Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer's the Worst: (500) Days of Summer

If you've read this blog, well, at all, you are probably aware of my deep and unabiding lovelust for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I've given shout-outs to his films Brick and 10 Things I Hate About You. In my liveblog of the latter's TV version, I lamented about how I missed him and how his whiny successor just wasn't cutting it.

Why, you ask, am I so into the JGL? Naturally, the physical plays a big part. It starts with that mop of hair, touchable whether it's straight and feathery or venturing into Jewfro territory. Those almond-shaped eyes that radiate intensity. And can we talk about that gorgeous smile? In a completely un-Hollywood way (especially considering he grew up in L.A. as a child actor), HE DOESN'T HAVE PERFECT TEETH. His eyes squinch up and it's unassumingly sexy--a good-looking guy who doesn't realize how very good-looking he is. Most of his characters aren't super-smiley--so when he grins, it leaves you wanting more and more.

Since I saw and then became obsessed with Brick in 2006, I've followed JGL's career--everything from shitty bit parts in Havoc (don't see it EVER, Anne Hathaway is still banging her head against the wall for taking the lead role) to leads in quiet, interesting indies like Manic. I get the feeling that although Joe is not Brad Pitt, he doesn't want to be. This is an actor that could have easily coasted and made a pretty penny in teen movies. Instead, after 10 Things I Hate About You, he quit acting to go to college. (And unlike, say, the Olsen twins, he wasn't well-known enough for this to be a PR move.) Granted, he never graduated, leaving Columbia for the movies after two years of studying French. I feel that's understandable, however--the acting business waits for no one, and not everyone put off taking roles for four whole years. In short, I give most actors who attempt college a lot of credit: they have perspective outside the slick fantasyland of Hollyweird, and they want a little taste of the real, even if they can't stay there forever.

JGL radiates an intelligence and thoughtfulness in both interviews and in career choices. I don't know much about his family life, but it seems like his parents weren't Lohans or Jacksons and kept him pretty grounded. Yes, he's also in G.I. Joe this summer, reflecting the "one for them, one for me" actor mindset. But more than anything, JGL strikes me as someone who doesn't choose roles for the gajillions of dollars or the Oscar potential, but because he finds them interesting. That's cool, rare, and just ups the hotness in my book.

As for Zooey Deschanel, I go back and forth. (And no, it's not just because she gets to kiss my man. Give me a little credit.) I enjoyed her as rebellious Anita Miller in Almost Famous (who didn't love the line, "this song explains why I'm leaving home to be a stewardess"?) and as Sarah Jessica Parker's bird-hating roommate in Failure to Launch. (Oh, sue me. My mom paid.) In the latter, she won me over when she dryly instructed her tweeting nemesis, "Shut up, whore." I even kind of like that stupid hipster-bait Cotton commercial when she traipses about her lovely indie life, selecting vintage banjos and flipping through records in a store with way too flattering lighting. At times, however, she gets on my nerves. I thought she was all wrong for Trillian in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--though aside from Mos Def, that entire movie was pretty awful. And as a whole, I abhor when someone's perceived as "deep" when the unfocused look in their eyes may very well be "stoned.

That said, it's cool to see a rom-com heroine who ISN'T played by Kate Hudson. Who if the previews are any indication, also has a modicum of intellect and *gasp!* might not make it her life's work to land The One. Who plays opposite a guy who also seems smart and funny, and who isn't Matthew McConnaughey, fake-tanned into frat-boy oblivion. Not to mention that I was intrigued by the tagline, "This is not a love story." Sign me up.

Here's the basic plot: Tom (played by my future husband) is a wannabe architect who works for an L.A. greeting card company. When Summer (Zooey D.) breezes into the office as the boss' new assistant, Tom is instantly smitten. Although Summer may not reciprocate--she confesses that she's not so into relationships (and in the audience, Unpro silently chants: "Amen, sista!")--she and Tom enter into a courtship where they do things like goof around furniture displays at IKEA and yell naughty words in public. They're very happy. Until they're not. When Summer abruptly ends the unlabeled whatever-it-was, Tom is destroyed. Despite warnings from his two best friends and his wordly-wise lil sis (not Abigail Breslin, but I bet they wanted her), he vows to win back Summer's love. But was it ever really love in the first place? The film jumps around in the timeline of Tom's mind (so don't worry, I'm not giving away any spoilers here) to illuminate a twosome that is way more flawed when given a second look.

So, how 'bout we start with what I HATED?

