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Sex Tape Is the Funniest Movie About Marital Sex Since Eyes Wide Shut

A defiantly R-rated farce seemingly commissioned to plug the We’re the Millers-shaped hole in the summer lineup, Sex Tape is warmer and more amusing than its ads would lead one to believe. In fact, it’s almost good enough, leaning a little too hard on the innate likability of stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. Reuniting with director Jake Kasdan from 2011’s Bad Teacher, they play Annie and Jay, a couple of married-with-children Angelenos whose once-inexhaustible libidos seem to have Logan’s Run their course.

Oh, is that reference to an ancient sci-fi set in a world where this sort of trouble doesn’t come up much because everyone gets euthanized at age 30 obsolete? Well, so is the premise of Sex Tape. This is a film that wants us to accept that Jay — a gadget guy who has some undefined but apparently lucrative music-industry job that has earned him not merely a huge house full of framed Submarines and Belle & Sebastian posters but also so many extra iPads that he literally hands them out as gifts, not just to close relations but to the mailman, too, as if he’s Oprah Winfrey of Nazareth herself — doesn’t grok how the Internet works.

Jay’s amiable, sitcom-dad cluelessness might go down easier if Segel weren’t one of the film’s three credited writers (with Kate Angelo and his frequent collaborator Nicholas Stoller), but I’ll buy it. There are plenty of early adopters/frequent upgraders with only a vague notion of how to use their expensive toys. The important thing is that it’s the latest one.

Maybe Annie pays for all their stuff. She is a professional blogger after all, ka-ching, ka-ching. She’s been told to expect “a meaningful offer” from a kids’ toys manufacturer that wants to buy Who’s Yo Mommy?, the website where she reminisces, in Sex Tape’s funny opening sequence, about the good old days, when she and her now-husband used to do it in the stacks at the library, in the car, on the quad, in the shower, etc.

When she and Jay can’t manage to get it together during their first night in forever away from their two adorable moppets, they resort to making an iPad sex video — and like an EpiPen spiked into the heart of their flatlined love life, it works wonders. (Health warning: The heart is, in fact, a really bad place to inject anything.) But when the three-hour video threatens to go WikiLeaks, thanks to all those hand-me-down iPads, Annie’s fat blog paydays — and her and Jay’s dignity — are endangered.

And so for a very long time, Sex Tape ceases to be a sex comedy and turns instead into a kinda-sorta-not-bad chase flick wherein Annie and Jay run all over the 310 area code in an effort to recover all their iPads, presumably so they can use a Sharpie to redact the naughty bits.

This includes a long stop at the mansion of the CEO of the company that wants to buy Annie’s blog. (The CEO is played by Rob Lowe, no stranger to sex-tape leakage.) The sequence features a funny, extended sight gag about his character’s penchant for commissioning paintings of himself inserted into famous scenes from Disney cartoons. But an extended slapstick bit of a German shepherd chasing Segel through the guy’s mansion goes on longer than building-toppling finales of most Marvel films.

Why does Jay not wipe these things before he gives them away? Annie quite reasonably demands that of him a very long time after the audience has asked this question. His answer: Because his killer playlists are the gift, not the device, and he updates them constantly. (Actually, that a Dudebro like Segel’s character would say that is probably the film’s most plausible moment.) Who among us can remember every single person to whom we’ve ever given a mix CD that costs $399 and up, not including monthly data plan?

Well. At the summertime box office, as in Kansas, we vote our aspirations, not our reality. Just as audiences during the Great Depression flocked to comedies about nattily dressed, well-spoken, high-living society types, perhaps the maxed-out, second mortgage–holding marrieds of 2014 will be drawn to Sex Tape — which, for all its supposedly reassuring candor about how kids can sap the mojo of even the randiest couples, is pretty tone deaf about how financial woes can steal it, too.

Kasdan used to be more attuned to this kind of thing. He started his feature career with the great and odd little comic mystery, Zero Effect, back in 1998. He’s done good work in TV, most notably on the much praised, little watched Freaks and Geeks and New Girl. Though movies like the music biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story have flickered with intermittent hilarity, nothing he’s done since Zero Effect (which Kasdan also wrote) has felt as weird or indelible.

Certainly not this. Sex Tape sports an appealingly judgment-free message about porn and its role in committed relationships, and features a couple of welcome, late-arriving cameos to help drive it home. And it’s stuffed with more comic talent than it knows how to use: Rob Corddry & Ellie Kemper have time to register as Jay and Annie’s best friends, but Nat Faxon and Kumail Nanjiani are both in the movie for maybe 60 seconds.

