Monday, July 26, 2010

Hot-n-Fun: My Weekend and A Very Bloggy Roundup

Yo yo yo, Unpro-ites!  It's late July and I heartily commend your survival skills if you haven't melted yet.

So yesterday I took part in not one but TWO outdoor festivals.  This is worth noting, because on a good day I loathe these things.  There's nothing wrong with wandering around drinking/eating/looking at art with your friends.  Nothing at all.  But you see, I grew up within spitting distance of county fairgrounds (and there was no rest in the off-season, as the county fairgrounds doubled as a racetrack, meaning on Friday nights at least six months of the year we were treated to an hours-long VROOOOOOOOOM.  El train noise is a picnic compared to that shit).  Therefore, anything that involves crowds, sweat and booths is a bigger turnoff to me than Michael Scott describing his reverse vasectomy.

The latter fest was a work necessity, and by late afternoon the temp had cooled a bit and there was a nice breeze, so my three-hour shift was relatively pleasant.  (Plus, free chicken fresh off the grill afterwards!)  The former, however, marked the occasion of My Very First Flash Mob (TM).  One of my dance teachers and her company decided to get their Stevie Wonder on, and I was ecstatic to take part.  I've wanted to be in a flash mob ever since seeing this video clip.  And I don't even like Weeds!

Though an early morning thunderstorm had me hesitating, I realized that years of outdoor theatre (and we're talking wearing a long-sleeved cowgirl costume in 100+ degree weather) had conditioned me to perform in the most precarious of situations.  Besides, if I'm gonna perish in a tornado, I'd rather go down dancing than huddled in a basement Hail Mary-ing for my life.  Luckily, the weather cleared up in plenty of time, and rehearsed-to-look spontaneous merriment ensued:

Check out the dork in the blue skirt.  Trust me, her inner theatre geek was positively squeeing.

Anyhoozle, the name of the game this week is blogs.  I've previously done some shout-outs, and thought it was high time I introduced some new faves.  Feel free to click, explore, and give these talented and fab ladies (and one gent) some lurve.

1.  Ms. Friendly's Comprehensive Guide to Inner-City Teaching.  A while back, one of my readers contacted me to check out her blog.  Three months, one bout with bronchitis, and one intense workload later, I finally stopped dragging my feet, and was I glad I did!  I have other friends who are teachers, and have done some instructing myself, and I'm always entertained to hear school horror stories conveyed in a witty way.  Not to mention I admire the hell out of educators for boldly going where Unpro would never dare to go full-time.  From skewering her assistant principal to calling out her students on their snarkiness and their sweetness, Ms. Friendly is a lot of fun, and she'll return to regular posting in the fall.  Think Jen Lancaster Goes to Public School.

2.  Obsessions of a Workaholic.  A few months ago, my good friend hopped on the blogging bandwagon and never looked back.  (Tis a big responsibility but highly addictive.)  She too is a teacher--most specifically an adjunct and assistant professor--as well as an English Lit PhD student.  Oh yeah, and she's recently jumped back into the online dating scene.  For those of you who don't have the pleasure of knowing this woman in real life, enjoy her clever turns of phrase as she navigates writing, educating and the randomness of city life.

3.  Anthroholic.  Lately I've gotten into fashion, and no one is more surprised about this than I.  Even more shockingly, I've started to patronize Anthropologie.  I'd previously written off this store as being too Euro-y and exclusively for chicks built like coat hangers.  But in May, when I was looking for a cocktail dress to wear at a hip L.A. bar for Bob's and my ten-year friend-iversary, I hit paydirt at Anthro's downtown Chicago location.  I've been hooked ever since--granted, on my budget I have to be careful, but they do have good sales on well-made pieces built to last.  And wouldn't ya know it, there are some cool Anthropologie-related blogs out there, the most quintessential of which involves a lovely lady named Kim who also lives in Chicago (Windy City repreSENT!).  Join Kim as she makes recommendations, mixes pieces old and new (and not exclusively Anthro), and showcases outfits from fashionable and fun readers.  Granted, the fitting room reviews don't help me a whole lot (Kim's all tiny and perfect and I have boobs and hips to burn), but for a relatively new clothing enthusiast, Anthroholic's been a godsend.

4.  Questionable Taste.  Truth be told, I'm kind of mad at my sister Meg.  It was her "oh my God that is the cutest dress EVER you look so pretty full price is totally worth it!" that got me into Anthropologie in the first place.  Enabler.  (For the record, she also led me to Anthroholic.  Double enabler!)  Despite my wallet's anger at her, I do enjoy her blog.  Again, as someone who's just starting to care about what she puts on her bod, I appreciate any and all help on where to find cute things and how to put them together.  I also enjoy her pop-culture musings, funny random videos (Alan Thicke-hosted aerobics competition, anyone?), and pictures of her adorable putty-tat, Nessa.

