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On celebrity death and loss

My first real memory associated with Prince does not involve listening to his music. First, I should point out that I am a child of the ’80s so Prince’s music (and Michael Jackson’s and Whitney Houston’s—both also gone from this earth) was playing in the background everywhere as I grew up. The kind of stuff that you recognize the moment it comes on the radio, that you know, even when you don’t KNOW. And I didn’t KNOW Prince until this particular moment.

It was 1987. I had moved to the United States from Colombia with my mom that year. We lived in upstate New York, in a small town called Watertown, where we knew exactly one family when we arrived. The dad, an American whose name I don’t remember, had worked with my mom in the past and was married to a Colombian woman. He had two children from a previous marriage. Both of them were blond and blue-eyed and looked to me exactly like what gringos were supposed to look like. The younger of the two was Dusty. He was 12, I think. Older than me (I was 9) but not so much older that he was too old to play with a 9-year-old girl who barely spoke his language. We got along fine for the short time we knew each other, though I bet he probably doesn’t remember me the way I remember him. His older sister was a teenager. I can’t remember her name. Or how old she was exactly. I have a single memory of her, but it’s a vivid one.

The memory is this: We are in their dad’s car, going I don’t know where. Dusty and I are in the back seat, and she’s in the front. I’m behind the driver’s seat, so I can see her face when she turns toward her dad. At one point, he asks about the music she is listening to on her Walkman and she turns and looks at him with the kind of surly look only teenagers are capable of and spits out, “PRINCE!”

I know that I had heard his music before that moment, but I didn’t KNOW who Prince was, what he was and what he gave to young people. At 9, I was too young to get it, but in retrospect, it’s easy to see why that memory—of all possible memories to have of the first friends I remember mom and I having in the United States—has stuck with me for almost 30 years. Prince, his music, his persona, his artistry—all of it is freeing. Listening to him makes you just want to let go in the best possible way.

I think of that memory now and I think of a girl asking to be left alone to listen to music that lets her be herself by herself. And I think, “Leave her alone, dude, it’s PRINCE.”

Some time later, while we were still in Watertown, Gary Shandling hosted the Grammys. He did so for several years in a row, and at one point, he told a joke about the accountants who tally the votes. The accountants were standing on stage smiling and awkward, and Gary Shandling says, “Accountants all over the country are saying right now, ‘Those guy are hot!'”

It still makes me laugh. He still makes me laugh. He’s also dead.

Celebrity deaths hit harder now because the ones dying now are ones I recognize, ones whose work I know and sparks a flood of memories and emotions. I remember the accountant joke, but what’s worse, I also remember laughing about the joke. And I remember how the laughter felt, which makes me remember being a child. I can still go back to the memory. I can still watch old episodes of The Gary Shandling Show or The Larry Sanders Show. I can still remember Gary Shandling bantering with David Duchovny at the Emmy Awards. I can still listen to Prince or David Bowie (or Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson). I can still watch Hans Gruber fall in slow motion on YouTube. I have every Harry Potter movie and could rematch every “ob-viously” Alan Rickman ever uttered until I wear the DVDs out. So in effect, I haven’t lost anything. They are all gone, but I didn’t lose anyone I knew personally. I still have them in my life in the same form the existed in before they died.

So why do their deaths make me sad? Because I don’t exist in the same form I existed in when they were alive. That’s what I’ve lost. The piece of me that they made a little bit more alive is only a memory now. All I have left is to be grateful that they made me laugh and dance and be a little bit more myself.

Awards Predictions Were a Lot Easier When I Actually Watched Movies (But Here Are Some Anyway)

Hubby and I are movie people. Going to movies almost every weekend and methodically working through the 300-plus titles on each of our Netflix queues were things we both did before we met. He even worked at a movie theater once. And a video store. One of the first gifts he gave me was the movie poster for Cinema Paradiso, a great movie about going to the movies. So yeah, our love of movies might as well have been written into our wedding vows.

Then, our daughter was born and, any parent of a small child reading this can probably guess what happened next. Movies became a rare treat, rather than the default plan for the weekend. How rare, you ask? A friend gave me a couple of gift cards for a chain of theaters two years ago and I still haven’t used them both up. (In fairness, I tend to forget I have them when we do make it to the theater—chalk that up to the sleep deprivation that also comes with being a parent.)