But the flick’s biggest boner-killer is its relentless shilling for Apple and — really! — the amateur-adult-video-sharing site YouPorn.

“I buy them two at a time,” Jay says when his assistant, or somebody, hands him two still-shrink-wrapped iPads.

Later, he praises the resolution of the iPad’s camera.

Still later, he marvels how easy it is to sync his data among his various Apple devices (including, crucially, the ones he’s forgotten he gave away). Eventually, a blackmail-minded 12-year-old will point out that wiping them remotely of all data is a cinch, too — not that a doddering, senile, 34-year-old like Jay could be expected to know that.

But at least he’s speaking to another character in that scene. There’s also a moment when he picks up one of these miracle devices after falling out of a window with it and blurts, to no one, “The construction on these things is incredible!”

Now it can be told: Sex Tape is the product placement–iest film in recent memory that isn’t about giant robots trashing Chicago and part of Detroit made up to look like Hong Kong.

The movie gets points for casting 41-year-old Diaz as the spouse of 34-year-old Segel; good riddance to the days when every 48-year-old male lead seemed to have a 25-year-old wife. And their nudity is rationed with admirable parity. Diaz looks amazing, for 41, or for 21, and Segel — who heroically showed us his flaccid junk in Forgetting Sarah Marshall — is as stretched out and pale and soft and smooth as ever. Good for him. He’s a genuine and versatile comic talent, and if he ever did a set of crunches, his innate funniness would instantly drop by half. (He’ll next play David Foster Wallace. This should probably be a footnote instead of a parenthetical aside.)

After that wobbly second act, Sex Tape finally does reward us, in its last moments, with a speed-through of its titular MacGuffin, wherein Annie and Jay gamely attempt to execute every single position featured in The Joy of Sex — possibly the only old-timey paper book in their home. The sequence is euphorically, shamelessly goofy, two consenting adults hurling their no-longer-invulnerable bodies at one another like 10-year-olds doing cannonballs on the first day of summer vacation — and then taking turns holding an ice pack on their bruised genitals. In this sequence, Sex Tape finally looks like the truly superfreaky comedy Kasdan and Diaz and Segel have within them. If only Sex Tape were as good as their Sex Tape.

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The Other Woman Doesn’t Let Its Cast Be Great

The sexual politics of Nick Cassavetes’s decidedly un-romantic comedy The Other Woman are intriguingly European and, at their core, kind of groovy. Wronged Connecticut wifey-wife Kate (Leslie Mann) seeks out her husband’s mistress, sexy city-slicker and high-powered lawyer Carly (Cameron Diaz), looking to her for answers: Why is my husband such an asshole? And can we be besties? Carly, who began her relationship with Mr. Infidelity (played, with cool Michael Douglasian sleaziness, by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) not knowing he was married and cut him off once she got the tip, at first wants nothing to do with needy, high-strung Kate. But before long the two get cozy, and when they discover the philandering hubby has a third mistress, they pull her into their unlikely sisterhood, too. (She’s played, as a likably self-aware ditz, by well-known model Kate Upton.)

The basic idea behind The Other Woman is perversely progressive: When a straight married man strays in real life, the first person his scorned wife usually blames is the vixen who led him to the whoring bed. The underlying assumption, sexist at heart, is that women are the schemers, men the innocent naïfs. The Other Woman, written by Melissa Stack, doesn’t immediately buy into that baloney. And ideally, it would have provided a showcase for Diaz and Mann, both gangly, gifted comedians who know their way around a zinger, not to mention a pratfall. Each has a terrific moment or two: Mann’s Kate, weepily sprawled on the marital bed in her wedding dress, squirts Reddi-wip into her mouth straight from the can — she’s a pale, fragile meringue of temporary helplessness, channeling the lowest-of-the-low feelings modern women are never supposed to entertain but sometimes, at least secretly, do.

Diaz, who made such a gloriously unapologetic bad gal in Bad Teacher, has fewer opportunities for on-the-edge ridiculousness, but she’s a good sport all the way. Carly tumbles into the bushes and — surprise! — breaks off the heel of her shoe; she sprints goofily across a beach, a crazy windmill of arms and legs. But The Other Woman doesn’t give these actresses much to do except look ridiculous, if not sneaky and conniving. And in the end, they do what all women in comedies like this must: They pull their lives together and clink glasses over how awesome they are, without ever going to the trouble of being genuinely awesome.

