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16 articles I’m proud of writing this year

26 Dec

I hardly ever post in this blog anymore, mostly because I’m too busy writing actual articles for work. But in the interest of reflecting on 2015 — and being needlessly self-indulgent — I decided to share the work I’m most proud of this year. These are the stories I spent months reporting and writing. (Along with some I threw together over the course of one productive day.) In many ways they define my year, and while that might sound a little depressing — surely there’s more to life than work! — I have to remind myself that writing is my passion, and I only really write about things I truly love. It’s been a joy covering film, television, and theater: I get to celebrate the art and artists I admire, all while furthering my subversive queer feminist agenda. If I have one regret about the work I did this year, it’s that I didn’t do more of it (hello, poor time management skills). One of my major goals for 2016 is to be more on top of everything so I can produce more. And maybe, every once in a while, get a decent night’s sleep.

1. Eli Roth Thinks Women Will Love His Latest Movie. This year I went to Sundance for the first time, and it was an incredible experience. I saw a lot I loved — and plenty that I hated. Knock Knock fell into the latter category, so it was a pleasure talking to Eli Roth about what I considered a deeply misogynistic film. I was proud of myself for not letting my bias show, because I knew the key here was letting Roth speak for himself.
2. Jeremy Jordan Has Learned From The Mistakes Of Smash. At this point in the year, I had no idea I’d go on to co-create a Smash podcast. I only knew that I wasn’t done talking about my favorite misguided musical drama. With that in mind, I interviewed Jeremy Jordan about The Last Five Years (which I loved), and I got him to be remarkably candid about one of my least favorite TV characters ever.
3. Daniel Franzese Is Still Breaking New Ground 10 Years After Mean GirlsLooking is a series that I feel never got its due, which is why I wrote about it so often. One of my other major passions is writing about size discrimination and fatphobia in the gay male community. I fell in love with Daniel Franzese’s character Eddie, and it was a thrill chatting with Franzese about issues like body positivity and fat acceptance.
4. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Musical Is Not Your Average Disney Production. This year I also expanded my theater coverage. The writing I do on theater never goes as viral as anything I write about film or television — and that’s OK. It remains one of my greatest joys. And as I toy with the idea of leaving Los Angeles for New York, I realize how important this work is to me.
5. The Definitive Ranking Of The Friday The 13th Movies. Another subject I can’t ever seem to write about enough? Horror. (Look for more in-depth pieces on the genre in the coming year.) I love revisiting films that often get overlooked — mediocre horror sequels, for example — and finding a new way to talk about them. And yes, that means I’ve watched a ton of shit, but dissecting garbage is one of the best things about my job.
6. Why Stephen Sondheim Is A Genius, According To The Broadway Stars Who Love Him. This was a project that required very little writing on my part, but it’s something I’m still immensely proud of. Reaching out to icons like Patti and Liza and Barbra, and getting gorgeous responses, was a great reminder to always make that effort, no matter how impossible it seems. And I received a lovely note from Sondheim, which I treasure.
7. What The Heidi Chronicles Gets Right About Feminism And Gay Men. Basically no one read this piece, which was a bummer, but hey, all the more reason to share it again. I was able to get more political than I usually can in my work by articulating it in terms of a play. I can’t be as public with my beliefs as I once was, but if I can remind gay men to be better feminist allies and write about theater, I’m satisfied.
8. Inside The Mind Behind The Most Disgusting Franchise Of All Time. Like Eli Roth, Tom Six is basically a troll. Again, I’m including this because I’m proud of how I’ve grown as an interviewer. When you’re talking to someone as performative as Six, you have to use a lot of restraint and ultimately let him reveal more than he intends to. Given how much I hated this movie, I was delighted by how good the piece came out.
9. Half Of the Team That Changed Horror Is Now Flying Solo. Leigh Whannell, on the other hand, is a horror filmmaker who actually has something to say. This was another one of those interviews that reminded me why I’m so passionate about the genre. I love the ability to analyze something so few people take seriously, and Whannell’s astute observations gave me a lot of hope for the future of horror.
10. The Definitive Ranking Of Walt Disney Animation Studios Films. This was a beast to get through, and I think that shows in the finished product. Rewatching every Disney animated film was a daunting task, to say the least, but what made it worthwhile was being able to engage critically with the films I grew up on. I never want to ruin anyone’s childhood, but I do want to encourage people to rethink their treasured classics.
11. How Catfish Helped Max Joseph Make His Major Film Debut. I wish more people had seen We Are Your Friends, which I liked so much more than I thought I would. I also wish more people that I interviewed were as insightful and honest as Max Joseph. This was me stepping outside of my comfort zone, which is so rewarding. I never thought I’d want to analyze “bro culture,” but here we are.
12. Olivia Wilde Is Taking On A More Active Role To Support Women In Film. You know who is fucking great? Olivia Wilde. This was another one of those interviews I did that made me feel excited about the direction film is headed. It was truly inspiring, and I was so honored to be able to pass Wilde’s message along. If I could just talk to brilliant women in film all the time, I would. It’s such a thrill.
13. The Movie That Taught A Generation Of Misfits To Let Their Freak Flags Fly. Like Drop Dead Gorgeous, another film I wrote an oral history of, Camp was pivotal to my development. This story took me months to get done, and toward the end I pretty much just wanted it to be over. But this is easily the story I’m proudest of writing this year. I wanted to capture a movie that changed my life, and I think I succeeded.
14. All 78 “Treehouse Of Horror” Segments Ranked From Worst To Best. OK, I’ll be honest: I’m mostly including this here because I’m proud of my time management skills on this one. I busted it out in a few days, because I decided I wanted to do it right before Halloween. Anyway, it was a blast and, once again, allowed me to revisit my childhood in a new way. Writing this much about The Simpsons falls under “dream job” territory.
15. How To Be A Broadway Diva, Or At Least How To Fake It. I love writing about people who just aren’t getting that much coverage otherwise. Lesli Margherita is a big name in theater, but not so much to those outside of the community. I was blown away by her humor and sincerity, and I relished the opportunity to share that with a wider audience. I’m going to continue working to force non-theater fans to give a shit.
16. The 18 Best Plays And Musicals Of 2015. And to that end, this is the first list BuzzFeed has done of the best theater of the year. It’s the culmination of my work to broaden our theater coverage, and while it’s still nowhere near my most widely read story this year, I think it’s a major step in the right direction. I can’t wait to return to New York so that I can continue to remind people that Broadway is more relevant than ever.