So this thing that once felt essential to my life, suddenly no longer did. It happens when someone else’s eating and pooping schedule rules your life. And yet, I don’t mind as much as I thought I would. A shift like that happens gradually, and you don’t really notice until you see a trailer for a film that your movie-loving psyche identifies immediately as MUST SEE and then months go by and you happen to see another commercial, this one for the DVD/Blu-ray, and you realize that not only did you not see the movie in the theater, you completely forgot it existed. And what’s more, it has been available on iTunes for weeks and maybe you’ll see it some night after the kid is in bed . . . or maybe you just won’t. Either way, life goes on, because whatever it was that I used to get from movies, I either need less of or I get someplace else. Either way, I have little time to think about it because the kid is a gray-hair inducing handful. Then, the kid smiles at you and gives you a hug, and in that moment, who cares about the movies, right?

Being all Zen about missing out on good movies does have an exception, of course, and that’s when awards season comes around. It’s then that I really wish I still had the time and inclination to see everything with the potential to be nominated. We try, but on a good year, we seen three, maybe four, of the dozen or so in contention for the big prizes, so when the award shows happen, I have no idea what will win and, what’s worse, no sense of indignation about what should have won at the end of it. I love talking about movies at Oscar time, but can’t muster up much to say with any kind of authority.

I know the movies I’ve seen (this year, that’s Boyhood, Gone Girl and not much else), I know what movies seem most enticing by the look of their trailers (Selma, The Theory of Everything) or by the look of their casts (The Imitation Game, Into the Woods). And I know what actors should win based on the number of snubs they’ve had to endure (Julianne Moore, ever and always) and what actors would give the best speeches (Bill Murray, ever and always).

So, based on absolutely nothing but my own uninformed biases and current whims, then, here are my Golden Globe predictions:

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My Whitney Houston: A Remembrance in Three Songs

Whitney Houston sang a lot of memorable songs. The one that always comes to my mind first is “I wanna dance with somebody (who loves me),” which was the first track of her second album, “Whitney.” Everything about that song screams ’80s. It has a frothy beat and silly lyrics, it features a synthesizer and there are parentheses in the title. If this song were a color, it would be some combination of pastel and neon—not unlike the eye shadow Whitney is wearing in the video.

Whenever I hear the song or am reminded of it, I picture myself, 9 years old, in my pajamas, with my friends Trilbey, Kate and Kim, dancing around and trying to do headstands. Or I picture myself alone, standing in front of a mirror, hair brush microphone in hand. Both memories make me smile. You could say it’s because those were simpler times, and that would be true. But mainly, it’s because there’s no cynicism in those moments because there was no cynicism in the song or in any of Whitney’s music. “I wanna dance with somebody” is just a bright confection that has no business being good or memorable, but it is both because Whitney sang it. Her voice elevated everything. If you look at her first two self-titled albums, there’s no song in either that isn’t maudlin or cheesy or just plain silly. But she performed them with such vibrancy and sincerity that you couldn’t help but be moved by them—moved to dance, moved to sing along, moved, sometimes, to tears.
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Globe Winners, and a Toast to the Roaster

Ricky Gervais, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. You are not afraid to be inappropriate.

2. You do not care who you insult.

3. You go for the jugular every time.

4. You thrive on making people uncomfortable.

5. You remind us with every appearance why your hilariously mean version of The Office was so much better than the only blandly funny American one.

So yes, the Globes happened last night, and while some may haved Tsk Tsk’d their way through the show, cringing at Gervais’ wildly inappropriate banter, I laughed and laughed. I can understand why some would prefer a softer approach. His humor has never been everyone’s cup of tea, and while I wouldn’t say that Hollywood stars don’t have a sense of humor, I do believe few are capable at laughing at themselves. They take who they are and what they do awfully seriously, especially at events like this. Gervais knows all too well that given the very comfortable lives that they lead, only the most biting repartee will make them uncomfortable. Where others would shrink, perhaps wisely, in the name of decorum or in fear of their careers and fortunes, he goes there. And how.

If it is to be the last we see of him as host of anything, he went out with a bang. But really who cares about the host. Who won? That’s why we sit through the thing, right?

Here are the winners, my thoughts and a look ahead at the SAG nominees.

(Incidentally, I didn’t bother with the TV nominees when making my picks last night, primarily because I didn’t have time. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how very happy I was for Curt Colfer of Glee, who won Best Supporting TV Actor. I literally squealed with delight. He is so talented. A single look from him expresses more natural emotion than Lea Michelle can muster tearfully mugging for the camera in her weekly show-closing power ballads. She and the rest of the cast are great, but Colfer is the heart of the show. So happy for him.)

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Better Late Than Never: Golden Globe Predictions

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything about movies. I intended my December movie extravaganza to include some thoughts on movies that I had not yet seen that were looking like Oscar favorites, but the end of the year came rather quickly and before I knew it the Golden Globe nominations were already being announced. The show itself is TODAY!

