big”, it sounds like the directors would tell her, “Great job, again, this time crazier eyes, mmkay?”
I’m not really sure what I was expecting. “Oh yes, the director and I sat and discussed my character for hours. I spent a couple of days living with young addicts and alcoholics, and, because I am a Method dancer, I even experimented with alcohol and cocaine.”
Yet, there was a part of me that was disappointed this gal wasn’t some sort of secret artistic genius. I think it might be for selfish reasons. After all, I watched two seasons of her “Dance Moms” performances and always felt like I saw right through her. Then, she duped me.
Dupe might be a strong word. There is still a piece of me that believes she is starting to channel that inner artist now that she is being exposed to new choreographers and more challenging choreography. Or, that maybe she is downplaying the conversations between her and the director because they are probably a little uncomfortable and embarrassing that just saying “more crazy eyes” seemed like an easier response.
Mostly though, I try to put it out of my mind and not think too hard about it, perhaps because it is too disconcerting to believe an 11 year old can emotionally grasp that feeling us big girls have of trying to hold it together and fake it until we make it. Those dance competitions may not have taught me much about eyeliner application, but, like little Maddie Ziegler, they started to condition me at a very young age to always put on that “big smile” and convince people I am doing just fine, even though I may be on the verge of bursting, longing to swing on that chandelier.
How Will Boyhood Age?
To say Richard Linklater’s newest film “Boyhood” relies on a gimmick seems unfair, yet it seems to be the conclusion I keep returning to two days after watching the movie.
For those unfamiliar, “Boyhood” is a remarkable film because of the production process, which began in 2002 and filmed the same actors growing up over the course of a dozen years. The boy whose “hood” is in question is played by Ellar Coltrane, who was cast when he was in first grade and is now almost 20 years old. The stars aligned and this kid turned out to be a not half bad performer, nor did Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, who plays the boy’s older sister. Their actors playing their parents are unsurprisingly good performers, as they are Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette.
Don’t get me wrong, the performances are great, the conceit is interesting, and the film’s episodes as the boy ages are often poignant, compelling, and beautifully shot. But when I think about the movie, trying to separate the conceit from the other elements of the film that I use to evaluate whether or not I like a movie proved basically impossible.
In fact, some of the most enjoyable parts of “Boyhood” for me came after the movie was over. The extratextual elements (read: things about the movie that aren’t in the movie, such as reviews, the poster, the trailer, interviews with cast and crew, etc) are fascinating, and I found myself reading tons of interviews with Linklater, learning about stories from the set, how the screenplay was crafted chunks at a time, changing based on Coltrane’s own experiences and what kind of kid he grew up to be, and how the little Linklater at one point wanted to quit the movie.
It is not unusual that these elements can enhance a film experience, but I am always one who likes to believe that a truly great movie does not need this boost from the outside to be worthwhile. As soon as the credits rolled on “Boyhood”, my friends and I immediately started to discuss questions we wanted answers to, articles we had read, and how it seemed like our movie viewing experience wouldn’t be finished without more info.
Being a purist, this is not something I champion as a good thing, necessarily. Sure, it isn’t a bad thing, but can you really say you’ve made a good movie if I need to know the production history in order to fully appreciate it? If I walked in and didn’t know it was the same boy and girl and just assumed it was an instance of remarkably good work casting different actors, would I still like this movie as much as I do knowing it is the same people?
While I can’t answer a lot of my lingering questions about “Boyhood”, I can say the answer to that last question is a resounding no. This is a lovely coming of age story, but some of the plot developments are rather clunkily telegraphed (Arquette’s romantic conquests are a prime example). You can also tell Linklater was trying to leave things pretty open in the second act since he wasn’t quite sure what kind of teenager Coltrane would grow up to be, resulting in some scenes that feel a little too meandering for my tastes.
I think, for many devotees of Linklater, the mere act of pulling off this 12-year project makes this movie a masterpiece. I will give him this: the movie is a unique experiment and deserves accolades for pulling it off at all, let alone pulling it off with a movie that works on many levels.
