Sunday, December 25, 2016

On Christmas Night I'm Watching Schindler's List

The famous girl in red who serves as a catalyst in the change within Schindler's attitude, symbolizing every Jew he wasn't able to save. 
Let's put everything aside for the moment; Spielberg's first Academy Award, the event that it was that everyone saw, how important it is not only to the Jewish people, but for the world at large, etc. I want to talk about the filmmaking, because if I talked about absolutely everything, I'd never finish this post. 
Most of all, let's talk directing. Spielberg said his decision to shoot in black and white was because he didn't want to 'prettify' any images of the Holocaust. Apparently the studio insisted for a while that he shoot in color, and he assured them that if that was the case, he wouldn't have made the film. The lights and shadows harken to something out of Orson Welles. His long time DP (Director of Photography for the layman) Janusz Kaminski is truly a paragon of his craft. He made the events of the Holocaust and the events in Schindler's life so seamless as he moves from shmoozing with Nazi's in the first scene, the the chaos of Jews pretending that they have 'essential' factory skills so that they would get a blauschein (a blue card) meaning that they could go to work for Schindler (Liam Neeson) instead of being loaded up into trucks headed for death camps. His fluid camera captures the most aggressive and most intimate moments ranging from the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto to a conversation between Schindler and his wife. 

Itzhak Stern played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley as Schindler's accountant and de facto right hand man. Their exchanges range from the mildly intellectual comic banter to some of the most harrowing moments of the film. 
As a historical epic (and that's what it is, not just a bio-pic), Spielberg utilized suspense so brilliantly it astounds me even today, considering that I've seen the film way too many times (like there even such a thing). A very iconic example of this is when Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes) stands atop his balcony with a rifle killing people off one by one. He's aiming for a young Jewish boy who told him that he couldn't clean his bathtub as much as he tried. Amon tells him (as Schindler instructed when he said that power comes from pardon) that he pardoned him, changed him mind and after a few missed shots, as the kid walks away, aware of his fate, eventually gets shot in the back. 

'I pardon you'.
Another suspenful and heartbreaking scene is when a machinist gets examined by Göth, because Göth (like most Nazi's) takes his bloodlust to the extreme, and decides to kill him on the basis that he didn't make enough hinges. He knocks him to the ground and pulls the trigger, but the pistol jams. Through tears, the man tries to explain why his work was 'unsatisfactory' as Amon keeps trying to fire over and over again. Finally, he gives up and pistol whips him. The man survives, and is the one that writes the letter to the Soviets in case Schindler was captured that every Schindler worker signs on his behalf.
One of the most iconic scenes in the film of which I just spoke. It is so compelling, so terrifying, and so brilliantly executed, that it is the hallmark of perfect directing.
Now let's talk about the writing and acting. There is so much more going on than the story itself, and even with characters that have just a couple of lines, it pulls you into this film, this story, this world as if it's almost matter-of-fact. There is small humor here and there, especially with the Nazi's. A good example of this is when his accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) gets mistakenly put on a train to a camp, and Schindler goes to rescue him, despite his efforts, low-ranking Nazi's won't let him off. Schindler takes down their names and says; 'Thank you gentlemen, I think I can guarantee you that you'll both be in Southern Russia before the end of the month, good day'. Then the film cuts to Schindler walking along the train pass and yelling for Stern, while the low-ranking Nazi's follow him doing the same. Now that's good writing. 
But Spielberg doesn't shy away from the stuff none of us want to see, because we don't want to think that the greatest mass genocide in modern human history happened only 60 some years ago. He does this very subtly. A man sorting valuables, obviously those that Jews who are now in camps had to give up gets handed a burlap bag, inside which are a few handfuls of gold teeth. The man takes off his glasses in disbelief, as do we if we had glasses. But back to this later. 

Making the list.
A very important character is Poldek Pfefferberg (Jonathan Sagall) who actually wrote the book that the film is based on. He survived from the start of the Holocaust to the liquidation of Krakow to standing next to Schindler as he says a tearful goodbye to his workers at the very end. He is a rogue character. The first time we see him, he's mad at another seller on the black market for giving him shoe polish in glass containers instead of metal and threatens his co-conspirator. Schindler overhears his tenacity and offers him a job buying things on the black market that will be needed to shmooze with more Nazi's and eventually trade for the lives of his Jews. His mass fortune which was made by profiteering off of free labor from Jews at his company, he eventually gave up to save everyone he possibly could. 'They say that no one dies here, they say your factory is a haven, they say that you are good' a woman tells him who is desperate to bring her elderly parents into Schindler's factory. She dresses up in fancy borrowed clothes and puts on rouge and lipstick to appeal to Schindler. At first, he's furious at the fact that he's considered a Moses among the Jews, but his conscience catches up with him and he trades his cigarette lighter, his cigarette case, ties, pins, suits; everything, for his own humanity, and for theirs. 
Moreover, this is not a film about Schindler, and it is not a film about the Holocaust either. This is a film about history. A history that has been preserved in survival accounts, photographs, testimonies, etc. But someone had to put the pieces together and give us a narrative that not only educated us, but touched and enlightened us. The chaos, the deplorability, the horror, and the sorrow birthed a film that in itself is history, which taught us a very important thing through its fly-on-the-wall aesthetic; That (as the ring that the surviving Jews give to Schindler says) 'He who saves one life, saves the world entire'. 
'It's Hebrew from the Talmud, it says he who saves one life saves the world entire'.
Even watching it now, after so many times I can't even count, there are moments of terror, moments of contemplation, anger, but mostly moments of awe in the worst way. This is our history, not just the Jews, but all of us. A time where survival was more important than any sort of life, where hiding in excrement  meant the difference between life and death, where there was real evil in the world, and eventually the righteous  triumphed over it. This happened, and no one has ever or since brought it to film more comprehensively, with more brevity, and with such a sincere heart. 

