November 23, 2007

Dream Celebrity Family

I was commiserating with a friend recently about family woes, and had an idea that turned into a kind of car ride game (sans the car). What if you could construct a dream family of celebrities? Who would be in it? Now, this can't just be a matter of celebrities you think are cool - like, would you really want Angelina Jolie as your mom? She might ignore you because you're not from a third-world country. You can't just pick celebrities you think are hot, either, because we're talking family here, and incest is so not okay. We decided that "celebrity" includes all famous people, regardless of profession. Fictional characters of any type are not allowed. We also decided that you could resurrect one person from the dead.

My family looked a bit like this:
My dad would be either Steve Carrell or Will Smith. I know this whole exercise is based on arbitrary character judgments of people you don't actually know, but I just feel that these two would be good dads.
My mom would be Reese Witherspoon, but a version of Reese Witherspoon that didn't make crappy romantic comedies constantly. I am not a devoted Reese fan by any means, but I am basing this choice solely on a tidbit I read in an interview with her, where she said that the only Barbie she lets her daughter play with is President Barbie. Girl power!
Cameron Diaz would be my sister. Many silly sisterly montages abound.
Jonah Hill would be my brother. Hilarious and vulgar - and would probably behave in a rowdy fashion that would make me look even better to my parents. (But then again, I have cool celebrity parents now, so they're probably way chill).
Conan O'Brien would be my fun uncle (funcle), Sarah Jessica Parker my hip aunt.
Shirley MacLaine is one of my grandmas. She can regale me with stories of the Rat Pack, and we can have sing and dance-alongs.
Ian McKellen is my cool, knighted British gay grandpa, and Tim Gunn is his partner, my effortlessly suave, stylish and classy gay grandpa.
For my resurrected celebrity family member, after much consideration, I decided that Alfred Hitchcock would be my eccentric grandpa with a dark sense of humor. Oh, and he'd slide me into the movie biz real easy.

I couldn't decide on cousins, more aunts and uncles, and another grandma, though. In discussing this with the aforementioned friend (and other friends later), some names that were suggested were:
Bill Murray for a dad
Bill Cosby for an uncle
Nancy Sinatra for a grandma
Paul Rudd as a brother (I think that came up with two different people)
Craig Ferguson as an uncle
Dustin Hoffman as an uncle
Meryl Streep as a grandma
Morgan Freeman as a grandpa
Jimmy Stewart as a dad
Chris Farley as an uncle
Mel Brooks as a grandpa
Karen Allen as a mom
Howard Zinn as a dad
Vincent Price as a grandpa
Seth Rogen as a brother-in-law (one friend got very specific and drew an actual family tree)

Who would you want in your celebrity family? (If there are good suggestions, I am SO imaginary-snatching them.)

November 13, 2007

Boston in Cinema

I am a proud Masshole. I don't say "pahk the kah," but I do say "wicked." I'm indifferent to sports, but part of me still hates the Yankees. I refuse to sell out and go on a duck tour. I don't think of Boston as "New York junior," which some people seem to do. I love this town.

Thus, it distresses me how my beloved city is shown on the silver screen. I recently saw Gone, Baby, Gone, which is an excellent film worth checking out. But I had the same problem with it that I had with Mystic River, The Departed, etc...they portray Boston as a shithole. And mind you, some parts of the city are shitholes - but not all.

I have concluded that Boston movies are of two main varieties - films about gangsters and thugs with ludicrous accents, and movies that take place at Harvard (or MIT - here's looking at you, Good Will Hunting). Really? That's it? There is so much culture and vibrancy here - why are we reduced to those two depictions?

The Harvard one is obvious - nobody can control that one of the nation's top institutions of higher learning is in our fair state. But why all the thugs? Well, New York has lots of gritty crime movies, you say. True. But for every Taxi Driver, there's a Manhattan, or a West Side Story, or a Spider-Man, or Breakfast at Tiffany's. New York has hosted comedies, musicals, dramas, romances, sci-fi, mysteries, action - anything you can think of. It's not typecast. With Boston, however, the only films of note that are not Harvard-based or crime sagas are Fever Pitch and Next Stop Wonderland. Due to recent tax incentives for filmmakers shooting in Boston, there's been an influx of movies shooting here, such as Bachelor No. 2 with Dane Cook, a remake of the 1939 classic The Women, and the Pink Panther sequel. Okay, that's a start. But the infuriating thing is that often, since Boston is now cheaper to film in than New York, the films shot here are just said to take place in New York! Or the reverse happens, where "genuine" Boston movies like The Departed are shot largely in the Big Apple.

Boston does have a crime history. We do have white-trash people with funny accents that kill each other sometimes. And I totally support that being exploited for its cinematic value. Except here's my other problem: Boston is a big city. It's not homogenous. Everyone knows that New York has very different parts - even a random farmer in Iowa is probably going to know that Manhattan and Brooklyn might as well be two different planets. But people outside of Boston are not as widely aware of the city's segmentation - it's all one thing to them. Take Gone, Baby, Gone , for instance. It's a "Boston movie" by all definitions - it's based on a novel written by a native, directed by the local Ben Affleck, and takes place in the city. Or does it? There are actually only a few fleeting shots of Boston proper. The bulk of the movie takes place in Dorchester, which is an adjacent city that is really dangerous and trashy. It's "the bad part of town." It's where people have Boston accents - which, for the record, nobody in Boston proper has. It's a separate zip code, a separate way of life. The movie also takes place in Chelsea and Everett, two towns that while bordering Boston, are a pretty far hike from it. And lord are they trashy. They really have nothing to do with Boston. And while natives of the city are going to see the movie and know the difference, other people won't. For all they know, Everett could be the name of a downtown Boston neighborhood. Same with The Departed and Southie - they take place in South Boston, which again, is a different zip code and a different way of life. In recent years, Boston's image and tourism industry have been hurting (read more here). Maybe this is jumping to conclusions, but perhaps out-of-towners see these unglamorous and downright unpleasant depictions of the city - again, with no counterpoint - and decide against the city as a travel destination.

I tried to play devil's advocate and think of another American city that is typecast like this, but came up dry. I've already mentioned New York, but other cities - even ones where not many films take place - have varied depictions. San Francisco, for instance, hosted a string of film noirs in the 1940s, but broke the pattern and now hosts films as varied as Dirty Harry, Sister Act, The Hulk, and Basic Instinct. Chicago has Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Barbershop, Risky Business, and The Man With the Golden Arm, to name a few. Los Angeles has a ton of showbiz-oriented movies, but also romances and action films. Some cities don't really have films that take place there, but perhaps that's better than being stereotyped.

After seeing Gone, Baby, Gone, my boyfriend and I joked that there should be a crime caper set in Boston's South End. Heard of it? Not to be confused with South Boston, it's an area of the city known for expensive and fabulous dining, posh shopping, tiny dogs and its large - dare I say predominantly - gay population. Or how about Beacon Hill, with its combination of students and bigwigs, quiet streets and political protests? There's the lovably snooty Back Bay, the college student jungle of Allston, the quirky culture of Brookline, the hippies of Cambridge. Where are these on screen? I'm not asking for a movie where people dance around holding lobsters and baked beans and screaming "wicked pissah" all the way down the Freedom Trail, but what would it hurt to shoot your romantic comedy in a cheaper city, throw in a few shots of the skyline and actually acknowledge where you are?

P.S. - while I'm on the subject, nobody knows your name at Cheers. It is a horrible tourist trap that locals avoid at all costs.