Greatest of All Time: Jessica Lange (A Film Marathon)


Jessica Lange goes down as one of the greatest of all time in my book. If I were an aspiring actor, she’s the one I’d study, emulate and hope to work with one day so she can make me cry on film. Aspiring actor or not, I would still jump at the opportunity to sit at her feet and listen to her talk about acting and life both in the industry and just in her shoes. I fell in love with Lange’s work on the television anthology, American Horror Story. This monologue in particular:

Her ageless beauty! The way she paces the dialogue! The way she breathes! Legendary.

Jessica Lange has crafted a prolific career in film, theater and television. As a young actor in 1970, she ran away from college and moved to Paris, where she studied mime. (One of my favorite fun facts about her.) Clearly, her career has only gone up since then. Lange won her first Golden Globe in her film debut, the 1976 King Kong and most recently, her third Emmy for Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries, a third Dorian Award and her first Critics’ Choice Television award for her work on American Horror Story in 2013. In 2014, Marc Jacobs chose her to be the premiere model of his new high-end beauty line, Marc Jacobs Beauty. She absolutely shut down the notion that an actress loses her staying power as she ages.

Although I’m very familiar with Lange’s work on American Horror Story, I realized I haven’t seen many of her films and decided The Marathon Stars Blogathon would be the perfect opportunity. What better way to appreciate and honor the woman I consider the Modern Queen of the Monologue? I thought it’d also be fun to see the steps she took in order to be where she is in her career, repeatedly nominated, honored countlessly and widely regarded as one of the greatest ever.

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15 Things I Picked Up from Watching 378 Movies in 2015

Is it too late to say Happy New Year? Well, this is where we are. Happy New Year!

I’m a student of the cinema. It isn’t something I learned about myself, just something I sort of always knew. I’ll watch anything and everything and pick up what I can. Even if a movie is complete garbage in my eyes, learning what doesn’t work for me means I didn’t waste two hours of my life. Way back in January 2015, I thought it would be fun to start a movie log and keep track of every movie I watch from start to finish and see where I ended up by December 31st.

My favorite movies leave a lasting impression on me. An intriguing premise or specific actor draws me in, but there’s no such thing as a guaranteed win. What wins me over is that gut feeling, that visceral, emotional reaction to the story or characters or mise-en-scène or technique and in some very special cases — all of the above. I also have so much love and respect for bold creative choices.

When I say a movie is a film and gorgeous and life-changing in the way it captivates, it’s just my opinion and if I say a movie is a popcorn movie is a box office grubbing heap of garbage with no substance beneath the one liners and excessive explosions, I fully expect people, strangers and those I love and respect, to disagree. That’s the beauty of the cinema, right? Subjectivity! It’s beautiful. How certain films and characters and tropes rip my heart apart and make me enjoy it, but someone else can just shrug it off. Absolutely maddening, but beautiful. Movies are magic in the way people react differently to seeing the same thing. It’s magic. Movies are magic and 2015 was a great year in the world of professional make-believe.

In 2015, I watched 378 movies. The original plan was to watch a movie a day, but life had other plans more often than not so if I was too busy to watch a movie one day I’d make up for it by watching two (or four) on a later day. It worked out, for the most part. Here are a few of those things I picked up along the way:

1. Don’t illegally download movies! Can’t stress it enough. Just don’t do it, kids.

2. My favorite movies released in 2015 look a little like this:  


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The Red Shoes (1948)


“Why do you want to dance?”

“Why do you want to live?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly why, but I must.”

“That’s my answer too.”

While many Postwar Era movies were largely uninspired quickies now lost and forgotten, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes managed to break out of the art-cinema circuit to become one of the top-grossing films of 1948. The story follows a young ballerina (Moira Shearer) who joins a renowned ballet company and becomes the lead in a new production of The Red Shoes based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale of the same name. She finds success and love, torn between the man she loves and her dream of becoming a prima ballerina.

Today we regard color as a realistic element in film, a given, an expectation. In the early 1930s, color filmmaking was undoubtedly the most striking innovation of the era. Silent filmmakers tested and played with various nonphotographic processes that colored the film after being shot, but Technicolor introduced a new system that could render vivid colors with live actors in the studio. In the 1930s and 1940s, color was often associate with fantasy and spectacle only used for exotic adventures or whimsical musicals. Powell and Pressburger are known for directing some of the most impressive, extravagant color films ever made and The Red Shoes is no exception. If anything, it’s one of their most popular films.

