Wednesday, October 31, 2007

day 4: four days with three scary movies each

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

To be fair, I went into The Blair Witch Project making fun of it. I remember seeing it in the theatre and sort of being bored.... there was a lot of marketing hype around it (this being the first film to utilize the internet as a means of major underground marketing) and it felt silly and self-indulgent to me. In retrospect, I think this is part of the movie's genius. The concept is that we're seeing found footage from three amateur filmmakers who set out to learn about the "Blair Witch", a local scary story, in the woods of rural Maryland. The whole time already knowing that the movie wasn't exactly real found footage, I wanted to be jaded about it and started looking for flaws. But isn't this the point? We're watching the unedited clips from amateur documentarians who, in a way, are making fun of themselves as they go about interviewing town residents and set off into the woods themselves to find the Blair Witch. It is, of course, once they get in the woods that things starts getting spooky.... they get lost or seem to travel in circles. They hear screaming in the night. Their tent gets rustled around in the dark. They find creepy handcrafted symbols hanging in the trees. I guess this all seemed silly to me too.... until they get to the Blair Witch's house, a crumbling old piece of construction with children's handprints peppered across the walls. The last ten minutes or so of this movie are truly terrifying, and I mean that in every sense of the word. The brilliance of how this movie is filmed, as seen from the claustrophobic view of the handheld video camera, is in part what makes it so scary. We are denied seeing what's just outside the realm of the camera, even though we're following the characters as they film.... it's a first-person viewing experience and thereby we are locked into seeing only what the camera wishes to see. The movie's got balls and it sticks to its premise.... it ramps up at the end to a high-pitch freakout and then cuts to black; nothing more, no explanation. Because, you see, it's only found footage, and we can't fill in the blanks of that which hasn't been filmed.

Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates didn't really stand out much as an actress before this film (in this same year she had a two-line part as a court reporter in the wonderful Dick Tracy), and I'm curious to see what she would've been like as a younger actress, because she is truly one of the greatest of our time. The Oscars and their nominations are often not kind to movies outside the drama category, and Misery, for which Bates won a fully-deserved Best Actress oscar, was a surprise to turn up in one of the Big 5 categories because it's an out-and-out thriller. Bates, as psycho fangirl Annie Wilkes, really is that good. Haven't seen the film? I dare you to tell me that she doesn't freak you the hell out. This movie takes fan-based obsession to the next level; based on Stephen Kings' novel (of which movie adaptations of his work are really hit or miss), James Caan plays a writer who's trying to escape the rut of a continuing series of his books. Just so happens after he wrecks his car and goes missing, one of his biggest fans saves him and nurses him back to health.... and then traps him in her home so that she can "tend" to him and dictate how she'd like his next book to go. Kathy Bates really invests in the part, you can see that, and her psychotic calm gets under your skin quite quickly. Some of the most tense scenes in the movie are where Caan's character makes attempts at escape.... but he fails to notice that his wheelchair bumped around some very meticulously arranged figurines in the living room, and Annie connects the dots on his escapade out of his room and goes ape-shit on him. I still can't watch the scene where she manages to keep him wheelchair-bound for quite awhile longer by taking a sledgehammer to his ankles (to the tune of Beethoven piano music).... I mean it, I curl into a ball and cover my face.... I can't watch that shit, it scares the crap out of me. In any case, when the AFI did their "100 Years, 100 Heroes & Villains" TV special, they interviewed Kathy Bates about playing Annie Wilkes (#17 on the villains list).... and she refused to say anything negative about the character. This, I think, is a great testament to Bates' acting prowess; she had to justify and fully believe in what Annie was doing in order to pull off the role.... and she's got her very own Oscar to polish for it.