My 20 favorite films of 2014

22 Feb

Believe it or not, there are still films from last year I haven’t seen, but if I don’t do this now, I may never actually get aroud to doing it. Also, I feel like the day of the Oscars is the official cut-off point for posting your list of the best movies from the preceding year. (I’m basing this on literally nothing. Just work with me here.) I’ve decided not to rank these, in part because I do enough ranking for work, but also because how do you compare 22 Jump Street and Selma? (I’m sure there’s a way to do it. Feel free to email me with your suggestions.)

So here, in alphabetical order, with some thoughts on each, are my 20 favorite films of 2014:

1. 22 Jump Street21 Jump Street was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012, but the biggest surprise was that 22 Jump Street was even better. Channing Tatum got plenty of accolades for his performance in Foxcatcher, but honestly, he’s way more in his element in 22 Jump Street. His chemistry with Jonah Hill is extraordinary, and the film as a whole is that perfect blend of action and comedy that many movies aspire to but few attain.
2. Boyhood. While it’s probably going to lose the Academy Award to Birdman, which I really didn’t like, Boyhood is perhaps my favorite “Oscar movie” of 2014. Much has been written about Richard Linklater’s unprecedented feat of filming the same actors over 12 years, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive to watch. And Patricia Arquette’s “I just thought there would be more” scene, which will win her an Oscar, is heartbreaking and perfect.
3. Citizenfour. Say what you will about Edward Snowden — actually spare me, because I’m not really interested in having that debate right now — Citizenfour is unlike any other documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s that rare combination of unbelievable access and a stranger-than-fiction story. Even though you know where the story is going, because it played out over international headlines, it’s still a thrilling, relentlessly challenging journey.
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It did earn one technical Oscar nomination, but I’m a little disappointed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was so quickly forgotten. I was a big fan of Rise, which aptly rebooted the dusty Planet of the Apes series, and Dawn expands on the story with some exceptional world-building and gorgeous character development. Caesar is truly one of the best developed characters of any 2014 film.
5. Edge of Tomorrow. Another underrated sci-fi gem, Edge of Tomorrow was a pleasant surprise on every level: It breathed fresh life into the been-there-done-that Groundhog Day conceit, it gave me a newfound appreciation for Emily Blunt’s badassery, and it made me like Tom Cruise again. Seriously, he is great in this movie, playing a total coward who emerges as a hero only because he has no other option, a gorgeous subversion of the roles he usually plays.
6. Enemy. How did this film slip under the radar? Jake Gyllenhaal delivers one of his best performances as two different characters in a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing and leaves you breathless with its stunning mindfuck of a final shot. Without revealing too much, Enemy can be interpreted literally or as an extended metaphor, and it works either way, grounded in solid acting and tense, restrained filmmaking.
7. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It’s not like I had any doubts about embracing a Persian feminist vampire flick, but I still loved A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night even more than I’d expected. It’s such a uniquely realized vision, a seductive blend of style and substance. Ida earned praised for its gorgeous black-and-white visuals — and rightfully so — but, as far as I’m concerned, Girl is just as beautiful a viewing experience.
8. The Guest. It’s rare to find a movie that’s as fun as it is expertly made. The Guest is a taut thriller with a wicked sense of humor, and I’ve come to expect as much from director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett. They’re so good at blending sharp dialogue with shocking bursts of violence, and making it all look seamless. They are two of the most creative minds working in film, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
9. Happy Christmas. Like other Joe Swanberg movies, Happy Christmas is quiet but endlessly charming, the kind of film that washes over you and continues to grow on you long after you’ve finished watching. The largely improvised dialogue gives it a wonderful authenticity, but it’s anchored by some terrific performances from Melanie Lynskey and Anna Kendrick. Not to mention the finest baby acting ever captured on screen. A tiny Oscar for baby Jude!
10. Jodorowsky’s Dune. The thing about Jodorowsky’s Dune — the film he tried to make, not the documentary about the film — is that I’m reasonably certain I would hate it. I’m not really a fan of Jodorowsky, and maybe that’s a failing of mine, but no matter. The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune is still stunning as a reflection of the futility of artistic pursuit, and the persistence of creative minds in spite of the odds.
11. The Lego Movie. Yeah, that Oscar snub hurt, because The Lego Movie isn’t just a lot of fun — it’s also a thoughtful, engaging, and beautiful artistic achievement. When the film hit theaters (over a year ago, at this point) I already knew it would be one of my favorite movies of 2014. That’s rare for me, but it’s also rare to watch something that’s such an overwhelming pleasure from start to finish. Also, best Batman ever, if we’re being honest.
12. Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal was incredible in Enemy, but he was even better in Nightcrawler. (I’ve had such a crush on him for so long that sometimes I forget what an amazing actor he is.) Nightcrawler is one of the best LA movies I’ve ever seen, a wicked satire of the city’s class divide and bloodthirsty media culture. It’s the Network for our generation, and the fact that so many people seemed to miss the point just makes me love it more.
13. Obvious Child. I’ve loved Jenny Slate for several years, so it’s nice to see the rest of the world catching on. But she’s just one part of what makes Obvious Child one of 2014’s best films. As a staunch advocate for women’s health, it’s refreshing to see a film that is entirely about abortion without treating abortion as anything but a fact of life. There is something so progressive about that, and it still doesn’t feel like an “issues movie.” An impressive feat.
14. Selma. Yeah, it got a Best Picture nod, but in so many ways, Selma still got shafted. The film wouldn’t be what it is without lovely, nuanced performances from David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo. But most importantly, it’s a singular achievement because of director Ava DuVernay’s vision. She deserved a nomination for transforming Selma from a white savior story into the most complex and human portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. ever committed to film.
15. The Skeleton Twins. Full disclosure: Co-writer and director Craig Johnson is a friend of mine. But long before we connected, I was blown away by his talent. The Skeleton Twins looks very Sundance-y on paper, but it manages to eschew all the obvious clichés despite being a film about depression. And that’s a credit to the script and the multi-dimensional characters it offers, brought to layered life by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.
16. SnowpiercerI’m actually not always big on sci-fi — the fact that it’s well represented on this list is a credit to how many thoroughly original and well executed genre films there were in 2014. Snowpiercer got attention for Tilda Swinton’s hilarious turn as Mason — and she’s great! — but the entire ensemble does exceptional work. And the overarching concept, however unbelievable, is perfectly realized and perpetually surprising in the best ways.
17. Still Alice. I’ve seen people criticize Still Alice and say that the only good thing about the movie is Julianne Moore’s performance. I find this assessment rather baffling. I found the film to be devastating without being emotionally manipulative, which is hard to pull off. It’s an honest and measured portrayal of Alzheimer’s, not unlike the equally heartbreaking Away From Her. It’s also a great showcase for the criminally underrated Kristen Stewart.
18. Two Days, One Night. One of the only good surprises in terms of Oscar nominations this year was Marion Cotillard earning one for Two Days, One Night. She’s truly fantastic in the role, but it’s one of those subtle performances that too often go overlooked in favor of showier fare. The entire film catches you off-guard because of its deceptive complexity. It’s a very simple story told in a straightforward fashion — and suddenly you find yourself sobbing.
19. Whiplash. There’s more to Whiplash than the two performances at its center, but they’re unequivocally the very best thing about it, and that’s not a bad thing. J. K. Simmons has wavered between playing affable and intimidating characters, but in Whiplash he is a terrifying force of nature. He is so scary, it’s impressive — and so impressive, it’s scary. Let’s not overlook Miles Teller either: He brings his own brand of intensity to his role.
20. Wild. I went into Wild thinking that I would hate it, and by the end, I had broken down into heaving sobs. The thing about Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl is that you want to judge her for her ignorance and her privilege, but she challenges you at every turn. It’s her subversion of audience expectations that make Wild such a thrill to watch. She refuses to apologize for her past mistakes, and that’s such a liberating moment. I felt her catharsis, and it moved me.

