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March 2013 Archives

March 19, 2013

Tina Fey, Actor

Tina Fey in Admission

We all love Tina Fey and can talk at length about all the amazing things about her: she's funny, self-deprecating, fearless, an inspired and successful comedy writer, and she helped Obama win the 2008 election. "SNL", Mean Girls, Bossypants, "30 Rock"--everything she does is great.

But I don't ever hear that Tina Fey is a talented actor. The Sarah Palin act was its own special kind of genius, but for all the praise she gets for her many gifts, it's not usually for her acting chops. Sure, she delivered the news on "Weekend Update" with an appropriately no-nonsense half-smirk, and we all saw a little of ourselves in the perpetually harried, big-sandwich-loving, grown-up nerd, Liz Lemon. But I think Fey gets more credit for creating Liz Lemon than for playing her on screen.

Which brings us to her new movie, Admission. Tina Fey plays a Princeton admissions officer who is very smart, a little uptight, and stuck in a safe but boring life. She's unfulfilled, but not sure what to do about it. This role isn't a big departure from Liz Lemon and the frustrated single lady in Baby Mama, but this movie is the first time I noticed it: Hey, Tina Fey can act! Her character goes through more emotional extremes than I've ever seen her take on before, and she carries them all with total credibility. The plot is a little convoluted, and it's not the greatest movie overall, but Tina Fey shows some impressive range--big emotional scenes and more subtle moments that all work.

The other great thing about the movie is the brilliant decision to cast Lily Tomlin as Tina Fey's aging radical off-the-grid mom. It's perfect. Everything Lily Tomlin says and does is hilarious, and it's like a symbolic passing of the torch from the 70's pioneer to today's gutsy comic superstar. Hard to believe they've never done anything together before now.

I really don't want to see Tina Fey try to become Kate Winslet or take on serious Oscar-bait roles like "feisty Depression-era widow cotton farmer" or "double-amputee killer whale trainer", but I hope she gets some recognition for being a good actor as well as a great comedian.

March 13, 2013

Soda: sugar, water, and a ton of money

Beyonce's Pepsi campaign

There's a great article in the Times today, one of many they've done about the failed soda size limit law in NYC, about the relationship between the soda industry and civil rights groups that spoke out against the policy. It isn't exactly news that companies like Coke and Pepsi are big supporters of the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, National Council of La Raza, and the US Hispanic Leadership Institute, and in some cases have been for decades.

What's so great about today's article are the quotes from leaders at these organizations, and spokespeople from soda companies, expressing their shock and outrage that anyone could think that there's any connection between a company giving money to an organization, and that organization's public support of the company's political agenda.

Check this out:

  • "We never ask our foundation or community relations partners to engage in public policy issues on our behalf," said Jeff Dahncke, a spokesman for PepsiCo. "The nature of these relationships is focused on diversity and inclusion."
  • Katelyn Jackson, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, said in an e-mail, "The suggestion that our community philanthropic efforts are motivated by something other than good will is grossly inaccurate and ignores our history of true partnership for well over a century."
  • "We don't support soda taxes and things like that, any kind of grocery taxes, because we think they hurt our community more than helping," said Christina M. Martinez, spokeswoman for the US Hispanic Leadership Institute. "We have a great partnership with PepsiCo."
  • Coke and Pepsi have given over $10 million to La Raza, and executives from each company serve on La Raza's board. And guess who La Raza's anti-obesity program's sponsor is? Pepsi! "They are a company that produces some very healthy products," says their Senior VP for Programs.

I don't blame these organizations for taking corporate money--they have programs to run and are doing important work. But to suggest that there's no connection between the source of an organization's revenue and the policies they support or oppose is incredibly naive and delusional. My point is that soda companies have essentially bought themselves credibility by funding civil rights organizations that represent diverse communities, who then speak publicly in support of soda companies's political goals. These companies have been doing this forever, starting when Coke wanted to shed its image as a racist company back in the mid-20th century.

Of course, soda companies also spend a fortune on marketing, a financial bludgeon that overwhelms relatively tiny investments in research on the effects of soda on public health, and the budgets of nonprofits trying to educate people in their communities about what happens to you if you drink loads of soda.

Then there's Beyoncé. She's gotten a lot of flak for her $50 million deal with Pepsi, especially since she also served as a spokesperson/danceperson for Michelle Obama's Let's Move anti-obesity campaign. But let's be honest: Beyoncé has endorsed Pepsi for many years. And McDonald's. She obviously has no problem shilling for unhealthy crap. Maybe she wasn't a very wise choice for a White House campaign promoting healthy food.

But the point is, soda companies don't do this stuff by accident. Their product is basically sugar, water, and food coloring, so they have extensive profits to spend on making people want to drink their stuff, and co-opting the respectability of popular celebrities and admired civil rights groups.

I pretty much agree with Justice Tingling who ruled against the soda size limit. And I love his wonderful name. Bloomberg's proposal was capricious, legally nonsensical, and doomed to fail--there's no legal category of "sugary drinks" that includes things like soda, but not things like chocolate milk. Our government doesn't regulate sugar like it regulates tobacco and alcohol, and until it does, it's going to be hard for cities or states to make laws limiting public consumption of sugar. Until the ATF becomes the ATFS (maybe change it to FATS?) they might not get anywhere. It also might help if organizations that speak for disenfranchised people stopped pretending that money doesn't affect what they say and do.