The Descent (2006)

I saw this movie for the first time in January of this year and it blew me away, in the best possible way; I've found that my favorite movies of all time are the ones that take me completely by surprise, and The Descent is so one of my favorite movies of all time. This is the horror movie that people who appreciate film have been waiting for. It's too bad, though, that in the United States (the film is British, with a British director and mostly British actors) it was marketed similarly to a lot of the throw-away torture-porn horror movie junk of recent years and likely didn't register on the radar of many movie-goers. But this is not that kind of movie.... this is a horror movie with a sense of purpose and art, with an eye for characterization and storytelling, and is beautifully directed by Neil Marshall, who is able to pay homage all throughout to (likely) some of his favorite classic horror films. (It's hard, really, to try and list them all, but among some of my favorites are undeniable winks to Deliverance, The Blair Witch Project, Night of the Living Dead, and Carrie.) Marshall proves himself to have a skillful eye; where most of the movie takes place in tight and closed spaces, he films the outside world with such space that it really dovetails into a beautiful contrast when you recognize it. It would be negligent of me not to note that I probably also like this film because it has hot chicks that kick ass.... what can I say, I'm a fan of that in movies too. Shauna MacDonald and Natalie Mendoza (a pair of strikingly beautiful women, if I do say so myself) give some visceral and fearless performances here, and once they pick up their ice axes to start fighting, I dare you not to feel a tingle of giddy glee. The basic premise here: five daredevil women go cave diving somewhere in the mountains of rural North Carolina, and they stumble across things in the dark that they weren't planning on stumbling across. In so, the film treads through a bit of sci-fi territory.... the villains here aren't psychotic killers or zombies, but rather vicious humanoid monsters who've adapted to living in the dark. The first shot where you see one of these monsters (they're filmed so well that they're terrifying to look at whenever they're on screen) is the one that lingers longest with me, a kind of "wait, is that a man down there?" shot from far away that immediately puts you on edge. One of my favorite aspects of the film is that it eases you into the horror; there's plenty of blood and guts, but you wouldn't think so as the film opens or at least during the first forty-five minutes (the way the opening sequence ends, though, definitely grabs you for the ride). Another is the concept of "the descent", not just a literal reading of the ladies' trip down into the caves, but even on a more metaphorical level as in descending to a more primal state of being.... by having to fight these hungry beasts, MacDonald's and Mendoza's characters become primordial animal killers to protect themselves and their compadres. Apparently the ending was edited for the American theatrical release (which I didn't see), but I know that it's a somewhat "happier" ending than that on the DVD (and original British) release.... the original ending I prefer far and away much more; it adds a kind of bleakness that I think is necessary to the film, and it also visually ties the bow on a recurring motif of flashback to MacDonald's character's daughter. This bleakness, after all, is what sticks with you days and weeks after you've watched the film. So, in closing, I still scream out loud in parts when watching this, even when I know what's coming. One thing is for sure, this movie will turn you against ever wanting to go cave exploring.

Now go watch some scary movies.... Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

day 3: four days with three scary movies each

The Innocents (1961)

My very second blog post ever references this (somewhat forgotten) scary movie gem.... and I probably said it best over there. Deborah Kerr (who just recently passed away and whose film archives are likely being combed to compile a fifteen second "In Memoriam" clip for countless awards shows this coming year) plays a British governess who comes to care for two pretty disturbed little tykes. This is a perfectly freaky ghost story (all the bump-in-the-night creeps are there), filmed in crisp black and white, that has some horrifying reveals in the bright light.... sometimes what we can see clearly can be a lot more terrifying than what is shrouded in shadow (David Lynch uses this technique to shows us some of the scariest stuff he's got in his films). My favorite is when Kerr glances up across the lake to see the distant (and all-too-real) apparition of a woman staring at her (watch it here!). Ultimately these kids are a possessed little lot, and toward the end we get some rather squirm-in-your-seat screentime logged of a ten year old boy making out with his thirty-something babysitter. If you haven't seen this film, go rent it now in time for Halloween and watch it with lights off.

