29 September 2011

New Girl, Again

I've adapted my original review of New Girl for The Junior Varsity and also taken a stab at reviewing the 2nd episode of the pretty dismal show.  I had wanted to make this a weekly review, but I think I'm going to sit back and see where the show is going before jumping in with critiques and suggestions for improvement.

Episode 1
Episode 2

Will be back with a New Girl status report mid-season.

07 September 2011

Notes on New Girl

FOX has quietly made the pilot of their new Zooey Deschanel sitcom New Girl available to watch on VOD and iTunes prior to the September 20th premier. 

So, here's what I found out the hard way.

1) No one is real: Nope, not a single character on this show is believable as a person. Not Coach, not Schmidt, not Nick, not the model, and no, not even Jess. Perhaps this is just because it’s the pilot and everyone is playing it big so we audience members don’t mix up the main characters. Or perhaps it’s a warning of things to come.

I’m willing to accept absurdity in the name of comedy (obviously?).

I’m not watching this show because I want to see if someone has finally captured the voice of stunningly beautiful girls with perfectly styled hair that manages to maintain bouncy barrel curls even in the midst of a devastating breakup and who bring up super obvious sitcom-friendly nerd references like Gandalf, and Smigel so that they can finally be accepted in society.

In spite of the absurdity and the inevitable lame jokes and the requisite bigness of the acting, sitcoms usually give the audience something to relate to. A personality trait. A truism about x stage in life. Anything really. And the more specific the better. With New Girl, we get nothing. The writers, unfortunately, have painted the characters as broadly and dully as possible. We get lame debates about the pros and cons of living with women, we get the “Douchebag Jar*” and what must be the most unbelievable mash up of craigslist roommates ever.**

I do think this is salvageable. If it’s going to be unbelievable, campy, and corny, at least make it funny. Take a Neil Patrick Harris/Barney Stinson master class. Use the ham judiciously.

*Incidentally, if the Douchebag Jar is ever used as an effective joke somewhere down the road, I owe all five of you a beer.

**I’ve lived with my fair share of craigslist roommates, and I’m not sure anyone would have noticed had I disappeared for a month, let alone cared enough to run to the rescue if I got stood up on a date.  

2) Jake Kasdan hasn’t figured out the best way to shoot the actors: Say what you will about Bad Teacher, but Kasdan-directed shows and movies like Freaks & Geeks and Orange County prove that he is certainly capable of directing comedy effectively. This could be a format issue. A few scenes that would have worked really well in a multi-cam sitcom were botched by unnecessary cuts that interrupted the rhythm more than a laugh track could ever dream of doing. In one scene Jess goes to talk to a cute guy at a bar, shouts “hello sailor” like a theater brat and pauses as if waiting for the audience to start laughing. I cringed. It’s a bad thing when you start feeling badly for the actors and not their characters.

Another issue could be that because it’s a pilot, and because it’s supposed to set the stage for something (what, exactly, I’m not sure...we weren’t given any hints at future conflicts or tensions which makes me nervous for what the season holds) it doesn’t follow the classic sitcom format. If a show is done well, who cares if we have a recognizable A, B, and C story? But it wasn’t and perhaps the episode would have benefited from some tried and true limitations.

3) It’s not funny (yet): I’m not going to give up hope, but the promos really managed to spoil the entire batch of jokes in the first episode.

4) The men are written especially poorly: In order for this show to work, we need to want to hang out with these guys, but that’s not going to happen if they don’t even seem amused by each other. The lack of chemistry could be attributable to a combination of too much Jess (I get that she just moved in and that’s super exciting, but not every interaction needs to be Jess related), sloppy cuts (see point 2), and the fact that at this point they are all charmless, personality-less dolts. (Coach likes to come home and sit around naked and Schmidt LOVES models...LAWLZ).

In some ways, this last point makes me want to run around shouting “reverse discrimination, bitches!” Alas, Zooey’s “Jess” needs some work too. Which brings me to my final point:

5) Zooey Deschanel IS adorable, but only when she’s not acting like what she thinks a nerd is supposed to act like: Zooey, darling, I like you. I do. You’re incredibly beautiful, and can manage to be terrific in vile movies like Failure to Launch. Your voice is lovely. I covet your clothes. And on top of everything you do come across as a really good person. But this “adorkable” role is not doing you any favors. Elizabeth Meriwether is capable of writing lovable nerds who are incidentally adorable. (e.g. Lake Bell’s character in No Strings Attached. She was bumbling, and awkward, and insecure, and assertive at the wrong times. She had no idea how attractive she was. She was used in limited doses, and it worked.)