But those of you who trumpet this thing as a masterpiece just because of the conceit are the same folks who won’t watch “Citizen Kane” because it is dated. Guess what though? This movie gets the accolades it does for many of the same reasons “Boyhood” does—because it did things first. The cinematography of Kane remains influential fifty plus years later and the film deserves recognition for that. The overall impression of Kane as a film, independent of the extratextual elements, is slowly waning though. I’ll admit, it is kind of long and hits the same beats a lot. Kinda like “Boyhood”…
So, after all that, I still don’t really know how to evaluate how much “Boyhood” succeeds. Perhaps I am being a contrarian, but the universal acclaim for this movie surprises me a little. Richard Roeper claims it is one of the best film ever made, while The Guardian suggests it is one of the best movies of the decade. Maybe I am missing something, but, other than the gimmick, there is nothing particularly exceptional about this movie. Yes, the gimmick is exceptional, but in 20 years, will this movie still be as Earth-shattering to critics as it is now? I don’t think so, but I do think it will hold a rightful place in film history as a movie that took an incredibly difficult concept and pulled it off, getting us to reconsider what exactly movies are capable of accomplishing. That is something that deserves recognition, but I don’t know if it deserves to give the movie instant classic status or not.
Take a Bite Out of Marquel Martin
So lady friends of mine—we have to talk. Today, I learned that any of you who watch The Bachelorette have been keeping something very important from me. His name is Marquel Martin. He is apparently a sports sponsorship salesman living in Las Vegas who loves to watch Netflix, drink wine, and eat cookies.
If you are single, I do not blame you for keeping this from me. It is a tough world for single gals and you have to hide the honey pot when you find it. To those of you happily married or in relationships, shame on you!
THE MAN LOVES COOKIES. COOKIES!
As I have said to anyone who will listen, chocolate chip cookies are truly the best dessert in the world unless you count cookie cake, which adds frosting to the otherwise flawless concoction. The more I learned about this Bachelorette contestant, the more I wondered why you all dislike me so much that you would not fill me in on his existence. Do you want me to die alone? Do I not deserve this happiness? Do any of you know me at all?
He is a former UNLV football player. He lives in the same town as me. And cookies! And wine! And look at his charming smile. We could spend our Friday night cruising Netflix, our Saturday catching all the college football games, and our Sundays with the NFL and planning our awesome wedding with cookie cake wedding cake.
I have no idea what crazy Bachelorette Andi was thinking sending this man home, but I will tell you this—I have two oaths I will swear here and now on this blog:
1. I will add Marquel to the list with Aaron Turner of Las Vegas-based reality contestants I will find if it is the last thing I do.
2. Yo, ABC, if you make this guy the next Bachelor, I will 100% watch the show even though I have never watched any of your previous 17 seasons.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to go get a cookie and see about a fella.
So You Think I’m Disappointed?
Last week, I told you all why Carly is going to win this season of So You Think You Can Dance. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. She was eliminated this week just shy of the top ten. How she fell to the bottom while others like Bridget advanced is surprising, but the fact the judges saved the obnoxious Jessica instead of Carly is not.
This is a recurring theme with the judges, who repeatedly save the unlikable blonde who is perpetually in the bottom three. America has said “no thank you” and the judges’ response is, “try again please.”
This happened a couple of seasons ago with not one but two boring blondes from Utah, Lindsay and Witney [sic]. Both these girls had the same ballroom skillset and both these girls were soundly rejected by America, sent to the bottom week after week.
Such is the case with Jessica, who has the very large problem of mugging too much. Case in point:
Note how she opens her mouth and closes her mouth with aplomb. See me? I’m e-mote-ing! I know some people find her slinky sex kitten schtick appealing (most notably, judge Nigel Lythgoe), but from a technical standpoint, she just doesn’t stand out to me compared to the likes of Carly and Tanisha. Moreover she lacks the personality of a less-talented dancer like Valerie.
But rather than harp on the negative, let’s look to the positive. I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the couples routines, but once again the two group numbers stole the show. While Travis Wall put together an impressive routine for the guys, I find myself watching the girls piece over and over thanks to the unexpected choreography of Mandy Moore.
Just watch and observe how visually catching it is to have one girl moving forward while the rest walk upstage. It is really striking. Plus, let’s be honest, girls’ bare backs are gorgeous.
