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May 31, 2012

Bad Love High School strikes again

Bad Love Teacher, Erin Sayar

The wholesome, glowing bride in this photo is Erin Sayar, a 36 year-old English teacher at James Madison High in Brooklyn. She was removed from her classroom in January for allegedly having sex with an 11th grade student she was supposed to be tutoring. The story is familiar to anyone who follows the non-stop deluge of disastrous teacher/student relationships that fit the Bad Love criteria: an adult in a position of power, a kid who doesn't know any better, lots of sex, and zero judgement.

The story goes that Sayar and the student started having sex both in her office during the tutoring sessions, where they also smoked the weed she kept in her filing cabinet, and in her SUV, where she pulled up in front of his house late one night last fall. In addition to the student's confession that the two of them had sex 8-12 times, he also identified tattoos "on intimate parts of Sayar’s body". And then there's all the texts. For some reason, teachers who have sex with their students are also ferociously enthusiastic texters--Sayar and the student sent 3,856 text messages in 17 days--over 200 a day!

Note to self: if you have 200+ text exchanges with someone every day, whatever it is you're doing with them, it's probably ill-advised and/or illegal.

Somehow, they got caught. Actually it wasn't the kid's mom who figured out what was going on, it was his girlfriend. In an interesting twist on the usual formula, the girlfriend saw her teenage boyfriend flirting with a teacher and got suspicious, so naturally, she hacked his Facebook account. There she found messages from him to his teacher: "I love you so much", and the one that just about breaks my heart: "I always loved you, since last year."

When the adult in these Bad Love situations declares their love for the teenager they're sleeping with, I pretty much assume that they're emotionally crippled delusional creeps. But when the kid tells his English teacher that he's always loved her, since last year, I just feel awful for that poor misguided lovelorn 16 year-old, whose romantic fantasy is a married mother with glaringly obvious mental problems. And I might feel a little bit worse for his girlfriend.

We should point out that James Madison High was also the site of some hot girl-on-girl teacher action in 2009, when a janitor stumbled upon two drunk language teachers, Cindy Mauro and Alini Brito, going at it after school in a classroom, which was the most excellent Bad Teacher story of the decade.

Man, my high school was SO LAME.

May 23, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom: resistance is futile

Moonrise Kingdom, scouting

I got to see Wes Anderson's new movie Moonrise Kingdom last night. For a while, I tried to maintain some critical distance in my consideration of all the twee mid-60's set design and nostalgia-porn props and the adorable story about two kids in love. But watching this movie is like watching a fluffy mewling little kitten wearing a just-so blue grosgrain ribbon collar frolicking outside on a spring day: you can try mightily to resist the cuteness, but eventually the defenses fail. It's all so sweet and tender and dear that you just want to pick it up and squeeze it and rub noses with it. I just can't help it.

The plot centers on a love story between two kids, Sam and Suzy. They're 12, and they talk like 12 year-olds, not like the ironic Comparative Lit grad students that kids in some movies talk like (ahem, 500 Days of Summer). Their relationship develops over a year of writing letters to each other in a fantastic extended montage, and the movie takes the relationship seriously. They love each other, but they're matter-of-fact and unsentimental about it. They're also unhappy misfits in their own lives, misunderstood by their peers and families, so they plan to run off together. Since they live on an island, and since they're 12, they don't make it, but their resolve to be together is never made into a joke or a whimsical little folly. What they have is childish, but real.

I think Anderson made a good decision not to go with the usual super-cool indie soundtrack this time. This soundtrack sticks to classical (Benjamin Britten) and Hank Williams--simple, square songs that are emotionally honest but reserved, too. One excellent scene incorporates Francoise Hardy's "Le Temps de l'Amour", but that's as hip as it gets. This goes a long way in clearing any whiffs of preciousness that tend to seep into his other movies.

The cast is incredible, of course--both of the kids are talented first-timers, and the adults are all great. Bruce Willis is especially good as a sad, sweet cop, and Ed Norton (where's that guy been lately?) seems to totally embrace the nerdiness of his Eagle Scout camp counselor role. Jason Schwartzman, Anderson's regular guy, is in only one pivotal scene, but he's utterly hilarious and perfect. (Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton are maybe a little underused.)