The Ring (2002)

Naomi Watts stars in (what I believe is) the first of the Americanized Japanese-horror-film remakes (see also: The Grudge and Dark Water).... and in this case I think the first is probably the best. Gore Verbinski (better known for directing the Bruckheimer-a-thon Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) proves himself to be a director with a good eye for mood.... the shots in this film are rich in color, setting, and atmosphere, and he paces the film just right to keep us unsettled the whole way throughout. Even the final sequence of the film worked on me.... usually it's clear that once you think the killer is dead the killer actually isn't quite dead, but I was successfully duped this time around. Despite the presence of the tired expressionless-little-kid stereotype, the film succeeds in taking us around to another creepy little kid who likes to kill people via VHS. Of course, once you watch this tape-from-hell you've got a ticking clock of seven days to live, thanks to the angsty revenge of a little girl who haunts from the bottom of a covered-up wishing well. The surrealist/uncanny reanimated movements of the girl-from-beyond-the-grave/beyond-the-white-noise (filmed at the end, especially, in plain sight) are freaky as hell.... I think that might stand the scary movie test of time alone. Some of my favorite bits have to do with Verbinski's sly fitting-in of "ring" imagery throughout.... sudden flash cuts of "the ring", and (my favorite) the stain left behind from a coffee mug. No joke.

Psycho (1960)

Probably not a shock to find this movie on the list, as it is likely considered the greatest horror/thriller movie of cinema history. I had heard about it a lot before I had seen it, and when I finally did see it I wasn't disappointed.... terrified in parts, actually. The writer in me is fascinated by this film because of the uncharted territory it breaks on a storytelling level.... never before have we seen our protagonist killed after the first act. Quite a brilliant little trick on Hitchcock's part to recruit a screen star like Janet Leigh to dupe us into thinking this movie was going to be about her.... the entire first act is fraught with her backstory and a bit of intrigue about what she's going to do with her life, which comes to a quick close once she meets her maker in the shower. So who do we identify with now? We're stuck with Norman Bates, someone we hadn't exactly planned on following along as our anchor. I don't know of many rule-bending examples of three act screenplay structure that have blown apart the box like this one.... I do have to say though, as a cute wink to Psycho as the granddaddy of modern horror movies, Scream (see yesterday's post) plays a similar trick by opening the movie with blond-and-sunny-smiled Drew Barrymore only to have her strung up by her intestines ten minutes in. Psycho definitely has its freak-out moments.... not only the shower scene (watch it and notice that we don't really see Marion Crane getting stabbed, but instead her visceral reaction to the stabbing.... coupled of course with the frightening strings on the soundtrack), but also the reveal about where Norman Bates' mother actually is. My favorite (and most terrifying) part: when Inspector Arbogast decides to enter the Bates homestead to ask "Mother" some questions and gets sliced down the face and tumbles down the stairs. What makes this particular scene so unsettling is the camera angle at which Hitchcock decides to shoot it at: directly above. Something about this unnatural angle immediately puts you on the edge, and the speed with which Mother comes tearing out of her bedroom with her knife raised freaks me the hell out every time.

....and tomorrow, the final three.... including two of my favorite scary movies of all time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

day 2: four days with three scary movies each

Scream (1996)

Scream may have done a lot of things -- resurrected the slasher film, Wes Craven's directing career, and Drew Barrymore's acting career -- but it also signaled a kind of hallmark for the horror genre: a horror movie that makes fun of itself while still being a horror movie. This meta play would have seemed too elevated for the genre at one time, but it works here to great effect. Not only does it use tired slasher film tropes (while gleefully acknowledging them) but it also uses a not-so-scary Halloween costume as the killer's disguise. (This is perhaps the greatest sleight of hand to the movie trilogy's creepiness.... the fact that this costume can be found everywhere and is so diluted among the droves of Halloween costumes makes the fact that there could be a real killer among them a terrorizing aspect that satisfies.) Scream also welcomed the entrance of the cell phone as a plot device.... no movie before managed to hinge so much on the use of telephone, and from the very first scene the phone is perhaps the greatest weapon. The fact that the mobility of the cell phone adds to the killer's menace is, my guess, a subconscious stroke of genius. Scream (and its two sequels, Scream 3 being perhaps my favorite of the lot) earns itself a spot in film history with its bending of rules.... and is still a joy to watch (with the lights off) eleven years after the fact and after countless other horror movies tried aping what Scream already apes best.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