Honorable mentions:

Blue Ruin. A stressful, minimalist thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat and shocked me into laughter.
Ida. Beautiful on every level, even when the plot delves into the specifics of gruesome past atrocities and their aftermath.
The Immigrant. Another flawless performance from Marion Cotillard elevates a somewhat old-fashioned melodrama.
Into the Woods. One of the most faithful adaptations of a musical ever made, it works best as a gift to lifelong Sondheim fans.
Jamie Marks Is Dead. Strange and tonally confused but ultimately a memorable portrait of a teenage outcast.
Maleficent. As misunderstood as the character at its center, Maleficent deserves more credit for its unabashed feminism.
Under the Skin. Another uniquely feminist subversion of its genre, with some of 2014’s most stunning visuals.

38 random things you might not know about me, and probably didn’t need to

7 Jan
  1. My favorite film genre is horror. It wasn’t, until I took a summer course at Berkeley that changed everything for me.
  2. I was an extra in the drag horror comedy All About Evil. I have a close-up and everything.
  3. I’ve read more by Stephen King than by any other author.
  4. The movie that made me realize I was gay, at least to some extent, was The Object of My Affection.
  5. The first person I ever came out to was an older guy from my high school who started chatting with me on AOL and asking me increasingly personal questions about my sexual desires. He was a creep.
  6. The first NC-17 movie I saw in theaters was The Dreamers. I had it bad for Louis Garrel.
  7. I was mugged by five guys when I was 18. They punched me in the back of the head, but I don’t remember any pain.
  8. I’ve had two minor surgeries: wisdom teeth, obviously, and the extraction of a benign bone tumor in my big toe.
  9. I was adopted at birth.
  10. When I was in third grade, I appeared in my Jewish day school play A Symbol of Hanukkah. I really liked being onstage.
  11. In middle school, I went to theater camp, but not the prestigious kind you have to audition for. That’s probably why I got a couple solos. Humblebrag!
  12. I also did choir in eighth grade. And then I suddenly became terrified to perform again until my twenties.
  13. I love storytelling and I think I’m reasonably funny, but I’m afraid of trying stand-up comedy.
  14. I speak Italian, but I’m out of practice. I used to speak Hebrew and Spanish, but I’ve mostly forgotten both. I can still understand a lot of Spanish, because Los Angeles.
  15. I took Italian in college because French was full.
  16. I’ve always lived in California. I was born and raised in LA, went to college in Berkeley and stayed there for a few extra years, then moved back here.
  17. Outside of Los Angeles, the cities I’ve spent the most time in are Manhattan and La Jolla.
  18. My first boyfriend was named Mark. We dated for a few months when I was a freshman in college.
  19. My first kiss happened when I was a senior in high school. It was awkward, and my mom was home at the time.
  20. When I was a kid, I briefly played piano and guitar, both poorly.
  21. I was also forced into tennis, gymnastics, and t-ball. I excelled at none.
  22. I have a serious phobia of flying and take Xanax whenever I have to do it. I have recurring nightmares about getting on planes and forgetting my Xanax at home.
  23. I’m very insecure about my appearance, but I like my lips and my calves.
  24. At one point, I dyed my hair reddish-brown. At another point, I had blonde highlights.
  25. My Bar Mitzvah portion was Noah. I still feel an attachment to the story, if not to Judaism.
  26. My Bar Mitzvah party theme was television. All of the tables were different shows. My table was The Simpsons.
  27. When I was 15, I spilled chocolate milk all over a girl’s bag, and I still feel bad about this.
  28. When I was 17, I said that I didn’t think I was a feminist, and I still feel bad about this.
  29. All of my grandparents are dead.
  30. I can count the number of funerals I’ve been to on one hand. I’ve been to even fewer weddings.
  31. I’m allergic to cats and dogs, but I had a hypoallergenic dog named Lily. She was a Bichon Frisé, and I still miss her.
  32. Other pets I have had: a tortoise, a hamster, hermit crabs, a pair of rats.
  33. I once wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic. It was not erotic.
  34. I have a scar on my left index finger from when I cut it while slicing bread on Ambien. I have told this story before, but it’s too good a useless fact about me to not share.
  35. I sucked my thumb until I was 10. I know.
