5 Lessons From 5 Years in New York

I’ve been trying to find the words all day to articulate how I feel about living in New York City for five years.  You’d think as a writer they’d come easily, but that’s just the thing: writing is intellectual.  It puts you in your head, and as someone who is already admittedly an “over-thinker,” finding words—or more precisely, the EXACT words—to describe an experience or sensation or anything else can sometimes keep me from writing anything at all.  Over-thinking can keep you from doing a lot of things, actually; not just writing or something else creative.

When I moved here five years ago, I was as green as the wannabe Elphabas I sat next to in audition holding rooms.  I would never have admitted it at the time, but the truth is everyone is green when they move here, because no matter how many times you’ve visited, nothing can prepare you for the real ins and outs of daily life in New York.  Everyone thinks they “know how it works,” but I definitely didn’t and none of those wannabe Elphabas did either.  And that leads me to what I really want to talk about: who I am and what I’ve learned.

I can see you starting to roll your eyes thinking this is yet ANOTHER blogosphere tome of Millennial angst and self-actualization in the Big Apple (HOW original! #not), and it might turn out that way (after all I’m just making this up as I go, folks), but you should know that these lessons can apply to literally anyone of any age who feels stalled in life or work or love or whatever.  And you don’t have to live in New York City to learn them or understand them.  And what I’m offering isn’t—as so many in my generation would usually opine online—special, but it never hurts to hear it again.  And maybe the way I say it will hit someone who needed to hear it THAT way instead of the five bajillion other ways they’ve heard it.

ANYWAY.  This is in no way an authoritative guide on how to live your life, but it’s helpful, okay?  Here’s five things I’ve learned in five years in this magical if occasionally frustrating city:

  1. Own who you are unapologetically. Though I do not claim to speak for all my fellow Millennials by any means, I have noticed we do this thing where we try to downplay our passions so we don’t come off as uncool or crazy or whatever to other people.  We live in a culture right now where overt shows of emotion, especially passion, are treated as uncool or some kind of weakness, and to quote our very cool Vice President Joe Biden, “that’s malarkey!”  IF SOMETHING LIGHTS A FIRE UNDER YOUR ASS AND GETS YOU EXCITED, YOU DON’T HAVE TO APOLOGIZE FOR IT.    A lot of people, especially creative people, are sheepish about admitting they’re actors, singers, dancers, painters, writers, comedians, musicians, etc.  I won’t get into how society still questions the validity of jobs in artistic fields because that is another discussion, but suffice it to say that I hear too many people, including myself, essentially apologize to people around us for being creative rather than “being something else.”  If the people around you think you’re uncool for being passionate, that’s THEIR problem.  For the first 4 ½-ish years I lived here, when people asked me what I did, I’d respond like, “Oh I temp to make money but I’m really an actor-y, writer-y person like everyone else. [insert various sarcastic jokes here]”  I wouldn’t really fully own up to being the things I most wanted to be.  And I hear people say all the time, “Oh I want to be a” whatever instead of “I am” this or that or the other.  Somewhere over the last year, I stopped doing that and started fully owning my identity as a writer, actor, and producer.  And it became a self-fulfilling prophecy because as soon as I stopped essentially apologizing for it, I started picking up writing jobs and making films and being asked to produce things.  When I started talking the talk, not only did I feel better and happier but I also opened up doors for myself to do all the things I like doing.  But just talking isn’t enough, you also have to…
  2. Do the work. I’m a workaholic, you guys.  I have an insatiable drive to accomplish stuff, so I struggle with even taking a day off, which is important for mental health (seriously).  Talent is great, BUT there is no substitute for actually DOING THE WORK.  The only way you’re going to learn how to do anything or be anything is by doing it over and over and over again.  I’m a paid writer these days, but I’m a writer whether or not I get moolah for sending my editor 1000 words on Tom Hanks.  I write all the time in various styles because it’s the only way to get better at it.  I go to acting class twice a week and do endless Meisner repetitions because it makes me more spontaneous and vulnerable.  I read.  I research stuff.  If I don’t know how to do something, I try to figure it out by trial and error and Google searches and occasional phone calls to my Dad if it’s something related to carpentry/home improvement.  If you do the work and know HOW to work, you’ll be ready for when those bigger and better opportunities come along.  Not only that, but having a good work ethic shows people you’re serious about what you do.  Set goals/deadlines.  Hustle to meet them.  Have consistent hours for practicing/doing whatever it is you do.  And the hard part is you have to do it because you love it and are serious about it and not because you have expectations that it will somehow always lead to “fortune and glory.”  BUT you can also create your own fortune and glory too, which brings me to…
  3. Give yourself permission and run with it. When I first moved, I had this idea that I had to essentially ask people for permission to do my art.  I’d go into auditions, like so many of my colleagues, and through my audition material inadvertently ask, “Will you please let me be in your show so I can perform?”  YOU DON’T NEED ANYONE’S PERMISSION TO BE AN ARTIST, BECAUSE THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO BE SUCCESSFUL.  Feel free to read that several times until it sinks in.  It took me some time to learn that one myself.  Write the script.  Film it.  Put it online or show it to friends.  Go to that open mic night and do your standup.  Choreograph a dance and perform it wherever you can.  The more I have read about how various people got into the business, the more I have learned there isn’t some secret formula or special handshake to admit entry; it’s about work, ingenuity, and a lot of times, luck.  I finally took the plunge and started writing a television pilot, and I have no idea what will happen once I finish it, but I’m doing it because I want to have my writing and ideas seen and heard…that won’t happen if I wait for someone else to give me permission to write it.  You know what I REALLY think?  I think waiting for permission is a way of letting yourself off the hook because it’s scary to do something that hasn’t been done before.  You could fail.  You probably WILL fail at some point or another, but you will absolutely feel better just doing what you want to do than waiting for someone to “let you” do it.  Give yourself permission and don’t think twice about it and then do the work and share it with people.  Van Gogh made basically nothing while he was alive, but he kept painting anyway.  He also cut off his own ear, but I would advise you to think twice before doing THAT.
  4. Surround yourself with people who root for you no matter what. Life is too short to spend your time with people who:
    • Condescend to you
    • Talk about you behind your back
    • Don’t care about anything or anyone else
    • Only are available to you when it benefits them
    • Belittle your ideas/dreams
    • Don’t listen with the intent of understanding (as opposed to listening so they can just respond)
    • Are racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, etc
    • Don’t tip waiters/maids/service industry folks
    • Don’t read/educate themselves
    • Take themselves too seriously

