12/30/09

The Year in Geekdom - 2009

This really was an epic year for Jake and I. We were lucky to not only enjoy a lot of recreational geekdom, but also to plant some seeds for many future professional geek ventures. I'm officially 25% Master of Creative Writing, have enjoyed many fun freelance writing assignments and creative side projects this year and began my fledgling career as a voice-over artist.

All in all, I have to say, settling into my geekdom truly paid off in ways that I really couldn't have anticipated. I guess that just goes to show you, being yourself (no matter what) can really pay dividends, both professionally and personally. So please, do follow your geeky white rabbit down the nerd hole this year...you won't be sorry.

I made a list, and in no particular order, here are...

12/29/09

The Women Film Critics Circle Awards

I'm proud to be a part of the WFCC and I'm ashamed to say that I missed voting this year. Something that won't happen next year. The best thing about the WFCC is the fact that it provides a forum for the discussion of the still under-represented women in the film industry.

You can find hundreds of forums for fans of multiple genres of film and plenty of "film" sites that critique women's appearance alongside the films they appear in as though that's just the accepted status quo. Giving out awards like, "hottie of the day", as though reviewing film and the immature ogling of women must go hand-in-hand.

So the fact that a network like this exists is beyond helpful in an industry that not only objectifies women, but also many people, people groups, and ideas on a regular basis. Some say it's just the nature of the business, but the WFCC begs to differ, and dissenting and intellectual voices can make a difference in an oversaturated critical world that often links itself inextricably to the use and abuse of female sexuality for no other reason than the fact that it can. The WFCC offers an alternative viewpoint and perhaps a more finely tuned criticial lens with which to view film.

It's not that the members of the WFCC always agree with one another, you may even notice a small disclaimer in the awards this year regarding this fact. It's the idea that they are determined to keep these important discussions alive and keep asking the tough questions while calling filmmakers out on two-dimensional and unrealistic female characters. But the WFCC isn't just the stereotype police, they take the time to notice the well-done films and characters and to reward female filmmakers for their excellent works.

So here are this year's awards. Whether you agree or disagree, you are invited to join in on the discussion in the comments section here or over at the WFCC website at http://wfcc.wordpress.com/

THE WOMEN FILM CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS 2009

BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN
*TIE
Coco Before Chanel
My One And Only

BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN
Julie & Julia: Nora Ephron

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]
Sunshine Cleaning: Megan Holley

BEST ACTRESS
Abbie Cornish: Bright Star

BEST ACTOR
Ben Foster: The Messenger

BEST YOUNG ACTRESS
Sidibe Gabourey: Precious

BEST COMEDIC ACTRESS
Meryl Streep: Julie & Julia

BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
Seraphine

BEST FEMALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
American Violet
Amreeka
The Baader Meinhof Complex
Inglourious Basterds
Lemon Tree
The Messenger
My Sister's Keeper
Sweet Crude

BEST THEATRICALLY UNRELEASED MOVIE BY OR ABOUT WOMEN [Includes films released on DVD or TV, or screened at film festivals, in recognition of the limited opportunities available for films by and about women on screen]
Grey Gardens

BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES
Julie & Julia

BEST ANIMATED FEMALE
Princess And The Frog: Anika Noni Rose as Tiana

BEST FAMILY FILM
Up

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Gertrude Berg [Posthumous]: Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg: Aviva Kempner, director

ACTING AND ACTIVISM: Emma Thompson - For her work on and off screen against sex trafficking

*ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women:
Precious

*JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: For best expressing the woman of color experience in America
American Violet

*KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For best exemplifying a woman's place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity
An Education

COURAGE IN ACTING [Taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen]
Isabella Rossellini: Green Porno

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN AWARD [Supporting performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored]
Olivia Williams: An Education

BEST DOCUMENTARIES BY WOMEN:

GROUNDBREAKER: The Beaches of Agnès, Agnès Varda

ABOVE AND BEYOND: American Casino, Leslie Cockburn

COURAGE IN FILMMAKING: Tattooed Under Fire, Nancy Schiesari

WFCC TOP TEN HALL OF SHAME

Antichrist: The cinematic equivalent of nails down a chalkboard. Pretentious pornography, satanic sex, and Willem Dafoe as an artsy New Age femocidal sexorcist.

