Saturday, June 20, 2009

Basking in Betty White's Adorableness

Because I will see literally anything with Betty White in it, I found myself at the cinema last night watching the Proposal. (Does that sentence sound ungrammatical? I don't care.) Here's the deal, kids. I don't like romantic comedies, usually, unless Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks has a hand in them. The Wedding Singer is one of the few modern romcoms I enjoyed and that was like what, ten, fifteen years ago? Other than that, I think the only romcoms I like that *aren't* in black and white are Romancing the Stone and Overboard.

But sometimes I like Sandra Bullock -- I thought Miss Congeniality was charming -- and the premise of The Proposal is basically exactly how my marriage went down, so hey, I thought, it's a Friday night and I've had some Prosecco, let's go. Unfortunately, The Proposal, unlike my tasty Prosecco or the films of Ernst Lubitsch, does not sparkle.

First and foremost, I have to scold director Anne Fletcher: it's called pacing, honey. Pacing! You're a dancer, you should understand rhythm. Blimey!

Also, how 'bout extracting some humanity from Ryan Reynolds, huh? Was he cryogenically frozen or something? I don't think he's completely thawed out yet. Oh, and Malin Ackerman? Sorry you had absolutely nothing to do in this movie. And Coach, poor Coach (yes, the honorable Craig T. Nelson), what a dreary, pointless subplot they gave ya. The writer shares the blame for that labored attempt at depth, which added virtually nothing to the story or its characters.

Sandra Bullock works really hard with the material she's given, and has a couple of great scenes, as does Betty White, and one running gag with Oscar Nunez pays off nicely, but honestly? I'm not about to be converted anytime soon. RomComs, you're still at the bottom of the genre pile for me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Today I am feeling... rather Narnian

It could be the rain... after all, it was a very rainy summer that started all of Polly and Digory's adventures, wasn't it?

The cloudy days make me feel dreamy and impractical. When the rain clears briefly, I feel moments of lucidity, but then fade away again into the world of battling covens and the summer everything changed.... don't we all just want a magic ring to carry us into another world?

Make your choice, adventurous stranger
Strike the bell and bide the danger
Or wonder 'til it drives you mad
What would have happened if you had.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

"There simply cannot be a zipcode filled with thousands of talented people. It's impossible."

From Die Hipster

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Reading the movies?

Shahn at Six Martinis and the Seventh Art has tagged me in a "Reading the Movies" meme started over at the Dancing Image. The following, in no particular order, represent five of my favorite books about movies:

1. The "perversely inaccurate" Fun in a Chinese Laundry, Josef von Sternberg's pastiche of a memoir. And when I say pastiche, I mean an amalgam of his paranoid ramblings, some fact, a few self-aggrandizing delusions and lots of apocryphal anecdotes.

2. Who the Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich. You'll learn more about writing for the movies than if you read any number of silly books like The Writer's Journey or Save the Cat.

3. What Made Pistachio Nuts? I remember loving this book in grad school, mainly for the way Henry Jenkins irreverently pokes holes in the supremacy of James Agee's adulation of the "silent clowns." Just the kind of contrary thinking I like, plus, a canny appreciation of an undeservedly maligned moment in film history (early sound).

4. Without Lying Down. Frances Marion's biography is overlong and far too full of irrelevant details (like who cares about every single aunt and uncle she ever had?) but an important work nonetheless because it inspired me to learn more about Marion as a writer.

5. Preston Sturges: Five Screenplays. Not so much a book about film as a book with films in it, if that makes sense. Another invaluable tool for the writer who wants to be funny, or entertaining, or even both if you can manage it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Movie Roundup

This is exactly what screenwriters look like

So I've been out of commission for a while, finishing the revisions on my script about the sassy retro stewardesses, but I've managed to catch a few movies here and there, and finally finish the Masterpiece Theatre version of Little Dorrit. First things first.

Little Dorrit
Dickens' fraught relationship with the Marshalea Debtors' Prison created some of his most complex characters. All the main players in Little Dorrit are nuanced, layered and fallible, from the prideful and pretentious -- yet pathetic and vulnerable -- patriarch William Dorrit to the smug but sweet do-gooder Arthur Clennam to Little Dorrit herself, a rather ghoulish young lady who seems to thrive when those around her are in need of saving. She and Mr. Clennam both have slight martyr complexes, which makes them such a dandy match for one another.

Century-old societal critique doesn't always hold up, but Dickens' eye for hypocrisy outlasts social trends, and Little Dorrit's narrative of financial ruin tells a story as old as the moon and cyclical as the tides (I believe we're in the midst of some sort of slight financial crisis now, aren't we?). From a modern perspective I must admit I don't see the logic behind debtors' prisons.... how on earth are you supposed to pay back your debts if you don't work? Baffling.

The minor and peripheral characters are the broadest, silliest and most delightful. I was especially fond of Edmund Sparkler and his funny little turns of phrase: "Dad wasn't a bad old stick" and, of course, "No begod nonsense about her." As always, there's a great big lovely happy ending in which Mr. Clennam and Little Dorrit are married, and nothing solves everyone's problems forever like a wedding.

