I Can Do It! I Can Have It All!

Hello, my lovelies!

Holy cheez whiz, time has passed! Months really. 6 months, 19 days, 4 hours, and 12 seconds to be exact. But who’s counting?

Here’s the great thing about that: I’ve never really stopped writing. In fact, I’m being paid to do just that. It’s for a national company on the rise called ezCater and it’s beautiful and wonderful and all things good. (How could they NOT be – they hired yours truly?).

Our logo looks a little somethin’ like this:

ezcater

Voila!

The great thing about the job is it’s given me some inside knowledge about the food industry on a national scale, which means added material for this humble blog o’ mine. So stay hungry you sexy lil’ movie-junkin’ mountain goats – there’s much material abound. Movies and food will be living in such close quarters, someone’s bound to get pregnant!

I already have posts in the works, from foodie film analysis to national highlights of dine-in theaters and much much more. It’ll be funny and cute and informative, so stay tuned!

In the meantime (and in keeping with the theme of screensnacks), here’s a self-penned post featured on my company’s blog, for a nationally-known chain inspired by a certain comedic film actor of the 1930’s. Enjoy, my lovelies!

I Can Have It All

Still hungry? Eat us up on twitter.

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NYC Weekend: Hedwig & The Angry Inch

If you forced me at gunpoint to pick my life’s current theme, I’d probably knock you out, take the gun, and demand to see your boss (I may even throw in a cool one-liner like “I ain’t got time to bleed” or some such thing, just to drive home my badassery.)

But if you had the foresight to roofie my drink ahead of time, I’d confidently say: ADAPTATION.

For new readers, let’s recap, shall we? New home. New job. Single… All within a 2 week period. Something like Miley Cyrus came in like a wrecking ball and left me to pick up all the broken pieces. It hasn’t been easy, but all things considered, my life’s been pretty great.

About two weeks ago, I embarked on an adventure to NYC with my main sistah-bros Lillian, Paige, and Casey. Our reason? To catch the Broadway reboot of Hedwig And The Angry Inch, starring Neil Patrick effin’ Harris! (You may have heard of it: it was nominated for some major theater award no one’s ever heard of.)

Photo by Joan Marcus

And involves NPH in drag. Need I say more? 

(Photo by Joan Marcus)


Quick background: Hedwig started as an off-Broadway musical in 1998, became a smash cult film in 2001, and is now the Broadway show your mom’s probably heard about, courtesy of Barney from How I Met Your Mother.

The play is framed as a rock concert. Throughout the band’s “set”, Hedwig tells the story of her former lover that stole her songs and made it big as Tommy Gnosis. (Within the play’s story, Tommy also happens to be playing a much larger show right next door.)


But back to my theme: ADAPTATION. Fitting, since that’s the precise quality that made this show so incredible from the beginning. In 1998, writer/director/star John Cameron Mitchell and songwriter Stephen Trask sought out concert venues in order to legitimize The Angry Inch as a band. Learning the names and histories of each venue and integrating that into the material teased audience expectation even more. Many inevitably scratched their heads asking,  “How much of this is staged?”

In the same way that Hedwig, the character, identified as both male and female, Mitchell’s story fell somewhere between two worlds. Part rock show, part stage play.

So In 2014, director Michael Mayer faced the challenge of maintaining Hedwig’s spirit while introducing it to a more mainstream audience. Leaving purists to ask: how do you gracefully transition from fringe theater “rock show” to BIG Broadway musical? How do you make something feel unpredictable when so many people are watching?

When we arrived, my sister noticed a Playbill for Hurt Locker: The Musical on the floor by her seat. Hmph. Odd. How had I never heard of this? When we looked up, we saw broken-debris set pieces, demolished remnants of brick walls, and a beat-up car centerstage. Then NPH came out in all his glamorous genderfuck glory (courtesy of stylist Arianne Phillips), performed the opening number (“Tear Me Down”), and explained that Hurt Locker: The Musical had been cancelled on its opening night…

But not really. That show was as farcical as Hedwig’s cleavage.

There was a method to that moment of madness: the band never stopped interacting with the “discarded” set. At one point, NPH made a fall you’d swear was unstaged, but beneath his feet was sheet music from the “defunct” fake musical. (The piece turned into a beautiful solo number for Hedwig’s wife Yitzhak, played by the magnetic Lena Hall).

Hedwig is a show that knows its space and audience, and adheres to both. There was even mention of David Belasco, the former owner who allegedly haunts the venue to this day. His possible presence resulted in some entertaining (seemingly off-the-cuff) banter with an audience member (who Paige and I have since dubbed Hottie McHotpants). Seriously, though: Foxy Daddy defined.

carvephoto

Carve Unique Sandwiches & Pizza

The trip’s food highlight was a nifty pizza joint called Carve, which was just minutes from our venue. It was affordable (by Broadway dining standards), delicious, and conveniently open 24 hours. We sort of cheated on this one – Paige had been there just a few months ago when she and her better half saw Mike Nichols’ Betrayal (starring Rachel Weisz and, more importantly, Daniel Craig… Mmmmm… Daniel Craig). We knew it’d be a hit.

