Is it really that bad? Elaine May’s Ishtar

This week I’m writing the first post of what will be on ongoing series where I watch the worst of the worst movies so that you don’t have to! For the first entry into this series, I’m tackling Elaine May’s final foray into directing, Ishtar (1987). Frequently cited on critics’ worst films lists, Roger Ebert described Ishtar as “a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy,” but is it really that bad? The short answer is no, it’s really not the worst movie ever made, but the longer answer requires a bit of background on the film’s origins.

Before she became a writer and director, May got her start in the 1950s as part of an improvisational comedy duo with Mike Nichols. In the 70s, May transitioned to directing, and after completing two comedies and one crime drama, Warren Beatty decided to help her produce a movie. Unfortunately, nearly from the start, problems plagued Ishtar. The real life political strife in the Middle East caused issues with filming. The desert climate affected May’s health poorly and exacerbated the disagreements over creative differences between May, Beatty, and co-star Dustin Hoffman.

The budget for the film ballooned, ultimately reaching around $51 million, and the studio lost faith in it. Leaks about May’s poor attitude and all the other difficulties of production appeared in the press long before anyone had a chance to see the film, so that when it finally premiered it only made $4 million in its first weekend.

Disregarding the film’s troubled start; does the film itself truly deserve all the hate? Ishtar stars Beatty and Hoffman as unsuccessful songwriting partners, Lyle Rogers and Chuck Clark, who accidentally become enmeshed in political espionage after accepting a gig in Morocco. Sure, the premise is ridiculous, but that’s true of a large number of classic comedies. Some critics say the film doesn’t work because Beatty and Hoffman were cast against type with Beatty playing the bumbling doofus and Hoffman as the suave charmer, but I don’t see this as a detriment at all. Beatty and Hoffman both play their roles with such devotion and sincerity, and watching the film today when they’re not quite the giant stars they were then removes those preconceptions.

Beatty and Hoffman are at their best in the early parts of Ishtar when the characters are just struggling songwriters in New York getting to know one another. These scenes, and really all of Ishtar, are classic cringe comedy. The songs of Rogers and Clark are so bad they’re good. Cringe comedy can be seen all over the current television schedule (think The Office for example), but was not quite as popular when Ishtar premiered. This likely attributes to its status as a bad movie. If you don’t enjoy comedy that makes you wince with embarrassment, you’re not going to like Ishtar.

rogers and clark

Check out the song “Dangerous Business.” You won’t be sorry, or you will be because it’s very bad.

As the film goes on the plot unravels quite a bit as the two men accidentally come to possess a map wanted by rebels and the CIA. The film ends with a small firefight in the desert between Rogers and Clark and the United States CIA. The guys make a deal with the CIA and agree to surrender the map in exchange for a record deal. The movie ends just as it begins, with Rogers and Clark performing one of their songs. These are the parts of Ishtar that I could watch over and over. Seeing Hoffman and Beatty sing intentionally terrible songs with utter conviction is truly comedic brilliance.

Ultimately, Ishtar does not deserve to be called the worst movie ever made. It’s not the worst. It’s not the best either, but as I saw at the New Beverly Theater on Monday night, it clearly has a devoted audience that loves it for the mess it is. And there’s certainly no other film like it.

It’s immensely unfortunate that it killed May’s directing career, considering there are countless male directors who helmed larger flops than hers, and they are still given a second chance. She once said, “If all of the people who hate Ishtar had seen it, I would be a rich woman today.” If you haven’t seen this movie, I have to recommend that you do. I can’t promise that you’ll love it, but it’s funnier than many people would lead you to believe. Its reputation alone earned it a spot in film history and should earn it a spot on your watch list.

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Five Shows I’m Excited to See Next Season

It’s that most exciting time of year when we all find out if our favorite TV shows are being renewed or canceled. It’s like Christmas in May, if Christmas means sometimes your favorite toys get ripped away from you. So this week, I’m going to talk about all the shows I’m excited to see returning, and one new one that I’m looking forward to.