  36. My nails are usually long because I hate the way that short nails feel. I get chills thinking about it.
  37. Sometimes I write because I don’t know what else to do with my time, and then I feel a little embarrassed about expecting anyone else to read it, but I’m publishing this post, anyway.
  38. I wrote a sex column in college. My mom loved it.

Assorted pop culture bitching (5/15/12)

15 May

When I first started this blog, I intended it to be a mix of pop culture musings and the occasional serious business post about feelings. Somehow it became much more of the latter, which is likely because I do enough pop culture writing for actual publications, and because I no longer have a LiveJournal and this is what it sounds like when doves cry.

In the spirit of the former, though, I’m going to try to make “assorted pop culture bitching” a semi-regular feature here. Keep in mind I sometimes go a month or two without blogging. If I manage to churn out one of these posts a year, that probably qualifies as semi-regular.

This particular set of complaints is horror-themed. Boo, etc.

The Paranormal Activity series
I just finished watching Paranormal Activity 3, which was — like the previous installments — annoyingly frightening. Not frightening in the sense that I’m going to have to sleep with the lights on tonight (I always fall asleep to The Golden Girls, anyway), but frightening in that I jumped several times.

“Annoyingly” because these are cheap scares, and they are the same in every Paranormal Activity movie. These films are not without merit: the first was the closest we’ve come to Blair Witch Project since, uh, Blair Witch Project. And there’s something particularly effective about scenes of mundanity (people sleeping, chattering on about bullshit) punctuated with loud bangs and creepy shit happening.

But “effective” doesn’t mean “good.” Once the novelty wears off, we’re left with reiterations of the same concept, and that pisses me off. There was more creativity in the Saw series, which — while often uniquely terrible — at least gave us different deaths each go-around. I keep watching Paranormal Activity movies because I half-expect them to try something new. Will I ever learn?

Probably not. Look, I don’t mind sitting through 90 minutes of people sleeping and occasionally being thrown into walls once a year, but if you want to actually impress me, find something new to do with the found-footage horror genre. At this point, we’re basically over it, because we get how it works. We’ll jump, and then we’ll shrug it off. There is unique work to be done with first-person perspective. It’s just not happening in this series.

Zombie apocalypse guides
Today I got a press release about a new zombie apocalypse guide. I’m not going to link to it, because I refuse to encourage this behavior. This was (or should have been) a single-use idea. Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide is brilliant, because it follows the form of actual survival guides and gives it a fun, supernatural twist.

Treating the horror world with sincerity was a somewhat novel concept at the time, and Brooks’ execution is perfect. It’s hilarious, because you’re reading a how-to guide on an impossible situation, but it’s also a little bit scary — some tiny part of you can’t help thinking, “Wait, but what if…?” Brooks’ novel World War Z works in a similar fashion. I highly recommend both.

But seriously, fuck the knock-offs. We can stop talking about how to survive the zombie apocalypse now. There will never be a zombie apocalypse. I am not sure of most things, but I’m willing to bet on that. If I’m wrong — well, if I’m wrong I’ll be torn apart by the undead, which is at least as bad as hearing you say, “I told you so.” It’s just such an absurd concept to keep milking, and nothing anyone does will stop feeling derivative.

I guess part of me is also annoyed by the way these persistent guides remove the mystery from the supernatural. It’s fun to do every once in a while: tell me how to stop a werewolf, or the best way to ward off vampires. But when you treat this as an actual genre with new, increasingly mechanical installments, you dilute supernatural fiction as a whole. Find a way to make zombies scary again, or move on to mummies.

Horror on television
I would love to see a good horror TV series, but I recognize that’s probably impossible. There are a lot of limitations to the form — on a practical level, a smaller screen size makes it tougher to scare your audience. Also, most shows won’t kill off major characters, so there’s not the same sense of foreboding. And violence, while not essential to all horror, is restricted on non-cable networks.

