Monday, March 31, 2008

Classic Controversy: Casablanca-Style

Okay, I admit that I don't think Casablanca is all it's cracked up to be. I think it's really good, but I never quite got the universal veneration. I totally respect its place in cinema, though, and I appreciate what it represents about the studio system and classic Hollywood in general. However, I think Humphrey Bogart has all the appeal of a dead fish. I don't buy that Ingrid Bergman would fall in love with him to such an extreme. It just doesn't make sense, but she makes me believe it, simply because she's such an extraordinary actress. Don't get me wrong, Bergman is divine in Casablanca. Bogart is just an overrated dud. And frankly, my dear (I know, different movie, but same time period), I think Casablanca is kind of a snooze-fest.

That being said, I am about ready to burst a blood vessel upon hearing a rumor today that there might be a remake of Casablanca starring MADONNA in Bergman's role. What the...? Oh no, she didn't! I may not love the film, but I am extremely loyal to classic Hollywood. Casablanca has its rightful place in history, and it's so iconic. Leave. It. Alone. I've never recovered from the Psycho remake fiasco. For me, that was the biggest assault on classic cinema imaginable (and still is), but to touch Casablanca is an insult of equal magnitude. Why? What's the point? I guess they might "modernize" it and set it during the Iraq War or something. Ooh, how daring. Look what happened when Gus Stupid van Sant "modernized" Psycho, but shot-by-shot. HUH? Those two ideas are so antithetical. I actually originally typed "shot-by-shit" - maybe that IS a more accurate description. My subconscious is speaking through my keyboard fumbling. Anyway, I've also recently been reeling about the remake of The Women, which is more of a catastrophe on a personal level than a historical one. This Casablanca business is way worse and way more significant in the grand scheme of things. Are we so creatively bankrupt in Hollywood that we have to resort to desecrating cinematic paragons? Apparently so. I hope this STAYS a rumor.

So, put the mere idea of a remake of Casablanca aside for a moment and focus on this...MADONNA. That's actually the most appalling part of this for me. Casablanca and Madonna in the same sentence. What a world. Honey, you look hot for your age, but you're no Ingrid Bergman. Don't even try. Ilsa isn't supposed to be 50. Bogart was apparently born middle-aged and was a notorious cradle-robber in films, but the age gap between Madonna and the character of Ilsa is more of a chasm. And it's MADONNA, for crying out loud. She's terrible! She can't act! That's a bit of a problem, isn't it? And is the score going to consist of all Madonna songs? "Play it again, Sam. Play...'Like a Virgin.'" Instead of dueling national anthems, will it be "Vogue" versus "Like a Prayer"? Is this a demented publicity stunt to promote a new album or something? A pathetic bid for an Oscar? This is cinematic blasphemy of the highest order. No way. This cannot happen.

Boy, things certainly do change as time goes by, don't they?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"She Said, He Said": "Follow That Link!" Edition

Hello, wonderful and loyal readers! I sincerely hope you enjoyed the first installment of “She Said, He Said” as much as Bill and I enjoyed writing it. Mame was certainly a juicy first topic! I’m sorry that this week’s collaboration is a couple days late. Bill posted it early-ish on Friday, but then we were doing some extra fine-tuning throughout the day to get it just right, so I wanted to wait to post my part telling you it was good to go. We took some extra time getting this entry together because, as Bill mentions in his intro, we both insist on quality and take our work very seriously.

From now on, we absolutely promise to deliver “She Said, He Said” on Wednesday, its regularly scheduled day. For the first entry, we posted it on both of our blogs, but now we’ve officially begun the switching-off process. Bill hosted it this week, I’ll host it next week, and it’ll continue to alternate like that. So, please check back with us and come along on our critical journey. After all, you are the cheese to our macaroni. Wizard.

I guarantee this week’s topic is a good one. Bill and I had a lot of fun, and we’re both very passionate about the subject. What is it? Well, you’ll have to go
here to find out!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Accio An Extra Harry Potter Film!

Wow, my spell must have worked, because magical dreaming and speculation has turned into reality. And yes, I know this post is extremely belated, but so what? Big whoop. Wanna fight about it? If you're not familiar with Family Guy, you won't get that last bit or find it funny, so I'm sorry. But I'm pretty proud of myself for incorporating it, and at least I'm amused by it, right?

So, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is being split into two films. That's a HUGE deal. I'm absolutely over the moon (or over the Luna) about this development. I'm a gigantic Harry Potter fan and not ashamed of it one bit. But most Harry Potter fans are assholes, and they complain about everything. With all the movies, it's been gripe after gripe. "How could they possibly leave this part out? They're including this, but not THAT?!" "The movies are too long." "The movies aren't long enough." "The casting is all wrong." "Michael Gambon is no Richard Harris." It's so annoying! The last "complaint" really irks me. Richard Harris died! What were they supposed to do? Cut Dumbledore out of the last five films? And I think it's wonderful that Gambon has put his own spin on the character. That shows even more respect to Harris. If he came in and just did an impersonation, that would be ridiculous. I love what Gambon has added to Dumbledore.

I've never had any issues with what they did and did not include in the films. Of course, there's stuff I would like to see, but I don't get upset about it. I know it's not realistic to show everything. It's not humanly possible. If they tried to show or even touch upon everything from the books, each movie would be 8 hours long. I give the filmmakers so much credit, and I think they're amazing. They capture the magic and maintain the integrity of the books and always manage to keep the films fresh and exciting. I have no quibbles with their decisions whatsoever. The films are such huge undertakings, and who am I to tell them how to do it? It's an interpretation, and J.K. Rowling always approves, so what more can you want? I'm just grateful that they're doing it at all. Cut them some slack! Give them a break! They have done and will continue to do an extraordinary job with the series.

So, even now, when you would think all the Harry Potter fans would be thrilled about an extra film, there's STILL murmuring and complaining all over the internet. "Why does it have to be split it into two? Can't they fit it all into one?" "Each better be x hours long, otherwise it's a scam." "I can't believe we have to wait six months in between films. That sucks!" All the people who were so pissed about their favorite parts being left out are now upset that there's double the time to fit everything in? I don't get it. As far as waiting six months in between films...get a life. Grow up. You waited forever in between books. What's the difference? The anticipation will be so exciting! Just when you think it's over - BAM! - another film. That's awesome, if you ask me. It's double the Potter! Be grateful! What's an extra 10 bucks, really?

Let me deal with the scam issue for a moment. IS it just a scam to make more money? Perhaps. I'm sure that's a little part of it. I'll play devil's advocate. Maybe they do want to milk the franchise for all its worth. But when you think of how much it'll cost the studio to make another huge budget film, it seems highly unlikely that they would go to all that trouble for selfish financial reasons. J.K. Rowling is cool with it, and that's good enough for me! I believe their cause really is noble, because they truly care about the integrity of the books and films. The people involved with the films believe the last book can't be sacrificed. There's too much in it to cut anything out. I agree. I'm sure there were opportunities before to split films up, and nothing ever happened. It makes sense to do it for the last book. I want every last detail included. I don't want to miss out on anything.

Also, there's a lot of anger about the return of David Yates to direct the last two parts. I thought he did a great job with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He was better than Columbus, but not as good as Cuaron or Newell. I'm sure it wasn't for lack of trying to get a different director. The bigwigs always prided themselves on keeping it fresh. They had asked Peter Jackson, and they had been after Guillermo del Toro for a long time. Of course, he had to make Hellboy II. Don't get me started... They obviously have faith in Yates, and I think we should, too. He did a fine job with Order of the Phoenix. Let's see what he does with Half-Blood Prince. Give the man a chance. Okay, I'd prefer another director, just to break it up, but I'm fine with him directing the rest of the franchise. I think he'll evolve and grow and learn with the material. So, be nice to David Yates!

So, scam or not, I don't care. Bring. It. On. All I care about is that I get an extra Harry Potter film. I thought it was going to end at seven, so it's amazing that there's now an eighth. It's that simple. There won't be any compromises in the amount or presentation of the material, and it prolongs the experience. I thought I was going to be Potter-less after fall 2010. Now, I won't be. There will be one last deserved hurrah. I don't care if I have to wait an extra six months until late spring or early summer 2011. In fact, that's great! It'll be so exciting to have that to look forward to, and I'm really intrigued to see where they're going to cut it off at the end of the first part.

The bottom line is this: MORE POTTER. What else matters? This decision is bloody brilliant.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Behold the Power and the Glory of Vagina Dentata

I FINALLY saw Teeth again. Glory hallelujah! Like I mentioned in a previous post, I got to see it at an advanced Chicago critics’ screening, so it was extra amazing because the little theater has the greatest picture and sound and is all cozy and intimate. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing it. When it started, I was in shock. I had been waiting for so long to be reunited with this modern masterpiece. It was almost ten months since I had seen it at Cannes, and I’ve been hyping it up so much to anyone who will listen. I’ve posted several blog entries about it even. I knew it was amazing, but I was worried that in my Cannes stupor, maybe I got a little carried away. What if it wasn’t as good as I remembered it? I’ve spent ten months anticipating its return. Could anything live up to that?

Well, no worries. It lived up to the anticipation and more. It was just as phenomenal as I remembered. In fact, it was even better. I totally needed a refresher course in vagina dentata. And this time, I wasn’t all groggy and dazed from the Cannes craziness and total lack of sleep. I knew it was special when I first saw it, though. But as the months have gone on, I’ve just built it up and up, and I’m thrilled that it surpassed my own hype. Teeth is an outstanding film. It’s going to end up really high on my list for 2008’s best films. It could easily top it.