Below some related clips: 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Emma Stone: The New Old It Girl

A take on The Virgin Mary (which was also a hilarious SNL sketch)
I haven't blogged in a while, and there's a good reason for that. My last blog was around Halloween, and then the election happened, and I don't know about you but I'm feeling just generally down no matter how many Samantha Bee or Seth Meyers I catch on the Youtubes making fun of this catastrophe.
Yeah 2016 in hindsight was a giant garbage fire. I'm not going to go that far into it, we all know what I'm talking about, but one source of comedy still stands strong and will continue to. The show has been on the air for 40 years and counting. Have you guessed it yet? I'm talking about SNL. You hear me Trump? You hear me racists, bigots, electors, Kellyanne, Mike Pence, Steve Bannon? We're still here, and we still have right to laugh. Ok, enough of my soap box rhetoric. On to some frivolous entertainment musings.
Everyone (especially young white pre-pubescent girls) want to be BFF's with Jennifer Lawrence. She smokes weed, she drinks Two Buck Chuck, she just doesn't give a fuck. In fact she makes such a point not to give a fuck that it's coming off as disingenuous.

Emma hosting SNL for her third time two weeks ago. 
The other day she got some much deserved heat because homegirl loves to run her mouth about all of the weird and embarrassing situations she finds herself in that are usually endearing but not in this case. Long story short; she said that she scratched her ass on sacred rocks in Hawaii where they were shooting Hunger Games: Catching Fire, so hard in fact that she dislodged a giant boulder which rolled down the hill and almost killed the sound guy. She thought it was hilaaaaaarious. Not so much. Also her movies are getting ridiculous. Yes she was Katniss, yes she has an Oscar for a film I really love; Silver Linings Playbook, but that was a while a go, and frankly Passengers looks pretty sweaty to me.
A couple of weeks ago Emma Stone hosted SNL for her third time (not for nothing, but when J-Law hosted it, it was crazy awkward and just proved to all of us that she's not as funny when on-script). In my opinion, it was the best show of the season so far, and one of the best of the last few years. Emma, like Jen seems older than she actually is, perhaps wise beyond her years, but she's quiet, demure, and doesn't pound our heads into the fact that she's JUST LIKE US. She's not.
But she's very very funny. Granted it's not just her, the new head writers at SNL gave her a great script, and she killed it. From the candle song to the cleaning crew Christmas songs to the high school obnoxious improve sketch that I love so much, she was fabulous. Oscars aren't the measure of a good actress. Case and point: Gena Rowlands STILL doesn't have one, and Marisa Tomei does. Explain that logic to me, you know what? Don't. But Stone's performance for which she was nominated (Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was a really solid and visceral performance. She has a quiet lightning inside of her, and it doesn't help that she's gorgeous. She doesn't have to change her look, hair color, or wear Dior couture all the time (sorry another jab at Jen). She's just herself, and with La La Land coming out worldwide next week, it seems like she's rising while Jen is slowly descending on the ladder of hot young it girls.

Lest we forget, Stone was tapped to play perhaps the greatest female character ever written; Sally Bowles in the 2014 Broadway revival of my favorite musical; Cabaret.
With so many examples of faux white girl feminism that are so obnoxious that they crawl under my skin and make me nauseous; like Taylor Swift and her stupid squad, Lena Dunham and her show that she doesn't even write anymore, I could go on and on but I don't want to. In this climate, I would rather have a friend like Emma who has it together and seems eons smarter both streetwise and intellectually than Jennifer, despite the fact that both are high school drop outs. It just seems that Jennifer peaked a while ago, and now she's the highest paid actress in the business. We as snarky critics can say it's because she sold out, but that's not snark, it's just the truth. Emma continues to pick interesting and unique projects and can go from Spiderman to Birdman to La La Land seamlessly. Btdubs her chemistry with Gosling is too ridiculous. I'm sure he can have chemistry with a gardening tool, but still. I've switched teams, and I'm excited to see what Emma does next. Keep in mind, she started out in the Frat Pack opus Superbad as Jonah Hill's love interest. Let me say that again: Jonah Hill's love interest.
Her performance in Birdman was pretty untouchable. She didn't have that many quips or clap trap monologues, but her down-to-the-bone performance as a lost and confused former junkie daughter of a washed up has-been actor almost stole the show. Almost, because stealing from Michael Keaton is pretty damn hard. A for effort. 
I'm not even going to touch on Margot Robbie who is probably the best and smartest actress under 30 right now, and though it would be fun to throw a monkey wrench into this agenda, I like pinning two actresses that are around the same age and with the same influence on the zeitgeist against each other for shits and giggles. It makes me feel better about myself. And in a time when we desperately need some escapism, Emma delivers. Also, Jen stop scratching your ass on sacred rocks, it's not funny and it's flat out disrespectful, crude, and ridiculous. We're the fairer sex for a reason. Enjoy your free drinks.

Below some SNL clips and La La Land Trailer:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I Have Something For You to Watch on Halloween

One of the more memorable scenes from the film. Can't tell you what's going on though, and it's hurting my soul.
The VVitch came out of nowhere, and I do mean nowhere. Shot in some desolate woods in Canada over 25 days by a freshman director who looks like he just stumbled out of the most hipster hipster bar in Los Angeles, I had heard things about it. Mostly that it was legit the most terrifying, unsettling film that will make your blood run cold. I was assuming this was coming from people who had never seen The Shining, or Rosemary's Baby, or The Exorcist. But now that I too have seen it, I will gladly put The VVitch into that group. I've read Arthur Miller's The Crucible more times than I care to remember and the Salem Witch Trials were never handled with that much honesty and brevity since. 