Bob’s Burgers

bob's burgers

There wasn’t much fear that beloved animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers wouldn’t be returning in the fall, but that doesn’t make me any less excited. There isn’t another family on television as loving and supportive as the Belchers. The three Belcher kids are some of the strangest children, but their parents never try to change or control their behavior. Instead, they encourage them and love them despite their quirks, which makes the kids incredibly confident. It’s quite refreshing to see a teenage girl like Tina Belcher who exudes confidence even when she clearly isn’t the most popular girl in school. I’m always excited for the return of this show, and that won’t change this fall when it returns for its eighth season.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

crazy ex girlfriend

I became obsessed with this show just as the second season ended this spring after getting multiple recommendations from friends. The title of the show had always kept me away from finding out more about it, but I was wrong to avoid it for so long. This show has everything I love in it; complex female characters, feminism, and musical numbers. It follows the story of Rebecca Bunch, a high-powered lawyer, who leaves her life in New York behind to follow her ex-boyfriend to West Covina, California. I am endlessly impressed by the writers’ ability to create two to three original songs for every episode. Songs that are actually good and fun to listen to even out of context. (Remember when Glee tried to do original songs? It was terrible.) The season two finale left me with a lot of questions, and I can’t wait to get some answers and see where they take the show in season three.

The Last Man on Earth

last man on earth

I absolutely love this strange quirky show, and I was genuinely worried it wouldn’t be renewed for a fourth season. Luckily, though, it’s weirdness gets continues in the fall. The Last Man on Earth follows the story of Phil Miller two years after a deadly virus killed almost all life on earth. If you’re watching other shows about the end of the world right now, just stop and watch this one instead. I think it’s the best show about post-apocalyptic America on TV right now. Even though Last Man is a comedy, they regularly tackle serious situations that would be a real problem if most humans on earth died. In season two, one character suffers appendicitis and since there are no doctors in the small group of survivors, another member of the group has to perform surgery on him. It’s a truly harrowing moment in a show that also frequently features a grown man lying in a margarita pool.

margarita pool

Roseanne

roseanne

I’m not sure how I feel about all of these revival shows that keep popping up, but this is the first one I’ve been genuinely excited about. Roseanne is a classic TV sitcom that pushed boundaries when it first aired. It’ll definitely be interesting to see what the show is like in 2018. What challenges will the working class family face in the 21st century? I’m also curious about how the show will explain away the notorious events of the original series finale. I think this will be one show reboot you won’t want to miss.

Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders - Season 1

I am so here for this. With the incredible success of recent shows based on real life crimes, like The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, it makes sense that the long-running procedural police drama franchise, Law and Order, would jump on the true crime train. Edie Falco stars as Leslie Abramson, attorney for the Menendez brothers who were convicted of murdering their parents in 1996. While the Menendez murders are relatively well known, they aren’t quite as infamous as the O.J. trial, so the show may not get quite as much attention. However, I’m excited to see Law and Order’s take on the true crime drama, and I hope this isn’t the first miniseries they produce.

Well, that’s it. These are the shows I’m excited to see in the upcoming 2017-2018 season. What shows are you excited to see returning in the fall? Shout them out in the comments!

Terrible TV Moms

I have a really great mom. She’s incredibly supportive and loving, and she would do anything for me. Some people aren’t as lucky as me though, and they have to grow up with less than stellar moms. So in honor of Mother’s Day being this past Sunday, I’ve put together a short list of the worst Moms on television. **Beware Spoilers Below**

#5 – Monica Gallagher from Shameless

monica gallagher

Monica talking to the real Gallagher matriarch, her daughter Fiona.

Monica is the mother of all six Gallagher kids, but she flits in and out of their lives as she pleases, leaving her oldest daughter to care for her five younger siblings and deal with her alcoholic father. This is partly due to her drug use and her untreated mental illness, which she unfortunately genetically passes on to her son, Ian. Even though Monica loves her children deeply, it’s hard to ensure they get the proper care when she can’t even provide that for herself.

#4 – Norma Bates from Psycho

norma bates

Norma screaming at Norman about being normal. 

Another mom who cares deeply for her children, but is still incapable of providing the best home life for them. In fact, Norma’s intense love for her son Norman, and her strong desire to protect him is part of what makes her a terrible mother. She’s overbearing and controlling. She’s also incredibly unsuccessful at keeping him safe, and he has several traumatic experiences in the first episode of the series. Norma’s own past traumatic experiences are the reason she becomes so overprotective of Norman, but her overbearing personality sometimes drives a rift between her and Norman.

#3 – Constance Langdon from American Horror Story: Murder House

constance langdon

A real thing that Constance said to someone who is not herself.