Deadgirl: Again the theme is vile sexual violence to women. In this case, the woman is dead and the men can do what they like with her And they do. This film brings out the worst of male fantasies towards women, and it wasn't a pretty sight.

Downloading Nancy: The sexual violence towards Nancy, even though she asked for and seemed to want it, was difficult to absorb.

Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past: Matthew McConaughey as cardboard cutout misogynist, in one too many phone-it-in rom-coms featuring toxic bachelors.

Pirate Radio: Horrible male characters who treat women like a floating meat market.

Precious: If this film were a poor 'white trash' family/community, it wouldn't have received the applause that it did. The point is that it promotes prejudice against blacks, fat women, unmarried women, less educated women and a whole lot more. That it is successful screams out for another film from the same neighborhood where the family is kept above the fray of stereotyping, by a strong unmarried mother.

Twilight Saga: New Moon: Bella (lead human female) is completely pathetic, the whole giving up one's soul thing. How sad is it when a gal in a small town picks two boys she likes, one is a vampire and one is a werewolf.

Up In The Air: 'Just think of me as yourself, only with a vagina.' Oh, puh-leez! Who was this corporate female predaor [Vera Farmiga] supposed to be, this gorgeous, available babe with no back story and the magic ability to pull two sexy black dresses from her rollaway with no prior notice?!?!?

Two words: Judd Apatow. Some more words: perfect, beautiful women exist to save overweight schlubby men from their otherwise inevitable fate as complete no-hopers.

Worst Full Frontal Male Nudity 2009: Observe And Report's comedic flabby flasher. Ha Ha.

*Please Note: The WFCC Top Ten Hall Of Shame represents the 'don't tell me to shut up' sidebar contribution of individual members, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the entire Circle. Also, members may be objecting to particular characters in a film, and not the entire movie.


*ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: Adrienne Shelly was a promising actress and filmmaker who was brutally strangled in her apartment in 2006 at the age of forty by a construction worker in the building, after she complained about noise. Her killer tried to cover up his crime by hanging her from a shower20rack in her bathroom, to make it look like a suicide. He later confessed that he was having a "bad day." Shelly, who left behind a baby daughter, had just completed her film Waitress, which she also starred in, and which was honored at Sundance after her death.

*JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: The daughter of a laundress and a musician, Baker overcame being born black, female and poor, and marriage at age fifteen, to become an internationally acclaimed legendary performer, starring in the films Princess Tam Tam, Moulin Rouge and Zou Zou. She also survived the race riots in East St. Louis, Illinois as a child, and later expatriated to France to escape US racism. After participating heroically in the underground French Resistance during WWII, Baker returned to the US where she was a crusader for racial equality. Her activism led to attacks against her by reporter Walter Winchell who denounced her as a communist, leading her to wage a battle against him. Baker was instrumental in ending segregation in many theaters and clubs, where she refused to perform unless integration was implemented.

*KAREN MORLEY AWARD: Karen Morley was a promising Hollywood star in the 1930s, in such films as Mata Hari and Our Daily Bread. She was driven out of Hollywood for her leftist political convictions by the Blacklist and for refusing to testify against other actors, while Robert Taylor and Sterling Hayden were informants against her. And also for daring to have a child and become a mother, unacceptable for female stars in those days. Morley maintained her militant political activism for the rest of her life, running for Lieutenant Governor on the American Labor Party ticket in 1954. She passed away in 2003, unrepentant to the end, at the age of 93.

12/28/09

Rest in Peace, Dan O'Bannon


In all the hubub of the holiday, the sad news of Dan O'Bannon's passing was lost in the shuffle. Which is, in a way, characteristic of what happened to O'Bannon throughout his career. He was never a celebrity of the showbiz scene, and perhaps that's because he was truly one of "us". Just another geek. And I don't say that to marginalize him in any way. I say it with pride, to claim him as one of our own. He made it in the industry, able to channel all that passion and knowledge into a formidable career. And if he can make it, so can any of us. In fact, we may all want to consider striving to be more like Dan O'Bannon than Steven Spielberg or George Lucas.

