Saturday, June 19, 2010

The REAL Guilty Pleasures

Just a few hours ago I was coming home after a night out, in a stage of near-sleep but, like any 21-year old, steadfastly refusing to go to sleep before midnight, and therefore reached for the remote. Flipping through channels, I came upon a movie that I'd never seen but know, objectively, to be horrendous-- "American Wedding." Yes, from the American Pie franchise. And suddenly the memories flooded back-- of Sunday afternoons in 8th grade spent watching American Pie with my neighbor, and giggling endlessly, to watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch and being fascinated by her wardrobe changes in 7th grade, and, even before then, to those god-awful Olsen twin movies that seemed to plague every tween and child household. This was the person I was before I was 15, when I began to watch movies with an ardor that lay somewhere between stamp collecting and bizarre fetishes-- a compulsion to watch more, and more, and more, but GOOD more, a More I can tell people about, a More I feel good about watching while also enjoying the very meat of the film. Sometimes I like to forget what I was like before I was 20 and watched my first Hitchcock, before I was 19 and watched my first Godard, before the high school viewing of 400 Coups and even before Donnie Darko and Fight Club, when I brought A Clockwork Orange home my sophomore year of high school and was henceforth banned from ever watching a movie again in the living room.

These ten movies deserve a list of their own. Pretension can only go so far before you realize that the person you are is the person you also hide from people occassionally, and the movies you'd never discuss except with your closest friends. Although I haven't seen most of these movies in many, many years, I find myself thinking of them often, these tween films that seem to be in a league of their own. Of course, I also watched a few "good" movies before high school-- Forrest Gump, Tootsie, Dr. Zhivago, My Fair Lady,the Sound of Music-- and many fantastic animated films (many of Disney Renaissance fame but also great stuff like the animated series "Duck Tales"), but listing these films would be redundant and uninteresting. The following ten are more or less chronological, starting from my arrival to the United States in the early '90s, and continue well into my freshman year of high school. They're also separated pretty easily into thematic elements. (Even as a kid I loved to categorize!) And thus:

1) It Takes Two.
This Olson twin movie was my first, and favorite, to this day. Before they launched an enormous franchise and began travelling around the world making sub-par tween flicks for ABC Family (and well before college and the ensuing eating disorders), Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson were two blondish 8-ish-year old kids, separated at birth (probably-- the question was never really raised, to my recollection) and trying to get their respective family guardians to get together. Mary Kate was my favorite, playing a Brooklyn tomboy (as evidenced by the overalls and backwards cap, a look I emulated for many years of life). Ashley, as an upper-class piano-playing priss, was less interesting. Seeing Kirstie Alley and Steve Guttenberg fall in love, however... kind of hilarious. I still love this movie. Even if its tomatometer is 9%, lower than SATC2. Oy.

2) The Parent Trap. Many people refer to the film as "where we know Lindsay Lohan from" or "Lindsay before boobs" or "Lindsay Lohan when she was still cute, and where did that girl go?" I watched this film repeatedly one summer before 6th or 7th grade and now seem to know all the lines unthinkingly. This is often not a good thing. But I will attest to my love of this movie; I still marvel at however the tech engineers managed to make Lindsay into two 13(?)-year old girls, but oh well. Same plot as the previous movie, and apparently just a weird(ly awesome!) remake of the original Parent Trap from decades ago which starred the impish girl from Polyanna. Regardless, Dennis Quaid, who plays the father, is pretty much adorable. Also I happily rewatch this movie every time it's on television, a mark of a tween classic for sure! (tomatometer: 75ish. QUITE respectable!!)


Ah, yes, the film before Sabrina the Teenage Witch was launched on TGIF and my ensuing nights for the next 5-ish years were spent pointing at things randomly in an attempt to levitate them. Alas, no sparkly things flew out of my index finger, but damn did I love that franchise. This film, which I remember all the way back from 4th grade, was my introduction. Mostly I was mesmerized by the clothes, and the tasteful black swimsuit that Sabrina Spellman sports during a pool party. There's also a friends-trying-on-stuff-in-the-dressing-room montage, which I now realize is an absolute necessity in any tween girl drama. Regardless, however cute the movie might've been, it was pretty tame compared to the bubbly, perkiness of the show, and was very modest and even serious... probably the reason for the unknowability (is this a word?) of this flick. It doesn't even have a tomatometer!