The remainder of the trip was dedicated to walks in Central Park, late night fro-yo adventures, bonding, and purchasing Fat Lady street art.

There were downsides to the trip, too. The rain dampened our Empire State plans, the traffic was horrendous, and food and drink was astronomically expensive. But none of that mattered much. For every snag, there was a step back, a new plan, and two steps forward. In a moment of crisis, we’d respond with the ingenuity of NPH, stomping in high heels, groin to the collective face of an unsuspecting audience.

It all worked out because I was with people who reminded me that the world doesn’t need to fall apart when things don’t go as planned. If anything, these fiascos make for a much better show.

Till next week, my lovelies!

PS.

You know the “follow the bouncing ball” sing-a-long trope? Have you ever wondered how to make that into something filthy?

The End of An Era…

Friends, family, and loyal readers! Gather ‘round! It’s storytime:

As many of you probably already know, after exactly 2.25 (mostly) wonderful years of dating, and about 10 months of weekly blogging, AJ Leto and Spencer Hensel have decided to amicably split.

We know, we know. These two stars of sage and screen seemed to have it all – an impossibly hip pup, an uncanny ability to pack up and vacation at every whim, and a multi-million dollar web page, to boot! But, my lovelies, there was trouble in paradise. So we bid adieu, and now we’re through. Kaput. Donezo. Ov-ah. Comprende?

We ultimately decided to go our separate ways. Worry not, though – we’re both in good health and focused on living our lives to the fullest. (Spencer actually just took a job in Boston, and now lives a luxurious 10 minute walk away from Davis Square in Somerville. YAY!)

So now that y’all know we’re not dead or bedridden, you may be wondering – what about screensnacks? Well, contrary to the most recent inactivity, this humble little site is not quite dead yet. Of course, it won’t quite be the same either. Here’s a rundown:

  • Spencer will be taking primary ownership of the blog.
  • As Head Honcho, he will be covering food, movies, travel, and probably Hans Hugo, because that lil’ diva just can’t get enough camera time.
  • In case you haven’t noticed – the site has had a facelift! This new look is designed to be simpler, cleaner, and a bit less cluttered. We think it’s an upgrade from the old look.
  • Starting with this post, content will be updated weekly.
  • Guest bloggers will still be featured.
  • And last, but not least – check out the screensnacks Twitter Page, which will feature lots of cool links, photos, recipes, news, and movie chatter. It’ll be updated daily, plus, when something is posted on the blog, you’ll see it there, too (that’s marketing!).

Thanks to all of you who have made screensnacks such a rewarding project. We’ve both grown a lot by way of this thing and there’s still a bright future ahead. So please, stay tuned.

Till next week, my lovelies!


Twitter_logo_blue Give us a Follow, all the cool kids are doin’ it.

 

5 Reasons It Sucks To Write A Screenplay in 2014

So you saw a few movies and you’re ready to write one of your own. Awesome! Here’s why you might want to rethink that one:

1. People have seen it all.

Not really, of course. As long as there are humans, or David Bowie, there will always be invention. Sure, there are plenty of porn-addicted psychopathic snot-faced delinquents out there that think there’s nothing new under the sun. They’d snort bath salts before they’d paint or pick flowers in a field, and that just ain’t healthy. (Unless you’re allergic to pollen or something, which is frankly just a little bit sad.)

Gonna be honest, this is not a cute look for you.

Gonna be honest, this is not a cute look for you.

This impressed-by-nothing mentality means that when something genuinely beautiful or inspired comes along, people will be too busy shitting on it to realize that they just missed another opportunity to salvage their humanity. That’s why so many movies are loud, graphic, and/or fast. In the Age of Now, there’s no room for subtext (unless the subtext is that everything and everyone is awful or untrustworthy). Which brings me to my next point:

2. Whimsy is out of style.

Remember the Wizard of OzMary PoppinsWilly Wonka? Even Amelie, just a little over a decade ago? These were colorful, quirky movies with a lot of heart and musical numbers and memorable characters. They didn’t rely on shock or nihilism or gore, they were windows into elaborate fantasy worlds, as delicate and otherworldly as they were hopeful and optimistic.

It makes sense that our culture evolved the way it did. Progress has made us more interconnected but less attached, passive viewers of an increasingly complex world. We consume media more frequently and when we revisit the stories that once delighted us, we do so with critical lenses. Trust me, I’ve got examples: 2013’s second look at Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks, revealed its real-life creator to be an uppity control freak whose dad was a self-destructive alcoholic. Sam Raimi’s Oz prequel, Oz: The Great and Powerful, re-imagined The Wicked Witch as a heartbroken harlot who embraced her darkest, most hate-filled ambitions and devolved from a white-washed hottie to a green-faced nottie. Then you have Tim Burton sucking the blood out of classics like it’s his job. Which, yep… it is. Seriously, did this do it for anyone:

Just One Facelift Short of Joan Rivers.