Seeing it last week with the critics was just such a great experience. It wasn’t very crowded. There were maybe only 10 people there, with me being the only female. THAT was fun. I felt like an amateur anthropologist. I desperately wanted to see it in that formal setting with a bunch of middle-aged, mature men. I wanted to witness their reactions. And I wasn’t disappointed. They were wonderful, and I think most of them really enjoyed it. There were gleeful moments when I could practically feel every man crossing his legs uncomfortably. Lots of shocked, amused and, if I dare say, delighted looks were exchanged, and the laughter was plentiful. I even got to talk to a couple great men after the screening about it, and it was a blast, as well as totally enlightening. I have to admit – I felt pretty powerful being the only woman in that room.

So, in my Cannes post about it, I tried to avoid giving the secret away, but since everyone knows about it now, I can talk about the plot pretty freely. Teeth is about Dawn O’Keefe, an ultra-religious high-school student. She’s a walking poster for abstinence and chastity. Dawn gives lectures to other religious zealots about waiting and the “gift” that is their virginity. Her eager listeners chant practiced responses in a very zombie-like, cult-ish manner. The rest of the students in the school, outside of this little group, ridicule her constantly. But, naturally, all the jerks making fun of her want to nail her, to put it delicately. She’s a hot, puritanical virgin. What better conquest could there be? Dawn is totally naïve and clueless about her sexuality, and she’s almost impossibly sweet and innocent. She has a step-brother, Brad, who is her total opposite. He’s a drug-addled, hyper-sexualized beast. Her mother is very sick, and it’s amazing that such a movie could make this plot element not only believable, but touching. Dawn’s step-father is also terrific and supportive of Dawn. She’s the good seed; Brad is the bad seed. Hmm, “seed” sort of takes on a different meaning in this film, doesn’t it? And here’s the kicker: Brad is totally in love with Dawn and wants to have sex with her.

So, at these Christian mini-rallies, Dawn meets Tobey, a like-minded, presumably harmless suitor. They’re instantly attracted, and Dawn starts experiencing sexual thoughts and urges for the first time in her life. She’s been so insanely repressed that she doesn’t know how to handle her natural sexual instincts. But, even with the temptation, she still sticks by her vow: “Purity.” One day, Dawn decides she absolutely has to meet up with Tobey because her libido is overpowering, even though she has no intention to go all the way and doesn’t even really know what it all means. She meets him by this secluded cave, complete with a romantic waterfall, prepared for a swim in the least-revealing bathing suit ever, and frisky romping in the water ensues. Cold and wanting to warm up, Dawn climbs into a nook in the cave, and Tobey follows. They kiss a little, and he wants to go further, but she tells him no. Well, no doesn’t mean no for Tobey. He proceeds to attack her and rape her. He doesn’t get very far, though. In her panic and terror and traumatization, Dawn’s…special talent…rears it head. Her toothed vagina bites off his penis. Serves him right. She had no idea this was inside of her, and it only manifested itself when provoked. Dawn was being raped and violated, and she was scared. Then, her vagina took over.

I think that’s as much of the plot as I should describe. She begins investigating what’s happening to her and learns about the phenomenon known as “vagina dentata.” While she’s still terribly confused, her vagina doesn’t attack unless it has a reason to (wow, this sounds ridiculous…I love it!), and she doesn’t know how to control it. It bites when she’s scared or, as the story progresses, angry. When the anger starts setting in, that’s when she begins to harness control of her power. At first, it’s instinctual. It’s proven that she can have sex normally, without incident, if she feels safe. But, when frightened or mad, watch out. Dawn evolves from a very shy, naïve, sexually repressed girl into a confident, strong, sexually-realized woman. She’s no longer a victim of a misogynistic male society, where all the men are lust-fueled psychos. Is this film exaggerated? Of course. All the men are depicted that way to prove a point. Not all men are like that. This isn’t a man-hating film. It just focuses on the worst specimens. And teeth in a vagina? It’s not subtle by any means, but that’s why it works. It’s a cautionary tale, as well as an empowering one. Teeth is very much a coming-of-age story, and Dawn’s character arc is one of the most thorough, profound, and inspirational I’ve ever seen in a film. She’s a wonderful character and a great role model for girls. Yeah, I said it. She’s a great role model.

Teeth is a low-budget, independent film, but looking at it, you would never know. It’s as visually interesting and stunning in its own unique way and as meticulously crafted as any expensive film out there. The cinematography by Wolfgang Held is gorgeous, especially in the sprawling shots of the town. The music by Robert Miller sets the perfect satirically dramatic mood. Writer and director Mitchell Lichtenstein is a genius. Teeth is his first feature, and he only made one short before it. That blows my mind. The script is phenomenal and could easily be placed among the few, the proud, the recent elite. He’s a huge talent, and he displays such style, confidence, and natural ability in his directing. He was born to make films. His eye for composition is impeccable, and his attention to detail is nothing short of amazing.

This is so cool, and I didn’t even know it until I just looked him up on IMDB, but he’s the son of uber-famous pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. There’s no better way to categorize Teeth than pop art. He clearly inherited his father’s immense talent, his flair for the unconventional, his uncanny ability to find depth and meaning in the ordinary trappings of modern life, and his social commentary. Awesome. I pretty much worship Mitchell Lichtenstein now, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do in the future. What a mind to come up with Teeth. What a wonderfully warped, intelligent, brilliant mind.

When I first saw the film way back when, I had some misgivings about the step-brother character and his story and the relationship between him and Dawn. I wasn’t sure if he was developed enough or if the relationship was built up enough to make the ending work, for it to have the punch it needed. Well, I was wrong before. I had no issues with Teeth whatsoever this time around. It’s perfect. Brad is fully developed, as much as he needs to be, and the whole relationship between them makes the ending totally logical. It could ONLY end that way. I was annoyed with Brad initially. I mean, he’s supposed to be annoying, but more than I felt was necessary. This time, it just all clicked. I was annoyed with him in the exact right way and amount, and I even really admired John Hensley’s performance. He makes Brad simultaneously monstrous and vulnerable. I got why Brad acted the way he did because Hensley balanced the character’s two sides so well.

The resting of the acting is really good, particularly Hensley, Lenny von Dohlen and Vivienne Benesch as Dawn’s parents, Hale Appleman as Tobey ,and Ashley Springer as Ryan, another of Dawn’s suitors. I especially loved Josh Pais’ brief but memorable turn as Dawn’s gynecologist. That scene is one of the best in a film ripe with great scenes. But no one holds a candle to the effervescent Jess Weixler as Dawn. This is one of those performances that is so good that it’s Oscar nomination-worthy, but it’ll never get that kind of recognition, because she plays a character with teeth in her vagina. And we frown on that in America, even allegedly liberal Hollywood. Irony? Satire? What are those? That girl has teeth in her vagina! Oh, but I’ll get to the social commentary in a bit. I just want to bask in Weixler’s brilliance for now. She actually did win a Special Jury Prize for a dramatic performance at Sundance in 2007, which is really impressive. The prize was awarded “for a juicy and jaw-dropping performance.” Clever, clever, Sundance. But seriously, that’s an amazing accomplishment, and she totally deserved it. She is going to be a major star, and what a way to burst onto the scene.

Any other actress could have ruined this film. The part could have been played as either too naïve or too vampy, or as too campy or too serious. It needs to be all of those things, so the casting of Dawn was so crucial. Weixler is absolutely perfect at balancing of all those complicated and contradictory aspects of Dawn’s personality and depicting such a dramatic character arc and making us believe it and root for her every step of the way. I think there was a danger in making Dawn a one-dimensional religious caricature. Weixler doesn’t do that at all, and neither does Lichtenstein. Rather than ridiculing her, we empathize with her. She’s a totally three-dimensional character, one of the most fully developed, interesting, sympathetic, and complex I’ve ever seen.

Jess Weixler has impeccable comic timing. She’s so funny when she needs to be, but she’s equally amazing when she has to be terrified, angry, confused, or sad. She conveys a whole rainbow of emotions without looking like she’s doing anything. She makes it look effortless, and that’s the mark of a true genius. Watching her depict Dawn’s incredible transformation is miraculous. She does it all. She’s sweet and innocent, but also fiercely feminine and sexy. I just love her. It’s one of my favorite performances ever. She’s inspiring as Dawn, or rather, she MAKES Dawn inspiring. I really don’t think anyone else could have done it. Lichtenstein’s material was already inspiring before anyone came along, so I don’t want to short-change his role, but the material desperately needed the right woman to bring Dawn to life and to make her such a positive, inspirational character. Just because it’s written a certain way doesn’t mean it’ll come across that way. Weixler wonderfully succeeds. People speak about “force of nature” performances...well, Weixler is the combined tornado, hurricane, and tsunami that blows all of those performances away. I could talk about how great she is forever, but I have to move on some time. She’s simply phenomenal. Exquisite perfection.

