Thursday, November 12, 2009

Soundtrack Available

I'm obsessed with soundtracks. By my estimate I have between 1 and 200, encompassing everything from Mean Girls to The Devil's Rejects. (I'm nothing if not eclectic.) I love movies and pop culture, and for me soundtracks are a natural extension of that love-- the songs help me remember great movies, or in some cases far surpass them. (Van Wilder: terrible movie. Pretty awesome soundtrack.) They've also introduced me, over the years, to some fantastic new artists, including numerous rock classics. (Thank you, Running With Scissors, for "Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart. I truly needed that song in my life.) What follows is my personal picks for my ten favorite soundtracks, in no particular order. I don't know that they're the best ever, but they're the tops in my collection. For the purposes of this list, I excluded scores and musicals (perhaps I'll get to those in another post.) Alright, here goes...
Dick (1999)/Running With Scissors (2006): I've always had a soft spot for '70s music, and these two albums represent a wide variety of its best and brightest tunes. Dick is pure pop fun from start to finish, with hits by the likes of Elton John, the Jackson 5 and Labelle. (Sixpence None the Richer-- remember them?-- also contribute a cute cover of "Dancing Queen.") It's just as enjoyable as the movie itself. The moodier side of the '70s emerges in the soundtrack to "Running With Scissors," based on Augusten Burroughs' twisted memoir. Director Ryan Murphy imagined the book as a day-glo fantasia, loaded with kitsch and-- as one critic put it-- "the best '70s pop money can buy." There's Elton John again, along with Phoebe Snow (the sublime "Poetry Man"), Manfred Mann's Earth Band ("Blinded By the Light"), and Crosby, Stills & Nash ("Teach Your Children"). The eclectic selection reflects the movie's dark sense of humor, and also includes such oddities as Vince Guaraldi's "O Tannenbaum" (from "A Charlie Brown Christmas") and Nat King Cole. As for the one contemporary song, Catherine Feeney's "Mr. Blue"? Utterly heartbreaking.
Philadelphia (1993): Jonathan Demme's seminal AIDS drama spawned a great soundtrack, which boasted not one but two Oscar nominated songs: Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia" and Neil Young's "Philadelphia." The Boss took the prize-- "Streets" rates among his greatest-- but Young's mournful ballad is equally affecting. Peter Gabriel also scored a memorable entry with the darkly romantic "Love Town."
I Am Sam (2001): The producers of the Sean Penn tear jerker-- centered on a mentally challenged man obsessed with the Beatles-- avoided astronomical royalties by recruiting a who's who of talent to re-record Beatles hits. The album features a few covers not included in the film; among the best are Ben Harper's "Strawberry Fields Forever," Rufus Wainwright's "Across the Universe," and Nick Cave's wonderfully moving "Let It Be." This ultimate tribute album transcended the movie and became a phenomenon unto itself.
Cruel Intentions (1999): The late '90s resulted in a slew of alt rock grab bags tied in with teen-centric movies; I have quite a few myself, including the "Scream"s, "Jawbreaker," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and "Go." But this album, from the guilty pleasure starring Ryan Phillipe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and a young Reese Witherspoon, was the best one of all. There's not a weak link in the mix: from Placebo's sneering "Every You Every Me" to Aimee Mann's "You Could Make a Killing" to Counting Crows' lovely "Colorblind," it's an amazing assortment of alternative music.
Magnolia (1999)/House of 1000 Corpses (2003): Two very different movies that had one thing in common: both had soundtracks provided almost entirely by one artist. Magnolia was actually built around Aimee Mann's songs: director P.T. Anderson was so inspired by her that he decided to write a movie inspired by her music. The sublime collection includes the Oscar and Grammy nominated "Save Me" as well as "Wise Up" (memorably sung onscreen by all of the principle characters) and a world-weary cover of Three Dog Night's "One." My favorite non-Mann song on the CD is Gabrielle's "Dreams," a thoroughly enjoyable pop tune. Meanwhile, Rob Zombie contributed six songs to his directorial debut, the in-your-face horror odyssey House of 1000 Corpses. The title track and "Pussy Liquor" are both outstanding, but the undisputed highlight is Zombie's driving cover of "Brick House" featuring Lionel Ritchie and Trina. I must've rocked out to that one about 1000 times during my sophomore year of college. There's also a Ramone's jam and a cute Buck Owens song called "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass?" After this film Zombie stopped using his own music onscreen and turned instead to compiling quirky mixes leaning heavily on 1970s fare. I debate whether to include this album or his memorable soundtracks for The Devil's Rejects (House's sequel) or Halloween (2007). Ultimately though, his hellbilly rock collection won out.
Death Proof (2007): Another auteur known for his distinctive musical choices, Quentin Tarantino was true to form with his soundtrack for Death Proof, his half of the underrated B-movie homage Grindhouse. What makes this CD so fun is that it mixes little known rock songs (most of which are played on a jukebox onscreen) with action and suspense score pieces by the likes of Pino Donnagio and Ennio Morrocone. (In true Tarantino fashion, the entire score was made up of bits from earlier movies.) Some of QT's better finds include the wonderfully weird story song "Staggolee" by Pacific Gas & Electric and "Hold Tight" by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (the latter track featuring prominently in a gory set piece). The piece de resistance is April March's kitschy "Chick Habit," which ties in perfectly with the girls kick ass message of the movie-- and of much of Tarantino's ouvre.
Brokeback Mountain (2005): The soundtrack to Ang Lee's acclaimed gay love story is the most beautiful album on this list. Gustavo Santaolalla's Oscar winning score anchors the collection; it's utterly gorgeous. The movie's middle American milieu is reflected in many of the artists involved: Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and lesser-known chanteuse Mary McBride all contribute tracks. There are also haunting selections by Rufus Wainwright and the under-appreciated Teddy Thompson.
Cloverfield (2008): This is one of the more unique soundtracks on here for a number of reasons. For one, the movie itself is largely without music, save for the opening party scene that precipitates a giant monster's attack on New York. Secondly, it was released as a "mixtape" on iTunes. But what a mixtape. Cloverfield's music supervisors put together a vast array of some of the best up and coming artists in the indie music scene; for instance Kings of Leon, who perform "Taper Jean Girl" and "Pistol of Fire," exploded shortly after the film's release. I enjoyed the whole compilation-- save for Parliament's "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker," which I honestly could've lived without-- but my faves included Coconut Records' pretty "West Coast," Spoon's "The Underdog," and Moby's pulse-pounding "Disco Lies." Cloverfield's one score selection has also emerged on iTunes: "Roar! (Cloverfield Overture)," by Michael Giacchino.

Friday, November 6, 2009

2009's Horror Renaissance

People like to say that horror is dead, but I've always found that pessimistic. I think there have been plenty of good horror movies over the last decade or so; HorrorHound, my new favorite magazine, even has a cover story this month listing their 20 Best Horror Movies of the Past 10 Years, with standouts like The Descent, 28 Days Later, and Grindhouse among them. This year, in my opinion, has been particularly good, with several very entertaining and original entries. Prompted by the much-ballyhooed Paranormal Activity, I decided to compile reviews for my favorite fright flicks of the year. And heck, it isn't even over yet-- Daybreakers, a sci-fi vampire hybrid with Ethan Hawke and the amazing Sam Neill, opens soon, too!
Drag Me to Hell--It all started, for me at least, with this Sam Raimi mini-masterpiece. After years spent on the big budget Spiderman franchise, the Evil Dead auteur got back to his down and dirty horror roots with a wickedly entertaining scarefest. Alison Lohman stars as a hapless loan officer whose bid to impress her boss backfires-- reeeeally backfires-- when she denies a repulsive gypsy hag an extension on her mortgage. Poor Lohman winds up cursed and tormented by demons who want to-- well, the title says it all. What follows is a cavalcade of scares, laughs, and gross out gags that quite simply never lets up. The fun that Raimi and his cohorts were having is palpable, as they pull out all the stops to deliver a gonzo thrill ride.+
Orphan--After Raimi's demons, I figured nothing could be as rollicking a good time. Surprisingly, this creepy kid shocker comes pretty darn close. Although it's the umpteenth variation on the Bad Seed formula, Orphan distinguishes itself with a peculiar blend of realism and off the wall camp. As sinister Esther engages in increasingly vicious activities, the movie pushes far, *far* beyond the bounds of its predecessors. Strong performances by the entire cast help elevate this from pure trash into something gaudy and over-the-top yet effective and deeply disturbing.
Grace--Released to theaters in a very limited capacity, Grace is a small independent film with a truly creepy concept. A pregnant woman (Jordan Ladd) decides to bring her stillborn baby to term, than inexplicably wills it back to life. But baby Grace has special needs, which can only be met if her mother is willing to do unthinkable things. What could have been tasteless becomes haunting and even moving, with a dense script and an array of subplots that ground this fantastic premise in a very real and tortured world. Special mention goes to the music, by composer Austin Wintory (also responsible for the moody score of my best friend's debut feature Print.)
Trick 'R Treat
--This long delayed Halloween-themed horror flick was well, well worth the wait. The fantastically fun movie pays homage to Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow with its interconnected stories involving a serial killer, ghost children, a werewolf, and the demonic spirit of Halloween itself, all converging on a small midwestern town on October 31st. I really can't praise this movie enough. Great cast (including character vet Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, and Brian Cox). Mesmerizing production design. Loads of scares. And good old fashioned powerful storytelling, with sublime surprises around every corner. Pure horror bliss.
Paranormal Activity--And cementing 2009 as one of the best years for horror in recent memory? This out of nowhere screamer, famously shot for $11,000-- in the director's house!-- and now on track to earn $100 million. With all the hype, a backlash seems imminent, but all Hollywood talk aside... it's a good movie. And it's fucking scary. Suspense and mood are key as Paranormal presents, in docudrama fashion, the saga of a young couple terrorized by an unearthly presence in their home-- one that's followed Katie, the girl, since she was a young child. The simple premise and minimal resources available are more than enough, in the filmmaker's capable hands, to scare the bejeezus out of us. The sound design and eerie nighttime camera shots disturb on a profound level. And the idea that Katie can't escape her demon by simply leaving the house-- that it will follow her wherever she goes-- ensure that the film has an overwhelming sense of dread and mounting terror. By the finale I was literally on the edge of my seat-- but oh so glad that I can still find outstanding scares at the movies.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crossing boundaries

