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Showing posts from 2017

All I Want for Christmas: Top Five Christmas Films

Subversive Christmas films are the best kind of Christmas films. I appreciate when films offer commentary and insight on the season's often-nauseating cheer and crass commercialism, revealing the darker side of it all, the stuff most of us want to ignore this time of year. So in the spirit of the season, here's my top five Christmas films, each of which resides a little left of center. And it should surprise absolutely no one that my top yuletide season flick stars—drum roll, please—Michelle Pfeiffer. As always, this list is subject to change slightly, annually. Please, share your lists below, and we can argue about movies as if we were drunk relatives at the Christmas table screaming about politics. Hey, can you pass the eggnog?
1. Batman Returns (1992)

Michelle Pfeiffer. ‘nuff said, but I’ll say more. As Selina Kyle/Catwoman, she has the film’s most complete character arc, a personal growth journey that begins with Selina as a meek, put-upon, frightened little mouse, only to…

All I Want for Christmas: Joan Collins in Tales from the Crypt

Tales from the Crypt (1972) is a delightful little horror anthology, the sort of film that was quite popular in the 1970s but isn't made nearly as often today. Each segment, based on the old EC Comics series, is true to the original's spirit, capturing that magnificently English sense of the macabre to perfection. For me though, one segment stands out above the rest, the first one, "...And All Through the House".

Out of all the segments in the film, this one makes best use of its short running time, small cast, and limited setting—all of the action takes place in one house on Christmas Eve. Yet even more than it being the epitome of the perfect short horror story—an art form unto itself, and one that few have ever mastered—it also features one of the most fabulous actresses to ever sashay across the screen: Joan Collins.

Every holiday season, I'm fascinated with images like the one above, which juxtapose the merry trappings of the season with powerful, bloody mom…

It Came From the '90s: "Silver and Bold!" Silver Sable & the Wild Pack

I’ve recently come into possession of the first twenty issues of Silver Sable & the Wild Pack (1992, Marvel Comics), a mostly forgotten '90s spinoff series (Sable first appeared in a Spider-Man story). Silver is currently starring in a one-shot that picks up the numbering of this series, so it seems like the right time to look back at her '90s output.

I knew nearly nothing about the character, beyond that she shared a first name and hair color with one of my favorite Batman love interests, Silver St. Cloud (look her up, kids, she was the bomb back in the day—she figured out Bruce was Batman!). After one issue of Silver Sable, though, I knew the important stuff: Silver's a fierce and highly skilled mercenary for hire, a shrewd businesswoman running an international empire, and a serious Type A personality who has no time for your sentimental bullshit. The oft-overused term “badass” (I'm as guilty as the next) doesn’t do her justice. She’s Adrienne Barbeau and Pam G…

Barely Making a Dent: December 2017 Books

In which our narrator tries to read his way through the endless stacks of books that are slowly overtaking both his bookshelves and his life.

Earlier this year, I noted the preponderance of pictures of Marilyn Monroe reading. They probably have their own subreddit devoted to them. She loved books, and photographers loved to shoot her reading them. And if you're writing a regular column about the books you're reading, then slapping a photo of Marilyn up top certainly can't hurt. In fact, like a carefully curated home library, Marilyn reading will always help class up the joint. True fact.

This got me thinking: what's the best Marilyn book out there? I'd like to read one, but a good one, which means avoiding anything sordid or trashy. I want a thoughtful overview of her life and career. I'm not even that interested in a straight bio, but instead want a book by a writer who can place her within her appropriate cultural context, offering insights into what made her…

Cinematic Yearning, or, a seasonal lament for the films I won't be seeing in theaters

The trailer for I, Tonya is absolutely bonkers, both heartbreaking and hilarious, and I want to give Margot Robbie all the awards based on this small sampling of her work in the film.

To me, and again based on these few minutes of scenes, it has a similar vibe to Gus Van Sant's To Die For, which featured a jaw-dropping Nicole Kidman performance. Both films seem to be about mentally unstable women obsessed with fame or fortune who resort to some form of illegality—murder in To Die For, clubbing Nancy Kerrigan in the knees in I, Tonya—to further their careers.

Kidman's work in To Die For is, pardon the pun, to die for. I may be reading too much into a trailer, but it's looking like Robbie could turn in a similarly exceptional performance in a similarly challenging role.
For that and other reasons, I'm chomping at the bit to see this movie. It opens Friday.
Unfortunately, I'll probably have to wait several months to see it on-demand, or via streaming or Blu-ray/DVD. …

Michelle Pfeiffer, the Early Years: Delta House

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.
We all have to start somewhere, right?
Thank your lucky stars you didn’t start with Delta House like Michelle Pfeiffer did. In 1979, her first major screen work (after a brief appearance on an episode of Fantasy Island the previous year) was on this atrociously bad and unsurprisingly short-lived sitcom/cash-grab—remember, it was spun out of the previous year's mega-hit film Animal House. In a cast of painfully juvenile and misogynist frat boys, she played a character named, and I kid you not, “Bombshell.” Is it any wonder she went on to spend her career resisting attempts at pigeonholing her based on her looks.
Yes, I’ve seen several episodes of this series. And yes, it’s as awful as I’m describing it. I actually watched it a bit in reruns back in the 1980s, and let me tell you, it’s as bad now as it was then. The fact that I’ve rewatched a few …

It Came From the '90s: For D’arcy (Sail on Silver Girl)

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Search any dorm room across campus, circa 1995, and you'd likely find a copy of Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. Many copies would've been acquired through BMG's or Columbia House's music clubs ("12 Hot Hits for a Cool Penny"). "Cecilia" was always a hallway jam favorite, especially in the girls' dorms, but "Bridge over Troubled Water" was deep, man.