  • For a large part of the movie, I actively disliked the title character. Yes, Summer is lovely, dresses cute, and doesn't require a man to get by. That said, she's a TWIT. Oooh, she has bangs! Oooh, she likes The Smiths! Ooooh, she had a relationship with another woman in college! (That last one angered me most of all. Seriously, writers? Stop feeding into the male fantasy. Yes, people experiment in college, but most women who have relationships with other women? They're called LESBIANS. And they don't. like. dudes.) All this would be well and good if she said anything remotely intelligent. And no, I don't consider declaring Ringo to be your favorite Beatle "intelligent." Granted, most of the movie is from Tom's perspective, but at times, Summer came off as borderline retarded. Is this what guys want? Ugh. Ugh. UGH.
  • Here's my main issue with Summer: girls like her are the bane of my existence. Oh, they walk among us. They crush on the same tall, dark-haired indie drinks of water I do. They win over these guys with quirkiness that trumps mine (because I wear glasses, am loud, hold a real job, and am alternative but not excessively so). THEN . . . they follow whatever sparkly fairy lives in their brain (whereas the spirit of Tina Fey lives in mine, or at least I like to think so) and flit off to whimsically break yet another heart. And then--guess who the mopey guy turns to when he's on the ledge? That's right--chicks like me are perpetually picking up the pieces left in the wake of girls like Summer. And. Boys. Never. Learn.
  • That said, Tom annoyed me too. Granted, it took longer because it was JGL, but man, the guy was MOPEY. Remember how when you were younger, you thought the emo guys were sooo deep because they were all broody and dark? Then you grew up and realized they were just whiners with no motivation? Yeah, that's Tom for a lot of the movie. The fact that he just refused to get over Summer really, really bugged me.
Then I realized, for better and for worse, that I saw myself in both of them.
Because we've all been Summer. I'm not talking about the aggressive quirkiness and inexplicable charm. I'm talking about the fact that at some point in your life, you take up with somebody who likes you better than you like them. It might be a time where you don't want anything serious, it might be that you like having a warm body next to you, or a little bit of both. And you may very well be upfront from the beginning--that you aren't in it for the long haul. But the other person doesn't listen. And you know it's wrong because they will inevitably get hurt, but you go along with it. Until you can't. And no matter how guilty and awful you feel, there's nothing you can do to make the other person feel better--except get back together with them, and that's not fair.

And we've all been Tom too. We've held on to a liaison for a painful amount of time, swearing this person is The One even when our pals try to set us straight. We've played numerous games of denial, thinking of we just wait long enough or say the exact right words or play the perfect song over and over, everything will be restored to the bliss it once was (or so we think, as we've idealized and fetishized this person in our minds). Scenes from the relationship are on constant repeat, as we agonize over what we did and didn't do to screw it up. And we just will NOT accept defeat, until we are slapped in the face when our expectations don't come anywhere near reality (illustrated in the film with an inspired split-screen sequence).
That's been me. That's been you. And the filmmakers get it beautifully.

It's a fact: most relationships don't work out. I'm not talking about the divorce rate. For every happy ending--whether that's marriage, life-long commitment, or just settling down with a chosen One--there are a million sad endings. And those include the people who eventually find everlasting love--the majority have to suffer through at least one bad breakup. But you know what the great thing about relationships is? You learn. You almost always learn. And by the end of the film, Tom and Summer have learned. Because of their time together, they'll be better. In many ways, that's the happiest ending I can imagine. (Or maybe I'm just really morose. But still.)

This ain't the feel-good movie of the year, y'all. At the same time, it's not depressing either. Sure, it's sad at some points and downright cringeworthy at others. But the word that comes to mind when I think of (500) Days of Summer is this: relatable. The two principals are believable and accessible in their happiness, confusion and heartbreak. You have experienced what they've experienced, in some form or another. And you got through it, right? You'll root for Tom to do the same (the movie is from his perspective), even when you want to smack him to expedite the process.

Also, it's a damn pretty movie to watch. Not just because of the comely leads, but the art direction is phenomenal, the best cinematic eye candy I've seen since Marie Antoinette. The entire color scheme is brown and blue--according to IMDb, it was designed around Zooey Deschanel's eyes, and no matter how you feel about her acting, you can't deny those vivid peepers. Also, the film plays a lot with lines, in both the greeting-card illustrations Tom faces at his day job, and the architectural drawings he favors. Plus, the filmmakers get just how lovely L.A. can be. I remember visiting the city back in 2007, for the first time since I was a kid. I had been warned at what a parking-lot wasteland the place was, nowhere near as glamourous as you would imagine the epicenter of film. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty of Los Angeles. Maybe you have to look a little harder, but it's right there waiting.

Finally, I can't hate a movie that appreciates the evocative charm of Regina Spektor, enough to use her songs in two key scenes. I just can't.

My final verdict? SEE IT. You won't be smiling all the way through. You'll recall the anger and frustration of relationships that died a slow and painful death. But by the end, you'll feel better. You'll remember that sometimes we have to survive the bad stuff in order to earn the good. You'll think about it the next day. And the next. And if you're like me, you'll have a very interesting discussion with a like-minded friend.