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To Actresses on the Brink of 40: Go Bad or Go Home

Last week, EW columnist Mark Harris tweeted a statistic disturbing to anyone who cares about gender equality on the big screen: “It’s now been 61 days since the last wide release of a major studio movie starring a woman.” Unfortunately, that number will only increase—to 84 days—until Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy bust through the lucite ceiling later this month with The Heat. Those testosterone-choked three months confirm a sad fact of life for actresses: It doesn’t get better.

So what to do when you’re a reasonably talented thespette of a certain age, or one about to enter the opportunity desert known as the big four-oh? Follow Google’s plan to world domination: Don’t be evil—at least until you’ve used your youth and seeming naiveté to earn your audience’s trust. Then ensure your reach and longevity (and sure, pad your pockets) by getting good at bad.

To paraphrase a women’s studies T-shirt slogan: Well-behaved women seldom make film history. Playing evil is more fun than playing good anyway, right? Why suffer through eyelash extensions for that sexy-baby look (ouch!) or do take after take of pratfalling in heels (double-ouch!) when you can steal the picture with a single lip curl? Why be America’s sweetest, nicest, most forgettable mom when you can inspire a meme with a masterful eye-roll and be immortalized on Tumblr? Why go through the tiresome charade of finding Ben Stiller a viable sex partner when you can own an awesome death scene? (Sorry, your character will probably end up dead.)

Principled heroes are a dime a dozen and all the same—Joseph Campbell even wrote that book about it—but an extraordinary villain lives on forever. After all, who remembers Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada or the owners of those silky-soft, coat-ready dalmatians? Where would American cinema be without Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Dame Judith Anderson in Rebecca, or Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard?

The Hollywood Reporter recently claimed that the fortysomething actress is making a comeback. The piece correctly identifies Meryl Streep in Prada as the progenitor of this phenomenon, but wrongly attributes the current rise of older actresses to name recognition and better plastic surgery. In fact, the over-40 (and late-30s) actresses currently on the upswing—Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, Charlize Theron—have all earned critical notice and enjoyed box-office boons by tapping into their dark sides. Diaz resuscitated her floundering career by reinventing herself as a man-eating manipulatrix in the sleeper hit Bad Teacher, while Aniston became a compelling screen presence for the first time ever as a sexually predatory dentist in the blockbuster comedy Horrible Bosses.

But no actress has embraced iniquity with as much abandon and glee as Theron. After winning an Oscar playing a serial killer, the South African actress experienced the typical post-Oscar slump. Gradually, Theron ditched action heroism (Aeon Flux)—the fastest route to the A-list for male actors—to return to her Monster-ish path to glory in Young Adult, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Prometheus—all well-performing films in which she’s used her ethereal beauty to add an extra layer of tragedy or hidden depravity to her twisted characters. And a single performance as a mesmerizing bitch can attract years of studio work, as it has for Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom), Helen Mirren (The Queen), and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air).

You might balk at being the bad guy. After all, conventional wisdom dictates that going bad isn’t a good career move for a star, or maybe you’re just tired of women losing to men. But it isn’t as if the usual roles as Supporting Arm Candy are any “stronger” or more “feminist” than villainous ones. As an antagonist, things won’t go your way, and, yes, your character will possibly end up taking a bullet to the forehead (what a waste of Botox!). But at least you’ll embody a character who’s trying something creative and original—probably while displaying leadership skills!—instead of perpetually running two feet behind your co-star while “sweating” in your white tank top.

Now that the sympathetic-girlfriend roles are drying up—sorry, but you’ve probably noticed you’re no longer Maxim enough to play the love interest of decades-older action heroes and overweight comedy stars—you’re finally free from the likability trap. So leave that nonsense to the Miley Cyruses of the world and delight us by just being a bitch—the most interesting, most beautiful, most memorable bitch you can be. Audiences are more sophisticated than you think, and they love morally compromised jerks. In fact, have you checked out cable TV lately? Or paid attention to the new spate of princess movies with an Oscar-winning villainess and flavor-of-the-month ingénue as the princess-heroine? Isn’t any club with Theron, Julia Roberts (Mirror Mirror), Angelina Jolie (the upcoming Maleficent), and Cate Blanchett (confirmed to play the wicked stepmother in the 2014 live-action Cinderella film) the one you want to join? There’s an empathetic space opening up for older women in the movies. Take advantage of it.