Just one facelift short of Joan Rivers.

Even the world of animation is getting darker by the minute. The brilliant Pixar is a beacon for creativity in contemporary Hollywood, but the plot-lines of Wall-E and Up tread on decidedly sad territory. Meanwhile, Laika’s Coraline and ParaNorman fully embrace the macabre, while adult-geared gems like Mary & Max and Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist  are downright morose. These movies usually end well, but they’re not shy about showing audiences just how effed the world can be. I can’t fault them for their sincerity, but wouldn’t it be great to see a handful of well-crafted movies in 2014 that were just unabashedly naive? For the children?!!

So okay, cheery, smartly crafted stories would be nice. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember that:

3. Studios Don’t Want It Unless It’s Familiar. 

Harry Potter, The Avengers, Hunger Games, Man of Steel, Twilight, Dark Knight – these had surefire box office appeal, because every one of them already proved lucrative. So here you are, laboring over your quiet indie with multi-dimensional characters and relatable problems that’s a totally NEW take on the same old shit, but hang tight, what’s the backstory? If it ain’t 3-7 books’ worth of stuff, and hasn’t topped the New York Times’ Best Sellers List, then good luck!

Let’s say you somehow strike gold with an original idea. Chances are, it is not especially innovative or abstract. Some Corporate Lug-Head decided it was close enough to a story he’d already seen, with enough key differences to make it not-an-infringement-of-copyright and you got the green light. Let’s be real: do you think Tyler Perry became a multi-millionaire by having an uncompromising artistic vision? No, he became a household name because it’s scientifically proven that men in dresses are funny. No matter how good or bad they look, no matter how accurate or distant their impression of a woman may be. Whether you’re RuPaul or Wesley Snipes, it’s funny. Always. Perry knew this and went all in.

The face of a man who's got it all figured out.

The face of a man who’s got it all figured out.

The moral of his story: resign yourself to the fact that what fulfills you isn’t necessarily what makes you shit-faced rich, and you’re one step closer to success. But even so:

4. The Odds of Making It Are Way Against You.

Realistically consider the fact that there are maybe tens of thousands of people who pursue this path every year. How many make it? What did it take for them to get to that place?

I’ll give you a hint, raw talent alone didn’t land them the spot. It was writing. Rewriting. Writing. Editing. Rewriting. Networking. Finding Opportunity. Finding Feedback. Writing. Re– You get the picture. It’s a lot of work that demands a lot of time people don’t have. Especially people straight out of college with $100,000+ in debt; forget the disadvantage of not living in LA. Young dreamers such as myself just aren’t statistically in a very good place. Nor are we actually. I guess that’s why modern media is so cynical. Not that I can really knock it. Being perfectly honest, I didn’t watch Breaking Bad for its elaborate song-breaks (though I totally would have if Vince made that a real thing).

I always thought this was a missed opportunity to break into song.

I always thought this was a missed opportunity to segue into a musical number. You can see it in his eyes.

Speaking of Vince and his brand of nothing-goes-right storytelling, let’s get to our 5th and final Reason that it Sucks to Write a Screenplay in 2014:

5. It’s Tough As Balls.

Just like that story you’re writing about the guy or gal who faces insurmountable odds, there’s nothing easy about this career. If you really REALLY want it, you’ll get beaten up and spit on and face a TON of rejection. If you believe in your ideas and you are determined to preserve them, it’s gonna take an even bigger dose of some Queen Bey fierceness. In that case, calling yourself a screenwriter might not be enough. You may have to band together with a group of likeminded merry men and take the reigns yourself as director. Auteurs may be rare, but the good ones are most certainly in fashion – creative giants like Guillermo Del Toro, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and Alfonso Cuaron are just a few happy dissenters in a largely uncreative mainstream. They are all visionary, whether it be as storytellers, art directors, or tech-innovators. And above all, they have TREMENDOUS authority over the outcome of their work.

Ok, so maybe whimsy isn't dead.

Ok. So maybe whimsy isn’t dead.

Nobody said success would be a sure thing. But the reward for wholly devoting yourself to your passion must be indescribable. I’m only now making realistic steps toward my greater goal of becoming a successful storyteller, but it pays to remember: you have to start somewhere. Even if I’m only just now in the infant stage.

Here’s to hoping for some big leaps in 2014.

Enjoy it, my lovelies! Now’s the time.

Disney’s Guide to Saving Mr. Banks

Why do writers write? Why do singers sing? Why do filmmakers, um… film-make? Saving Mr. Banks explores one of the most infamous creative collaborations of the 20th century to find an answer. We all know how the story ends, but now we’re asked: how did it begin?