Still, TV horror could be better. I loved the sequence in the season finale of The Vampire Diaries in which Alaric stalked Rebekah (just smile and nod, non-fans), because it felt like I was watching a slasher movie. On a smaller scale, sure, but the set-up, cinematography, and direction all worked together to give the scene a horror movie feel. More of that, please.

The X-Files used to do it pretty well. But Supernatural is the closest thing we have to The X-Files now, and aside from the fact the current season is awful, it’s just not scary. The pilot was to some extent, so why doesn’t the show try for that anymore? American Horror Story attempted it, but mostly ended up being really gross. I will give the show props for (SPOILER ALERT) killing off essentially every character in the first season. The stakes were high, at least.

One of my silly dreams that I don’t often admit is the creation of a horror anthology series, like Tales From the Crypt. (I’ve seen some episodes of Masters of Horror. Meh.) Perhaps horror doesn’t work episodically: colossal disappointment The River was largely done in by unfortunate pacing and commercial breaks. Anyway, if someone wants to finance Peitzman Presents or whatever, I promise I’ll at least try to creep you out.

My Twilight fanfic

19 Nov

I didn’t marry Edward Cullen until I was 32.

Married at 18? Are you fucking kidding me? Edward said we needed to be married to have sex, which was a crock of shit—not to mention a terrible reason for getting married young. We broke up when he proposed. It was hard on both of us, but instead of sitting in my room moping the year away, I decided to take some agency and find independence outside of my vampire ex-boyfriend. I told him that once I’d developed a stronger sense of self, I’d consider giving the whole dating thing another shot. (I wanted to play the field. Can you blame me?)

I hung out with Jacob for a while. We weren’t together in my mind, but he seemed to think so, and it was all way too intense. Yeah, the sex was awesome, but I’d had my fill of clingy, controlling men. Besides, he smelled like wet dog after a shower.

What I needed was to get out of Forks. As much as I liked dating, I knew that focusing on my education and career would be more beneficial in the long run. Wasn’t that what I’d told Edward? Aside from a few flings, I kept my hormones in check (read: masturbated A LOT) while attending Sarah Lawrence. After graduating, I decided to pursue my MA in psychology. I did so much personal growth away from Edward I was finally able to see how unhealthy our union had been. Maybe that’s why so many of my patients now are women who have been in abusive relationships.

But sometimes we make mistakes. When Edward and I reconnected, I was 30, very much a changed woman. And he seemed like a changed—er, vampire. He was mellower to be around, more able to control his instincts. Oh, and he was down to fuck. Yeah, we still had to do some serious talking about traditional values and all that, but he eventually came to see it my way. The sex was—well, OK, it wasn’t Jacob-level great, but it was close. And I really did love the Edward he had become. He respected all of my rules, including the “no watching me sleep” thing.

When he asked me to marry him, I said yes. Things had been great for so long: I truly believed we could make it work. But then came the wedding night, when all the intense cries of “I want to be with you forever” suddenly felt a lot more threatening. Yeah, I’d wanted to be a vampire back when I was an idiot teenager, but by this point, I knew there was more to life than eternal youth. And I hadn’t even hit my sexual peak!

The sex was where things really took a turn. Whatever self-control Edward had managed to teach himself went out the window. He was an animal: without the “sin” of premarital sex, he could really let go, and it wasn’t passionate or sexy. It was violent and awful. He broke the bed, tore pillows into feathers. All the trust he’d earned from me vanished, and when I woke up the next morning covered in bruises, I knew it was over. No matter how much he apologized, I couldn’t let it go. Violence was in his nature as a vampire, but that didn’t mean I had to stick around and see how it played out.

When I found out I was pregnant, I freaked, naturally. Who knew that was even a possibility? I wanted a kid—still do, in fact—but it was clear early on that this was no normal pregnancy. I gave it a couple weeks, waited to see how my body would react, and even in that short period of time I became weaker than I’d ever been. I could feel the fetus inside me, and as much as I wanted to bring it into the world, I couldn’t do it at the risk of my life. I told Edward about my decision—over the phone, because I couldn’t gauge what his reaction would be. He was surprisingly understanding, but I knew it was still wise to keep my distance.

I had Carlisle perform the abortion. It felt a little weird going to him—OK, a lot weird—but I couldn’t chance seeing a non-vampire doctor. I had no idea how the fetus was going to look, and I didn’t want to raise a lot of uncomfortable questions. Luckily, Carlisle was a total professional. He respected me in a way Edward never had, and he knew I was making the right choice for my future. I would have a kid when the time was right.

That’s why I’m writing this, actually. I guess that time is now. I’m living with someone now. Max. He’s not a vampire or a werewolf—turns out both of those are dealbreakers. He’s never treated me like his property or made decisions on my behalf. He’s never left me sore or broken. My vampire abortion left my uterus a little worse for wear, so we’re adopting just to be safe. And we’re naming our daughter Renée, after my mother. Max suggested “Rendrea,” a combination of Renée and Andrea, his mother’s name. I told him that was fucking stupid, and once he said it again out loud, he was inclined to agree. We had a good laugh.

Seven modern horror films you should watch

6 Aug

I talk about comedy a lot, and I write jokes on Twitter, so you might assume comedy is my favorite film genre. You’d be totally wrong. See what happens when you make assumptions? I’m actually a huge horror fan—not that horror and comedy are mutually exclusive. And since I’ve already made a post telling you what comedies you should watch, I figured I might as well do something similar for horror. While I have a great appreciation for the classics (favorites: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby), I wanted to focus on films made in the 21st Century. (Look, I had to narrow it down somehow.)