5.  Zip and a Kick!  This one comes to us courtesy of my L.A. pal Joe, a nerdy-yet-hip dude whose finger is on the pulse of all things comic, comedy and Disney.  He also likes hot boys, so we have that in common.  One of my favorite features of this blog is Mix-N-Mash Mondays , where Joe showcases whatever remix or mashup he's been sweatin' lately.  Joe's a laugh and a half in real life, but for those of you not fortunate enough to know him, give his zippy blog a whirl.

As an added bonus, remember the Deception review and giveaway?  Our winner, Ms. LadyJ3000, reviewed the book on her blog--check it out!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trash TV: Pretty Little Liars

What's up, supercool readers?

Is anyone else's summer cuckoo bananas crazy busy, or am I just weird?  It seems like I'm booked up every weekend through August, doing one random thing or class or work commitment after another.  I mean, it's fun stuff (mostly), but where is all the time going?  Anyhoozle, I'm trying to keep up with work, the blog, various other writing assignments, yet another edit on my latest manuscript AND my NaNoWriMo game plan (yes, I'm one of those nerds who has to map out a first draft months in advance--baaaad things happen when I write fiction off the cuff).  Like a marathon, yo.

What's nice about summer, though, is the abundance of trashy deep thought-free TV.  The shows you watch in the comfort of your A/C when you've had a loooong day at work and it's approximately 337 degrees outside.  You know, those series ABCFamily is too chicken to air during the fall, those wannabe Gossip Girls brought to you by Alloy Entertainment.  The ones that should make this 30-year-old feel, well, old, but they don't because at least two of the actresses playing high schoolers look more aged than I.  The ones that wallow in their own sudsiness without trying to be all moralistic (Secret Life of the American Teenager, I'm looking at you.  My ears are STILL bleeding from hearing The Actress Formerly Known as Ruthie Camden ask a ferret-faced dude if he's ever done it in a butcher shop).

The show I am referring to (and the awesomely soapy set of books it is based on) is Pretty Little Liars.

So here's the basic plot: four ugly (just kidding, they're PRETTY, see?) high school students are having a sleepover when their alpha female queen bee Alison walks out the door and never comes back.  A year later, the clique has gone their separate ways when Alison's body is discovered under her family's former home.  Even more sinister are the threatening messages from a mysterious source known only as A, threatening to reveal each girl's deepest darkest skeleton: clean-cut swimmer Emily likes girls; ugly-duckling-turned-popular-swan Hanna has a teeny shoplifting problem; alternative Aria unknowingly made out with her AP English teacher and wants a repeat performance; and brainy Spencer (who never bothers to ask her parents why she's 36 years old and still in high school) is lusting big time after her older sister's boyfriend.

Let's just say that if you played a Pretty Little Liars drinking game, you'd be wasted two minutes in.  But let's pretend for a second that we love vodka a little too much!  If you want to die of alcohol poisoning while lying on your couch in front of ABCFamily, take a drink when:
  • Someone overacts (two drinks if they Put. Em. Pha. Sis. On. Ev. E. Ry. Sy. Lla. Ble.  Im. POR. tant!)
  • Someone underacts (mumblemumblemumble because inaudible=INTENSE!)
  • Spencer drinks alcohol and everyone is all shocked because she's underage when of course she's actually 36
  • A horrible, horrible song comes on the soundtrack (really, ABCFamily's music supervisor could take a cue from Josh Schwartz's people.  From Gossip Girl, I discovered Miike Snow, Passion Pit and Anya Marina.  ABCFamily music is fucking heinous, especially the Pretty Little Liars theme song, which rivals The L Word's in terms of toneless awfulness).  Just to give you an idea, last week's Homecoming episode featured a "live" performance of a hipster white guy rapping.  NO.
  • Unnecessary dance or party (it's like Sweet Valley High without the Todd punch!)
  • A sends a text that is supposed to be witty and suspenseful when really it's just laughably punny
But just like Grease 2 and Mac and Me, it's the show's very essence of awful that makes it so incredibly awesome.

Okay, and I really like Aria's wardrobe.

And of course I've played right into ABCFamily and Alloy's evil corporate marketing hands by buying the books (sometimes two or three at a time, sometimes going to more than one bookstore if they've run out because everyone else is a sucker too).  Let me tell you, if you're looking for reading so light the short words practically fly off the page, look no further.  This is pulp fiction at its pulpiest, like a romance novel without the naughty sex scenes (because these are teenagers, see).  

