Monday, January 31, 2011

Hey Girl, Let's Talk About Ryan Gosling (Part I)

What is it about Ryan Gosling?

In the past several years, this former Mickey Mouse Clubber has positively captivated the ladies of my generation.  Here's a clip.  Why?  Because I like you!

Funny to think that in his early career days (Mouseketeer notwithstanding), he was known for playing teenage psychopaths.

Then The Notebook happened.  You know, I'd love to say I was a huge fan beforehand, but like everyone else I know, I went all Team Ga-Ga Gosling when I saw that kiss in the rain.  Though really, I got more turned on when Noah removes Allie's stocking.  It's hard (ha ha) for actors to convince me they really want to have sex with their leading ladies, but that hungry look in his eyes . . . when I watch that scene, I need to be alone, if ya know what I mean.

Also, he repeated the iconic rain kiss with costar Rachel McAdams at the MTV Movie Awards that year.  Yum.

But it's more than his beardy and non-beardy sexiness.  Gosling exudes intelligence, not only in his career choices but in his obvious respect for his female costars.  He had a lot to say when the sex scenes of his most recent film, Blue Valentine, put the film in danger of an NC-17 rating:

You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It's misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman's sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.

Feminist SWOON.

Is it any wonder that this blog exists?

What's even more amazing is how Gosling actually read from the blog in an interview.

When he wasn't singing the My Little Pony theme song:

Indie girl/80's nostalgia SWOON.

Even when he's playing characters that range from flawed to downright frightening, I just can't quit the Gosling.

Hey girl, if you consider yourself a Gosling aficionado, stay tuned for tomorrow, when I review his two most recent movies, All Good Things and Blue Valentine!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Papa Don't Preach: Somewhere

About two years ago, I seriously considered moving to Los Angeles.

I'd just had a falling-out with someone very close to me, which I thought at the time would be permanent.  One of my closest friends in the world was living in L.A. at the time.  And, well, it was a Chicago winter.  Who ISN'T California dreamin' in February?

I got to the point of looking for jobs when I realized: a) I hate driving and the City of Angels may as well be called the City of Freeways, b) apart from one friend, it was further away from my other loved ones than I wanted to be, and c) falling-out or no, I friggin' love Chicago.  It's home to me.

And let's face it, L.A. is weird.  It's gorgeous and ugly at the same time.  Because people are used to perfect weather, they freak out when it rains (whereas in the Midwest, that's called "Tuesday").  And this extends into their lives: Angelenos expect everything to be as flawless as the weather, whereas Midwesterners get on with it.  Snowing ten inches?  You still have to go to work, so put on your boots and suck it up.

This weekend I saw Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, which reminded me why staying in Chicago was a very good decision.

The movie opens with the main character, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, who never did it for me before this movie, but DAMN), circling around and around in his black Ferrari.  Noise and movement aplenty, but ultimately he's going nowhere.  Some might argue the symbolism is heavy handed, but I thought it was a great introduction into Johnny's life.

The guy is a major movie star, yet he lives at the Chateau Marmont hotel.  He smokes, drinks and parties, but even when there are pole-dancing twins in the room--who Johnny seems to keep on retainer--he's forever alone.  And what's crazy is how people kowtow to him: assistants, publicists, actors who want a piece of what he's got.  He wants for nothing, but he lacks everything that's important.

Enter Cleo (Elle Fanning, Dakota's kid sister), Johnny's eleven-year-old daughter.  She lives in the same city, but he's so emotionally distant from her he doesn't know she's been ice skating for three years.  We assume Cleo's mother has been the primary caretaker, but she seems to be about as stable an influence as absentee Johnny.  Case in point: Johnny receives a phone call from Cleo's mother, who says she's "going away for a while," and Cleo is in his care for the several days before she departs for camp.