Jess is trying too hard. We as the audience have to be convinced that you’re cute and when we’re getting 20 examples of your CRAZYNERDINESS a minute, it actually makes me less willing to accept that. It doesn’t have to be that hard. You could just act like a normal person who does dorky things sometimes. “Geesh” might have worked better if you hadn’t looked so aware that you were saying something that was supposed to be SO CUTE because OMG it’s like not even a word. Also don’t tell me that the girl with perfect hair who wears impeccably fitted sundresses would try to wear overalls on a first date. It’s insulting.

As I mentioned above, the hamming could just be a product of the pilot and the fact that all the funny has been stripped out of the jokes thanks to excessive and excessively self-aware promos. Jess’s saving moments happen when she not trying so hard to be Jess - when she’s giving advice, when she’s genuinely laughing at her roommates bursting out into song in the middle of a restaurant. So once again, I just hope that we get a little bit of restraint in future episode. Who knows, “geesh” might become the new “legen - wait for it - dary.”  

15 April 2011

Now Playing: Camera Obscura's "If Looks Could Kill"

For today's Friday song and video here is a promotional video for Camera Obscura's 2006 album Let's Get Out of This Country, set to the upbeat song "If Looks Could Kill."

It's pretty perfect for this chilly April Chicago day. It makes me crave the dead heat of August, a cross country road trip with no air-conditioning, some vintage dresses and striped tees, midwestern lightening storms (3:08), and a kaleidoscope-ed home video of the whole thing.

11 April 2011

Melancholia and The Tree of Life

Late last week, the trailer for Lars Von Trier's latest film Melancholia was released.

Looking at the outset like a regular old "rich folks trapped on a lavish estate with their caviar and their problems" movie, we quickly discover that it's an end of the world movie too. With dreamy images of a planet headed towards earth and Kirsten Dunst's weepy declaration that "life is only on earth, and not for long," it reminded me of the trailer for Terrence Malick's highly anticipated The Tree of Life.

Even though in the Tree of Life trailer the connection to the images of space aren't rooted in any immediate, physical explanation (like, a planet is coming to destroy us), the scenes of the working class suburban childhood manage to convey that same sense of captivity that we get with the sprawling and isolated Melancholia manor. The scope of both look incredible, pitting the smallness of the family and the home against the vastness of the universe, thus allowing the films to pose big questions about existence, love, and mortality.

07 April 2011

Please Hear Me Ohio

I had the occasion to first listen to Damien Jurado's song "Ohio" at a particularly lonely moment in time - living alone in Columbus in a sterile high rise studio apartment the fall after graduation, feeling that overwhelming anxiety that everyone does when the weather starts to turn and you begin to realize, as lame as it sounds, that this is a new indeterminate phase in life (that feeling does end, folks).

I'm not particularly diligent in consuming recommended songs, but once I get around to it, I generally fall in love. Between my 25 minute drive to and from work and time in an apartment without internet or television, I listened to a lot of mixes that were any combination of months or years old. They were filled with melancholy songs like "Ohio," Yo La Tengo's "I Feel Like Going Home," and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's "A Strange Form of Life." It wasn't that I only liked sad songs, either. I also just desperately needed to decompress after a full day of Abercrombie & Fitch music blasting through the speakers of the corporate offices. If it was playing in the store, it was also playing in my cubicle, and aside from a pretty great remix of Rihanna's "Umbrella," every song was soul crushingly annoying.

I think I would have loved the song even if it weren't called "Ohio," but, as it happened, I started listening to it in a time of isolation and sadness living there. Of course it's not really about Ohio the place at all. It's about* a sad guy meeting a sad girl who is longing to return to Ohio to see her mother who she hasn't seen in ages. Even though I was personally longing for some other place, the slow guitar, persistent harmonica, and aching narrative combined with Jurado's mournful voice seemed to capture everything about that moment for me. And the best part is that the song is meaningful just because of that. I never searched Pitchfork to see if it had been deemed cool, I never looked up when the song was from, and I never listened another Damien Jurado song. It exists solely for that version of myself who lived in Ohio for nine months.

Some time after that, a friend directed me to a CocoRosie cover of the song.

