It’s the freaking weekend – links round-up

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Here is a selection of the best things that I have come across on the internet this week:

19 Successful People Who Had A Rough Time In Their Twenties [Buzzfeed] – an inspirational list of famous people who hit a low point during their twenties and went on to greatness later in life. Number one on the list is Jon Hamm, who was dropped by the William Morris Agency aged 27 after he struggled to land acting work. The list doesn’t mention that by the time he was 21, he had lost both of his parents, which is so unimaginably awful that I don’t know how he manages to get out of bed in the morning, much less go out onto the world stage every day and entertain us with his wonderful acting skills and lovely face and aversion to wearing underpants. If you’re a twenty-something who is going through a hard time, keep your chin up, work hard and one day your penis could have its own Tumblr. It’s the American Dream.

… and if things go really, really well, you could end up being so successful that you can get away with making unusual requests of your co-workers – like Marlon Brando, who demanded ‘a bucket hat and a personal dwarf’ during the filming of The Island Of Dr Moreau. Alternatively, why not take a leaf out of Lindsay Lohan’s book (#WWLLD?, as I ask myself every day), who refused to strip naked to film a ‘pivotal orgy scene’ (is there any other kind?) with America’s Sweetheart James Deen unless the film crew took all their clothes off too? Read The 5 Most Hilarious Actor Meltdowns Behind Famous Movies [Cracked] for more great tips.

A couple more little treasures:

The Homer Car From ‘The Simpsons’ Is Now A Magnificent Reality [Uproxx]

Cher Says That Tom Cruise Is in Her Top 5 of All-Time Best Lovers [Gawker]

… and the sadface emoticon of the week goes to the ongoing New Kids On The Block/Backstreet Boys turf wars. Stay safe out there guys 😦

Paris Jackson, Amanda Bynes and Stephen Fry: the answer we’re all looking for

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Paris Michael Katherine Jackson

According to recent news reports, a judge is ‘demanding answers about suicidal Paris Jackson’s state of mind’, and he’s not the only one. Since Wednesday the Mail Online has been playing sidebar psychiatrist and has published over 20 articles on the subject, trying to work out why a teenage girl they have never met would attempt to take her own life.

The Mail Online asks ‘Did a threat to reveal Michael Jackson WASN’T her father drive Paris over the edge?‘ Or was it because she ‘was under huge strain after being forced to defend her new-found relationship with her mom Debbie Rowe‘? Is it something to do with the fact that she allegedly ‘asked for emancipation from her family before suicide attempt‘? Or is it just yet another example of ‘the terrible proof fame corrodes all it touches‘? A cry for help? An argument with her brother Prince? A delayed reaction to the death of her beloved father? Legendarily shitty guardians (with Uncle TJ having moved far away)?

Same goes for poor Amanda Bynes. While her antics are becoming increasingly predictable (Amanda Bynes calls random celebrity ugly/tweets pictures of herself half-dressed in a raggedy-ass wig/goes to a public exercise class wearing something inappropriate something something Drake SHOCKER), there’s plenty more media mileage in an analysing her every tweet in order to make an expert diagnosis. Is it drugs and alcohol? Amanda says she’s allergic to both. Narcissistic personality disorder? She does love to remind other people of how much more beautiful she is than them. Schizophrenia? She claims there’s an imposter running around New York pretending to be her. The high price of child fame? Possibly.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to see the coverage this week on the news that Stephen Fry attempted suicide last year. If you aren’t familiar with the life and times of Stephen Fry, imagine that the Queen Mother had a baby with Oscar Wilde and that baby grew up to be a lanky genius who knows everything about everything. He knows whether there’s life on Mars. He knows how many roads a man must walk down before you can call him a man. He knows that I’m lying in bed right now eating handfuls of Everyday Value cornflakes and listening to Earth Song. He knows why the answer to the Great Question Of Life, the Universe, and Everything… is forty-two. (Yes. Seriously. He actually does.) But even he doesn’t know what would cause a person to attempt suicide.