As legend would have it, Walt Disney made a promise to his daughters that he would make their favorite book into a movie. Being that he’s Walt-effing-Disney, it’s not exactly the loftiest claim, but then again, he didn’t know a lick about the person he’d have to go through to make that happen. P.L. Travers, the author of the series, was notoriously, em, exact about her characters. And she wasn’t really into fun things like music or animation either.

So Walt picked away at this lady for 20 years, before she finally considered a Disney adaptation. All it took, thanks be Jeebus for the movie’s sake, was a thick slab of guilt spread atop a slice of tenacity.

But even that first “yes” was more of a “maybe” and it was hardly smooth sailing from there. Little things, like mustaches and the exterior of the Banks’ home and the use of red were met with hasty objections. In the beginning, it seemed downright nit-picky, but through a series of flashbacks we learned a bit more about her own private compass.

The “real” Mr. Banks, Travers’ father, was an alcoholic, her mother suicidal. And the women who allegedly came to directly inspire Mary herself was Travers’ Aunt Ellie. As one might imagine, when two parents are helplessly lost, the nanny often serves as a beacon of hope for the children. In Travers’ early life, her imagination didn’t “save” her from her situation or her father from his illness. Nothing really got better.

saving-mr-banks-trailer1-hypabledotcom

So then, why the fictional super-nanny? Why children’s books that provided whimsical adventures for its readers?

Whether Travers’ true intentions were ever documented, I’m not certain (though at the very least, there was a tape recording of an early script-reading that rolled after the credits). BUT, this movie did have some pretty compelling ethos that pointed to a reason. It’s all in the title, so I’m not really spoiling anything here, but she was rewriting her past. Giving those events a soft glow as a way to heal and inspire. Essentially, it was her spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Maybe not in the most DELIGHTFUL way, but at least with a much less icky after-taste. When Walt figured that out, he got his movie. Or so says SMB anyway.

AJ and I were both impressed by this one. The story was strong and, true to Disney form, it got me teary-eyed by the end. It certainly beat out Frozen in our year-end best list. If you’re not sold on the story alone, go for Emma Thompson, who makes good on a role initially offered to Meryl Streep (The woman, the myth, the legend).

The portrayal of Disney felt surprisingly authentic too. I mean, yes, this picture is owned by the dude’s film studio, so we’re not going to see the guy spit on children or push elderly folk into freeways, but he wasn’t all candy canes and gum drops either. Allegedly, Tom Hanks fought to portray Disney, the closet nicotine fiend, which did make it to the final cut. Well, sort of. We see him put out a cigarette as someone walks into his office and explain that he needs to retain his image. He’s also awfully pushy, and not very nice when it comes to inviting the author to her own film premiere. Bottom Line: he didn’t talk like Mickey or shoot rainbows from his palms, so I was satisfied.

Although, thinking out loud, it may not have been so bad if he did do all those aforementioned gay things. The Disney brand is all about the fantasy. Creating alternate realities so we can handle our own. And really, what’s so bad about that?

3 Fantastic Dog Role Models

Everybody has that one public figure that represents their own pinnacle of perfection. For me, it’s Jim Henson. For AJ, it’s, I dunno, Malcolm Gladwell or Dr. Oz or some shit. Y’all understand – there are people everywhere who go out and achieve big things, and they inspire the rest of us to become giants. So here’s a thought for a couple parents-to-be: what about our canine companions?

AJ and I want a dog that’s gonna be the best ever. Ambitious, loyal, not stupid… Which is why the more fun of its two daddies (Yes, Spencer) will have a few mandatory motion pictures under the Xmas tree. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and we’ll be damned if we don’t give our mutt the proper tools for survival. Here are the top role-models we’ll be introducing to our four-legged friend:

1. Arcanine

Arcanine

Yes, the fire dog Pokemon. Not like I should have to explain, but here it is for the uninitiated (ie, folks born before 1985): First, he’s the size of horse, so you can ride the darn thing. Yep, even as an adult. Second, he’s got tiger stripes, and the thought of a tiger/domestic dog hybrid is literally the most perfect thing I could ever think of. Third, and most importantly, this would be a pet so powerful, it would feed and protect us. It produces its own heat, which means we could easily have it live outside guilt-free, which also means we would never have to get up at 5 in the morning to take it out for a tinkle. And when we’re snowed in, he’ll flamethrower our way out. What better ideal for a young mutt to try to live up to? Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, can someone seriously figure out how to bioengineer this thing?

2. Shadow and Chance from Homeward Bound

So these two are very ying-yang, but each represent wonderful qualities that any parent would love. Shadow is wise, even-tempered, and cat-tolerant. Chance is playful, energetic, and boisterous. Together they manage to travel approximately eleventy billion miles to find their family. No compass, no road map, just pure unadulterated instinct. They’ve also mastered the secret art of telepathy, which is nothing to sneeze at. But above all, they manage, even when hungry and desperate, NOT to eat the snooty house cat that follows them around. That right there is a miracle.

