Jun 1 2014

Why Now Is a Divine Time for Alicia Witt

Steadying the gun in her hands, Wendy Crowe takes one slow step toward her brother. Determination in her eyes, she lowers the firearm to just below his belt. In a breath, she pulls the trigger.

It’s hard to believe that the strong-willed, ass-kicking paralegal Wendy Crowe on FX’sJustified was once Cybill’s sarcastic, celibate teenage daughter Zoey in the ’90s sitcomCybill.

In fact, each character Alicia Witt has portrayed throughout her nearly 30-year career has been vastly different from the last—from the resilient heroine in Urban Legend, to the unabashedly honest black sheep in Cold Turkey, to the protective, rifle-wielding mother in Justified. All of these characters, however, have a definite element of Witt in them.

“I like digging into these characters that are a lot more complex, and there’s a lot that isn’t apparent on the surface,” Witt explains to me over the phone one unusually warm Friday afternoon in New York City, after the Polar Vortex finally released us from its clutches. “In a weird way, you can access all that fear and pain.”

The versatile actress makes an effort to not play the same character over and over again. “Nothing makes me happier than when somebody figures out I was in something, and then they’d seen me in something else, and had no idea it was the same person,” she said. “Then I feel like I’ve done my job.”

As a marine layer settles in over L.A., Witt calls to her rescue dogs, Ernest, a beagle and miniature pinscher mix, and Maggie, a mix of either Australian Shepard or Husky, ushering them in from the backyard as she describes the process of getting into a role. “I’ve always loved finding characters that are not always the most likable ones when you first meet them,” she said, “and finding a way to make them people that viewers will identify with, even against their better judgment.”

Witt, who was discovered by director David Lynch when she was nine years old, starring in his 1984 sci-fi action film Dune, is so dedicated to playing her characters truthfully that she’s had to consciously learn to leave her emotions on set. “You’ll go home after a long day of work and you feel this heaviness inside of you, but everything else in your life is going really well,” she said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as just recognizing that there’s something in your heart that doesn’t belong there. I think that gets easier with time.”

Before joining the cast of Justified in its fifth season this year, as the outsider Wendy Crowe, Witt had never seen the show, a choice she said helped shape her character. “I think it was a lucky thing that I hadn’t actually seen the show before,” Witt said, “because my character is from a whole different world than the rest of them. I came to all those characters, especially Raylan, [played by Timothy Olyphant], with no preconceived notions.” Now, however, she’s hooked. “I already feel like I’m addicted to the show,” she said. “Whether I’m in season six or not, I’m going to be watching.”

Now is a great time for Witt, who, in addition to Justified this year, plans to release an album in late 2014. Witt began playing the piano when she was seven years old, decades before she’d seriously pursue her own musical career. “I’ve really always wanted to do my own songs, but I didn’t start in earnest until about six years ago,” she said of releasing her first EP in 2009.

“Since I’ve been recording music a little bit longer now, there’s just something much more honest and comfortable about the songs on the new album,” Witt said. “They really span the gamut and come from all different areas of my life,” including a song inspired by Justified that may appear in the show’s sixth season.

Making this album even more personal for Witt, it’s being produced by her boyfriend, musician Ben Folds. “What I try to do with my music is be honest,” Witt said. “The fact that Ben produced [these songs] puts them in a whole different category in terms of both the production value and the honesty.”

Witt’s voice softens as she talks about Folds, a person and artist she clearly respects. The two have collaborated before, when working on the theme song for Cold Turkeyin 2013. “He listens to music from a standpoint of what moves him and he doesn’t come at it like most producers,” Witt said. “If a good idea comes up in the studio, he doesn’t care where it comes from, and if it doesn’t feel truthful to the artist, he’s completely willing to come at it from a different angle. For somebody as talented as he is, he’s so incredibly ego-free when it comes to producing.”

Just as with her acting career, Witt puts honesty and authenticity above all else when it comes to her music. “It’s just coming out more truthfully,” she said. “It’s not like I have to think as much about how I want something to sound. I just know if it’s right and if it isn’t right.” The same, she says, goes for performing on screen. “I know after a take if it felt truthful.”

Witt plans to continue to seek out the roles that intrigue her the most, undaunted by a challenge, and to live each day to the fullest, personally and professionally. “All we can do is live every single day and do our best to be present with the ones that we love and with everybody that we come in contact with,” she said. “The timing of everything seems too divine sometimes to ignore.”

This story originally appeared at HuffPost Entertainment.

Apr 28 2014

Cruising For Dudes With My Dad

We’re sitting on a red leather sofa in the lobby of the New York Athletic Club. My dad’s wearing a blue and white pinstripe dress shirt, gold cufflinks and a salmon-colored tie. I’m wearing a navy blue cocktail dress so tight it gives the illusion I’ve got a great ass and the same pair of nude heels I wore to my sister’s wedding.

I’ve just told him about a memoir I’m working on. “Am I going to be in it?” he asks, fear filling his eyes, undoubtedly picturing the actual, unfiltered truth of my childhood, and not loving the idea of it being published for the world to see.

“Of course,” I say.

“Then can my name be ‘Tom’?”

“Sure, dad. You can be my dad named ‘Tom’ in the memoir. I’m sure no one will put two and two together.”