It’s hard to be a good mom when you raise your kids in a murder house, but I think even in a non-haunted house Constance Langdon still would’ve been a terrible mother. One of her children becomes a mass murderer, and she locks her disfigured son in the attic. Her daughter, Addy, arguably turns out quite well considering who raised her, but even she exhibits some bizarre behavior at times. Like the other moms on this list, though, it’s clear that Constance loves her children intensely. When a car accidentally hits Addie, Constance tries to drag her body onto the lawn of the murder house so she won’t lose her daughter forever.

#2 – Nancy Botwin from Weeds

nancy botwin

It’s not like tomatoes, Nancy. Not at all.

Although Nancy Botwin originally starts selling weed in order to continue providing a comfortable life for her children, her career as a drug dealer ultimately does them more harm than good. Nancy does her best to hide her job from her children, and when they do realize what Mommy does for a living she refuses to let her older son follow in her footsteps..for a little while. Eventually, her oldest son Silas becomes one of her dealers, and her younger son, Shane, becomes a murderer. Of course, Nancy goes to great lengths to protect her children, including covering up a murder, but ultimately, she’s quite a selfish person. While she began her career as a drug dealer as a way to provide for her family, she enjoys the thrill and money that lifestyle provides for her, and she doesn’t let that go easily.

#1 – Gemma Teller-Morrow from Sons of Anarchy

gemma teller-morrow

This is Gemma holding a gun up to a baby. This baby is not her family so she doesn’t care about it.

I have to preface this entry by saying I really hate this show. I hate this show so much that I’m planning on doing a separate post about how much I hate it one day. That being said, Gemma is one of the few characters I actually enjoy sometimes. She’s a strong character who knows what she wants and she will do literally anything to get. Like all of the mothers on this list, she’s intensely protective of her family, and that includes the entire motorcycle gang that she helped establish. However, that intense loyalty can be a problem. When she believes that her son’s wife has betrayed the club, she brutally murders her before she finds out that her daughter-in-law never intended to betray them. Then she lies to her son, and forces another club member to help her cover up the murder. It’s also heavily implied that Gemma was involved in the plot to kill her son’s father, an event that takes place before the start of the series. There’s no doubt that Gemma is a fierce character but her hunger for power and control make her a terrible mother, and she causes a great deal of tragedy on the show.

It’s important to remember that moms are just people, and people are not infallible. Although, these mothers aren’t the best at protecting or raising their children, there’s no denying their deep love for their children. Sometimes that love just causes them to kill people.

The Top 5 Best Disney Villain Songs

Like most American children, Disney’s animated musicals were an essential part of my life growing up. I’m not sure how many times I watched movies like Aladdin, The Lion King, or The Little Mermaid although I’m sure my parents would say it was too many. Having revisited many of these movies as an adult I can say I still enjoy them just as much as I did when I was a kid, but now I find the villains in these stories to be the more compelling characters. Most Disney villains are clearly motivated by some sort of major character flaw like greed, arrogance, or selfishness, and they often express that flaw through a catchy musical number. Some of these songs are better than others though, but luckily I’m here to tell you which ones are the best! Below you’ll see my definitive ranking of the five best Disney villain songs.

#5 – “Savages” from Pocahontas

ratcliffe

Pocahontas really has two villain songs. “Mine, Mine, Mine” comes much earlier in the film and it clearly illustrates the evil greed of Governor Ratcliffe, but “Savages” is just a better song with stunning animation. Of course, the depiction of Native Americans in Pocahontas is problematic throughout the film and that includes this song, but there are still positive messages that can be gleaned from this powerful musical number. Although the characters say that their opponent cannot be trusted due to their differences, the lyrics each side sings are nearly the same, showing that they aren’t really so different after all. The animation exemplifies this in its own way as well, with the firelight making the Englishmen’s faces appear red, and the moonlight casting a paler glow on the faces of the Natives. To be sure this is a far from perfect representation of Native Americans and their struggles when America was colonized, but the song still holds a certain power.

#4 – “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast

Like Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast (1991) sort of has two villain songs. “The Mob Song,” which comes later in the movie when Gaston encourages the town to form a mob to “kill the beast,” sounds much more villainous than the one I’ve chosen for this list, but “Gaston” is just simply the better song. It reveals much more about Gaston’s character than “The Mob Song” too. I mean it’s an entire song about how great he is. Most Disney villains tend to focus on their own insecurities, but Gaston’s fatal flaw is that he loves himself too much.