You might be thinking this is a Three Men and a Baby scenario.  Think again.  There are virtually no problems.  Cleo's a lovely kid: she reads her book during press conferences; when tagging along to Milan with her dad, she's just thrilled with their private swimming pool; and she can make eggs Benedict.  What's sad is, you get the sense this isn't Cleo's best behavior.  Rather, she's probably like this all the time, being good for both parents, knowing exactly when she needs to disappear, never asking too much.

Because he only has her for a few days, Johnny doesn't really learn how to be a good dad.  He doesn't have to.  And Cleo doesn't ask that of him.  Probably because she knows he can't be.

I loved Somewhere for many reasons: cliches that turn out not to be, a portrait of a movie star who doesn't make tabloid waves but is messed up in deeper ways, a child I came to care about and worry for. No child is perfect, but Cleo is sweet and smart, and Johnny could probably be a decent father if he tried.  By the end, I really hoped he would try.

Keep in mind this is a Sofia Coppola movie.  All her trademarks are there: long camera shots, characters contemplatively staring out windows, moody music, usually some example of foreign pop culture weirdness.  And unless it stars Bill Murray, you can't watch a Sofia Coppola movie for its dialogue, because it will be sparse and sound like real people talking.

But all this works for me.  I like how Coppola can tell a story with only a few words and lots of pictures.  How by the film's end, she had me rooting for her two main characters, hoping Cleo would ask for the love she deserved and Johnny would realize he had to snap out of his L.A. coma and step it up as a parent.  How well she casts her players, especially Elle Fanning, whose goofy smiles and intermittent skipping were so perfectly eleven years old.  How with every shot or word, I know how she wants me to feel--and rather than get angry at the manipulation, I feel it.

The more I think about Somewhere, the more I love it.  Yeah, it's a tale as old as time: money and fame can't buy you happiness and love.  But when illustrated in such an evocative way, even the most tired tropes reveal their truth.

Monday, January 10, 2011

This Used to Be My Playground: Elegy for a Borders

I'm a bad, bad hipster.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about the local.  I live in a neighborhood that yes, is more gentrified than it was ten years ago, but still boasts a bevy of indie coffee bars, clothing stores, restaurants, brunch-y type places, you name it.  It's one of the reasons I pay more rent than I should--I love being surrounded by the ingenuity of my fellow (wo)man.

But today, I cry for a corporate behemoth on Chicago's Mag Mile.

You see, last weekend Borders on Michigan Avenue closed its doors forever. 

And I, the alterna-girl, am heartbroken.

I have a special affinity for Borders, for many reasons.  I love, love, love to read and those SOB's have everything.  I get killer coupons in my email and I don't even have to print them out: just show them on my smartphone and we're copasetic.  Their Seattle's Best coffee kicks ass and their spinach omelet sandwiches are like delicious, eggy crack.

More importantly, however, Borders is my mothership, my point of return at the various stages of my life.

After I lost my virginity and the lucky man had to go to work, I went to Borders, plopped in an armchair, and contemplated how I felt: at once forever changed and exactly the same.  In law school, I went to the local Borders so often the staff knew my name (and I even taught some of them at the university).  When I was a temp in downtown Chicago, I'd head to the State Street location on my lunch break and just browse around, smelling that irreplaceable new-book aroma.  (I've never been an eating-at-your-desk type because I can just feel my ass getting wider with every bite.)

That same year, I even worked at my neighborhood Borders over the Christmas season, dealing with preppy college students, cranky oldsters, and indie rockers--and that was just the staff.  I remember riding the elevator with some of my coworkers after closing late one night.  Someone cracked a snarky joke and I knew that this was my crowd, my neighborhood, where I fit in best.  I knew right then I'd made the right decision to move back to Chicago.

(Not to mention I had a really gorgeous coworker.  Yes, he could be a real douche, but he was also 6'5" and would shelve the books little 5'4" me couldn't reach.  In return, I would work on the bottom shelves for him, as it hurt his knees to squat.  Plus, we would rock paper scissors for who got to work the register.  It's the little things.)

And the Michigan Avenue Borders, well, it was a gateway to all of the above.