Does this not remind you of a certain famous painting?
But this is not about that. And the parallels between it and the New Testament were so subtle, nuanced, and brilliant it made me think; 'wow, hipsters can direct'. Robert Eggers, barely 32 (so exactly my age) cast a film with an all British (with the exception of one Scot) cast for this unsettling horror-type movie. I'm hesitant to call it a horror movie, even though that's how it's been marketed. To me, it's a period piece; a bleak drama much like There Will Be Blood with a lot of seriously disturbing images and themes. This is not a film for your parents or for the faint of heart, seriously you've been warned. 
I am not going to give away any spoilers, what I will give you is the premise. Set maybe a few years prior to Salem, a Puritan family is banished for the patriarch's disagreements with his elders about interpretations in the Bible. Defiant, he moves his family; wife Catherine, daughter Thomasin, son Caleb, and two really annoying twins around 5 or so to the wilderness...oh and there's a newborn who's pivotal to the story. What he was thinking I don't know, but it's his pride that spurred the journey and that's already giving stuff away. Now, anyone who is a horror purist knows that only bad shit can happen to you in isolation in the woods. The daughter Thomasin is the central character, who is about to reach 'womanhood' i.e. puberty, and the parents discuss selling her to another family so she can properly deal with it, which was not uncommon at the time. They are completely isolated save for their farm animals one of which is a surly black goat with giant horns called Black Phillip. The twins claim that he speaks to them and they speak back, and as we know, when animals do that and only little kids notice it, it's a common horror trope. But then it launches into a whirlwind of bizarre and such visceral happenings that you WILL have trouble sleeping at night. Even though you live in the middle of the city and don't own any goats. 

Black Phillip
What is beautiful about the film is the pacing (borrowed no doubt from Ingmar Bergman) where it emphasizes the feeling of degradation and isolation and eventually hopelessness and loss of faith. The other major aesthetic (borrowed from Kubrick no doubt) is the decision to shoot exclusively with natural light. And anyone who has ever made a movie, whether a 3-hour opus or a student film knows that negating your Omni's is basically film suicide. But to get the authentic feel the director strove for, it paid off.
Again, can't say what's happening. It's not a cliché exorcism I can tell you that much.
Now, you're probably thinking, they are in the wilderness near creepy woods, the film is called The VVitch...there's a witch in the woods, bam, you solved the puzzle...NOPE! And if you want to know what's actually up, guess what, WATCH IT. Stay home from the lame Halloween party you were invited to where everyone will be dressed as either Donald Trump or someone from Orange is the New Black, and just cuddle up with a pet or a stuffed animal like a child because no matter how tough you think you are, this movie will crawl under your skin and scare the life out of you. 

The climax of the film...have I left a good cliffhanger?
It was so impressive to see a film that was not only shot for under 2 million, made the rounds at Sundance and got picked up by A24, but that resurrected a genre that's basically become a parody of itself. If we label it a horror film, it's definitely up there with the aforementioned Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, etc. And it was directed by a guy who's basically the bastard child of Polanski, Bergman, and Kubrick; not a bad label to have. AND it's his first film. This was such a relief and single handedly restored my faith in the genre while making me slightly suicidal. Just kidding, but it did stick with me for so long and so strongly that I'm still not able to shake it off. 
Oh and in its defense, people were wondering why the fuck it's spelled the way it's spelled and that's because that's what pamphlets that made rounds in the colonies around that time looked like when they were asking people to beware of VVitches. It's not a hipster thing...well maybe a little bit. There I just gave you Halloween plans, you're welcome. 

Trailer below. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Patriarchy vs. Amanda Knox

Now 30, Amanda looks like she's aged about 20 years in 6. 
Like many of you I decided to Netflix and Chill with a rather unnerving documentary that was just released yesterday simply titled Amanda Knox. We all, or most of us, remember this scandal. To us American folk, we saw it quite differently from how Italians saw it. We know bits and pieces here and there, and almost kind of know what happened, but this documentary is not so much about the crime, but about the titular character and what she had to endure. 
'Foxy Knoxy' as her friends called her decided to study abroad her second year of college in Perugia, Italy, a small provincial yet beautiful town in Umbria. She very quickly caught the attention of an awkward but pretty engineering student; Rafaelle Sollecito. They had a whirlwind romance of 5 days which culminated with them sleeping together at his place. The next morning this 20 year old woke up to just about the worst news anyone could; her British roommate Meredith Kercher had been brutally murdered in the dorm they shared together, with her body still there, and blood everywhere. 
Where people got suspicious of Amanda was that she didn't call the police immediately and in fact showered, changed, and hung out a bit before she realized there was a body in the other room. 
We all remember when the media descended on the dorm and outside of it there was Amanda and Rafaelle making out. Most saw this as bizarre behavior, like she couldn't give two shits, which she explains in the documentary was actually a comfort from someone she cared about in a time of crisis. 
We all have different ways of dealing with shock, and this was hers. 

The infamous kiss outside the crime scene that the media saw is extremely weird ....understandably so, but c'mon.
The government of Perugia didn't see it that way, and charged both Knox and Sollecito with first degree murder, with the former barely able to speak Italian, held without a lawyer for days of questioning without the use of a bathroom or food. She finally broke in what we here in the states would call a 'coerced confession', and after a very short trial both were found guilty and sentenced to 26 years and 25 years respectfully. 
Where it gets really sick is that the judge, who is featured heavily in the documentary; a self-proclaimed devout Catholic (not that there's anything wrong with that) and a Sherlock Holmes aficionado, had dreamt up a scenario where Amanda was in the middle of some kind of Satanic orgy when Meredith walked in on her and paid the ultimate price. We now know that what actually happened was a violent burglary; poor Meredith was home alone when two men broke into the dorm, sexually assaulted her and killed her. But the judge still ...still believes his ridiculous Satanic ritual theory as if he has Rosemary's Baby on a loop in his head. This leads me to a very vicious double standard forced on Amanda Knox which made her spend 4 years of her life without a lawyer, and without support, in an Italian jail, to which she refers as 'the dark place'. 
When defending herself she said something extremely important and resonant; 'I was sexually active, I was not sexually deviant'. It's sad to think that those two are mutually exclusive when it comes to women...perhaps not all women, but certainly for Knox. 