Just then a flood of old men in power suits enter the lobby and head straight for the elevators. “Looks like some Cedar Hill men,” my dad says. Cedar Hill is the private high school my dad attended. Tonight the school is hosting a cocktail party that he’s been talking about for months. He’s excited to see old friends, but mostly excited to find me a husband. My dad’s hell-bent on finding me a man, and if he were a Cedar Hill man, his heart would pretty much explode. Basically, this night is the closest I’ll ever come to having a debutante ball.

“I thought you wanted to set me up with these guys?” I ask, looking skeptically at the group of AARP members huddled by the elevators. “My age limit is 40.”

“There will be younger alumni, trust me,” he says as he gets up and adjusts his tie, eyeing the crowd for familiar faces.

After we check our coats—and I sheepishly check my visibly decaying $2 backpack from Good Will—we shuffle into the elevator with a bunch of old men in suits. Disclaimer: there are a lot of old men in suits in this story. To help you keep them straight, I’ll refer to them all as “old men in suits.”

The elevator is a million years old, like the rest of the building, and it painfully creaks its way up to the fourth floor. “They’ve updated this building a lot,” my dad says, “just not the elevators apparently.” Every old man in the elevator laughs. This is my dad’s demographic. He’s already killing it. Best wing man ever.

Finally the death trap makes it to our floor and we exit to find a long table covered in nametags. My dad walks quickly up to the table. “Beauchamp,” he says to whoever might be listening nearby. The man doesn’t waste time. “Yes, sir,” the polite woman behind the table says, hurrying to hand us our nametags. I pin mine to my jacket, silently seething that I have to put a tiny hole in my Ann Taylor blazer meant to disguise me as an actual adult.

“I was going to tell them you were my fourth wife and really freak them out,” my dad says.

“That would have been hilarious,” I say.

The asshole doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Just as we’re about to enter the lavish, Titantic-esque ballroom where the event is held, we’re approached by my father’s high school Latin teacher, a tiny old gray man in a suit. “Tom!” he says, only he uses my dad’s actual name, unaware of his alias.

“Brother Wentz!” They shake hands. My dad introduces me. I’m somewhat amazed my dad’s Latin teacher looks this good. I’m terrible at math, but I assume that someone who taught my dad when he was a teenager must at least be a few centuries old, but Brother Wentz doesn’t look a day over 80. If all else fails… I think to myself.

Brother Wentz tells us a little bit about the alumni who will be honored this evening. One was a teacher and Marine officer who was killed in Vietnam and the other is a General Manager at Sheraton Hotels.

After we part ways with Brother Wentz, we head straight to the bar. I stopped drinking this past January, and almost immediately regret this decision when I see the crowd. There are about nine people there so far, and the mean age is around 432 years old.

“Gin and tonic,” Tom orders.

“Seltzer,” I say with sadness in my eyes. The bartender looks confused but pours it for me anyway.

“Lime?” he asks as if a lime wedge makes this whole situation better.

“Sure.”

Huge floor-to-ceiling windows line the back wall, facing out toward a beautiful view of Central Park. Squinting at the scenery, my eyes can barely make out the trees because it’s so bright. I remind myself to get out more, because this doesn’t seem normal.

We set up shop at a cocktail table in the middle of the room, right next to the assorted meats and cheeses, because that’s how we roll. My dad hits up the apps and gets us a nice assortment before we scope out my options. While my father is a heterosexual, happily married man, tonight, by the way he is eyeing them up, every young man in the room must assume he wants to sleep with them.

Just then, a man who looks almost identical to my dad walks over to our table. My dad’s lookalike shakes my actual dad’s hand. “So nice to see you, Tom,” he says. I read his nametag to see he graduated in ’72, a few years after my dad, class of ’69. He’s the Sheraton GM being honored this evening. He and my father catch up, exchanging humble brags about their daughters. “This one writes for the Huffington Post and Oprah Magazine,” my dad says, nodding in my direction. Save this stuff for the young meat, I think. My dad’s twin looks apathetic as I attempt to choke down a piece of pepperoni I accidentally dipped in hummus. I’m already owning this night.

The guest of honor makes an exit and my father and I are back on the prowl. The room is filling up now, and the ages are getting younger. A group of very young looking men to our right (in suits of course) are chatting and drinking fizzy drinks with lime. This is a very gin-and-tonic kind of crowd. Not a lot of Budweiser guys in the room, or guys my father calls “scrubs,” because my dad’s only cultural references are from the late nineties.

“Their nametags say they graduated in ’09,” my dad says, eyeing up the tall toddlers nearby. While all of their suits fit, they somehow still look out of place in them. In order to read their nametags, my dad’s small eyes narrow in on their chests—definitely not creeping them out at all.

Now might be a good time to mention my father is a six-foot-three, 240-pound man who has never “blended in” anywhere in his life. I’m basically him, but five inches shorter, 30 years younger, female and a redhead. “Stealth” isn’t really something we understand.

“What year did you graduate high school?” he asks. My dad’s usually able to guess at least within three years of my age, so this question isn’t surprising.

“2006.”

“They’re a little too young,” he says, disappointed. “They look like children.”

“What about him?” I nod toward a very, very old man in a suit, perhaps even an automated corpse, headed our way.

