The hate-watch

Too much negativity, bro. Don't be like Don Omar.

Too much negativity, bro. Don’t be like Don Omar.

It was around this time last year that a horror movie was going around that was getting the type of praise that I typically look for in choosing my titles now: “scariest movie ever,” “caused faintings,” “incredibly messed up.” These types of descriptors all tend to signal things that I like in horror movies, so when the time came that I could finally see it, I was pretty excited.

And then when I watched it… I hated it. I hated it so much. There were a few parts that I think I liked at the moment, but I can no longer even remember them because my hate for the rest of the movie clouded any sort of rational memories I had relating to the film. I hated it so much that I get mad now if somebody even mentions the title. I found myself beginning to distrust people who liked it on a personal level. I’m getting mad now that I’m wasting so many words on it!

I’d love to just let it be, let it fester and rot and wither away in the back of my mind until one day I cross that threshold in my life where I never think of it again and only then will I truly be happy.

Except they went ahead and made a sequel. And by all accounts–including people who also hated the first one–it is a huge improvement on the original.

I am… conflicted.


I admit, sometimes I’ll watch movies with the expectation that I’m going to hate them. I might harbor some resentment toward a particular actor or filmmaker, maybe it got “over-hyped,” maybe it won some award I thought should’ve gone too something else. It also happens sometimes when a movie looks like it’s going to be a “bad movie” from the trailers–and people go see it with the specific intention of making fun of it. I’m not here for that.

It’s very, very easy to watch a movie you’re expecting to hate and have your bias confirmed by movie’s end. Once you lift the veil, it’s simple to pick out flaws that you might not have noticed had you allowed yourself to become more involved in the story. When you keep yourself at a distance… well, of course you’re not going to like it.

I try to like (or at least try to enjoy the experience of watching) most movies. But I do think it’s harder to champion the movies you love than it is to pick apart the ones you dislike. To proclaim your love of a movie puts you in a vulnerable position, certainly–offering a little piece of yourself, saying “this is what I like.”


Liking the movies I watch is pretty much always the side I’d like to be on, in an ideal world. There are too many movies that I’m destined to love to spend my time watching stuff just to hate on it. In the words of Tego Leo in Fast Five: “Too much negativity, bro.”

So… about the movie in question? I still don’t know. Maybe if I read this entry again and get myself into a zen place, I can forget the trauma of the first movie and be able to give it a far chance. Maybe I’ll ignore the movie when it comes around, and watch another one of those classics I’ve been meaning to. Or maybe I’ll get in a dark place, watch the movie anyway, and write a snarky review on Letterboxd. Those do always seem to get the most play…

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Fear Itself, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love horror movies

People lined up waiting for the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland

Brave souls at the Haunted Mansion.

One of the oddest inconsistencies of my childhood self is that for all of my Halloween-loving, black-wearing, Tim-Burton-worshipping pseudo-gothic tendencies, I was a huge wuss when it came to anything I perceived as “scary.”

I distinctly remember going to Disneyland and being too terrified to even attempt the Haunted Mansion, feeling the chill on my spine as we passed by. The first time I even went on Indiana Jones was with my eyes shut tight, gently swaying in the darkness as our jeep delved deeper into (what I assumed was) some sort of hellmouth. “That was great!” I lied afterwards, chatting in great detail about how well-crafted the queue area was, and quickly steering the party towards something a little less intimidating.

Something changed though, around high school. I started facing my fears. As a burgeoning film fanatic, my avoidance of all things horror was starting to get in the way of my overarching quest for cinematic knowledge. I was determined to condition myself, to power through no matter how terrifying the experience was going to be.

Linda Blair in The Exorcist

Are you there, God? It’s me, Regan.

I started with The Exorcist, since it was lauded as a Great Film even outside of its horror pedigree. But a funny thing happened: as a teen girl literally experiencing the metaphor of the movie at the time that I watched it… I thought Regan was great, totally rational, maybe a bit dramatic but I felt her. And most importantly, I wasn’t scared.

Around this time, Bravo started airing a special countdown of their “100 Scariest Movie Moments,” and I quickly became obsessed. Bolstered by the confidence of seeing that The Exorcist was ranked as #2, I compiled a list of all the movies mentioned and began watching through them, determined to now find one that actually scared me.

And yet, I soon realized that my expectations of the “scares” were almost always much worse than what was delivered. I had assumed that watching a horror movie would give me the same feeling of being in real, physical danger that my own imagination and nightmares could do. That is, of course, the essence of horror film, but somehow my young self didn’t realize that there would be any sort of barrier. Some films are more successful at shattering that wall, of course, and I have enjoyed seeking out movies that play on my own fears. But I think, partly because I had built horror films into these mythic, transcendent objects, I was giving them power over me, assuming that my fear response in watching them would be unpleasant. In fact, I’ve found quite the opposite. Every horror movie that I watch now feels like a triumph over my irrational avoidance, and I’m able to wholly enjoy the experience for what it is.