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while (or any post, for that matter-- I haven't updated in general, mainly because I now have a "real" job as a preschool teacher as opposed to a mindless desk job where blogging keeps me from clawing my own eyes out in front of the computer for eight hours a day). I was revisiting "Tales of the City" recently-- the books and the miniseries-- and thinking about how the friendship between gay Michael and straight Brian resonates with my own life. When Armistead Maupin first released his episodic saga, it was seen as revolutionary in the way it both presented gay sexuality matter-of-factly and casually intertwined the lives of gay and straight characters. Of course, in a post "Will & Grace" world the idea of straight women befriending gay men is hardly a novel one; in fact, it's become cliche. But straight men and gay friend as friends might still be thought of as unusual or taboo. Of course, the ever progressing gay civil rights movement has brought about circumstances that would have seemed unthinkable ten or twenty years ago: gay straight alliances in high school, gay marriage in various states. But the concept of a heterosexual male having a close personal relationship cuts to the core of why gay sexuality has supposedly taken so long to be accepted into the mainstream. Men are more aggressively socialized and gender-normalized than women, and gayness was long seen as a threat to accepted social order, both because it challenged heterosexism and threatened to rip the lid off the homoeroticism that has long existed in society, from fraternities to the military and everywhere in between. Sure, maybe two particularly sensitive straight men could profess to love each other (i.e. the drunken "I love you, man" speech). But how could a straight man knowingly express affection for a gay man without threatening his own sexuality? In my experience, though, this boundary has been crossed and recrossed by my straight male friends with ease. Sure, my friendships with gay men are important, as are those I enjoy with straight women. (My best friend is female.) But I believe that my friendships with men in general are crucial, regardless of orientation. Truth be told, I've had positive and life affirming relationships with straight guys since high school. My first crush was a good friend, a high school athlete who not only accepted and appreciated me-- sexual orientation and all-- but who, I think, secretly enjoyed my fairly obvious attraction to him. (In today's world, any guy at ease with himself is surely flattered by attention, male or female, especially considering that-- as one guy put it-- "you guys are so fucking picky.") Another friend of mine is not only sensitive and compassionate but once joked that he'd plant a kiss on me if he ever saw a particular ex-girlfriend while we were out together! The most recent example of this for me is with my friend Ben, a former coworker. We bonded early on over our mutual love of horror films and have been to see several over the last couple years. While Ben isn't nearly as open as I am about his personal life, he has always listened respectfully to any number of my own problems and provided sympathy and support. The kicker came a couple months ago, when he left a voice mail on my phone. "I love you," he said at the end, seemingly without a second thought. It didn't matter that I was gay. It did matter that he cared about me, and I him. In 2009, men of every kind are finding that labels and differences aren't nearly so important as compassion and respect.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Drag Me to Hell"=Horror Movie Heaven

Over the weekend my friends and I caught a screening of "Drag Me to Hell," Sam Raimi's new horror film. Raimi's earned mainstream cred with "A Simple Plan" and the "Spider-man" trilogy, but fans remember him as the guy who created "Evil Dead" and its gruesome, gonzo sequels. His return to the horror fold here doesn't disappoint. "Drag Me to Hell" is one of the most entertaining and relentless scare films in years; its grand Guignol histrionics are accompanied by a wicked sense of humor. The movie centers on Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a bright, earnest loan officer angling for a promotion while also trying to win the affections of her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long)'s parents. When Mrs. Ganush, an old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver, perfectly cast) asks the bank for a third extension on her mortgage, Christine wants to help her but sees an opportunity to show her boss (the ever reliable David Paymer) that she can "make the tough decisions." Ganush begs on her knees, then angrily hisses that Christine has "shamed" her, and that night attacks Christine in the parking garage in a gleefully extended tussle. It's so gross and outrageous that it's a shoe-in for Best Fight Scene in next year's MTV Movie Awards; amazingly, the film sustains this scene's momentum for the rest of its 99 minute run time. Ganush finally puts a curse on Christine, who then seeks the aid of psychic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao). Jas tells her that she will be tormented and eventually dragged to hell (natch) by the fearsome lamia demon, and over the next few days his prediction comes true. Christine experiences everything from geyser-like nose bleeds to visions of a cloven footed monstrosity, while Clay does his best to understand and support her. (To his credit, this character escapes the trap of being a skeptical dolt, although part of the movie's point seems to be that even his unwavering support isn't enough to protect Christine.) The clever script juxtaposes Christine's mundane, realistic insecurities-- being a former fat girl, fearing that Clay's folks think she's a farm-bred hick-- with the larger than life horrors of the curse. Truly, Christine is trying to avoid a Fate Worse Than Death: burning in hell for all eternity. Raimi makes this film a full frontal assault on the senses, reveling in grotesquerie while continually keeping the audience on its toes with visual gags, creepy sound FX, and whiz bang set pieces. (There's a seance that does its best to blow all of its cinematic forebears out of the water.) The film had me shrieking, laughing, and shouting at the screen, in the tradition of the best horror movies-- and in keeping with the insane, no-holds-barred sensibility of Raimi's first two "Evil Dead" films. "Drag Me to Hell" smashes taboos and takes no prisoners in its quest to freak you out. In so doing, it takes the viewer on a rip-roaring ride and provides bloody good entertainment. If only more horror films gave us this much bang for our buck.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rest in peace, David Carradine

I was shocked to read this morning that legendary actor David Carradine had been found dead under mysterious circumstances (hung in a possible suicide) in a Thailand hotel room. He was 72. Carradine played the lead on the classic 1970s TV show "Kung Fu," as well as starring in hundreds of films and television episodes. My father was a big fan-- and in fact was watching DVDs of the show when he heard the news today. A whole new generation got to know the actor, myself included, when he starred as the title character in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" saga. While Carradine was nearly a cameo player in the first installment, Volume 2 found him fleshing out an incredibly complex, sympathetic, and layered character as he and former love the Bride (Uma Thurman) have a fateful final encounter. Carradine was an excellent actor and, by all accounts, a great man who will be missed.

Yet another reason to make fun of Twilight

Teenage girls everywhere screamed in unison last weekend when the MTV Movie Awards unveiled the trailer for "New Moon," the sequel to "Twilight." (Very apropos, considering that the first movie won so many golden popcorn buckets that you'd think they were being paid off by the studio-- or, more likely, sent multiple votes by the aforementioned teen girls.) The whole thing cracked me up-- it was the expected blend of overwrought melodrama and cheesy slow-mo action-- but perhaps the best bit of all was when hunky Jacob (Taylor Lautner) transformed into a werewolf. Now, we haven't seen a movie werewolf since Wes Craven's "Cursed"-- and by "we" I mean me and like, three other people who saw that. So what does "New Moon" give us? Um... see the first pic. Who's a cute little werewolf? You are, Jacob! Yes you are! (By the by, I totally stole that comment from Ashley.) I mean, really, despite the ferocious snarl, WereJacob looks extremely cuddly. Like he just jumped out of a Harry Potter sequel, or maybe is related to Bolt, or something. He reminded me a little of Dee Wallace-- spoooooiler!!!-- at the end of "The Howling," also seen above. ("The Howling" is an 80s horror movie which totally rocks, and is worth seeing even if I just spoiled you.) My dad loves that movie, but always had the same complaint: "the only thing I didn't like is that the end, she turns into a CUTE werewolf!" In fact, when I met Dee Wallace I was really tempted to tell her that- and should have! I bet she would have laughed. Anyway, the cutesy werewolf tradition continues with New Moon. Will there be a stuffed animal? Because I think I kinda want one. Mwah.