I'm not so much a fan of zombie movies (maybe they disturb me too much, maybe I find zombies to be sort of boring villains on the whole).... but I think First Contact is the first (quality) film to take zombies into space, and so the Borg just might be the best of the zombies. Sure, I'm a Trekkie (yes, I've been to a Star Trek convention, more than one even), but First Contact succeeds on its own; it carries its own weight, transcends the dorky stigma, and is probably the most accessible of all of the Star Trek films. The fact that this film relies on a backstory shown first during the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" television series and makes the leap to film to be the most successful of the Star Trek movies goes to show that the franchise (at the time) was at its zenith. The Borg got a feature-film makeover here, going from the pale-skinned junkyard-part extras on TV to the KY-glossed bug-eyed half-mechanized extras for the big screen (Oscar-nominated for best makeup.... but lost to The Nutty Professor.... why?!). The makeup effects are so convincing and terrifying that I still don't like to watch this movie in the dark. The Borg even get a queen for their hive, played deliciously menacing (and sexy? who would've thought?) by South African actress Alice Krige. There are a lot of things right with this movie (the charismatic acting chemistry between Patrick Stewart and Alfre Woodard, for instance, is magical), but I think the greatest achievement is to show us that Star Trek can tackle horror, and does so by presenting a terrifying and hopeless end to each of us and our culture in the form of bionic zombies. Social statement? Maybe. Quality filmmaking? Absolutely.

Hannibal (2001)

This is a movie I will defend to the end, and I think gets a bad rap simply because it isn't The Silence of the Lambs. Serving as its sequel, though, I think everyone wants it to be the same psychological thriller.... but the story of Hannibal isn't, and its probably hard to accept that it doesn't fall into the same genre as its predecessor. Hard too to see Julianne Moore (stunning here) filling the shoes of a noticeably absent Jodie Foster, who turned down continuing the role of FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling because she found the film too lurid. My argument here is that this wouldn't be the same movie if it wasn't so lurid.... that's part of the fun. This is, ultimately, a horror movie... a horror love story even. Directed by Ridley Scott (beautifully) and written by David Mamet (!), we pick up ten years later with a more hardened Starling and a more playful Hannibal Lecter, with more tricks up his sleeve now that he's assimilated himself back into the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, Anthony Hopkins is my favorite actor. Some people complain that he overstays his welcome as Lecter in this film, and I say every frame he's on screen is a pleasure (with thanks, of course, to some crackling pitch-perfect lines by Mamet). There's so much bizarre humor in his performance that it makes Lecter's horrific murders that much more disturbing. The creepy factor in this movie comes, ultimately, to some unflinching gross-out scenes.... and some fearlessly despicable characters played by Gary Oldman, the counterpoint villain hidden under some nasty facial-scar makeup (who meets his end with his face in the jaws of a hungry boar), and tough-guy Ray Liotta, who logs a memorable performance as a sleazy government cronie who has probably the most disturbing last meal to be shown on film (after he asks what's for dinner, Lecter says, "You should never ask... It spoils the surprise"). A lesser director could have made this film fall flat on its face, but Scott has you buying it line for line.... and I'm in for each course of the meal.

....more scary movies tomorrow....

Sunday, October 28, 2007

day 1: four days with three scary movies each

Certainly lists of the "top" movies of whatever genre are already everywhere and already somewhat exhaustive that any such list I would make would only serve my purposes to be applicable to my own likes and desires.