A part of me wishes I had started earlier so I’d have seen more at this point, or at least been more inspired by them growing up. But at the same time, I think I can appreciate them more now–for their entertainment, for their plays on raw emotion, and for their quality as films.

Thank heaven for little girls

Gaston and Honore, Gigi

Want Joe Biden, need Joe Biden

Each time I see a little girl of five or six or seven
I can’t resist the joyous urge to smile and say
Thank heaven for little girls
for little girls get bigger every day!

An awkward thing happened during this weekend’s edition of my Great Education Musical Curriculum. I was settling into my next entry, Gigi (1958), thinking about how much Maurice Chevalier looks like Joe Biden, when Honore Lachaille started crooning “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” At first I was excited–part of the joys of watching these classic musicals is hearing familiar songs and discovering their origin and intended context, so I was glad the movie was already kicking off with a “biggie.”

But this time, since I was watching the movie, I actually listened to the lyrics. As he kept going, I was thinking… “Wait, what? Did he really just describe little girls’ eyes as “helpless and appealing?” And indeed he did.

As a modern viewer, it can be challenging to put aside today’s perspective and just get into the story as a contemporary audience might have seen it. So do I think Honore is a pedophile? Mais non… of course not. Logically, I can ascribe the necessary context to the film and proceed with understanding. Harder though, is to put aside that “icky” feeling I got when Gaston compares Gigi’s to his theoretical daughter (placing him in a definitive father figure role), yet within an hour they’re passionately in love. It’s hard to ignore cues that mean one thing in 1958 and something else entirely here in 2013, as it’s impossible to watch anything completely in a bubble–you’ll always be bringing outside influences along with you.

So… what to do? There’s not yet a magic potion to take to immediately get in the mindset of somebody in the year a movie was released (incidentally, if that does happen, my first stop will probably be Psycho). The best I think we can do is understand the time period, acknowledge the issue, and decide for yourself whether it’s a big enough problem to influence your enjoyment of the movie. It goes both ways–while there are cases like Gigi where my enjoyment might be tampered, I wouldn’t pass judgement on someone who was able to get past that, and in fact I’m a bit jealous of that particular skill set.

There are plenty of older movies that I love that are problematic, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s responsibility to either completely accept or completely dismiss a work based on these outside factors. Be they scary, romantic, thrilling, dramatic, or comical, I go to movies to have fun. One thing that’s easy to forget is just how extraordinarily subjective that threshold is.

Probably the best piece of advice I took away from my screenwriting professor was: “Just because I liked a movie that you didn’t like doesn’t mean you’re a better or smarter person for not liking it. It just means I had a better two hours than you did.”

Work advice from a Hollywood assistant

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My go-to piece of advice for people asking me about working in the film industry is simply: be awesome.

That sounds kind of cutesy, but really it’s about demonstrating enthusiasm even when that might not be your natural instinct. We always want to believe that as the smart, capable person you know yourself to be, you’re always going to be asked to do things that challenge you mentally and live up to your idea of your own worth. However, as a PA or an assistant of any kind, you’re likely going to be asked to do some silly shit. This happens in any job really, but in the film industry, it tends to be fewer instances of “fill out this tedious paperwork so accounting knows how much we spend on paper clips” and more “stand next to that truck for eight hours to make sure nothing happens to it. And no texting.”

Approaching your job with that kind of an attitude is especially harmful to a PA though, and tends to be the sticking point for a lot of people I have seen starting out who I know aren’t going to be around much longer. I had a friend who thought he wanted to work as a PA, but when I brought him on a set he continually questioned why he had to number takes in a certain way, or why the cords had to be wrapped, or why we all stood still during the takes. And sometimes you can’t explain why you have to do it this way… you just do. That’s just how it’s done.

Consider for example, the water coolers at one of my old jobs. We had two: one was for plain ice water, the other done up with some fancy flavor of the day. When I started working there, the assistant whose job it was to mix up the water would typically just cut a up a lemon or a lime and leave it at that. Everyone in the office was perfectly happy with their lemon water and lime water, because it’s pretty good, it worked well enough, and they were used to it.

Every once in a while though, that assistant would be out of town or busy doing something else, and the water task would come to me. Now, I could just put the lemons in the water and everything would be fine. But as the low-ranking member in the office, sometimes you just have to show off a little. You never know who’s watching or how many other chances you’ll get—on some tasks, like, say, firewatching the grip truck or buying crafty from a designated shopping list, it’s sometimes not easy to noticeably excel other than simply completing the task in a timely fashion.

So I took the water-making as an opportunity, and when it was my turn I’d raid the communal fridge for my concoctions, figuring out exotic flavor combinations to test out in water form. Cucumber mint, strawberry basil, blueberry lemon. Turns out, they were delicious! My desk was close enough that, on my days, I could hear people in the kitchen literally just talking about how good the water was today.