It's official

I love Rihanna. I really enjoy her music and am glad she ditched her abusive asshole boyfriend (and I don't blame her for what happened like some people). And now this-- she's rocking a Keith Haring jacket!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The better you look, the more you see

I just finished reading Glamorama, a Brett Easton Ellis novel I'd been meaning to get to for sometime. (I picked up a used copy at a store Jacob took us to for the express purpose of buying Moxie, an odd regional soda that tastes like medicine. But I digress.) This is the fifth Ellis book I've read, having become a fan through the movie versions of American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction and gone on to read his uniquely satirical and deceptively superficial writing. (It's hard to complain about flat, vapid characters, for instance, when that is clearly the author's intent.) This one shares many of the hallmarks of the author's work: cold, aimless characters, excessive pop culture references and name dropping, gruesomely explicit violence, and narrative ambiguity. It still stands out as a unique and singular achievement, though, as a book that serves as both cultural commentary and hallucinogenic fever dream. Glamorama centers on Victor Ward, an uber-cool male model first introduced in Rules of Attraction, who we here meet in mid 1990s New York City. Like many Ellis men, he's actually kind of a douche: status obsessed to a fault, he treats almost everyone in his life poorly, from girlfriend Chloe to mistress Allison to business partner Damien. But Victor remains strangely sympathetic, maybe because he's less knowing player than lost puppy dog. The first chunk of the novel firmly establishes Victor's high rolling life: endless parties, magazine stories, preparations for the opening of a new club. (A full two pages consist of Victor approving or dismissing potential guests of varying degrees of celebrity.) The irony quickly creeps in as we realize that Victor is, among other things, fairly broke-- while he motorcycles around Manhattan in designer clothes, he can't even afford CDs at the Virgin Megastore. When opening night finally arrives, Victor's personal life basically implodes, and he seeks escape just when a mysterious man named Palakon has engaged him for an unusual mission: to find ex girlfriend Jamie Fields and bring her back from London. (It's clear that Palakon has hidden motives, but naive Victor is oblivious and thinks she's simply needed for a movie shoot.) Once he boards a ship bound for England, things take an increasingly bizarre turn. Ellis introduces the idea that a film crew is following Victor's every move, that this is all a scripted movie, although we're never sure if this is "real" or a figment of Victor's imagination. An attractive girl catches his fancy, then abruptly disappears. When he finds Jamie, she welcomes him into her seemingly idyllic social circle: good looking, successful model types-- including Victor's idol Bobby Hughes-- who mirror the elite types he's become estranged from back in New York. But all is not what it seems, and Jamie and her pals emerge as terrorists capable of acts of horrifying torture and depravity, especially Bobby. Victor gets caught up in bombings, framings, and a complicated involvement with both Jamie and Bobby. Victor professes to be straight but winds up in a bisexual threesome with both characters, a sex scene so relentlessly pornographic that it seems like it was meant to come off as gratuitous sleaze. Palakon continues to confuse Victor with mixed messages, and the protagonist finds himself doubting the motives of everyone around him as well as his own sanity. As at least one critic has noted, Glamorama reads less like a "novel"-- certainly not in the traditional sense-- than as a meditation on themes and styles, with the narrative switching between first, second, and third person narration, and employing the conventions of Hollywood filmmaking (up to and including "soundtrack" songs). Ellis sprawling book encompasses everything from our obsession with youth, beauty, and fame (which seemed to reach a new zenith in the 90s) to fears about terrorism and random violence. "We'll slide down the surface of things," Victor repeats again and again, before he begins to see what lies beneath that "glittering" surface. "The better you look, the more you see" is Victor's catch phrase, and what seems at first like an empty platitude emerges as a thesis for the book. The deeper Victor gets into the world of models and parties, the more he realizes that its one of sinister secrets-- where beautiful bodies can be tortured, hacked, and blown apart, and where powerful forces can manipulate and control your every move. It's a relentlessly bleak view of modern culture that has the ring of bitter truth.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just 'cause

I just adore Sia. She has the most gorgeous voice and the couple of times I've met her she's just been an absolute doll-- she even talked to my mom on the phone once following a concert. A lot of you may know her single "Breathe Me" which featured prominently in the Six Feet Under season finale; she's also done some really beautiful music with Zero 7.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's all led up to this

Does anyone else feel gypped re: the amount of Georgina we got this season? I feel like her appearances in the last few episodes amounted to glorified cameos; I at least expected more of her in the finale! But despite the dearth of Georgina, the producers still delivered a pretty satisfying finale-- it even paid off loose ends I'd been waiting to come back for months.
The episode begins with the gang graduating from Constance/St. Jude's, which is amusing considering none of them seem to spend any time in class. (Unless, of course, they're taking lessons from a clueless Ohio teacher who likes to hook up with her students.) Blair and Chuck have an awkward pre-grad moment,with her almost-- but not quite-- telling him that she and Nate are dunzo. He doesn't tell her anything, either, even though she knows he told Serena he really does love her. (And really, if he was hiding his feelings, was Blair's BFF really the best person to share with? Right, like *she's* not gonna say anything.) Blair also has a run-in with the three mean girls, who tell Jenny she has a shot at becoming the new "Queen" of the school. Kind of an about-face, huh? One minute she's persona non grata with these bitches, the next they offer her a crown. (I guess they're all just followers incapable of leading.) Jenny insists she's not interested, having hoped the hierarchy would die out with Blair, and Blair walks by just in time to declare that she alone can pick the next queen. The second she leaves, though, the girls tell Jenny they could care less what Blair thinks anymore. In any case, Blair seems glad to leave all the "high school" drama behind, including the girls, Nate, and Chuck, while Serena says she's just glad to be going off Gossip Girl's radar. (Yep, the actual Gossip Girl was discussed quite a bit in this episode.) But she spoke too soon: Gossip Girl email blasts everyone during the ceremony, and naturally they all receive it on their cell phones at once. (Seriously, do these kids ever silence their phones? I'd hate to be at a funeral where the granddaughter's fucking text notification goes off during the eulogy, which is probably what happens with these kids. "Sorry Grandma, but Lonely Boy was just spotted at Dylan's Candy Bar!") Even for Gossip Girl it's a pithy post, essentially just a series of insults aimed at the principle characters. Nate's a "whore" (a reference to the duchess storyline which was the last time Nate did anything interesting), Dan's "the ultimate insider," Chuck's "a coward," Blair's "a weakling," and finally, Serena is "now officially irrelevant."
None of the staff or parents can understand why the kids aren't standing up at the closing. Serena decides she's declaring war on Gossip Girl, and at the incredibly boring post-grad reception, which doesn't seem to have nearly enough students to constitute a senior class in it (plus tons of random non-seniors like Eric and the mean girls), she sends GG a text, reasoning that the mysterious blogger "must be someone in this room." Jonathan's phone goes off-- gasp! (Right, like Eric's barely developed boyfriend would be the title character.) Turns out he's simply hacked into Gossip Girl's mainframe and has access to her inbox. Serena, Jenny, and Eric reason they can use this to somehow expose her, with Jenny laying eyes on some sort of big kahuna re: Blair. (P.S. the Mean Girls have told Jenny she gets to be Queen if she can produce juicy gossip... what a coinky-dink!) But at Nate's big grad party, this plan is foiled. Initially we see Nate talking to his grandpa about the duchess thing and how it could come out. "I had an affair with an older woman," he confesses. "Welcome to Washington," Grandpa replies. "She was married," Nate says. (Welcome to Washington.) "And she paid me." (Okay, Nate, WELCOME TO WASHINGTON!) Grandpa promises he'll protect Nate if need be. I just wish they'd bring the duchess and her incestuous step hunk back. They injected some nice drama into the series.
Meanwhile, Blair and Chuck share another spectacularly sexy scene, with her asking him how he feels about her "headband" (natch), her "stockings" ("I adore them" Bass coos), and finally, "me." "I..." Chuck begins, and that damn text alert predictably interrupts them. (Seriously kids, have you never heard of "vibrate"??) Then, Gossip Girl decides to drop a series of bombs about *everyone*, including one I'd been waiting for since the winter: Blair's liaison with Chuck's uncle. Busted! Blair blames Serena, who also comes under fire when GG exposes tidbits like Jenny's naked kinda-photo-shoot and Vanessa and Chuck's one night stand. Serena agrees that Dan really is an insider, having gotten into Yale, had a lame story published in The New Yorker, and generally insinuated himself into everything while still professing not to be "one of them." Blair angrily yells at Chuck for taking up with "the dregs of DUMBO." LOL. They eventually admit they're not really upset about the affairs, but they still seem to be at an impasse. Serena decides to try and rectify things by asking Gossip Girl to meet her at the Oak Room or else she'll "tell everyone who you are." (It's a bluff, of course.) But instead Serena is greeted by Dan, Blair (also thinking Gossip Girl's coming, Dan deadpans, "well THAT makes sense"), and finally all the other main characters. Gossip Girl texts them all: "You wanted to meet Gossip Girl, well, now you have. I'd be nothing without all of you. And surprise: I'm coming with you." (Meaning the updates will continue into college.) It was a little too precious and not at all surprising (I doubt they'd disclose her identity before the series finale, if ever), but whatever. Serena and Dan make up, promising to remain friends. Blair sees Chuck outside, staring soulfully. Meanwhile, Lily and Rufus have been partying it up with some pot she found in Chuck's room (?!). Rufus, whose issues with Lily have predictably lasted all of one episode, proposes to her and she says yes. (With an old tour bracelet as a ring, which is cute, I guess.)
Cut to a few weeks later, and a gotta-pack-it-all-in montage of scenes. Blair formally appoints Jenny as new Queen, and tells the girls they better obey because she now has damaging dirt on all of them. (I don't remember what it was or how she acquired it, but in any case Jenny now has a shot at interesting story lines again. Plus she actually looked cute in this episode, although Patrick was still troubled by the bangs.) Nate got hit on by the mayor so he's leaving the internship-- and joining Vanessa on that redonkulous "pirogi tour of Europe"! (Ugh, those two deserve each other.) Nearby, a new NYU student calls his parents while looking at newspaper clippings on Rufus and Lily-- yep, it's the love child, and not only will he be joining Dan at school, but he apparently knows who his real parents are. Georgina calls Dan and tells him she's gotten his money back from Poppy, though she doesn't say how. She hangs up and tells a woman at NYU that she wants to room with her "best friend Blair Waldorf." Does it really make sense for her to magically make that happen unbeknownst to Blair? Would kids this rich even live in dorms? Who cares-- the possibilities for drama with those two as roomies are endless. (Unfortunately Georgina won't become a series regular, as I hoped; NBC picked up a pilot with her starring for next season, although her contract allows for 3 GG episodes, according to the stalwarts at Entertainment Weekly. But some Georgina is better than none at all.) That skeezy Carter shows up out of nowhere with info on Serena's long lost dad, and she heads off in search of Papa Van Der Woodsen. (Guess they're setting up the story for next season. Maybe this is also their way of getting out of sending Serena away for school.) And last but certainly not least, Chuck greets Blair with a bushel of gifts. Turns out he jetted off to Europe only to procure her favorite chocolates, stockings, etc. And he finally-- FINALLY-- says, "I love you." I got a little verklempt, I'm not gonna lie. "Say it again," Blair breathes, and he does, and they kiss, and fans everywhere rejoice. Not a bad way to end the season, all in all.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gossip Girl: They Love the 80s