Grandpa sets his small plate of hors d’oeuvres down on the table. He’s wearing a dark navy blue suit and his hair is white as snow and barely clinging to his scalp. I consider making a wish and blowing on his head like a dead dandelion.

The volume at which this man speaks is barely audible. My father and I are leaning in so close to him, people probably think we are trying to make a move on him right there in the middle of the ballroom, or that we’re inspecting him for cavities.

“You’re about 10 years younger than me,” the man says to my dad. “Class of ’58.”

“Good for you!” my dad says, genuinely congratulating this man on still being alive.

Father Time begins explaining how he’s been retired for a few years, or at least I think that’s what he’s saying. I just keep nodding and smiling. There are times when I think I should laugh, so I do, but then his somber expression leads me to believe this isn’t the right response. I desperately hope he didn’t say his wife just died or something. As he speaks, large bits of food fly from his mouth and onto my arm. I keep backing away, discreetly wiping bits of cheese cube off of my arm while still pretending to have any goddamn idea what he’s saying.

“Should we get you another drink?” my dad asks, gesturing desperately to my empty glass.

“Most definitely,” I say.

“Exit stage left,” my dad says out of the corner of his mouth as we head to the bar.

Once we see the coast is clear, and that the old man has found a classmate with whom he can wax poetic about the invention of the radio, we return to our post. There’s a gaggle of 30-somethings to our left. I read their nametags. They graduated in ’03. Now we’re getting warmer. While I don’t actually expect to meet anyone I am interested in at this event, the idea of picking up dudes with my notoriously awkward father is too fun to resist.

Before I can tell my dad to check out the babes at 9 o’clock, two old men in suits come out of nowhere. “Tom!” the shorter, thinner one says. “Marty recognized you from across the room,” he says. “We can’t read your nametag, so it was a genuine recognition.” It’s probably been 40 years since they last saw each other, so this is impressive, and I don’t blame them for bragging.

“You came all the way in from Philadelphia?” the man who isn’t Marty asks my dad.

“This one lives in Brooklyn.” He nods toward me. “I thought I’d visit her, too.”

“Well that explains why he’d take you to this.” Not Marty gives me a pained look.

“I’m here to get me a Cedar Hill man,” I say.

My dad laughs, probably in case these men don’t find me funny.

“Oh really?” Not Marty’s eyebrows go up. “Well, you might have come to the wrong place. A third of these men are married, the other third are cheating on their wives, and another third are gay.” I like this guy already. I also wonder where the gay third is and if I can hang out with them instead.

“You’re not exactly encouraging her,” my dad says, as if I was at any point encouraged about finding a man here.

After the three of them recap who’s dead, who’s living, who’s gone crazy and who they still manage to keep in touch with, I notice the 30-somethings are now gone. My dad and I then mosey into the other room, also a large, ornate ballroom, in search of more young men and better appetizers. Can I get an egg roll? I think as I stare out at suit after suit after suit. Some of these guys I find attractive, but mostly I feel like I’m seeing double. Not having a drink and seeing double is no fun.

At this point, my dad is not even trying to hide the fact that he’s scoping out dudes, and is blatantly checking out a circle of men in their mid-twenties. “You do realize it looks like you want to have sex with them, right?” I ask. My dad laughs his big, room-filling laugh, and admits, “You’re probably right.”

Once he’s circled the group a few times like an animal stalking its prey, he says, “Alright, let’s go in.” I try to compose myself as my dad approaches a group of 27-year-old men to hit on them. “Hey there,” my dad says, completely inserting himself into their conversation. “I’m here to tell you what it’s like to be an old alumnus. It’s good,” he says grinning wildly, as if to say, “you’re gonna make a whollleee lotta money.”

Apparently they already are. Finance, marketing, investments, something with taxes. All of these guys have jobs that, while albeit sound super dull, probably result in them making bank. I’m not interested in people for their money, but in my opinion, if you have to be boring, you might as well be rich. My dad introduces me and suddenly these guys realize why a 62-year-old man is making moves on them. I stand there like a prized pig, being sized up by the group. A few duck away, maybe assuming my dowry won’t be worth their time.

A tall guy who looks like Richie Cunningham with a beard starts talking to us about his job in marketing at the New York Times. When it comes to me, I say I’m a writer, but not for the Times, for The Huffington Post, mainly the entertainment and comedy verticals. “Not bad,” he says nodding his head to the side. “I don’t know who writes about that for the Times. I don’t really read that stuff.” He rolls his eyes in such a way that I can’t tell if he feels guilty about this or is being condescending. He also admits later in the conversation that he actually doesn’t even read the newspaper, so I’m really not sure what this guy is into.

He starts talking about the new Wes Anderson movie and why he’s such a big fan of his work. “It’s all about the symmetry,” he explains to my dad, regurgitating something he picked up in a viral video. My dad’s impressed because he’s never been able to successfully use the Internet. “He really knows his films,” he says.

There’s a short guy in the circle and I feel bad because no one has asked him a question yet. I always feel bad for short guys in big groups. I’m trying to make eye contact and bring him into the conversation, but my dad keeps talking to Cunningham. I’m not even sure my dad has realized there is a short guy standing to his left.

Somehow everyone in the circle has dissipated and I finally strike up a conversation with short stack once my dad offers to refill our drinks.