So.... I present you with a countdown of sorts to Halloween with twelve movies (three movies each for the four days leading up to All Hallow's Eve) of twelve movies (in no particular order) that spook the crap out of me. And, more importantly, particular elements of these films that do the trick. These are not all the movies I've seen that do so, of course, but they are all well-liked by me, and on the whole are pretty undebatably terrifying in parts. Besides, I think it's about time I pay my respects to the cinema of the scary.... it's an art form that I think that has been degraded too much by dimensionless and storyless torture-porn in the tradition of the endless Saw movie franchise and other horror schlock of the desensitized era.

....*drum roll*....

Lost Highway (1997)

I suppose it's no secret I'm a little bit of a fan of David Lynch. That said, I bet you were thinking that Eraserhead is the more appropriate of the Lynch canon to be considered a "horror" movie on the whole. To be honest, all of Lynch's films have elements that creep me the hell out (yes, the G-rated Walt-Disney-presents The Straight Story counts). But the creepiest on the whole for me is easily Lost Highway, perhaps one of the richest-filmed but most unevenly plotted of Lynch's movies. The movie suffers on the whole from really not knowing what story it's trying to tell, but there's lots of meaty Lynch-isms everywhere and can be at times quite intriguing. The majority of the creep factor comes from the performance of now-acquitted once-accused murderer Robert Blake who plays, for all intents and purposes, the Devil. Blake's sheer calm creates such an indelible menace that's hard to deny.... the scene, in fact, where Robert Loggia's mob boss character passes the phone to Blake, who has been standing just off screen for minutes without us being aware still gives me the shivers. The 2005 French film Cache is in many ways an ugly rip-off of this film (the inital premise, folks, is identical), but likely succeeds in logical ways that this does not. Unfortunately, thanks to Blake's recent trial-debacle, Lost Highway may not see the light of legitimate DVD release for some time. Because, after all, Blake does play the Devil. But he does it so well.

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Barbara Stanwyck, perhaps the screen siren of film noir, stars in a tweaked variation on a haunted house movie in Sorry, Wrong Number, a movie that slowly and painlessly digs its talons into you until you try to pull away. She also picked up her fourth (and last) Oscar nomination for the role. Bottom line: rich/bored/lonely woman picks up the phone to make a call one night and, thanks to a crossed line, overhears a plot to murder. (If this were to be remade, it wouldn't be so much a crossed line as a garbled reception error on a cell phone.) The genius of the movie comes as Stanwyck starts to get more harried as time passes, letting her mind take her in all kinds of directions about how to stop this plan.... her calls to the police and the phone company make her seem like she's raving mad. The greatest revelation though...? Wouldn't you know it, the victim in question of the overheard murder plan happens to be herself. Looking for a good suspense movie in a world that is quickly ignoring the genre? Fire up your netflix for this.

The Birds (1963)

I saw this movie at a young age and it did a good amount of damage. Who would think birds to be a device for one of the greatest horror movies of all time? The movie, Alfred Hitchcock's first to hit the screen after his magnum opus Psycho, is pretty widely known, and that's likely thanks to the fact that it gets under our skin so easily. Basic premise: birds of all kinds (birds of a feather? heh.... eh) swoop down in droves to terrorize a Northern California coastal hamlet. People are pecked to death. People have eyes gouged out by beaks. That's terrifying enough for me still, no less at the tender age of eight or however old I was when I first saw it. Perhaps the most unsettling point of the movie is that the droves of bird attacks aren't explained.... Tippi Hedren, plucky and young and ultra-mod and as damsel-y as they come, decides to buy two love birds on a whim to deliver to some guy she falls for on the spot in a pet shop (as Hitchcock nonchalantly strolls by on screen with two schnauzers). Perhaps she's the cause of the bird attack? Is it the love birds? Who knows. I'm still spooked the hell out to see a bird perched on a jungle gym.