3. Hachi

Speaking of miracles, this little trooper’s resilience made it an icon of good dogs. Talk about bending over backwards – this champ returned to a train station to meet his owner every day for 9 years after the poor sap passed away. In the off-chance he would rise from the dead and return, Hachi the adorable Akita would be waiting. He still is, in fact. That story was so moving to so many people, they built a statue in the dog’s honor, which has sat there patiently since 1948. Even Richard Gere took notice and played his ill-fated master in a movie!

Something tells me the owner has yet to make it back, but I’m willing to bet Statued Hachi gets a TON of visitors, some of which are bound to be way cooler than the first guy. That’s gotta count for somethin’. I can only hope that when AJ or I meet our maker in the midst of saving orphans from a house fire or retrieving the survivors of a sinking ship, our dog will do something equally awesome in our honor and get bronzified for it.

We can only hope. Today, we’re continuing our search. In the meantime, our sister Paige beat us to the punch.

gypsy

Say hello to our new niece, Gypsy. Ain’t she the sweetest?

‘Til next week, my lovelies!

Pre-Holiday Panic: Frozen, LeFoyer, and Spencer’s Wishlist

Ok. So, Christmas is really almost here. WTF? Am I the only human who’s yet to buy my gifts? It’s the same deal literally every year – I map out my presents for everybody in September, don’t start shopping till December 23, find about half the things I wanted to get, and settle for cheaper, less amazing options. It’s pathetic.

To be fair though, this year I stretched a bit. Largely influenced by my better half, I’ve done some mall shopping. I did buy one gift, but it was for me. And there’s another that’s actually being handcrafted by a friend of mine for my dearest madre. Not to toot my own horn, but at this rate I should most definitely have perfect gifts obtained, wrapped and under the tree by roughly June. Go me!

In the midst of all of our Holiday chaos, there were a few events that slipped by, many of which deserve a mention on this lil’ blog of ours. So here’s a quick recap of the highlights:

Paige, Lillian, AJ, and I snuck a visit to see Frozen the day before Thanksgiving. Goodies first: excellent production. The visuals and voice-acting were top notch (Idina Menzel’s in it, so obvi). The music was ok, and there were a few instances when the humor fell flat. It needed better pace, and a bit more screen time for the side cast (specifically Olaf, the weird little snowman). In the end, it was far from being “Disney’s best since the Lion King“, but the good news is, we have Tangled for that. Go watch it if you haven’t, it’s seriously wonderful.

Note to self: if I get excited about a teaser trailer, expect to like the final movie approximately half as much.

Note to self: if I get excited about a teaser trailer, I should expect to like the final movie approximately half as much.

What else? Ah, we had a surprise party for my boss this past weekend at a place called LeFoyer Club in Pawtucket, RI. It was pretty amazing getting to meet her boisterous and lovable family (including her adorable boo), and the food was great. Calamari, nachos, sandwich wraps, chicken fingers and wings, it took literally all of my willpower not to get seconds. And that was solely because I needed room for cake. Mmmm… Cake.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas this year, here’s my top 3: A Barnes and Noble Giftcard (to extend my Nook library), a DVD copy of Tangled since I love it, AJ hasn’t seen it and the WRONG version is on Netflix, AND this amazing little doohickey. Ain’t that somethin’?

As for AJ, he desperately wants a dog to pamper with (almost) as much love and affection as yours truly.

Have a safe and restful weekend, my fellow New Englanders. This one’s lookin’ to be a real stick-in-the-mud weather-wise. So allow me to introduce y’all to Bed, your best friend for the next 48 hours.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned from the Movies

Life’s hard. Watching movies isn’t. Here are 5 ways in which my magic box has helped me become superhumanly awesome:

1. Sometimes the Most Impossible Things Have the Simplest Solutions

Just ask Macgyver, there are infinite possibilities with the most basic resources and a little improvisational know-how. Not only does that make the twists and turns of our entertainment a bit more exciting, but it also serves a greater purpose in the real world.

People admire that kind of creative, spontaneous, back-to-basics thinking. It’s why you’ll occasionally get that silly interview question about the many uses of a pencil. Note: Citing the Joker’s disappearing pencil act as an “alternate use” is a surefire way to not only completely fudge an interview, but to also ensure a speedy exit accompanied by security. NOT the greatest experience when your psyche’s already damaged from that time you were escorted by a fellow student out of the 2nd grade for peeing your pants. But whatever. Totally over it.

2. Sex between two people of the same gender is about as rare as my ability to watch a football game – Unless the fornicators in question are big-breasted females and/or European. Even so, most of the time their tips don’t touch.

If movies are to be believed, sex isn’t all that personal either. Kirby Dick’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated gave a bit of insight on the MPAA board’s apparent fear of all things gay or even remotely intimate. We’re talking NC-17 ratings for seeing a lady masturbate over her nightgown while making pleasure faces. No boobs. No hoo-haws. Just pure innocent over-the-clothes chicken-choking.