Teeth is a horror comedy at its core. The marketing and distribution have been pitiful. It deserves so much better. Just tell people it’s a movie about a girl with teeth in her vagina, and I would think it’d sell itself. If it’s not an instant success, and I wouldn’t think it would be, because it’ll take people awhile to catch on, it will develop a huge cult following eventually. I mean, it was like pulling teeth (ha, I went there) to get it to Chicago at all. And Chicago’s a pretty big, bustling metropolis, last time I checked. The shabby treatment this film has received is just sad. Teeth has everything. Sex, nudity, graphic violence, and gore? Check. Dark comedy? Check. Great performances, compelling story, non-stop entertainment? Check, check, check. Social commentary, feminism, and a brain? You better believe it. What’s not to love?! Hmm, maybe it’s that last part that’s tripping people up. A horror comedy that’s also intelligent and scathing…and pro-woman? Preposterous! The reviews haven’t been too hot. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+, and I applaud them for that. A grade of B+ in EW is practically an Oscar. I believe the critics don’t get it. People in general don’t get it. They’ve totally missed the boat. Not only that, I don’t think they even WANT to get it.

So, in addition to this being one hell of a fun film, Teeth is a blistering social commentary. It’s as pointed and ferocious as There Will Be Blood (and there’s plenty of blood in this film, too) or any other great, socially conscious work. And it’s so smart. Obviously, religion is a big target of criticism. Young people have been brainwashed. America is such a puritanical, neurotic, bible-thumping, scary place right now. Well, when people are pushed too far, there are repercussions. Repercussions with teeth. The religious aspect is not the main issue, but it leads into the bigger picture of sexuality in America. We are SO repressed. Violence? Totally fine! But people flip out about sex. There is rarely a healthy depiction of sex in the media. It’s either shown as evil, deviant, and over-the-top (Dawn’s step-brother), or it’s just totally ignored and forbidden (Dawn). When people ignore something fundamental to human nature, that’s dangerous territory. Sex shouldn’t be something to be feared. There’s a way to inform people without making them all want to become nymphomaniacs. It’s either one extreme or the other. For instance, in Dawn’s school, the health book has a sticker over the picture of the vagina. Dawn has no idea what a vagina looks like. She’s too terrified to even examine her own body. It’s absolutely sinful to even consider it. At first, she thinks the teeth could be normal, because she has no idea what normal is. No one ever bothered to tell her.

The treatment and representation (more accurately, the MIStreatment and MISrepresentation) of women are the film’s main issues, but Teeth doesn’t stop there. Even though it would have been more than enough to just deal with feminism, there’s plenty extra to chew on in Lichtenstein’s commentary. That’s why he’s such a genius. He goes above and beyond and attacks the social super-structure, both connected to and independent from the feminist angle. Clearly, he believes America is in need of change, on all levels, and he’s right. Throughout the film, two nuclear towers are seen looming ominously behind Dawn’s house. They’re like sentries presiding over the whole town. This isn’t subtle, and it shouldn’t be. None of the film is subtle, and that’s completely intentional. The vagina dentata is presumably a result of the radiation from those towers, a mutation. I absolutely love the use of the towers. Basically, Lichtenstein is attacking America’s warped, corrupted, mutated ideals, morals, and sexual repression. Like I said, this film mainly deals with America’s fear of sexuality, but it attacks all aspects of American society. The towers also represent big business and capitalism. Teeth definitely criticizes our way of life, what we have devolved to in America, and our loss of values and perspective. It’s searing, powerful, and completely effective.

But the richness and depth keep on coming. Teeth is just a film that gives and gives. I think the most important thing to take away from Teeth (out of so many things to choose from) is that it is a celebration of feminism and femininity. I’ve heard people call it misogynistic. They’re crazy, plain and simple. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything less misogynistic in my whole life. Honestly, it’s one of the most empowering films I’ve ever seen. It transcends even film. It’s just one of the most empowering assertions of womanhood and feminine power and equality imaginable. Dawn is oppressed by a male-centered society. Finally, her vagina has had enough of the abuse, and it fights back. As she learns more about it, she consciously fights back against society’s insistence on labeling her a meek and inferior being. She is woman – hear her vagina roar. With her newly acquired knowledge and personal growth, she learns how to control her power, centered in the very essence of the feminine, her vagina. She’s even a superhero of sorts. Part of the vagina dentata myth is that the teeth can be conquered by a hero. Well, I think Dawn becomes her own hero. She doesn’t need a man to conquer anything for her. It tells women that we should save ourselves instead of waiting for some man to do it.

Teeth is definitely a cautionary tale, on both personal and social levels. One on one, try to abuse us sexually, like men did to Dawn, and we will bite you. Don’t push us. No means no. Only we control our sexuality, and we have a right to embrace that sexuality, not be victimized by it, degraded because of it, or expected to be ashamed of it. That applies to both one on one relationships and society as a whole. Besides the sexual aspect, women just deserve equality and respect in society, period. People believe that sexism isn’t around anymore? Please. It’s just as alive as ever. Equality is a myth. I've never considered myself a hyper-feminist, and I'm definitely not a man-hater, but reality is reality. Men and America, watch out! We’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!

I don’t think Dawn ever misuses or abuses her power. Every instance is perfectly justified. These guys get what’s coming to then. And with her newfound confidence and strength, she isn’t going to go out and be some sort of psychopathic serial killer. That’s not what the film is saying at all. She simply knows what she has and how to use it. She understands her own body and what it means to be a woman. She finally knows herself. I think any guy should think twice before messing with her, for sure, but she’s a better, stronger person by the end of the film. Dawn has found sexual liberation and embraced her sexuality, grown up, and become self-aware and self-assured. She’s an independent woman capable of doing anything. That’s the message that sticks. Teeth is so exuberantly pro-feminism. It’s so refreshing. I just love it! I love it even more because it was written and directed by a man. It makes quite a statement that a man made this ultra-sensitive, progressive film promoting feminism and women’s rights. Mitchell Lichtenstein, you rock my world.

Teeth is an extraordinary film. It’s sheer genius. It’s as towering of an achievement as the nuclear towers that stand guard over Dawn’s town. I have no doubt that it’ll find a home on my esteemed list of my favorite films of all time. And it’s so gloriously, emphatically empowering! It makes me want to burst with happiness. What a powerful, positive expression and celebration of feminism. Few films have made me feel more confident in my feminine abilities. Actually, I’m not sure any other film has. It’s really unparalleled. I’m totally uplifted and exhilarated by the experience of the film and by the beauty and strength of my own femininity. Teeth makes me feel damn proud to be a woman.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lisa Draski and Bill Treadway Star in the Debut of "She Said, He Said"

I’m sure it’s obvious, but my blog has been a total labor of love. I am positively bursting with passion for cinema, and I have treasured every second of my work on Lisa's Film Archive. Film and writing are like oxygen to me, and I’ve truly loved sharing my writing on here. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, too. Thank you for visiting and reading, and please keep coming back. You’re fabulous, all of you!

That being said, I’m proud to introduce a new component to my blogging. I’m really excited to embark upon a collaborative journey with the remarkable Bill Treadway. I came across his blog,
Bill UP Close, through another friend’s blog, and I was enthralled with his writing. It’s passionate, insightful, and intelligent. So, I had to leave a comment. This initiated a wonderful back and forth comment-fest on our blogs, which eventually turned into e-mail correspondence. We hit it off instantly and became fast friends, and after a few e-mails, Bill asked me if I would like to regularly collaborate with him. Like Bill, I was just thrilled anyone was even reading my stuff. To be asked to collaborate was an honor that I eagerly accepted.

Bill is a tremendous writer. You’ll be able to tell that from this post and from the wealth of great work on his blog, which I hope you’ll check out. I think our writing styles complement each other very well. In short, we’re a great critical match, so this teaming feels very natural. We call this project “She Said, He Said.” Well, I call it that. He reverses the order. Basically, we pick a film or topic and write away. We have very similar tastes, but there are plenty of differences, too. Will we agree? Will we disagree? You’ll have to read to find out! Heck, I don’t even think we’ll always know entirely if we agree, disagree, or fall somewhere in the middle until we’re finished writing. That’s what makes it so fun and what will keep it fresh and entertaining.

This will be a regular weekly feature. For the first one, we’re posting it on both of our blogs. In the future, we’ll alternate, but we’ll keep you updated on the when and where.

The subject of our first collaborative post is the 1974 musical Mame, starring Lucille Ball.

Without further ado, I now present to you the premiere of “She Said, He Said”! Enjoy!

She Said: Lisa Draski

I Love Lucy, But Love Shouldn't Be This Painful

The cinematic abomination that is the 1974 musical Mame, starring Lucille Ball, first came to my attention when I was perusing the extra features on the original, genius, non-musical film version from 1958 entitled Auntie Mame and starring a luminous Rosalind Russell in the title role. It was my misfortune to accidentally stumble upon Mame. The story of Mame Dennis has had four incarnations: first a non-musical Broadway play starring Rosalind Russell, a film with Russell reprising her role, drop the “Auntie” for a Broadway musical starring Angela Lansbury, and finally the toxic waste dump that is Mame with Lucille Ball. Auntie Mame is one of my favorite films of all time, and Rosalind Russell is exquisite. It’s one of the best performances ever. Period. So, my outrage and horror at Lucy’s version is rooted in my deep love for the original (it should have been the only). Seeing it defiled in such a monumental way broke my heart.

That fateful trailer that led me to Mame is laughable. It starts out, “Warner Brothers is proud to present Lucille Ball, the most versatile actress of all time, the Lucy that is warm, funny, and glamorous, and the Lucy that is loving, passionate, and spirited.” She is later called “America’s most unique actress.” Uh, maybe I missed the memo on that, but since when is Lucille Ball the most versatile and unique actress of all time? Is this a trailer to promote a film, or is it nominating Lucille Ball for sainthood? What’s with all the superlatives? Did she write it herself? Mame is described as “the multi-million dollar production that took two years to capture on film.” Just keep that in mind for later. So, this trailer made the film look just abominable. Naturally, I had to see it. Even with all of my loyalties to Roz and the original, I still approached Mame with an open mind. Go ahead, try and knock my socks off. The resulting cinematic experience was simultaneously the most hilarious and appalling in my life.