....and three more tomorrow....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I Can Be America

It's true that it disgusts me, just a little bit, that I am now one of the myriad bloggers who feels he needs to get in his say about Stephen Colbert's run for president. But that doesn't bother me, per se, more than the fact that the man (or his publishers) don't have a grasp of grammar.

Colbert just released a (political essay collection? comedy rant?) book called I Am America (And So Can You!). This title alone, plastered about the New York City subway system in advertisements for the book, irritates the writer in me. The writer in me, folks, is at my core. There's a plain-as-day verb disagreement in the context that makes the title grossly grammatically incorrect:

I Am America (And So Can You!)

"So Can You" implies that the "I" can do something.... but the "I" isn't doing anything; the "I" simply "is" (as in "am"), so "you" needs to be modified by the verb "to be".... Or, in the other case, the "I" isn't purporting to be able to do anything (there's no "I Can").

I Am America (And So You Can Be Too!)
I Can Be America (And So Can You!)

Or, more to the point, "can" can only be modified by a verb in the infinitive form. You can't "am" anything.

Maybe I'm being too nitpicky, but the fact remains. Is this part of the joke? I certainly hope not, because if it is, I'm afraid a good majority of the American public isn't going to get it. Colbert should stick to his political skewering and truthiness and all that and perhaps stay away from making overly subtle grammar jokes that make him (or more like his character) sound foolish.

So, what does that say about Colbert's "character"? He announced on his Comedy Central program on Tuesday that he's running for President of the United States in 2008, on both Republican and Democratic platforms. But his "character" is a foaming-at-the-mouth Republican, whereas the man himself is a Democrat. Who is he running as? His chances of winning aren't even worth pretending about, but at the same time I have to scratch my head and wonder if the guy is running purely as a stunt or if he actually wants to make a difference for the country. There's a whole lot of conflict in there about his "character" being the one who's running, not the actor. Stephen Colbert the actor bases his comedy around how ludicrous Stephen Colbert the character actually is. So, what's the gain in this stunt? When the character and the actor aren't congruent, what's the statement he's trying to make? Somehow this seems like it has the potential to backfire, but only if his campaign gains a whole lot of sudden popularity.

Ultimately I have less of an opinion on the matter than I am confused by it. But it's on my mind.

I brought this up to a friend of mine last night, and he countered with the statement that all the candidates running for president are "characters" and not actually running wholly as themselves.... they all have to compromise their true positions to pander to public opinion and their political party (be it reasonable or not; in my humble opinion, the whole political party is system is so so broken) to ensure that they win the election. That's a disturbing reality, isn't it? But in the end, it's really quite true.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

movie advertising not targeted toward me

Study, if you will, the following teaser poster for the forthcoming Saw: Ad Nauseum....

I guess the Saw movie franchise is among the more successful recent examples of high-gloss torture porn (see also: "24"). It's not my kind of horror movie though.... I'm not terribly interested in movies whose sole function is to display unthinkable deaths with a showcase of creative makeup, special effects, and/or camera wizardry. Nor do I particularly seek out movies about serial killers with disposable amounts of time and income to create overly elaborate ruses in which they are able to creatively murder people by the tens and twenties. I do think that the horror genre is absolutely necessary for film, but I prefer horror movies that are more than simply one-dimensional. I don't mind a good dose of gore.... but how about making the movie worth watching, too? The Descent, my favorite movie of 2006, was marketed to be trashy shlock like Saw, but was in fact a masterwork of filmmaking and transcended the horror genre to remind me (and the rest of us) that these kind of movies can actually have depth while simultaneously scaring the crap out of you.

So, back to the poster. Is this supposed to be scary? Is this supposed to hail the arrival of a terrifying new horror movie about to hit the big screen? Let's see....

Swine with bad wig wearing a red burka and fetishist leather stiletto boots is chained to a motorized wheelchair fitted with cranks.