Thanks to a voice that is somehow appealing even though the only way I can think to describe it is a 3-year-old shouting, the song is fundamentally altered, but the emotional resonance stays the same. I think it might be the addition of the lyrical "oooohhh seeeee you sometimes" in the background and the consistency of the harmonica.

This week TwentyFourBit linked a cover of "Ohio" by the new-to-me band Strand of Oaks, so of course I had to listen.

Strand of Oaks - "Ohio" (Damien Jurado Cover) by TwentyFourBit.com

I am all for a good cover song, no matter how drastically the original is altered, whether it's only slightly like Camera Obscura covering Bruce Springsteen or massively with Frente! covering New Order. But, this? I just don't like it. I get that it's nice sounding and that it's essentially the same song, but the vocals and the instrumentals are too pretty, too polished, like Ryan Adams crossed with Rufus Wainwright. I find myself yearning for the grittiness of the harmonica, Jurado's wobbly voice, and CocoRosie's crackly whine. There's no urgency in this version, no sense of loss.

Perhaps it's for the better. I don't have the capacity to love three versions of a song after "Tougher Than The Rest." Also, as a result of the news, I got to revisit a song that I loved dearly but had cycled out of my playlist over the past few years.

*I mean, I think that's what it's about. That line about "you see I was taken while I lay sleeping by my father's hired men" confuses me.Were they movers? Henchmen? Was she kidnapped?

06 April 2011

The Met Gala Rules

Anna Dello Russo, Editor-at-Large for Japanese Vogue and eccentric girl about town issued 10 Rules for those attending the annual Met Gala, with unfathomable standards, lousy but amusing English ("the Giselle's body" and HELLS for HEELS), and inexplicable usage of all caps. 

Anna Dello Russo

1. It's Prohibited choose the wrong OUTFIT.
Look and look again hundred thousand times
all the shows on Vogue.com.

2. Opt for the HAUTE COUTURE.
You only live once!

3. For at least a month before, prepare your
BODY with an iron DETOX discipline and
a daily TRAINING.
You must be radiant!

4. Choose a long evening GOWN.
Unless you don't have the Giselle's body
not wear a short dress!

5. Put some beautiful SHOES with which
walk straight and FIERCE.
Your legs cannot wobbling over
HELLS exceeding 11 cm.

6. MAKEUP and HAIR: 
Here you can exaggerate!
You have to invent a character,
you'll transform into another woman,
give her another name
and you'll feel more SECURE.

7. Strictly: JEWEL-CLUTCH in hand.

8. Leave your WATCH at home, even if precious,
cause it may be unkind to those who invited you.

9. Rigorously forbidden to take iPhone pics
at VIP'S and CELEBS!

10. When you get to that very long,
dreadful RED CARPET,
take a deep breath and SMILE."

Thanks, Anna, for insider tips, like "wear a nice dress and shoes you can walk in" and "try to avoid deep dish pizza the month before." I want the real stuff! Like don't UNPLUG Katy Perry's Dress, avoid spilling red wine ON Diane Kruger's Calvin Klein, and try to refrain from asking Andre Leon Talley how many CHILDREN are stashed under his cape."

Anyway, for all the normals out there, I'll see you on NYMag.com on May 3 to browse the 2011 slideshows, deal?

05 April 2011

Cannes International Film Festival: The Posters

Yesterday, the official poster of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival was released online, featuring a repurposed Jerry Schatzberg photo of Faye Dunaway circa 1970.

If you have some time to kill, it is kind of fun to go through the poster archives, which go back to 1946. I'd just recommend that you skip the '70s. They're truly horrible, and not even in a souglyitscool kind of way.

Here are some of my favorites.

04 April 2011

Rick Deckard's Apartment Woes

Frank Lloyd Wright's 1924 Ennis-Brown House is having a rough time. Fresh off of a costly renovation to repair the eroding structure thanks to a 2006 FEMA grant and a $4.5 million loan, the Ennis House Foundation decided that the famous Los Feliz structure would be best served by a private owner's care and resources (the Los Angeles Times estimated an additional investment of $5-$7 million would be needed to restore the house complete) - and not as a public access tourist destination. Thus in mid-2009, the house officially went on the market at an asking price of $15 million. Since then it's been slashed a number of times, and on Friday, CurbedLA reported that the price had dropped once more to $5.999 million.