4) Sabrina Goes to Rome

In a similar vein is this kind of awful little gem, produced at the peak of the Sabrina franchise. I remember being fascinated by yet another string of dressing-room montages, and lots of tourist-y shots of Rome that I adored as a kid. I still haven't been to Rome, partly because it simply doesn't seem appealing without a time-travelling excursion to the Renaissance in order to release a long-deceased relative from a spell entrapping her in an old gold locket. How disappointing it is to be old! And to realize that this movie was so horrible that it didn't deserve its own tomatometer. No mention of it on rottentomatoes at all. Oh well. Also her Italian love interest isn't as attractive as I remember him being...
5) Drive Me Crazy
And then came a legitimately good tween movie starring Hart, and introducing Adrian Grenier, future Entourage lead. Ok, maybe it wasn't as good of a movie as I remember it being, but it was pretty damn fun, and the characters were pretty believable, however vapid. I remember one Star Wars nerd who ended up being the Designated Driver for every party, a pretty blonde that only became popular when losing a great deal of weight, and a punk chick who wore black lipstick and made out with the male lead character in the janitor's closet of their high school. Classic late '90s shit. Ignore the Britney Spears-based title (also the title song). Tomatometer: 29 (ouuuchhh!)
6) French Kiss
Meg Ryan + random French dude romantic comedy. To this day it's the only romantic comedy (outside of the Apatow franchinse) that I've ever truly enjoyed. To be specific, it's the only romantic comedy marketed towards women that I've ever fully enjoyed. Maybe it's because I watched it in 6th grade and sex was still a novel concept. Maybe it's because it's set in France. Maybe it's perverse as hell. Mostly, though, I just had pretty bad taste. Although Meg Ryan is pretty adorable as a neurotic Canadian. Favorite moments include a sensual wine-tasting in the outskirts of Paris, a dual-screen partner-switching sex-montage, and a fear-of-flying panic attack inside of an airplane. Tomatometer: 50. (oops)
7) Wish Upon a Star
Then, sometime in 7th grade, I got cable. And then came Disney Channel in all its cheesy, tweeny wonder. I remember knowing that most movies on the channel were absolutely horrible, but I watched them all anyway. Why? Did I have no friends? (yes) Was I bored? (maybe) Did I feel a bizarre need to chronicle the characters' wardrobes? (absolutely). Although I can list a bunch of Disney Channel originals that I recorded onto VHS tapes (some movie about a mermaid, the Zenon [Xenon?] movies, some movie about basketball players), there was really only one I watched repeatedly-- Wish Upon a Star. Another Parent Trap-esque switch movie, except this one was based on two very different sisters (one astronomy nerd, another promiscuous prom queen type) switching bodies accidentally. Ok, absurd plotline, but the popular-girl-in-nerd-body's Madonna-inspired striptease on the cafeteria tables made it worth it. For the first half of Knocked Up I agonized over the familiarity of the lead female's face before I realized that Katherine Heigl plays the popular girl (or at least the popular girl body). No tomatometer ranking, but one reviewer calls it "gag-worthy" (oh boy).
8) Bring It On.
And then came cheerleading. The best cheerleading movie ever made. I've been dying to rewatch this incredible flick since 8th grade and keep forgetting. I am shameless about my adoration of Bring It On, even to the extent of occassionally bursting into cheer-speech ("ooo-ee-ooo-ee-ooo, Ice Ice Ice!"). Fucking late '90s classic. Also the punk rocker-ish main dude and his Clash t-shirt (what is with my adoration with nerdy, grungy, punkish male leads?) was the sole reason for my later obsession with the band (Dunst: "So, is that, like, your band or something?") I also loved how satirical it was, and how it never seemed to take itself seriously, since the actors and actresses were often too good for the pretty awful script. I can't believe this film only garnered a 64%. Race/class-relations?! Anyone?!
9)The Princess Diaries.
When did this film come out? Early high school? 7-8th grade? Right around this time I was becoming a little ashamed of seeing films with my mom, and this was probably the last one where this happened. Alas, I did buy the VHS, and watched it constantly. Along with body/life-switcheroo movies, I was also a huge fan of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-type makeover movies. Also Julie Andrews. Big fan of Julie Andrews. (Favorite childhood stars: Andrews and Robin Williams, definitely. Maybe Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, but Williams even played that role in Mrs. Doubtfire). No need to rehash the plot of Princess Diaries, since I'm sure most of you will remember the awkward-girl-finding-out-she's-royalty-and-thus-precipitating-the-ensuing-makeover-montage plot. Also at 13 I kind of resembled pre-makeover Anne Hathaway (my mom, in movie theatre: "But her hair was so much prettier before!"), so I definitely projected my own fugly, lower-income-ness onto the story.
10). American Pie.
AND FINALLY, the mother of all tween movies. Embarassingly, in the start of high school when every class would play the introduction-game, I would always name this raunchy flick as my favorite film. Other kids might name Star Wars, random anime, one ambitious kid even named The Godfather-- but no, I named American Pie all the way. The perviest of the pervy, this movie made this quasi-nymphomaniac 8th grader (but weren't we all nymphomaniacs at that age?) double up in laughter every time. Even though it only garnered a 59% on the tomatometer, damn, this must be the best teen comedy of ALL TIME. It also led to a few obvious iconic... what do you call them, statements? phrases? Before Borat's "Izzz niiice, I like" there was, "This one time, at band camp..." So good, so very, very good.
And there you have it! A break from Godardian pretension and the closest thing to a Catholic confession that I've ever had. MOVIES THAT OBJECTIVELY SUCKED THAT I NOT-SO-SECRETLY LOVED IN MY TWEEN YEARS. The End.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Wearable Art"