While I would, once again, like to point out how eye catching Carly is (she is the one in the lightest lilac dress whose solo section comes around halfway through, but it is worth saying that all seven of these girls are completely committed to this routine. This is part of what I love most about SYTYCD. You can tell when the dancers are just head over heels for a piece and you can tell these gals are all thrilled to pieces to be dancing this thing.
Now we move to the top ten and the introduction of the All-Star component of the competition, where the noobs are paired with fan favorites of seasons past. In other words, things are about to get good, so stay tuned.
Wishing I Was Watching More Zach Braff Movies
I don’t know when people decided to apologize for liking Garden State, but I really wish I was around when this shift took place. I very distinctly recall when the movie came out ten years ago and all of us fawned all over it, myself included. I found my adoration justified. This movie channeled what I felt as a twentysomething perfectly. That desire to feel less like you were ambling through everything and that your life was headed in some sort of direction and had some sort of purpose.
I will not apologize for liking the quirky moments of the movie like silent Velcro, the African exchange student, and the tryst with the guy from Medieval Times. I won’t apologize for the soundtrack either, because you can claim the movie has aged, but this soundtrack is still sheer perfection. And I certainly won’t apologize for the fact that it replicates an experience common among white middle class Gen-X/Millenials, because white middle class Gen-X/Millenials need movies too.
I’m also not going to apologize for the fact that I rather enjoyed Braff’s new film, Wish I Was Here, for many of the same reasons. In reading the reviews, it seems like many people are raking Braff over the coals for treading familiar territory, but I don’t really see anything wrong with that. Woody Allen basically remade one-third of Crimes and Misdemeanors as Match Point. Richard Linklater gets immense praise for the Before Sunrise trilogy, which tracks the same characters from the night they met in Paris to present day. You could have told me the lead character in Wish I Was Here was Andrew Largeman and, other than wondering what happened to Natalie Portman, that would have been fine by me.
Perhaps it is just an instance of good timing, but Wish I Was Here very much captures the way I feel at 30, just like Garden State captured the way I felt at 20. I am currently changing a lot of things in my life and asking a lot of questions about what I want out of my future. This whole movie asks us to think about what we should be doing with our lives. Braff’s character confronts the many different paths his life could take. As his ailing father fails to hide his disappointment in his son, Braff’s character Aidan dwells on how he failed to please his father. Seeking council from a rabbi, Aidan is reminded he needs to be a good father, perhaps needing to take a path to please his children. His wife, played exceptionally well by Kate Hudson, points out the sacrifices she made for him and suggests she deserves some sacrifices in return.
However, Aidan clings on to the idea that he deserves to pursue his own dream, which is an acting career. Many reviews suggest this guy’s need to be less selfish and grow up is too simplistic, a cry for pity that isn’t deserved. Honestly though, while this may be a first world problem or the type of thing where people just want to say “man up” and move on, I am not ashamed to admit this seems like worthwhile territory to explore.
After years of my generation and younger being raised to believe they are special, what happens when the inevitable truth that we are not special sinks in? I know this sounds petty when I put words to cyber paper, but as silly as it sounds, there is a certain amount of depression that sets in when you realize your life isn’t going to be what you envisioned. In this movie, Aidan isn’t just grieving for his father, he is grieving for that time in his life which was still so full of possibility, where it still seemed reasonable to believe his big dreams would come true.
And though it may be twee and though it may be a movie all about first world problems, Braff directs the film so earnestly that I can’t help but buy in and follow along. Braff isn’t afraid of feeling and admitting he is sad and that his brain is reeling from issues that may not seem as important to other people as they feel to him. This is a flaw in many critics’ eyes, but to me, it is Braff’s greatest strength. Culture these days seems to be more than willing to be unironically and openly happy and optimistic, but there still seems to be much resistance to expressing feelings like sadness or regret without some sort of edge or irony. All of the praised dramas have to be dire with high stakes. There has to be dead girls or meth heads or homeless people. Being sad about the loss of a parent and questioning what direction your life is headed simply aren’t serious enough. To dwell in these questions gets written off as self-indulgent.