Why am I loving this shiz so very much, squealing whenever I see another PLL book with a Barbie-esque doll on the cover and a real girl with the same clothes on the other side?  (SYMBOLISM.)  I could do the whole it's-summer-and-my-brain-is-supposed-to-be-shut-off rigmarole, which is very true in its own way.  But by reading and watching Pretty Little Liars, I'm also learning about something I never thought I'd get out of summertime guilty pleasures: a lesson in story structure.

Yes, you heard that last part right.

One of the faults my writing suffers from is sometimes the stakes aren't high enough.  Or a reader doesn't want to root for my characters--they fall in the realm of too boring or too bitchy.  (Lesson: if you're still kind of bitter about your high school experience, do NOT base your seventeen-year-old small-town girl protagonist on yourself at that age.)  Pretty Little Liars has been helping me on both counts.  As flawed as the girls are, I can remember feeling like I don't fit in with my peers (Emily), parental pressure to succeed (Spencer), boyfriend frustration (Hanna) and weird family dynamics (Aria).  Even Alison I can't totally hate because she brought the girls together, and they still miss her even though they are seeing the cracks in their friendships' facade.  

Also, when it comes to setting high stakes, I once had a writing teacher tell me never to let my characters get too comfortable.  With this in mind, my NaNoWriMo idea involves my protagonists literally going way out of their comfort zones and venturing into the unknown.  And in both the books and the TV show, the Pretty Little Liars ladies aren't comfortable for more than half a page or scene.  Then another twist or text or secret gets thrown into the mix.  Drama for the ADHD generation?  Sure, but the fact that it's so extreme is helpful to me.  It's like my voice teacher used to tell me--better to overdo at an audition than underdo.  A director is much more comfortable asking you to scale back than to try to squeeze blood from a turnip.

Granted, this could all be a big justification in my head for enjoying a silly show and book series when I could be relearning French, rewatching The Godfather, or reinventing the wheel.  However, I do like to think that I can glean some nugget of knowledge from everything I put in my noggin.  And who knows?  Maybe I'll someday publish a bestseller (hell, I'll settle for landing a literary agent), and I'll have my summer 2010 pop culture obsession to thank.

Now, where's my vodka?

Monday, July 12, 2010

We'll open up a restaurant in Santa Fe . . .

Hey lovelies,

Guess where I just got back from?  I'll give you a hint: it's in the title of this post!  If you're in any way into a) art, b) food, c) beautiful scenery or d) all of the above, I highly recommend you take a lil trip there.  As a bonus, I met the mother of the darling little boy who was featured in the film Crazy Heart!  Dina Lohan totally could take a cue from this friendly, laid-back anti-stage mom.

This is a looong roundabout way of saying that there will be no new post this week.  Tune in next Monday for . . . well, you'll just have to come here to find out, wontcha?

I leave you with the two songs I just couldn't get out of my head while in New Mexico:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I Got Your "Pistil" Right Here: Cheese-arific Movies

I have a pretty cool job.  Sure, it gets stressful, as office jobs do, but the other day I got called in for a very fun meeting.  For a marketing project, three coworkers and I were brainstorming movies that are so bad, they're actually good--preferably released after 1980.  Now, bear two things in mind: 1) I don't work in the marketing department, and 2) I was the only vagina in the room.  I think my boss wanted a female perspective, and he also knows I'm a bit of a(n idiot) savant when it comes to movies and pop culture.  I'm not a film snob per se--I don't patronize the art-house cinemas nearly as often as I should--but I can probably tell you Clint Howard's last five movies, or name the actor who's always in the background of romantic comedies while also guest starring on Parks and Recreation.  That kinda thing.

Anyway, this project got me thinking, and polling my Facebook pals, about movies of my childhood that fit into the so-bad-they're-good category.   A few of these I volunteered during the meeting, others came from Facebook, and one I haven't seen in its entirety but has YouTube clips that are totally fucking hilarious.  So without further ado, here are my Top 5 So Bad It's Good Movies, post-1980:

Grease 2
This week's photo comes to us courtesy of Grease 2.  And yes, that is Michelle Pfeiffer.  She is saying, "Gee, your armpit smells terrific!"