There are a bunch of other things I could add, but those are big things.  You want people on your team who want the best for you and others…especially on days when YOU don’t always want the best for yourself.  TRUE #squadgoals are people who support your dreams, motivate you to keep working, listen to/assuage your fears and sadness, and always treat you and others equally.  Accept nothing less than the best from those around you.  The dead weight will eliminate itself from your life once you make it clear you only want positive people around.  See?  You CAN lose weight and feel better without drinking any weird green juices!

  1. Stay in your own time zone. What I mean by this is there are always going to be people who are ahead of you and behind you in work and life and any number of things.  Don’t focus on what’s happening to them because they’re operating in a different time than you.  You aren’t in Jennifer Lawrence’s time zone (or probably even her friend zone, honestly), so don’t try to be.  You can only do what you can do and you’re “Jennifer Lawrence” to someone behind you.  I’m not saying I never am envious of people having successes that seem bigger than any of mine, but by focusing more on my own work and less on other people, it makes it easier.  Our teachers didn’t say “keep your eyes on your own paper” for no good reason!

I have also learned that bagels really DO taste 1000% better in New York than they do anywhere else, and no, I don’t know why, but that’s just how it is.  I’ve yet to need a therapist or have a totally crazy meet-cute with a charming Tom Hanks-type on top of the Empire State Building a la a Nora Ephron movie, but I’ve done pretty okay in my first five years here, I think.  So onward for the next year of carbs and writing and acting and self-indulgent ennui and running all over these crazy, occasionally mean streets.  Happy New York-iversary.

“Always.”

I think my first exposure to Alan Rickman was the superb 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility penned by and starring his best friend (and one of my biggest heroes), Emma Thompson.  His character, Colonel Brandon, is meant to be this aging, semi-severe bachelor who suffers from unrequited love for the blossoming, beautiful Marianne Dashwood played to youthful perfection by Kate Winslet.  rickman 1Naturally, she sets her sights on the young, dashing, too-charming-to-be-real cad Willoughby and rebuffs Brandon’s advances, thinking him incapable of feeling love or inspiring it in another. And even though Brandon knows what Willoughby is capable of, that he has less-than-honorable intentions, he doesn’t interfere.  Instead, he quietly, humbly goes on loving and supporting Marianne through all her worst moments even when it aches him to do so.  He is unfailingly kind and chivalrous to the last.  And when Willoughby has left Marianne inconsolable with a broken heart as Brandon knew he would, Brandon does not revel in being proven right.  He does not gloat or chastise Marianne for having chosen such an undeserving man to receive her love over himself.  Instead, he goes on loving her and caring for her without hope or expectations until one day, she realizes she has fallen in love with him and they marry.rickman 4

At one point, Willoughby says, “Brandon is just the kind of man whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.”  But for me, Brandon is the best part of Sense & Sensibility.  Beyond our heroine, Elinor, he is the one whose quiet, lovelorn suffering stings most true.  Brandon is the emotional and moral center of the story for me; he’s the one who does what is right above all things, sometimes at the expense of his own heart.  Brandon shows us that love often doesn’t come in the form of charm and sizzling passion, but that it often looks far more like tenderness and compassion.  rickman 2Marianne’s assertion that love must be “inspiring” and loud is met by Brandon’s subtler acts of love, and she realizes he is far worthier of her heart than a man like Willoughby could ever be.  While Austen illuminates this quite well in her book, it didn’t really sink in fully until I saw Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Brandon.  I saw the pain in his gaze, the love in his every action.  He made us all fall in love with Brandon, but I also fell in love with Rickman himself.  And I learned a lot about how to love as a direct result of his performance in the film.