So just play it cool, or even better, ice-cold. Trying to be likable at all costs isn’t unlike trying to stay young—it looks increasingly desperate, and people get tired of it pretty quickly. Just ask Heather Graham or Hilary Swank what that’s like. (Go ahead, I’m sure they can fit you into their schedules.) Take a page out of the always career-savvy Amy Adams’s handbook and give a brutal, dead-eyed handy once in awhile, preferably while pushing the recipient of said handy further into insanity. When your industry gives you lemons, make lemonade. Then pour it in someone’s eyes.

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Bad Teacher and the Downside of Equal Rights in Hollywood

From Tad Friend’s New Yorker profile of Anna Faris (which Jezebel.com reblogged under the headline “Hollywood Insiders Admit Hollywood Hates Women”) to the glass-ceiling-shattering pressure assigned to last month’s Bridesmaids (which has thus far outgrossed every previous Judd Apatow project since Knocked Up), a case could be made that 2011 will be remembered as the year the film industry (finally!) acknowledged its institutional misogyny, took steps to reverse it, and even learned that letting chicks into the comedy loop can actually end up being profitable. Yay, right?

If a new era is dawning, Bad Teacher reminds us exactly why change is so desperately needed. Directed by Jake Kasdan (an Apatow comedy family cousin whose last film was Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) and scripted by frequent Office writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, Bad Teacher focuses on a school year in the life of Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz), an aging party girl once destined to be a trophy wife, who instead ended up an incompetent middle school English teacher, managing to hold on to her job only via coy manipulation. Dumped by one wealthy fiancé, Elizabeth goes looking for another, and finds potential in Scott (Justin Timberlake), an heir who has altruistically signed up as a substitute teacher. Elizabeth must compete for Scott’s affections with her perky, perfectionist white swan—history teacher Amy (Lucy Punch)—while first fending off and then (surprise!) slowly succumbing to the advances of schlubby gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel).

The general argument holds that because studios produce so few films built around strong lady protagonists, Hollywood must hate women. But be careful what you wish for. Here, a “strong woman” means a lazy, lying, scheming, slutty, and obstinately materialistic one, whose sole redeeming virtue is her hard body (which the camera shamelessly ogles, as if the men watching need their hand held to look at an actress’s ass), who is so delusional that she thinks her ostentatious assholery is rock-star sexy, and whose delusions are essentially validated by narrative resolution.

At least Bad Teacher offers opportunities to ponder an evergreen pop-culture conundrum: At what point do professional performers with evident talent and a proven ability to make smart choices realize they’re trapped in a film that—due to lazy writing, style-free direction and visual design, and a general refusal to aim above the lowest common denominator—simply can’t be good? What compels someone like Justin Timberlake—so charismatically contemptible in The Social Network, so often a saving grace on SNL—to take a role centered on a cringe-worthy set-piece involving him dry-humping his real-life ex-girlfriend? Are actresses like Diaz and Punch really cool with punishing material based on the worst male-invented stereotypes of the way women deceptively control men and compete with one another? If they’re at all conscious of what they’ve gotten into, did they try to make it better, or did they submit to mediocrity because, you know, fuck it—the check cleared? Are they so far inside that they can’t possibly gauge what the fix they’re in might look like from the outside?

Jason Segel can, perhaps: He seems to have shown up on set carrying an enormous amount of weight, as if he’s hoping to not be recognized. In a role hardly larger than a cameo despite the fact that he’s ostensibly the male romantic lead, Segel never tries to hide that he’s only here to pay his mortgage—which makes him the most likeable presence on-screen. In just a handful of scenes, he comes close to saving the movie by injecting a much-needed dose of casual, naturalistic performance into the shtick, even as most of his dialogue consists of caustic asides and barbed flirting. Elizabeth’s sole character growth comes from her gradual understanding that she and Russell are soul mates of sorts, in that they’ve both figured out that sincerity is for suckers, and thus subsequently live to mess with people. That his agitation consists entirely of harmlessly sour, even charming verbal play directed at oblivious rubes, while she gets her kicks from mounting pranks with severe real-world consequences, is a moral discrepancy the film is content to leave unresolved.

You can’t say Bad Teacher doesn’t fulfill the basic promise of its genre; once the dust settles, boys and girls alike walk away with what they went looking for. But for Segel’s character, “victory” doesn’t seem like a good thing. Maybe this is a sign of progress after all: After a hundred years’ worth of romances in which “heroes” are rewarded for their unrepentant shittiness with the affections of an ever-patient beloved, maybe it’s the dude’s turn to get the raw deal.