Brothers Bloom

While the concept had potential, I suspected there might be third act problems when I read the script, and was disappointed to see the final (filmed) product confirm my suspicions. The first two thirds are an amusing romp peopled with outlandish personae; by the end, though, the repetitious heist/con pattern grows wearying (didn't McKee warn you about the law of diminishing returns? he actually was right about that, you know), and humor is sacrificed to mawkish drawn-out fraternal histrionics. It should have ended in Mexico ("I don't want to impugn an entire country, but Mexico's a terrible place"). More proof that tonal shifts can be pulled off by only the most delicate of touches.

In A Lonely Place

A master class in dramatic writing. Seriously. Besides adhering admirably to Aristotle's unities, and showing all action arising logically from character, and never permitting any disruption of the narrative, and showing-not-telling, and, well, the list goes on. Let's just say this script does everything a good screenplay should, and every aspiring writer should watch it. An added bonus: the source novel was one of the few hardboiled noirs written by a woman, and was reprinted by CUNY's Feminist Press in 2003. Bogart, good writing, genre, woman authors, and CUNY? Why, it's simply got everything. Oh, and some guy named Nick Ray directed it. He isn't bad either.


This just in: David Bowie's son has written and directed an intelligent, original, low-budget sci-fi indie. Seriously. He goes by the name Duncan Jones, precisely to avoid being written about as he is here, and he just made a really, really good movie. It opens in select theatres on June 12, and if you're even remotely intrigued by sci-fi you won't be disappointed. Both an elegant homage to classic genre milestones and a highly original, conceptual foray into identity and loss, plus! actual legitimate science, technical mastery, and a super-strong performance from Sam Rockwell, Moon is a refreshing indie experience that schools us all in what you can do with talent, brains, imagination and five million dollars.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Drinking in Polite Society ... Part II

Now that the weekend is upon us, I thought we'd throw the invitation open to newcomers.

First, though, a bit of business. The minutes of our (imaginary) meeting are as follows:

There was some discussion as to the name of this society; I suggested the 21 Club, with the aim of drinking 21 different cocktails, but Rob thought it was silly to just steal someone else's name. So we came up with the American Society for the Preservation of Cocktail Appreciation instead. There was some protest to this. Some think we need a sexier acronym here. First of all, every society worth of its name is International, and not only American. Besides, as of now, only R.Emmet Sweeney is American. How about the International Cocktail Society or ICS? -Zeta

Zeta is a dick. "International" implies we sample places internationally. How about the New York Tippling Society (NYTS) Or the Tippling Institute for Tired Slackers (TITS) -Robert

Nice touch, asshole. I despise you, but I like NYTS. TITS is also fun, but I think Vintage American Guzzlers (VAG) is better. - Zeta

I just noticed that "Drinking in Polite Society" spells "DIPS," which I think is a funny insult because it reminds me of something the Archies might say ("Jughead, you're such a dip," Veronica sneered).

The Charter

Our aim is to appreciate the job our city's mixologists have done of resurrecting and re-creating the storied cocktails of yesteryear, though an appreciation of neat whiskey is encouraged. Liqueurs? Spirits? Restricting it to Whiskey might backfire. -Zeta
Yes, spirits. -Robert

Witty conversation is an art and we aim to cultivate it. A sample conversation might include a discussion of current cinema (the digital Schwarzenegger in Terminator Salvation, say), debating the douchiest world leaders (Berlusconi), evaluating the relative funniness of Hot Chicks With Douchebags versus Die Hipster and/or LATFH, and other illuminating subjects.

Formal wear is required at all times, regardless of the weather. If you find a wool suit too warm, try a linen suit. Trousers are allowed for women, but appropriate grooming is mandatory.

Due to Manhattan's increase in weekend baggery, cocktail hour will begin promptly at seven. We could also move it to a weeknight. - Zeta

No photography in the bars or clubs. We are not (shudder) food bloggers.

The ASPCA is a commitment. Although rotating membership is allowed, it is best to attend as many meeting as possible to get the full experience of comparing various beverage venues city-wide.

Membership is by invitation only. However, we will consider new applicants if you submit a politely worded request or a brief essay on "Why Drinking Saves Me From the Unbearable Pain" to ASPCA is an equal opportunity organization. That said, we've got a pretty heavy 2:1 male to female ratio, so women are especially encouraged to apply as it might elevate the conversation out of the scrotal area.

We will try to meet approximately once every two or three weeks, as schedules permit. Reviews of the cocktails imbibed shall be posted following every meeting.

Here's hoping this venture is more successful than my Widow's Whist Society, which, though formed in 2007, has yet to play a single game.

Drinking in Polite Society, Part I

"It's like they hit thirty and somebody puts out a light."
- Roger Sterling

New York City is a drinker's town. Everybody knows that. New Yorkers drink more, drive less and have more famous cocktail bars than anyone else. It's a perfect storm, really. Hell, Manhattan is even named after a cocktail. So it stands to reason that, for a gal like I, this filthy, teeming island is a kind of paradise. When my husband found this list of the twenty-five best bars in the city, we had to visit them all. We'd already been to most, but as we're both completists at heart, we needed to visit all of them.