Foxy Knoxy as a happy 19 year old with a sparkle in her eye, in her hometown of Seattle. 
At her appeal, it was found that the judge was kind of a ridiculous sycophant, misogynist, and an overall crazy person. Also, there was heavy tampering with the crime scene, and both Sollecito and Knox's convictions were overturned. Thus ending the saga of a whole patriarchal state of mind against an innocent girl. She returned to Seattle in tears and disappeared from the spotlight, until she reappeared for this documentary. But it wasn't over. Apparently that same judge wanted her blood so badly that he petitioned for her to be extradited back to Italy for a second trial, to which the American government gave the finger. She was at last exonerated completely after two more years. On the whole, this scandal lasted for 9 years of Amanda's life. Yes her behavior was strange, yes she was promiscuous, does that make her a cold blooded killer? According to the government of Perugia, yes it did. 
When she begins the documentary, she says that; 'if I am guilty, it means that I am the ultimate figure to fear, but if I'm innocent that means that everyone is vulnerable. Either I'm a psychopath in sheep's clothing, or I am' Those words basically sum it all up; Because she was young, beautiful, and rather odd, she paid a price of 4 years behind bars. 'Femme fatale', 'heartless manipulator', 'concertante of sex' ...even if these were true they don't spell murderer to me. 

Seconds after hearing that the Supreme Court of Perugia had overturned her conviction. 
Because I'm a woman, I think what happened to her was one of the greatest injustices and miscarriages of the criminal justice system. There is still a double standard where we as women are not just labeled whores for our sexual behaviors, (which are by the way are nobody's business) but can be put to prison for them. I believed in her innocence from the beginning and you're free to disagree with me. But, I believe a large part of her struggle was just because she was beautiful, sexually active, talked a lot about sex, and not much else. Would we for a second combine those traits with the premonition or heartless killer if it were a man? I doubt it. 
Anyway, I'm going to get off my soap box, and just recommend you watch it. As a documentary it's very engrossing and competently made. Even if you think you know the story, you don't know all of it. 

Below, trailer: 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

In Memoriam: Curtis Hanson, The Quiet Intellectual

Curtis Hanson
In case you missed it (you probably did, what with the first Clinton/Trump debate coming up and the riots in Charlotte, and of course Brangelina splitting up), filmmaker Curtis Hanson passed away last week. Now that last sentence makes me sound profoundly shallow, but I try to have tunnel vision into what's going on in pop culture, and I'm sure I'm late AF to the Brangelina party, just like I missed the Hiddleswift split party, and it's too late for my Best/Worst dressed list for the Emmy's (Sarah Paulson took my breath away). 
Alas, this is not to be overlooked. Not very prolific, and always a bit under the radar, Curtis Hanson has not made many films; most of which, like him, flew quietly under the radar with one exception; L.A. Confidential (1997) which sweeped 9 nominations at that year's Oscars and lost all of them (save for one; Kim Basinger for Best Supporting Actress) to Titanic (just threw up in my mouth a little bit, it's fine). 
Poster art for L.A. Confidential
A little backstory about the film; it's based on the novel by James Ellroy who writes pulp fiction novels, for those of you who don't know the term past the Tarantino movie, let me enlighten you. From the time of writers like Raymond Chandler and Charles Jackson, there have been pulp fiction novels. They're kind of like the B Movie of books. They are seedy, salacious, and over the top; dealing with murder, a hot girl (a Femme Fatale for the expert), and a caper of sorts. They are a great read because they are somewhat easy to digest; they aren't exactly Dostoyevsky. But Ellroy took it to the next level and coupled that camp with the dingy, seedy (again), and deliciously fucked up world that is Los Angeles in the 50's. It's an insider's view; kind of like the back end of the website to the glamour facade of Hollywood; and entire industry and culture built on lies, prostitutes, dirty deals and crooked people. That's basically what the film is about. The film is probably as close to the book as an adaptation has ever been, and that's why it's confusing as hell, even for someone like me. Who's that, why is he doing such and such, wait, I though that was the good guy, wait, who even is that? Those kind of questions run through your mind constantly but you can't help but be swept away in the writing, the performance by now some of our favorite actors...among them; Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, and (arguably) Russell Crowe; and most of all, this nostalgia that most of us don't even remember because we didn't live through it. 
James Ellroy. He could not look like more of a pulp LA writer if he tried. 
Me? I'm a sucker for Old Hollywood. I don't know why I had to make that public and put it in writing, because most people are already saying to themselves; duh!. But hey, let's make it official. I won't go into the convoluted plot that is nuanced brilliantly and beautifully by Hanson, because as I said he had a whole filmography under his belt, among them lesser but still great films like 8 Mile and Wonder Boys. He wasn't exactly an auteur, just a really competent filmmaker. And with L.A. Confidential, he rose to being an amazing filmmaker. And some of us just need that one diamond in the rough to seal our legacy. And that he did. 

-How did you know I was a cop?
-It's practically stamped on your forehead. 
In 2005, it was my first year in New York, I had just transferred to NYU where a professor took a liking to me (not that kind of liking ...I don't think) and happened to be on the Board of Review which meant he got to go to a lot of pre-release screenings, of which I accompanied him to many times. One of them was for Hanson's more blah films; In Her Shoes, a totally forgettable Cameron Diaz vehicle capitalizing on Sex and the City culture, with a weak script and boring plot. Even for a sub-standard chick flick it blew, but I went because I was promised there would be Q&A afterwards. But I didn't know that my professor was on first name terms with Hanson, and invited me down after everyone left so that I could talk to him. I really didn't know what to say except ask him questions about L.A. Confidential's aesthetics, themes, etc. So basically I sounded like a pretentious film student, which I kind of was at the time, but whatever.
Anyway, I think it's important to acknowledge his passing, but moreover his body of work, which yes, was hit and miss, but I believe every director, even some of the best have misses under their belt. He was a very astute and competent man, and a very talented and perhaps deeply intellectual person which you definitely saw come out even in his sub-standard films. He was that quiet New Yorker type who strove desperately to make the films that he wanted, but unfortunately didn't always get his way.

Below, some trailers and scenes: 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

To Mourn the Death Of Hiddleswift I Did My Own Version of 73 Questions with Vogue! Just as Spontaneous, Not Nearly as Basic

I tried to be basic. It didn't fit.

What's keeping you busy these days? 

What's the most exciting thing in life right now? 
-The Emmy's 

What are you bored of?