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Even Cowgirls Go to Jail: Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo

A feel-good sports movie you can wrap your thighs around without blushing, Bradley Beesley’s film opens the door into two arenas doc-watchers rarely frequent: state penitentiaries and rodeos, which have been merged in Oklahoma at a massive round-up performed entirely by cons. An annual tradition for seven decades, the bull-and-bronc festival had just begun allowing inmates from a women’s prison to participate when the film was being shot, so Beesley hones in on the gals as they train, prep, and try to stay out of trouble in the weeks leading up to their showdown in front of thousands. It’s a thick ethnographic slice, for sure, if a little PBS in its rhythms, with a narrative net spread thin and wide by suspenseful parole-hearing melodramas, ubiquitous maternal angst, and a wrenching family-reunion clinch to beat all comers. The issue of over-incarceration (particularly in Oklahoma) infests the overall high, while we grow a little suspicious of Beesley’s favoring of pretty white/Latina cons over black, fat, or ugly. All told, though, there’s enough rosy-cheeked drama, triumph, and sacrifice for a ready-made Hollywood remake—it might be the cred project Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz are looking for.

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Shrek Forever After, Fourth and Final in the Series

In this fourth and final installation in the Shrek franchise, our green hero feels emasculated by the grind of domesticity (marriage, fatherhood) and worn down by the demands of celebrity. His failure to realize that his is, indeed, a wonderful life leads him to utter a wish for just one day to cavort in his old life of swampy bachelorhood. The wish is granted by the conniving Rumpelstiltskin, whose enforcement of contractual fine-print lands Shrek in a brutal parallel universe in which Rumpelstiltskin rules the kingdom of Far, Far Away with an army of witches as his muscle. There, Fiona (in Xena mode) leads an underground resistance movement, Donkey has no memory of Shrek but still steals almost every scene he’s in, and an obese Puss walks away with whatever scenes Donkey doesn’t. It takes the film a deadly long time to kick in, and when it does, it largely retreads formula: ironic use of pop standards, musical numbers with contemporary choreography played for maximum laughs, risque one-liners. By the middle of the second act, Forever After finally finds its groove, becoming mildly amusing (the actors—Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas—are in fine form) but never rising to the inspired heights of the original. And the 3-D effects are so weak as to bring nothing to the table.

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Barack Obama is Golden, Rush Limbaugh is Screwed — Predictions for the Year of the Tiger!

By Fatimah Surjani Ortega

Yes, Tiger, this could be your year
Yes, Tiger, this could be your year

Sunday ushers in the Year of Metal Tiger, which sounds like a golf club. That’s actually appropriate, because things look auspicious for Tiger Woods — as long as he can keep his dick in his pants.

Just in time for Chinese New Year, the Voice offers up this celebrity-centered translation of what’s in store for all you furry animals. We’re basing it on the teachings of none other than the Feng Shui Grand Master himself, Singapore-born Tan Khoon Yong.

Let’s start at the beginning, with those of you born in the Year of the Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008): Your advice for 2010? Pray hard, and pray often.

Governor, you're screwed
Governor, you’re screwed

You have a rough road ahead. Being a rodent, you tend to run and hide from big things. That’s not the game plan for this year. You need to find some courage and bluff your way through this year’s maze. Only through sheer self-confidence, and, well, assholery are you going to find your way to the cheese. Be brave, be a jerk, stay supremely self-assured, and you won’t end up some pussycat’s lunch. If people bitch and moan about you, put on earphones and turn up the volume.
In for a bumpy ride: Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, David Duchovny, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford

Year of the Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009)

The future is bright, Barry
The future is bright, Barry

Barack Obama, an Ox, won the presidency in the Year of the Rat, which was a very lucky year for him. He took office in his own year, 2009’s Year of the Ox, which sounds just perfect, doesn’t it? Actually, it predicted disaster: when you meet your own year, Tan Khoon Yong tells us, you challenge the Grand Duke Jupiter God, and although we aren’t really sure what that means, it sure doesn’t sound good, does it? Well, that’s all over with now, and the GOP can really start sweating. Tiger and Ox get along just fine, and Obama should have a monster year. For all you Oxen out there, just keep this in mind: Don’t mix work with pleasure. You tend to work too hard, you lose focus, and your health suffers. Find time to chill. And men, treat your wives well and keep your eyes off the cute cows at the office.
Ready for a bull market: Susan Boyle, George Clooney, Mos Def, Heidi Klum, Barack Obama, Meg Ryan