And then you'll see it again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Thanks to Sadako of Dibbly Fresh and Get a Pencil and Your Casebook, The Unprofessional Critic has won its very first award. And what an award it is!

The Evil Pink Unicorn sees all, knows all, and spears all annoying teddy bears who get too close to her essential pinkness. She also commends good bloggers for being hilarious, bizarre, and just plain fun.

And here is my acceptance speech:
OMG, I had no idea I was going to win this! (Pulls out a pre-prepared JFK quote, a la Alice Ripley at the Tony Awards) John F. Kennedy said, "A blog in the hand is worth two in the bush." What beautiful and inspirational words those are. I'd like to thank my nonexistent literary agent; my nonexistent children--Go to bed, kids, Mommy loves you!--and I want to give a shout-out to ALL THE PEOPLE who said that a 29-year-old office employee couldn't write a blog that was worthy of the Evil Pink Unicorn! Haha, I showed YOU! Most of all, I would like to thank God, because I feel God in this Chili's tonight. WOO! *tears of joy as exit music plays*

Seriously, y'all, thanks for reading. Special shout-outs to Sadako, ihatewheat, and Rachel, my unofficial publicist. I wasn't even sure my friends were going to read my ramblings (because they have to hear them in real life), and now I have cool readers whom I don't even know!

PLEASE keep reading, and pimp this thing out! Forward it to your friends and even people you don't like. If you have a blog you'd like me to guest on, or if you've created something you'd like me to review, email me at I do have some possible book reviews lined up, but they won't be happening for several months, and I'd love to get the scoop on up and coming artists!

Coming up on the Unpro: reviews of (500) Days of Summer and Julie & Julia, the latter of which I was able to see last night at an advance screening. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Geeklove: The State

I'm gonna go Sophia Petrillo on your asses for a second: Picture it, small Midwestern town that shall remain nameless, 1994. My cousin and ninth-grade classmate Erin asked me if I'd watched The State on MTV. The answer was a resounding no. I didn't like grunge music, and I was afraid it was one of those weird Alternative Nation type shows.

One night I was over at Erin's, and since she had her own TV I had no choice. After Beavis and Butt-head, she kept the channel on MTV. "You'll like it," she promised. And I was transfixed.

Suffice it to say I was not a cool kid. (Scrape your jaw off the floor.) At least not in my high school. I was number one in a class where it was so socially unacceptable to be smart that the alpha-jock deliberately got average grades. I loathed sports with a passion, preferring busting my ass at dance class with my best friend. Who was a BOY. I assistant directed children's plays and read library books instead of going to football games and trying to convince liberal parents to buy me beer. (Okay, I still went to football games, but I had no idea what the hell was going on.) The clean-cut dudes in blue oxford shirts who populated my tiny Catholic high school did absolutely nothing for me. Neither, for that matter, did my boy best friend. I was fourteen years old and had lived in the same 30-mile radius my entire life. I had the nagging feeling there was something wrong with me.

Then I saw The State, and I started to change my mind.

Sure, the eleven sketch-comedy rogues were technically adults, but they were in the twentysomething realm that was more accessible than parent-age. They possessed the unselfconsciousness of preadolescents, but were old enough to have creative freedom and control. They were almost all male, except for one girl, Kerri of the ever-changing hair and black leather jackets, who more than held her own with the boys. You could tell they didn't mess with her. I remember watching in the basement of my house, inches away from the TV just in case I had to change it quick lest my mom come down and deem it inappropriate. In at least half the sketches, someone had a cigarette dangling out of their mouth. In one sketch, Kerri was actually sitting there SMOKING like it was no big deal. My eyes widened at the sight--she was baaaaaad. And though I thought smoking was gross, I wanted to be that bad too. I wanted to spend my days with fun, cool guys who considered me an equal and didn't ogle my boobs.

Because The State gang was baaaaad--but not in a petty-crime, teenage-sex type way that terrified me (Catholic school will do that if you buy into the hype). They were bad in a fun way. Their sketches were dirty but quotable, irreverent but really freaking smart. I didn't know you could be both. I didn't know that intelligent could be regarded as hilarious too. I know, I know, Saturday Night Live--but you have to remember that at this point, SNL was pretty awful. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey had left, David Spade's schtick was getting so old, and I didn't yet know that Michael McKean was way more awesome than those hack writers were making him out to be. Plus, duh, SNL was my parents' thing. The State, on the other hand, was mine.

The group was tight, you could tell. Later, I found out that most of them had met at NYU's Tisch School for the Arts. (I would also find out that Tom Lennon hails from the suburbs of Chicago--one of my coworkers did community theatre with him.) During the bits where they talked to the camera, they'd be draped all over each other, totally comfortable. During the opening credit sequence, they clustered together in one quirky, very expressive united front. They bantered, collaborated and had fun together. At this point in my life, I had a few very close friends--even now, I'm a girl who takes quality over quantity when it comes to buddies. But at fourteen, I was lonely and craved a group dynamic (even in dance classes, it was often me and my BFF against a gaggle of public school cheerleaders). I longed for the familiarity and shared passion that these eleven had.