So here are seven modern horror films I think you should watch, in no particular order.

1. Jennifer’s Body (2009). Written by Diablo Cody, directed by Karyn Kusama. I lied. This one’s first because it is my favorite modern horror film. It’s also one of the most unfairly maligned movies in recent memory. This is a sharp, witty, and—best of all—female-centric horror movie. It’s certainly not the scariest on the list, but it appeals to my sensibilities perfectly. Horror can be funny without being silly; it can offer social commentary without hitting you over the head. And why all the Megan Fox hate? This role is perfect for her. Bonus points for the queer undertones, which are overt long before the girl-on-girl action.
You might also like: Ginger Snaps (2000). Another great blend of horror and comedy, with strong female characters and high school metaphors.

2. Hostel: Part II (2007). Written and directed by Eli Roth. I once got in an argument with a friend over this movie. She said she could never watch it as a feminist and a human rights activist—I guess the implication being that I hate women and love torture. Which, uh, no. In many ways, this film is a play on the rape-revenge genre (I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House on the Left), so, yes, you see women suffer. But the women are your point of identification, and there is great satisfaction in the revenge. If you’re being tortured in the first half of the film, you’re also—spoiler alert—castrating your captor in the second.
You might also like: The Devil’s Rejects (2005). Lots of torture, but Rob Zombie’s film is interesting for the way you’re forced to identify with the torturers.

3. À l’intérieur (Inside) (2007). Written by Alexandre Bustillo, directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. Of all the movies on the list, this one was the hardest for me to sit through. It is completely brutal, a product of a movement Artforum’s James Quandt dubbed “New French Extremism.” Thematically, the story of a pregnant woman terrorized by a woman trying to steal her unborn child is horrifying. That aside, the violence is shocking and relentless. It’s also completely necessary to the film. Even if you have to watch this movie through your fingers, you have to watch it.
You might also like: Trouble Every Day (2001). Another New French Extremism movie with Beatrice Dalle, who is honestly just really scary.

4. Frozen (2010). Written and directed by Adam Green. You know what’s scary? A seemingly invincible urban legend serial killer. (Green’s Hatchet and Hatchet II.) You know what’s scarier? Getting stuck on a fucking ski lift. Frozen tells a very simple story: three friends are left hanging on their way up a snowy mountain. They have to survive frostbite, hunger, and wolves—things most of us don’t have to contend with, but that are grounded in reality. Frozen does a great job making the open air feel like a confined space—these three are outdoors, but they have nowhere to go. That sense of claustrophobia is palpable throughout.
You might also like: Buried (2010). Perhaps more thriller than horror, Buried is one of the best claustrophobic film I have seen.

5. The House of the Devil (2009). Written and directed by Ti West. This is a bit of a strange pick—not because it isn’t great, but because the film takes place in the ’80s and is very much indebted to the decade. Nevertheless, it is a modern horror film that is remarkable for the way it avoids and subverts so many modern horror conventions. I’m also a big fan of movies that traffic in subtlety, only to arrive at an over-the-top conclusion. The huge reveals aren’t what makes it scary—that’s the suspense. But the switch from creeping dread to “holy shit” is a fantastic mindfuck. You thought you knew what was going on, but you had no idea.
You might also like: The Last Exorcism (2010). Without giving too much away, this movie’s structure shares a few notable features with The House of the Devil.

6. Splice (2009). Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali. Yes, really. Here’s yet another movie I think most critics just didn’t get. It does have its share of ridiculous moments, though I’d argue all are intentional. In some ways this sci-fi horror film could also be called a dark comedy, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing. There are plenty of movies about science gone wrong—don’t mess with mother nature, and all that—but Splice also includes incest, rape, and pedophilia. These aren’t intended to shock, but rather to unnerve the audience, and it is indeed a movie to squirm through.
You might also like: The Fly (1986). OK, it’s not a post-2000 movie, but it’s a classic, and you should watch it immediately.

7. The Hills Have Eyes (2006). Written and directed by Alexandre Aja. Let’s get this out of the way first—I am a huge fan of Wes Craven’s 1977 original. But Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes is one of the few recent horror reboots that gets it right. The film follows the original pretty closely, until a certain point at which it goes off-the-walls crazy. In my mind, a good remake should honor its source material, but also expand on it. Not to mention the fact that Aja, a New French Extremism director, has a fantastic style. I loved about half of Haute tension, but he lost me with the awkwardly homophobic twist.
You might also like: The Last House on the Left (2009). While it’s not perfect, it also does some interesting things with Wes Craven’s original. Plus, Aaron Paul!

This can’t be good

31 May

I haven’t seen Bad Teacher yet. “Yet” implies that I’m going to, but that’s still up in the air. I really have no interest in the movie, unless someone manages to talk me into a free screening. I probably wouldn’t review it—I can feel the bias bubbling up in me already—but I could at least find out if my moral indignation is valid.

What is it about Bad Teacher that bugs me? A lot, really. I guess I don’t find our ridiculously flawed educational system to be all that funny. I don’t want to watch Cameron Diaz shit all over an undervalued and underpaid profession. And yeah, the fat kid in me doesn’t need to see my people get ridiculed while playing dodgeball in P.E. class. I lived that already, thanks. Bad Teacher is just in poor taste.