It could have been a spectacular train wreck, but Gossip Girl's totally awesome 80s flashback-- the so-called "backdoor pilot" for the proposed young Lily spin-off-- was surprisingly decent. It might have launched a decent series, although the project has supposedly been scuttled already, but more importantly it worked better than expected when blended with the modern day storyline.
The episode starts off in New York circa 2009, with Serena still in the slammer and Blair amusingly remarking that "she's been in jail longer than Nicole Ritchie and Lindsay Lohan combined!" Meanwhile, Lily is headed there to bail her out, and begins reflecting on her youth in California circa 1983. Back then, she'd been expelled from school and calls her businessman father Rick (80s stalwart Andrew McCarthy) asking him to meet her for lunch. (Lily is played here by Brittany Snow, and while the LA scenes are blended cleverly with the modern day ones, I'll describe the entire flashback plot in its entirety here to avoid confusion.) She's shown at a payphone with the sign for Neptune's Net in the background-- a seafood restaurant I actually ate at with Ashely during a visit last fall! (It's delicious and total no-frills-dining-at-its-best.) We learn that Lily's been expelled from school, and is hoping to move in with her dad. But her steely mother, Cece (Cynthia Watros), has been called and what's more, both parents know of her predicament already. Her request to move in with Dad is predictably rebuffed. Snow does a decent enough job as the young Lily-- there's a passing resemblance, and she's relatively believable as a spunkier but still square-ish version of Serena's mom-- but Ritter really nails it as her steely mother. Her hard-edged portrayal is totally consistent with the modern day battle ax played by Caroline Lagerfelt, who also appears in this ep. Cece insists Lily accompany her home, but foolishly leaves in her own car, prompting Lily to drive off to LA instead in search of her wayward sister, Carol (Krysten Ritter). She heads to the diner where she works, and meets a bad-boy looking friend of hers named Owen (Shiloh Fernandez), who would clearly be her love interest if this got picked up for series. (I suppose it'd be kind of weird watching the show and knowing that whatever happens with these two, they won't last-- although I'd love to see Lily's alleged hookups with Trent Reznor and Slash!) Owen says his pal is dating Carol and that she'll be at a rock show if Lily wants to come.
Cut to Lily trying on some of her sister's outfits set to "Dancing with Myself," since Owen comments that her uber-preppie fatigues aren't going to cut it. Of course, this is what we really care about: the clothes and the music! They used some choice cuts like "Safety Dance" and "Blue Monday" throughout the episode, and the fashions were appropriately 80s-tacular while stopping just short of silliness. (It'd be interesting to see them parade around in vintage clothes week after week on a series, although I suspect the licensing budget for all those Time Life retro hits could get a little unwieldy.) The concert scene is appropriately raucous, with a down and dirty CBGB's feel and a much touted cameo by No Doubt as the fictional "Snowed Out." (They must have been up all night thinking of that witty moniker.) Carol is pleasantly surprised to see Lily ("are you wearing my dress?"), and the group piles into her beat up car to head to a party they're not invited to. (I don't remember why they go, but it's apparently required that all Josh Schwartz California pilots involve crashing a party and engaging in fisticuffs. Unfortunately, no one here cracks "Welcome to the LA, bitch!") Lily and Carol have some expository banter about what her life is like now, with an amusing reference to fanny packs (!) and Carol explaining that she is "making it" as she claimed-- "This is what making it looks like! When you just haven't... made it yet." She's a likable enough character and I could relate to her cautiously optimistic attitude about her life. The two actresses look nothing like each other, but they do have good sisterly chemistry. (Plus, the brunette and blonde combo evokes Blair and Serena.) At the party, they clash with nasty rich brat Keith van Der Woodsen, aka Serena and Eric's never-before-seen dad! Unfortunately, his appearance is brief but whets our appetite for details on how he and Lily ever got involved. (If the Lily show's truly dead, I'd love to see some more flashbacks on Gossip Girl next season.) Keith and his friends tell the party crashers to get lost with some particularly nasty insults. In a funny moment, Lily and Carol both demand, "What did you just say??" in unison. "No one talks to us like that!" Lily says defiantly, leading to the aforementioned fight. Next thing we know Lily's been arrested-- just like her daughter two decades later! Lily calls CeCe for help, and her mom-- shown working out to a Jane Fonda video-- is typically unsympathetic. But Carol shows up, grabs the phone, and informs their ice queen mother that Lily will be staying with *her* for the time being and voila! We have a spin-off premise.
The sisters exit the jail and Carol reveals she sold her car to pay bail. "What are we going to do, walk?" Lily asks. "Walking in LA? You've got a lot to learn," Carol cracks. (Patrick informs me that this is actually a reference to a pop song, although I thought it was funny in and of itself.) Carol puts on her sunglasses and declares, "we Rhodes travel in style." Next thing we know they're on a bus together holding hands, which is intercut with scenes of Serena and Blair bonding outside of their senior prom.
Yes-- back to 2009! Lily shows up at jail but Serena's already called CeCe to get her out (and hey, in light of the 80s storyline, that's, like, ironic!). Lily and CeCe have their zillionth parenting debate. Serena's bailed out just in time to go to the prom, with Dan whisking her away via cab, and even bringing her (typically gorgeous) dress along. Blair, meanwhile, is living her dream prom by attending with Nate in a fanciful fairytale gown. (Blair in the gown, not Nate. I quite liked it, and the media ate it up, with Entertainment Weekly declaring it "A+".) But those scheming bitches Nelly, Penelope, and, um, the other one (who've been MIA for a while) are up to no good, rigging the votes so that Nelly steals the prom queen crown from Blair. (What, were they all out of pig's blood?) Blair chastises Chuck when she catches him rifling through the votes, but he's ultimately redeemed when we learn-- of course-- that he was actually securing her victory. He also hands Serena the key to a hotel suite for the couple, because he wants her to have the perfect night. All together now: awwwwwww. But on the dance floor, Blair realizes that having lived her high school fantasy, she no longer needs her high school boyfriend, and explains this to Nate as they share a somber dance. We expected as much, since there has to be more B & C drama at season's end, but Gawwwwd I hope this doesn't mean Nate and Vanessa are going to rekindle their non-flame. (I saw a promo photo of the two of them in next week's finale-- argh!) Meanwhile, Lily apologizes to Rufus for her questionable decision making with Serena, and says she realizes he was going to propose. Rufus accepts her apology, but cautions that this doesn't mean they're back on... yet. (He'll probably be over it by next week. Or not. We're overdue for the return of the love child from Boston, aren't we?) Lily and CeCe share as tender a moment as they possibly can, with Lily forcing a hug on the old coot and CeCe seeming to thaw out enough to realize that her daughter really does love her. (As they embraced, I wanted CeCe to remark, "I can feel your baby kicking!") We close on Blair and Serena sharing their heart to heart, paralleled with Lily and Carol back in 83. Only one more episode left, and it looks like we'll have plenty of Georgina bitchery, Chuck/Blair drama, and Serena vowing to bring down Gossip Girl her (or him??) self. Can't wait!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just because

I just happened to see this online shortly after writing the last post. You can click on it for a bigger version. Incidentally, I think Calvin and Hobbes is the most brilliant cartoon strip this side of Peanuts.