March 7, 2013

Who'dat?™: transformations

Today's edition of Who'dat?™ features a celebrity who has so altered her look in recent years that even after I found out who this is, I still don't see how it's possible.

Here's the picture:


To play, try to figure out who this is, then click on the picture to see if you are right.

For the record, some of my wilder guesses included Hayden Panettiere, Christina Applegate, and Madonna (which encompasses a 30-year spread of blond celebrity age confusion.)

March 5, 2013

Hands On a Hardbody

Hands On a Hardbody

One of my favorite documentaries of all time is 1997's Hands On a Hard Body, which tells the story of an East Texas car dealership's publicity stunt of giving away a tricked-out Nissan pickup truck to the contestant who can keep one hand on the truck the longest. It goes on for many days. These kinds of contests aren't unusual, at least in Texas, but this documentary is the best kind of human drama--the stakes are high, the competition is physically and psychologically agonizing, and the contestants represent a wonderful cross-section of real-life Americans that I don't think the world's best casting director could have improved.

So of course I had to see the new Broadway musical Hands On a Hardbody, which is in previews. When you look at this production, it looks pretty weird: the book is by Doug Wright, who is most famous for winning a Pulitzer Prize for I Am My Own Wife, about a transgendered woman in Nazi Germany. BUT: Wright is from East Texas, so there you go. The music is by Trey Anastasio from Phish. I was a little worried about how jam band noodlings would work in a Broadway musical, but the songs are very catchy and represent a great range of American music: rock, country, soul, and gospel. I think it's going to do well--reviews come out in a couple of weeks.

One of the best things about the musical is that it adapts the fragmentary documentary into a narrative structure, and ties the contestants together into a coherent group, all driven by one thing: economic desperation. These people don't just think it would be nice to have a fancy truck, they really, really need this truck. There are stories of unemployment, families falling apart, and how much it sucks to be poor and stuck in a crappy little town. It's like if you take the original documentary and filter it through A Chorus Line, you'd get this musical.

Steven Soderbergh recently said that he's hoping to direct some theater now that he's stepping back from movies. This is just the kind of thing I think he'd be great at, if he decides to go big and commercial instead of doing oblique little Off-Broadway stuff. Lately his movies have been all about money and what people will do to get it. We don't often see poor, desperate people in big Broadway musicals, but maybe this will inspire him.

My main hope for this musical is that it will finally bring a proper DVD release for the documentary. Right now, used VHS seems to be the only way to see it (DVDs are selling for over $100!) It doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere, either. But if the show's a hit, maybe more people will get to experience the original in all its glory.

NY Magazine has an interesting explanation of the onstage truck, which the cast members move all over the stage with remarkable ease. It's a 2001 Nissan with the engine removed, on invisible rolling casters. Cool.

March 1, 2013

Craig Brewer's next movie that might be good

Craig Brewer and the Beverly Hills Gangster Princess

I'm a fan of writer-director Craig Brewer, the guy who made Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan. He's a good director, and I especially admire how unpredictable/crazy his storylines and characters are. If you like Terrence Howard like I do, he's really fantastic in Hustle & Flow, plus that movie indirectly generated my favorite ever Oscars one-liner: after Three 6 Mafia had won Best Song and accepted their Oscar with adorably genuine enthusiasm, host Jon Stewart came out and said, "You know what? I think it just got a little easier out there for a pimp."

And Black Snake Moan, aka Samuel L. Jackson Chains Christina Ricci To a Radiator, is a bewilderingly strange movie about addiction, mental illness, and the blues, and it's frankly a miracle that it's anywhere near as good as it is. Plus it features a not-bad performance from Justin Timberlake as a returning soldier with PTSD.

Then, Craig Brewer made the Footloose remake, a weird choice, but I was willing to go with it. But by all accounts it was not darkly gritty or interesting, or even entertaining in any way, and I lost faith.

Then I found out what his next project is going to be: a movie based on last summer's excellent Rolling Stone article about Lisette Lee, an alleged Samsung heiress/model/singer living in Beverly Hills and leading a life of glamour and self-indulgence, who in reality was a super-manipulative sociopath from a modest background with a messed-up family life, who was ferrying hundreds of pounds of marijuana from LA to Ohio on a private jet. Eventually she got busted.

Now that's more like it! A story like this lets Brewer get back to what he's good at: exploring the flamboyantly self-destructive impulses of charismatic, mentally unbalanced people who want a better life. Or in some cases, an entirely new identity. He's going to write the screenplay and direct. The title of this movie is probably still not certain, though the AV Club helpfully suggests the brilliant Beverly Hills Weed-Jets.

This story about normal people becoming obsessed with the celebrity lifestyle and doing illegal things to try to get it reminds me of another great story-turned-movie: The Bling Ring of teenagers who blithely robbed celebrity homes for months in 2009. Sofia Coppola's movie adaptation is coming out this summer.

So I'm glad Craig Brewer is clawing his way back to movie respectability through the world of spoiled, lying, narcissistic drug mules.

About March 2013

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in March 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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