Mame is a catastrophe on an epic scale. It’s like a car crash, a train wreck, the Hindenburg, the Titanic, and Chernobyl all rolled into one. But I admit that it’s impossible to turn away. I was in tears almost the whole time because it’s so hysterically awful. It’s an unintentional laugh-riot. The actual jokes clunk to the ground with the weight of an anvil. Hilarity and good times aside, there’s no excuse for the agonizingly miserable quality of the film. Mame could be a clinic on everything that’s wrong with filmmaking. There’s so much wrong with it that I don’t even know where to start. I could write forever, but I have to choose my battles. Besides, I don’t want to cause nightmares.

Okay, let’s start with Lucille Ball. She’s a comedic pioneer, and I Love Lucy is the best and most influential sitcom in television history. The Lucy in Mame is not the Lucy you love and remember. I don’t know who this pod-person imposter is, but it’s not our beloved Lucy. Her acting in Mame is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what happened to her! I still have the utmost respect for everything she did before this, which is what makes her terrible performance in Mame that much more painful. She used to be talented. She’s better than this. “How far the mighty have fallen” is an understatement here. It’s a shame that this is one of her last works, because the taint is strong. She is so grossly miscast, and it’s not just because she’s in early 60s. Okay, I guess age has something to do with it. Rosalind Russell was 50 and still radiant. Lucy doesn’t have any fire or passion, and she looks like a corpse. I wonder if she’s drinking embalming fluid in all of her drinks throughout the film. It’s that bad. All the filters and lighting and Vaseline in the world don’t help. Seriously, every trick in the book is used to make her look younger. Her face glows so brightly that she could provide light for a small city. Sorry, Lucy, we’re not fooled.

Every single thing about her performance is wrong. She doesn’t get one gesture, facial expression, line delivery, or syllable right. And her singing? Forget about it. I don’t think she hits one proper note in the whole movie. Imagine really tone-deaf nails on a chalkboard, and those nails have emphysema from smoking two packs a day for forty years. That gives you an idea of what she sounds like. It’s the most dreadful singing I’ve ever heard in a major movie musical. One line of a song goes, “Dance to a new rhythm”, but when Lucy coughs it out, it sounds like, “Desso a new rhythm.” From what I can gather, it’s a combination of terrible singing and a pathetic attempt at a New York accent.

When Mame is upset, Lucy’s one move is to cover her mouth with her hand, or if she’s really daring, maybe cradle her face with her fingers. That’s it. The rest of the time, she can’t make a simple move without flailing her arms all over the place. Every gesture is too big. The story takes place pre-Depression in the roaring 20s, and Mame Dennis is, to quote IMDB’s plot summary, “a fun-loving, wealthy eccentric with a flair for life and a razor sharp wit.” Rosalind Russell? Yes. Lucy? NO. Mame’s brother dies and she becomes the guardian of her young nephew Patrick. So, she teaches him how to live life to the fullest, and he teaches her about love and responsibility. Aww. It’s actually very sweet, though…when Rosalind Russell does it.

So, in the middle of this impossibly grand party, Mame first meets Patrick. When she realizes who he is, Ball slaps her hand against her forehand, palm facing out, and just holds it there. I think this was Guillermo del Toro’s inspiration for the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. After a really awkward pause (the film is chock full of them), she exclaims, “Oh my god, I’m your Auntie Mame!” The way she says it is so hoarse and almost angry that to more accurately capture her tone, the line could be substituted with, “Holy shit! I’m your goddamn Auntie Mame!” and delivered by Vinnie the chain-smoking bookie. There is no chemistry between Ball and Kirby Furlong, who plays young Patrick. The believability factor is zero. It’s non-existent. I don’t buy it for one second. There’s no love or compassion or any emotion whatsoever, and that’s the foundation of the story. It’s essentially a non-incestuous love story between aunt and nephew.

Also, Mame is supposed to be this brilliant ball of life that everyone flocks to and wants to be around constantly. I couldn’t conceive how anyone would want to spend more then 10 seconds with Lucille Ball’s Mame. She’s vile, cold, and really sort of mean. There’s no fun about her, none of that spirit that’s supposed to define the character. No one could possibly adore her. Rosalind Russell makes that effortless. She’s magnetic. It’s easy to understand why people would be drawn to her. Ball has one good moment of acting in the entire film, one glorious moment of subtlety that made me remember she was actually talented. It occurs when she’s talking to the snobby, bigoted parents of grown-up Patrick’s girlfriend. She only says one thing to a racist remark, “Gotcha.” But there’s something real there, and it’s heightened by the movement of her finger, a slight nod of the head, and a wink. It’s practically a revelation. Sadly, though, that’s it. That’s her only good acting. The rest isn’t even passable or decent. It’s simply miserable.

I need to take a break from Lucille Ball, because she’s just a fraction of what’s wrong with Mame. The material they’re working with is garbage. I know it was a successful Broadway musical starring Angela Lansbury, but the songs are pitiful, both music and lyrics. They’re just some of the worst songs ever written. I don’t know how they flew on Broadway, but my bet is that Angela Lansbury rocked it as Mame. But when you have a horrible cast singing them, it’s like torture. The script by Paul Zindel is atrocious, which makes sense, seeing as he’s the writer responsible for the 1985 TV version of Alice in Wonderland or, as I call it, “Where All Good Stars Go to Die.” The directing is clunky, the cinematography is garish, the costumes belong on drag queens, and the editing is awkward. And the acting is appalling all around. Poor Bea Arthur, who played the role of Mame’s best friend Vera on Broadway, probably got suckered into the film because her husband Gene Saks directed it. I feel equally sorry for Robert Preston. The freaking Music Man trapped in Mame. It’s a crime.

Arthur and Preston do all they can, but like I said, the material is crud. They’re the best parts of the movie, but they’re working with less than nothing. And all of their scenes require them to play off of Lucille Ball, which is like acting opposite a blurry, heavily filtered black hole. Jane Connell is Patrick’s nanny and Mame’s assistant/secretary (I don’t really know what she is, actually) Agnes Gooch. In Auntie Mame, Peggy Cass made her charmingly awkward, but Connell makes her maybe the most annoying character in any film ever. I want to strangle her every time she’s on the screen. And her singing is excruciating. Her voice is very warbly and operatic. It’s so over the top and shrill that I’m surprised she didn’t shatter the very expensive sets. Doria Cook as Patrick’s snobby girlfriend Gloria sounds like she’s doing a really bad Katharine Hepburn impression. Bruce Davison as grown-up Patrick isn’t bad, but Kirby Furlong is just about the worst child actor ever. I know I’m making lots of grand declarations, but they’re true! Patrick sings a song to Mame, and while Furlong is doing it, he sings his line off-key, stops and stares blankly, takes a visible breath, and then starts the next line. Sigh.

Toward the end of the film, Mame invites Gloria and her snooty parents over with the intention of scaring them away, because she knows Patrick is too good for her. Mame seeks her revenge. How? With SONG. This is one of the most bizarre sequences I’ve ever seen. They’re all standing around eating hors d’oeuvres, and all of a sudden, cut to Bea Arthur in the doorway decked out in funereal black, surrounded by six men in tuxedos, belting out, “It’s a time for…making merry!” They continue their ditty, and we cut back to the group. You can still hear the musical number in the background. Who travels around with six man-slaves and a full orchestra accompaniment? So, Arthur as Vera and these random men come to the room where everyone is gathered, and they finish up the number all dramatically, and no one even really reacts. This is Mame’s big plan? Frighten them off with a choreographed song and dance routine? I know that would have me shaking in my boots. But this incident is barely even acknowledged! After they stop singing, there’s just silence…deafening silence. It’s all so bizarre! Well played, Mame. There’s more singing that comes after this that’s meant to disconcert the guests, and it’s even more outrageous and weird, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the ending for you in case you actually want to suffer through the film.

Oh, but this next sequence I’m about to describe is a slice of cinematic shame that would make Edison or the Lumière Brothers weep if they saw what film had come to since their pioneering days. All their work led up to this. Mame travels down to the South with Beau (Robert Preston) to meet his family. There’s a fox hunt, and she pretends that she’s good at riding horses to fit in. Well, she accidentally ends up catching the fox. She literally gets off of the horse, calls the fox to her, and then cuddles it. This prompts the most extravagant musical number in the entire film. The song is simply called “Mame.” It takes place on the lavish plantation set with about two hundred extras wearing either black or red riding outfits. The song itself is so unmelodic and repetitive. It’s like a cult chant that starts off as a whisper and turns into a fanatic roar. It’s terrifying. Basically, there’s a line, followed by a drawn out “Maaaa-aaaaame.” That’s the whole song. But on the word “Mame,” everyone does this creepy little bow. It’s like a Hitler rally! All of the extras and even Robert Preston leading the song look like automatons. They’re like the robotic presidents in Disneyworld that scared me so much as a little girl…only way scarier.