When they announced the cast for the first Harry Potter film, my heart leapt with joy at hearing Rickman’s name announced as another long-suffering lovelorn character: potions-master Severus Snape.  Most people today are going to be talking about how great Rickman was at playing the villain (and in all fairness, Hans Gruber and the Sherriff of Nottingham are both thrilling and sexy performances and steal the show of their respective films), but I’d argue that Rickman was actually better at romance, and more specifically, showing us the trickier, more painful aspects of love.  Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility.  Snape, who is villainous at times, but has carried the pain of love for so long, it has eaten away at him.  Harry in Love Actually, who doesn’t realize his foolishness is wrecking his wife.

rickman 5

With the brilliant Juliet Stevenson in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)

And especially Jamie in Truly Madly Deeply, who must try to let his former love go while helping her learn to let him go.  These roles aren’t quite as showy as the villains, but they pack more of an emotional wallop.

It is only in mourning Alan Rickman’s death today I realized I have treated him a bit like Marianne Dashwood: accepting he would always be there for emotional support but never fully giving him the attention he truly deserves.  I was blind sighted by the news of his passing, because I had come to love him far more deeply than I ever realized; his presence was always a welcome one onscreen or onstage.  And don’t get me started on that marvelous, iconic speaking-voice.  He gave us everything selflessly with the deepest of love and greatest care for his craft, collaborators, and those of us who sat in darkened rooms watching him.  He deserved far more, but he made the absolute most of what he got.

All I can offer in return is my deepest affection and gratitude for the many gifts he gave me as I’ve grown up watching his films.  Rickman IS Brandon: the kind of man everyone speaks well of and whom all are delighted to see, but damned if he’s not also somebody we ALL deeply care about.

Thank you, Alan.

rickman 6

1946-2016.

The Content of Our Character(s): On Female Characters in Theatre & Film

I received this casting notice in my email today:  casting notice 1

Let’s talk about this for a second.  There are six roles in this one-act and of those, only two are for women.  This play is also written and directed by men so that’s two more men.  So women make up a measly 25% of this entire creative project.

Now let’s look at the characters and their descriptions.  First, let us consider the length of each description.  Obviously, Noah is our main character, not only because he is referenced in every other character’s description, but also because his description is the lengthiest.  Our two female characters have barely a sentence.  The one exception here is that of our drug dealer, who has the shortest of all descriptions at just three words.  So in case you’re wondering, by description-length alone, women are only slightly more interesting than a drug dealer.

Now let’s get to the actual content of these descriptions.  It is obvious this writer has spent a LOT of time creating the character of Noah and even Sammy, his best friend.  As an actor, I can read Noah’s description and get an understanding of where he is emotionally and physically in his life before I read one word of dialogue.  I can identify with being a recent college grad stuck in an endless cycle of part-time jobs, being worried about success, and even struggling with the idea of committing to something or someone.  He sounds like an actual person with actual feelings.

And then there are the two female characters; our 25% of the play, whose descriptions also make them out to be about 25% of an actual person.  And this is what I REALLY want to talk about, because I want you to understand just how much gender disparity there is in the entertainment industry.  It’s not just about HOW MANY roles and jobs there are for women, it is also about the QUALITY of the roles and jobs available to women.  I read character breakdowns every day for a variety of projects, and the majority look something like this one.

In this play, I have a choice: either I am Noah’s current love interest who “also happens to be a stripper” (Go figure!  Probably with a “heart of gold” too!) OR I can be Noah’s ex-girlfriend who is a lawyer (read: probably a “bitch”).  Either way, the female character is there solely to be tied to our male protagonist.  Their relationship to our male protagonist, Noah, is their whole character description. And while that’s true for all the other characters in this play, this is the case with 90% of the female character breakdowns I read every day.  Almost every single one is about how that woman relates to another man in the project as if her having her own life and personality is impossible to imagine or write.  Who are these women?  What do we know about them other than their relationship to our main male protagonist?  In this particular example, we know nothing except that one is a stripper and the other is a lawyer, which brings me to my next point…

Women are frequently written as stereotypes and/or labels, not people.  This ties in to how society often sees and labels women.  Almost every female character breakdown I read is mainly physical (“curvy but skinny…” is always my favorite…which is NOT a real thing, dudes) and/or panders to a very specific stereotype: whore, stripper, virgin, mother, bitch, nerdy best friend, girl next door, manic pixie dream girl.  Not only does this reduce half the population to being one-dimensional, purely physical beings, it’s also incredibly lazy writing.  Instead of doing the harder job of writing a real woman with real flaws, the writer reduces her to a “flawed” stereotype like a stripper as if that fills in all the missing character development the writer should have written in the first place.  And for the record, there are plenty of women who are strippers who aren’t solely that one thing and are probably lovely individuals who AREN’T doing it as a “cry for help” or are in need of a male savior figure (even Jesus Christ).  Maybe the problem is that even the word “woman” carries with it so much baggage and so many assumptions that some writers have a hard time sifting through that to see that women are people first and “women” second.  We have hopes and fears and struggles and triumphs and they are not so different from the men around us.  Conflict resolution and emotional development are universal; women and men experience these things every day regardless of gender, so why is it easier for so many writers to develop and write real male characters but not real female ones?  Is it any wonder that actresses like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, AND Emily Blunt are all starring in films this fall (Secret in Their Eyes, Our Brand is Crisis, and Sicario, respectively) where their roles were originally written for men?

