DID YOU READ

The “it’s just mindless entertainment” excuse.

The “it’s just mindless entertainment” excuse. (photo)

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It’s been eight years since The Onion published “New Roommate Has Elaborate Theory About How Kenny Rogers Is A Genius,” and it’s still a painfully accurate skewering about how it’s become increasingly acceptable for people to overthink pop culture. It’s basically the birthright of anyone who came of age in the ’80s or later.

As long as pop culture’s the dominant texture of a lot of people’s daily life, the tendency to overread it will be with us. Kudos, then, to The Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang for going off on the “Twilight” movies and their unique gender relations: “How long before a self-help book hits the shelves that encourages us to divide our menfolk cleanly into vampires or werewolves?” It’s depressingly plausible.

Absolving teenagers (who never know any better) of blame, her ire is for the older women who come to see things they should’ve grown past:

The desire to be desired without reason; to have one’s life made remarkable by the men who fight over you; to define yourself entirely in terms of someone else; all this may sound thrillingly romantic to some, but it’s also just fucking stupid, and if you’re over 15 and still buying this crap, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

07072010_ts3.jpgBut of course, there’s always someone in the comments section to say “Women need their mindless entertainment too, and that’s all this is and I think there’s little to fret about in terms of social implications.” This is true, but it’s also an evasion. It dismisses the validity of a viscerally angry response, and it denies that something this freakishly profitable might tell us something about why people are watching it.

It’s a symptomatic comment that comes up every time someone wants to read depth into material that doesn’t overtly aim for it. It was hilarious that Jordan Hoffman offered up a reading of “Toy Story 3″ as about the Holocaust (the three other readings of the film as existentialist, Marxist or panoply-of-religions should’ve been a tip-off) — and it was even funnier that critic Marshall Fine couldn’t tell he was joking, nor could a bunch of other people.

But it resonated with other writers, who expanded on it. A joke became a valid way for people to think about the movie, and that’s a good thing: any kind of weird read you can make on a film is worthwhile.

Of course, that’s not precisely what Kiang is doing when she’s beating up “Twilight,” but it starts from the same place: a response to mass culture that puts more thought into potential readings than those making it.

07072010_twilighteclipse.jpgWhen you do that, you can begin to think about ways that “Twilight” might be socially important besides merely theorizing that girls think Robert Pattinson is hot and want to swoon.

Every Hollywood movie stars the ridiculously genetically lucky and panders to some kind of stupid emotional reflex. Overthinking these kinds of things may be the only way to really engage with them; otherwise, you just end up screaming defensively about how it’s just harmless stupid fun with no resonance whatsoever, which is an awfully disingenuous way to discuss one of the weirdest, most profitable phenomena of the last few years.

[Photos: “Twilight,” Summit Entertainment, 2008; “Toy Story 3,” Disney, 2010; “Twilight: Eclipse,” Summit Entertainment, 2010]]

Jackie That 70s Show

Jackie Oh!

15 That ’70s Show Quotes to Help You Unleash Your Inner Jackie

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Carsey-Werner Company

When life gets you down, just ask yourself: what would Jackie do? (But don’t ask her, because she doesn’t care about your stupid problems.) Before you catch That ’70s Show on IFC, take a look at some quotes that will help you be the best Jackie you can be.


15. She knows her strengths.

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14. She doesn’t let a little thing like emotions get in the way.

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13. She’s her own best friend.

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12. She has big plans for her future.

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11. She keeps her ego in check.

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10. She can really put things in perspective.

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9. She’s a lover…

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8. But she knows not to just throw her love around.

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7. She’s proud of her accomplishments.

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6. She knows her place in the world.

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5. She asks herself the hard questions.

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4. She takes care of herself.

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3. She’s deep.

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2. She’s a problem solver.

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1. And she’s always modest.

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Surprise! Senate hearings rarely make for good TV (or movies).

Surprise! Senate hearings rarely make for good TV (or movies). (photo)

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The problem with the Elena Kagan hearings are that they’re boring as hell. Almost, anyway, as Orrin Hatch discovered yesterday when — during a moment of reproof from Pat Leahy — he responded “We have to have a back and forth every once in a while otherwise this place would be boring as Hell. And by the way, I’ve been informed that Hell is not boring.”

It would have to be more interesting than the perpetual stalemate of the hearings, whose moments of comedy were wan, to say the least, with the inexplicable exception of Senator Amy Klobuchar sharing her thoughts on “Twilight: Eclipse”:

Oh, for the glory days of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, a peril-fraught three-day ordeal begging for a dramatic re-enactment. The complete transcripts combine giggle-inducing sexual testimony with sheer ’30s drama corn from Thomas supporter J.C. Alvarez, who announced “I have seen an innocent man being mugged in broad daylight, and I have not looked the other way. This John Q. Public came here and got involved.”

06302010_ironman2.jpgAnd yet most hearings are — Orrin Hatch or no — “boring as Hell,” which is why they don’t get much screen time. As AV Club commenter emeritus ZODIAC MOTHERFUCKER noted in his disappointed appraisal of “Iron Man 2,” “potential ownage” was deferred “WHEN ROBERT DOWNEY JR SHOWS UP FOR SENATE HEARINGS THAT ARE BORING AS FUCK AND GO ON FOREVER.”