The Hauntingly Beautiful Films of James Whale

I just recently read A New World of Gods and Monsters, an outstanding and exhaustive biography of director James Whale written by James Curtis. Although the British Whale helmed a vast array of movies and plays in his career, he's best know for directing horror classics like Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Old Dark House (which starred Gloria Stuart yeeeears before Titanic). The book inspired me to revisit the Frankenstein films last weekend for the first time in years.
I knew I loved The Bride of Frankenstein, which is a much jauntier and more comical effort than its predecessor, but I was equally impressed with the original this time. Stylishly directed and handsomely produced, it's a lush and supremely dark story that must have really freaked out audiences in 1931. (I still think it's creepy as all get out, immersed as it is in the world of cemeteries, alleyways, and cavernous laboratories.) The cast is uniformly excellent, with Colin Clive an appropriately brooding and obsessive Dr. Frankenstein, Mae Clarke as his bewildered and anxious bride Elizabeth, and Fred Kerr as an amusingly ornery Baron Frankenstein. Of course, Boris Karloff steals the show in a legendary role as the monster, and while his appearance, mannerisms, and guttural growls may be the stuff of parody now, he remains a startling presence onscreen. As Curtis notes in his book, Whales stages the creature's first entrance for maximum effect. The monster backs into the room, then slowly turns around as a succession of increasingly close shots (a trademark Whale flourish) reveal his ghoulish visage. Jack P. Pierce's iconic makeup frightened the public upon the movie's release; indeed, it frightened most of the cast and crew, and retains a powerful effect to this day. Watching the monster stalk in the background as an oblivious Elizabeth paces her room, I couldn't help remembering a thousand latter day slashers containing the same set-up. But here, nearly eighty years ago, was where it all began. Despite these ghastly details, Whale's success with the material stems from his deep empathy with Frankenstein's creation. According to Curtis, an associate who read the script revealed that he "felt sorry for the damned monster," and this comment unlocked the key to the material. The pitifully misunderstood creature does not set out to create havoc; even his most heinous act, the drowning of a young girl (a scene often targeted by censors) stems from his naive belief that she will float like the flowers they've been tossing in the water. Indeed, it is the vicious and ignorant reaction of the villagers and Frankenstein's own humpbacked assistant that dooms the monster to brutality and fiery destruction (or so we think).
Of course, the massive success of Frankenstein had Universal clamoring for a studio, but it was not until 1935 that Whale relented and gave them one. While Curtis revealed Whale's initial belief that he had nothing new to do with the story, the director ultimately hit on a stroke of inspiration within the original Mary Shelley novel. In the book, Frankenstein's creation begs for a companion to assuage his loneliness, but the would-be bride is destroyed before she can be revived. The fancifully titled Bride of Frankenstein would expand on this plot line to unforgettable effect. This time, the script was imbued with a heavy dose of gallows humor, and opens with a hokey and yet wholly appropriate prologue depicting Mary Shelley regaling her friends Percy Shelley and Lord Byron with the continuation of her ghoulish tale on a stormy night in Switzerland. (The three friends were famously recounting ghost stories when they hit on the idea to write some of their own, leading Mary to write her famous novel. I somehow doubt their banter was quite as polished and zippy as was depicted here, though.) The sequel's plot brings in another strikingly mad scientist, the comically sinister Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger in a wonderfully flamboyant performance). Una O'Connor steals most of the show, meanwhile, as the hilariously dramatic and screeching housekeeper Minnie. (That Minnie's terrified hysterics have the audience rolling in the aisles mere moments after the monster kills two people is a testament to both her comedic gifts and Whale's deft balance between humor and horror.) Frankenstein is tempted back into more forbidden experiments by Pretorius, who initially appeals to the doctor's still raging curiosity before resorting to kindapping to force his compliance. Meanwhile, the surviving monster escapes the ruins of the windmill where he and Frankenstein clashed in the original film, killing off the drowned girl's parents in the process. (I love the bit with him drowning the father while an owl looks on dispassionately, truly a clever and unsettling touch.) The monster wanders aimlessly until he encounters a blind hermit (a perfectly cast O.P. Heggie) who shows him kindness and teaches him how to speak and enjoy life's pleasures. Karloff was opposed to this development, according to Curtis, but Whale's instincts were correct. The creature is further humanized and fleshed out, expanding on the themes of the first film and showing the audience that the monster is to be sympathized more than feared. In fact, it is only the intrusion of violent villagers that shatters the new found peace and harmony between the creature and the hermit, leading to one of the most poignant images in all of cinema: Karloff stumbling out of the hut's burning ruins, wailing "Friend, friend!" Their relationship has been the subject of some critical speculation, especially in light of Whale's homosexuality. (My queer identity professor even showed us a clip from the film, emphasizing how tender and loving the characters' first meeting is.) The monster himself has struck some as a queer allegory, a misfit who is persecuted simply for being different. While Curtis balked at any such interpretations of the material, arguing that Whale's reserved manner would have precluded any overt manifestations of his sexuality, I can't help feeling there's something to these readings. After all, it's entirely possible that Whale expressed certain themes on an entirely subconscious level, and I'm reminded of that old adage: "Never trust the teller, trust the tale." Besides, the gay Thesiger's queeny Pretorius could singlehandedly elevate the film to a high level of camp. In any case, Bride concludes with another spectacular creation scene and the revelation of one of the strangest and most compelling creatures ever put on celluloid. In less than five minutes of screen time, Elsa Lanchester makes an indelible impression with her bird-like movements, hissing and screaming vocalizations, and utterly bizarre appearance. When she rejects the monster just as cruelly as everyone else, he decides to destroy them both, along with the nefarious Pretorius. (In a last minute editorial decision, the Doctor and Elizabeth are allowed to live, though sharp eyes viewers can apparently spot Frankenstein in a shot of the tower exploding.) Thus concludes an utterly spectacular and hugely entertaining one two punch from the man who would be, fairly or not, forever remembered as the Father of Frankenstein.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Scheme a little scheme

Gossip Girl's Serena continues to be willfully naive. Seriously, it's bad enough that she falls for losers like Aaron (eww) and now Gabriel (who at least has better hair care skills), but then she keeps buying into all of their lies. At the start of the episode, Serena realizes that Gabriel's made off with all the investors' money and she consults Blair and Chuck to see what she should do. Nate's tagged along with Blair because he accused her of using Serena's latest predicament to avoid discussing their issues: i.e. whether or not they should move in together. Of course, Nate is utterly useless when it comes to things like this: he's much better at pouting than he is at devising schemes. Dan arrives to announce that Rufus has sunk his college fund into Gabriel's bogus deal, and Serena apologizes. She assures him she can get the money back, because "the feelings are real" even if Gabriel's African wi-fi bullshit wasn't. She and Chuck meet Gabriel for lunch at Gilt (which I think is the real hotel restaurant that has a sandwich named after the show) and he cops to the scam-- which Chuck identifies as, yep, a Ponzi scheme-- but claims that Poppy has the money now and he couldn't return it even if he wanted to. Chuck is still skeptical, but Serena is convinced that Poppy is the more evil one and falls for Gabriel's "I really came to love you speech" and he even says, "You're the only one worth waking up a Spanish priest for" (a reference to their quasi-wedding). Barf. He's so full of it, but Serena even lets him leave, convinced that "he won't be hard to find" if they need him later. Is this why it was so easy for Bernie Maddoff to bilk New Yorkers? Are all of them dumb, trusting sheep? I thought we had more know-how than that. Anyway, Georgina, who's assuring everyone she means no harm (loved the moment when Blair instinctively pulled her purse away), is recruited to entrap Poppy by pretending to be yet another gullible, rich New Yorker for her to dupe. She's reluctant to join in the subterfuge, but Blair convinces her it's a good way for her to atone for past sins. They provide a makeover-- out with the Jesus threads, in with the Upper East vixenwear-- and Georgina makes a date to meet Poppy for lunch at yet another posh eatery: the Russian Tea Room. Meanwhile, dopey Dan has spilled the beans to Lily (whose layers of pregnancy-hiding props and wardrobe were so funny I included a pic above) about the Ponzi scheme. He's understandably concerned about his dad, but his meddling ultimately makes things worse. Lily decides to pay back the investors and handle the whole thing quietly, not wanting to taint Serena's or her reputation with "a scandal," but rather than be upfront with Rufus she opts to have him paid in monthly installments that will create the illusion his investment is actually paying him off. I'm hard pressed to understand her logic here. Did she really think she could keep this a secret? And why doesn't she want to prosecute the ones behind this sordid scheme? The fear-of-scandal doesn't seem like it should outweigh a desire for justice. She orders Serena not to interfere, even as her daughter is horrified by the sight of Lily having tea with Poppy and accepting all her lies about how she, too, was a "victim." Inevitably Serena goes ahead with the entrapment plan, anyway. When Dan gets wind that his dad is being payed in installments-- which clearly aren't from the bogus scheme-- he calls Serena who assures him she'll get the money back, and also snaps that he may as well tell her mom since he's good at it. Of course, dopey Dan does just that and Lily is furious that her kid's still plotting to bring down Poppy. (I can't really relate to this. If I were in the same position, my mom would probably be the one *behind* "Operation Nail the Bitch." I guess the Lockwoods are generally a less blase, forgiving bunch.) She calls her and demands that she call off the plan but naturally Serena ignores her. (We see her on the phone and spotting Poppy approaching. I can't blame her for ignoring Lily on this one. Just the site of that girl makes me want to bitch slap her, too.) Georgina does her best "wide eyed idiot" act, all the while secretly recording Poppy's request for money to get her in on the investment-- cash only, of course. Meanwhile, Chuck and Blair have time for a Momentous Exchange that provides yet another first. After Nate demands that Chuck either man up and declare his feelings for Blair or let her go, he's asked the burning question by Blair. "I need to know if this is real, or just a game," she declares in yet another Emmy worthy performance. (Seriously, I may have the hots for Chuck, but Blair is the best part of this show. She's both hilarious and heartbreakingly emotional. Too bad the TV Academy is way too snobbish to reward a "soap opera" performance as opposed to umpteen procedural actors.) "It's just a game," he says, and Blair, with tears in her eyes, thanks him and walks away. Serena, who's witnessed the whole scene, asks Chuck, "why did you do that?" "Because I love her," Chuck says. "And I can't make her happy." Big moment: he finally admitted he loves her! Of course, his response to Blair's face ensures that he keeps the love triangle going; pretty clever move by the writers. (Also somewhat more plausible than last fall's "the game is what we do best" bullshit.) Outside, Blair tells Nate they shouldn't move in together, and he agrees he was just "trying to force our issues." But they're still on as a couple, at least for now. Meanwhile, Georgina hands over a satchel of cash to Poppy and cops arrive... but they arrest Serena, not Poppy! Turns out Lily's foisted them on her daughter on bogus theft charges (for "stealing" an heirloom bracelet she gave her earlier) to prevent her from sullying the family name with the Ponzi scheme debacle. Really, Lily? This is your brilliant plan? I say Parenting FAIL. Rufus certainly agrees; not only is he disgusted when he finds Lily's list of the people she's paying off (him included), but he's repulsed by her willingness to have her own daughter arrested. "You sound just like your mother right now," he declares. (Side note: what's with these two leaving smoking guns around for each other to find? They really need to stop being so careless with lists, manifestos, etc. Will they ever learn?) Rufus was actually on the verge of proposing to Lily, but he backs off and tells his kids back in Brooklyn to "return this for me." There was a sweet little interlude earlier where he asked for Eric's permission to marry his mom, which was notable mainly for the first glimpse of that kid we've had in what seems like forever. (Still dig his new hair... but someone write this kid a decent storyline! He and Jenny seemingly exist only for the purpose of giving other characters advice-- it's like they're *both* the Token Gay Male!) The episode ends with Serena posing for the cutest mugshots this side of Lindsay Lohan. And next week-- it's a totally awesome "backdoor pilot" for the Lily in the 80s spin-off! Lily flashes back to her own arrest as a teen in LA, and we'll get a sneak peek at the producers' potential new series, with Andrew McCarthy as her dad and No Doubt cameo-ing as punk rockers. Looks like fun, although I still think Lily's kind of a bitch for having her own kid arrested. But what do I know?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hostel territory