Dick’s documentary also went so far as to compare side-by-side depictions of straight versus gay sex. The cameras were positioned almost identically, but the Judys, once again, got an NC-17, while the breeders got R’s. This may not seem like a huge deal, until you consider the fact that many theaters treat NC-17’s like the kid who peed his pants in the 2nd grade. Yeah, that bad. It’s the kind of marketing suicide that only R. Kelly’s publicist could ever bounce back from.

3. Doing a thing is a lot more meaningful when the act of doing it sucks.

Andy Dufresne. Luke Skywalker. Rocky. Frodo. Dorothy. They all went through a whole bunch of Scheiße to get the thing they wanted. AND IT HAD TO BE THAT WAY. When all is said and done, what was the Wizard of Oz, really? It was a girl with a misfit mutt who banged her head during a tornado and woke back up. Everything in color was totally over the top and didn’t NEED to be there, but that’s why it was. Because those extra details are what make life an involving, fulfilling process. In Dorothy’s case, her dream sequence elaborated on the struggles she experienced in the waking world. It gave us a more complete perspective of who she was without dwelling on boring Kansas farm-scapes.

Likewise, the force would kind of lose its mystery if Luke could use it and did so freely without ever struggling with it. Same with Rocky. He needed to hone his skills to become a man we could identify with. And as for Frodo – He’s adorable, ain’t he?

Just look at that face!

Just look at that face!

4. Acne and obesity is met with more resistance than whatever that guy from Mask had.

So I’m kind of embarrassed to admit the fact that it’s only now (after buying my brand new Nook) that I’ve begun to read Stephen King’s novel(la) version of Carrie. And in doing so, there’s a detail I find a tad telling – King’s Carrie, contrary to Sissy Spacek and Chloe Moretz, is described as acne’d and “bovine”. Hm. Ok, so King probably wrote her that way because society finds those qualities especially repellant, thereby making the story more believable. But when Hollywood took over, they decided that they’d never trust us to sympathize with someone who was THAT well-fed.

It’s kind of weird: audiences get the occasional disfigured monster with a heart of gold (Rocky Dennis, the Elephant Man), but never a redeeming teen with bad skin. Sometimes, they’ll get a bit lax on their No-Fatties rule (see: Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy), but they only exist in comedy land. That, and we tend to get extremes. Either you’re stranded in the desert for 4 weeks or you’ve eaten an entire chocolate model of Disney Land in 4 minutes. You’re a chiseled heartthrob, or a brace-faced, suspender-slinging four-eyed freakshow. Grey area is scary to the general public, but so is having more than one defining characteristic. So we keep it both simple and impossible to miss. Hence why the odd-faced, malnourished young lady named “Sissy” made the tormented teen of Carrie iconic. Had she been sturdy and stone-faced and named “Joan”, eh, not so much.

5. If you’re not in Love, you don’t exist.

But hang on, there’s a bit more to this one. I once struggled with the idea that, in movies, a character was not complete until they “found love.” But then I realized that, though 9 times out of 10 it is the case, the love they’re chasing doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic and it doesn’t have to be toward a person. Love is passion. Desire. It’s that thing that makes getting in a boxing ring seem worth it. We’ve seen it in movies a million times, but always for different reasons. In City Lights, it was to earn money to pay for an operation for the Tramp’s unknowing object of affection. In Rocky, it’s to challenge his perceived limitations and gain notoriety. In The Fighter, it’s for Wahlberg to forge his own path, independent of his family. Whatever the characters choose, in the end, the object really doesn’t matter. It’s the love for it.

Feeling something strong enough incites action. It motivates one to do things that they don’t necessarily expect of themselves. And it also helps us figure out what stuff in life is worth putting up with and what simply takes us off-course from our greater goals. Without that feeling to guide us, we just drift. Our lives become a Canadian shoe-gazing lo-fi indie flick. And nobody wants to see that.

4 Strange Beginnings of Iconic TV Characters

Coming up with ideas is like sex in which you are perpetually a virgin. First, you’ve got the spark. Then you’ve got that awkward tension that becomes awkward foreplay. This results in slightly smelly, fumbling, lightning-fast intercourse that feels kinda cool but mostly stressful. Then it’s over and you get a little bit down on yourself, because let’s face, you coulda done better.

But after that first time, if you’re lucky, that idea will return your phone calls. Together, you find the things that work, the things that don’t, and the things that get you in trouble. You keep at it. Take notes. Make a science of it so you can be ready when biology takes over. If you stay committed to that idea for days, months, years, DECADES and continue to add elements to the mix, you notice how much it changes. Not to mention the other ideas that sprung out on a count of all this idea-sex.

So, without further tortured metaphor, here are a handful of Characters and the Creators that nailed them (that’s it, I promise).

The Simpsons

In 1977, the year of punk rock, Matt Groening was a 23 year old LA-transplant who worked crummy jobs and wrote comic strips. In ’78, that comic, Life In Hell, was featured in a magazine noted for its graphic content (That magazine? The wonderfully named Wet). It was his first professional sale and set the scene for a career filled with edgy, but oddly endearing cartoons. 10 years later, Simpsons shorts started popping up all over the Tracey Ullman Show.