What is something that recently moved you?
-a moving vehicle

What's going on over here?
-I'd rather not say

How many guitars do you own? 
-1 acoustic guitar and it's missing a string.

What's the first song you learned to play on guitar?
-The House of the Rising Sun

First thing you do after you get an idea for a song?
-I rub one out

What is your songwriting process?
-A lot of crying and white wine

What song took the least time to write?
-'Fuck it' in E Flat

What song took you the longest to write?
-The Libretto to Hamilton ...I wrote that.

Is this the room where you keep awards?
-Does a CPR certificate count as awards?

Who is your favorite teacher?
Graig Uhlin at NYU who taught my first Warhol class. 

If you could teach one subject what would it be?

What's your favorite beverage?
Cold brew.

What's your favorite cocktail?
Anything single malt.

What's your favorite food?

What would you order at a drive through?
Starbucks just made a drive through near my house, so Starbucks

Best birthday cake you've ever had?
For my 28th birthday my friend got me a Strawberry Shortcake from Sweet Lady Jane in West Hollywood. They use fresh seasonal berries and make their own buttercream. It was ridiculous.

What was the last thing you baked?

What's one thing you need to have in your fridge at all times?

What is one thing you still have from childhood?
A creepy horror movie looking doll.

What is your favorite TV show of all time?
Arrested Development

What is your favorite show currently on air?
Halt and Catch Fire

What is your favorite movie?

What movie recently made you cry your eyes out?
The Theory of Everything

Why do you think you're the most followed person on Instagram? 
My Instagram account is actually a front for a brothel I run.

Have you ever Googled yourself?

What do you think when you google yourself?
Google still hasn't learned how to spell my name.

If you had one superpower what would it be?
Mind reading.

If you were not a singer what would you be doing?
Polishing my Tony collection and doing a Scrooge McDuck dive into my giant room of money.

Cool or bizarre talent?
I can say it but you're not going to like it.

Whats something you can’t do?
There's nothing I can't do.

What is the best compliment you've ever received?
Is that Kirsten Dunst?

Whats the best gift you've ever received?
My mom got me a gold Tiffany's bean for my graduation...which I lost so when I finished grad school she got me a platinum one to teach me a lesson. 

One habit you wish to break?

Do you have any nicknames?
My friend calls me Gigi because she thinks I look like Gigi Hadid, she's my favorite. 

What surprises you about people?
Celebrities are really short.

What makes you laugh?
Children on leashes.

What does creativity mean to you?
Tennessee Williams.

What's most adventurous thing you've ever done? 
My roommates and I did 5 sprints back and forth in Morningside Park at 2 am for exercise but I think we were drunk.

What are your favorite lyrics?
Shake your head girl, with your pony tail, takes me right back, when we were young. From 'If There is Something' by Roxy Music

One song you wish you'd written?
Killer Queen by Queen

Best fan moment?
I have haters not fans.

Whats your most memorable career moment?
Facilitating the opening night red carpet for Cinequest

What's one accomplishment you're proud of?
Graduating from Columbia University with honors.

What is one thing you want to try but are too scared to?
Snake blood.

What is your spirit animal?
George Clooney's pet pig.

Where should you take my wife?
A swingers bar.

Advice for singers?
Stop writing shit.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I plead the 5th.

Most difficult song to perform on stage?
I always think I'm going to kill Christina Aguilera on karaoke night and I'm always wrong.

How many cats are in this room?
I'm allergic. 

If you were a cat would you get along with your cats?

How many cat breeds can you name in 10 seconds?
Sphynx, Main Coon, British Shorthair, Tabby, Scottish Fold, Germany.

What's the coolest thing in this room?
I have a bottle of 2010 Chateau Margaux.

What is one woman’s closet you'd raid?
Tilda Swinton

What's your favorite fashion trend?
Mod eye make-up

What do you have to have in your purse besides your phone and wallet?
Eye liner.

What are you wearing to this year's Met Gala?
Alexander McQueen

What did i want to do at age 5?
I wanted to be a Marine Biologist I think, which is a glorified way of saying I wanted to be a SeaWorld Trainer.

What do you wish you knew at 19?
Some people suck.

What is something you will not be doing in 10 years?

What is the most important life lesson?
Get over it.

What can you say in another language?
My favorite Hebrew expression is 'Chaval al ha Zman' it means 'waste of time' you say it sarcastically when you had a good time.

What do you love most about the town you grew up in?
That the Nazi's tried to take it and we were too badass to give it up.

What is the bravest thing you've ever done?
Admitted I loved someone.

What's the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?

What is your one most important goal?
To have my play produced.

What is your favorite scented candle?
Bond #9 Sag Harbor.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Choose Life...Danny Boyle Better Not Disappoint with the Trainspotting Sequel

The boys (L to R): Sick Boy, Renton, Tommy, and Spud.
I like to think of Danny Boyle's career as the ultimate hit-and-miss. His earlier work; Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and even The Beach (I know most critics panned it, but I have some kind of cult attraction to it) were all great. Then it kind of went downhill. Despite the Academy Awards (which they actually make fun of in Trainspotting when Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) says it means fuck all and is a sympathy vote) Slumdog Millionaire might be the most over-hyped movie of the 21st century, and the Steve Jobs bio-pic should have clearly been directed by David Fincher. It was a mess considering the director focuses on style and formalist aesthetics and is working with a sharp bio-pic script from the king of 'don't change shit out of my words' screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Aside from Trainspotting, perhaps his high point was 28 Days Later. Trainspotting was a cataclysmic film in the 90's when making films about rebellion, drug addiction, and nihilism were on every filmmakers to do list. This one stands out, and stands the test of time more importantly, mostly because the protagonist Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is a master of his own destiny. He doesn't excuse any of his actions or try to justify him, and whether he experiences tragedy, fulfillment, or mostly dissatisfaction, he keeps on trucking, and eventually wins us all over...also the script is funny as hell. We notice that in this film, he's allied himself with the idiom of British Filmmakers. He wasn't international, and his films have a hallmark of being bleak, dark, and sarcastic. His visual style is very haptic and hectic, this has worked for him in the past, and when he's trying to make serious films it just doesn't work. 