Here's a blog I originally posted on Myspace (remember Myspace?). I was inspired to put it up on here after reading a clever queer reading of Hostel on Camp Blood, an amusing site that reviews horror films from a gay perspective. (See the newly added link at right.) I've also been psyched since Eli Roth announced a new feature length film based on his brilliantly grotesque "Thanksgiving" trailer from Grindhouse. ... Just saw "Hostel" for the first time. Interesting movie. Fairly creepy, and disgusting as all shit at times. I found the movie to be fascinatingly rife with psychosexual implications, actually. The film, about three horndog guys backpacking through Europe in search of T & A, was both casually homophobic and rather homoerotic. One of the boys teases another for his "fanny pack" and suggests he and someone else at the club have "fannypack sex . . . and jizz all over each other." Their other friend Oli is constantly mooning people and showing off or referring to his "shaved balls." We also see a fair amount of the boys' flesh, and their sexual exploits seem contingent on a camaraderie with each other; in an early scene, we even see two guys in the same room, having sex with girls and banging their fists together. It's all reminiscent of some gay porn fantasy of straight frat guys who might just be open to playing with each other for lack of girls. The Dutch Businessman who is central to the plot also has a notable degree of stereotypical, urbane gay affectation, and freaks out Josh by placing his hand on Josh's thigh. Josh freaks out, whilst his friends tease him for "finally hooking up." Later, when Josh runs into the Businessman again, he apologizes for his earlier reaction. The older man tells him that he understands and that "for me, having a family was the right choice . . . but you have to decide what's right for you." It really does seem like he suspects Josh is in the closet and is encouraging him to pursue his own path. In the next scene, all three boys have sex with women in the same room, and Josh keeps looking over at Paxton; one has to wonder what the meaning of this is. Josh is ostensibly trying to get over an ex-girlfriend, and yet he seems more than a little sexually ambivalent. Eventually Josh settles down, as does Paxton, the girls riding them. They're the ones being f***ed here, not the girls, a dynamic that is echoed later when one of the girls declares "Now you are *my* bitch." The scene ends on Josh, enjoying the throes of orgasm; it revolves around his facial expressions, with the girl more like window dressing. Josh is objectified later on in the movie's first real torture scene, stripped to his boxers and tied to a chair. (Sadomasochism adds a perversity to this gory, disturbing film; the ball gag that Paxton is forced to wear is straight out of the Mr. S Leather catalogue.) There is an interesting dynamic to the interplay among the film's men; they either join in sexual highjinks together or inflict violent pain on each other's bodies. SPOILER AHEAD During the movie's climax, Paxton plays dead and is wheeled right next to Josh's corpse. Josh's lips are sewn shut, and he stares lifelessly (yet soulfully) at his friend, who is obviously shaken by this. SPOILER OVER Considering what I'd heard about director Eli Roth-- that he was suspected of being an asshole because he's homo repressed-- I wasn't surprised to see publicity shots for "Hostel" that depicted beautiful boys suffering exquisite torture. Although it purports to be just another demented, bloody horror flick, "Hostel" is heavily laden with all sorts of social and cultural messages-- about men, about youth culture, about the way Americans are viewed by the rest of the world and the way that we view (and often exploit) people from other countries. And it does seem like the kind of film a man ill at ease with his own sexuality and masculinity would make. The movie both pokes holes in and reinscribes traditional notions of what it means to be a man; Paxton in particular starts off as the standard alpha male, is made confused and vulnerable, and then asserts his manhood yet again, through the saving of a young woman and through numerous acts of violence against other men. SPOILER AHEAD Actually, he isn't able to stop that woman from killing herself, which may be another reason he takes such a brutal, eye-for-an-eye-- or fingers-for-fingers-- revenge on the Businessman. SPOILER OVER The movie is also infused with a fair amount of misogyny; all the women are either sex objects, treacherous bitches, or both. Like "The Devil's Rejects" and the original "Hills Have Eyes," "Hostel" depicts a world in which their are no clear heroes and the victims end up just as vicious as the aggressors. I think it means a lot more than Roth realizes, at least at the moment. After all, I just wrote a ton about the film-- I think there's probably a whole paper here, actually! In any case, I'm glad I saw it and found it a pretty effective little thriller, even if the Grand Guignol schtick got to be a little much. (As did Paxton's clumsily inserted "I didn't save a girl from drowning once" back story.) The characterizations were good and Hernandez in particular did a good job of making us feel for a character who isn't particularly sympathetic until his life is in jeopardy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

My favorite Whores

A little over a year ago I became acquainted with the fierce and fabulous members of Whore's Mascara, an electro-pop trio whose songs are fun, danceable, and defiantly, filthily queer. Besides being sexy and wonderful people, members Chaz Kourday (tall dark and handsome in his trademark aviator shades), Lonni Bahls (a "boy next door" type who's actually more perverse than you could ever imagine, or hope for), and Georgia (truly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful women I have ever seen-- with killer pipes to match the glamour) are some of the best and most exhilarating performers on the New York scene. Their lyrics are funny, dirty, and outsized, touching on everything from the connection between religion and lust ("I'll devour your bread and guzzle your wine") to the night Bristol Palin got pregnant ("Let's bareback tonight / Nothing can touch us / Cuz we're white"). I don't know why it's taken me so long to give them a shout out on here... but better late than never. Click on the link to download their latest single, "Monogamous," their first ever love song. You'll be glad you did.

Workin' 9 to 5-- what a way to make a musical

The past few years have seen a glut of movie-to-musical adaptations hit the Broadway stage, evidently backed by wary producers hoping for a guaranteed hit. This oft-criticized trend has led to mostly mediocre (or downright terrible) shows: the middling Legally Blonde, the universally-panned Young Frankenstein. On this very blog I reviewed Shrek: The Musical, and was maybe a little too kind to it: it was funny, with good performances and high end production values, but the music was utterly forgettable and I can't say that turning that film into a musical was a particularly inspired idea. Maybe musicalizing 9 to 5 wasn't very daring, either, but it does have a secret weapon in the form of Dolly Parton, who played Doralee in the 1980 film and wrote its infectious, Oscar-nominated theme song. She tries her hand at musical songwriting here, and while she may not be the next Andrew Loyd Webber, her story-telling style makes a good, enjoyable fit for Broadway. The theme song has been re imagined as an opening "I want" number for the three lead characters, Violet (Allison Janney), Judy (Stephanie J. Block), and Doralee (Megan Hilty), famously played by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Parton onscreen. (It also pops up as a lament for boss-loving admin Roz called "5 to 9.") Their "sexist lying egotistical hypocritical bigot" boss, Mr. Franklin Hart (imbued with loads of personality and even charm by Mark Kudisch) gets a couple songs of his own; Roz's big number is among the most entertaining in the entire play. (We always suspected that old biddy was infatuated with Hart, but this showstopping song declares it in spectacular and hilarious fashion.) The book, meanwhile, has been written by the film's co writer Patricia Resnick, who retains all the best lines while adding some brand new zingers (a few of which poke fun at all that's happened in the world since 1979, when this adaptation is set). The basic plot is much the same, with the three wage slaves bonding together to give their tyrannical boss his comeuppance in increasingly zany fashion. (Act one ends with Hart hanging from the ceiling in a specially made harness-- if you've seen the movie you know how he gets there, but for newcomers I won't spoil it.) Some of the additions are unnecessary, like Violet's superfluous love interest (amiable Andy Karl does what he can with an underwritten role). But none of them detract from the quality of the story or its feminist message, which may be a little corny in this context but still holds plenty of relevance. (And while I was a fan of Legally Blonde's scrappy feminism onscreen, I think this production is more honest and inspiring than the dumbed down musical version of that movie.) Some of 9 to 5's best moments, and it has several, are the spoken word scenes with the girls. The uproarious sequence with them smoking a joint together had the audience in hysterics, and the fantasy sequences that followed actually worked better onstage-- in some respects-- than they did in the film. The three leads are hyper-talented, and while Janney is no great singer, her performance is real and bracing, as are those of her costars. Block and Hilton have the musical chops Janney lacks and display them to great effect throughout the production. Judy's empowered ode after she rejects her pathetic ex-husband was a tour de force, and Hilton matches her sassy, Parton-esque delivery with the kind of vocal range that made her predecessor a star. Their chemistry is also undeniable: these really feel like the disparate types of women who often do wind up as the best of friends. Kuditsch also plays off of them well, and is brilliant as the boss; it's a somewhat one-dimensional character type but in this actor's hands Hart is vibrant and fascinating. The large ensemble performs its choreographed dances with vigor (even if the dances don't break any new ground) and the lavish moving set pieces keep the show crackling as we follow the women from the office to the home (be it theirs or their odious boss's). At its heart, 9 to 5 is a celebration of female friendship and female empowerment, and it's those qualities that give this production infinitely more heart than a zillion other gaudy mega-musical wannabes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The bitch is back