For years he has spoken frankly about living with bipolar disorder, and is president of the mental health charity Mind. This week he told the press that there was “no reason” for someone wanting to take their own life. “There is no ‘why’, it’s not the right question. There’s no reason. If there were a reason for it, you could reason someone out of it, and you could tell them why they shouldn’t take their own life.”

Wouldn’t life be so easy if all incidences of mental illness could be traced back to a single cause? If we could all just scan through the Daily Mail sidebar of shame, tot up the headlines and say to ourselves ‘ok, I won’t sell my children into Amanda Bynes-style Nickelodeon superstardom. I’ll let them know who their biological parents are and try not to get accidentally murdered by Dr Conrad Murray’ and that that would be enough to guard ourselves against the unthinkable? The fact is, 5% of all people attempt suicide at some point in their lives. It’s not just Michael Jackson’s daughter and Sherlock Holmes’ brother. Sometimes people’s brains just don’t work properly.

5 books which need to be made into movies, like, immediately

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Invisible Monsters – Chuck Palahniuk

Jennifer Lawrence at the 83rd Academy Awards crop

Any excuse to have a photo of J.Law. Sigh.

This book is the business. It’s Fight Club with drag queens. It’s a modern twist on the age-old story of boy meets girl, girl gets lower half of face shot off in drive-by, boy dumps girl, girl befriends drag queen and boy, girl, drag queen and boy travel around the US going to open houses, taking on new identities and stealing enough painkillers and hormone pills to fill the Grand Canyon, something something wedding house fire, something something secret sex change, something something gonorrhea, the end.

It won’t be an easy adaptation; ‘unreliable narrator’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. I think it can be done – I see the story as being shot as if we are seeing the world through the narrator’s eyes, Peep Show-style. MacLaren Productions Inc. acquired rights to the novel four years ago, but a film has never materialised. All they’ve got is a sad little website, Facebook page and Twitter account asking fans to ‘demand’ an Invisible Monsters movie (not even a Kickstarter campaign).

Dream director: David Fincher

Fantasy casting: Channing Tatum as the narrator’s ex Manus Kelley, the Speedo-clad dirty cop who goes deep undercover (a bit too deep, if you catch my drift) to catch gay men trying to solicit sex in public parks; Jennifer Lawrence as the Queen Supreme, Brandy Alexander (although if J.Law ever played a drag queen, I would be worried about the internet imploding under the weight of all the gifs).

The Worst Date EverJane Bussman

John Prendergast

Hunky UN activist John Prendergast

This book is the business. It’s Bridget Jones’s Diary with African war lords – and it’s a true story. It’s a modern twist on the age-old story of girl meets Ashton Kutcher, meeting Ashton Kutcher makes girl re-evaluate entire life so far and decide she never wants to spend time with people like Ashton Kutcher ever again, girl reads about hunky UN activist (John Prendergast, pictured) in magazine, girl stalks hunky UN activist all the way to war-torn Uganda, girl struggles to find a way to bump into hunky UN activist, girl gets job teaching impoverished African children and learns a thing or two about how not to be a selfish arsehole, girl meets Joseph Kony, girl finally gets to meet hunky UN activist, girl writes Broadway play and everyone lives happily ever after (except for the impoverished African children, who are still impoverished). Fact: I read the latter three quarters of this book in one sitting, and even cancelled a night out so I could finish it. I laughed out loud more than I ever have at any other book before, and cried when it ended.

Dream director: Jane Bussman

Fantasy casting: Sally Hawkins as Jane Bussman; George Clooney as John Prendergast (the two are even friends in real life); Don Cheadle as Joseph Kony; Charlie Sheen as Ashton Kutcher.