If you are or ever have been a theatre geek, this is the PRIMO so-bad-it's-good flick.  This ill-fated sequel to the musical megahit has the MOST HORRIBLE SONGS EVER, but damn if they aren't catchy as hell.  The funny thing is, Pfeiffer's solo song "Cool Rider" is actually pretty good, and she's got a decent set of pipes.  But Jesus Christ, the rest of the time you have Adrian Zmed trying to be John Travolta (nope), foxy Brit Maxwell Caulfield looking lost and very awkward on a motorcycle, Lorna Luft making her mother Judy Garland turn over in her grave, and a pre-Tappy Tibbons Christopher McDonald as a T-Bird named Goose.  Oh yeah, and frizzy haired Doris from Fame is a Pink Lady who almost gets seduced in a fallout shelter.  EPIC.

Needless to say, I'm FIGHTING for this to be on our bad movies list at work.

I couldn't pick just one crap song from this crap musical, so please to enjoy two: what happens when a biology class gets out of hand, and a sexy song full of double entendres . . . set at a bowling alley.  (Fun Unpro factoid: ten years ago I was in an outdoor theatre production of Grease, and the cast went bowling one night.  You better believe this song was blared by 30 theatre geeks.  That poor bowling alley staff.)

Teen Witch
When my boss told us why we were in the meeting, at least one coworker and I immediately started scribbling ideas.  Later when it was my turn, I mentioned Teen Witch and said coworker--normally very laid back--burst out enthusiastically, "Oh my GOD, is that the one with the white kids rapping?"  I answered, yes indeedy do it is!  Not much can surpass the gloriosity of a frizzy-haired nerd, who thanks to her magical friend (played by Robin Lively, sister of Gossip Girl's Blake) engages in a rap battle with her puffy-haired, white-sneakered, extremely Caucasian object of lust and his equally pale-skinned posse.  And yes, I have been known to yell out, "Top that, top THAT!" while inebriated.  For a lil bonus, check out Kenneth on 30 Rock's enthusiastic cover.  Supersonic, idiotic, disconnectin', not respectin'!

Camp Cucamonga
I didn't volunteer this one for our list, as we decided that made-for-TV movies don't qualify, as they are often crappy and generally interchangeable.  However, my eleventh year of life wouldn't have been complete without multiple VHS viewings of this literally camp-y Who's Who of early-90's teen stars.  (A closeted) Chad Allen, trying to fake interest in Candace Cameron!  Jaleel White, who is actually pretty adorable sans Steve Urkel garb!  Paul from The Wonder Years (who is not Marilyn Manson), and Winnie too, as a baaaadass girl named Lindsay!  Jennifer Mo-fo-ing Aniston, y'all, before Friends was even an annoying thought in someone's annoying mind.  When their camp faces closure thanks to a wacky misunderstanding involving Cliff Claven and George Jefferson, what is a mostly-white group of kids to do?  Why, take a cue from Teen Witch and RAP ABOUT IT!  If only my camp experience had been this funky. (Note: this is a sped up version, but it's the best I could do on YouTube.)

Troop Beverly Hills
Not sure what she's doing now, but actress Tasha Scott deserves recognition for appearing in not one but TWO of my fave bad childhood movies.  Before she was Cool Urkel's object of affection in Camp Cucamonga, Scott appeared as sassy Jasmine in Troop Beverly Hills, the very best in late-80's faux Girl Scout underdog films.  Also in the rich-yet-ragtag Wilderness Girl troop, led by a very redheaded Shelley Long who is trying to repair her marriage with Craig T. Nelson?  Carla Gugino from Spy Kids, who looks way older than everyone else, aaaaand Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley!  From what I hear, Ms. Lewis does not enjoy it when fans mention this movie around her.  I could say that her career as an 80's child star is what got her a good half or more of her fans, and therefore she should be willing to talk about it with them.  But I'm passive aggressive, so I won't.

Mac and Me
I must admit, I didn't see Mac and Me in the theatres.  I remember the commercials during Pee Wee's Playhouse on Saturday mornings.  I remember being intrigued.  And yet I never went, though I know I mentioned it to my mother at least once.  To which I say now: thank you, Mom.  You may have tolerated The Barney Years of my little brother's toddlerhood, but you were NOT going to waste your hard-earned money on a two-hour commercial for McDonald's and Coke.  Because seriously, that's what Mac and Me is.  It's E.T. without the soul, and with a whole lot of terrible, terrible acting and product placement.  Don't believe me?  Tune into this utterly bizarre production number set at a chain restaurant that begins with "M" and ends with "cDonald's," and a horribly hilarious scene involving a child in a wheelchair.  Christine Ebersole, who plays the child's mother (and went to college down the street from where I went to high school!), would go on to win a 2007 Tony Award for her phenomenal portrayal of Little Edie Beale in the musical Grey Gardens.  Thank God her career was redeemed.

What are YOUR fave so-bad-it's-good flicks?  Leave a comment!