Yes, Georgina returned on last night's Gossip Girl. Unfortunately, her presence basically amounted to a cameo-- looks like the real Sparks will fly (see what I did there??) next week. It was still a good episode, though, with the kind of brewing craziness you just know will pay big dividends in the final episodes. The hour opened amusingly with Blair horrified by the prospect of actually having to use the subway. Nate suggests it'll be the quickest way for them to see each other in the fall, when he's at Columbia and she's at NYU. Gotta love Queen B, who declares, "This is why God invented car service." She's kind of like Daphne Zuniga in "Space Balls," when she's told she should only take what she needs to survive and protests, "I *need* my Imperial Hair Dryer to survive!" They also chose well by having the Bleeker St stop be the one in question, since its facade lists an alphabet soup of trains: 6DF. It's enough to give a girl a migraine. Even for these characters, though, it seemed a little much that they actually described a commute between the upper west and lower east side as "like being in a long distance relationship." C'mon, people, it's not like we're talking about *Brooklyn* here! Then again, Blair's line about "Nate may as well be going to school in Guam" seemed knowingly ridiculous. It's enough to scare Nate into securing an apartment in Murray Hill. (So wait, where is the money for this coming from again? His dad's in federal prison and he burned bridges with Grandpa so... um, how? Splainy.) He and Chuck discuss the issue while playing basketball (who knew these guys played sports or did anything besides drink and date?). Chuck says they can still discuss Blair, man-to-man, despite his own infamous past with her. But when C and B run into each other that night and Nate hears about it, he gets jealous and Chuck gets snide. Chuck suggests his friend is only getting the apartment to keep a close eye on his girlfriend. And Nate's subsequent decision to ask Blair to move in is even more transparent. (And again, I know this isn't a particularly realistic show but-- who lets their teenage kids shack up together for freshman year? I'm willing to accept teens getting into clubs and drinking whenever they like but that seems like another stretch!) The run-in occurs when Blair decides to go snooping after Serena's new squeeze, handsome playboy Gabriel. Serena's complaining about his flakiness and this immediately raises Blair's suspicions. When Chuck spots her staked out outside of Gabriel's place, he immediately knows what's up: "You're wearing your beret." (Too funny. An earlier Blair line about Dorota being "handy with surveillance equipment" was also amusing.) They see Gabriel getting into a cab with Poppie, his supposed ex, and report this to Serena. When she confronts him, he says that he's been forced to stay with her so that her investors won't pull funding from his Ponzi scheme-- I mean, charity investment. (Something about helping underprivileged African youth. Or something.) He swears he'll break it off with her in a week, and Serena's satisfied. Blair is understandably skeptical, and I couldn't help wondering why Serena is always willing to give loser-y guys second, third, and fourth chances. (The only decent guy we've seen her date is Dan, and even he's kind of a douche sometimes.) I wanted to shake her and say, "Serena, I'm queerer than a three dollar bill and *I* would make out with you. You're hot! You can do better than these jerks!" (I know, I know, I get so emotional when I'm talking about Serena's love life. She's just a good kid, and I worry about her.) Chuck and Blair orchestrate a meeting between Gabriel and Poppie in which he declares his love for Serena and shrugs off Poppie's threat to pull all her investors. Serena is convinced and even offers to help Gabriel find new backers among her mother and her high society pals. But Chuck and Blair aren't so easily swayed and remain determined to get to the bottom of the whole thing, especially when they learn that Butter, where Serena and Georgina supposedly ran into Gabriel in the first place, was closed on the night in question. Significantly, Blair chooses a trip to see Georgina with Chuck over spending the night with Nate at his apartment. They've decided that our favorite little Hellspawn is the only one who can put the issue to rest, so they drive out to some Jesus Camp where Georgina's been living to ask her. After spending the night in a limo waiting for it to open-- Chuck can't resist referencing the pair's first sexual encounter, natch-- Chuck says it's best if he talks to Blair's old enemy alone. Blair realizes that he only brought her along to get her away from Nate, but Chuck insists it was her decision. "I'm doing this for my best friend," Blair protests. But the tension between the two as their faces hover inches apart says it all. Of course, as promised in the previews, Georgina greets Chuck with a bear hug and shrieks, "Have you been saved?" He tells her it has to be an act aimed at escaping boot camp, though Georgina insists it's not and she's truly found Jesus. Meanwhile, Serena's waking up with Gabriel and decides to put him to the test, asking him about the alleged night at Butter. Does he remember her friend Georgina's "flaming red hair"? "Oh, I remember that," Gabriel replies. Busted! After Serena leaves, Poppie shows up and she and Gabriel are frantic that S might suspect the truth about what they're doing. It's become apparent that they are trying to ensnare the Van Der Woodsens and their wealthy friends in a bogus investment. Funniest bit, when Gabriel rails about not being given enough information about how he supposedly met S: "What the hell is Butter?!" A knock at the door arouses their suspicion that Serena's back, but it's actually Rufus, come to give Gabriel his check in person. Yep, he's investing, too, in a fool-hardy bid to fund Dan's college education. Ruh-roh! Meanwhile Serena calls Chuck, who confirms that Georgina doesn't remember the cad, either. (Funnily, Georgina says she's "prayed many times" over drugging S that night.) Chuck tells her he'll be home soon, but Blair's already taken off in the limo. She apologizes to Nate for abandoning him the previous night, but also wants to know if he just asked her to move in to keep a leash on her. He placates her for the moment, but the love triangle has officially been set in motion, and we all know who Blair is *really* destined to be with. Back in Humphrey land, the fairly un-involving we-need-money storyline-- is Rufus buying a ring to propose to Lily? what will he do now that the gallery isn't selling?-- bored me enough to focus only on stuff like Lily's latest obvious pregnancy-hiding clothes and the fact that Jenny has those awful bangs again. (I was also annoyed by her token reference to Eric's being "out of town." Doing what, exactly? Why don't you just pretend he doesn't exist like in the other frequent Eric-free episodes? I hope he was in P-town at a foam party or something.) There was a brief exchange between Rufus and Vanessa (who, without a gallery to serve coffee at, is probably questioning the meaning of life itself) that left me wondering, again, if those two will ever engage in any sort of massively inappropriate nookie. Why not? It could be fun, and I'm kinda bored of Lily and Rufus these days-- a teenage affair would stir things up. (Haven't they learned anything from Chuck and Blair? It's always more fun when you throw curves at your Core Couples.) Then there was the drunken confab between Vanessa and Dan in which she confessed to having slept with Chuck, twice. She also let it slip that Rufus is short on cash for Yale. I did wonder about the likelihood of a teenage girl being let in to freely drink beers with her teen friend-- guess this was my week to question the reality of Gossip Girl. (If I want hardcore realism, I probably shouldn't be watching this show in the first place.) But it was sort of funny to see Dan's reactions to his ex hooking up with the notorious bad boy, and referencing all the "STD tests" she was forced to undergo. But Vanessa is still boring, even when drunk, which only proves that she should try and seduce Rufus for one last stab at relevance. (I mean, seriously. The girl's now hawking Dove soap during the commercial breaks. She's the character equivalent of watching paint dry.) The end of the episode was promising, if predictable; Chuck mentions Blair and Georgina perks up at that and decides to accompany him back to Manhattan. Gossip Girl says something clever about the devil in disguise, and we're left wondering: was she faking the whole religious conversion, or was it only a matter of time before a trigger sent her back into Linda Blairsville? We'll find out next week.