This one example is far and away not the worst, but it shows how far we still have to go for women in this business.  If we are to take the old adage, “write what you know” seriously, then not only do we need more female writers writing projects for women, we also need to hold male writers accountable for the KINDS of female characters they write.  Unless these men exclusively hang out with hookers-with-hearts-of-gold and virginal cheerleaders (and honestly, if they do, they have some deep psychological issues that probably need working out), then why can’t they write a woman as a real person beyond a label?  Even their mothers and wives are more than their mothers and wives, if they have the chutzpah to actually try to write it.

There are so many talented male writers and directors out there that I want to work with who create and tell wonderful stories.  Is it so much to ask that more of them feature women as actual people?  Is it so much to ask more of them are about women, period? We can do better than 25%.  We can do better than stereotypical labels.  Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and Emily Blunt shouldn’t have to re-write male parts, and if these women at the top of their game are being forced to do that, then those of us in the earlier phases of our acting careers have it pretty bleak indeed.

My Favorite Fierce Film Heroines Part II: Rose

Welcome to part II of my series on fierce film heroines.  If you missed part I, which probably happened since I wrote it more than two years ago (oops!), just hop over to HERE.  At some point, I’ll probably add more ladies to this list like Ripley from Alien and Dr. Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park, but today, we’re talking about the gal who defied her uppity mom and horrible fiancé to run around “the ship of dreams” with a gorgeously hot third-class passenger named Leonardo DiCaprio, erm, Jack Dawson.  It’s Titanic time and Rose’s turn.

Rose DeWitt Bukater

  • Our first glimpse of Rose is actually of her amazing violet hat and her getting out of what I assume is probably a Ford circa 1912. 
    "They called her the Ship of Dreams..." Because it is everyone's dream to look THIS good and have Leo as their boyfriend.

    “They called her the Ship of Dreams…” Because it is everyone’s dream to look THIS good and have Leo as their boyfriend.

    We see her raise her head and then BAM!  Kate Winslet’s gorgeous face appears beneath the hat.  Then she acts all unimpressed with the Titanic like it’s not about to be the ship where she has the greatest sex of her life following the greatest nude portrait session of her life with a dreamboat steerage passenger.  “It doesn’t LOOK any bigger than the Moritania.”  Obviously, Rose has already learned the importance of Say Something Hat Day and how a good chapeau can influence your entire outlook on life. 

    Miss Vida Boheme: drag queen, life guru, and creator of the all-important Say Something Hat Day

    Either way, her nonchalance and sass is not something I can replicate with any authenticity.

  • Rose meets Jack during a suicide attempt.  Like, GREAT STORY to tell your grandkids, Rose.  “I met the love of my life before I was about to throw myself into the ship propellers.” #dramaqueen much?
    No, girl, YOU'RE crazy for not immediately climbing back over the rail into Leo's arms.

    No, girl, YOU’RE crazy for not immediately climbing back over the rail into Leo’s arms.

    But actually, if she hadn’t had a moment during dinner and then almost jumped off, Jack might never have walked over to her and been all “you jump, I jump” which is basically the best pickup line no man has ever said to me and probably never will (but I can dream, right?).  I’m not condoning Rose’s original death wish of a plan, but I AM saying that what I got from this situation is that if I do something bold and possibly crazy, Leonardo DiCaprio might start up a casual conversation with me. Or the more likely scenario, which is that he files a restraining order.

  • This: “Do you know of Dr. Freud, Mr. Ismay?  His ideas about the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you.” 

GREATEST. DINNER PUTDOWN. EVER.  Ladies, THIS is the way you classily attack a man’s unmentionables during an elegant dinner (possibly held on a luxury ocean liner).  Rose could probably go toe-to-toe with Lady Mary in terms of brilliant snide remarks.

  • Jack teaches Rose how to “spit like a man.”  This is about the only thing we mere mortals could possibly do reasonably as well as Rose.
    Is there anything more romantic than spitting off the deck of a fancy-ass ship at sunset? Can you do THAT on a Viking River Cruise, PBS?

    Is there anything more romantic than spitting off the deck of a fancy-ass ship at sunset? Can you do THAT on a Viking River Cruise, PBS?

    Sure, it’s a little disgusting and undignified, but in comparison with how you probably spent your Saturday nights (alllllllll the struggles), this is pretty tame stuff.  And according to Jack/Leo, it’s just all about technique anyway (I feel like there’s a reaaaaaally dirty joke in there somewhere, but I’ll let this one be for now).