I'm sorry to say I had never even heard of him until my Dad gifted me with the deluxe box set of Alien a few years ago. I'm a special features junkie, my whole family has always craved behind-the-scenes info, so when my Dad saw the box set, he passed it onto me quickly.

When Dan O'Bannon popped onscreen, I thought I had kind of died and gone to geek heaven. He was so blissfully uncool, relating his harrowing tales of trying to make it in the film industry. Sleeping on friends' couches, living with frustration while his freshman efforts were scoffed at, and continuing on no matter what criticism or trouble he faced. Because what he loved more than anything in the world was to tell a story and get a reaction out of an audience. There was nothing arrogant about him, he shared credit, he had no shame when talking about weeping the first time he saw Alien on the big screen. He was so incredibly easy to love.

Only later did I find out that he was also responsible for another one of my kinder-traumas, the apocalyptic sci-fi horror film, Lifeforce. He also did the surprisingly well-done Invaders from Mars, which seems like it should be silly now simply because of the time and budget with which it was made. But it lives on like the kid's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In fact, movies like The Faculty borrowed heavily from that film. I still get a kick out of watching it.
O'Bannon was charming and down-to-earth. He was the perfect example of why "geek" is a way of life. Geeks can never become cool, because they can't help themselves. They can become successful and respected and well-loved. But we will always be those child-like, some would say over-enthusiastic people. And when one of us breaks through the way Dan did, there's just no looking back. Dan was grateful for his success and gracious about it.

Watching O'Bannon talk with a gray head of hair was probably exactly like watching him in his younger days. (When he was quite the handsome fellow.) He never changed who he was and his trademark style was all over his amazing screenplays. He was a master of tension and suspense and he consistently payed homage to the comics and films that he loved as a child, never willing to separate his work from his inspirations and therefore never creating anything he needed to be ashamed of, whether something he worked on became a timeless hit or a cult classic.

He will be sorely missed and I'm truly sad I never had the chance to sit down and talk with him about any of his work or his life.

Dan O'Bannon
1946-2009


12/25/09

Merry Christmas

Have a great holiday, in the spirit of unlikely pairings!



P.S. Jake got me a ukelele for Christmas. I think my head is going to explode with joy.

12/22/09

Zombie Girl - Interview with Co-Director Aaron Marshall


As the year draws to a close, I'm still cleaning out ye olde freelance closet. Which means some articles written for publication that hit the floor are getting a second shot at life here on my blog. This one was written in August and due for publication around Halloween...

12/21/09

Did You Hear About the Morgans? - minor spoilers


This movie is getting slammed by critics everywhere. Rather harshly, I believe. I saw it this weekend with my best friend, and I tend to avoid reading any other reviews of movies before I write my own. But one arrived in my inbox today, so my policy went briefly out the window.

However, I think this movie is the perfect segue to a subject I've been wanting to talk about in regards to film reviews for a long time. For starters, it's the notion that critics should go into seeing a film with a fairly blank palette...

12/15/09

Vikings, Sea Monsters and Mel Gibson...no, seriously.


This week's script news over at fivesprockets.com. Read it and weep. Oh, how I LOVE you Universal monsters...but especially you Gill Man. In fact, my second ever freelance writing assignment was a eulogy for Ben Chapman, the original Gill Man himself as seen in this picture. In fact, I can remember watching the original, "Creature from the Black Lagoon" as a kid, and between that and, "African Queen", and seeing, "Jurassic Park" in the theater at the age of ten, my love of the jungle adventure genre was born!

On a random note...it's just occuring to me how often I write eulogies...weird.

Ten Points for Vulnerability

I guess since I'm in graduate school for creative writing, I should probably start to share some of that every now and then, huh?