The song is pretty stereotypically offensive toward the South, too. It incorporates every cliché imaginable – mint juleps, Georgia peaches, bougainvillea trees, you name it. Beau starts up the song by declaring that Mame has “done more for the South than anybody since Robert E. Lee.” Another line of the song: “You made us feel alive again, you’ve given us the drive again, to make the South revive again…Mame.” What?! For cuddling a fox? This song is ridiculous because it’s so unmotivated and unwarranted. She cuddled a freaking fox. The number goes on and on forever, and at the end, there’s a shot of little Patrick, standing still with a totally blank expression on his face. Then, like a light switch flipping on, his face explodes with giddiness and a beaming smile, and he runs toward Mame. It’s like his mom was standing off to the side telling him, “Nothing, nothing, nothing…okay, now smile! Go!” This horrendous number is immediately followed by a brief shot containing this stock footage of the New York skyline by the water that’s all discolored and looks like it was taken circa 1900. Did I mention all this happened because she cuddled a fox?!

I know I’ve been pretty long-winded, but I’m very passionate in my hatred of this film. Okay, I don’t really hate it. I sort of have affection for its awfulness. But that doesn’t make it any less awful. I’ve had some great times and laughs watching it. I don’t hate it, but I do think it’s possibly the worst film of all time, at least on this high-profile of a scale. Remember the description of Mame as “the multi-million dollar production that took two years to capture on film”? That’s just sad. All that money, all that time, and look at the result. It’s the most lifeless celebration of life imaginable. I love the use of the word “capture.” That sounds about right. It’s like a monster or wild beast that they had to trap and capture and wrestle with to get the film done. They captured it, all right, but they still lost big time. The monster that is Mame won. It’s definitely the worst film I’ve ever seen. Not even the entertainment factor can redeem it. Mame is the worst musical ever made and maybe even the worst film ever made. I stick by that. It’s a total abuse of the power and magic of cinema. In fact, Mame raped cinema. To quote the words of Gloria in one of the best scenes in the brilliant, original Auntie Mame, “Well, it was just ghastly.” It certainly was. And thanks to the wonders of technology, Mame will continue to be ghastly forever. Yikes. I think I need a hug.


He Said: Bill Treadway

The 1970's were not the best of times for the movie musical. Actors were cast regardless of whether they could sing or not. Simple little tales were given such overblown, lavish treatment that you often couldn't get caught up in the story no matter how hard you tried. Classic music scores were butchered and terrible new originals caused many ears to bleed. The rare good musical such as Darling Lili and Scrooge (both 1970) looked awfully lonely in the sea of Cantcarryatune. Man of La Mancha (1972), Lost Horizon (1973), Song of Norway (1970), A Little Night Music (1978) and Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love (1975) still make me recoil in horror today. Now we arrive at Mame, the 1974 film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical. Itself an adaptation of a much beloved 1958 comedy titled Auntie Mame, which was an adaptation of a Broadway stage play, which in turn was based on Patrick Dennis’ true life novel. (Got all that? Whew!) The story, without spoiling too much for those unfamiliar, starts when young Patrick, newly orphaned is sent to live with his aunt Mame. Mame happens to be a bit eccentric by conventional standards, but she turns out to be the best parent figure a young boy could possibly have.

I first encountered Mame during a widescreen telecast on American Movie Classics (before it turned to crap) in June 1999. I had just gotten access to cable and had seen one godawful musical after another. Considering the near-unanimously bad reviews for this film, my expectations were really low going in. To my surprise, I didn’t run screaming from the room in terror. Perhaps it was to my advantage that I didn't see the 1958 film before hand. Without the other film looming overhead, I was able to take the movie for what it was: nothing great, but a pleasant and enjoyable movie. Perhaps the reason why Mame never rose to the heights it should have was that some of the key talent were people for whom musicals were foreign territory. Replacing original director George Cukor was Gene Saks, who had directed the stage version but was inexperienced when it came to movie musicals. Screenwriter Paul Zindel was renowned for angsty teenage drama (The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds), not musical comedy. For the title role, Warner Bros. refused to let Angela Lansbury recreate her award-winning role with the pathetic excuse that no one in America knew who Lansbury was. I guess 30 years of movie roles dating back to National Velvet and the 1971 Disney musical Bedknobs and Broomsticks didn't count. (And they wonder why most people think movie execs are idiots...). Instead, after intense lobbying to Warners (and an alleged $5 million payoff), comedy legend Lucille Ball got the role.

The Ball of 1954 would have been a home run in this role, but by 1974, she simply wasn't the same. Yet she gives it a good try anyway. Her voice was seared by years of cigarette smoking and she had a considerable limp from an accident. Granted, a cigarette scarred voice isn't the ideal one for a musical, but at least I didn’t want to plug up my ears with wax as when Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd butchered Cole Porter in At Long Last Love. Those expecting the madcap antics of Lucy Ricardo are bound to be disappointed. Lucy gives a restrained performance here and it isn't half bad. She throws in a few madcap gems (the disastrous turn in the play, the “Bosom Buddies” sequence) but it’s mostly a low key performance. Her dancing is the weakest element of her work here. She doesn’t do a whole lot due to the aforementioned limp and what is on screen isn’t all that hot. At least she tried, though.

The relationship between Mame and young Patrick is the backbone of the story and if handled incorrectly, would seem flat and lifeless on-screen. It isn’t as dynamic as it appeared in 1958, but it worked well enough here. I totally bought into Mame’s skittish behavior at the beginning- it seemed reasonable to me that if you suddenly had a kid you barely know show up, you’d act a little strange at first too. It may have worked better had a more seasoned child actor been cast as Patrick. Kirby Furlong is OK, nothing more. (Maybe if they had cast one of the male Wonka kids...). As for the songs, while not among composer Jerry Herman’s best work (Hello, Dolly! remains for me his best song score), they're still tuneful and entertaining. There are three major highlights. It's easy to see why "We Need a Little Christmas" became a holiday perennial. Who could resist the refrain "We need a little Christmas, right this very minute"? Then there's the showstopper "Mame", wonderfully sung by Robert Preston, who drops into this movie like a plum from heaven and gives it a much needed shot in the arm after a sluggish start. The one new song for the film is my favorite: "Loving You" gives us another Preston showcase and it's such a lovely tune that I'm still humming the words as I write this.

After a promising start, Mame begins to fall apart in the second half. As per the original story, Preston’s character dies. Since he was the most dynamic element of the picture beforehand, it stings to lose this dynamo. Maybe major chunks were cut out to get the film down to a reasonable running time because it feels disjointed. For example, the film cuts from the disastrous final dinner between Mame and Patrick’s future in-laws to what’s apparently many years later because Patrick is now married, NOT to the woman he was engaged to before and he has a child. What’s worse, we don’t even get any real idea who the new wife is other than a perfunctory meeting during the dinner. (She’s Mame’s maid. I had to read it on Wikipedia to find out who she is. Bad.)

Then there’s the irritating subplot involving the pregnant Miss Gooch (Jane Connell) that falls completely flat. We get not one but two poor vocals from Connell. People actually thought Lucy couldn’t sing? Connell sounds like a frog in a blender that’s been turned on. I know she played the role on stage, but apparently Saks forgot to tell her that while singing from the top of her lungs may work on stage, film is a more intimate medium. Her performance isn’t very good either. Then again, we just don’t care about this character, even when thrown in a sympathetic light. Originally, Connell wasn’t supposed to play this role. Madeline Kahn had filmed several scenes until Ball had her ousted, likely for upstaging her. In hindsight, it was a mistake but it worked out well. It freed Kahn up to take the role that would get her an Oscar nomination: Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles.

Luckily, there are two pleasant surprises in the second half. First is Bruce Davison as the adult Patrick. Davison has always been a much underrated actor and he plays the part of a hapless young man who is somewhat embarrassed by his eccentric aunt very well. He’s even given a musical number of his own - “The Letter” and delivers the vocals quite nicely. Who would have thought that Senator Kelly could actually sing? He has a nice, pleasant tone to his voice that made me wish he had more to sing in this picture. Then, there is Bea Arthur, who was married to director Saks at the time. This is one time where nepotism definitely pays off. She originated the part of Mame’s best friend Vera Charles in the stage version and unlike Connell, had a good idea of what not to do when recreating a role on film. She’s sharp, funny and snarky - exactly what we want for Vera Charles. Too bad she didn’t get more to do.

After a long layoff on home video and TV, Warner Bros. finally released the film on DVD. In the original 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen format, Mame looks OK, if unspectacular. The colors are much brighter than before and a lot of debris has been removed (although quite a bit still remains, alas). The digital format may be a hindrance at times. Cinematographer Philip L. Lathrop (The Pink Panther) had to use every trick in the book to make Lucy look younger than her 63 years for the earlier scenes, so every scene of hers is softer than the rest. That makes for some interesting contrasts in the image. Her scenes are often grainy and soft while the rest is sharp as a tack. Is this some kind of unintentional subtext?

Warners wanted to give the DVD a 5.1 Surround mix, but had to abandon plans and merely restore the original mono sound mix. The reason is this: Lucy’s vocals were pieced together from multiple takes and the extra channels would have exposed it big time. In mono, it sounds seamless, so we’re stuck with mono. It does sound good, though.

Two unintentionally hilarious extras are offered here. We get the original theatrical trailer, which if hooked to a lie detector, would cause it to ring off the charts. The eight minute making of featurette practically genuflects to Lucy as if she’s in the same company as Mother Teresa and the Virgin Mary. Yeah, sure.

Mame is a mixed bag, but it entertained me and that’s more than I can say for many 70s musicals. There are serious flaws, but it’s fun nevertheless. Just be prepared to groan whenever Jane Connell appears on screen.