  • Rose gets drunk and then does pointe in just her stocking feet in third class (which is OBVIOUSLY where the REAL party is; I mean, arm wrestling in that time period is like beer pong now).  Rose, all cocky and confident, asks, “You think you’re big, tough men?”

    DO NOT ATTEMPT WHILE DRUNK (or sober for that matter)

    Having studied pointe for six years, I can tell you that this would hurt more than any situation in the Final Destination films (none of which I’ve seen, because I’m not interested in ridiculous death wishes or really inane “horror” movies with thin plotlines).  My toes bled even WITH padding, lamb’s wool, and the occasional paper towel stuffed into the toe box.

    True story: I have quoted this film and this line whilst drunk.

    At my drunkest, I have attempted many feats to impress boys at parties, but none of them have involved doing pointework without pointe shoes (though I might have once attempted doing “Thriller”).  Bravo, Rose.  You have feet of steel.

  • Rose only has to pay 10 cents for a nude portrait drawn by Leonardo DiCaprio, erm Jack, “wearing this…wearing ONLY this.”  Um, seriously impressive seduction technique for a friggin 17 year old not to mention she seems confident and content with her body.
    The kind of body confidence that can't be taught. You go girrrrl.

    The kind of body confidence that can’t be taught. You go girrrrl.

    When I was 17, I was pretty much the opposite of smooth unless you count me playing saxophone for jazz band (among also being in marching band and playing oboe as my regular instrument).  If you know me at all, you know I have been harboring an intense crush on Mr. DiCaprio since I was seven years old and have thought out many seduction tactics, but I’m 98% sure if I approached him only wearing a bathrobe and a fancy necklace and then dropped trou in front of him, I’d be slapped with a restraining order (I’m sensing a theme).

  • Rose wields an axe after nearly being electrocuted from swimming through the flooded, dark third class hallways and successfully frees Jack from his handcuffs.

    Heeeeeeere’s Rose!!!

    Her “practice swings” are, I think we can all agree, pretty disheartening, but because she is Rose FREAKING DeWitt Bukater and destined to be with Jack (at least for the next twenty-ish minutes until he dies), she obviously frees him without scarily chopping off his hands on her FIRST TRY. I have never used an axe, but I DO have pretty boss table saw skills from taking stagecraft lab in college, so I guess that’s something.  However, I’ll leave the brawniness to Rose and the handsome guy in flannel on the paper towel logos (and in selected neighborhoods of Brooklyn/Portland) and just stick to the brains part.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Man

Ladies and gays, I think the most important thing we can learn from our dear, fiery Rose, is the importance of choosing the correct life partner.  At the beginning of the film, she’s engaged to handsome Cal Hockley,

My favorite ever GIF of Billy Zane. Not sorry.

who makes his money in steel and has gobs and gobs of it (enough to buy a bunch of really famous pieces of art AND a diamond that is more ostentatious and obnoxious than the Kimye wedding). 

Hey boo, I bought you this huge diamond so you're supposed to love me now.

Hey boo, I bought you this huge diamond so you’re supposed to love me now.

As we come to find out, this is going to be a marriage of convenience rather than love since Rose and her mother are basically bankrupt.

Ah the passive aggressive corset-lacing move is fun, isn’t it? The angrier you are, the tighter it gets. Scarlett O’Hara knows a thing or two about this.

  But it’s pretty obvious Rose doesn’t love the guy (even though Billy Zane’s hair has literally NEVER looked better) not to mention he’s got a temper worse than Alec Baldwin and the table-flipping skills of a Real Housewife of New Jersey.  He’s also majorly controlling and has questionable ethics (pretending to have a child to get in a lifeboat…”I HAVE A CHILD!” much?).

Teresa Giudice has NOTHING on Cal Hockley when it comes to table flipping, y’all. What a nightmare.

  If she stayed with him, Rose would likely find herself in a verbally and physically abusive relationship especially since he full out slapped her in the face aka NOT OKAY.

PREACH

So it’s pretty awesome when she spits in Cal’s face and picks Jack Dawson for a lifetime of love rather than money…ESPECIALLY in 1912.

UGH THE WORST

 

Again, PREACH

Jack is willing to risk his life for her, he challenges her in good ways, he doesn’t want to squash her independent spirit, and he loves her for exactly who she is.  Ladies and gays, THIS is the kind of man you should seek out.  Now I’m not saying you should take up with the first guy who teaches you to “spit like a man” and has sweaty car sex with you in the boiler room of a luxurious ship, but be on the lookout for a guy who cherishes you rather than seeks to buy your affections so he can control you. 

Baby, are you an Oscar?  Because I want you so baaaad.

Now, if he happens to cherish you AND have the money to buy you a blue diamond worth a gazillion dollars, then you really have hit the jackpot of life-mates, and I envy you and your accessories collection.

So where were we?