And oh, the guys.

Granted, I didn't understand this well enough at hormone-addled fourteen to articulate it. But looking back, there was something about the male cast members. None were conventionally "handsome" (in the way that I'd been brought up to believe was the only way), but several . . . intrigued me. Not just the obviously adorable Ken Marino and Michael Ian Black. But (Robert) Ben Garant's and Joe Lo Truglio's intense eyes. (By the way, Garant has not aged a DAY. Seriously. Watch Reno 911.) Thomas Lennon's sweet, round face and Michael Showalter's cool floppy hair. I thought Michael Patrick Jann's Jesus Christ Superstar Goes Homeless look was dirty, but I blushed whenever his shirt was off. (Which was a lot, if you recall.) What increased the cute factor was this: these guys made me laugh. I wouldn't have admitted it to anyone, but I wanted to hang out with them--then make out with them.

And they liked musicals! The "Porcupine Racetrack" sketch was a thing of beauty: before it aired, Thomas Lennon explained onscreen that MTV had expressly asked them not to do the sketch. But they were going to do it anyway because it was just too funny. (They even rebelled against their own network. I was in AWE.) Then the sketch--homages to Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, and Les Miserables, with decent choreography and singable lyrics. Clearly no one (except MTV) was giving these clearly straight (well, except for Kevin Allison) guys crap for singing and dancing. Sure, "Porcupine Racetrack" was a parody, but you can't effectively make fun of a medium you don't know really, really well. These guys were theatre GEEKS. And they were proud of it. (I was totally turned on.)

Fourth quarter of ninth grade, Erin and I had a study hall. It was second period, and we were good girls who did our homework the night before, so we really had nothing to do. So while our compadres struggled through Business Math worksheets, Erin and I traded long scribbled notes quoting The State. "Um, I don't like you so much, ah, for one, you stinky and for two, you don't smell so nice!", "I'm gonna dip my BALLS in it!", and "I'm outta heeeeeere!" all made the rounds. We also speculated whether Kevin Allison was really gay--after all, in "The Jew, the Italian, and the Red Head Gay," David Wain was actually Jewish and Ken Marino was actually Italian. Yes, it seems weird to me now that there was a time when I wasn't surrounded by menfolk who prefer other menfolk. And yeah, I'd been doing theatre since I was nine, but at this time I still wasn't sure if I knew any gay men. I didn't think so. It would be totally obvious, right?

This note-passing was our nerdy rebellion. Our way of asserting ourselves in an environment where conformity was praised (and I'm not dissing my high school here; high school in general is this way). Later when we graduated, Erin's mom (my aunt) said that we'd had senioritis as freshmen. We weren't hugely precocious or mature, but we had the presence of mind to know that there was a world beyond our 150-person high school. A world where the smart kids not only ruled, but got their very own TV show where they joked about being on speed but still used big words knowing you would understand them. A world where handsome wasn't paint by number looks and came with a sense of humor and wit. A world where a guy could croon a ballad dressed in a gigantic porcupine costume--and misanthropic teens everywhere considered him a hero.

That same year, I started to branch out. I took part in my high school's very first musical. I made friends with very charismatic twin boys in the sophomore class, who not only had rockin' singing voices, but adored The State. (I still remember one of them going, "Michael Ian Black" and shaking his head in reverence.) A year later, I was cast in a show at a large outdoor theatre in the city twenty miles away, and met a darling boy with floppy hair like Michael Showalter. At a cast party, he and I were sitting on one side of the room, eating Doritos and talking about TV.

"You know what was the best?" I enthused, my mouth full of Doritos. "Did you ever watch The State on MTV?"

He looked at me, mouth dropping open. "Oh, my God." I waited--would he think I was weird? "That was my favorite!"

It was settled: he was the one I had been waiting for.

The State was canceled in 1995, mainly because MTV was stupid. (A trend that continues to this day.) But its members have continued to kick ass and take names in Hollywood. In fact, they work the studio system to their full advantage. Tom Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Michael Patrick Jann have been responsible for writing and/or directing such high-concept big-budget fare as Herbie, Fully Loaded (the unfortunate Lohan remake) and the Night at the Museum franchise. They rake in the bucks and fund their own projects, such as the hilarious cop farce Reno 911! (most of The State gang is visible in the 2007 film), which also features Kerri Kenney-Silver and Joe Lo Truglio. Michael Ian Black's ubiquitous, showing up everywhere from VH1 to Sierra Mist ads to another brilliant-but-canceled show, Ed, and collaborating with David Wain and Michael Showalter on such brilliant fare as Stella (long-form acting exercises on crack). The 2001 camp comedy Wet Hot American Summer was a class reunion of sorts, if your class reunion was chock-full of awesome one-liners and montages set to eighties music. (I'd have totally gone to my class reunion if that had been the case.)