Is this supposed to fill me (i.e. the average movie-goer passing the theatre) with dread? How exactly does this poster even get a fan of Saw excited to the see the movie? Maybe I'm missing something, having never seen any of the movies. Is there some kind of terrifying pig-in-fetishwear twist I missed out on? Perhaps.

In the end, I see this poster and all I can think is, "what the fuck?"

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

the egg timer runs out on Top Chef

Tonight is the season finale of "Top Chef: Miami", the show's third (glitizer, higher-production value) season. The show, which whittled its way through 15 "chefs" (Season 2 had a high number of do-it-yourself line cooks, the final four of which weren't any older than 26) has now made its way down to three for the final showdown in Aspen, Colorado.

Why, oh why did I get hooked on this show? I remember hearing write procrastinator's fair warnings in the past when I was still binging on the Food Network (a network whose very soul has hardened into a dry kibble of sensational trash). My introduction to the show came last winter when I was on a JetBlue flight from the Bay Area back to NYC, a red-eye flight no less, and instead of sleeping I caught Bravo's full-scale "Top Chef" second season marathon into the wee hours of morning. From that point forward I was able to watch the last four episodes as they aired each week, and waited with bated breath until it begun anew this summer.

And then the third season came. And I realized that perhaps the biggest draw (oddly) to the show are its judges.

Padma, of course, is the crowning reason why anyone should flip the remote to Bravo in the first place. She was a new addition to the second season, serving as host.... apparently Season 1's host, who I don't know because I haven't had the liberty to see Season 1, was either not smart enough or not food-related enough or not camera-friendly enough (or most likely not sexy in a I-want-to-watch-you-suck-whipped-cream-off-a-strawberry way enough). Padma (recent divorcee of fatwa-ee/knigthed/Booker-Prize-of-Booker-Prize Award winning author Salman Rushdie) has all the right moves, a delicious ease before the camera, and is certainly easy on the eyes. Probably helps that she's a model. She has a cute sense of playfulness (re: the episode where she has the chefs make her breakfast, and wakes them up by practically jumping on their beds) and a sense of humor (re: joking that the massive scar on her arm was inflicted whilst tiger hunting in Bengal) and a soft side (re: episodes closer to the end where you can tell she has a hard time, wincing even, when telling a chef to "pack [their] knives and go"). And hey, she looks pretty damn good. She has a perfectly-tuned radio voice (next career move: Padma as network television news anchor?), fits into remarkably tight pink jeans, and has a beautiful smile. Ah, the Padma worship.

But what about her food cred, you say? Why choose her to host "Top Chef"? She happens to be the author of two cookbooks (including the just-released-yesterday Tangy, Tart, Hot, and Sweet.... a title of which I'm sure the irony is not lost). Not sure if she actually does much cooking, but she used her clout to ink a book deal.... so good for her, I guess.

Tom Colicchio (also interestingly suave and sexy) is executive chef of umpteen glamorous restaurants in New York (and Las Vegas, and coming soon a stake in trade at Foxwood's forthcoming MGM Grand in Middle of Nowhere, Connecticut).... including one depot of his Craft kingdom on the ground floor of the very building I work in. Have yet to try the food.... guess I'm waiting for that next promotion.

Gail Simmons (sometimes there, sometimes not), irresistibly Canadian and the snarkiest of the good-ol'-standby regulars, is something of a down-market Padma. She's an editor at Food & Wine magazine, one of "Top Chef"'s benefactors, and she always shows up at the judges' table looking beautifully dressed up.... but you just can't shake the feeling that she's like the dowdy cousin who always looked up to the statuesque and nearly sexually-active older cousin, and thereby happily parrotted everything she said and tagged along mercilessly during family get-togethers.