The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten – Julian Baggini

Eddie Murphy Shrek Shankbone 2010 NYC

Eddie Murphy, one of the leading donkey-portraying actors of our time

Fact: I stole most of my morals and opinions from this book. It’s non-fiction, but that didn’t stop Mean Girls (based on Queen Bees and Wannabes, Rosalind Wiseman’s self-help book for teenage girls and their parents) becoming a hit.

J.Bagg takes us through a series of ‘thought experiments’, many of them inspired by movies, including Minority Report, Total Recall and An American Werewolf in London, using vividly drawn dilemmas to help the reader examine their true beliefs about subjects like terrorism, corruption and abortion.  A film could work well as a series of Waking Life-style animated vignettes.

Dream director: Richard Linklater

Fantasy casting: John C Reilly as the pig that wants to be eaten; Vince Vaughan as Dick, the guy who ends up chained to another man on life support for nine months against his will after a night of drunkeness; Eddie Murphy as Buridan’s Ass.

House of LeavesMark Z. Danielewski

Charlize Theron (6852646838)

Any excuse to have a photo of Charlize Theron. Sigh.

Another book whose adaptation would make Being John Malkovich look like Two and a Half Men, House of Leaves is the story of a couple falling in and out of love, their homicidal house and a young drug addict who is driven insane reading their story. The title describes the book itself – a sprawling labyrinth of mulitple narrators, multiple languages, acres of footnotes, passages written forwards, backwards, upside down, books within books within films within books and over a thousand pages worth of sleepless nights. Danielewski has apparently turned down several offers for the rights to bring the novel to the big screen. I don’t know how anyone could do it, but I would love to see them try.

Dream director: dare I say David Lynch?

Fantasy casting: Will Smith as Pulitzer Prize-winning photo journalist Will Navidson; Charlize Theron as his wife, former model Karen Green; Evan Peters as Johnny Truant.

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

Zach Galifianakis at the Hangover II Premiere 2011

Any excuse to have a photo of Zach Galifianakis. Sigh.

Seriously. It’s been 33 years. Just bloody get on with it.

“But how’s it going to end?”

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Riley Schmidt - Rubber Man

I have recently started watching American Horror Story, and I love it. It contains everything that’s good in the world. Aliens! Haunted houses! Hotties! Lesbians! Nuns! I prefer Asylum to Murder House – my tastes are much more Vertigo than Shining, and the campier the better. Most of all, I love the format – each season has a completely new setting, story and characters, but with many of the same cast members playing different roles.

What a revelation! I find it liberating – no more battling through series I hate in the misguided hope that it will all be worth it in the end. I watched whole seasons of Lost and Desperate Housewives before I realised that I wasn’t actually enjoying them. I was so focused on getting to that incredible ending – the one that shines a whole new light on the entire series while also making all the bizarre twists and turns fall into place – that I hadn’t even noticed that watching them had become a chore. When you would rather spend four hours reading crackpot fan theories on TV Tropes than spend 40 minutes watching the actual programme you’re supposedly obsessing over, something is wrong.

It has made me more cautious about embarking upon new series – and I think I’m not the only one. Plenty of shows – FlashForward, Revolution, The Event, Alcatraz – have tried and failed to be ‘the new Lost’. When I watch an episode of Mad Men, or Game of Thrones, I enjoy it, but I don’t know whether I want to commit myself to a full seven seasons. To watch Lost in its entirety would take you 86.9 hours, or 3.6 days. The idea of that bothers me, and I have seen all 10,387 or so ‘cycles’ of America’s Next Top Model.

Can you dip in and out of a show like Game of Thrones, or Mad Men, or The Walking Dead? After eight years or so, if we finally discover that Game of Thrones is actually a game of Dungeons and Dragons being played by a teenage boy/Dick Whitman died in Korea/Larry David is Jesus in Purgatory, will it all have been worth it? Or will we still be shocked and thrilled by that final hour even if we haven’t been with them every step of the way?