Another reason I love this song so much:

gay gaston

The epitome of manliness

#3 – “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid

ursula

Ursula is my favorite Disney villain of all time. She’s a badass sea witch with strong powers and she callously manipulates people by preying on their weaknesses and using their own strengths against them. So what’s not to love? Ursula is pretty much a typical cold-hearted businessperson. She makes a clear agreement with Ariel, although it certainly isn’t an ethical arrangement. Ursula is always looking out for number one, so she’s sure to concoct a deal that pretty much guarantees she’ll get what she wants. Ursula is really one of the more honest Disney villain. She makes it clear that she’s been called a witch and the song tells us what will happen to Ariel if she can’t complete her side of the deal. That appearance of honest is partly why it’s not a surprise that Ariel falls for it and signs away her voice for a chance at living with legs on land.

#2 – “Be Prepared” from The Lion King

be prepared

Another greedy power hungry villain makes the list. This song shows Scar’s desperate need for power as he builds up his hyena army. However, it also hints at how terrible of a leader he will become. Scar leads through fear, which may work for now, but it doesn’t make for very happy subjects and as we all know that will be his downfall later. Once again color plays an important role in this song. Scar is surrounded by shades of green that emphasize his greed and hunger for power, then as his passion and anger rises the screen turns red and bursts of fire appear around him. This song is honestly when Scar is at his most powerful, and it’s one of the most classic Disney villain songs in that the characters actually proclaim that they are baring their ambitions.

#1 – “Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

hellfire

Are you surprised to see this as number one? This is not a fun song. In fact, I find it downright terrifying. Frollo is perhaps one of the most human Disney villains, and I mean that in more ways than he’s literally a human. His song shows his evilness as he attempts to use his religion as justification to control and murder another person. He blames Esmeralda for his sin and prays for control over her. The fire imagery and the strange red hooded figures are terrifying and Frollo’s anger and lust come across clearly through these images and the lyrics. It’s hard to believe that this is a song in a children’s movie. In fact it’s hard to believe that Disney would’ve even made a children’s movie out of Victor Hugo’s tale, but it’s not the only questionable children’s movie Disney has released. But that’s a blog post for another time.

What do you think of my list? Did I forget something? Do you hate all of these songs? Yell at me about it in the comments, and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong!

 

We’re Not Living in The Handmaid’s Tale…Yet.

What a chilling tale. I can’t think of a single recent dystopian story that has affected me as much as The Handmaid’s Tale, which is simply because this dystopian nightmare is specifically a woman’s dystopian nightmare. The story follows June, a woman who once worked in book publishing, but after a series of destabilizing world events, including a sharp decline in fertility, is now enslaved by an overbearing religious fundamentalist government. Stripped of all autonomy and given a new name, Offred becomes a handmaid and is forced to breed with her commander.

ceremony

Unlike many of you who read the book by Margaret Atwood, I only had the most basic understanding of the story before I started to watch the first episode on Wednesday night. What unfolded before me is truly one of the most horrifying tales that I could imagine. Women forced into sexual slavery while they can still remember a world where they had freedom. Unsure of who they can trust, who is a part of the resistance or who is spy looking to catch women who aren’t following the rules of the new societal order. The world of The Handmaid’s Tale is one where women have no power, no agency, and no say in what happens to their bodies. They are valued for one thing and one thing alone: their ability to bear children. This is so horrifying to me because I know that women are powerful, smart and capable of so much more than just our biological ability to give birth.

offred

This week I’ve seen article after article screaming in their headlines that we are already living in the nightmare world of The Handmaid’s Tale, and after watching the first three episodes I find it alarming that people really think we’re close to living such a nightmare. Originally, I thought there is absolutely no way, the world in The Handmaid’s Tale could become our real world. I mean, enslaving an entire gender? That’s impossible. But then my little positivity bubble burst when I thought about it for five more seconds and remembered that people in this world had already committed atrocities as terrible as those in The Handmaid’s Tale. Slavery of an entire race existed in the United States and countless atrocities were committed against millions of people during the Holocaust. Not to mention the various genocides carried out all over the world. I can’t even list them all here because there are too many to count and I’m sure there are some I’ve yet to learn about.

ofglen

My point is, I originally thought the world in The Handmaid’s Tale was a dystopian fiction but really it’s a dystopian alternative reality. As I watched the second and third episode and saw more of the events that led to the new world order, it became easier to see how our real world could devolve into such a terrifying nightmare. It doesn’t help that the show’s creators have updated the tale to touch on today’s current events, including showing protests that turned deadly and violent.