Publicity still with Danny Boyle on the left. 
I was a little apprehensive about the Trainspotting sequel, particularly because a sequel that comes out 10 years after the original is usually a film no one asked for. Also, the original was to the letter an adaptation of the genius Irving Welsh book. I have no idea what this will be based on, but Boyle is creative enough, and maybe he'll hire Welsh as a co-writer. What's really exciting is that we'll get the same cast back. Unlike what happened with Dumb and Dumber To, or Terminator Gene...shit, Trainspotting launched the careers of many brilliant actors, and brought them out of just fame in the UK to international stardom. Ewan McGregor is a household name, while Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Ewan Bremner haven't been as successful because this film was the high point of all their careers; not to mention Shirley Henderson, Kevin McKidd, and Kelly McDonald who went on to work with brilliant filmmakers like Mike Leigh, also one of the greatest British filmmakers walking this earth. 
I'm sure this movie was so popular because it was cool AF. Rebellion is always cool, even on the streets of Edinburg when you're stealing from shops to pay for your junk habit. 
Now, another point of apprehension. When I was an angsty teenager, I had a poster of the film on my room that was also covered in pictures of Kurt Cobain, a Velvet Goldmine poster I think, and other angsty things of that nature. I thought initially that like Fight Club, I would love it as a teenager and hate it as a grown up. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although Trainspotting is highly stylized, its message of nihilism and redemption is far more genuine than that in Fight Club. Also, it's not supposed to be this cool movie just to be cool for teenagers like Fight Club is, where we see people rebelling against society or withdrawing from it completely; sarcastically justifying it to themselves and the audience. 
There are a lot of elements in the film that are a little too close to comfort, and while hitting all of the angsty nihilism points that teenagers are drawn to, it remains very sincere, and remains a towering statement. 
The is one of the more memorable and surreal scenes that became a hallmark of the Boyle aesthetic, when Renton has to dive into 'the worst toilet in Scotland' to retrieve his opiate suppositories. That's a weird sentence. 
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) realizes that his escape from reality (it's heroin in the film but it could be anything) is not exactly the choice way to live. It's a way to die, and unlike most movies about drugs, it drives that point home in a very sharp and non-sentimental way. His ending monologue mirrors his opening monologue when he talks about choosing life, a career, a wife, all other bullshit that he decided to forgo for 'a healthy junk habit'. In the end of the film, he decides to conform, but it's not selling out. Ironically it's more of a middle finger to society than the initial one he gives it. 
It's a dated film, don't get me wrong, but it stands the test of time. Re-watching it, I was prepared to be like, see this is why I don't like it anymore. I'm not a dumb teenager who wants to rebel no matter what and asks stupid questions like 'why does there have to be war man?'. 
I don't want to say that this movie is about people and not drugs. It's about drugs. And there's nothing wrong with that. Most movies show a trajectory that descends slowly but surely into an abyss of nothingness brought on by addiction, you can have that. Mark Renton is the ultimate existential prototype. He understands the consequences of his actions and that everything is based on his decisions, and is fuck all to do with destiny. It's actually a pretty uplifting film. Also, the dialogue couldn't be tighter, and the characters are very well nuanced; even though seeming one dimensional at first. 
The OG cast returns. I'm excited, are you?
In the end, Renton makes a huge decision that most people would consider low and reprehensible, and he doesn't bother to justify it to himself. He realizes that the only person worth caring about is himself, and kisses his life of being depressed over his surroundings and numbing the pain with heroin behind him. He smiles and says 'I'm going to be just like you'. You don't like the world you live in? Tough shit, that's just how it is. You can become a junkie and ignore it, or as Mark does, you can give it the finger and move on. 
I think this film also appeals to teens because of its quick and witty dialogue, which be honest, you didn't really get until you were much older. Also, perhaps the Scottish accents got in the way. But if Boyle could just revisit himself in the 90's as a filmmaker when he was making films that were hyper-real but not disingenuous, then he'll have a good sequel. His biggest flaw is holding back. In Trainspotting, he doesn't hold ANYTHING back, he's only started to to win Academy Awards. Give up being PC, we all know it's not in your nature, and also it doesn't have to be formulaic or by-the-numbers. It can be a masterpiece much in the tradition of your earlier work, if only you can let go of 'the rules'. We're all holding our breath...well, I am. 

Below, trailer for the sequel: 

Scenes from the original: 

Friday, August 12, 2016

10 Documentaries on Netflix You Need to Watch Right the Fuck Now.

Hope Netflix and Chill is on the agenda this weekend. Let's talk a little before we go into the list. Documentaries are nothing new, they are an incredible art form that we can trace back to basically the beginning of film. Pioneers of documentary that wrongfully get classified as 'avant-garde' like Dziga Vertov from the Soviet Union, created the idea that the real or hyper real was the most important subject that film could approach (don't argue with me, I wrote papers on him). Since then, we've come a long way. Two of my all time favorite documentaries are sadly not on Netflix but for chrissake self out the 3.95$ and rent them on iTunes; Grey Gardens (directed by the Maysles brothers) explores the lives of socialites Big Edie and Little Edie Beale. They are a mother and daughter who were once a big deal with the Connecticut/Hamptons high society of the 30's and 40's, and by the 70's are living in squalor with a bunch of diseased cats in their old mansion called Grey Gardens. Both are hilariously insane and out of touch with reality, it's a form of verité (truth in French, sorry to be condescending) filmmaking first pioneered in the 60's by D.A. Pennebaker. It's one type of documentary aesthetic, for some it works for others, it doesn't. One more I'd like to mention quickly before we jump into the list is actually a documentary series directed by Michael Apted and a social experiment the likes of which the film community has never seen, have you not guessed it yet? It's the Up Series. Damn you Netflix for taking it down! It starts with 7 UP and checks in with a group of 7 year old kids from all walks of British class society, and returns every 7 years. The latest installment was 56 up, so do the math there are 8 films. It's truly monumental and astounding work and will really make you think about your life and how insignificant a lot of bullshit is. That's a crass way to put will make you re-examine your priorities, and have a full on existential crisis. ALSO, BEFORE I FORGET, I HAVE TO TELL YOU; WATCH MAKING OF A MURDERER. I CAN'T INCLUDE IT IN THIS LIST BECAUSE TECHNICALLY IT'S A SERIES NOT A FILM, BUT MY GOD IT'S SERIOUSLY SOME OF THE BEST FILMMAKING AND IS WHAT DOCUMENTARIES ARE AND SHOULD BE ALL ABOUT. IT'S THE BEST, DO IT. Without further's 10 I found of all years and perspectives and aesthetics in no particular order: 