Anyway, this is as good as anything Wes Anderson's ever done, and it gets back to what worked about Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, minus the pretentiousness: it's nostalgic, wistful, sad, beautiful, funny, and irresistibly adorable. Plus it's got excitement and rebellion straight out of a 6th grade adventure book. You don't stand a chance.

May 18, 2012

Bernie: the best little murder movie in Texas

Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine in Bernie

Richard Linklater's new movie, Bernie, came out three weeks ago. It stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey. Somehow, it's only made $540,000 so far. Whoever's job it was to promote this movie has majorly blown it, because this is probably the best movie I've seen this year--it's funny, dark, and strange, and it's full of hilariously wonderful East Texan townspeople that are so charming and believable they reach a Coen Brothers-level of grotesque authenticity.

The movie recreates the real-life story of Bernie Tiede, a warm and gregarious assistant funeral director in small town Texas who shocked everyone by murdering Marjorie Nugent, the rich (and mean) old lady who had become his companion. Shot her in the back and hid the body in the freezer under the Marie Callender chicken potpies.

What makes it even more bizarre is that Bernie was so popular and beloved by everyone in town, that even after he confessed to the murder, people either refused to believe it or thought it would be best to just forget about the whole thing and let Bernie get back to singing in the church choir and directing high school musicals. Oh yeah, Bernie's gay and closeted.

I'm a Jack Black fan, and I think this is by far the best role he's ever done. He's just as magnetic as he is in High Fidelity and School of Rock, but he's less manic and shows some real range. Bernie isn't just a version of Jack Black, even if he still does a lot of singing and dancing and chewing of scenery--it's a more measured and focused performance than the other stuff he's done. The townspeople who give documentary-style commentary are so exuberantly flamboyant that I really wasn't sure if they were actors or not. A few real residents of Carthage, TX were apparently hired to play versions of themselves, but most of the townspeople are played by character actors, many of whom were also on "Friday Night Lights", so you know they're the real deal.

The nephew of the murdered Mrs. Nugent, Joe Rhodes, wrote a great piece in the Times Magazine a few weeks ago called "How My Aunt Marge Ended Up in the Deep Freeze" that includes anecdotes about growing up with his incredibly mean and probably psychotic aunt, and stories from the movie set. He also interviewed the real Bernie, who's serving many decades in prison. Some family members are upset about the movie, and some townspeople are offended that a comedy was made about their tragedy (of losing Bernie, not Mrs. Nugent.) But the nephew, to his credit, understands why this movie is a comedy:

The whole thing felt like farce from the moment it happened, even to the family. I mean, seriously, under the chicken potpies? Shot and then frozen by the nicest man in town, who spent her money to finance the Boot Scootin' Western Wear store (and also, it turned out, some German gay porn)? How is that not funny? There has been some talk that, if the movie does well, a producer might even be interested in a Broadway musical version. This does not strike me as a terrible idea.

Here's the trailer, which might be part of the marketing problem--it's heavy on the quirky camp, while the movie pretty much plays it straight. Here's a clip of Jack Black singing along with The Florida Boys' excellent southern gospel version of "Love Lifted Me". And here's a great interview with Linklater about this project, which he's been working on for 10 years!

May 16, 2012

NY Times hits new height of NY Times-iness

Mother and daughter, freezing eggs together

The closest thing we've got to a national, general interest newspaper is probably The New York Times*, but the paper itself seems to possess an exasperatingly adorable fixation on its imagined core audience: super-privileged white people. Non-rich Times readers roll their eyes, but we've grown accustomed to their fussy little non-news human interest stories on the lives of the very fancy, such as the difficulty of finding repair service for high-end kitchen appliances in vacation homes, yoga for dogs, and the article guaranteed to turn me into a sputtering indignant crazy person, the one about wealthy Ivy League-educated young mothers who decide they don't want to work anymore and wonder whether or not that makes them feminists, when what it really makes them is rich.