“So where do you live in the city?” I ask him.

“Hoboken.”

Whelp, there ya go. Not a love connection, but at least a nice guy.

He talks about his job, something with taxes, and how he likes living in New Jersey and about how he once visited Pittsburgh for a wedding (after I tell him that’s where I went to college). I share with him the statistic Not Marty told me earlier, about one third of the crowd being married, one third cheating on their wives, and one third being gay. “Not sure if that’s accurate or not,” I make sure to add.

“I never would have guessed,” he says, hopefully not taking me seriously. “Who said that?”

“An old man,” I say, looking around. “Ya know, one of them.”

He laughs and says he should probably go meet some of those old men. Okay, shorty, I get it, you’re not into me, but blatantly exiting a conversation after I’ve told you the room is full of ancient adulterers and gay men is just kind of rude.

“Yeah, go network,” I say, my pride totally not hurt at all. Also, I’m so glad I don’t have to network. I’m so glad I’m not there to get anything out of it. Except some dick, of course.

“It was nice meeting you,” the nice short guy says as he gently touches my elbow, the universal symbol for “I totally wanna bang you.”

“You too!”

Finally it’s time to honor the Vietnam vet and present the Distinguished Alumnus Award to the Sheraton GM. Guests gather around the podium, and my dad and I stand in the front row, most likely pissing off everyone behind us, because we are both very tall and fidget nonstop. For my dad and I to stand still for more than 15 minutes is some kind of miracle. I’m shifting my weight from side to side because my heels hurt so badly. I never wear heels.

“These shoes are going to drive me to drink,” I whisper to my dad. He’s not really listening to me or the speaker, just kind of gazing at the ceiling. Our attention spans are also pretty minimal.

A lot of people talk for a very long time. “And one more thing,” the Sheraton GM says. My dad laughs a short chortle, meaning “somebody get the hook.” I silently agree as I try to unclench my butt cheeks, which I’m subconsciously squeezing in attempt to take pressure off my feet. Once the speeches are finished, the crowd disperses. We scan the room to see if anyone new might have shown up for whatever reason, but no one has.

“Ready to head out?” I say like I’m my dad’s platoon leader.

“Yeah, let me just say goodbye to some of the Brothers.”

“Why do you call them that?” I finally ask, not really caring enough to ask earlier.

“They aren’t priests, they’re Brothers.”

“You went to Catholic school?”

My dad gives me a look like, “Are you really this dumb?” But I’ve gotten it so much from him at this point I find it endearing. And also, yes. Yes, I really am.

We find the Brothers and the honoree and say our “goodbye”s and “nice to see/meet you”s, and we sashay out of the musty ballroom like we’ve always owned the place.

“Maybe your friend Caroline would have made a better wing man,” my dad says.

“No way, dad,” I assure him. “Trust me when I say you were the best wing man I’ve ever worked with.”

We leave with two aching feet and stomachs full of cocktail wieners, neither of us having gotten laid. “Not even any of the Brothers looked interested,” I say to my dad as the elevator doors screech closed.

My dad attempts to take my photo the night of the cocktail party. Don't I look pretty?

My dad attempts to take my photo the night of the cocktail party. Don’t I look pretty?

Mar 26 2014

Everything You Love About “The Sound of Music” Is a Lie

SOM

My mom has always been a big fan of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, which portrays the tale of the von Trapp family as a bold, passionate, flee-Nazis-in-the-night kind of love story. She enjoys it so much in fact, that she roped me into watching The Sound of Music Live! on NBC, along with 18.5 million otherslast December.

During commercial breaks, my mom was going on and on about how the musical was based on a true story and how incredible it was that the real Maria and Georg, madly in love, defied all odds and fled the Nazis, escaping to Switzerland by traversing the Alps in the middle of the night with their seven children, suitcases and instruments in tow.

I was curious about how much of the movie’s plot was true and how much was fabricated by filmmakers. While most films based on true stories include a lot of embellishments, I was surprised to find out that a lot of key elements of The Sound of Music, including the great escape and centric love story, are false.

As my mom and I quickly discovered via the U.S. National Archives and Wikipedia, Maria was pretty much “meh” about Georg when he asked her to marry him, and they didn’t flee through any mountains after performing for Nazis, they booked train tickets in advance and told everyone they planned to go to America to sing, “pretending nothing,” the daughter, Maria von Trapp is quoted as saying.

Here are 6 not-so-fun facts about the reality behind the von Trapp family:

6. There were actually 10 von Trapp kids, not seven, and all of the names and genders were changed for the movie.

5. Georg, who is portrayed as a pretty big prick in the beginning of the film, was actually a warm and loving father who enjoyed singing with his children. Obviously the cold, villainesque angle works better for the movie, but his family was less than pleased by the characterization.


4. Despite the von Trapps escaping to Switzerland in the film, they actually went to Italy, because Mr. von Trapp and his children were Italian citizens. And again, they didn’t get to Italy by fleeing through the Alps, they booked a train ahead of time (slightly less exciting).


3. Max Detweiler, played by Christian Borle in NBC’s live version, the millionaire-obsessed music promoter, actually never existed. The von Trapps’ musical director was their priest.