  • Rose loses Jack to the icy depths of the ocean, swims in the freezing ass water to blow a dead man’s whistle to get a lifeboat to come back
    Try not to think about the fact that whistle was in a dead man's mouth.  Ew.

    Try not to think about the fact that whistle was in a dead man’s mouth. Ew.

    and FINALLY makes it back to America where she tells customs her name is actually “Dawson, Rose Dawson”

    LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE, ROSE! YOU LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE AS ROSE DAWSON!

    BECAUSE SHE’LL NEVER LET GO (even though, okay, technically she DID let go of Jack’s hand to save herself but whatever) and TRUE LOVE.  And if you aren’t crying by this point, you are probably a robot named Caledon Hockley.  Anyway, Rose is a fighter, and I’d like to think at some point after all her rollercoaster riding and plane flying (Kate Winslet, you better WERK that aviatrix costume), she went to North Carolina and founded a town called Dawson’s Creek, because she was full of feelings and so are all the people in that town (specifically young adults) according to the WB in the late 1990s.

  • AND THEN WE FIND OUT THAT SOMEHOW, MIRACULOUSLY, SHE STILL HAS THE HEART OF THE OCEAN.  And by “miraculously,” I mean “movie-magic” because it’s a necessary and emotional plot point that needs tying up.  And now that Rose has essentially told Bill Paxton and his merry band of sea treasure hunters her entire secret life and sex history,

    “It BELONGS in a museum!” – Indiana Jones

    she must die a poetic death after throwing her “heart” back into the ocean (eh?  See what I did there?).  And thus, she goes to “heaven,” which for her is the prettier parts of the Titanic where Leo is waiting to make out with her,

    Just add pizza to this and pretend Kate is actually me, and you've got my idea of heaven.

    Just add pizza to this and pretend Kate is actually me, and you’ve got my idea of heaven.

    and clearly, Rose has been reading my thoughts, because oddly enough, that is exactly what heaven looks like to me too.  But also with pizza and burritos that don’t make you fat.

So, in conclusion, I think we can all agree that Rose DeWitt Bukater Dawson is a lady worth our admiration and respect.  She blazed those trails one giant iceberg at a time and lived life on her own terms.  Everything’s coming up roses…this time, for her!

The Wintry Mix: Movies to Watch During the Not-so-great Blizzard of 2015 (Part II)

NYC’s Great Blizzard of 2015 was decidedly a Great Big BUST instead, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still indulge in a few more wintry movies while you wait for mass transit to start back up again and roads to get cleared.  I posted the Wintry Mix Part I yesterday, so without further ado:

PART TWO

Die Another Day (2002)

The only frostier reception Pierce Brosnan has received was for his singing in “Mamma Mia”

So it’s probably not the best of the James Bond movies by any stretch, but Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as the eponymous MI-6 agent is pretty fun.  The plot gets a little complicated, but there’s a lot of business with North Korea (timely!) and a mysterious millionaire named Gustav Graves who has (wait for it) an ice hotel in addition to a super cool satellite that will obviously put the world in danger.  Come for Halle Berry as Jinx, stay for Rosamund Pike (in one of her first big roles before Gone Girl fame) as Miranda Frost, who also happens to have been trained in fencing by a character played by…Madonna.  Because why not?

The Shining (1980)

“I’d like red…rum. Get it?” (maniacal laughter)

Redrum redrum redrum.  Director Stanley Kubrick paces this horror classic perfectly, giving viewers and its star, a terrific and terrifying Jack Nicholson, an overwhelming sense of dread throughout.  It’s the rare horror film that also doubles as high, intellectual art.  Though novelist Stephen King hated what they did to it, everyone else seems to agree it’s a masterpiece.  Not recommended viewing for those who are caretakers at humongous hotels built on old Native American burial grounds.

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

Brrrrrr

This intriguing documentary from Werner Herzog explores what it’s like living and studying at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.  Interviews with scientists, breathtaking views of the coldest continent, and cute penguins all await you in addition to a lot of life-affirming tales.  The documentary may have a chilly subject, but it will surely warm your heart (sorry, I know that one was really cheesy).

Little Women (1994)

My favorite ladies

Full disclosure: this is one of my top three favorite movies of all-time, so I’m a little biased.  In my opinion, this is the best and most loving film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about four very different sisters’ coming of age.  The score is gorgeous, the cinematography warm, and the acting from the all-star cast is superb.  Winona Ryder scored an Oscar nomination for her layered, heartfelt portrayal of Jo, and after you wipe away your tears, you’ll see why.  And if you don’t swoon over Christian Bale’s Laurie (or at least his hair), there’s something wrong with you.

Fargo (1996)

Badass

Nothing says “happy snow day” quite like a triple homicide and a botched kidnapping in snowy Minnesota.  The Academy Award winning film from the Coen Brothers was turned into a fine TV series this past year, but start with the sometimes funny but increasingly violent film.  Frances McDormand is great as pregnant policewoman Marge Gunderson as are Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy.  Entertaining? Yah, sure, you betcha.