Year of the Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998)

It's not Rush's year
It’s not Rush’s year

Sorry, Tigers, but you’re fucked. The Feng Shui masters say you’ll be offering up a challenge to Tai Sui, the Grand Duke Jupiter, or God of the Year, and with every freaking thing you do, you’ll have to watch your back. This is not a year to take chances, and if things aren’t going your way you’re going to feel like crap. All the time. But don’t lose hope entirely. This is a year to count on yourself, because you won’t find help from others. Create your own opportunities through careful, logical planning, and count on your imagination for ideas. Be cautious and wise, and you can give Grand Duke Jupiter — and everyone else — the finger.
Who’s in deep shit: Tom Cruise, Jenna Jameson, Jay Leno, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Sanchez

Year of the Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999)

Get tanned and rested, and then make them pay, Conan!
Get tanned and rested, and then make them pay, Conan!

The lovable hare. Your charm makes you popular, and you feel good, but you might be looking for trouble. The new year should start with a plan to fix some lingering problems. Why? Hare men tend to cheat. And when you’re both rabbits — we’re looking at you, Brangelina — well, the tabloids may be in for a banner year. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Tiger Woods is a randy rabbit, but if he’s really determined to change his ways, this year is on his side. Rabbits, stop trying to charm the rest of the world and use your powers instead to improve things at home and at work. And get some sun. Vitamin D can be the difference between a gloomy or glorious year.
Who needs some beach time: Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama, Conan O’Brien, Sarah Palin, Brad Pitt, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods

Year of the Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000)

Keep the change, Fiddy
Keep the change, Fiddy

You self-obsessed lizard, you thought everyone was having a shitty 2009. Well, there has been a recession on, but things were tougher on you than others. And you aren’t getting a break any time soon. Yes, it’s another tough year for the dragons, and watch out for unpleasant surprises, all related to your usual shortcomings (you know what they are). But fuck it, don’t listen to this prediction. You did survive the worst recession in a generation, and if you did that, you’ll be fine. Cheer up, Smaug.
Keep your wings tucked and your head down: 50 Cent, Courtney Cox, Bret Easton Ellis, Courtney Love, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon

Year of the Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001)

John, you ignorant slut
John, you ignorant slut

Things look good for snakes, but don’t get pleased with yourself just yet. Serpents tend to celebrate success with sexual adventure, and some of you will be determined to turn this into the Year of the Slut. Down, boy! Try to redirect that energy into your career or something, because giving in to your impulses is not a good idea this year.
Who’s champing to whore around: Mike Bloomberg, Tina Brown, John Edwards, Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey

Year of the Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002)

Stay warm-blooded, Kristen!
Stay warm-blooded, Kristen!

Healthy as a horse? Tell that to Barbaro. Yes, it’s going to be that kind of year, Seabiscuit, and you better watch it. Trouble is looking for you, and it’s your health that’s likely to suffer. Avoid disputes, particularly anything involving documents that have your name on them, and gallop away from a deal that isn’t guaranteed. That said, a modest investment in real estate might be wise, and whatever you do, donate some charity or at least some blood while your health still holds.
Constitutionally challenged: Halle Berry, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cynthia Nixon, Gov. David Paterson, Kristen Stewart

Year of the Goat (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003)

Everyone loves you, Steve
Everyone loves you, Steve

So long, bad luck, here comes good fortune. If Steve Jobs knew what was good for him, he’d have delayed introducing the iPad until after Chinese New Year (and given it a better name!). At least he’ll have a good chance to gain some weight this year. Goats are in luck: other people will favor them this year, and they’ll find assistance from places they didn’t expect it. But Billy, don’t be a show off. Play things right, and you’ll gain back more than you lost last year.
Not scapegoats this year: Anderson Cooper, Benicio Del Toro, Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Musto, Liev Schreiber

Year of the Monkey (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004)

Jen knows from bad luck
Jen knows from bad luck

Monkey, your cycle of good luck has run out. Like the Tigers, you’re also offending the grand god of the year, and 2010 looks like twelve months of suckage. But monkeys often find ways to outsmart their misfortunes — except that they’re also accident prone. So figure things out with that nimble and creative mind, but don’t take risks or you’re likely to slip on a banana peel.
In the jungle this year: Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Aniston, Daniel Craig, Salma Hayek, Jason Schwartzman, Will Smith

Year of the Cock (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005)

Time to make the big move, Jay-Z!
Time to make the big move, Jay-Z!