And those were some of the more entertaining ones, no less, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s capacity for inspired riffage out of nowhere.

The best depiction of a senate hearing is in Otto Preminger’s 1962 “Advise and Consent,” with its level-headed, ahead-of-its-time depiction of the mechanics of Washington process. There was also “The Contender,” whose plotline greatly upped the sexual risque-ness factor.

06302010_point.jpgThese, though, are fictional hearings. There’s only one set of real hearings I’m aware of that provided top-notch drama: Emile de Antonio’s 1964 compilation documentary “Point of Order,” a scathing reduction of the Army-McCarthy hearings, that make the Thomas-Hill affair look like a joke.

Is it fair to lambast pro forma hearings for being boring? Assuredly not. But are they dramatically lacking? Absolutely, even when senators are trying to be sparky. Is there a reason there aren’t more confirmation hearings on screen despite their seemingly inherent potential for drama? Apparently so. Onwards and upwards, Ms. Kagan. In the meantime, here’s a clip of de Antonio talking about how a Beat Generation movie led him to make “Point of Order”:

[Photos: “Twilight: Eclipse,” Summit, 2010; “Iron Man 2,” Paramount, 2010; “Point of Order,” Continental Distributing, 1965]

Kristen Stewart gets a warm “Welcome to the Rileys” in L.A.

Kristen Stewart gets a warm “Welcome to the Rileys” in L.A. (photo)

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If the “Twilight: Eclipse” premiere was the tough ticket of this year’s L.A. Film Festival, drawing roughly 5,000 fans from all corners of the U.S. in order to get a glimpse of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner at the Nokia Theater, then “Welcome to the Rileys” proved to be damn near impossible.

Kristen Stewart fans gambled on the ability to sit less than ten feet away from the star inside one of the smaller Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live, but having to contend with the fact that seven of the 15 rows in the theater were already roped off for VIPs of one kind or another.

LAFF director Rebecca Yeldham came out to introduce the film and moderate the post-screening Q & A (a job usually handled by programmers or volunteers), and before the film started, Melissa Leo spoke on behalf of herself and co-stars Stewart and James Gandolfini, who stood off to the side, a reminder that “Welcome to the Rileys” not only boasts a talented ensemble, but one of the most spotlight-weary as well.

For those who have been following the film’s distribution drama since Sundance, it was unveiled with a brand spankin’ new Samuel Goldwyn/Destination Films logo in front, replacing Apparition as the distributor, who will bring the film to theaters in October. But the real drama was on screen, with the idiosyncratic tale of a wholesale plumbing supply salesman (Gandolfini) who attempts to drown his sorrows in the Big Easy during a trade show and encounters a stripper/prostitute (Stewart) who reminds him of his late daughter who died in an accident. Leo plays Gandolfini’s distant wife.

Gandolfini, Stewart, Leo, writer Ken Hixon and producer Michael Costigan took to the front of the theater to discuss the origins of the film. Naturally, Stewart received the bulk of the questions, being asked in particular about playing a role so different than her most famous creation in “Twilight.”

06262010_WelcometotheRileysLAFilmFest.jpgStewart admitted that she wasn’t necessarily afraid of playing a stripper, but “I was terrified because it was written really well” and expressed pride in learning some of the film’s stripper moves, though mostly they happened off-camera. “The silhouette in the beginning?” Stewart rhetorically asked almost giddily, “Thanks. That’s me.”

Saying she would “jump off a bridge” for director Jake Scott, Stewart found talking to the working women of the Dixie Divas strip club in New Orleans where the film was shot was key to finding her character, noticing the many lost women like the one she played with “dead eyes” and “open wounds.” When prodded by an audience member, Gandolfini confirmed that the toughest scene in the film for him to shoot was a scene where Stewart is particularly vulnerable in the lot of a motel parking lot. Gandolfini said, turning to Stewart, “I remember that was a long evening because you had to fall apart so many times.”

Stewart lightened the mood when asked about whether she had any issue with some of the tough language her character uses, confessing that during a scene where the character gets a urinary tract infection, she “felt really weird saying ‘pussy'” in front of Leo.

In order to achieve the perfect pitch for the scene, Leo improvised off-camera, saying “make pee pee,” a comment that somehow gave Stewart the inspiration to carry on, though she wondered whether Leo felt strange about it. “I’m a mother, Kristen,” Leo fired back, getting the night’s biggest laugh. “It’s not weird to say ‘make pee pee’ for me.”

On a more serious note, a fan pointed out that Stewart had said in previous interviews that her turn in “Welcome to the Rileys” was the role she liked playing the most, a statement she clarified by saying, “Maybe it just affected me the most…Sometimes you can leave shit at work or you can’t.” Of “Rileys,” she said, “this is undeniably in you.”

[Photos: “Welcome to the Rileys,” Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2010; James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo at the L.A. Film Festival, Stephen Saito/IFC.com]

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