It’s the reason why Twin Peaks has been gathering dust in my download folder for several months now. The general consensus is that the first season is incredible, but that it goes downhill in the second and never recovers. If only they had done an American Horror Story and wrapped up all of the murdered teens, log ladies and backwards-talking dwarves into a neat bundle within one season. A girl can dream.

The implication is that an ending that we don’t enjoy can ruin our memories of what came before it, while a great twist ending can make even the dullest story worth persevering with. It’s why we as a culture treat M Night Shyamalan like that cheap tart we picked up one night who gave us the ride of our lives, against our better judgement. I was way more disappointed than I had right to be by The Prestige, with its muddled and saggy twist, when up to that point I had been completely engaged in the story of two magicians driven insane by rivalry. On the flipside, I can’t handle the thought of a Mulholland Drive without that unforgettable twist ending, even though without it, it would still be a moving tale of a naive young ingenue trying to make it in Hollywood and falling in love with a mysterious amnesiac. Would The Sixth Sense still be a good movie if it was an About A Boy-style tale of a a troubled child teaching a totes-not-dead child psychiatrist a few valuable life lessons, which help him fix his broken relationship with his wife? Sure, why not?

The only ending more unpopular than a bad one is an uncertain one. Scriptwriters know this. It’s why Zodiac ends triumphantly, after a decades-long murder investigation, with a key witness identifying the killer from a row of photos, only for the screen to go blank and a couple of paragraphs of text to flash up on the screen, in the world’s smallest font, which reveal that, erm, sorry, the guy that was identified most likely isn’t the killer, and they still haven’t found who did it. It’s why they trust us to assume that nearly all romcoms end with the two people we have just seen bickering and deceiving each other for ninety minutes living happily ever after, even though she’s really young and moving to a different part of the country/she’s emotionally scarred and the dynamic of their relationship is hideously unbalanced/she basically raped him once.

Having never seen an episode of The Sopranos (I know, I know, I should have my blogging licence revoked), I have read about how it ends, and that people were unhappy with it. It has put me off watching it, even though I’m sure every hour of my life I would give over to it would be filled with thrills, and gasps, and laughs. I can appreciate such an open ending on an artistic level, but I can’t bear the thought of anyone trying to pull a stunt like that with Walter White.

4 reasons why I’m not 100% psyched about a potential Mean Girls musical

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TinaFeyJeffRichmondApr10

1. Because Mean Girls is ours now.

If you were a teenage girl when you first watched it, it’s part of who you are now.  It’s in your head, it’s in your heart.  It’s in your heavy flow, and your wide-set vagina.  The stories it told you and the lessons you learned course through your blood, weaving their way through our culture and our shared history and tying knots in your mom’s chest hair.  It whistles down the wind in the distant hum of a big yellow school bus.  It’s in the cackle of a baby prostitute.  It’s at Barnes and Noble, where you had diarrhea that one time.  Trying to capture the spirit of Mean Girls as it lives and breathes in the real world and put it back into the bottle won’t be easy.

2. Because my Mean Girls and your Mean Girls are different

In the years post-Mean Girls, personally, I think ‘make fetch happen’ has been overdone as a meme.  Seriously.  Stop trying to make it happen.  Glen Coco?  Three out of five for you, Glen Coco, you go home Glen Coco.  Buzzfeed has tired you out.  What if the whole film just becomes a Fetch-and-Glen-Coco fest, at the expense of all of the other grool quotes that are still as fresh today as when they were first spat out?

3. Because it’s going to be different from the movie, and the movie is perfect.

BUT WHAT IF THEY DON’T INCLUDE ‘MAKE FETCH HAPPEN’??? OR GLEN COCO?????

4. Because seriously, nothing could be as awesome as a Mean Girls musical sounds.

A Mean Girls musical, written by Tina Fey with songs by her husband Jeff Richmond, that is an improvement on the original film would be like finding out that Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream doesn’t contain any fat or calories, can cure cancer and prevent global warming.