Has The State taken over the free world? No. But they're still a huge presence, seen and unseen, in the entertainment industry. Proving that smart really does sell, that one can be successful on his own terms, and that every dork, if patient, will have her day. Inspiring a generation of outcasts who sat inches away from their basement television to laugh loud, talk back, and never be ashamed of their idiosyncracies. Because being different was what got The State their own TV show, successful careers, and each other. There was no telling where being different could take you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gettin' My Guest On

I recapped Lauren Conrad's literary masterpiece, L.A. Candy, for The Dairi Burger--the amazing blog that inspired me to start my own. Leave a comment if you really love me.

I'll be back on Monday with a tribute to one of the greatest sketch comedy shows of all time.

Happy Friday!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Be Nice to the Ghost in Your House, or Life Lessons from Unsolved Mysteries

Without fail, summer makes you think about being a kid. Ah, innocent youth. Not having to support yourself, eating junk without knowing what calories were, and getting the crap scared out of you on a regular basis by an old man wearing a trench coat.

I'll never forget my first experience with Unsolved Mysteries. I was nine years old, at my grandma's house after dance class. Still in my leotard, I plopped down in front of Grandma's TV while she talked with my dad in the kitchen. The cable box was on channel 10--NBC--and a very creepy voice was narrating the story of Crystal, a woman who had gone missing and later turned up dead. Nobody knew why, although neighbors had heard screaming from her apartment earlier that evening. The reenactment faded to a gentleman I recognized from the movie Airplane!--only this time he wasn't funny. He was imploring, nay, ordering me to call a 1-800 number if I had any information about what happened to poor Crystal.

Any normal kid probably would have turned it off. I was not a normal kid.

From ages nine to fourteen, I would regularly tune into Unsolved Mysteries. It wasn't exactly family viewing in the Unpro house, and I was a busy kid, so I didn't watch every single Wednesday (later Friday). But UM was as much a part of my childhood pop culture experience as Full House or The Baby-Sitters Club. If the show were to be believed, there was a whole intriguing world out there. Yes, terrible things befell innocent people, but miracles happened and long-lost siblings were reunited. (When my friend Joe and I were thirteen, we pretended that we were related and that Robert Stack would eventually reveal the truth on national TV.) And I loved the regular Updates on past cases, where some viewer really DID have information, and the guts to call it in. I appreciated how the show was good to the people who watched it: they knew that we remembered the bank robber who wore cheesy disguises, and were kind enough to keep us posted on his eventual capture and jail sentence.

Of course, all good things must come to an end: once I hit sophomore year of high school, Unsolved fell by the wayside. I only watched occasionally, like before my boyfriend picked me up to go to the movies. Then in college, I got into it again, watching on summer mornings when I wasn't working. No one was more excited than I when Lifetime started rebroadcasting updated episodes in 2001. And although the show's second and best-known host (fun fact: Karl Malden was the original guy behind the trench coat, not Robert Stack) has passed away, I'll still tune in the revamped version on Spike TV, hosted by actor and former cop Dennis Farina.

Why was I initially so compelled by UM? I thought about it, and came up with this: as a curious small-town kid in a pre-reality TV world, raised on a diet of sitcoms where everything turned out okay within twenty-two minutes, Unsolved Mysteries was as real as it got. And it stayed with me, to the point where I actually *gasp!* learned stuff. It ain't just for Sesame Street, yo--a little fearmongering can go far. Below are the top 5 life lessons I gleaned from Stack & Co.:

1. Use your noggin. Whether you live in New York City or the middle of nowhere, ask yourself this: is it really a good idea to get into your car without checking the backseat first? Or ask a homeless guy to move in with you? Or jog alone at 2 a.m. on a college campus? I'd love to live in a world where I feel completely safe 100% of the time. Unfortunately, that world doesn't exist as yet. And don't interpret this as victim-blaming, but some folks don't seem to realize that many horrible crimes occur in small towns where "nothing bad could ever happen." From the time I was a little kid, Unsolved Mysteries taught me to keep an eye out for trouble, and to make good decisions about where I went, who I talked to, and most importantly, who I trusted. Sure, at nine years old my whereabouts were largely controlled by my parents, but as I got older the lessons stayed with me. Of course, one shouldn't let caution descend into paranoia. Of course, terrible things can happen to the most sensible of individuals. However, this was the first real place where I learned to go with my gut when I didn't feel safe.