It began as something raw and imperfect and crude, but over that run, we saw the characters take shape. The family’s features rounded out and softened up. Marge’s hair became less bee-hive and more phallic topiary. Key catch phrases were introduced (ie. “Don’t have a cow man”, “Why you little–“). Bart revealed himself as a scheming, wise-cracking exhibitionist, while Homer became the well-intended dimwit who occasionally strangles his children. And Maggie, of course, became a pantomime princess, eternally cooler than her future infant counterpart. Matt Groening also threw us hints that The Simpsons universe was expanding by introducing a handful of side characters (including Krusty the Clown and Grandpa).

Who would have thought that a former LA punk on the fringe of society could so deeply saturate pop culture?

Peter & Brian Griffin from Family Guy

Taking straight from the pages of the Hanna-Barbera and Groening handbooks, Family Guy was a surefire hit. Whereas those earlier creative forces blueprinted the “Successful Animated Sitcom” formula, MacFarlane took those tropes and squeezed out every last bit of comedic potential into a cacophony of flash-cuts and culture references. Everything, down to the family dynamic, was a parody of series’ past. And, especially in its first Fox run from 1999-2000, it worked phenomenally.

larryandsteve

But before Peter and Brian, there was Larry and Steve. A middle-aged imbecile and his anthropomorphic dog. Introduced as MacFarlane’s 1995 RISD thesis, The Life of Larry not only clearly defined the future icons’ personalities, it also contained material that would be later re-used in Family Guy’s early episodes.

Elmo (Baby Monster)

For all the flack he’s been getting in recent years, there’s no denying that Kevin Clash had a huge impact on Sesame Street and the Muppet legacy. Especially when you take into account that THIS was the early Elmo model.

Originally known as Baby Monster, the trucker-voiced misfit (portrayed here by Jerry Nelson) was passed around for years before finally getting a proper name in 1981, when Puppeteer Brian Muehl took the reigns. He then departed in 1984, leaving the character in the reluctant hands of Richard Hunt. What the hell is this? He asked. What do y’all expect – blood from a stone? A frog from a coat?! Indignant as he was, Hunt’s squeaky protestations did not go unheard by the Mighty Muppet Gods. When up-and-comer Kevin Clash eagerly adapted the fiery little furball, Hunt tossed it over like a hot potato. At the time, no one quite grasped that Hunt’s throwaway was Kevin’s ticket to notoriety. Here it was: his opportunity to live up to the promise of his admired predecessors. ‘Cuz needless to say, when your boss is Jim Henson, you step it the hell up.

Clash did that. He projected his excitement and fear and anxieties into a childlike persona, and in doing so, concocted one of Sesame Street’s most charming, sweet and commercially viable characters. Some would even argue he’s one of the biggest reasons the series continued to influence pop culture in the new millennium. Lucky for Clash, no amount of bad press can change that.

Arnold *No Last Name Given* from Hey Arnold! 

Allow me to lament the fact that there’s no surviving moral compass for children as influential as Arnold. This show was a fantastic lead-in to adulthood, especially for the inner city kids. Why? First off, it celebrated kid-lore. All those stories and fantasies that helped shape our view of the world. Second, the cast of characters were applicable to anyone. Who didn’t know a Helga, a Eugene, a Phoebe, a Rhonda, or a Gerald? From the odd-balls to the plastics, the show covered every kind of kid. Yes, even the ones on stoops.

But before all that, Arnold was just a kernel of an idea. A simple block of clay that spent an almost unhealthy amount of time daydreaming. Creator Craig Bartlett developed him in his time working on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. You may remember some of the earliest TV spots from 1988-1991. The last in that series, Arnold Rides A Chair, even aired on Sesame Street. I was a nose-picking five year old at the time and remember thinking it was the greatest thing to have ever graced God’s green earth – right alongside starburst candies and my beloved pair of ruby red slippers (I was Dorothy). Here’s the first short in that series, aptly titled Arnold Escapes From Church.

Note the mute children, the headless chauffeur, and Arnold’s early signs of paranoid schizophrenia. He may not have yet been his generation’s Malcolm Gladwell, but then again, all good things to those who wait. The LSD-free Arnold we know and love today made his premiere theatrically in an 8 minute short preceding the 1996 Nickelodeon cult favorite Harriet the Spy. The rest, as they say, is history.

Enjoy the Weekend, folks!

The Art of the Unseen

Last week, I read a really great article on the Onion’s AV Club commemorating the 20th Anniversary of Jurassic Park. In it, A.A. Dowd pointed out the fact that the movie’s barely aged.

Why? Because Spielberg understood that sometimes it’s the stuff we can’t see that elicit the biggest response. To elaborate:

JURASSIC PARK (1993)

Jurassic Park is basically the Cher of modern cinema. 20 years after it blockbustered with edge-cutting technology, it’s still got it. Part of that is due to the fact that in-camera trickery was Spielberg’s ace. He utilized computers sparingly, with the knowledge that nothing matches a three dimensional thing inside a three dimensional world. Sorry Mr. Game And Watch.