In The Red Shoes, Powell and Pressburger use ballet to motivate highly stylized cinematic strategy and breathtaking cinematography. With a screenplay that puts a particular emphasis on dance, Powell and Pressburger chose to use dancers who could act and not actors who could dance. Their choices paid off with this stunning fifteen minute ballet, choreographed by Robert Helpmann and Léonide Massine, who created his own choreography for his role as the shoemaker, with an original score by Brian Esdale and conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.

It’s hard to look away from the expert dancing from some of the biggest names in the ballet world, the fantastic costumes and makeup and the creative use of color. Not only is the performance superb, but it’s also a triumph for film as a medium. This fifteen minute segment exhibits a mastery of film technique that filmmakers of the Silent Era just started to experiment with in the early 1900s. From the seamless editing that smoothly transitions from one space to the next to my personal favorite moment when the newspaper transforms into a man and dances with her, it’s easy to appreciate how far film has come and in under half a century.

The Red Shoes melds dreams and nightmares and dances around and between love and ambition. It exists and plays in the space between the grotesque and the beautiful, which puts it on my list of movies that all film lovers should see at least once, if not for the story or grand production than for the celebration of film innovation.

Mad Max: Unbreakable Furiosa


Do yourself a favor and go see Mad Max: Fury Road, a George Miller masterpiece that promises one of the greatest cinematic experiences in years. The story is set in a violent, post-apocalyptic world where muscle cars and hot rods aren’t only enduring and repurposed, but fetishized like religious objects.

Not only does the Mad Max world contain intricate world-building and thrilling, high-octane action, but Miller is also a master of the “show, don’t tell” approach to storytelling and filmmaking. He drops us into this world where even background characters have extensive backstories and tells us none of it. There’s no exposition, no lengthy voiceover recap or overview of the universe. All we’re given is what we see onscreen and the almost teasing roar of engines, challenging the audience to keep up if you can.

“Show, don’t tell” doesn’t mean showing everything and saying nothing, but knowing when different techniques and approaches are appropriate, what should be seen, what should be said and what should be implied. Sexual abuse is a big part of the story, but there isn’t a single explicit, gratuitous rape scene onscreen. Fury Road makes it a point to never exploit trauma. It is implied and recognized for what it is in that we may not see it, but what we do see is enough to suggest it happened and has a heavy hand in why the characters do what they do. The women go from being treated like livestock and objects to acting in a way that screams what has become one of the movie’s most popular quotes, words scrawled on a wall — we are not things. This is a story about the fight to overcome and the will to survive in a seemingly hopeless world, developing mutual respect and reclaiming one’s sense of agency.

See this movie! And if you need any more convincing, there’s this Mad Max: Fury Road & Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt mashup that is one of the best things to come out of YouTube in years. (Warning: the video features spoiler-ish imagery and women being capable and badass.)

Females are strong as hell, indeed.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night


If you’re looking for a break from commercial popcorn movies with cardboard cutouts masquerading as characters and “horror” as defined by a ridiculous body count then A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the film for you. It’s an Iranian vampire film shot in gorgeous black and white and entirely in Farsi. The story unfolds in a fictional Iranian ghost town overrun by drugs, corruption and a young, female vampire who listens to brooding music on her record player and skateboards around town when she isn’t sinking her fangs into junkies, pimps and bums.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is of the soft horror variety with blood, gore and death, but not to an excessive extent. The film focuses primarily on its characters, seamlessly weaving their lives together. With popular culture’s obsession with the vampire, it can become cliché, expected and boring. This take on the vampire is a simple yet intriguing one. She’s a creature driven by instinct, comfortable with living a solitary life, but also curious about humans and humanity and the lives they live. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night doesn’t elevate the vampire character type in a way that will forever change the trope, but it does explore the life of a vampire in a way other movies have not. The film has such a different, specific point-of-view and such a careful hand in its execution that it makes one of the oldest myths in history feel fresh.

Music makes or breaks a movie and this is especially true for the horror genre. Director Ana Lily Amipour uses a range of music from multiple genres in multiple ways — pieces of music specific to the characters, to set the mood of a particular scene and to guide the narrative. A scene where the two leads meet for only the second time and share such intimate space set to “Death” by White Lies is, in my opinion at least, one of the most beautiful moments ever filmed.