But, y’all, let’s be real for a minute—in this day and age, people are selfish. They do worry about these seemingly petty things, and they worry about them a lot, at least I do. For my generation, nobody seems to be able to channel that angst and present it in a way that can be both entertaining and cathartic the way Braff does. I often question some of this criticism about his self-pity, because when I watch both Garden State and Wish I Was Here, I see a protagonist who is depicted as a bit of a screw up. Braff never presents himself as a person to feel sorry for and that is it. Aidan is clearly a little immature, that is intentional. It is a magnified version of a problem plenty of people my age have, presented in a way where we can both wallow in it a little, but laugh at ourselves and keep us from taking it too, too seriously.
So, I will continue to eagerly turn over my money to see his movies or fund them on Kickstarter or do whatever I can do to produce more dramas that spend more time questioning expectations between parents and children and less time brutalizing women or murdering your enemies or whatever the hell else always seems to happen on these “prestige” TV shows.
You can call him self-absorbed or whiny or filled with self-pity, but as I see it, Braff is one of the few filmmakers out there putting out material that bears an iota of resemblance to a life I lead. I don’t need my entertainment to mirror my life all the time, but having a guy like him out there producing movies that helps me reflect on my own life is simply something I am never going to apologize for.
Have you heard of ‘Utopia’? It’s coming soon from FOX and is basically ‘Kid Nation’ with adults and now I just miss ‘Kid Nation’ and I think you’re the only one who understands that.
So I Think I Have a Problem
I used to watch a lot of reality TV back in the day, but lately I have culled many of shows from the roster. Gone are most of the Food Network shows, Project Runway (yes, I am still that salty about Jeffrey Sebelia), Survivor, American Idol, Big Brother, The Voice, and even The Amazing Race unless there is a compelling All-Star season.
What remains are just five shows: Two Real Housewives franchises (OC and NYC), MTV’s The Challenge, Top Chef, and the mother of them all: So You Think You Can Dance.
I’ve written before about my love of dancing, so this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to anyone who knows me. This show isn’t just great because I like dancing though. It is one of those reality TV shows that is very rarely about the production and the BS and the politics. These are people who have legitimately trained their entire lives for this opportunity and the hard work comes through as they perform an array of exceptionally difficult routines.
Each week, I tend to have one number I obsess over, watching numerous times, marveling at the choreography and the dancers’ artistry, be it bringing it hard in a hip hop number or remaining gleefully chipper during a nonstop Bollywood routine. In the past, I’ve tended to post them on FB or Twitter, but for my non-dancer friends, they may not understand just how hard something is or why it is so impressive.
Just the other day, I was talking with my friend who is also a fan of the show about one of the contestants, Valerie. First of all, this girl is the stinking cutest thing you’ve ever seen and her face is just magnetic when she performs. Her “genre” (each of the dancers gets defined by their specialty) is tap, which she excels at. Thing is though, while she is a great performer, technically she is most certainly the weakest in the bunch when it comes to the other genres. This isn’t surprising. The skill set to be a good tapper does not easily translate into other types of dancing. You carry your weight in a very unique way, transitioning it up and down depending on the steps. You keep more weight in your feet than you do in genres like ballet. To excel at tap, you also have to remain relatively loose and fluid in order to make sure your feet make all the correct sounds. In tap, you can hear when people are wrong.
When I explained to my friend that Valerie lacks the sharpness of the other competitors, she was surprised. I told her to watch more closely next time and see that her arms are never quite in the right place, she rarely knows what to do with her fingers, and moving at the torso, something relatively unfamiliar to tappers, proves difficult for her.
She was shocked, but interested, so I thought I would try something new with my SYTYCD obsession and explain why I get obsessed with these routines and point out things non-dance people might not notice. For example, this week, my favorite girl competitor Carly nearly broke her leg and no one spoke a word about it.
The video above is a mini group number from last week choreographed by Travis Wall, who is normally a contemporary choreographer, but pulls off an incredibly staged jazz piece here. First, just watch it through and take in how he takes advantage of the entire stage with the movements, plus how he choreographs with the camera in mind.
On the second time through, I want you to pay very close attention starting at the 0:56 minute mark. The girl being hoisted in the air is Carly. First off, can I just point off how much trust you have to have in these people to do what she is doing? When you do a lift like that, all of your tension is from the knee down because that is the part of your body being held by the lifters. She is letting her knees go to jelly and just has faith they will push her back up and not drop her.