We know, we know, it’s always the year of the cock, at least in the Village. But this year, seriously, you roosters have much to crow about. The stars have all aligned, and you need to make your big moves RIGHT NOW. Andrew Cuomo? Nothing can stop you, certainly not the likes of David Paterson and Rick Lazio. The feng shui masters say that this is the year for cocks to lay the foundation for a brighter future (and yes, they really do talk like that, so stop giggling). Don’t mess up this opportunity. Be smart, but be bold.
Who wins: Beyonce, Gerard Butler, Andrew Cuomo, Jay-Z, Spike Lee, Taylor Momsen, Gwen Stefani, Tila Tequila

Year of the Dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006)

These dogs won't hunt
These dogs won’t hunt

Sorry, puppies, you’re in the doghouse this year. Not only is your luck poor, other people are going to shit on you all year long (and not pick up after themselves!). But look, there’s only one way to deal with it: Don’t complain, don’t whimper, take your losses in stride, and stay out of other people’s business. Don’t drive yourself insane waiting for your luck to turn. There’s an end to this, and it’s just twelve months away. Until then, just take it like a mindless, happy puppy.
Bad dog, no biscuit: George W. Bush, Kelly Clarkson, Bill Clinton, Joseph Fiennes, Queen Latifah, Anna Paquin

Year of the Boar (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007)

No one needs to tell Dave this is his moment
No one needs to tell Dave this is his moment

Boars have had it tough. Hard work didn’t pay off for political pigs Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton in 2008. Last year, 2009, was also supposed to be a lousy one for porkers, but somehow David Letterman watched it happen to the other guys. For the rest of you pigs, 2010 might just be your year. Shrug off the uncertainty and make this a year you take a chance. Sure, others think you’ve been beaten — but now is the time to surprise them with your resilience. Spitzer wants to run again? Do it, man, and not just in your socks.
Who gets a break: Lance Armstrong, Hillary Clinton, Nicky Hilton, Mila Kunis, David Letterman, Ewan McGregor, Eliot Spitzer

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Family Catharsis in the Courtroom in My Sister’s Keeper

Eleven-year-old Anna Fitzgerald’s parents didn’t just plan for her—they customized her in utero, with the specific end of providing spare parts and infusions for her leukemia-sick older sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). When Kate relapses, experiencing renal failure, Anna (Abigail Breslin) defies her birthright duty to play donor and cough up a kidney. She contacts TV-spot lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin, possibly the only actor who doesn’t cry on-screen), who agrees to help her win medical emancipation. Before mom Sara (Cameron Diaz) quit work to scrutinize her daughter’s cell count, she was a lawyer herself, which sets the stage for a family catharsis in the courtroom. Screenwriter Jeremy Leven and director Nick Cassavetes, who previously jackpotted with The Notebook, reunite to adapt another heartstrings molester. From a 2004 Jodi Picoult bestseller, My Sister’s Keeper mashes Death Be Not Proud with Irreconcilable Differences. The film is extraordinarily explicit in showing the effects of disease and what’s involved in caring for the sick. You don’t usually see this unblinking attention to the progress of physical decay in a PG-13 wide-release movie, and to the degree that it represents a real aspect of human experience generally curtained out of sight, it is, in the language of movie people, a brave decision. But makeup department realism alone can’t redeem the dramatic fallacies surrounding it.

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Who Is Norman Lloyd?

Who is Norman Lloyd? Peter Pan and Father Time, according to one enthusiastic friend featured in Matthew Sussman’s hagiographic documentary about the nonagenarian actor-producer. A minor character actor, according to me. As a Brooklyn-raised upstart in the 1930’s New York theater scene, Lloyd had the luck to work with some great directors, including Elia Kazan and Orson Welles. The high point of his 70-plus-year career was his role as the saboteur in Saboteur, which will be paired as a double feature with Who Is Norman Lloyd?
for the week of its run at Film Forum. But after being blacklisted, he never really got his groove back, doing stints on various ’70s and ’80s TV shows. Sussman’s filmmaking is workmanlike and conventional, interspersing old photographs of Lloyd’s days on Broadway and in Hollywood with interviews of everyone from Ray Bradbury to Cameron Diaz. (“It’s exhausting to spend a whole day on the set, working and emoting . . . emotions,” Diaz tells us seriously, praising her In Her Shoes co-star’s powers of concentration.) I’m still not convinced that Norman Lloyd “should” be a household name, as the film argues, but there are worse ways to spend an hour than listening to him shoot the shit about Brecht and Hitchcock.