2015 Oscar Nominees Viewing Guide

5:30 am has literally NEVER looked sexier

5:30 am has literally NEVER looked sexier

Happy Oscar Nominations Day!

Lots and lots of surprises today from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (that Chris Pine can still look so sexy and beautiful reading nominations at 5:30 am his time is NOT one of them). If you’ve been following the race at all this year, you likely were as surprised as me by some of the inclusions and omissions in the larger races like Actor, Actress, Director, and Picture. But fret not, children, because I think many of our favorites like Boyhood, Birdman, and J.K. Simmons are all still quite safe. I have many thoughts on the nominations themselves and what it all means, but instead, let’s talk about the important stuff…and I don’t just mean the fact Oscar night means more dreamy Brits in beautiful suits (Hi Eddie and Benedict!).

Let’s talk about what YOU beautiful people need to see before the big show on February 22. Depending on your schedule and bank account (and frankly, stamina), here’s my handy-dandy viewing guide. Start with the First Tier and as you have time, see the films in each successive tier.  BAM!


First Tier: THE ESSENTIALS

Boyhood

Birdman

The Grand Budapest Hotel

grand_budapest_hotelboyhood poster birdman

These three films are the ones you’re hearing the most about right now and likely to be the ones picking up a lot of gold come Oscar night. Birdman is guaranteed a lot of wins in the technical categories (especially cinematography) and potentially Best Actor for Michael Keaton (plus solid supporting performances from nominees Edward Norton and Emma Stone). Boyhood is the front-runner for Best Picture and honestly, Best Director, and Patricia Arquette has won pretty much every single Best Supporting Actress award this season (plus a fine supporting performance from nominee Ethan Hawke). Grand Budapest Hotel came out in March but has really picked up steam thanks to the BAFTAs and Golden Globes. It has a good shot at Original Screenplay, Costumes, Production Design, and Hair/Makeup. It’s also just really fun and original.


Second Tier: TORTURED GENIUSES (+ the Essentials)

The Imitation Game

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

whiplash-poster the theory of everything Imitation-Game-Poster

These three films also picked up several nominations and in big categories. The Imitation Game is a very fine British drama with two great performances by Best Actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch and Best Supporting Actress nominee Keira Knightley. I’d say it has a good shot at Score, Adapted Screenplay, and Production Design. The Theory of Everything’s best shot is certainly Best Actor for Eddie Redmayne, who has been splitting the award with Michael Keaton all season. Best Actor is the most unpredictable, competitive category this year. It also features a lovely performance by Best Actress nominee Felicity Jones and a beautiful score. Whiplash is one of my favorite films of 2014, and J.K. Simmons has won every single Best Supporting Actor award this season. He will, unless something crazy happens, win the Oscar. No question. I’d also say the film has a great shot at the Sound Mixing category as well.


Third Tier: THE LADIES (+ The Essentials + Tortured Geniuses)

Wild

Still Alice

Ida

ida_ver2 still alice poster WILD_movie_poster

While Julianne Moore is most likely going to take home Best Actress (FINALLY) for Still Alice, the ladies of Wild, Best Actress nominee Reese Witherspoon and Best Supporting Actress nominee Laura Dern, do some of their very best work. Ida is the front-runner at this point for Best Foreign Film and has been an art-house mainstay for its story about a young woman about to take her vows as a nun when she learns she is actually Jewish.


Fourth Tier: RULE-BREAKERS (+ The Essentials + Tortured Geniuses + The Ladies)

Citizenfour

Selma

Foxcatcher

American Sniper

selma

Unfortunately, Selma all but got shut out of the Academy Awards this year other than Picture and Original Song, but it’s well-made, and Ava DuVernay is going to be a major player now in the directing field. Citizenfour is definitely the documentary to beat at the Oscars especially given its subject matter: Edward Snowden. After strong showings and buzz at all the major festivals, Foxcatcher lost some steam but Best Director nominee Bennett Miller pulls great performances out of Best Actor nominee Steve Carrell and Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo. American Sniper is late to the awards race but has gotten a recent boost of support. It’s Bradley Cooper’s third consecutive Best Actor nomination, and many feel one of Clint Eastwood’s best films in recent years. I don’t think it will pick up a ton of awards, but you never know.


Fifth Tier: EXTRAS (+ The Essentials + Tortured Geniuses + The Ladies + Rule-Breakers)

Mr. Turner

Interstellar

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Nightcrawler

Unbroken

nightcrawler

I’m actually a little disappointed Nightcrawler’s Jake Gyllenhaal didn’t pick up a Best Actor nomination this morning, but that race is so crowded with contenders, someone was going to get bumped. The film is weird and chilling, but Gyllenhaal is fantastic as is Rene Russo. Mr. Turner did very well at Cannes and picked up four nominations, but production or costume design seem like its best shots. How To Train Your Dragon 2 just won Best Animated Feature at the Globes, so I’d say it’s most likely the front-runner in that category. As for Interstellar, it’s visually stunning with a great score, so I’d look for it to be a real contender in those categories. And while Unbroken wasn’t quite the awards-magnet many hoped, its Oscar-nominated cinematographer, Roger Deakins, is beloved by the industry.