2. Don't mess with the Stack. This dude was not just an actor. HE COULD OBLITERATE YOU WITH HIS EYES. Don't tell me you were never paranoid that he was looking right at you, those pale orbs emanating through the television set when he said, "If you have any information..." Instead of getting less threatening as he grew weaker and more wrinkly, this Untouchables detective turned mystery program host got spookier. More insistent that time was indeed running out to catch the fugitives and identify the lost children. And the voice: that rattling, gravelly timbre responsible for haunting the crap out of nine-year-olds everywhere. After watching Unsolved Mysteries on your grandma's static electricity-inducing TV, a life of crime was just not an option. Robert Stack and his ever-present trench coat were comin' for ya. And they meant business.

3. Pay phones are bad. So are vans, pickup trucks with decals, and gas stations. Living in a major city, I walk a lot. And I STILL edge away from big ole vans, just like I did as a kid. Too many children featured on Unsolved Mysteries were snatched while riding their bikes or going out to buy a new romance novel, never to be heard from again. Women weren't immune to the van threat, either--and they were doubly vulnerable at gas stations with pay phones. Yikes. This life lesson kind of goes along with #1: I learned that anywhere dark, abandoned, or sparsely populated was maybe not the best place to be by myself. Granted, I don't have a car anymore, and pay phones have all but disappeared. Then again, bad stuff happens while waiting for public transportation too.

Funny story about #3: I have a good friend whom I'll call Bob. The summer between my junior and senior year in college, Bob and I would carpool to this outdoor theatre show we were doing, at a historical site in the middle of nowhere. Because our parents were overprotective and cell reception nonexistent, we would often give them a call from the pay phone at the town's only gas station when rehearsal concluded for the evening. One night, I had made the mistake of telling Bob about an Unsolved Mysteries rerun I had watched that day that involved a) a young woman, b) a kidnapper, c) a gas station, d) a pay phone, and e) a truck with an ugly decal. The young woman had been on the pay phone with her boyfriend, but the call was cut short when the boyfriend heard screaming. Witnesses say that a creepy guy in a pickup truck had been hovering near the pay phone (she had asked, "Do you need to use the phone?") and most likely took the young woman against her will. Scary stuff. It gets worse: the boyfriend stayed on the line, and a male voice eventually picked up the phone and said, "I didn't need to use the phone anyway."

Because Bob enjoyed scaring me (still does), after I concluded the "heading home now" call to my parents, he snuck up behind me and said in my ear, "I didn't need to use the phone anyway."


Don't worry, he got an earful of obscenities from me. Probably a slap or two.

4. Humanity can pleasantly surprise you. Two words: Lost Loves. After forty-five minutes of robberies, kidnappings and general nastiness, this segment gently reminded viewers that there were in fact nice people out there--and you could help find other nice people who'd made a positive difference in their lives. My personal favorite: the story of a single mom and her son camped out in a woodsy cabin in rural Germany during World War II. On Christmas Eve, they heard a knock on the door: three American soldiers had lost their way, one of whom was seriously injured and couldn't walk without assistance. But the unexpected visitors didn't stop there: soon after, a few members of the Nazi troops also came upon the cabin. The mother invited everyone to spend the evening out of the cold, on one condition: that all weapons were placed in the shed, out of sight and hopefully out of mind. The food was meager and the language barriers high, but quiet merriment eventually ensued. I can't remember how the mystery itself turned out--I think one of the American soldiers was looking for everyone else, or maybe it was the young son doing the investigating. Either way, the story was a heartening parable on the true meaning of Christmas: in the midst of a terrible war, a group of individuals with wildly different backgrounds and beliefs set their differences aside and came together for one special night. No, I am NOT tearing up right now just thinking about it! It's, um, allergies. Yeah.

5. Be nice to the ghost in your house. Especially if he or she is currently inhabiting the bunk beds you have thoughtfully purchased for your young children. We all have a ghost in our house--a prevalent and annoying presence that seems to exist solely to make your life hell. Even if you're not getting thrown against a wall, screamed at, or otherwise terrorized, chances are the "ghost" is infiltrating your life in an inconvenient manner. The best thing to do? Acknowledge the presence, that it possibly existed before your arrival and no doubt has a history that doesn't involve you. Calmly and politely ask it to leave--verbally or nonverbally, depending on the situation. And if all else fails, get the hell out. Destroy the bunk beds. Realize that some things are indeed out of your control. Know that freaking out is never the answer, and a clear, cool head will get you far. And impress the Stack, who's no doubt sporting a trench coat in that Big TV Set in the Sky.

Was I the only crazy kid who watched Unsolved? Say it ain't so (in the comments)!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Because I Keep My Promises: "10 Things I Hate About You" Liveblog

Well, I did it.

I survived the viewing of the 10 Things I Hate About You pilot. Barely. Below, my liveblog (I use Twitter for these, because it's easier to timestamp).