And still I say, so what? I’m not easily offended by anything, especially when it’s done in the name of comedy. No topics are really off limits, as long as they’re funny. So, yes, while I’m especially sensitive to misogyny and homophobia, I have laughed at jokes about women and gay men. People are ridiculous as a whole—if we can’t find something funny to say about our differences, we’re just going to feel super awkward all the time. (As opposed to most of the time, I guess.) I do impose certain limits on myself: I don’t make jokes about rape, for example, because a) I find most of them to be pretty weak, and b) I don’t think I’m a talented enough humorist to pull it off without just being an asshole.

Which means there’s something in particular about Bad Teacher that turns me off. I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with a reasonable explanation, and so far all I’ve got is this: it’s a mainstream Hollywood comedy. Am I being fair? Not really. But the truth is, I would be a lot more open to this film if it were a dark indie flick. At the end of the day, I don’t trust Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, and Justin Timberlake to star in a true satire, which is what Bad Teacher would need to be to work for me. If the trailers are any indication, this movie is broad—like, really broad—which means more jokes about teachers saying naughty words and less intelligent commentary on a fucked-up institution.

It’s a real shame that I don’t trust a major studio comedy to be edgy without pissing me off, but they haven’t exactly given me a lot to work with. I just assume that the jokes about teachers (and women and queer people) won’t be funny—they’ll offend me not because of their existence, but because they’ve found nothing new to say. Most of these movies find humor in the same stereotypes; after all, that’s what makes the majority of the country laugh. So when I see the trailer for Bad Teacher and sit there all frowny-faced, it’s partly because I think there could be a good comedy somewhere in there. Just because the concept is contentious doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work in more deft hands.

Again, I know it’s not fair to pre-judge. As a movie critic, I should try to put aside my expectations and give even the shittiest-looking films a fair chance. Besides, I could be way off: maybe Bad Teacher is the best comedy of the year. (JK, obviously Bridesmaids.) But while I’d like to believe a big Hollywood comedy can be good, smart, and subversive, I highly doubt Bad Teacher is going to be that movie. Then again, I’m the guy who hated The Hangover—who cares what I think?

Marry me, Bridesmaids

12 May

Don’t be a dick—see Bridesmaids. I hate to get all aggressive on you, but I love this movie so much, I can’t not feel a little preemptively hostile. It is funny and moving and great, to the extent that I’m writing this blog post as a supplement to my blurb review in this week’s SF Bay Guardian. Which is reprinted below for your reading pleasure.

For anyone burned out on bad romantic comedies, Bridesmaids can teach you how to love again. This film is an answer to those who have lamented the lack of strong female roles in comedy, of good vehicles for Saturday Night Live cast members, of an appropriate showcase for Melissa McCarthy. The hilarious but grounded Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, whose best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting hitched. Financially and romantically unstable, Annie tries to throw herself into her maid of honor duties — all while competing with the far more refined Helen (Rose Byrne). Bridesmaids is one of the best comedies in recent memory, treating its relatable female characters with sympathy. It’s also damn funny from start to finish, which is more than can be said for most of the comedies Hollywood continues to churn out. Here’s your choice: let Bridesmaids work its charm on you, or never allow yourself to complain about an Adam Sandler flick again.

I’m serious about this, guys. It’s kind of like when people say you can’t complain about politics if you don’t vote. It is our duty to support good, smart comedy so that the studios will just say no to dreck like Something Borrowed and The Zookeeper (with Kevin James!). The latter are films that the kind of films that critics pan but that audiences continue to go see. Or I don’t know, maybe Rob Schneider made a deal with the devil. The point is, seeing a movie like Bridesmaids sends a message. You’re demanding better! You want Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in starring roles! You want quality toilet humor!

Part of being a film critic is seeing crappy movies—it’s unavoidable. And I never expect Hollywood to just stop making shit. My concern is that they’ll stop making the comedies I want to see, the aforementioned Wet Hot American Summer and Hamlet 2, the anti-chick flick Bridesmaids. Or that a female-centric, character-driven comedy will just be so difficult to make that no one will want to do it. Many movie actors have already made the transition to TV—in part because TV is damn good these days, but also because the film industry is kind of fucked. And that’s a bummer. If I’m going to pay $12 for a movie ticket, I want to be able to laugh consistently for two hours. I don’t want to spend 80 minutes wondering what the fat man is going to bump into next.

I was delighted to see that Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman gave Bridesmaids an A (read his review here). I had no doubt that this was an A movie, but I was concerned that it might not be regarded as such. I don’t think I need to tell you that comedy is an underappreciated genre. You can look at the giant list o’ Best Picture Oscar nominees to see how rarely something chuckle-worthy gets recognition. (It’s been a bit better in recent years, but how lame is it that we have to turn to the effing Golden Globes for Best Comedy?) I think critics have an easier time dismissing a lot of comedy, too—not all of them, certainly, but enough. And who can blame them when they’re forced to sit through Paul Blart: Mall Cop? (I was forced to sit through Paul Blart: Mall Cop.)

You know what, maybe Bridesmaids isn’t for you. Maybe it’s not your style of comedy. Your opinion is valid, even though it’s wrong. But take a chance on a flick Vince Vaughn hasn’t touched. Allow yourself to be won over by comedic all-stars like Wendi McLendon-Covey, Mike Hitchcock, Rebel Wilson, and Matt Lucas, who don’t often find themselves in a Judd Apatow-produced film. Maybe I sound too gushy, but until I can control everyone with my brain (by 2013, fingers crossed!), writing is the best chance I have to influence your choices. See Bridesmaids. Let me know what you think. Don’t let the comedy terrorists win.

No, I don’t know what that means either.