Has your brain exploded yet? If you’d rather watch the films with the most nominations, here’s the breakdown:

  • 9 nominations – Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • 8 nominations – The Imitation Game
  • 6 nominations – American Sniper, Boyhood
  • 5 nominations – Foxcatcher, Interstellar, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
  • 4 nominations – Mr. Turner
  • 3 nominations – Into the Woods, Unbroken
  • 2 nominations – Guardians of the Galaxy, Ida, Inherent Vice, Selma, Wild

Remember to drink plenty of water to offset the salt intake from all the popcorn you’re about to chow down on and be sure to give your eyes a rest once in a while. Otherwise, good luck, godspeed, and see all of you on Oscar night!

Proper movie-viewing attitude

Proper movie-viewing attitude

Oh and I’ll be live-tweeting the awards, so be sure to follow me @emmylanepotter on Twitter!

Friend like me

People are taking Robin Williams’ death pretty hard today all around the world and not without reason.  He was pervasively and perversely funny; the king of so-called manic comedy.  Other than maybe Tom Hanks, he encapsulated the 1990s male movie star for me in terms of ubiquity and memorable roles.

Run-by fruiting or pie in the face, I laughed til I cried

Run-by fruiting or pie in the face, I laughed til I cried

I may have swooned over Leo, sure, but Robin was the guy I would have gladly accepted as my second dad or crazy, beloved uncle.  I think I saw almost every single one of his films from that decade and marveled at how he could make all ages laugh.  No one could riff better than him or do more voices.

But he could strip all that away and find a stillness so lovely it made your heart break when he wanted to.  His dramatic work was just as fearless as his comedy, and he could be vulnerable, flawed, and real in a way that touched you deeply.  He mined the depths of humanity, the highs and lows, with a perceived ease that was almost bordering on offensive (at least to THIS actor).  He sunk his teeth into whatever role he took on and made sure you were paying attention.  Dead Poets SocietyHe gave it his all, and that goes for everything in his life whether it was his stand-up, his film/TV roles, being a husband and father, or his charity work with our troops.  Robin was generous in all things.  I wouldn’t be able to even choose a favorite film of his but a few that have really stuck with me are Dead Poets Society, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and Hook.  These are films that have profoundly influenced me in one way or another, and it was due in large part to Robin’s singular gifts.

Certainly his death is a difficult one for so many of us, but I am saddened even more because it comes on the heels of another, similar loss for me; one much closer.  I lost a beloved friend to suicide only two weeks ago, and he too was gifted in his own ways.  A brilliant musician, James had a passion for music that was infectious and inspiring.  But there was always a glimmer of darkness there: some days you saw it less, and some days more.

With my friend, James, back in 2010 at an alumni band concert

With my friend, James, back in 2010 at an alumni band concert

The times when his spirit shined brightest was when he was playing music, giving himself over to its powerful, magical spell; a medicine in its own right.  I knew he struggled sometimes with depression, but he never really let it affect him when he was with other people, or, at least, he never showed how it affected him.  As it sometimes goes in life, we fell out of touch in the last three years, and some bad things happened in his life.  Mistakes were made, consequences occurred, and the darkness took over.  No music could act as a salve; no words, no people. I tried reaching out once or twice (as did my brother), but he never answered.  I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t want to, but that darkness took my friend and his beautiful music.  And while I know there was nothing I could have done to save him, it doesn’t change how devastating it is.  He was twenty-nine years old and couldn’t fight anymore; though I wish to God he would have tried.  Robin Williams was sixty-three and couldn’t fight anymore either; another casualty of the crippling, cruelness of depression.

photo via Michael Parmelee Photography

photo via Michael Parmelee Photography

And today, while I continue to mourn the loss of my friend and now another person who I let into my home and heart on a regular basis (albeit through a screen), my thoughts drift especially to Robin’s family and close friends; the people who knew and loved him best.  Unfortunately, I now know what this kind of loss feels like.  How it aches in deep places that catch you off guard.  How helpless and powerless you feel.  How aware you become of your own fragile mortality and mind.  But while grief is powerful, I’m always amazed at how love breaks through it.  When I think of my friend, I think of the times spent laughing, the late nights at my house with my brother, and always the music, the wild, passionate music.  Those moments flood my brain more than anything else.  Looking at the hundreds of Facebook statuses and Tweets today, I know all of us think of Robin with only love and admiration too.  Our Robin was the one who made us laugh and cry and inspired us to do and be more.  Our Robin was a genie whose only wish was to grant all of ours.  He was our favorite housekeeper and English teacher.  He made us feel the joy of flying just with happy thoughts.  For whatever he and my friend suffered, they were so loved even though that love wasn’t enough to keep them here with us.

I thank both my friend and Robin for what they selflessly gave to me and others.  My life is richer for having them in it.

I ain’t never had friends like you.

1985-2014

1951-2014