Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Review: "Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made"

While there are many good movies I have a sincere appreciation for, part of me loves watching a truly awful movie. And I don't mean just Twilight awful (even given my hatred of the books, I thought that the movie was boring and the Twi-hards deserved better); I mean Grease 2 awful or Xanadu awful. Consequently, when I came across Michael Adams's Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to find the Worst Movie Ever Made, I was immediately intrigued.

Adams, an Australian film critic, decided to spend an entire year and an absurd amount of money watching bad films. From the titular Showgirls to the works of the infamous Ed Wood to even lesser-known works, Adams undertook the daunting (and somewhat scary) task of watching at least one bad film a day for a year. His book outlines his experience trying to watch these movies while also working as the reviews editor for Empire magazine, becoming a movie critic on an Australian television show, and raising a toddler with his extremely patient wife.

The book has a lot of strengths. Besides the inherent humor of reading a critic's reactions to horrible films (I love Roger Ebert's I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie for the same reason), Adams is very careful not to be too rancorous to the movies he includes. In fact, he takes his job very seriously; in addition to documenting the different films he watched during the year, he also interviewed numerous people (including David Sedaris) to get their recommendations for bad films. Furthermore, he also interviewed some of the directors of the bad films he watched in order to get their side of the story. The resulting book is not so much an unadulterated pummeling of bad movies as it is a sort of celebration of B (and C, D, and F) grade flicks. While Adams doesn't hold back when it comes to the most reprehensible movies, he also is willing to try and see the sincere effort put forth by some of the filmmakers and actors.

There are a few flaws in the book. Its premise, of doing something novel or unusual for a year and then writing about it, is not a new one. Also, I would have liked more of Adams's insight into some of the movies; given that he watched over 300 bad movies in one year, he doesn't get the chance to go very deep into discussing the different works. However, when a book is as engaging and well-written as Adams's is, it is easy to overlook the somewhat formulaic and gimmicky premise and just get lost in the cornucopia of of bad movies.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Who is Your Literary Dream Date?

I was wasting time between meetings yesterday at the bookstore, and one of my former co-workers C. and I started talking about the topic we both love to hate: Twilight. More specifically, we started debating what it was that teenage girls found so appealing about it. From my conversations with teenage girls, it seems like they are primarily interested in Jacob and Edward, with Bella being a peripheral character at best.

There is something about the dark, alpha (or asshole) hero that appeals to teenage girls (and to some women). Perhaps it is a form of rebellion, perhaps it is the extreme passion, perhaps it is the idea that the love of a good woman can change the hero's brooding ways. However, when C. and I tried to come up with some viable alternatives to Edward and Jacob, we found ourselves stymied.

Of course, if you want the dark, brooding, romantic hero, then Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff are the obvious choices. However, there does seem to be a dearth of rationale, angst-less literary heroes that we (or at least I) find romantically appealing. For instance, while I might enjoy being friends with Nick from The Great Gatsby or Laurie from Little Women, I also know that I would find Nick too introverted and Laurie too immature to forge a true connection with them.

After pondering this question for fall too long yesterday, the only fictional character I have come up with (so far) is Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series. Besides the cuteness factor (because of the movie, Jonathan Crombie is, in my mind, the definitive Gilbert), he's smart, driven, and a bit mischievous. He's also the anti-Byronic hero in that he doesn't brood and he goes out of his way to try to get Anne's acceptance.

Do you have a literary character that you think might be your ideal match? If so, please leave a comment!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Foodie Fridays: Three Super-Easy Desserts for a Crowd

This week has been completely crazy. Besides having a hearing that brings me one step closer to my dissertation (and my degree), I also had a get together for some of my graduate students who are finishing up their master's program. While these two events converged on the same day, I found that baking for my party helped keep me calm (and busy) so that I wouldn't get too crazed about my hearing.

However, it didn't hurt that I have some incredibly (and embarrassingly) easy dessert recipes that are perfect for feeding a large crowd. Here are three of my favorites from this week:

Mexican Wedding Cookies (aka Russian Tea Cakes): While I used the recipe found in my trusty The Joy of Cooking cookbook, this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which is one of my favorite food websites, is very similar. While these cookies are very buttery, they aren't overly sweet and make a very pretty (and forgiving) dessert.