Works by Nick Cave-- the Chicago-based artist, not the musician. I started googling this man after seeing him in the June Harper's (one of my favorite issues, yet, by the way, and not only because the main article is about Chicago, sort of!). What incredible pieces! I cannot wait to see some of his works at the Walker when I visit Minneapolis for the first time later this summer.

p.s. new blog format/layout... thoughts? too cheesy? I'm changing the headline soon, but am iffy about the overly pretentious (or too busy) background. If it's offensive to anyone, do let me know.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I rarely seem to enjoy movies that rank below a 70 on Rottentomatoes, but Neil Jordan's Ondine, which garnered a mere 60-something, blew me away. Though a film not without its problems, Ondine managed to remain riveting regardless. Of course, having two of the most beautiful people in the world as each other's love interest always helps:

Ondine crosses the strange line between Thriller and Fantasty with some trepidation. A fisherman off a small coastal (Irish?) town gathers his nets one day and finds an incredibly attractive woman, unconscious, within them. After a bit of soft-core-porn-esque CPR, Colin Farrell, alias "Syracuse," reanimates her. Soon he realizes that she--who is now named "Ondine-- brings him good fishing luck, seemingly from singing to the fishes, siren-like. The term "Ondine" is actually the name of an ancient type of Water Nymph. Fitting, since throughout the film Ondine is believed to be an Irish mythological creature called a Selkie, which is a seal that sheds its skin to become human. Mythological thematic elements run deep, and are the most arresting parts of the film.

In fact, so beautiful are these mythological asides that the thriller aspect of this film, which occurs more than halfway in, seems less developed and almost haphazard. It's as if the director, after painstakingly laboring away at the brilliant and lovely first half, gave up and created a heavy-handed and painful realistic framework, but concluded it with a saccharine but unconvincing deus ex machina ending. Of course, the ending is what the audience wants, so one leaves satisfied, for the most part. But I couldn't help but wish that the entire movie was formulated around a tragically beautiful Hans Christian Anderson-esque love story set on the Irish coast. Thrillers are a dime a dozen, but a believable fantasy for a pessimist like myself is hard to pull off, and Neil Jordan seems to accomplish it with great panache, especially in the first half.

Seeing two attractive people fall in love is always, at least subconsciously, pleasant, but the truly great aspect of the film came from a young actress named Alison Barry, who is so unknown that she doesn't yet have a wikipedia page of her own (someone please remedy this soon?). Alison plays Annie, Syracuse/Farrell's precocious young (perhaps 12-year old?) daughter, who has a chronic illness and seems to always be on the brink of death, yet manages to outwit every adult in her path and quote Alice in Wonderland, as if looking for a dreamland of her own. Such a wonderful character, and even quite a talented (albeit unfortunately unknown!) actress.

All in all, certainly a worthy movie of one's ten bucks at the local cineplex. Ondine is not without serious storytelling issues but is nonetheless a sincere and lovely little film, even with the odd thriller-fantasy genre. Also mentions a variety of important issues, such as indie music (Sigur Ros? What?), illness, reality v. fiction, coastal culture (Ponyo much?), severe alcoholism, (bad) parenting, poverty, religion, drug abuse... etc. Surprising and refreshing for what seems at first to be a mere romantic fantasy. It really is a "touching" story, and I'm not normally such a sap (I also despise the word "touching," but here it really seems to fit best in context, I apologize). It opens this weekend, so see it while it's around!