2. Maria was far from “breathless” when she looked at Georg. She honestly wasn’t even that into him. According to her autobiography, she “really and truly was not in love.” She was actually mad on their wedding day because she wanted to be a nun, but apparently she was told it was “God’s will” for her to marry Georg, and so it was.


1. Lastly, turns out Maria was into more than kittens’ whiskers, woolen mittens and packages tied up with strings. She was also into freaking the f*** out. The description of the real Maria von Trapp paints a picture more akin to Charlie Sheen than Julie Andrews. She apparently had fits of anger where she would yell, throw things and slam doors. Her stepdaughter was quoted as saying she had a “terrible temper. . . . From one moment to the next, you didn’t know what hit her. [W]e took it like a thunderstorm that would pass.”


So, Sound of Music lovers, sorry if your dreams are shattered. But don’t worry, you can find new, better ones, by climbing every mountain, following every rainbow and fording every stream. Just kidding, that’s probably all BS, too.

This story originally appeared at HuffPost Comedy

Mar 25 2014

House of Cards’s Molly Parker Talks Complex Characters and Unexpected Plot Twists

HOC

When we last saw Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), he was one step closer to claiming the U.S. Vice Presidential seat, and he and his wife and political confidant Claire (Robin Wright) were enjoying a late-night victory lap around their quiet neighborhood. While things seem to be going smoothly for the moment, House of Cards fans know this is merely the calm before the storm. In Season 2, premiering this Friday, February 14 — a perfect Valentine from Netflix to us — someone new might get in the way of Francis’ relentless thirst for power.

Enter Jacqueline Sharp, played by Deadwood‘s Canadian actress Molly Parker, a two-term Democratic congresswoman from California who “comes out of military intelligence,” Parker explained, and is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who possesses a “ruthless pragmatism” that Francis admires. “What was interesting for me,” Parker said, “was this question of what it takes for a woman to ascend to this level of leadership in a political world.”

She noted the fact that while more than half of college graduates are women, a very small percentage hold high positions in office — roughly 18.5 percent of Congress is made up of women. “I was interested in what the cost is for a woman to operate in this milieu,” she said.

To prepare for the role, Parker read several autobiographies of prominent political women, including Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. “[Jackie's] come up in the military, which I think is a patriarchal system, and she’s risen through the ranks of that system,” Parker said, “so I have to assume that she is comfortable holding her own in rooms of powerful men.”

So comfortable in fact, she may present a challenge for the series’ anti-hero.

“No question, [Jackie] is capable of a ruthlessness,” Parker said, “but she’s surprising because in some ways we think that she’s going to be this good soldier for Francis, and yet-” she stops, wary of giving away too much of the plot. “I really can’t.”

While Parker couldn’t provide more details about the upcoming season, she did express excitement about joining a show of which she herself is a big fan — binge watching all 13 episodes in about three days — and playing an emotionally rich and interesting character like Jackie.

“Part of what I like about the writing on the show,” she said, “is we’re initially introduced to these people and shown all of the worst of them first and then as time goes on, their humanity is revealed.”

She describes Jackie as “a very strong, smart woman who is ambitious,” an ideal character for Parker, who has made a career of portraying complex female characters, beginning with her breakout role as a necrophiliac in the 1996 Canadian film Kissed.

“What I want is to play characters who are complicated and complex human beings,” she said. “It doesn’t mean necessarily that these are women who are good women or kind women or strong women, but my hope is that they are written with some complexity.”

Jackie goes head-to-head with Francis, who is apparently as terrifying a character on set as he is onscreen.

“[Kevin's] really funny and he jokes around a lot,” Parker said, “but when he is playing Francis, he’s terrifying. He has an incredibly powerful energy as an actor.” But the fear induced by Francis’ icy stare is combated by Jackie’s ferocity. “She aspires to be fearless. It’s really fun to play such a powerful woman.”

While the show — originally based on a 1990 British series of the same title — is set in Washington, it “transcends its locale,” Parker said. “It’s a show about power and the power dynamic implicit in all relationships, including [Francis and Claire's] marriage, which is the central relationship of this story, and it feels to me Shakespearean.”

And just as in Macbeth or Richard III, the audience can expect some surprising plot twists from the second season of House of Cards.

“I can tell you that as a fan of the show and an audience member, I was surprised as I read the script,” revealed Parker.

So this Valentine’s Day, cuddle up with your boyfriend/girlfriend/friend/cat/pint of Chunky Monkey, and prepare to be shocked by a new season of House of Cards.

This story originally appeared at HuffPost Celebrity

Mar 20 2014

Netflix Documentary ‘Mitt’ Confirms Why Romney Isn’t President

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Hunched over in a dimly lit hotel room, surrounded by his family, a defeated Mitt Romney realizes he’s lost the 2008 Republican nomination to John McCain. “I didn’t even want to go to [campaign] events,” he says. “‘Let me tell you how I’m gonna win this!’” He shakes his head doubtfully. “I can’t fake it.” Someone off screen quickly interjects, “You need to go to bed.”

This is one of only a handful of vulnerable moments in Mitt, the Netflix documentary that aired Friday, January 24 that takes a “rare, intimate look” at presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s life, beginning with his run for the Republican nomination in 2008 and leading up to the 2012 presidential election—where Romney openly expresses self-doubt. He doubts himself, his candidacy, even referring to himself as a “flawed candidate” in 2008 because of his reputation for being a flip-flopper (which is only loosely dealt with in the film, never directly addressed).