Chocolate Marble Gooey Butter Cake (aka Chocolate Marble Chess Bars): These are very rich. Unlike the Russian tea cakes, which are pretty subdued under their pretty powdered sugar coating, these bars are a no-holds-barred embarrassment of riches. They contain two sticks of melted butter, a package of cream cheese, and an entire box of powdered sugar. That said, the recipe does make a lot, and the bars are always a big hit.

Strawberry Cream Pie: Although this recipe is the complete opposite of everything foodie (it includes Cool Whip, which is probably like kryptonite to most foodies), I am proud of it, for no other reason than I majorly tweaked it. It is a riff on a recipe from someone my mom knew (this isn't the exact recipe, but it is very similar). Here is my take on the recipe:

  • One 9-inch deep dish pie crust
  • One 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
  • One 8 oz. container of Cool Whip (if you wanted, you could substitute heavy cream, whipped to a soft peak)
  • Two cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup of strawberry preserves
  • One tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 16 oz (1.5 pints) of fresh strawberries (washed and sliced lengthwise)
  1. Bake the pie crust and allow it to cool completely
  2. Warm the strawberry preserves and add the lemon juice. You can do this in the microwave or on the stove. Mix to combine and set aside to cool slightly
  3. Beat the cream cheese until it is light fluffy (approximately 1-2 minutes with an electric mixer)
  4. Mix in the Cool Whip* and beat until well combined
  5. Gradually mix in the powdered sugar and stir until well combined. You can adjust the amount of sugar to taste
  6. Put approximately half of the cream cheese mixture in the cooled pie crust
  7. Top the cream cheese mixture with 2/3 of the strawberry preserves
  8. Carefully top the preserves with the remaining cream cheese mixture (you might have some extra cream cheese; save it to use as a fruit dip)
  9. Top the pie with the remaining strawberry preserves
  10. On top of the preserves, carefully layer on the sliced strawberries
  11. Allow to chill in the refrigerator for two hours or overnight
*If you decide to use whipped cream instead of Cool Whip, I suggest adding the powdered sugar to it and then gently folding the whipped cream into the cream cheese.

Here is my finished pie (please forgive the crappy lighting and iPhone photography):

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Theatre Review: "Seth Rudetsky's Deconstructing Broadway"

If there is anything better than seeing a Broadway musical or listening to the original cast album over and over again, it is doing these things in the company of a funny, smart, and snarky friend who will make fun of the show with you. This perfectly describes spending an evening watching Seth Rudetsky's Deconstructing Broadway. The event, which is a cross between a stand-up routine and a master class on the finer points of singing, features Mr. Rudetsky deconstructing musical performances while teaching the audience how to do the same.

As a devoted viewer of Rudetsky's vlog, I thought I knew how the 90 minute program would progress. While he does deconstruct many a musical cue and clip, he also does a surprising amount of teaching. From differentiating between head voice (EVIL) and chest voice to providing definitions and examples for terms like vibrato and riffing. These moments of education are so skillfully woven into the performance that the evening is pretty much wall to wall entertainment, with a few precious moments to help you catch your breath. However, despite Rudetsky's rapier wit, the evening isn't all about making fun of singers. Instead, he offers examples of great singing and contrasts it with examples of singing that is insane (and not in a good way).

The only tiny downside is that, as someone who has watched most of Rudetsky's deconstructing videos, I was familiar with most of the clips and cues he included. However, this is a minuscule nitpick, and in some ways, this is actually quite positive because I can now go back, review the clips, and have a better idea of what he was talking about in them. If you get a chance to watch him live, I highly recommend him.

Need more proof? Check out this video of his deconstruction of Barbra Streisand and Bea Arthur:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My Hometown Under Water

While my current home of Boston has recently had some water issues (namely, a busted water main and a boil water order), my hometown of Nashville has had it considerably worse.

Luckily, my friends and family seem okay. However, the city as a whole is devastated, and with the focus on the oil spill in the Gulf and the car bomb in New York, Tennessee hasn't gotten a lot of national coverage.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

If you are able to, please donate to the Middle Tennessee Red Cross or to The Community Foundation. While the people of Tennessee are a plucky folk, the city and state will need all of the help it can get.