Julius Shulman Photograph

As one of only four FLW textile block houses and the site of Rick Deckard's apartment, it must be surprising that it hasn't been scooped up yet by some architecture fanatic or Blade Runner fanboy.

Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott) 

Thom Anderson chronicles the pop history of the Ennis House in Los Angeles Plays Itself. It has played "a 19th century house, a contemporary mansion, a 21st century apartment building, and a 26th century science lab." Blade Runner and The Rocketeer aside, my favorite use of the house is as a location in David Lynch's absurd "Author Series" ads for Calvin Klein's Obsession perfume.

The Ennis House goes well with melodramatic readings of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love.

But regardless of the low and highbrow interpretations of the house and its place on the pop culture register, the fact remains that it has yet to sell. After almost two years on the market, continued price cutting, rumors of being moved to Japan, wtf suggestions by Diane Keaton that perhaps Brad Pitt should buy it, I wonder why they can't revisit the concept of making the iconic house a museum like the Hollyhock House. At what point is it just embarrassing to leave it up for sale?

15 February 2011

One Day: A Tale of Bad Timing and Indecisiveness

Yesterday, Focus Features released the poster* for Lone Scherfig's upcoming movie One Day, based on the David Nicholls book of the same title.

Nice passion, but IS IT LOVE?
(via The Playlist)

Though the tagline ("twenty years, two people...one day") makes it sound like Blue Valentine lite, One Day promises to obey a more classically appealing Hollywood structure. The story checks in with Emma and Dex (Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess) every July 15th for 20 years, starting with college graduation and ending in middle age. According to a New York Times book review, it's a long "will they/won't they" saga leading to infuriating encounters like July 15th #11 when Emma confesses that she has thought about Dex every day since they met, Dex shares that he has done the same, and then informs Emma that he is engaged to someone else. Without knowing much more about the story, the gimmick strikes me as incredibly vapid and dangerously neglectful of the depth and complexities of the other 7,280 days in these characters' lives. So kind of When Harry Met Sally meets Serendipity. Ugh.

Anyway, even though I wasn't the biggest fan of Scherfig's adaptation of An Education, and One Day has the potential to be little more than a precocious tale of an indecisive generation, I'm still interested to see what she does with this concept and her two very likable leads. Release a trailer now, please, so I can judge the music choices that they choose to represent 1988 through 2007....

*Assumed inspirations for One Day's poster include:




14 February 2011

From Gaza to Galliano

I have a new post up over at The Junior Varsity on Queen Rania and why her lavish lifestyle might prove problematic for peace in Jordan.

01 February 2011

What's A Girl to Do?


Dalliant: Can you believe this CONTROVERSY?


Dalliant: Don't play coy with me, Dainty. It's everywhere. Literally everyone is talking about it.

Dainty: Um, Egypt?

Dalliant: Have you even read this blog?

Dainty: I mean, I don't know, maybe we're taking a more serious approach to the world in 2011.

Dalliant: *shrug*

Dainty: So do tell me, what blog appropriate CONTROVERSY are we talking about?

Dalliant: Black Swan. Costumes. Please tell me you're with me.

Dainty: Oh a hint! Um, how audiences are asked to perceive the garishly condescending color choices as some sort of poetic depth?

Dalliant: Well yes, but that's not what I'm talking about.

Dainty: How Natalie Portman kept losing weight so they had to keep redesigning the costumes to fit her wilting frame?

Dalliant: I thought we made a rule not to discuss the NaPo Swan Diet anymore?

Dainty: Ugh. Whatever. Ok, well maybe it's how Vanity Fair, Vogue, Refinery 29, Elle, and The New York Times have all turned into salivating fan boys just because Kate and Laura Mulleavy were involved?

Dalliant: You're very close.

Dainty: How Natalie Portman confused us all when she pronounced their line's name Row-Dahr-Tey, even though I guess if she's saying it like that it must be the real pronunciation and not Row-Dart?

Dalliant: What?

Dainty: The feathers they used? For the tutu? Something animal rights related?

Dalliant: No.

Dainty: Was Natalie forced to wear non-Vegan shoes?

Dalliant: You're not even trying anymore.

Dainty: I'm bored.

Dalliant: Well if you must know you uninformed fool, the Mulleavy sisters have launched a two woman press campaign on the costumes they designed for Black Swan. You'd think Rodarte was responsible for the whole freaking film.