It’s evident in the documentary how both impressed and intimidated by Obama Romney is, noting that the president “changed the race” in 2008, and was “better than the other guys” when it came to debating. Before Romney’s second presidential debate with Obama in 2012, Romney sounds overwhelmed by the format of the debate, wary of whether or not he could clearly state his point of view for the audience while relating to the questioner and challenging his opponent all at the same time.

None of this seems to come easily to Romney. He even complains about how many debates are planned. And he is very concerned about having a solid “brand name.” You can tell Obama’s gotten under his skin. These are the moments in Mitt where we see a daunted side of Romney his campaign strategists wouldn’t let us see, because it would have been hard to “Believe in America,” if the candidate didn’t even really believe in himself 100 percent of the time.

Even Romney’s family — the central focus of the film — continually express doubt about winning, or wanting to win, the presidency. His son Josh questions whether or not the American people will ever embrace his dad and stop criticizing him (again, not directly addressing the critiques), saying “This is why you never see any good people running for president.” During a family meeting, where the Romneys discuss whether or not Mitt should run for office, Romney’s daughter-in-law Jenn says one downside to him running for president would be that he’d “have to be president,” adding: “Emotionally, it’ll be hard on everyone.” The quiet room doesn’t quickly combat this sentiment. Few in the circle offer many good reasons for Romney to run except that it’s his “duty to the American people and God.” They all seem to know it’s already coming and they can’t stop it whether they’d like to or not.

Despite exposing some of the candidate’s uncertainty, documentarian Greg Whiteley is clearly a fan of Romney’s, and edits the footage to portray the former governor in a very warm and fuzzy light for most of the film — glossing over the whole 47 percent debacle and the issue of Romney’s changing political views, instead showing shots of Romney wearing torn ski gloves patched up with duct tape and eating in fast food restaurants, just like a regular ol’ guy and not a man with cars that have their own personal elevators.

During a conference call held days before the film aired, director Whiteley claimed he just “faded into the wallpaper” when filming, but he appears to be well integrated into the Romney family. At one point, one of Romney’s grandkids shouts “Hi, Greg!” toward the camera, before Romney scoops the boy up into his arms, making him the 100th toddler Romney hugs, hive-fives or tussles with in the 90-minute documentary.

Aside from some real moments capturing the Romneys’ fears and insecurities, Mittpretty much depicts Romney as any Republican campaign ad would: a God fearing, down-to-earth family man who can really relate to the plight of small business owners. (Despite being born a millionaire and co-founding Bain Capital, where he made millions whether a small business went under or not.)

What is surprising is that after six years of following the Romneys, collecting hundreds of hours of footage, the documentarian still chose to include a random interview with a production guy at a 2008 debate, who talked about lighting adding “drama,” and a nearly two-minute-long conversation between Romney and his son Tagg about whether or not the Delta terminal at LaGuardia Airport had a large food court. We’re supposed to believe there wasn’t anything more interesting than that lying around on the cutting room floor?

While the film was expected to be an “exclusive” and “behind-the-scenes” look, it included a lot of already-aired debate footage and seemingly staged conversations between family members before and after each debate. Babies bounce on knees, Romneys kneel on hotel room floors in prayer, Ann looks stressed and cries occasionally. The documentary moves slow and is captivating only some of the time.

Romney is still, for the most part, Romney: stiff smile and jilted laugh. Of course he loves his family dearly and that’s obvious, but the public never really doubted his love for family or God—which is pretty much entirely what Mitt focuses on — they doubted what he stood for, they doubted his ability to empathize with a majority of Americans, and they doubted whether or not he was actually alive with a heart and soul and there wasn’t a Weekend At Bernie‘s situation happening. After watching Mitt, I’m still not sure.

Maybe the Romneys really are an example of Rockwellian bliss, solving their problems with a prayer and a quick toboggan ride, or Whiteley is a fanboy who enjoyed living out a personal dream of following his idol around for the better part of a decade. All in all, this documentary is pretty dull, however it did serve to confirm why Romney lost: his inability to identify what it was he stood for and stand firmly behind it.

This story originally appeared at Huff Post Entertainment.

Jan 13 2014

12 Best Bitchy Moments From The 71st Annual Golden Globes

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No selfie for you!

When you put a bunch of actors and actresses in tight, drunken quarters for three hours or more, there’s bound to be some solid bitchy moments. Last night was no exception. The 71st Annual Golden Globes began with hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler throwing shade at Julia Louis-Dreyfus for sitting with the “cool kids,” and ended with an excellent joke about Leo Dicaprio and warm vaginas. If you ask me, that’s the recipe for one good, bitch-filled awards show.

Here are some of the best bitchy moments from last night’s Golden Globes:

12. When experienced photobomber J-Law attempted to terrify Taylor Swift.


11. When Tina Fey accurately explained the plot of Gravity. 


10. When Lena Dunham made this face — which is pretty much the same face we all made midway through Jacqueline Bisset’s acceptance speech.