This week, the Times has almost out-Timesed itself with an article called "So Eager for Grandchildren, They're Paying the Egg-Freezing Clinic". It's got everything for the elite: the compromised fertility of aging single women, over-involved parents, and super-expensive, questionably-effective technology that only the rich and desperate can afford.

Here's the story: in a new trend among rich white people, parents who have grown weary of waiting around for their single daughters in their 30's to produce grandchildren decide to pay $8,000-18,000 for their daughters' saggy old eggs to be harvested and frozen.

Says mother Gloria Hayes of Darien, CT (who appears in the photo above, which is so perfect it's like a cliché of a cliché):

"I just didn't feel right approaching her about it, because it's almost a criticism in a way -- 'You're getting old,' " Mrs. Hayes said. When Jennifer finally floated the idea, "I was thrilled. I thought this could just take a lot of the stress off her."


When Brigitte Adams, a San Francisco marketing consultant, brought up the idea of freezing her eggs to her parents, her father quickly approved. So quickly that, for a moment, Ms. Adams felt stung. "It was a little degree of shock," she said. "This is actually real if they're pushing me towards this," she recalled thinking at the time.

The really wonderful/horrible thing about this article is that these parents have found a way to both emphasize their children's advancing age and waning fertility, and infantilize them at the same time!

One more thing: in a coincidence that seems strange at first, but upon reflection is almost too perfectly on-the-nose, two of the young women featured in the article now write for blogs about their personal egg-freezing experiences. Eggsurance.com and RetrieveFreezeRelax.com. I know.

* There's also USA Today, but I don't think anyone reads it unless it's dropped in front of their hotel room door.

May 11, 2012

Who's Hotter?™: The accused well-dressed groper or the actual one?

Ladies: if you're going to be groped by a random dude on the street, would you prefer your assailant to be the man on the left, Karl Vanderwoude, who was wrongly charged with a series of assaults on women, or the man on the right, the dude in surveillance images from the Chambers St subway station who grabbed a woman's crotch on Centre St?

NYC well-dressed groper, accused and real

[more hot groper images here]

It took the NYPD three weeks to realize these two are not the same person, which in my view is pretty obvious if you share my awkward but undeniable views on the superior hotness of the real groper, the guy on the right. Sorry. Sue me. Anyone interested in a momentary, unsolicited, one-sided makeout session with a strikingly handsome fellow might get lucky if they hang out on downtown sidewalks, proffering their ass.

The not quite as handsome non-groper, Karl Vanderwoude, was arrested on a tip by someone who knew him well enough to provide the police with his phone number and the name of his roommate, but he was released earlier this week and all charges were dropped. After his name and photo were plastered all over the tabloids and local news as the "well-dressed" groper. The Post has been referring to him as the "gentleman groper", I guess because a good-looking white guy in nice clothes who grabs women's crotches on the street somehow still retains an air of respectability and decency.

Another strange aspect of the coverage of this story is a piece in today's Times which compares the misfortune of Mr. Vanderwoude and his false accusation to that of DSK and the botched police work around his charge of raping a hotel maid, noting that both men made the same much-photographed perp walk. "The ghost of DSK was hanging in the rafters," said Vanderwoude's lawyer. The Times comments, "The next wrongly accused person might not have an alibi backed up by video and e-mails. Is the Police Department making any inquiry to see what caused this wreck?"

Both examples represent high-profile NYPD failures on sex crime cases, but DSK's actual personal semen was all over a hotel room and the maid's clothes, while this poor guy was a completely innocent person paraded through the streets as a predatory ass-grabber based on faulty information. It's a bad comparison, and I'd be pissed. At least Vanderwoude wins any comparison with DSK, even if he lacks the beguilingly, distressing chiseled features of the actual groper.

May 8, 2012

Dark Shadows and 70's horror camp

Dark Shadows, Johnny Depp

Dark Shadows, the TV show, was a daily afternoon soap that premiered in 1966 just as The Munsters and The Addams Family were ending. This period was clearly the heyday of pulpy goth television, and the lovably creepy families from all three shows have lived on through multiple reincarnations, which I sort of doubt we're going to see with, say, The Vampire Diaries 40 years from now.