Rating: *** (out of 5 stars)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Nothing Standard About Errol Morris' Procedure

I am incredibly lucky that I got to see Errol Morris' intense new documentary, Standard Operating Procedure, almost two months before its theatrical release. I'm really confused by the lack of advertising and press for this film. There's no poster, no trailer...there's not much of anything. Errol Morris deserves better than this. I suppose it's sort of difficult to market a film about the atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib, but just mention "Errol Morris" and "The Fog of War," and it'll sell itself to the right audience.

I'm not sure who exactly the right audience is, but I guess it would include a lot of liberals, fans of documentaries, and fans of Errol Morris. Standard Operating Procedure is not a film for everyone, that's for sure. I always have a hard time distinguishing between a filmmaker's political leanings or agenda and the film's objective. In other words, do the filmmaker's beliefs coincide with the film's approach or message? Is it an intentionally persuasive film, or is it a fairly objective film that allows the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions?

I'm an extreme liberal. I'll just come right out and say it. So my inclination is to read my own feelings in the text of the film. Films like No End in Sight, Sicko, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Fog of War, and now Standard Operating Procedure seem to be speaking directly to me and my own political sensibilities. It's like, "Right on! Our government sucks right now, and so does this war in Iraq." It feels like preaching to the choir. Is it, though? Or am I just choosing to hear what I want to hear? That's what I find so intriguing about these films in this tumultuous political climate. I know that Michael Moore, Errol Morris, and writer/director of No End in Sight Charles Ferguson are liberal, anti-Bush administration, and anti-Iraq War. I'm not as sure about Ferguson, but it seems pretty obvious. And Moore and Morris are as outspokenly against this administration and its shady dealings as you can get. My problem is knowing where to draw the line between filmmaker and film.

Michael Moore has a clear agenda. He is totally biased, and he wants you to know it. People know what they're going to get with a Moore film, and it will basically just confirm and strengthen your already-held beliefs, whether you're a liberal or a conservative. Sicko is probably the most unbiased and restrained that I have seen of his work, and I think it can speak to a broader audience. I believe that No End in Sight presents the subject matter objectively. By doing this, Ferguson can reach both ends of the political spectrum.

Errol Morris' films are the same way. Even though you know where Morris stands on the issues, The Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure are fair, balanced, and objective. He lets the facts and people speak for themselves. Sure, there are some aesthetic touches here and there that emphasize the gravity of the events being discussed, but that doesn't mean he's forcing his opinions on the viewer. He's just making sure you pay attention. Sometimes people need their faces shoved in the truth.

I guess I've felt a certain sense of subjectivity with these films because I'm seeing what I want to see. They're telling me what I want to hear. But that doesn't mean the film is saying that - it's just what I'm taking away from it. And the experience is different for everyone, which is the magic of these films. I see now that No End in Sight and Morris' films are objective in their approaches. The facts are laid out, and then it's up for interpretation. They want to reach as many people as possible with their films. They don't want to be off-putting and alienate potential viewers. That's not how minds are changed. This whole issue of film versus filmmaker is a very complicated one, and it's something that I've wrestled with for a long time. It still doesn't feel resolved for me, but at least I feel better having sorted my thoughts out on here. I needed to before I could proceed with this review.

So, on to Standard Operating Procedure. Unlike all of Errol Morris' other films, this is not one that I'd want to watch over and over again. And it's not like his other films are always about the most chipper subjects. Mr. Death is about a guy who makes execution equipment for prisons and doesn't believe the Holocaust happened. Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control is about lonely people with obsessions. The Fog of War certainly isn't a picnic in the park. But there's something about all of his other films that's different than this one. In spite of the heavy subject matter, there was still a sense of lightness, flow, and even entertainment value. It's impossible to define. I could watch The Fog of War every day. It's one of my ten favorite films of all time.

Standard Operating Procedure is his most brutal film. It's so graphic and upsetting that it feels like torture to watch it. He presents these shameful events in such an unflinching manner that there's nowhere to hide. This is not a film that can be viewed often or casually. It's his most somber work and also his least hopeful. But even though the tone is different than in his other films, it is rightly so, and the subject matter is what prevents it from being unendingly rewatchable. It makes me queasy to even think about viewing it again anytime soon.

Standard Operating Procedure doesn't flow quite as smoothly as Morris' other films. There are a few parts that lag, and I think it could have been a little shorter. It gets repetitive at times, and it feels a bit oppressed by the material, like it's weighed down by it. This shouldn't be a comedic romp, by any means, but it's just different than his other work. If I seem really confused, I am. I can't quite find the right words to describe my feelings. It's definitely not one of his best films. But that doesn't really mean much. Since all of his work is so phenomenal, it's like comparing the Parthenon to the Colosseum. It's not a question of which work is worse, because they're all amazing. The question is: "Out of all the great works, which ones are the greatest, and which ones are not quite as great but still great nonetheless?" So, it's not as great as his other films, but it's still great. In the pantheon of documentary films at large, Standard Operating Procedure is just as good or even better than anything out there.

I suppose I should discuss what Standard Operating Procedure is about for people who don't know. It examines the prisoner abuse and torture committed by U.S. soldiers against the Iraqi detainees (most of whom turned out to be innocent) at Abu Ghraib. The main criticism of Standard Operating Procedure seems to be that it isn't focused enough. I'm not sure how much more focused it could possibly be. I felt trapped inside of Abu Ghraib while watching the film. Morris deals with a very specific scandal. Basically, the soldiers were utilizing, to put it lightly, unorthodox methods to torture the prisoners, which ranged from beating to sexual abuse to humiliation to dragging them naked across the floor so that their penises scraped the ground. The most horrifying thing is that this isn't the worst of it. The only reason these incidents came to light is because the soldiers were stupid enough to take pictures of their escapades. As one soldier said, the worst stuff was happening off camera, in the interrogation rooms. That's terrifying to imagine. I think one soldier mentioned that a couple thousand prisoners had even died there.

I don't how Errol Morris did it, but he managed to interview most of the major players in this scandal. It's very, very intimate, which is why I'm so confused about the complaint that it isn't focused enough. Actually, I do sort of get the focus issue. But it's not that it isn't focused enough. I think it might be a little too focused and heavy, but narrow focus isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the subject itself is immeasurably heavy. Regardless, he paints a very vivid picture of the prison itself. I felt like I had been in Abu Ghraib. Morris has to be one of the best interviewers ever, because he gets people to open up to him in ways that seem inconceivable. He's remarkable. His interviewing powers are unparalleled. Every single person interviewed has tears in his or her eyes. It's clear how affected they are, in spite of the desensitization that brought them to the point of doing what they did. I think some of them are still numb and desensitized. And it's nothing any person can truly understand unless they've been through it themselves.

Basically, this whole scandal would have been swept under the rug if these pictures didn't exist. It shouldn't be happening anyway, but to take pictures of it is the height of stupidity. Were they really that proud of what they were doing? It's unfathomable. One solider, Sabrina Harman, took the bulk of the pictures, and she claims to this day that she was only documenting it to expose the injustices being committed. But, in order to get these pictures, she had to play along. I'm not sure if I buy this story. She looks a little too happy in the pictures to make me believe that she was following the moral high road. It's obvious that some of the soldiers interviewed feel horrible about what occurred. They kind of-sort of went along with the activities, but they hung around in the background, and you could tell they felt awkward about it. You can tell which people feel the worst about their actions in these interviews.

Charles Graner was essentially the ringleader of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib. He was the only major player not interviewed by Morris, as he is still in prison and not allowed to speak about it. Everyone else talks very candidly about the events. And the pictures don't lie. That's hard evidence. You can clearly see what's happening, and you can tell who's having a blast doing it. The female soldiers look positively thrilled. I don't know if this is them trying to fit in with "the boys," as some of them mentioned, but it's disconcerting. Lynndie England shows up in the photos the most. Her excuse for her actions was that she was in love. That's pathetic. Yay feminism. She had a child with Charles Graner, but Graner was also involved with Megan Ambuhl. I guess he was the resident stud.

I can't quite remember who said what or the names of everyone interviewed, so I want to stay clear of any more specifics so I don't get my information wrong. Lynndie England and Sabrina Harman were the main female interviewees, and a handful of male soldiers are interviewed, as well as higher-ranking people and outside interrogators who spent time at Abu Ghraib. It's a very complete, painfully thorough picture of the scandal. Morris combines staged reenactments, interviews, video footage, and many, many pictures to capture the horror of Abu Ghraib to great effect.

Errol Morris has such a beautiful, distinctive visual style. He is truly an auteur, and that's very rare to say about a documentarian. All of his wonderful aesthetic touches are there: the dramatic, slow-motion visual aids that make sense as the film unfolds (playing cards featuring Iraqi leaders, ghost-like figures lining the halls of Abu Ghraib) and reenactments, a mind-blowing, soul-rattling use of sound, the brilliant use of the Interrotron to force the interviewee to look directly at you, his jump cuts to change the positions of the subjects, and the quick cuts to black in the middle of the interviews. Also, his music always has a very dreamy, surreal quality, whether it's done by the brilliant Philip Glass or, in this case, by the equally brilliant Danny Elfman. The cinematography is also astounding. Standard Operating Procedure is an aesthetic triumph. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who understands the art and craft of filmmaking better than Errol Morris. Standard Operating Procedure is simply gorgeous, which makes the subject that much more ugly by comparison.