9. When Julia Louis-Dreyfus was too cool to sit with the TV actors. “I have a film nomination now, thank you.”


8. And Tina and Amy called her out on it.


7. Then Julia denied Reese Witherspoon a selfie.


6. When Bono cooly dodged Diddy’s hug to accept his Golden Globe instead.


5. When Julia Louis-Dreyfus snuck back over to the TV section to house a hot dog.


4. When Elizabeth Moss flipped off the mani cam — because, like all of us, she doesn’t know WTF a ‘mani cam’ is.


3. When Gwyneth Paltrow was bored out of her mind and it took all of her energy just to lift and open a bottle of water.


2. Pretty much any moment involving Emma Thompson, her bloody feet, and a dirty martini.


1. And lastly: Leo and vaginas.

This story orignially appeared at Huff Post Comedy.

Dec 20 2013

Lonely? Fox News Recommends Dating This DVD


Ten years ago when the Incredible Instant Adoring Boyfriend DVDs were released by British-based company Lagoon Games, mainstream media dismissed the videos due to the fact that they are ridiculous and somewhat insulting, but mostly just stupid and sad.

The half-hour video involves a blonde British man who randomly begins stretching or lifting weights mid-sentence and won’t stop telling the viewer how perfect and beautiful they are — but usually he just sits on his (“your”) couch reading OK! Magazine shirtless. (He also awkwardly attempts to use whipped cream for what appears to be the first time in his life at 2:25.) Instant Boyfriend’s lines cater to the most over-exploited, shallow female stereotypes, and for the most part would make any woman want to vom — like “Even when you drool, you’re gorgeous.”

While most major news sources considered these videos better suited for gag gifts at bachelorette parties than the subject of hard-hitting news stories about the evolution of dating, Fox News begged to differ.

Fox published a story entitled “The Perfect Man Exists — On Video,” in which it suggests the DVDs — or VHS tapes for just $9.98 (there was also a CD-ROM version that included “compliment emails”) — might actually be the next “logical step for frustrated singles seeking love and coming up empty.”

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Despite DVD Boyfriends not being a viable replacement for an actual human-to-human relationship (at all), Fox was pretty excited about them (probably because nobody would need to pay for birth control). So excited, in fact, that they decided to engage Match.com’s “vice president of romance” Trish McDermott on the topic.

McDermott, due to her possession of a brain, a decent amount of self-respect, and the knowledge of what an actual romantic relationship is, disagreed with Fox’s prediction, saying the appeal of the “Instant Boyfriend” would only go so far… because he only exists in digital form.

But still, Lagoon Creative Manager Jonathan Lim insisted to Fox News that the DVDs are excellent “company” for single people. “Someone says all these nice things to you,” Lim said, “and it’s going to make you feel better.”

Or lonelier. Or strange for dating someone who has to be plugged in.

Despite the Lagoon sales rep claiming individuals were purchasing 18 per week and then wanting more (how many single friends could you possibly have?), the “Instant Boyfriend” doesn’t seem to have taken off. (Although, it’s maybe a possibility in Japan.)

Far more disturbing than any of this was the sexist, if not completely horrifying, comment Lim made when explaining why an “Incredible Instant Adoring Girlfriend” wasn’t in the works anytime soon: “That could be controversial,” he tells Fox, “since she’d probably be a girl in her underwear with tape over her mouth handing you a beer.”

A “girl”? Tape over her mouth? There are so many things wrong with that statement my ovaries could explode.

Shockingly, Fox decided not to call Lim out on his blatant sexism at the time, and instead chose to highlight his product as a “quirky new video” that provides a potentially “better” scenario that an actual, imperfect human relationship.

Once again, Fox, you are a regular Nostradamus. Every woman knows nowadays that if she has a hard time on OKCupid or Tinder, she can always consider spending the night with a DVD created by a sexist asshole.

This story originally appeared at Huff Post Comedy.

Sep 25 2013

9 Reasons You Should Experience VIA Festival in Pittsburgh

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For one week each fall, hypnotic visuals transform the interiors of nightclubs, art centers and local bars all over the ‘Burgh as emerging musicians from around the world perform alongside cutting-edge visual artists, creating truly original performances at Pittsburgh’s VIA Festival.

VIA — described by co-founder and director Lauren Goshinski as an “elastic entity” — is a creative collective, a year-round event series and an annual weeklong audiovisual festival. Its four-year-old music/new media fest, held this year Oct. 1-6, recently became the third U.S. festival to be inducted as a member of International Cities of Advanced Sound (ICAS) — joining a list that includes renowned festivals like MUTEK in Montreal, Unsound in Krakow and the SOCO Festival in Uruguay.

“We feature a selection of acts that influence current music trends,” Goshinski said, “and that are currently creating new waves in their field.”

But the music is only half the story. VIA’s international reputation as a major festival stems in part from its knack for pairing musicians with stunning visual arts projects.

The entirely volunteer-run fest is six days of A/V showcases, film screenings and live collaborative performances, all uniquely integrated into the city of Pittsburgh. The self-proclaimed “Festival as Laboratory” is constantly experimenting and reinventing the idea of what a festival can be in today’s world.

“Basically,” Goshinski said, “VIA’s not something we can best express in words. You just need to experience it.”