Fantasy casting the Gone Girl movie

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Reese Witherspoon 2009

So, as the Gone Girl superfans among you will already know, they’re making a movie. Reese Witherspoon, who has bought the rights to produce the film adaptation, has apparently said that she won’t be playing Amy, in contrast to what was previous reported.

I have so many questions. Will it be amazing? Will they keep in the controversial ending? Why does Gillian Flynn have to keep reminding us that Desi’s mum smells of vagina? (It’s not just her, either – with it’s richly evocative and incessant descriptions, this book is like Chocolat for people who enjoy the scent of ladyparts). Will they find a way to work that obviously integral piece of characterisation into the script?

But most importantly, who should be in it?

Andie (beautiful young student who [SPOILER ALERTS] with [SPOILER ALERT])

Emma Stone 2011

Safe choice: Emma Stone? Kat Dennings? Ellen Page? Ellen Wong? Vanessa Hudgens? Aubrey Plaza? Shay Mitchell? Amber Heard?

Intriguing unsafe choice: Sexy? 20something? Large breasts? Lots of freckles? People still really like her and really root for her, even though she does really horrible things all of the time? I can think of a very famous actress who fits that description, but unless her latest bout of rehab goes spectacularly well, John Goodman has a better chance of getting cast as Andie than she does (and a very fine job he would do of it too).

My choice: John Goodman.

Margo (Nick’s twin. I actually wrote ‘identical twin’ several times while drafting this blog post, which should be proof enough of how good I am at fantasy casting – that I think Zooey Deschanel and Ryan Gosling could play identical twins)

Zooey deschanel

Safe choice: everyone’s hipster twin, Zooey Deschanel.

Intriguing unsafe choice: Greta Gerwig. If you aren’t familiar with the work of Greta Gerwig, she’s basically Chloe Sevigny if Chloe Sevigny wore normal-people clothes, actually moved her face when she spoke and had never performed le art of fellatio en camera for les reasons artistiques.

My choice: at 40, Selma Blair is possibly a tad too old to be playing the twin of someone like Chris Pine, but she is exactly how I picture Margo, and she rocks.

Desi (Amy’s ex-boyfriend who [SPOILER ALERT] [SPOILER ALERT] [SPOILER ALERT] [SPOILER ALERT])

Matthew McConaughey 2011

Safe choice: smarmy yet charming? Charmy yet smarming? Can do comedy and drama equally well? Bradley Cooper.

Intriguing unsafe choice: McConaughey. He’s a surprisingly versatile actor. I would love to see him bring his unique brand of southern-fried craziness to the role.

My choice: McConaughey.

Rand Elliot (Amy’s dad)

ChristopherPlummer07TIFF

Safe choice: Christopher Plummer? Alan Arkin?

Intriguing unsafe choice: Bryan Cranston. He’s only 57, so much too young, but he’s such a good actor. As a matter of fact, Bryan Cranston could play Nick.  He could play Amy. And, just like that, I’m now fantasising about a version of Gone Girl where Bryan Cranston plays all the characters like Eddie Murphy in The Klumps.

My choice: Cranston got this one in the bag, yo.

Amy

Jennifer10

Safe choice: Witherspoon. She’s said that she’s not going to take the part, but who is Amy Dunne if not a grown-up Tracy Flick?

Intriguing unsafe choice: Paltrow. Sickeningly perfect blonde exposes that her life is a sham? People either love her or hate her? “Your wife’s pretty head”-level plot twists?

My choice: Aniston. America’s sweetheart?  Beloved only child with a challenging relationship with her famous parents? People still think she’s a bunny boiler, despite a neverending barrage of evidence to the contrary, so I would like to see how Jen would play a genuine wife from Hell.

Nick

Ryan Gosling 2013

Safe choice: plenty. There are several all-American hunks in their early to mid thirties who I could imagine in this role. Chris Pine? Ryan Reynolds? Charming Potato? 