Beauty emerges from its simplicity. They take the time to build this connection between these two characters, something that means so much in a film filled with such stark instances of isolation, where a character’s only companion is their loneliness, and they do it without saying a single word. It’s electrically charged and fascinating to watch, a testament to the perfect combination of choice in music and acting ability. Creating tension by manipulating silence, moving in just the right way at just the right time and even controlling their breathing is such an important skill set for actors to have and these two do it in a way that feels natural and effortless. All of that comes together in this unexpected, almost romantic moment.

Although A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has instances of brilliance and perfectly played scenes, it isn’t perfect. The film is slow, almost painfully so in the beginning, but it picks up once the lives of the characters begin to collide. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is unlike any other vampire movie with its memorable style build on exceptional lighting and exaggerated shadows, definitely worth watching.

Watch A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night now streaming on Netflix.

In CinemaScope: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

This is my contribution to the CinemaScope Blogathon hosted by Classic Becky’s Brain Food and Wide Screen World. Be sure to check out the other posts exploring an early 1950s’ technical innovation that changed the moviegoing experience by dramatically widened the image, creating new aesthetic issues and opportunities for filmmakers.


Musicals are an irresistible slice of escapism. Sitting down with an Old Hollywood musical, surrendering to the glamorous costumes, minimal yet lavishing set design and characters spontaneously expressing themselves through song and dance is the closest thing to time travel available today. As a child who spent majority of the ‘90s alternating between musicals and Classic Disney animated features (all on VHS) I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to discuss one of my childhood favorites. Not only is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) shot and shown in CinemaScope, but is also enduringly endearing and completely crazy.

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Girltrash: All Night Long

For Kels. Years after I said I’d write this. The things I do for friends.

Screen shot 2014-09-13 at 10.02.13 PM (2)

Have you ever watched Snack-Off on MTV? It’s basically a parody of every serious food competition. Instead of having professional chefs compete they have amateurs who make you doubt their life skills along with their cooking skills in the interview packages. Instead of using only the freshest ingredients, Snack-Off provides a pantry of processed junk real chefs whine about on Chopped. A comedian, a supermodel and one real chef serve as the panel of judges. As I’m watching this or rather, letting it play in the background as I work on other things, I can’t help, but feel bad for the one chef who works in and owns actual restaurants. He cringes at the crap put in front of him and even admitted to getting notes from the producers saying he’s too mean when judging. But then there are times where he takes a bite and he smiles a little and begrudgingly says it’s actually tasty even though he has no earthly idea why.

And that is how I feel about GirltrashUp All Night. 

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Movie Log 2015


Okay, here’s the deal. I have issued myself a challenge. It’s a simple challenge, really. There are only two rules:

1) watch movies

2) keep track

For the entire year! (Then I plan to do it again next year and the year after that and so on.) Ideally, I’d like to watch one movie a day and I have so far, but I know myself well enough to avoid a setup for disaster. What better way to honor and continue developing my undying love for cinema than by watching as many movies as I possibly can? I actually keep pages and pages of handwritten notes and thoughts on every movie I see in a Moleskine because the best movies make me think about it for days after and I need to get it all out of my head. I try to keep it brief with the comments on the online log even though I can go on and on about a movie forever. I even rate each movie based on my own personal system of little gold stars.

Check out my movie log for 2015! Happy watching!

Places I Love: Musée Mécanique


The foundation for my love of film is a deep appreciation of where it all began. For instance, the early inventions that led to the birth of cinema were peepshow devices. Tools of entertainment mainly used to give the people of the late 1800s a little thrill are ultimately responsible for one of the greatest industries in the world, an art and pastime that’s become apart of daily life for many. I’ve been lucky enough to get up close and personal with a couple of these authentic optical toys at a coin operated arcade on San Francisco’s infamous Pier 45.

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Movie Moment: Visual Gag

Visual gag or sight gag:

an instance that conveys humor with little or no words.





Girl Most Likely (2012)

Kristen Wiig with a cameo by Natasha Lyonne

Not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but pretty amusing in how it captures that lost, pathetic feeling of hitting rock bottom. This scene made me laugh and oddly relate to the main character’s aforementioned pathetic-ness. This was a great visual gag from the setup (and Lyonne’s strong Jersey accent) to the completely visual punch line.