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (dir. Kurt Kuenne)
Edited, composed, written, directed and everything else by Kurt Kuenne this doc examines the life of his best friend, doctor Andrew Bagby who was maliciously murdered by a spurned ex-girlfriend and a film he made for the child she became pregnant with shortly before she killed his father, so that he would one day be able to watch it and know the father that he would never meet, but you would never believe what ends up happening. It's a punch in the gut, and it lingers. That's why it's brilliant. 
Brother's Keeper (dir. Joe Berlinger)
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, literally ...three illiterate farmer brothers live quietly on their father's land, until their father dies under mysterious circumstances. One of the brother's is accused of the murder and considering he's barely able to communicate, is pinned against a criminal justice system that wants his blood, and he's barely prepared to help himself. It's also shot very much in the style of Grey Gardens and really puts you in a completely bleak and uncomfortable place. 
Tabloid (dir. Errol Morris)
This will not be the first time that Academy Award winning filmmaker Errol Morris will show up on the list, and this is the kind of film that John Waters would make if he made documentaries. It's so campy and lurid that it's wildly delicious. White trash beauty queen Joyce McKinney falls in love with a poor dope who happens to be mormon, her story goes that they kidnapped him and brainwashed him, so she kidnapped him back (I guess) took him to London and had sex with him while he was in 'captivity' to get rid of all the mormon nonsense in his head. This movie really speaks to the whole 'truth is stranger than fiction' thing.
Hot Girls Wanted (dir. Jill Bauer)
A Netflix original, this film is deeply disturbing and very matter-of-fact about a hugely controversial matter. It takes us into the seedy world of amateur porn, the irony of which is that it's actually not amateur. Girls are hired by a Craigslist pimp of sorts, specifically because they look very young innocent inexperienced and virginal; not Jenna Jameson clones. Apparently amateur porn is the hottest thing on the internet and sells more than regular porn. The industry thrives in Florida, where the laws are more laxed than California and you don't have to use protection (I know). It takes you inside a dorm of sorts where girls from small towns want to make it as porn stars. How's that for an American dream for ya? 
Blackfish (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
Even if you care fuck all about marine mammals and have seen that Free Willy movie too many times, you need to see this film. It is not a nature documentary, it is not a crime documentary, and it's not an exposé, well kinda. Remember when Sea World was a thing? This film concerns itself with one particular whale in captivity of what someone referred to as a barbaric prison of sorts; Tilikum; an Orca who was kidnapped in the 70's in the Atlantic Ocean and brought to Sea World to be their main breeder. It talks at length in layman's terms about how intelligent regal creatures like Orca whales shouldn't be in captivity and what happens to them when they are, particularly what happened with Tilikum and his trainer Dawn Brancheau.
The Thin Blue Line (dir. Errol Morris)
This might be one of the greatest movies every made. It actually resulted in the exoneration of a wrongfully convicted man for Murder 1, and in the state of Texas we know what that means. Randall Adams and a kid named David Harris were implicated in the shooting of a police officer after they were pulled over for a minor traffic violation. My man Morris loves reenactments, and utilizes sound like no one before him. What he recreates is dream-like and entrancing; recreating a scenario from many different points of view, points in time, and perspectives. It's an incredible story told by an incredible storyteller. 
Into the Abyss (dir. Werner Herzog)
Veteran buzzkill director Werner Herzog has been making documentaries about death, nothingness, emptiness, depression, all that fun stuff for 4 decades now. He's a total picker-upper, but I have to hand it to him, every single film narrative or documentary has been absolutely unforgettable. This is one of his latest efforts, concerning two inmates on Death Row in....Texas (sensing a pattern here?) Both were convicted when they were barely legal adults, and both are very close to the end. It's like the updated movie version of the Truman Capote classic 'In Cold Blood'. 
The Queen of Versailles (dir. Lauren Greenfield)
This is a genius film, and if you've not seen it yet, well you're a loser and I hate you. Jackie Siegel is the small town blonde wannabe model who married a man her father's age; the wealthy financier and Vegas builder David Siegel. (picture a Jewish Donald Trump) So now they live in luxury in the Everglades, and Jackie's nouveau riche poor taste is too hilarious for even Woody Allen to parody. I mean she has a literal gold throne. She decides to buy a property that (I shit you not, is twice as big as The White House) and model it architecturally and aesthetically after the Palace of Versailles, but then the recession hits, the Siegels loos everything, and keeping up appearances becomes an increasing but hilarious struggle. 
Tab Hunter Confidential (dir. Jeffrey Schwartz)
I worked at the PR firm who ran the publicity campaign for this film so I'm a bit biased, but I'm also biased because I love the stories of closeted actors from the 50's who had to hide their true selves and live in lavender marriages as matinee idols as not to lose their career a la Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson. Tab Hunter was the Chris Hemsworth of that period. He was like a Hitler wet dream; blonde, athletic, tall, blue eyes, large package, and a face that looks like it was carved out of marble by Michelangelo. This autobiographical film let's Tab Hunter himself do the talking about the golden age of Hollywood and it's big world of secrets; him being the ultimate embodiment of that. 
The Hunting Ground (dir. Kirby Dick)
Gaga wrote the Oscar nominated song that brought everyone to tears when she performed it at the ceremony while behind her, standing vigilant, were many victims of sexual abuse on college campuses. Director Kirby Dick always pushes the envelope, whether it being exposing the hypocrisy of the MPAA or taking down sexism in the military. He's better at exposé that Michael Moore, he's probably the best at it. This film is going to sink its fingernails deep under your skin. Especially if you went to what you thought was an elite school like I did, and after I graduated with my master's from Columbia, I do remember the Mattress Girl, and this film shows us that she's just one of hundreds of thousands, and that's not even what's the most shocking. 
Below, visual supplements to entice you:


Sunday, July 31, 2016

What Silver Linings Playbook is Really About

Tiffany confronts Pat at her sister's dinner when she realizes she's in a sea of bullshit. 
Marketed as a romantic comedy, by the rogue director David O. Russell, that should be a clue right there. He's not exactly a by-the-numbers filmmaker. This is definitely his crowning achievement even though I absolutely love I Heart Huckabees. This might be a little difficult for me to explain because I can relate to a lot of it but here we go. 
Set in Philadelphia, a place not exactly known for dealing with mental illness by any other means than a stigma, and coming from LA where everyone is therapy'd out to the point of paralysis, I saw the script as exactly what it was. Two brilliant actors play the two 'romantic leads', who meet at first, hate each other and by the end of the movie they're in love. Common rom com trope yes? But that's not the point of the film. 
Woody Allen might stick his neuroses in every single film he directs, but those are sadly a bit dated when people were still on Judy Garland cocktails and everything was a bit Valley of the Dolls. It was a very black and white time. Either you were nuts, or you were sane, and if you were the former you had all the pills in the world to choose from, which usually made things worse. Perhaps the last film that accurately portrayed mental illness was One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, which is literally set in the insane asylum, ironically where the protagonist (Jack Nicholson) is pretending to be crazy to do time in an asylum rather than prison. There you have the schism between the 'sane' and the 'insane'. Still a bit black and white, but so full of pathos and honesty, that it still holds up today. 

For these two, the best type of therapy is not in a doctor's office. 
Let's examine Silver Linings because its a film full of grey areas, and it's in those that we figure out what the movie is actually about. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is just getting out of the looney bin after 8 months because he assaulted the man screwing his wife. He's now obsessed with being 'sane' and finding a silver lining, and getting his life back together, which in itself are all insane notions considering that a psychotic break usually does not allow you to go back to everything just as it used to be. I had a friend like that. No names, but she thought she saw the light, and because she did her Master's degree in Social Work made it her mediocre mission to chain-smoke a pack a day, rearrange the furniture in her Hollywood apartment literally every single day (we were living together at the time) to keep herself busy so that she wouldn't think about drinking or getting back with her ex-boyfriend. She loved to analyze people and I was definitely one of her guinea pigs. I hated it. I hate being mentally dissected. It's bullshit. 
As I said before, people in LA are therapy'd out, so I was able to even prompt my shrink about what I thought was going on before he could even get it out. That's why I identify with the Jennifer Lawrence's character. Tiffany is a girl with a broken wing (I think that line is actually used verbatim in the film), who's husband just died, but that's not why she's considered crazy. On the surface she's actually probably the smarter of the two. Pat (Cooper) always loves to point out how she misbehaves or behaves in means that are not good 'social skills', and she immediately calls him on his bullshit. 'You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things' is one of her more famous lines. The most important difference between the two of them; both experienced trauma leading to a psychotic break, and Jennifer is the one who moved on, while Bradley Cooper still hasn't, and is completely obsessed with the past. Backstory: Tiffany's husband died; a cop in the line of duty. After which she got fired from her job for 'sleeping with the entire office'. Pat still judges her, because he thinks that he once was crazy and now he's absolutely fine. Tiffany sees this and says 'you think I'm crazier than you'. Perfect. Who is he to judge? 

'You're afraid to be alive! You're a hypocrite!' 
There's a cute exchange when they talk about all the pills that they are on and don't take any longer, but who isn't on some kind of shit these days; does that make us all crazy? Didn't you ever read 'Prozac Nation'?
The plot is in essence irrelevant. It's about two people realizing that they will never be perfect and never find the life that they once had, and the 2 hour run-time of quippy exchanges, completely blowouts, and epic shutdowns illustrates that crazy is a grey area. 
What gets me the most is how much Pat judges everyone (with the exception of Chris Tucker's character). He even gets on his dad (Robert De Niro) about being OCD, like most of us aren't. In Philly, where regularly going to a therapist is still considered taboo, he is very uncomfortable in his current state. Tiffany basically tells him the truth, it's one of the greatest Lear-esque monologues in film history. 'I opened up to you and you judged me, you're afraid to be alive, you're a hypocrite, you're an asshole'. All of these things true. 
What's most telling about this movie is that it's not romantic at all, though both main characters have great chemistry and are very attractive. You know they are going to end up together; you just do. The way they get there is a brilliant examination of life in a black and white world of sane and insane, the pitfalls and the highs and lows that it brings. At least Tiffany is self-aware. Pat eventually comes around, and only then can they be together. There is no such thing as normal behavior, and there is actually no such thing as normal. Sorry if that's crushing some of you right now, it's just the truth. And I guess Pat was right in trying to overcome his 'mental illness' by finding that damn silver lining he keeps referring to, while Tiffany was right to hate him for his hypocrisy. 
The actual romantic angle only manifests itself in the last 15 minutes of the film, because it's in the backseat for most of it.
The only rom-com element in this movie is when both Pat and Tiffany realize that (excuse the cliché) they are not perfect or normal, but they are perfect for each other. And the normalcy that they find is not a normal that is permanent or without its haptic disorders, but its theirs and they are better confronting their demons together. This sounds like love conquers all and that mental illness can be overcome by finding someone just as or even more fucked up than you, but it's not. For everything that happens between the two, it is never a co-dependent relationship and (again, excuse the cliché) they are only able to move on when they confront everything that has brought them to the mental state that they are currently living and allowing themselves to admit that they are not in fact normal, and perhaps that's actually the best thing that could happen to them.

Below: A making-of featurette.