I'm not really sorry. You are easily the most annoying adversary in Super Smash Bros.

I’m not really sorry. You are easily the most annoying adversary in Super Smash Bros.

We need something tangible, not green-screened. That’s why the exotic greenery rustled. And why we lingered on the cup of water rippling on the dashboard. How brilliant, too, that we see the severed goat leg before Rexy (and in the rain, no less)? Sure, it is awfully odd that such a big lizard could creep so covertly, but in the name of movie magic, I’m happy it happened that way. Because it was those moments, seeing the world respond before seeing the monster, that made it feel so freakin’ REAL.

The great thing about it is that those moments of tension could be easily achieved by some well hidden guy with a guitar string. So… why did we all pay for tickets to go see Attack of the Clones almost 10 years later?

PSYCHO (1960)

Anyone who’s taken a basic film class has heard about Psycho as an exercise in mind control. Here’s the abridged version: you think you see the knife break skin, but you don’t. That’s on you buddy. It’s your sick brain that murdered Janet Leigh. YOU’RE THE PSYCHO.

A-hem. Moving on…

Hitchcock understood that the people watching his movies were way more tapped than anything contemporary studios would ever let him show. So he had fun with that. Rear Window, six years prior, warned us what happens when passive viewers with active imaginations get a bit too invested in their subjects. It’s an idea that predates gratuitous CGI, and it’s every bit as relevant now as it was then…

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

Case in point: the resurgence of “found-horror”. Before Paranormal Activity, The Devil Inside, and even Cloverfield picked up the torch, there was Blair Witch.

It certainly wasn’t much in the way of visuals. The shaky handheld reportedly nauseated some viewers. There were no effects either, but that’s to be expected for a movie with a modest budget south of $25,000. Honestly, though, who needs much more than that when you’ve got kids lost in the woods? Just throw in a prologue of assorted ghost stories to mystify the setting and you’re already killin’ it. The rest is cake.

While you’ve got asses in seats, why not rely on the horror tropes:

√ Creepy Midnight Child-Giggles (otherwise known as “chiggles”).

√ Occult symbols.

√ Faraway screams.

√ Decrepit house in the middle of nowhere.

√ Friends that drop like flies.

It’s simple: the less you actually show, the more we’ll think of things that are much worse.

SPOILER ALERT: Walking into walls is never a good idea.

SPOILER ALERT: Walking into walls is never a good idea.

 

KILL BILL: VOLUME 2 (2004)

In this ultimate modern revenge tale, we see Uma kick ass and take so many names it borders on cartoony (typical Tarantino). But for all the brilliantly choreographed battles against 88 men at a time, the movies’ biggest battle takes place in darkness. The setting? Several feet underground. The adversary? The Bride herself, of course.

She’s been buried! Before we get any lighting, it’s pitch black. Maybe a good 30 seconds. In movie time, that’s ample opportunity to freak out alongside our homicidal heroine. A few screams, heaves, and pounds let us take in the cold hard truth that this is probably it.

Naturally, she punches the crap out of her tomb and climbs to the surface, but the lead-up to that is brutal. It says something that the most visually simple scene is the most empathetic and transportive. Whereas most of these movies (awesomely) read like comic books, this sequence breaks through and drags us under. It puts us in a box, so to speak… Which is kind of the point of movies in the first place.

BABY DOLL (1956)

An essential rule to any story is this: the ending doesn’t matter to the audience as much as the journey. In sex terms, that means foreplay is key.

Imagine if the Breaking Bad series finale was the first and only episode you saw. It would still be amazing, sure. But, out of context, would it really still be THE most amazing thing EVER? Would Jesse’s outcome have packed such a wallop if we weren’t privy to his past torment? Would Walt’s final dialogue with Skyler have seemed so poignant?

No, you ninny! Because our arousal as viewers comes from making those connections. We’re given a story compelling enough for us to want a resolution. The outcome is the reward. So here’s a premise: a sensuous 19 year old girl makes a pact with her much older husband that they will not consummate their marriage until her 20th birthday.

That’s the launching pad for Baby Doll, which is included in this list as a movie about sex that never showed or even explicitly mentioned it. I mean, come on, it was 1956. That was a time when two people sharing cigarettes onscreen implied that they’d “done the nasty.” The film had to master the subtext if it was going to succeed. So just like Norman Bates’ knife, it wisely just grazed the skin and left the perversity to the film-goer. And trust me, with lines like “Excuse me, Mr. Vacarro, but I wouldn’t dream of eatin’ a nut that a man had cracked in his mouth,” the minds ran rampant.

But a penis? Well that's a whole 'nother story.

I am however not opposed to oral sex.

I’m gonna go eat a banana now. Enjoy your week, my lovelies!