Intriguing unsafe choice: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is probably too New York sophisticated to play someone who grew up in the Deep South and has a huge chip on his shoulder about it, but I would be interested to see him try.

My choice: GOSLING. Think about it. He’s adorable. Everyone loves him. He could steal your fiancee, hang off the top of a ferris wheel and threaten to commit suicide if you don’t go out with him, or straight-up murder you in an elevator, and you would still happily take him home to meet your mum. He and Eva Mendes enjoy what is probably the least-documented A-list relationship of all time, because no-one wants to read about them and be reminded of the fact that, 1) HE ISN’T GOING OUT WITH YOU and 2) THE NOTEBOOK ISN’T REAL. For Gosling to play a man who people don’t like would be the greatest acting challenge of all time. One can picture him now, hearing his name called out for the Academy Award for Best Actor, shuffling and wheezing his way up to the stage, having gained 257 pounds worth of awful douchebag for the role, while Carey Mulligan and Russell Crowe dab their eyes with silken handkerchiefs at such a courageous and inspirational display of self-sacrifice in the name of art.

5 pieces of pop culture that helped me through hard times

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Persepolis (2007)

Of all the scenes in the film adaption of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, the one that made the biggest impression on me was when the teenage Marji takes to her bed after she discovers her boyfriend has cheated on her.  She is upset that he betrayed her, upset that she ever loved him, and upset that she’s upset.  She is distraught that, after a life of hardship, spending her adolescence escaping the shadows of oppression and tragedy – the Iran/Iraq war, being separated from her parents in her early teens, the torture and murder of her favourite uncle – breaking up with some spotty twerp has driven her to attempt suicide.  Among the lessons that Persepolis helped teach me is the realisation that our emotions don’t react in predictable ways.  It is easy to imagine that that day you experience a tragedy is as tough as it gets, and each day after that is a little easier.  It doesn’t work like that.  You can fight through a war and let teenage heartache knock you for six.

So What – Pink

I can’t imagine how hard it must be to tell everyone you know that you’re splitting up with your husband after only a couple of years of marriage.  I especially can’t imagine how hard it must be to tell everyone who knows you that you’re splitting up with your husband after only a couple of years of marriage when you’re one of the most famous pop stars in the entire world.   With that in mind, it takes gigantic ladyballs to not only release a song about it (with the opening line ‘I guess I just lost my husband, I don’t know where he went…’) , but also to release a video for that song in which you sing it to said husband and mime strangling him (and also appear naked from behind while doing some sort of T-Rex dance?  And have a 1990s Nicholas Cage doppelganger set fire to your hair?  Whatevs, it’s a weird video.)  One time when I was feeling very low, I put this song on repeat for about an hour and a half and told myself that I’m still a rockstar too goddammit.  Bonus awesomeness: they’re now married again, and have a baby together.

Beginners (2011)

I watched this film for the first time on New Year’s Day, 2012.  Having had a few friends over the night before, I spent the day alone, hungover and tired, eating re-heated leftover mozzarella sticks in a filthy apartment, thinking about New Year’s Resolutions and all of the uncomfortable self-questioning that comes with them.  That evening, I downloaded this wonderful little movie about an elderly man (Christopher Plummer) who comes out as gay after his wife of 44 years passes away, and chases love with all the energy and enthusiasm of a man a quarter of his age.  The film is based on director Mike Mills’ own experiences of his father coming out at the age of 75.  Watch it next time you’re feeling inadequate about what you have achieved during the short time you have been on this earth.

Invisible Monsters – Chuck Palahniuk

‘”Now,” those Plumbago lips say, “You are going to tell me your story like you just did.  Write it all down.  Tell that story over and over.  Tell me your sad-assed story all night.”  That Brandy queen points a long bony finger at me.