Seriously, this is a tough film. I'm only including a couple of the pictures in this entry (keep in mind that these are some of the least offensive and upsetting), because I just can't stomach any more than that. The images in the film are gruesome and graphic. Here are some of the things you'll see: lots of naked prisoners with either sacks or underwear over their heads stretched and chained into impossible positions, a prisoner on a leash, prisoners being forced into simulated sexual positions with each other, a human pyramid of naked prisoners (one of the most humiliating and awful things I've ever seen), pictures and video of prisoners being forced to masturbate, and U.S. soldiers smiling, laughing, or striking a pose in the midst of this torture. And this is just some of it. So, be forewarned. It's pretty excruciating. Nothing sickened me more than seeing the video of the soldiers making the prisoners masturbate. It's just unspeakable. The human pyramid is also appalling. Thinking about those two instances, but all of it really, makes me want to weep. I actually have tears in my eyes now. I wanted to weep when I walked out of the theater. Nothing felt right for the next day. How could it possibly be sunny? I was so despondent and haunted by what I saw.

What Errol Morris does so brilliantly is to raise issues of humanity and morality. Do the rules change in a war? What's right? What's wrong? What makes something immoral? He does this best in The Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure, although in Standard Operating Procedure, it's much more personal (as in the people interviewed are the ones committing the atrocities, whereas McNamara was removed from the action). It's so easy to condemn these soldiers as monsters. How could human beings possibly do that to other human beings? But it's not that simple. What led up to this point? What were they being told to do? Would all of this have been peachy-keen if there wasn't photo documentation? That's the meaning of the title: is this treatment of the prisoners standard operating procedure (S.O.P.) in the procurement of information, or is it unethical and illegal? People were brought in to look at the pictures and determine what was S.O.P. and what was immoral and abusive. It's easy to say that all of the behavior is immoral. But in a war, who's to say what's moral or not? Who makes those decisions, and who are we, the people who aren't there, to judge?

But when a war is as unnecessary and unjust as the Iraq War, it makes me even more angry to see what happened at Abu Ghraib. It's a vicious, evil chain of events that led up to these young kids torturing prisoners. There's something much larger and sinister going on. Are these soldiers just innocent cogs in an unstoppable war machine? Or are they complicit? I think it's both. Something had to happen to make these soldiers do what they did. Something made them like that. The war has, in a sense, dehumanized them, and it's sad to see. I hate the system and the government that sent them there in the first place. They shouldn't be in Iraq. As a result, they have been irreparably changed and psychologically traumatized. And for what?

When put in that situation, how do we know how we would act? Would we go along with it to fit in, or would we speak out and risk ridicule, abuse, and possible discharge from the service? This was a national embarrassment. Of course, the government said that they don't condone that behavior. But do they? If they hadn't been caught, would it be acceptable? Were they maybe told to do this by their superiors? Or were they just having some sadistic fun?

I don't think any of them can escape blame or responsibility. What they did was definitely wrong, reprehensible even. At the end of the day, there has to be some sort of line, no matter how blurry, and they definitely crossed it on many, many occasions, from a civilian perspective and a humanist perspective. And evidently the military didn't approve either, at least officially. But again, it's so complicated, and while it's easy to call the soldiers monsters and villainize them, it's just as easy and equally dangerous to say that they're completely blameless because of the corrupt, overarching system's role in placing them in those impossible situations. The best conclusion that I can come to is that these soldiers fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. That's all I can make out of this mess, because I don't think there's ever a definitive or satisfying answer to the issue of morality in war.

Some of the soldiers really seem remorseful. Most of them do, actually, but some more than others. At the time these pictures were taken, you can tell who felt uncomfortable, and you can also tell who was enjoying it way too much. It's disturbing. You see all of these pictures with the soldiers giving a happy thumbs-up to the camera. Sabrina Harman's excuse for this was that she never knew what to do with her hands in a picture. But look at the picture of her with the dead body. She's overjoyed. You can't fake that.

Despite all of the rather glowing praise I've heaped upon Standard Operating Procedure in this entry, something is still holding me back. The more I think about it, the more I believe that the subject matter is what's making me react so strongly, and not really the film itself. It's the material that is resonating so deeply. Morris does an incredible job of capturing the terror of Abu Ghraib, and the filmmaking is top-notch, but he doesn't add as much to it as he does to his other films in terms of universality, profundity, or poignancy. It's still great, don't get me wrong. In fact, it's excellent for what it does. I just think I wanted to love it so much that I was blurring the line between film and subject. Also, his interviewees just aren't as interesting as in his other films, and that's really what makes a documentary, and especially his type of documentary.

Still, that being said, Standard Operating Procedure really is an amazing film. It's bold and incredibly thought-provoking. As you can tell, it had a profound impact on me. I've written about it quite a bit because the gears are still spinning in my head. It's made me think deeply about this situation, these soldiers, the Iraq War, America, and even myself. I still think Errol Morris is just as brilliant as ever, and he was very brave to make this film. Standard Operating Procedure is so unbelievably disturbing, but it's essential to see. After all, this is a part of our history.

As I prepare to watch the premiere of John Adams on HBO tonight, I wonder what our forefathers would think about Iraq and Abu Ghraib. Is this what they had in mind? People like to marvel at how far we've come as a country, but if you want to be more accurate, I think it's how far we've fallen that's significant. Where are our principles? What is America doing? Standard Operating Procedure illuminates one of the darkest moments in our history so that, hopefully, people can learn from past mistakes. But how well has that ever worked? Kudos to people like Errol Morris for trying, though.

I'm so haunted by Standard Operating Procedure and the incidents at Abu Ghraib. Combine that with my ongoing, vehement disapproval of the Iraq War, all of the accompanying, oppressive feelings of guilt and dismay, and my long-standing, unflinching outrage at the administration of George W. Bush, and it's just too much. I feel ashamed to be an American.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Girls Are Back in Town

The teaser trailer for Sex and the City: The Movie was a lot of fun, but the recently released theatrical trailer is positively delicious. I'm tickled pink, just like the pink on that fabulous poster. I'm totally titillated, so mission accomplished. I need answers! What on earth did Steve do to Miranda? Charlotte's pregnant?! Samantha...well, we know nothing's changed for Samantha (or has it?), but you have to love her. And Carrie and Big are set to get married. But will they? Will Carrie finally become Mrs. Big? Or, since we now know his name, will she finally become Mrs. John James Preston-Bradshaw? Oh, honey, you know she's going to hyphenate that last name.

My guess is yes. I think Carrie will finally get her fairy tale ending. But that doesn't make it any less suspenseful as to how it will play out or any less exciting to watch. And there really is a slim possibility that they won't get married. Anyway, I trust long-time Sex-master Michael Patrick King implicitly with the film, so I think it'll be wonderful. Obviously, this is going to play to a very specific audience, so I hope they come out in droves. I firmly believe they will, because the fans of Sex and the City are as loyal to the show as Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha are to each other. And I don't think the true Sex fiends (myself included) will be disappointed. Our girls are back, and they're looking just as fabulous as ever.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Paul Giamatti for President

I am so unbelievably excited about HBO's epic mini-series John Adams. Even though this is technically airing on TV, John Adams is just as much a film as anything else I discuss on here. For starters, HBO can really do no wrong, when it comes to original programming, mini-series, or traditional-length films. The production value on any given HBO film is astounding. Their films look better than most of the crud in theaters right now. But it looks like they've outdone themselves on John Adams. The scope of the mini-series is staggering, from the length, to the talent involved, to the sets, costumes, and every minute period detail. John Adams could very well be their best project yet.

And what's the key to that success? Why, Paul Giamatti as John Adams himself, of course. Outstanding. I know everything else will be amazing, but Giamatti will be the best. I know it. I have been one of his biggest fans for such a long time. I was there through the Best Actor Snub for American Splendor. I positively wept when he was snubbed for Best Actor for Sideways. I still haven't gotten over that one. He's been nominated lots of times (even a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Cinderella Man), and he's won quite a few, like a Golden Globe, a Spirit Award, and a bunch of critics' awards.

But John Adams will be his glorious moment to shine. This will be huge for him. I already predict a Golden Globe and an Emmy. I want nothing more than for him to finally get the recognition he has deserved for so long. Nothing can ever make up for past mistakes, but this is some damn good consolation. I can't wait to be dazzled by his genius as John Adams. Respect the Giamatti! And tame the, uh...never mind. Sorry, bad Magnolia joke.

John Adams is a seven-part mini-series. Wow. Seven! Awesome. It premieres on HBO on Sunday, March 16th with a two-parter (meaning that they're treating us with two episodes on the first day), and then there are five more installments, one a week until it's over. And I was looking at the lengths on TiVo, and the first part is 70 minutes, the second is just over an hour and a half, and the third is also just over an hour and a half. This mini-series is MASSIVE. How wonderful! I don't know how I'll be able to wait a week in between episodes.

Seriously, though, this film looks awesome. Laura Linney plays Abigail Adams, which is fantastic. Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Polley, and a bunch of other great actors are in it. And, for whatever reason, I've always LOVED epic historical dramas. I can't get enough of them. The bigger, the better. I grew up watching The Ten Commandments annually, so that explains that. Oh man, combine history, spectacle, AND religion, and I practically swoon. The ones about religion are always the juiciest. Thank you, Mr. DeMille! I'm not even religious myself, but I'm a sucker for it. I just love it.

John Adams looks like it will be as epic as anything I've ever seen. It could be my epic historical drama fantasy/dream come true. The costumes, the history, the sets, the painstaking period details, the scandal, the tragedy, the fighting, the melodrama... And it stars Paul Giamatti! I'm salivating already.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I've Missed You, Errol Morris

I can't believe the past five years have been Errol Morris-less! That's far too long. But I'm super excited, because I get to go to an advance screening of his new film, Standard Operating Procedure, on Wednesday, March 12th. It doesn't open until some time in April, so this is a huge score.'s not even a public event. It's the special Chicago critics' screening in the really awesome little screening room! I was there once before, but it wasn't really a press thing (it was still awesome - it was a screening of Into the Wild followed by a Q & A with Emile Hirsch). So, this will be a totally new experience.