Gonna start my liveblog of 10 Things I Hate About You: the ABC Family series. Trying to keep an open mind. It's tough.about 1 hour ago from web

Oh, snap! Kat has a truck stop silhouette READING A BOOK dangling from her rearview mirror! IRONIC!43 minutes ago from web

Larry Miller is reprising his role as Dr. Walter Stratford! Awesome! Not impressed by dialogue so far. Trying too hard.43 minutes ago from web

That's so weird: Bianca's friend looks like Gabrielle Union's younger sister. (Gabrielle Union had the part in the movie.)41 minutes ago from web

So far, we've had mentions of Jurassic Park, Fall Out Boy, and Jurassic Park. And I thought I was bad with the pop culture references.40 minutes ago from web

Jurassic Park, Fall Out Boy, and Lifetime. Sorry.40 minutes ago from web

God, I miss Joseph Gordon-Levitt's almond-eyed intensity. Even as dorky Cameron, he had it. This Cameron is really whiny.39 minutes ago from web

They mentioned public-school funding, and how they have to keep the Superintendent's kid happy. I guess that would be an issue...38 minutes ago from web

Cameron totally reminds me of Ox in Not Another Teen Movie. "Miiiitch! Cut it out! STOOOOP!"37 minutes ago from web

They're trying to make Patrick into Robert Pattinson. Even saying he knows the taste of human flesh. GAH!36 minutes ago from web

So Joey and Chastity are dating. That's interesting. Chastity is head cheerleader and Joey is a quarterback. No male model?35 minutes ago from web

"Of the ten things I hated about today, she's number 1, 5, and 8." They worked in the show's title. Not impressed.25 minutes ago from web

So far I'm really not loving the writing. I like Diablo Cody. I don't like people who try to be Diablo Cody. REALLY obvious when you do.24 minutes ago from web

Oh God. It's a pop-up for the Lindsay Lohan movie "Labor Pains."22 minutes ago from web

Bianca is actually pretty cute. She's no Larisa Oleynik, but I kind of like her.22 minutes ago from web

Kat's not a virgin, and Bianca knows it and holds it over her head. Huh.20 minutes ago from web

Kat has a taser? That's stupid. And Patrick's voice sounds like one of those things you talk through to sound deep and scary.19 minutes ago from web

So Joey WANTS to be a model. I don't buy him as a blond. God, I HATE Cameron's whininess!18 minutes ago from web

A Three's Company-style misunderstanding. UGH.17 minutes ago from web

Ad for Lindsay Lohan in "Labor Pains." Working title was "Rock Bottom."17 minutes ago from web

Bianca sarcastically says she'll join show choir because she's not popular. Bianca, Glee is a way better show. Suck on that.13 minutes ago from web

The mom's dead, she didn't walk out. There's no real reason for this change.12 minutes ago from web

"Move it, skinny bitch." I like Mandella.11 minutes ago from web

I do like how Kat's not super skinny. She's thin, but not new-90210-rexic.11 minutes ago from web

I like Bianca's cute purple top. Ha, a Long Duk Dong reference!10 minutes ago from web

Wonder if this generation realizes that "I Want You to Want Me" is a cover of a cover.9 minutes ago from web

Wait. It's OVER? I know that the pilot always has a lot of setup, but that was just..dumb. Totally ADHD in terms of plot. Me no likey!7 minutes ago from web

And the only real music was the cover of I Want You to Want Me. By a girl group from Walt Disney records. LAME.6 minutes ago from web

Since it's in the summer, I wonder if this is a 1-season deal. I'll probably watch it in a rerun if there's nothing good on Bravo or TLC.5 minutes ago from web

My verdict: why must they mess with a great teen movie? If you MUST remake it, do a 2-hour TV movie. Doesn't work as a series.4 minutes ago from web

Watching South Park marathon to get bad taste out of my mouth. Followed by True Blood, which is actually GOOD. I heart Sam.3 minutes ago from web

Did you watch it? If so, what did you think?

Ed. Note: For my take on the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, click here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: 5 Great Reads About J.O.B.'s

These days, we're all about the job. Even before the recession made working a full-time obsession, Americans have struggled with making a living--not just earning enough, but how to meet goals, deal with coworkers, and balance relationships outside the workplace. And these days, getting a job and keeping it has been a huge challenge for everyone, whether you're a CEO, a cashier, or one of the many drones in between. Holding on to your red Swingline? Even bigger.

That said, I love reading about work. It never fails to astound me what a plethora of jobs there are, each one with its own set of stereotypes (office workers are pale and petty; food servers are actors, slackers, or "slactors"; et cetera), unique challenges (in the end, it usually comes down to making someone else happy), and most importantly, potential for drama. With that in mind, I present five terrific books (fiction and non) about the trials and tribulations of the employee.