‘”When you understand,” Brandy says, “that what you’re telling is just a story.  It isn’t happening anymore.  When you realise the story you’re telling is just words, when you can just crumble it up and throw your past in the trashcan,” Brandy says, “then we’ll figure out who you’re going to be.”‘

I want that whole passage tattooed inside my eyelids.

Peep Show

This British sitcom is perfect for when you have done something you regret and need to put it into perspective.  Next time you do something awful and/or embarrassing, you should try what I shall call ‘The Jez Test’: assessing your actions against those of Jeremy from Peep Show to see which is worse.

The Jez Test:

  • Have you tried to run over your girlfriend’s lesbian fiance accidentally on purpose?
  • Have you accidentally killed your girlfriend’s dog, set fire to it to dispose of the remains, and eaten a bite of its charred leg in front of her?
  • Have you bested a love rival by pooing in the pool of the gym he works at, and blaming it on him?

No?  It’s probably fine then, you shouldn’t worry about it.

Why aren’t you a superstar already? John C. Reilly edition

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He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Chicago, and has appeared in basically every film ever since the beginning of time (Boogie Nights! Chicago! Gangs of New York! The Thin Red Line! The Hours! The Aviator!), but I still have to say “you know, the guy from Step Brothers who isn’t Will Ferrell” every time I mention him, and that is a bloody disgrace.  Until his name is instantly recognisable among the general public;  until he gets an Academy Award and until the United States of America is renamed John C. Reillytopia and has Boats n Hoes installed as its national anthem, I will consider him underrated.

From starting out as a dramatic actor, he has transitioned to mostly performing in comic roles.  So many successful funnymen go into dramatic roles, and it’s generally regarded to be a step up from slumming it in comedy.  I don’t think that’s entirely fair.  Making people laugh isn’t easy.  It’s a sad, mad, bad world out there at times, and we need talented people who can serve LOLs on the regular.

And serve them he does, in everything from Pixar (playing the lead in Wreck-It Ralph) to indie dramedies (Cyrus, Carnage, Cedar Rapids) to more Frat Pack comedies than you can shake a shake and bake at. Step Brothers is a personal favourite of mine.  I think it needs more love among the Judd Apatow fan community.  Hey Will Ferrell fans, why not ease off the “I Love Lamp” and “Sex Panther” quotes and add “you and your mom are hillbillies.  This is a house of learned doctors” to your arsenal?  It works just as well on dinner party guests as it does on new relationship partners.

The little seen Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story deserves a special mention – while it isn’t knicker-wettingly hilarious, it is a very well observed parody (of Walk The Line and Ray) with a lot of heart.  Naturally, John C. Reilly does a great job of spoofing the kind of standard Oscar fodder that he has done so many times before – after all, he knows it inside out.  Not only that, but he was nominated for a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack.  Lest we forget, he has the voice of an angel: here he is singing Mr Cellophane in Chicago.  He truly is the songbird of our generation.

Even in his dramatic roles, he brings much-needed lightness and warmth.  As a hard-working cop trying to save the life of a pretty junkie, he is the sole ray of light in Paul Thomas Anderson’s suffocatingly bleak Magnolia, (to be fair to the other actors, most of them were playing child/parent/spouse abusers).  As full-time porn star, part-time magician Reed Rothchild in Boogie Nights, he bounds into each scene with a puppydog energy, providing comic relief in even the most disturbing scenes.

More recently he has been starring in his own comedy show, the surreal and silly Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, which is a spin-off from ‘Brule’s Rules’, his recurring feature on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! It’s not the most highbrow, intellectual humour: Dr. Steve pronounces sushi as ‘shushi’ and refers to wasabi and pickled ginger as ‘guacamole and peaches’; mistakes a ‘crasino’ change machine for a ‘one of paper equals four of coin’ game (he always wins); goes onto the real-world streets to sell copies of his ‘BCBs’ (DVDs) to confused drivers.  Could you imagine any other Oscar-nominated dramatic actor doing that?  Well Joaquin Phoenix, obvs, but it would probably be some sort of semi-serious performance art orbiting the eighth circle of uber-meta-irony that no-one would understand.  Ok, and Adrien Brody, but he will appear in anything.