The Year I Looked My Best
A fictionalized account of the unnattractive side of youth and beauty...
Read More

And here's a Haunted Mansion inspired short fiction...

When the Lights Go Down in the Haunted Mansion
What if the animatronics of the Haunted Mansion weren't just parts and electricity? I wrote this for a live reading, so it may lose a bit without being performed...
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My One and Only - Movie Review



My One and Only is a movie that quietly came and went this year. I received a copy of it for the end of the year Women's Film Critics Circle awards voting, and out of all of the films I received, this was one that I wanted to watch immediately. I'm a bit of a documentary freak, so this was a welcome genre break for me...

12/14/09

Director of Confessions of a Superhero Responds to Dennis Interview

Matt Ogens, the director of the captivating and entertaining documentary, Confessions of a Superhero, sent me an email after I posted my last entry. He wanted to let his side of the story be known, and of course, I am more than happy to oblige...

12/8/09

Catching up with Superman - Christopher Dennis of the documentary Confessions of a Superhero


I did this interview with Christopher last May, and it was slated for publication in Geek Monthly this summer, and then again most recently for the Digital Subscriber's issue this November. To be honest, I'm not sure if it was published or not, hitting the cutting room floor is a normal part of the freelance writing experience. (If I find that it is in print somewhere, I'll take it down here.)

But this was, hands down, my favorite interview I've ever done and I didn't want to let it fall by the wayside just because the article is now timed out, technically speaking. So here it is, the interview with Christopher Dennis, which will also catch you up on a few of the other superheroes from the documentary.

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If you’ve seen, “Confessions of a Superhero” then you already know the name Christopher Dennis. If you haven’t seen the quirky documentary about struggling actors in Los Angeles, then perhaps you’ve heard of, “The Hollywood Superman”. You may have seen him on Jimmy Kimmel as part of a troupe of performing Superheroes. You may have seen him posing for photographs with tourists in front of the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theater dressed as Superman. Then again, maybe you’ve never heard of him at all.

12/7/09

Still Remembering Bea



Hard as it may be to digest, we're already coming up on the end of the year. You know what that means? Retrospective city. Everywhere you look, from the internet to those horribly obnoxious entertainment shows (that I watch with deep shame on a fairly regular basis) you can expect to find lists of those celebrities who have passed away in 2009. The worst one for me, that's still stinging, was Bea Arthur. I'm still thinking of her, still mourning the fact that I will never meet her, and so I thought I too would jump in on the retrospective action and publish my eulogy for Bea here. It was originally posted on forcesofgeek.com...

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I’ve been resisting writing about this since I heard the news last Sunday. I quite literally don’t know how to deal with it. I got the news via text message and I started crying, in a very public place. This is worse than the feeling I had when Majel Roddenberry passed away. You see, Bea Arthur was the one famous person I really and truly wanted to meet.

I’ve always had a place in my heart for strong women, and most of that place has been occupied by various action heroines and comic book characters. So Bea Arthur being thrown into that mix might strike some people as odd, seeing as how she dominated in the genre of television comedy. She never threw a punch or knocked out a bad guy. But her wit was lightning quick and her comedic timing was absolutely razor sharp.

She was the queen of strong women on television. She was a powerhouse. She could reduce you to absolute tears of laughter with a single facial expression. She was so smart with her comedy that she could slay an audience with a single line.

Like most women my age, I grew up watching Bea on The Golden Girls with my grandma. I own all seven seasons, my Golden Girls t-shirt is my favorite item of clothing, and the show gets played on regular rotation at my house. Sometimes it’s just on as background noise; the mere familiar sounds of it comfort me as I cook dinner or do chores. I have my favorite episodes, and my favorite moments and lines. They don’t call it a cult classic for nothing. You see, fans like me are not rare. I know at least a handful of them in my close circle of friends.

Sure, Golden Girls is fodder for a lot of jokes today, a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor, particularly at the expense of Bea Arthur. Because she just never fit into anybody’s mold. She didn’t technically belong anywhere. Her voice was “too deep”, she was “too tall”, and the criticisms go on and on. She made people uncomfortable, and that’s what she thrived off of, it’s where her comedy came from. She took what was surely her source of pain and made it into her gift, and her income.