I first moved to the city as a college freshman, wide-eyed and innocent as the cows in the farm town from whence I came.  I couldn't believe my luck when I happened upon the Borders--three floors devoted to books!  Imagine that.  My college's downtown campus was just down the street, and for four years I took advantage of the free shuttle service.  Sometimes I'd take homework, but more often I'd grab a stack of books and read to my naive little heart's content.

This past year, I experienced a serious bout of sadness and stress.  I got in the habit of taking long walks to clear my head, and more often than not I'd find myself at the same Borders, choosing some titles and feeling more content for just a little while.  It was on one of these nights a couple months ago, that I heard a cafe employee break the bad news: soon, the store would be no more.

I'm not a huge fan of downtown, especially on weekends.  I've also had a friend work at this Borders, and she's had to deal with more annoying asshole tourists than anyone should have to see in a lifetime.  I can never understand how so many people think Chicago is the Mag Mile and that's it.  It's so much more.

But I'll always be grateful to this Borders.  In some ways, it's watched me grow up, from a college-age pixie to an ambitious temp-by-day to a semi-serious adult still figuring my shit out.  I'll miss the pretty view of the Old Water Tower, the smell of chocolate from the Hershey store, the sounds of hustle and bustle mixed with quiet contemplation.

Downtown will remain, of course, but it'll never be the same to me.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Unpro: Reso-ma-lutions

Happy New Year, Unpro-ites!

Normally, I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions.  Mainly because for two weeks, the dance and yoga studios will be chock-full with rude heavy breathers who take no heed of people who, you know, actually work out regularly.  (Note: by "heavy breather," I'm not judging people who are overweight and out of shape.  I'm just saying if you really DO want to get healthy, pace yourself and pay attention to the etiquette and habits of people who attend class in months other than January.  You might learn something!)

That said, this is an interesting new start.  I'm 30 now.  I'll be looking for a new apartment in a couple of months.  I want to make some other changes and advances as well, while still retaining my own life, which is fabulous and I adore it.

So without further ado, here are my New Year's Resolutions, pop culture and otherwise:

1.  Go to the movies.  All the time.  Even if it's a busy period at work and I don't want to get my ass off the couch.  I always feel better when I go to the movies.  Case in point: the week between Christmas and New Year's was a film-o-palooza for me.  And it was awesome.

2.  Write about said movies!

3.   When someone says I absolutely need to watch/read some fantastic new Oscar-bait movie/super-intense TV series/New York Times bestseller, consider watching/reading it rather than saying in my head, "if this many people are telling me to do it, I don't wanna."

4.  Get some kind of paid writing gig.  Not that I don't love getting "paid" in free DVD's and books, but I've been told I'm not too bad at this writing thing, so I might as well seek a little compensation.

5.  Keep a Moleskine and pen by my bed so when I wake up from some really cool/weird dream that would be a good idea for a story, I don't forget it in my insane apply contacts/get dressed/lift cat off of stuff pre-work apartment race.

6.  Get in touch with Dan Savage, whether it's a message for the Savage Love podcast or a fan-girly email.  Because I love him.

7.  Sign up for another burlesque class.  It's fun as hell, combats stress and makes me happy.  Come to think of it, just dance as much as freaking possible.

8.  Be open-minded when it comes to music, movies, TV shows, books, anything culture-y.  Specific tastes are fun, but discovering cool new stuff is even better.

9.  Work on creative writing.  A LOT.  This includes:
a) Getting my current draft of my 2009 NaNo all shipshape and perfect, so I can start sending it out to agents again,
b) Working on my 2010 NaNo, which may never ever sell but was still a story I loved telling and want to work on more,
c) Think of tons of new ideas and pick the best one for NaNo 2011.
d) Take classes: one-offs and hopefully longer-term if I can afford it.
e) This summer, apply for another writing residency.

10.  And finally: try to post here more.  I LOVE all of my readers and am so grateful you listen to me natter on every week, and I want to give you more of what you want.

What are YOUR New Year's resolutions, pop culture and non?