Dainty: Right, yeah, I just mentioned that. Are you about to break the news that Natalie Portman is engaged and pregnant here too?

Dalliant: Ha. Funny.

Dainty: Sorry. Please proceed.

Dalliant: So Kate and Laura have been out and about, darlings of the fashion world and the blogging set that they are, launching a "poor us" campaign because they didn't get enough credit for their contribution to the film and realized too late the very well known restrictions surrounding Oscar nominations and Union membership requirements. Meanwhile, the actual Costume Designer, Amy Westcott, is all "what the hell, this is my movie, I thought we were friends" and decided to call their bluff in a fairly aggressive way during an interview with Clothes on Film.

Dainty: But this is kind of normal right? Don't designers collaborate with film costume designers all the time?

Dalliant: Sure, but they usually aren't happy in the end. Edith Head famously won an Oscar for Best Costume Design for Sabrina (1954) and didn't even mention Hubert de Givenchy in her remarks.

Dainty: And he designed most of the iconic looks in Sabrina, right?

Dalliant: Right, but he certainly wasn't responsible for everything. The award is for Costume Design overall. Not just the flashy outfits that everyone remembers.

Dainty: But we probably wouldn't even be talking about these films if it weren't for the so-called flashy outfits.

Dalliant: And yet someone has to be in charge, and sometimes that includes bringing on collaborators and even making sure the less glamorous costumes make sense. Besides, only the top billed can be nominated for an Oscar and that's Amy Westcott.

Dainty: So, essentially if Amy Westcott wins the Oscar she just needs to thank the sisters and all will be fine, right?

Dalliant: Well, sure, I guess. But that won't be happening.

Dainty: Why the hell not?

Dalliant: Black Swan wasn't nominated for Best Costume Design.

Dainty: So WHAT exactly is the controversy?

Dalliant: I have no idea.

Dainty: I hate you.

17 January 2011

The Golden Globes: Runway to "Reality"

The 2011 Golden Globes were, all in all, an uncomfortable experience. From Alexa "I'm a LOT cooler than all of you" Chung's dead-eyed red carpet interviews and Ricky Gervais's strange brand of occasionally successful humor (cruelty defended as brave honesty), to Robert DeNiro's Megan Fox at the TSA joke and Aaron Sorkin's strange "elite is an aspirational word, smart girls have more fun" message to his daughter, it was a weird evening. There were moments of brilliance from Tina Fey, Robert Downey, Jr., and Tom Hanks, but something just seemed a little sloppy and poorly timed about the entire evening -  presenters were not announced unless the host on high had a joke to go with it (thanks Gervais, I'd be able to ID Tim Allen, but what about Kaley Cuoco? Sure, whatever, The Big Bang Theory is like the number 1 or number 2 show on television, but that doesn't mean I'm able to just spot the generic looking hot blonde female lead in the absence of her co-stars), and the audience reaction crew spent too much time on Angelina and Brad (who looked bored the whole time) and Lea Michele (who seems to be working on a campaign to rectify her diva reputation with over-emotive "I'm just SO HAPPY FOR EVERYONE" faces). 

But of course that's all beside the point, right? The awards are a sham (see: nomination of The Tourist for Best Musical or Comedy) and we all know that it's just sort of the unloved middle child with a superiority complex of awards shows. So why do we watch? The dresses of course. 

Though beautiful, thin celebrities aren't really all that different from beautiful, thin runway models, I like to see the dresses side by side where possible. Enjoy. But keep in mind: most of these clowns had their gowns custom made, so pickings look a little slight. 

   Anne Hathaway and Karlie Kloss in Armani Privé (Fall 2010)

 Catherine Zeta-Jones and NAMELESS MODEL in Monique Lhuillier (Pre-Fall 2011)

Jennifer Lawrence and Lara Stone in versions of Louis Vuitton (Fall 2010 RTW)

 Piper Perabo and Anja Rubik in Oscar de la Renta (Spring 2011 RTW)

January Jones and Jac in Versace (Spring 2011 RTW)

Tina Fey and Marike Le Roux in L'Wren Scott (Spring 2011 RTW)

No photos yet of Alexa Chung in Valentino, but this Julia Saner in the look  (Spring 2011 RTW)


14 January 2011

The Pretty Face

Ladies and gentleman, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. 

Photographs by Jean-Baptiste Mondino 
(via W)

Don't ever let anyone tell you that eyebrows don't make a difference. 

Photograph by Platon


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