Here are 9 reasons why you should:

9. You can become an avatar.

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Friday and Saturday night, festivalgoers can enter a 3D scanning station at TechShop — a community-based workshop and prototyping studio — where their faces/body parts will be scanned and rendered live to be incorporated into the video mix on the main stage. Files will be available for download after the fest as little digital mementos. There’s even a raffle so you can win a 3D print of your own head.

A collaboration between VIA, TechShop, CMU Expanded Theater students and a selection of new media artists like LaTurbo Avedon (an artist that exists only as an avatar), Kevin Ramser and Ben Tabas, the project is called h3D Space (Head Space) and is “VIA’s most ambitious and all-encompassing visual arts project to date,” sewing together curated, live and crowd-sourced visuals.

8. Exclusive musician/visual artist collaborations

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Each year VIA pairs a new selection of visual artists and musicians together for one-of-a-kind A/V performances. In 2013, you can expect work ranging from a sound-reactive LED sculpture to DIY screen installations and visuals powered by custom hardware and code.

And the musicians are so talented (and young) that you just might feel guilty about how you spent your early twenties. The lineup is pretty far-reaching in terms of style and sound, and includes everyone from NYC’s 22-year-old one-woman death industrial powerhousePharmakon to Sasha Go Hard, one of Chicago’s budding rap princesses, to POSTLIFE, a Pittsburgh-based affiliation of bands, DJs and producers who were recently featured on Interview Magazine‘s Soundclouds of the Underground.

7. Sample local food n booze

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Selected by The Urbanist, all of the bars at the weekend events will be stocked with Pittsburgh’s Boyd & Blair Vodka, beers from Full Pint Brewing and Wigle Whiskey — one of just a few distilleries in the U.S. that hand-crafts each of its spirits using local, organic grains.

6. Watch original, made-for-VIA material from VFiles/What the F*shion’sCasey Jane Ellison and Miss Daddie.

Also known as your girl Case-Case, Casey Jane Ellison is the brains behind VFiles’ web series What the F*shion and Status Update, which Gawker called “the best internet videos you’ve never seen.” Ellison teams up with Audra Wist aka Miss Daddie — an L.A.-based visual and performance artist — for guest video appearances during VIA’s weekend showcases.

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Miss Daddie

5. Explore Pittsburgh — duh

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There’s no stadium seating or field to put your blanket on at VIA — and all events allow re-entry — so take a walk around the block while you’re there. From intimate clubs to film houses to pop-up venues, VIA acts as a quasi-cultural roadmap through the heart of Pittsburgh’s creative scenes. They also keep daytime events light, so you have more than enough hours to get your tourist fix for a well-rounded trip to the ‘Burgh.

4. JOUST!

Johann Sebastain Joust is an award-winning no-graphics, digitally-enabled game in the spirit of an old playground favorite: Tag. Play on the rooftop of VIA’s pop-up location with friends, which coincidentally enough, is already a playground…excited yet?

3. Ms. Sharon Needles will be there.

The haute horror queen/stupid genius/PBR princess herself will perform in her hometown during the opening night event at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

2. It’s queer as hell, and we don’t just mean gay. (But we definitely also mean gay.)

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For a variety of reasons, white men still tend to dominate the festival market, on-stage and off. And while white men are great and all, who doesn’t love seeing someone non-white/gay/female/transgender throw down and kill it for a crowd of hundreds? This year, VIA will feature DJ collectives Banjee Report, “a movement documenting the gay experience in hip-hop and other modern music,” and Men’s Room.

1. Experience a world-class art exhibit that comes around once every 4 years, the 2013 Carnegie International.

“What a perfect time for people to visit, and for Pittsburgh to gorge itself,” Goshinski said, “It’s not often that you get the chance to pair a world-class art exhibition with a world-class music and new media festival.”

Bonus: You can actually afford this festival—tickets start at just $60 for the weekend.

With an exclusive all-access Passport, you can attend any and all VIA and 2013 Carnegie International events you want. (Hurry—these are limited.)

Listen to a sampler of this year’s lineup here.

This story originally appeared at HuffPost Arts & Culture.

 

Sep 16 2013

James Franco Tattoo Added to List of Worst Portrait Tattoos Ever

There’s been some pretty horrific celebrity portrait tattoos – everyone from Britney Spears to Bob Parker has been butchered.

Well, somebody f*cked with Franco. It’s hard to imagine a world where James Franco is unattractive, but one young man has created one on his thigh. After watching Harmony Korine’s guns/boobs/drugs-filled drama Spring Breakers, this guy decided it would be a good idea to get Franco’s character from the movie, rapper Alien, permanently inked onto his body.

As Franco himself said, wow.

Franco tat

This story originally appeared at HuffPost Celebrity.

Sep 3 2013

This Flower Parade in The Netherlands Will Bring You to Tears

The Netherlands clearly knows what it’s doing when it comes to flower parades — as evidenced by the Bloemencorso flower parade, which recently brought people to tears in the small town of Zundert earlier this month.

Each float is made with thousands of dahlia flowers, requires hundreds of people to construct, and takes about three months to complete. And apparently they are so awesome that people at the parade actually cried.

Bring on the awe-induced sobs.

2013_CorsoZundert_04_Foto-Malou-Evers                     Photos by Malou Evers and Niels Braspenning

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We know, girl. We know.