I went to see Tim Burton's Dark Shadows movie, which is a nostalgic tribute to a TV show that Burton and Johnny Depp obviously loved when they were growing up. But the sad reality of Tim Burton these days is that he doesn't make very good movies anymore (possible exception: Sweeney Todd), and this one is an incoherent mess.

The style is cool (it's set in 1972,) and the gothier he goes with the story, characters, and design, the better. Tim Burton is great when he's dark. But several characters and entire plotlines felt tacked on and arbitrary, like the only reason he included them in the movie was that they were in the TV show. It doesn't hang together as a cohesive movie and probably would have been better if he'd made an episodic TV show, or series of vignettes about flamboyant Victorian vampire Johnny Depp, his creepy and possibly supernatural modern-day family, and Eva Green's cleavage.

The best thing about this movie is that it prompted revisiting of the half-hour daily TV show, which ran from 1966-71 for an astounding 1,225 episodes and was one of the most popular daytime soaps during its run. The Times has a wonderful article about it (the most repeated word in the piece is "weird".) It turns out that the show's creator, Dan Curtis, didn't set out to make a supernatural soap, he just started throwing in ghosts and vampires to chase ratings, much like today's soaps keep audiences guessing with evil twins, amnesia, or resurrections from the dead. Barnabas Collins, the Johnny Depp character, didn't even show up until 200 episodes in! Here's an excerpt from the Times:

In the context of late-'60s daytime drama these choices were, to put it mildly, counterintuitive. A few years later we would learn to call such desperate moves "jumping the shark," but what Dark Shadows proved at the moment Barnabas's cold, pale hand reached out of his coffin was that soap-opera narrative is in its essence an act of desperation, like the telling of bedtime stories by weary parents to wakeful kids: the stories just seem to go on and on and on, and the longer your audience stays with you, the more sharks, inevitably, will have to be jumped.

The show eventually included "a staggering number of witches, warlocks, doppelgängers, mad scientists, werewolves, and, of course, ghosts," which Tim Burton tried to recreate by introducing a seemingly random slate of supernatural characters at odd moments in the movie. It feels like an arbitrary, disjointed mess, but even if the movie doesn't work, I can appreciate the homage to what sounds like a delightfully bizarre show.

Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall on Dark Shadows

A box set of the entire 5 season run of Dark Shadows is being released on DVD in July, packaged in an adorable coffin, for $420. A staggering 131 discs! That's a lot of vamping. You can also watch 160 episodes on Netflix streaming and catch some of the show's alleged line flubs and crew members visible on screen.

Here's a clip from the TV show from the episode when the Barnabas character is introduced. It's not as hammy as it could have been, but there's some excellent suspense in delaying the first time we see the face of Jonathan Frid.

May 5, 2012

MCA's other hugely successful career

Adam Yauch at Tribeca Film Festival

You can look at Facebook, Twitter, and all global media to witness the explosion of love that poured out yesterday when the news hit that MCA had died of cancer. We all love The Beastie Boys, and it seems like hardly anyone knew how sick Adam Yauch really was, or that he was in serious decline. I can't think of another recent death that my generation felt this personally.

Beyond his Beastie status, Yauch was also a major force in indie film. In just four years his distribution company Oscilloscope Pictures (a division of his larger company, Oscilloscope Laboratories that also produces movies and music) has put out a whole lot of awesome movies, including some of the best things I've seen in recent years.

Here's the whole list of movies they put out--highlights include Exit Through the Gift Shop, Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff, Treeless Mountain, Dark Days, The Messenger, his own directorial debut Gunnin' For That #1 Spot, and Bellflower. I haven't seen that last one, but this EW article includes an interview with the writer/director of Bellflower, who spent time with Yauch last year when the movie was coming out:

I've hung out with him a couple of times. He's awesome. He took me to go meet Jack White when I was in Nashville. I was like, 'What the hell has my life come to? This is crazy!' Adam, oddly, has a lot in common with me. When I met him he was like, 'Were you one of those kids who used to make bombs?' I was like, 'Yes. This one time I almost blew my friend up.' And he was like, 'I did the same thing!'