It's often difficult to trace the genealogy of an idea, so I can't say with certainty how the cockamamie concept morphed from, "We should visit these," to "We should visit them all while in formal dress", but all of a sudden there it was. Perhaps there's some vestigial instinct in us left over from recent wedding seasons that compels us to put on itchy wool suits and try to curl our hair during the hottest, most humid days of the year, or perhaps it's simply the fact that our lifestyle affords us so few opportunities to really get dressed up, but whatever the case we decided we simply had to add formal wear to the occasion.

The next element to come into play was the recent cocktail connaisseurship of our friend and neighbor, who, for the sake of future job offers, shall be known only as Zeta. He had become a fan of such beverages as Old Fashioneds, Rusty Nails and other retro cocktails, and is obsessed with the signature Cock and Bull cocktail at Little Branch.

Our pursuit of cocktails, conversation and formal dress led us first to the Pegu Club. It was lovely and quiet when we first got there at about 9:30, if a little empty. I ordered a Jamaican Firefly, Rob a Douglas Fir Gimlet. Zeta had a Whiskey Smash, a twist on a mint julep... now, before you read on, keep in mind this shared Google doc accurately reflects our level of commitment to writing and therefore life. Note Zeta's thoughtful comments on his beverage, and Rob and mine's half-assed comments... which might be why Zeta gets things like job offers.

Andrea on the Jamaican Firefly: Yum.

Rob on the Gimlet: Double yum.

Zeta on the Whiskey Smash:
At Pegu Club - a rather elegantly furnished and dimly lit establishment facing West Houston street - we sat at a cozy table topped by an unobtrusive abat-jour near the window. The slightly aloof wait staff was right with us with ice-cold water, napkins, and menus. From the impressive selection of mixed beverages, I chose a Whiskey Smash, a rather lovely and refreshing variation on a mint Julep. The main spirit being, of course, whiskey, I was expecting the Smash to have a relatively strong body, but the bite of the spirit was greatly tempered by muddled lemon and fresh mint leaves. The delicately cloudy mixture was of a beautiful pale yellow, which bespoke of the dominant notes in the glass, but a clean mint finish would surprise my palate after each short sip. The old-fashioned glass was tastily decorated with fresh mint leaves, which amounted to the major component of the olfactory experience. Smooth yet zesty, the liquid poured down my throat easily, perhaps too easily. Once I emptied the glass, I realized that my taste buds wanted more Smash and fewer ice cubes. (Z.)

The atmosphere at the Pegu became more lively as the night progressed but unfortunately the music turned Euro-techno, and the club lost some of its appeal. Also, although it was nice to have company, were weren't sure the clientele lived up to our expectations, so we moved on to Little Branch. Little Branch, though, was packed, and nothing is so vulgar as standing in line, so we eschewed that place in favor of the Brandy Library. Because L.B. has some lovely cocktails, however, we shall return at another time when there are no throngs of people under-thirty types waiting to get in (except for the husband). I mean the whole bloody point of this enterprise is to drink like a grown up, not like some over-eager NYU kid. Which is why we've formed a special club to do it, because that's very adult.

The Brandy Library turned out to be superlative. Exceptional service, tasty nibbles, marvelous cocktails -- Zeta and I had Highland Coolers, which is Drambuie, whiskey and ginger beer -- and a staggering selection of whiskeys.

Here's a description of the Highland Cooler by Zeta, a man with a remarkable memory, considering the circumstances:
As soon as we settled at the long and comfortable bar at The Brandy Library the attentive Brazilian bartender slipped wide leather-bound menus in our hands. In the mood for a peaty scotch, R.Emmet asked for the gentleman's recommendations, and he immediately produces two samples from excellent bottles, which he accompanied with simple and informed comments. My initial pick was not, in fact, a Highland Cooler, but a Paradox, an armagnac-based mix. The bartender expertly mixed my drink, but was unsatisfied with the sedimentation of the creamy ingredient, and prepared another one. Since he seemed still frustrated with the result, I opted for a Cooler, which he privileged over the Paradox. The drink is a variation on the classic Rusty Nail: the main spirit is scotch, sweetened by Drambuie's citrusy heart, and finished with ginger beer. The Cooler came in a high-ball, with a decoration of lime and candied ginger. Although I did not care for the fruits hanging on the rim, the drink was outstanding. The house made ginger beer gave the otherwise hearty mixture a freshness and a bite that really transformed this classic into a sophisticated summer drink. The dainty beverage was of a nice cloudy dark amber, had a very delicate effervescence, and a surprising range of notes. At each sip, the cool sweet orange was quickly superseded by the more complex bouquet of the scotch, but it was truly the ginger beer that spiced up the finish, leaving the tongue tingly and ready for more. I paired up the Cooler with the Library's signature mac'n'foie, an ingenious dish that scrambles culinary traditions with utmost success. For atmosphere, service, libations, and bites, this place is a true gem. (Z.)

And thus the first meeting of our drinker's society was a resounding success.