1. The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: If I could buy Michelle Goodman's helpful and hilarious book for every young working woman, I would. Goodman toiled in various urban office jobs before fleeing the cube for good (aside from the occasional temp job) in her late twenties. Now a successful writer and editor, Goodman offers war stories and advice on everything from finding your dream occupation, to fitting in your pet project when you work 40 hours a week, to navigating the growing worlds of telecommuting and part-timing. She also explores the basics of starting your own business or nonprofit organization, gleaning assistance from female success stories in New York, Seattle and everywhere in between. Subtitled Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube, The Anti 9-to-5 Guide doesn't deride the working world. Rather, it praises its flexibility--and shows you just how to make a job work for you. Because, as Goodman says in the introduction, "life is too short to stress about work when you're sleeping."

2. How Starbucks Saved My Life: Have you ever watched Mad Men? (If not, I highly recommend it--and not just because Jon Hamm is one of the Top Five Most Gorgeous Men on the Planet. But I digress.) Picture Don Draper--or some equally high-powered exec with a liquor cabinet in his office--suddenly losing his job, and therefore a large part of his identity. Then picture Don Draper serving you a Frappuccino and mopping the floor under your table. This is the true story of Michael Gates Gill, a self-proclaimed "son of privilege" who had risen to the top at his company after twenty-five years of hard work. After a sudden layoff, Gill attempted private consulting for ten years with little success. In the meantime, he fathered a child with a woman who wasn't his wife, and realized he didn't know his three adult offspring at all. While drinking a latte at Starbucks, a luxury he couldn't really afford, he was jokingly offered a job by Crystal, a smart and savvy young African-American woman who managed a store in Harlem. In working for Crystal, Gill grew to appreciate and adore a company that expects a lot from its employees--but gives a lot (great health insurance, advancement opportunities and community) in return. Even after the publication of this best-selling book, as well as a movie option involving Gus Van Sant and Tom Hanks, Gill still works at Starbucks and calls it the best job he's ever had. Gotta love that.

3. Waiting: Debra Ginsberg is a writer. And an awesome one at that--she's penned terrific books about her interesting, unusual life with two freewheeling parents, five overbearing siblings, and one son that's special in every sense of the word. For most of her life, Debra Ginsberg has also been a waitress. This is her first book, a fun and honest look at all the places she's served food over twenty years--from an upstate New York luncheonette run by her own father, to a chaotic Los Angeles diner. Ginsberg tackles bad tippers, sore feet, and the colorful relationships she forms with coworkers and patrons--those who buy her drinks, give her writing jobs, and puke in napkins they hand to her. When I too was on my feet a lot, as a bookstore clerk, I hand-sold Waiting several times--it's just that entertaining. Having had several occupations in her lifetime, Ginsberg takes the most pride in waitressing. After all, it's enabled her to support a child, jump-start her writing career, and learn exactly who she is: an independent, hardworking woman with a ton of interesting stories to tell.

4. Citizen Girl: Twenty-four-year-old Girl is an intelligent Wesleyan graduate who just wants to make a difference in the lives of women. Unfortunately, her nonprofit job is more administrative than activist--and her boss is wackjob as much as she is feminist. Frustrated and disgusted, Girl resigns, and is offered a lucrative corporate gig at My Company. Although My Company's CEO appears chauvinistic and clueless, Girl is sure that she can turn things around...and in the meantime, the money is really, really nice. As My Company shows less and less respect for the females it seeks to attract, will Girl succumb to the big paychecks and perks that will enable her to assist a struggling women's organization? Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, authors of The Nanny Diaries, beautifully capture the dilemma of many twentysomething wage slaves: at what point do you draw the line between changing the world and making a living?

5. Bought: While at the Printer's Row Book Fair last month, I attended a Q&A with Jen Lancaster and Bought author Anna David. The latter was a former L.A. celebrity journalist who started writing fiction because many of her colleagues were getting published and "if that bitch could write a book, so could I!" (She also referred to one of her prospective literary agents as a "douchebag." I developed a girl-crush then and there.) Bought, Ms. David's second novel, chronicles the journey of struggling freelance reporter Emma Swanson, who has learned the hard way that covering Hollywood parties is a lot less fun than attending them. When Emma meets Jessica, a professional escort--who offers more of a girlfriend experience than a straight-up sexual transaction, and accepts gifts and rent payments more than she does cold, hard cash--she is intrigued as to why an increasing number of women are voluntarily choosing and even celebrating this occupation. Jessica readily agrees to be the main subject for a story that could catapult Emma's fledgling writing career to new heights. As she and Jessica spend more time together, Emma gains confidence and is offered an amazing career opportunity. However, Emma soon learns that in Jessica's world, nothing is as easy or free as it appears. David's writing is both breezy and thought-provoking, giving new insights into life, love and work in the land of Hollyweird.

What are some of your favorite "work books"? Leave a comment!