Comedy litmus tests

3 May

Yesterday, my Twitter buddy Steven Amiri tweeted the following: “Wet Hot American Summer is on Netflix Instant. Do yourself a favor, log off here & watch it. If you don’t like it, log back on & unfollow me.” I feel the same way—though I’d probably never say it in those words, because I’m afraid of losing followers and I’m not too big on ampersands. But Wet Hot American Summer is essential viewing. I can’t imagine anyone would like me and not like that movie. (Note that I’m not presumptuous enough to think that everyone who likes the movie would necessarily like me.) This got me thinking about other comedies I’ve inflicted on friends in an effort to decide whether or not they were worth keeping around. Does that sound terrible? At least I’m judging people for their comedic tastes and not their looks. (Most of my friends are super cute, anyway.)

Lately, the movie I’m most likely to force on you is Hamlet 2. It’s one of the best and most underappreciated comedies of the last decade, and if you can’t handle the songs “Raped in the Face” or “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus,” we’re probably not going to get along. Hamlet 2 works especially well if you’re a fan of musicals, though I’ll admit that I occasionally take on friends who aren’t theater-oriented. On the other hand, Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler—these are people you must know and appreciate. (I’m also fond of David Arquette, but it’s fine if you don’t feel the same way. Hater.) Along with Wet Hot American Summer, Hamlet 2 is probably the comedy I’ve watched most often, but if we watch it together, I promise not to say any of the lines out loud. I totally hate when other people do that.

Obviously Annie Hall is a classic, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite Woody Allen as a major influence. (Duh, right?) I prefer that my friends appreciate all Woody Allen films—OK, maybe not Curse of the Jade Scorpion—but Annie Hall is the one you kind of have to love. I think it’s his most approachable and it’s full of the Jewish humor I was raised on. Allen is probably the reason I still identity as a Jew, strange as that may sound: I haven’t been to temple in years, but I feel such a strong kinship to Allen (and Philip Roth, natch) that I can’t not be Jewish. My other favorite Allen comedies are Deconstructing Harry and Mighty Aphrodite, so bonus points if you enjoy both or either. Sometimes Deconstructing Harry actually displaces Annie Hall as my favorite, even though the latter is probably a better film.

And then there are the outrageously bad movies I show people: Valley of the Dolls, Wild Things, Starship Troopers. These are my favorites. These are my—I shit you not—first date movies. The ability to appreciate the camp factor and sincerity of a trashy flick is such an important trait. I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously: sure, you can dig Kubrick and Kurosawa, but if you don’t also occasionally dip into the Denise Richards oeuvre, you’re missing out on something special. Of the three above, Valley of the Dolls is the best—in my mind, it is the greatest bad movie of all time. Believe it or not, I have shown it to people who didn’t laugh once, not even at Neely O’Hara’s cathartic alley breakdown, and no, I didn’t kick them to the curb. But it makes me a little sad. Realistically, we’re never going to watch Showgirls together.

Honestly, you could hate all these movies and we could still be friends. I’m a lot nicer than I pretend to be on the internet. But taste in comedy is a good gauge of a person’s character. You wouldn’t hang out with someone whose favorite comedy was Grown Ups, would you? I mean, that’s just silly.

Nostalgia porn

28 Apr

I only made it through 20 minutes of Adam Green’s “screwball tradgedy [sic]” The Wrong Ferrari. I like Adam Green’s music and I like the idea of Macaulay Culkin dressed up as Luigi, but that wasn’t enough to sustain my interest. You know when you say something is “hipster bullshit,” and then someone else says, “What does that even mean?” This movie. This movie is what that means. I can’t offer a full review because I didn’t watch the whole film—not even close—so I’ll comment on what I’ve seen so far and wait until I can muster the energy to watch the rest.

From the get-go, The Wrong Ferrari is nostalgia porn. It takes a bunch of familiar images from our childhood and assembles them haphazardly. And while I guess there’s supposed to be method to the madness, the end result is Adam Green holding you by the shoulders and shaking you. “Do you remember Nintendo cartridges? Do you remember the AOL dial-up sound? Do you remember Teddy Ruxpin?” On some level, of course, it works. I see Macaulay Culkin as Luigi and I want to watch Home Alone and play Super Mario Bros. (Or the Home Alone game on Gameboy, because I NEVER BEAT IT.) I see Garfield bedsheets, and I remember how I used to have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ones.

But that’s cheap. It’s easy. Meanwhile, the dialogue is absurd and sexualized enough to get your attention. I’ll admit to laughing at, “That’s like the night your penis turned into the devil,” but I can’t say why. And everyone says “faggot” incessantly, which seems kind of edgy until you remember that it’s still one of the slurs you can get away with. Especially if you’re Adam Green, because his sexuality is fluid or whatever. My beef here isn’t with Green in particular, because I think this speaks to a larger issue in (forgive me) hipster culture. Just remember—wearing skinny jeans and kissing boys every once in a while might get you called a faggot, but it doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy heterosexual privilege.

Anyway, I want to watch The Wrong Ferrari again in 40 years. (I’m definitely going to forget, so do me a solid and remind me, yeah?) I say this in part because I watched 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls again last night. It’s one of my favorites, but I think maybe I love it for all the wrong reasons—it’s so ’70s, it’s so Russ Meyer. I appreciate it as a product of its time, and I don’t even mind that it tries too hard to be hip. As is the case with The Wrong Ferrari, I’m not even sure what’s intended ironically and what’s sincere. (And is the sincerity ironic? Is the irony sincere?) So, yeah, all the shit that annoys me about Green’s movie might be totally charming in 2051—assuming we make it that far as a species, which is obviously kind of iffy.

You can watch The Wrong Ferrari in its entirety on the website. Do it. Tell me what I’m missing. Explain why I just don’t get it.