Okay, as they are coming out of that trick, keep your eye on Carly and the tall white boy, Teddy, who was the one holding her feet during the lift. As the group splits into the next formation, note that the two of them appear to be fighting. This is not the choreography. What happened is Carly’s foot got caught in the top of Teddy’s jacket. Unaware she was stuck, Teddy took off for his next location, dragging a hopping Carly behind him. He has the presence of mind to drop his jacket and release her, while an unflappable Carly still manages to make it to her spot and kick her leg in the air 180 degrees followed by a flawless double pirouette.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this chick very narrowly avoided a serious injury and did so without missing a beat. And that is why she is gonna win. Sorry, Tanisha.
You know who else is gonna win? This scruffy fella Ricky who starts the number off. If you have the patience to watch this a third time, don’t take your eyes off him. The judges have said this and it is true—this boy is on a whole different technical level than the rest of the field. When he is airborne, look at the control he maintains of every muscle in his body, then ask yourself if you would have any control whatsoever if two dudes flung you in the air as hard as they could.
None of this is easy, so even the worst contestants on this show are still miles better at dancing than I could ever dream to be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t play along, be a critic, and keep telling myself I think I can dance.
The Guilty Remnant
When I was a little kid, my parents would occasionally clash about my tendency to say “sorry” all the time. My dad thought I just figured if I said the word enough times, I could get away with anything. My mom though, she had figured out rather early on that I just felt immensely guilty every time I did the tiniest thing wrong or got in trouble. So, I would say sorry over and over again because I wanted to convey just how badly I felt to have screwed up.
My mom and I were recounting this today and it dawned on me I don’t really know where this tremendous sense of guilt came from. I always assumed it was your standard Catholic guilt, learned from my family after years of attending church. My mom was quick to point out that no one else in our family was like this though.
She’s right. My sister certainly doesn’t have this problem, and was in fact very adept at causing trouble without our parents ever finding out. I, on the other hand, could not sneak an extra cookie without eventually breaking down in a tearful confession.
My mother doesn’t exactly do much she needs to feel guilty about, but she certainly doesn’t stress about things. She can go with the flow, shrug things off, and, most remarkably, simply choose not to think about things that bother her.
The closest I had to a fellow guilt-ridden worry wart of a Welman was, funny enough, my dad. As my mom tells it, his mind raced all the time, but most of it was work-related stuff. His head was always spinning with ideas about computers and engineering, not so much with the interpersonal issues though.
Dolores, of course, blames the birthparents. “You were born with this overwhelming sense of guilt. I did not do that to you. You came that way.”
I raised an eyebrow at the suggestion it is primarily genetic to feel incredibly guilty anytime you screw up. The whole notion of guilt seems like a concept a child doesn’t grasp unless it is explained to them. I don’t think I just fundamentally understood that I should feel badly when I do something that hurts someone’s feelings or disobeyed my parents. So, what my mom said initially sounded pretty ridiculous to me.
She elaborated though, and that is where she got me.
“Your anxious nature is one hundred percent inherited. As long as I can remember, you’ve been an anxious, nervous person, even as a little kid. No matter what I tried to teach you, I couldn’t undo it, so yeah, that is inherited. You’d be surprised how much people are determined by genetics, Jessica.”
She makes a good point, which is basically that my personality is more inclined to latch on to the concept of guilt at a young age, setting me up for a life of feeling a little plagued by it. So, while my excessively guilty conscience does seem like something I picked up at church or from too many after school specials, my worrisome personality that primed me to fall prey to the concept, came upon delivery.
I often wonder how a kid like me, who is so drastically different from my parents and my sibling came to be. It seems too simple to just write it off to genetics. Certainly biologically related people can have a wide range of personalities, right? You couldn’t plunk me in any old family and have me develop a massively guilty conscience every single time. My very straight-laced parents had to make a difference, being Catholic had to make a difference.
The question is how much of a difference? I will never know my birthparents, so it is tough to tell, but maybe my mom is right that many of the things I thought were learned behaviors began with inclinations in my personality that are entirely inherited. I hope that more of it is learned than my mom suspects, because it would sadden me to think I don’t stand as much of a chance at being the genuinely good people my mom and dad are/were. I don’t want to think they won’t rub off on me as much as I thought they would. I don’t want to let the family down after all. Learned or not, disappointing them is the kind of thing I would be just racked with guilt about.