When Criterion released a DVD anthology of Beastie Boys videos (with many directed by Yauch under the name Nathaniel Hornblower), Adam Yauch listed his Top 10 Criterion Collection movies, with funny non-sequitur commentary that almost (but not quite) hides the fact that he was a major movie buff.

Also related to his film career, here's a funny, goofily defensive proto-Borat attack letter he wrote as Hornblower to the NY Times in 2004 in response to their review of the B Boys' "Ch-Check It Out" video. This letter's having a second life since yesterday; the Times reviewer, Stephanie Zacharek, tweeted that he was right.

Here's MCA crashing the VMA's in 1994 when "Everybody Hurts" won best video instead of "Sabotage". He's in character as Nathaniel Hornblower, Swiss filmmaker, both pre-empting and outdoing Kanye and Sacha Baron Cohen. He comes on at 2:48.

May 1, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Dead Spy in a Bag

Gareth Williams, dead spy in a bag

You might have already read about the strange case of MI6 agent Gareth Williams who was discovered dead in his apartment last year, inside a duffel bag that was inside his empty tub. The inquest is happening now in the UK, and I thought I'd share some details surfacing about what is quickly becoming my favorite story of the year.

The Times seems to be enjoying the story, too, reporting from the inquest about the growing suspicion that Williams was not murdered as some sort of retaliation for his work at MI6, as his family suggests, but instead was part of a claustrophilic episode gone wrong. Attempts at recreating a scenario where Williams would have gotten himself closed up inside a locked bag all failed (see photos above), suggesting that other people were involved. And then there's this excellent paragraph:

Investigators also discovered that he had more than $30,000 worth of women’s high-fashion clothing, including Christian Louboutin shoes and Christian Dior dresses, in carefully packed bags in his apartment. Much of the clothing was brand new, but some of the 26 pairs of shoes had been worn, and a bright orange woman's wig was found over the back of a chair, along with a pair of newly pressed men's underpants, in Mr. Williams's otherwise sparsely decorated but conspicuously tidy bedroom.

"Sparsely decorated but conspicuously tidy." That is some beautifully insinuating journalism, there.

Williams had also visited bondage websites and his landlords report that they were once awakened by his screams. From his Wikipedia page: "Apparently he had managed to tie himself to his bed, and required assistance in releasing himself. The testimony was that Williams had claimed at the time that he had done it just to see if he could free himself and that he promised not to try this again. Nothing further had been said about the incident since, between Williams and his landlady."

The landlady reports that she and her husband cut him loose. "I said, 'Gareth, I can't have you doing this,'" she told the court. That was three years before he ended up dead in the duffel bag.

It just so happens that a friend of a friend wrote the book on claustrophilia. Cary Howie's book, Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature chronicles people's love of enclosed spaces and physical constraints through the ages. The Daily Beast tracked Cary down for an article on the case, since he's pretty much top dog in the world of claustrophilia theory. In explaining this predilection that maybe isn't as uncommon as you'd think, he says, "Imagine all the ways in which limitation produces or heightens sensation, from tight clothes to the formal constraints of certain kinds of writing, and then imagine how this works in space." Or in a duffel bag. Sexy!

The story also makes me admire the spies at MI6 for keeping up with the times. Britain's spy agencies, as the Times says, "are no strangers to scandals that have involved the sex lives of some of their greatest talents." Cold War-era spy novels, John Le Carré, etc., -- the sex lives of spies have always been a topic of fascination. If you were going to have a shocking secret sexual identity back in the '70's, it was good enough to just be gay. But times have changed, and the stakes are higher. Now you've got to own a bigger and fancier collection of women's shoes than any woman I know, be able to tie yourself to your bed, and, tragically, dabble in duffel bag enclosure.

Williams' body didn't show any signs of fear or struggle when he was found in the bag, so it sounds like he was cool with whatever was going on, until it all went horribly wrong.

About May 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in May 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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