Any dingus in Hollywood can play the put-upon husband of a murderer, or the put-upon father of a murderer, or the put-upon porn star and part-time magician bumbling sidekick of an idiot, and give an impactful performance.  It takes a truly gifted actor to take what could be an incredibly one-dimensional character (he says he’s a doctor but doesn’t understand what a man’s ‘pennis’ does; he pronounces words incorrectly; and, that’s about it) and sell it like it’s Shakespeare.  Check out this video in which Dr. Steve interracts with his ‘brother’, watch it until the very end and try not to be moved:

On reviews, reviewers and reviewing things

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This week one of my favourite writers, Nicole Cliffe from The Hairpin, has been discussing what makes a good review.  As a guest reviewer of the ‘Critical Hit Awards’ at Electric Literature, she wrote: 

I believe it is very difficult to succeed with a book review if you lack generosity of spirit and a genuine love of books. There are plenty of terrible books, there are far more mediocre books, there are many good ones, and there are some that are great. Books that are terrible or mediocre are rarely worth your time to review. Which is not to say that a negative review has no place in your arsenal, but when I am reviewing a book, I try to imagine that I am speaking to the author, that that author wants to have written a good book and has proceeded with that desire in good faith.

Linking to the article on The Hairpin, Nicole reflected:

But then, when I think about some of the book reviews which have really stayed with me, some of them are mean and brilliant. And I greatly prefer Anthony Lane’s more withering movie reviews to ones that are all, oh, Jessica Chastain is a revelation. So, hm, who knows?’

For me, the distinction isn’t between positive and negative reviews.  Whether it’s affectionate yet clear-slighted love like Nicole’s Cliffe’s own Classic Trash, where our heroine takes us on a personal journey through her experiences with the best trashy literature through the decades, or vicious slamdowns (there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t shed a tear for the untimely hiatus of Videogum’s ‘Worst Movie of All Time’ reviews), I believe that the best reviews are highly personal and passionate ones.

We all have different experiences and worldviews and different reasons for loving what we love, and hating what we hate.  When I used to write about music for another site, the editor would send me singles and albums to review.  My biggest problem was never not liking them, but being able to acknowledge that they were good, but just not to my taste.  How do you critically assess something like that?  All the noises sounded good in my ears and everything, but once the review was written, I would never listen to them again.  I was never particularly proud of those reviews – I would much rather write about something that provoked a strong response in me, one way or another.    

I think that there’s a huge gulf between loving something and acknowledging that something is very good with few, if any, flaws, and not a lot of traditional reviewers cover that space.  How often does Roger Ebert write reviews like “Terrence Malick’s new film is a profound and stunningly accurate examination of the human experience with a first-rate script, career-best performances from the world’s greatest actors and flawless direction, but I could have watched White Chicks twice during its 280 minute run time, and would much rather have done so”? (and he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, so he should know the joys of great trash better than anyone). 

That isn’t a problem – that is where bloggers can come in and win hearts and minds with their ‘OMFG guys, you just have to watch this movie right now’ views.  (To quote John Cheese from Cracked.com: ‘If I have to explain who Leslie Nielsen is, you need to stop what you’re doing right now and go watch the Airplane and Naked Gun movies, and the Police Squad! TV show. Call in a sick day to work or school, explaining that you just discovered his body of work. They’ll understand. In fact, the only punishment you might receive would be a dock in pay or grades for not having done it sooner.’)  There are a huge number of reviewers out there, in print and online, so what can set you apart is having a unique perspective and a story to tell.  What can you see that no-one else can?  Do you still love a much mocked movie because it came along at just the right time in your life when you could appreciate it?  Do you love Freddy Got Fingered and hate The Godfather?  Tell me why!