So it makes sense to me that she’s just a joke to a slew of people, and not in a good way. I guess it’s that high school boy hiding inside of the general public that just can’t resist taking a stab at her appearance or her stature. Pardon me if I'm a bit defensive...I told you, I loved this woman.

Bea once told a story on a Golden Girls behind-the-scenes special feature about trying to be a jazz singer, and how she got laughed off the stage because of her deep voice. That would crush most people. Forever. But not her, she figured out right then and there that she was meant for comedy and she just went for it, metaphorical guns blazing. That, to me, takes great strength. Years later, she finally got the opportunity to sing on the show, and she did a beautiful rendition of Irving Berlin’s stunning, “What’ll I do” that will take on a whole new meaning to me now. Naturally, she still found a way to make it into comedy gold.



I’ve been putting off writing about this, because it’s so hard for me to find the words. I know how kooky I sound. It’s all very, “Leave Britney alone!” I know that. And I’ve written about the Golden Girls many times before, usually defensively, trying to convince people that it is a truly great show and not something to be mocked. (You can find my most impassioned plea HERE.)

But what can I honestly say? All I could do would be to trip over myself begging for you to genuinely give Bea a chance. But actually, I think everyone really loves her, even if they feel they have to in secret because they don’t want to admit flipping to the Lifetime channel to watch her in re-runs.

She was so intelligent about choosing roles, even post-Golden Girls. She lent her voice to a classic episode of Futurama and managed to literally give me chills with just her voice. She had me grabbing my sides with her cameo on Malcom in the Middle, and I didn’t even like that show. I hated it actually, but hey, for Bea...

She, like every other legend of comedy, knew how to draw all of the attention from the audience at all times and every scene she was ever in, she stole completely. What made her even better? She knew this about herself, and she was gracious with her larger than life presence. She wasn’t a scene hog. She wasn’t a diva. She even chose to leave the Golden Girls after the seventh season, when it likely could’ve gone on for much longer, because she was afraid she didn’t have it in her anymore. So maybe it wasn’t humility, but perhaps that which lies at the heart of every true comedian, self-consciousness.

Whatever it was, I can’t tell you how sorry I am to have never experienced it in person. I can’t tell you how much more I will cherish my worn down DVD’s of my favorite television show. Now, every time I crack up at one of her scathing looks to the also departed Estelle Getty, I’ll feel a twinge of sadness. Because there’s just nobody like her. There are no young Bea Arthurs out there, no up and coming character actresses that even come close to her genius. It’s a different world now than it was when she came up in the entertainment business. You have to look a certain way, for the most part, to get anywhere now.

Can you imagine anyone on television or in the music industry looking the way people did even 20 years ago?

But I’m getting off topic. The death of Bea Arthur is a tragic loss, even if it was to be expected. I’m just beside myself. I know that’s completely irrational, but I feel like I lost my grandmother. Because really, wasn’t Bea the third grandmother we all secretly wished was ours? Maybe that was just me…

I’m just doing a really awful job of this. I’m a writer, I’m supposed to know what to say, exactly how to put it. But I can’t. So I guess I’ll just say how I really feel, despite how obnoxious this makes me sound.

Bea, you have no idea how much I respect you. How much I wish I could make a dent in the world even one tenth the size that you did. To break barriers, to inspire such raucous laughter, to take such great strides for women in the entertainment industry, and to so completely get over myself the way I’m sure you had to after facing the criticisms that you did in this world.

You will be sorely, sorely missed, even by people from a generation born after Golden Girls started airing. You didn’t realize it, but you were an absolute legend. You affected our lives, deeply. An entire generation of little girls grew up watching you, and you taught us that it’s better to be smart than to be a bimbo. That there’s a place in this world for women who don’t fit the mold and that it’s very important to always have a good comeback. For that and more, I am genuinely thankful, and I’ll continue to draw inspiration from your legendary comedy for the rest of my life.