Friday, April 24, 2009

8 Summer Movies I'm Psyched For

It seems like every year the "summer movie previews" arrive earlier and earlier, now that the entire month of May is considered fair game for big movies. I figured I'd throw my hat into the ring with a look at eight movies that I'm personally excited about. It looks to be a diverse season for the discriminating moviegoer: sure, there are plenty of sequels and spin-offs (some of which made this list), but there are also comedies, dramas, and a couple of horror flicks that look especially creepy. Here they are in order of release.
Terminator: Salvation-- The film shoot that launched a thousand internet views-- and even a dance remix-- wasn't just about Christian Bale's fiery temper. It was about reviving one of the signature action franchises of the 90s with a look at the story fans have been dying for: the War Against the Machines. I'm not a huge fan of McG's movies, but Bale is a terrific actor who should excel as the heroic John Connor, and this looks to be one of the summer's real stunners. (May 21)
Drag Me to Hell-- Horror legend Sam Raimi returns to the genre (after a vacation spent making a little series called Spider-man) with this flashy and fun looking yarn. A hapless real estate clerk (Alison Lohman) denies a gypsy a mortgage extension (timely much?) and falls victim to a horrifying curse. Demons, a seance, and plenty of gonzo gross-outs ensue, with Raimi up to his old Evil Dead-era tricks. Sign me up! (May 29)
Bruno-- Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again with a punk-happy "reality" followup to his smash hit "Borat." Cohen is a truly brilliant comedian and I can't wait to see what sorts of irreverent, idiot exposing shenanigans he gets up to this time. (Especially with all the gayness of Cohen's last film amped up for the super queer Bruno character.) One highlight from the trailer: Bruno shows off his newly adopted African baby, which he's naming "OJ," to a horrified black talk show audience. (July 10)
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince-- Finally! After being denied it last winter, Potter geeks can finally watch the latest spectacular installment, which delves even deeper into the origins of the sinister Lord Voldemort (played by Ralph Fiennes' nephew Hero Fiennes-Tiffin). Expect action, hormonal intrigue (Hermione gets a little too jealous of Ron's new girlfriend) and-- spoiler alert!-- a big death. Take that, Twilight. (July 17)
Julie & Julia-- The next Devil Wears Prada? That might be a stretch, but this classy looking comedy from Nora Ephron does feature the Mighty Meryl-- as cooking legend Julia Child-- and the always vibrant Amy Adams as the frustrated secretary attempting to make all 524 recipes in Child's seminal "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." A frazzled young professional gasping to keep up with an old pro? Sounds a lot less bitchy than Prada, but potentially just as much fun. (August 7)
Taking Woodstock-- How is it that a Chinese director has managed time and again to dramatize such powerfully American stories? From 1970s Connecticut to 1960s Wyoming, the Oscar winning auteur has consistently captured the private dramas of ordinary Americans-- and now he sets his sites on the concert that defined a generation. The movie focuses on a closeted gay man who inadvertently organizes the titular music festival. Along for the ride are the always reliable Eugene Levy (as farmer Max Yasgur) and Emile Hirsch (who some of you may know is my long term boyfriend. Seriously). (August 14)
Inglourious Basterds-- After directing the "Deathproof" half of the criminally under-seen "Grindhouse," Quentin Tarantino returns with this bloody, adrenaline charged WWII tale about a band of Jewish soldiers charged with terrorizing and scalping Nazis. With Brad Pitt as a crazed Southern general and torture porn auteur Eli Roth as a fellow scalper, this should be an entertaining antidote to the usual Oscar-begging war epics. (August 21)
H2-- Rob Zombie once again heralds the end of summer with the sequel to his grisly 2007 remake of Halloween. This time, the splat pack savant has free reign to take the story in outlandish new directions, with Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) descending into madness and horror host Uncle Seymour (Bill Mosely) hosting a Halloween festival that's about to be visited by the still murderous Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). Plus there's Margot Kidder as a shrink and Weird Al(!) as himself for good measure! This sure-to-be-brutal followup should ease the transition from summer to fall... again. (August 28)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The girls can't help it

After another (mercifully shorter) hiatus, Gossip Girl came back with the sort of whimsical, fun little episode that made us like this show in the first place. Not spectacular, but certainly promising as we move into May Sweeps and the final episodes of the season. (Side note: is it just me, or does this season feel like it's been on for two years? Not that I'm complaining, but Labor Day feels like a loooong time ago!) For one thing, Wallace Shawn came back! I thought maybe they'd been holding back on Cyrus because they wrote his icky son Aaron off the face of the earth, but I guess they figure it's been long enough that no one will question his own son not being at the Passover Seder the characters all attend in this episode. (Or we won't ask questions as long as we never have to think about Aaron again-- sorry, all, for bringing back painful memories.) The hour opens with one of those Blair fantasies that used to be sort of cute but are mostly just tiresome. (We get that she likes Audrey Hepburn, but that really only leaves two iconic movies to play with-- maybe Blair needs to start idolizing Joan Crawford or something.) She's still smarting from the Yale fiasco, and then a possible answer arrives in the form of Nate's grandfather, who offers to get her in the wedding party for Nate's cousin Trip if she'll convince Nate to go to Yale instead of Columbia. Nate wants to go to Columbia because the producers want to keep the kids in New York-- er, because he got in under his own steam (whereas Yale was a gimme thanks to the family name). Blair can't resist trying to influence him for her own high society gain, but then Nate stuns the engagement party by declaring a biting "toast" to his grandfather, who Trip told him had ratted his disgraced dad out to the Feds. So much for that plan. What's more, when Grandpa explains to Nate that he gave the Captain the chance to turn himself in but had no choice but to turn him in for the good of him and his family, Nate thanks him for his honesty and then his grandfather says, "In the spirit of honesty, there's something you should know..." and reveals his deal with Blair! I'm sorry, but isn't that a little hypocritical? How is it not bad that Grandpa bribed Nate's girlfriend in the first place!? Blair can certainly be a scheming bitch, but I honestly sympathized with her here. Thankfully a talk with Chuck, of all people, convinces Nate to forgive Blair and by ep's end the two are hugging and kissing all over again. Her earlier claim that she no longer cared about college and just wanted to go socialite wasn't too convincing, but did produce this priceless zinger (after Cyrus offered to get Blair an NYU interview): "I have no desire go to a non-Ivy league school, read Beloved eight times and then experiment with lesbianism!" Meanwhile, Serena was dealing with the consequences of her impromptu trip to Spain with high society pal Poppy in the last episode. Lily is royally pissed and declares "the old Serena is back, and I don't like seeing her." But Serena hasn't even revealed her biggest gaffe: she apparently married hunky Gabriel in a drunken haze overseas, and essentially came running back to escape! She seeks Cyrus's legal advice, since Blair is tied up in wedding preparations on the night of the big family Seder and thus conveniently out of the way. He urges her to tell her mom; after all, "she's your *mother.*" This exchange is overheard by Dan, who's taken on a catering job to supplement his college fund and has wound up at chez Waldorf. He moves easily into morally superior mode: "How does one not *know* if one is married?" (I don't know, Humphrey: how does *anyone* not know if one is married? Such is life.) Eventually Lily and Rufus arrive for dinner, followed by Gabriel, who's tracked Serena down, and the evening descends into a farce. Dan has to pretend to be Serena's on-again boyfriend and date for the Seder for Gabriel, Rufus, and Lily, while also fulfilling his role as "cater waiter" (which btw is my new favorite profession) for Eleanor, prompting all sorts of silliness. Meanwhile poor Cyrus is trying to actually, you know, have a religious dinner, while Eleanor just wants to know when they eat. "She never mentioned you," Gabriel says, to which Dan replies, "I must have come up once or twice..." Meanwhile, Eleanor's mandate that Dan "make himself more presentable" strikes Rufus as rude, but Dan declares, "I'm just gonna go with it." And Lily can't believe Serena and Dan are back on yet again. Eventually, of course, the whole thing comes crashing down and Dan cops to his role in the affair, at least. When Serena realizes Gabriel's gone, she follows him, and he tells her they weren't married in Spain, after all, but he really likes her. They kiss, and just then a distraught Blair shows up (before Nate makes nice with her at episode's end). The two share some cathartic girl talk, reminding us that their tempestuous friendship is often at the core of the show. (I knew teenage girls who were friends in high school and alternately adored and despised each other-- that love/hate dynamic seems to be par for the course sometimes.) Serena leaves Gabriel a sweet voice mail, while Blair has a touching moment with Cyrus-- taking him up on the NYU offer-- right before Nate comes to see her. She says "I'm so sorry" and runs into his arms. Serena's just found out she got into Brown, but her burgeoning love seems less auspicious; cut to Gabriel and Poppy having a vague but clearly scheming conversation. Last but certainly not least, this episode featured some interesting bits for Chuck and Jenny; the latter appears to be taking baby steps towards having a life of her own. She's got a cute, soft-spoken new love interest named Elliot (even if they do lame things like play Monopoly at home) and she stands up to Chuck in a rare ballsy moment. After he realizes his paramour of the night is someone he's already slept with, he kicks her out and randomly insults Jenny. ("Big shock; the girl from Brooklyn is a renter," he quips.) Jenny tells him off, saying that just because he's bored doesn't mean he should try to crap on other people's lives; besides, hers and Lily's families constitute "the only people in your life you don't have to pay to be there" and reminds him that in light of his attempt to force himself on her last year, she could probably get him thrown out of the apartment if she wanted to. Chuck later comes back to her and acknowledges her point, while also apologizing for last year's incident (which actually happened way back in the series premiere). He vows that if the Humphreys do end up moving in, he'll move out. It was a very interesting and unexpected scene, with two characters whose paths have rarely crossed-- at least directly-- since that fateful premiere. I suppose it's also worth mentioning that Rufus randomly announced he's selling the gallery, both to raise college money and because he's not enjoying art anymore. Dan asks what he'll do now, and he says he's not sure, but my money's on a revived music career. Meanwhile, this may have been the most blatant Kelly-Rutherford-is-hugely-pregnant episode yet, with all manner of conspicuously flowing dresses and coats on display. I can't wait till she pops that baby out so the producers can finally stop playing Hide the Bump. My favorite moment of all, though, wasn't in the episode itself, but at the end of the promo for next week: a breathless Georgina (Michelle Trachtenberg) hugs Chuck and blares, "Have you been saved???" Only time will tell if the bitch has gone fundy (or if it's all just an act), but the clip made me laugh out loud and I am dying for next week already.