Other judges that come and go include Anthony Bourdain, who in my opinion tries too hard to be shocking or sardonic or look-at-me-I'm-an-asshole! or clever with his tongue (I'm talking about what he says here, people), some dude from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" who's contract with Bravo apparently hadn't run out, and a motley crew of world-famous chefs (one per episode, please) who are all now independently wealthy and have indecipherable accents. I suppose their lives now consist of pool-side afternoons in the Dordogne and waiting for Bravo's phone call.

So, after tonight we'll have a winner.... with the conclusion of tonight's "live" finale. Why make it live? Seems like two steps too much fanfare.

Coming up to the finishing line:

Casey, who at first seemed like a bitch for criticizing poor Clay, he of Southern accent and broken home, for not knowing what an amuse bouche was, is packing heat. She seemed unremarkable at first but has begun wiping the walls with the elimination challenges towards the end. And you know what? She just seems generally likeable, one who would step for you because you've earmed her respect. And she's a great chef, too.

Dale, another quite likeable and quick-witted contestant, is slightly jittery but knows his food. He busted out on the restaurant wars where he worked the front room of a makeshift diner-from-the-ground-up-in-24-hours like he's been master of restaurant hosting for years. He claims breakfast is his specialty too, which is a refreshing change when cooking shows just show you how to make dinner and dessert. I rather like his soliloquy commentary because he's not afraid to call out douchebaggery on....

Hung, who has been my least favorite chef since Episode 1. I suppose it should come as no shock that Hung is friends with Season 2 runner-up and fellow douchebag Marcel (as revealed in the top-four-of Season 1 versus top-four-of Season 2 special aired this summer). This kid gets every chance he can to gloat about his skills, and when a judge isn't digging it, Hung simply just can't accept it, and instead has to whine about how they just don't "get it". That, and when a judge likes his work, he gets all goopy and blushy and too eager to please. I just want him to shut the hell up. It's some consolation, I guess, that the other contestants clearly don't like him.

Tonight's reveal will likely be good television because "Top Chef" knows how to milk the tension, especially for its viewers that have held on for this long. Who knew we'd get so excited about someone winning a chance to become a media whore for Gladware kitchen products? What do I care that this person gets to fulfill their culinary dreams? Simply folks, I'm in it to see Hung's face get rubbed into the Colorado dirt. Comeuppance is nigh, douchebag.

Monday, October 01, 2007

who you calling lame-o?

shecanfilmit, the friend I do believe that got me started blogging in the first place, passed along a meme (these dreaded, dreaded memes!) that gives me a chance to prove just how cool I think I am. Here goes:

TO DO: List 5 things that certain people (who are not deserving of being your friend anyway) may consider to be “totally lame,” but you, despite the possible stigma, are totally proud of. Own it. Tag 5 others:

1. I don't consider New York City pizza to be the best in the world. That honor falls to Blondie's Pizza in Berkeley, California. (Also: I don't fold the slice in half length-wise to eat it. If I wanted pizza that way, I'd just order a calzone.)

2. I like Star Trek. I'll even go out on a limb and say that "Deep Space Nine" is my favorite series (and Avery Brooks as The Sisko rocks my socks off). Sure, lots of people dis Star Trek.... but why? It's my theory that everyone actually likes it or would like it if they gave it a chance, whether they're afraid to admit it or not.

3. A good vodka & tonic is perhaps my favorite cocktail drink. I've been told it's an old lady drink. I think not! But if that's the case, I guess old ladies have good taste in booze.

4. I love to watch "60 Minutes". Always insightful and on-target reporting, always with a slightly (and unabashedly) liberal spark for good measure. I guess I'm just in touch with my inner 65 year old. I also have a crush on Lesley Stahl.

5. Taco Bell is my fast food downfall. Mind you, I'm not a big fast food eater, I try to avoid it actually, but Taco Bell is one of those places I walk into and everything on the menu looks good. The very mention of Taco Bell makes my mouth water. Rumor has it their "beef" is mostly beef-flavored soy product. I still love it.... ALL of it.

Feel free to tag amongst yourselves.