I'm so insanely lucky to have a hook-up. I wouldn't even ask if it wasn't Errol Freaking Morris! Ahh!! I adore him and everything he's ever done. Seriously. I pretty much worship him. I love him with a burning passion reserved for only a very few filmmakers in my life. The Fog of War is one of my ten favorite films of all time, and he's the best documentarian ever. Are my expectations high for Standard Operating Procedure? Of course! Are they too high? Probably...but I don't care! It's Errol Morris!

Further evidence of his infallibility is his short film, "The Nominees," that opened the 2007 Oscars. Enjoy! Bask in his brilliance!

Reunited and it feels so good...

The Adrienne Shelly Foundation

About two months ago, my life was irrevocably changed when I watched Adrienne Shelly's glorious final film, Waitress. Rarely have I been so moved by a film experience. You can read my original review here. I can probably count the movies that have affected me that deeply on two hands. I connected with the main character, Jenna (played exquisitely by Keri Russell), so profoundly. She's terribly unhappy and stuck in a horrible marriage with an abusive husband, she's pregnant with a baby that represents eternal bondage to her current misery, and while she knows that she deserves better in her life, she doesn't really believe in herself. She's too insecure to take the risks required to affect change. The odds seem insurmountable. Jenna is beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, and a wizard with pies. She's like a magnificent flower blooming in the midst of a garbage dump. Waitress is such a special film with a powerful message of hope and love and learning to believe in yourself. You have to save yourself and take control of your own life. I have found so much comfort in Waitress, as I'm sure many other people have. It has truly been an inspiration.

The incomparable Adrienne Shelly wrote, directed, and starred in Waitress. As Jenna's friend Dawn, she lights up the screen with her presence. It's especially fitting that she is named "Dawn," because she's as radiant as a sunrise. Tragically, Adrienne Shelly was murdered on November 1, 2006. She never knew that Waitress was accepted to Sundance, and she wasn't able to witness the amazing success the film has had. Somehow, though, I think she knows. And even though someone cruelly and heartlessly took her life way too soon, hers is a light that cannot be extinguished. Her legacy lives on, and she is still with us.

Adrienne Shelly started as an actress who got her big break in Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth (1989). She worked with Hartley again in 1990's Trust and continued to act in films and television, but she always wanted to make her own movies. She eventually wrote, directed, and starred in three features: Sudden Manhattan (1997), I'll Take You There (1999), and Waitress (2007). She also wrote Serious Moonlight (to be released in 2009), which was directed by Waitress co-star Cheryl Hines.

When she died, she was married to Andy Ostroy, and they had been together for five years. She gave birth to their daughter, Sophie Ostroy, in 2003. Sophie, a gorgeous little girl left without a mother at such a young age, also appears in Waitress. Even as a little girl, it's clear that she inherited her mother's spirit. I think it's safe to say that Waitress was her biggest passion project, and it shows. Shelly wrote the script while she was pregnant with her daughter, so I think in many ways it's a love letter to her baby. And what a letter it turned out to be. When Sophie is old enough to see the film and understand it, she will realize just what a precious gift her mother left for her. Jenna writes a letter to her unborn baby in the movie, but Waitress IS Adrienne's letter to Sophie. The film positively bursts with Adrienne's love for her daughter, and with her love for life.

In Adrienne's memory, her husband Andy Ostroy established The Adrienne Shelly Foundation to help women filmmakers realize their potential. This is from Andy Ostroy's letter on the official website:

"Adrienne was fiercely dedicated to the art of filmmaking and, at 5’1”, stood tall in an industry where women face many challenges and hurdles to climb. But she did it, and on her own terms. She was able to successfully make the transition from actor to filmmaker, having written and directed three features. Her last directorial effort, 'Waitress,' premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, was sold to Fox Searchlight Pictures within hours of its screening, and went on to become a smash box-office success nationwide. In the brief weeks and months after her death, Adrienne had finally reached the critical acclaim of which she always dreamed."

Her fierce determination is evident in every frame of her work. Waitress was her version of "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar." With the cinematic landscape so pitifully littered nowadays with sexist stereotypes and characters that embarrass me as a woman, Adrienne Shelly emphatically and thankfully provided strong female role models. That's so rare and wonderful. Waitress is a completely empowering film, and her feminine (and proud of it!) voice rings loud and clear. It's obvious that she was a tough cookie. She had to be. In an industry dominated by men, Adrienne Shelly fought her way in and proved she had what it takes. That's what women have to do. They have to fight for their dreams.

There are some great female filmmakers working today, like Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette), Hilary Brougher (Stephanie Daley), Susanne Bier (After the Wedding), Sarah Polley (Away from Her), and Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry, Stop-Loss), but there should be more. We need more female voices out there.

I've witnessed this patriarchal system firsthand. I recently graduated from college. I was one of a rare species: a female film major. I received my BA in film with a concentration in film/critical studies. My field was more co-ed than most, which isn't saying a lot, because there were times when I was the only girl in a class of 20. If I was really lucky, maybe there would be one other female. But the lack of a feminine presence was always glaringly noticeable. I felt the sting of this gap most in production classes that required making our own films and working very closely with coursemates. There would be maybe three or four girls, if that many, in a class of 16. You do the math. That's intimidating, even though it shouldn't be. The ratio alone makes women have to try harder to get noticed, no matter how progressively feminist the teacher may be. There's just a whole lot of testosterone flowing. Nobody ever said anything directly. No one ever put women down in class. Of course not. But it was always there, and as a woman, I felt it. And if it's like this in school, then amplify that by about a hundred in the "real world."

Since I've witnessed this imbalance for myself, it makes me appreciate the work of The Adrienne Shelly Foundation even more. Adrienne Shelly's career is a triumph. She was a female trailblazer, and women filmmakers owe her a great debt for her fearless pursuit of her dreams and the refusal to compromise her amazing vision. This non-profit organization is giving women opportunities that might not be, and probably wouldn't be, available otherwise. It's devoted to advancing the progress of women in filmmaking. From the website's main page: "Adrienne's passion in life was to make movies. She lived for her art; she never compromised her integrity or commitment to her vision. She always strived to help women obtain every opportunity possible to create their mark in film."

Here is the organization's mission statement: "The Adrienne Shelly Foundation supports the artistic achievements of female actors, writers and directors through a series of scholarships and grants, providing recipients with financial support and consultative access to the Foundation's advisory board of actors, directors, producers, composers, law, publicity, academic and trade professionals. Reflecting Adrienne's spirit, generosity, courage and whimsy, our goal is to recognize the tremendous passion and commitment of women artists in creating their own work, and provide them with support and guidance particularly during periods of transition and struggle."

"Support" is such a key part of that statement. The organization is doing a beautiful thing by supporting female filmmakers, and I think Adrienne would be immensely proud.

For more on The Adrienne Shelly Foundation and what you can do to help, or for information on how to apply for grants and scholarships, the official website is:

Andy Ostroy is the Executive Director of the organization, which is headquartered at:

Adrienne Shelly Foundation, Inc.
16 West 22nd Street
11th Floor
New York, NY 10010

Other methods of reaching The Adrienne Shelly Foundation:

Phone number: (212) 381-1702
Fax number: (212) 924-9949

Donations are welcome and greatly appreciated. They are also tax-deductible and can be sent via regular mail to the above address, or you can donate online through the official site using PayPal:

Adrienne Shelly blazed a path of brilliance for women filmmakers. She made the films she wanted, and we're so fortunate that she did. Even though it shouldn't have to be, Waitress is a moving memorial to a great woman. Her own words and art preserve her legacy the best. The Adrienne Shelly Foundation is continuing the work that she can no longer do, and brilliantly at that. In the film industry, a woman has to be extra special to make it. Luckily, Adrienne Shelly was, is, and always will be special.

On the main page of the organization's website, these words perfectly describe Adrienne Shelly: "Those who knew Adrienne knew her as wonderfully funky, spirited, funny, silly and smart. She believed in spreading love wherever she went. She was a truly kind and beautiful soul, whose infectious smile illuminated everything around her. There was no one else like her."

When I described the character of Jenna in Waitress in my opening paragraph, I definitely had Adrienne Shelly in mind, especially the parts about facing insurmountable odds, believing in yourself, and taking control of your own life. Adrienne faced and overcame seemingly insurmountable odds, believed in herself enough to take risks and express her unique artistic vision, and took control of her life and made her dreams a reality. Thank you, Adrienne, for being such an inspiration. Thank you for touching my heart and my life.

While everything about her phenomenal masterpiece, Waitress, is a powerful and constant reminder of Adrienne Shelly's extraordinary life, talent, and passion, two specific quotes strike me as especially poignant:

Jenna: "I was addicted to saying things and having them matter to someone."

Ogie, hopeless romantic and poet, tells Dawn, Shelly's character: "If I had a penny for everything I love about you, I would have many pennies."

Adrienne Shelly certainly said some wonderful and profound things in her short life, and they mattered to a lot of people. They still matter and resonate every single day and will continue to do so, because SHE matters to a lot of people. She always will.

And, if we had a penny for everything we loved about Adrienne...well, we would have many, many pennies indeed.