Sail on silver girl Sail on by Your time has come to shine All your dreams are on their way See how they shine Oh, if you need a friend I'm sailing right behind Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
That image of "Silver Girl" was particularly evocative to me—of what, I wasn't quite sure, but it was all so lovely and damaged in its own twee way. Who was this Silver Girl? Was I s…

30 Years On: Adventures in Babysitting

Elisabeth Shue's iconic 1980s wardrobe in Adventures in Babysitting (1987) is forever burned into the brains of Gen Xers everywhere—thanks in no small part to constant cable TV airings of the film in the late '80s and early '90s. Even today, it's impossible to see a women wearing a beige overcoat without seeing Shue, in that film, in my head. If it hasn't already happened, the ensemble should be preserved forever in the Smithsonian. After all, it's an essential reminder of our shoulder-padded youth.

Adventures in Babysitting turned thirty this year. Reaching the point in your life where you can add thirty years to the age you were when you first saw a movie is utterly depressing. Eh, let's not wallow in our own decaying states. Instead, let's celebrate a little film that meant something to many of us as children, even if today its flaws are easier to spot (some dated stereotypes being chief among them). Adventures isn't nearly as strong as a couple …

Michelle Pfeiffer: I Am Sam

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

I Am Sam (2001) never entirely worked for me, mainly because at times its efforts to tug at my heart strings seem too obvious, even bordering on manipulative. However, Michelle Pfeiffer's costarring performance, alongside Sean Penn, is nothing short of excellent. The New Yorker review said it best, "Pfeiffer, enormously likable in the role, almost saves the movie." It's one of her most underrated performances, and also one of my personal favorites.

Pfeiffer is Rita Harrison Williams, an attorney and mother overwhelmed by these difficult duel responsibilities. She's a serious Type A personality, with compulsive, obsessive tendencies, and an extremely harsh view of herself and the world. She's cynical, taking on Sam's custody case to prove she isn't heartless, that she'll do pro bono work. Of course, as the film pr…

Michelle Pfeiffer: One Fine Day

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

The classic screwball romantic comedy, when done right, is beautiful to behold. In 1996, established superstar Michelle Pfeiffer starred alongside then-rising Hollywood hunk George Clooney in the charming and delightful One Fine Day. When mentioning Pfeiffer's best work, this film isn't often named, but it deserves to be. Certainly, it's a light, frothy affair, which might lead some to dismiss it as unworthy. That would be a mistake, as Pfeiffer is simply radiant in a memorably sublime performance.

It's an utter joy to be in Pfeiffer's and Clooney's company here, tagging along as they make their way through one exceptionally frenzied day in the lives of two busy New Yorkers just trying to wrangle their kids while also doing their jobs. You know, just the usual adulting stuff, really. Throw into the mix that Pfeiffer's sin…

Joan Didion is Having a Moment

“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.”
— Joan Didion, "Goodbye To all That
The new Joan Didion Netflix documentary, The Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne, is at the center of a well-deserved return to the spotlight for one of our greatest American writers. Countless insightful op-eds and articles have been written about her since the documentary dropped a few weeks ago, and I've read every one I could find. Joan Didion is having a moment, and any time a writer of her import is discussed, our society is better for it. If only we spent more time discussing the written word and how much it gets at the heart of our grand, flawed condition. Can you imagine what that world would look like?

Didion's work, her writing, particularly in e…

Michelle Pfeiffer: New Year's Eve

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

Revisiting nearly every one of Michelle Pfeiffer's over these last few months means carrying her entire career's worth of scenes and moments and dialogue around with me, in my head, like old friends keeping me company. I'm as surprised as you might be to admit that one moment I can't seem to stop thinking about is the end credits scene from the ensemble rom-com, New Year's Eve (2011).
The cinematic crimes against humanity in this film are legion: it's maudlin, treacly, and manipulative; many of the female characters lack sufficient agency; and don't even get me started on Katherine Heigl and Bon Freaking Jovi. But then there's Pfeiffer, who manages to make her little story arc feel true, and deeply affecting. She rises above the rest of this mess, even managing to elevate Zac Efron along with her.

Michelle is Ingrid, …

Rank 'em: The Halloween Franchise Films

What better way to celebrate Halloween than by revisiting every single one of the Halloween franchise films? That's just what I've been doing all month long, so you know what that means: I'm a little punchy at this point and it's time to rank 'em.

A few spoilers lie ahead, of course.

10. and 9. Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009)

I'm lumping together the two Rob Zombie reboots because, frankly, they're equally bad. Zombie added a stereotypical Zombie touch to the franchise lore—Michael Myers' family was pure white trash! Michael's mom was an exotic dancer! Dr. Loomis once looked like an old, dirty hippie!—but almost none of it worked, nor was any of it even necessary. Instead, it took what made the taut and lean original so good and bloated it into something unrecognizable. I'm a fan of Zombie's House of a 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, but the less said about these two films the better.

8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)


Barely Making a Dent: October 2017 Books

In which our narrator tries to read his way through the endless stacks of books that are slowly overtaking both his bookshelves and his life.

This time of year brings several things to mind: leaves changing color, chilly yet comfortable autumn air, pumpkin ales and pumpkin spice everything, candy corn, and of course Halloween. As a horror fan, this month is almost overwhelming—the desire to watch and read all the horror, all month long, is all-consuming. Of course that's not possible, but I am trying.

I've been working my way through rewatching all of the Halloween franchise films; just watched the sagging sixth film (Curse of Michael Myers)—which is always a big letdown after watching Tina and her neon heart in the previous film (Revenge of Michael Myers)—so only four more to go, counting the two Rob Zombie flicks.

Then the eerie and haunting Mindhunter appeared out of nowhere and, six episodes in, I'm completely hooked. I've also been reading some horror novels and c…