All in all, it took me a negligible amount of time to prepare these recipes, but my effort were not only noticed, but appreciated.It was something that maybe seemed like an annoying, menial task, but I treated it like it was of the utmost importance. One of the things I’ve had to engrain in my head about being a PA is that nothing is below you. You ARE the bottom. But it’s little things like this that you can parlay into greater responsibilities now that you’ve been noticed. It’s not a huge step from being, say, the general office PA who’s asked to buy and wrap gifts for a producer’s husband, to having her like and trust you enough to stay on as her own assistant.

So if it’s a necessity, always try to find a way to excel at it. It will make you feel more fulfilled with your task—maybe even proud—even if it’s something as simple as making water.

The Great Educational Musical Curriculum

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One of my favorite parts of Butt-Numb-a-Thon has been the great vintage musicals that we’ve been treated to. I’ve always considered myself a “person that likes musicals” but as I started to thinkabout it, I actually haven’t seen that many. I mean, I’ve seen the basics, but any further than that and I have only the basic knowledge of the few most notable songs.

So, I decided to make a change.

Weekends tend to be a good day when Jeff is doing other things first thing in the morning, so I have an hour or two to my own devices after my own morning rituals. In the spirit of BNAT, I’ve started going through musical boot camp, and trying to watch a new one each weekend. I was first dependent on the Netflix Instant availability, but the range there was a bit haphazard and their categorization of musicals was often dependent on the marketing of the picture itself rather than the traditional idea of a “musical.” For instance, I watched Lulu Belle, which was an interesting flick but by no means a musical in most meanings of the word. I did catch the great Crosby/Hope travel picture Road to Bali in that same category though, which was so sharp and funny–seemed like it hadn’t aged a day. But I did a thorough routing of the Netflix DVD archive, and have added a ton of stuff for me to enjoy in the coming weeks.

This morning I watched An American in Paris, which was home to at least two classic Gershwin tunes: “I Got Rhythm” and “‘S Wonderful.” I love watching vintage musicals like this and discovering–Oh, that’s where that song comes from! The characters were kind of odd in that everybody was kind of being dishonest and mean to each other… it seems like some kind of old-fashioned values where you’d fall in love with several different people and then have to choose which one you actually wanted to end up with. In modern times movies I can see sleeping with a bunch of different people, bur falling in love… whoa! But anyway, Gene Kelly is still charming and hunky so I didn’t mind so much that he was playing all these different ladies. Just keeping dancing and we’ll all be good.

2012 Superlatives

Best Mind Fuck:
Detention

Best Victories for the Weird Kids:
Paranorman
Frankenweenie

Best Cotton Candy:
Vamps
Katy Perry: A Part of Me

Fiercest Lady Heroes:
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
Elisabeth Shaw, Prometheus

Fiercest Lady Villains:
The Queen, Snow White and the Huntsmen
Angelique, Dark Shadows

Most Inspirational:
Joyful Noise (“I am an incandescent, board-certified supermodel, baby.”)
Django Unchained (riding off into the sunset)

Best Moment Created Specifically for the Internet:

Shirtless Channing Tatum eating pizza, holding a cat, The Vow

Biggest “That’s Messed UP” moments:
Sinister (“Hanging out with the family”)
Hope Springs (Meryl Streep grazes Tommy Lee Jones’ junk)

Best Movie Based on a Self-Help Book:
Think Like a Man

Worst Movie Based on a Self-Help Book:
What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Best of the Year of the Channing:
Magic Mike
10 Years

Character Most Identified With:
Joyce Brewster (Barbra Streisand), The Guilt Trip
Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis), The Hobbit

Most Watched:

  1. Detention – 7 total (4 in theater, 3 at home)
  2. Paranorman – 3 total (3 in theater)
  3. The Avengers – 3 total (2 in theater, 1 at home)
  4. The Dark Knight Rises – 3 total (2 in theater, 1 at home)
  5. Titanic – 3 total (2 in theater, 1 at home)
  6. The Hunger Games – 3 total (2 in theater, 1 at home)
  7. The Hobbit – (2 in theater, 1 at home [Screener])
  8. Psycho – 3 total (1 in theater, 2 at home)

I watched 410 movies in total in 2012. Yay movies!

fridge

Labor Day weekend, like most holidays, meant that I had my usual Sunday evening guilt of not having done enough around the house… but actually gave me an extra day to do it. So I cleaned the fridge. This is what it looked like before:

The biggest problems were that food was getting forgotten about as it was pushed to the back on that middle shelf there, the condiments on the door were constantly rotating (and thus difficult to find), and well, some stuff that we just didn’t need anymore. Also it was dirty. YUCK.

Step one was emptying the entire thing, pulling out each shelf and scrubbing it down with warm water and baking soda (as prescribed by Martha Stewart). I tossed anything that hadn’t been used for a while or was a momentary taste-fling. I moved the top shelf higher, to give more room to that middle shelf, since the top shelf is easier to see.

I grouped together the condiments into kind and by how frequently they actually get used. PB&J ZONE! The drinks and stuff are now in the middle shelf, and I’ve start strategically placing leftovers right in the middle there, so we’re sure to find a good use for them!

All in all, a gratifying end to a weekend, didn’t take too long but made me feel like I had actually accomplished something.