I don’t truly think that we are on our way to living in the dystopian nightmare world of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I can see how under the right circumstances we could end up there. Let’s take Margaret Atwood’s story as a warning, and use it to remind us that women are powerful, amazing creatures deserving of respect and autonomy. In fact, let’s just treat every person we meet with that in mind.

Sarah Recommends a Book!

Originally, I planned to write about my favorite feminist TV shows this week, but that changed after I picked up a comic book at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books today.

lady killer cover

Obviously, the cover immediately piqued my interest. I mean, how could it not? A 1950’s housewife mopping up blood in her pink dress and pearls? I had to know the rest of that story. I’ve only read a handful of comic books in my life, but this one is definitely going to be a new favorite.

I love stories about violent women. That’s probably because I like stories that subvert expectations, and as we all know women are not supposed to be violent. Violence is not only expected of men but often encouraged. (Did another guy insult your manhood? Well, you better punch him in the face to prove him wrong!) Of course, in real life I’m very happy that women aren’t violent beings, but it’s refreshing to see stories where women take on nontraditional roles.

In Lady Killer, Josie Schuller is a 1950’s housewife and a covert assassin. Her husband and two young daughters suspect nothing about her secret life. Her mother-in-law is a bit more suspicious. The conflict begins in Lady Killer when Josie’s boss thinks she’s become too much of a threat due to her commitment to her family over her job.

The trouble of balancing family and career is a frequent problem in real women’s lives, although not usually with life or death stakes. Josie clearly enjoys her violent work, or else she would’ve gotten out of the game a long time ago. She also cares deeply about her family, and she does her best to keep her work separate. Although, her daughters do accompany her as she stalks a fellow operative. Don’t worry though, Josie gets them to ballet class right after she gets her information.

However, the question of balancing work and family is a bit more complicated for Josie, considering she is literally a murderer. The boss who puts the hit out on her has a valid point when he says her kids might be better off as orphans than be raised by a murderous mom. It takes a certain kind of person to kill people for money and I’m not sure if that kind of person would make the best mother.

The stark juxtaposition of the classic 1950’s housewife look with the violent and bloody images of Josie’s assassinations is what really stands out in this book though. The artwork highlights this on every page.

darn it

Some club soda will get that right out!

arsenic ad

A mock ad starring Josie

dead guy trunk

stabby stab stab

Avon calling!

It’s easy to imagine this graphic novel on the big screen, and then Josie can join the ranks of all the violent silver screen stars that came before her.

I really enjoyed this book, and if you’re into stories about violent women who wear pretty dresses I think you’ll like it too.

Welcome to my Pop Culture Diary!

So I’m doing this. I’m really going to add another blog to the already congested Internet blogosphere. Another voice shouting into the abyss. I know that no one but my mom will read this and I’m ok with that. (Hi Mom!) I just need a place to publicly collect my thoughts on all things pop culture.

I know what you’re thinking. “Sarah, there are far too many stupid blogs that report and comment on pop culture. You don’t need to create another one.” You’re totally right, random Facebook friend of my mom, but I also want to create and control and work on something that is just my own. So here we are. You can read this blog if you want to or you can ignore it, but I hope that you’ll like what I have to say.

I’ve been obsessed with pop culture for most of my life. I’m not sure exactly what started this. I spent a lot of time by myself growing up. I read books all of the time and when I wasn’t reading I watched movies and television. As I got older I must have realized that there were other people creating these stories that I loved so much, and so I began to learn their names. No one in my hometown really shared this obsession with me, and I thought it was impractical to consider a future in that world. Now that I’m older I keep trying to turn this passion into a job somehow. (It hasn’t been easy.) That’s the real reason I’m writing this now. To share what I’m passionate about with other people. And I’m passionate about a bunch of dumb stuff.

Here’s a short list of things that I have strong opinions about:

  1. Dolly Parton
  2. Bottle episodes of TV shows
  3. Cross-dressing movies
  4. Stephen King adaptations
  5. Musicals
  6. True crime documentaries

This list could go on forever, and it will in the form of this blog. So if you’d like to know my thoughts on subjects such as these, meet me here every Sunday night for a new post with all my pop culture updates. It should be fun!