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Woman’s Glib

From its wink-wink, nudge- nudge movie-within-a-movie opening through to its bald-faced quoting of such classic Hollywood farces as The Lady Eve and His Girl Friday, Nancy Meyers’s The Holiday wants us to know that it’s different from the kind of rom-com pablum that fills the multiplexes these days. And it is different; it’s a special kind of pablum—pablum for the cognoscenti. Like Meyers’s last two chick-flick hits, What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give, this is a high-gloss romp about beautiful, obscenely successful people who are less lucky in love than they are in their careers, but who believe they deserve to have it all and, before the picture’s over, end up getting it. And because Meyers keeps elbowing the audience in the ribs as if to say, “I know it looks like I’m recycling a bunch of hoary old clichés, but I’m really poking fun at them,” a lot of viewers will leave with the impression that they’ve just seen something smart and sophisticated. Like her near namesake, Meyers has quite a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A.

Set between Los Angeles and London during the last weeks of the calendar year, The Holiday is about two women who share the need for a change of scenery. In SoCal, movie trailer producer Amanda (Cameron Diaz), has just kicked her no-good cheating boyfriend to the curb. Across the pond, Daily Telegraph wedding reporter Iris (Kate Winslet) has discovered that her own unfaithful ex, whom she still not-so-secretly pines for, is getting hitched to another woman. Lo and behold, these two inconsolable lonely hearts stumble upon one another in an Internet chat room, bond over their mutual hatred for the male species, and promptly negotiate a house swap: Amanda’s epic Brentwood mansion for Iris’s quaint gingerbread cottage.

Meyers, whose films have collectively grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, is probably the most quantifiably successful woman filmmaker in Hollywood at the moment, and beyond her impressive ticket sales, she’s garnered a reputation for crafting the kind of empowered female characters that women are always complaining there aren’t enough of in the movies. But with the notable exception of
Private Benjamin, her films strike me as retrograde toward the fairer sex in ways that would get a male director strung up by his toes. In What Women Want, for example, when Mel Gibson’s cock-of-the-walk adman is gifted with the ability to hear women’s innermost thoughts, the things he hears only reinforce every stereotype that preening chauvinists already have about women: that there’s nothing wrong with them that a little sweet talk and a roll in the hay won’t cure. Then, in
Something’s Gotta Give, Meyers offers up Diane Keaton as the supposed epitome of independent-minded modern womanhood, only to reveal her as a man-hungry pushover ready to fall into the arms of anyone who still finds her attractive.

Now, in The Holiday, Meyers gives us two younger women who swear off men, sit around blaming themselves for romantic failings, and at the earliest opportunity, dive headfirst back into the relationship cesspool. When Iris’s studly brother Graham (the ubiquitous Jude Law) shows up unannounced (and drunk) on Amanda’s doorstep not 24 hours after her arrival, she beds down with him posthaste. Meanwhile, Iris wastes little time in striking up more than a friendship with self-effacing film composer Miles (Jack Black), no matter that he’s already in a relationship. Somehow, despite Meyers’s exaltation of fidelity early in the film, this is supposed to be OK, because, well, Iris and Miles are clearly made for each other.

All of The Holiday‘s most graceful moments belong to 91-year-old Eli Wallach as Amanda’s L.A. neighbor, an Oscar-winning screenwriting legend who befriends Iris and tells her she should stop being the wallflowery best friend in the movie of her own life and start acting the part of a leading lady. Would that she listened. For a supposedly strong female character, Iris has less backbone than some species of earthworm; she only values herself as much as the men in her life (and the wrong ones, at that) value her. If this is female empowerment, I’d hate to see what oppression looks like.

Still, the sad truth of The Holiday is that, for much of the time it’s up there on the screen, it is smarter than the Hollywood norm, by which I mean pretty much anything starring some combination of Kate Hudson and one of the Wilson brothers. Meyers can write a good zinger, and she has a knack for casting actors who not only look good in bed, but are talented enough to rise above the material and, in some cases, nearly transform it (save Diaz). But make no mistake: We’re a long way here from Ben Hecht and Preston Sturges. If you really love the smart, golden-age-of-Hollywood romantic comedies as much as Meyers claims that she does—the ones with the “powerhouse” (to borrow Meyers’s own word) women and the crackling wit—you’ll probably want some Holiday after The Holiday.