In late December, the only movie we made it to is Black Swan. It’s not exactly a crowd pleaser, but I loved it. I’m not usually into dark or twisted fare, but I found it rather captivating and beautiful. (For my full review, click here.) True Grit and The King’s Speech we’d been meaning to see for ages and finally made it to both yesterday—just in time for the Globes tonight, the better to critique the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s sometimes off-the-wall picks.

Other than the three mentioned above, the end-of-year pickings felt more slim than usual. I probably haven’t been around long enough to say with certainty whether 2010 qualifies as a down year for movies, but it certainly felt like it, especially toward the end. The good stuff was really good, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of it. And the slate of Globe nominees certainly suggests as much, what with The Tourist being listed among the best of the Comedy/Musicals of the year. The Globes are known to put celebrity over quality sometimes, and while that movie in particular seems a stretch, I also can’t think of many that I would include in the category in its place.

Actually, here’s one: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Here’s another: Kick-Ass. I guess my point is that usually every November and December feel full of movies that aspire to be award show fodder, even if they aren’t likely to win any. This year, that didn’t seem to be the case, so lazy nominating committees—or the Globes, at least—didn’t bother looking very far back into the year for their lists or trying to make creative choices (nothing new).

But enough about that, here are my thoughts on each category with my predictions, noting, as always, when there’s a difference between who I think will win and who I think should.

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
*The Social Network

The King’s Speech is a very good movie, but stops just short of being great (more on this one, when I have a chance to write a full review, hopefully this week). I’ve heard good things about The Fighter but have little interest in boxing movies in general, so I haven’t seen it and doubt I will. Inception was a great high-concept action movie, and lots of fun, but not what I’d call the best of the year. It created a fun moment of pop culture mania this summer—Does the top stop spinning!?!—but didn’t garner enough critical support to win any of the big prizes.

Of the remaining two—both fantastic—Black Swan is my favorite, but The Social Network seems like the favorite. It’s been riding a wave of Oscar buzz for a long time. The Black Swan is great filmmaking, but a bit too polarizing, I think. It’s also driven by the performance of Natalie Portman to the extent that, at the end of the day, rewarding her will feel like rewarding the movie. (This is also true of The King’s Speech and Mr. Darcy, ahem, Colin Firth, but more on that later.)

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5 things in no particular order

1) Dreaming of a White Christmas

I grew up in a tropical climate, so the concept of a white Christmas was totally foreign to me until mom and I moved from Colombia to upstate New York. Snow was, indeed, a wondrous thing to a 9-year-old who had never seen it before. We also discovered, though, that however prettily it settles on the Christmas pines, snow can also be kind of a pain in the ass. For the latest proof see this week’s travel news out of the East Coast. Still, when you don’t have to fear its effects on your holiday itinerary, snow does add a certain charm to the season. Few things compare to burrowing yourself in a warm blanket, Christmas lights flickering, mug of hot chocolate in hand, as winter does its thing outside.

There was no such picture in our house this year. Denver weather, fickle mistress that she is, teased us with a cold spell early this month before temperatures settled into the 40s and 50s over Christmas, showing few signs of fluxuating too drastically before the calendar turns. Not that I’m complaining. I still get chills when I think about the winters hubby and I endured during our adventure in Chicago. There is cold, and then there is winter in the Midwest. Denver winters are much milder in comparison. That can be hard for some who don’t live here to believe since blizzards and bone-chilling temperatures have a reliable tendency to make an appearance when the Broncos are on Monday Night Football or the Rockies are playing October baseball and the rest of the country happens to be looking our way.

So a white Christmas is not exactly rare here, but it’s also never a guarantee. That I’ve come to expect, even wish, for one every year is a product of the very cold places I’ve lived since moving to the United States, but also an inclination that runs contrary to the Christmases of my early childhood in Latin America. I guess at this point in my life, I’ve spent more Christmases in cold weather so warmth feels like a novelty. Of course, when the cold does come around and I’m wrapping myself in several fleece blankets trying to keep my feet from feeling like icicles, I remember that my mind may have come to terms with weather above the Tropic of Cancer but my body still lives at the Equator.
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December Movie Preview Extravaganza, Part Deux

When the end of the year rolls around and movie critics start releasing their top ten films of the year, a few of them complement that list with another: the ten worst. It’s a reminder that when you are paid to see movies for a living, you have to take the bad with the good. Luckily, here at Words, Searched, we only go see the movies we want to see. No mindless action, no regurgitated meet-cutes, no stupid toilet humor (well, unless, it’s really funny). The downside to being picky, of course, is that every so often we’ll miss something that might have actually been worth the price of admission.

So having written last week about the movies that we have gone to see, here are a few thoughts on ones we missed or haven’t gotten around to see. It’s possible we will still catch one or most of these in the theaters, but when you get to pick what you see, it seems fair to have to explain what you didn’t and why. Here goes.

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December Movie Preview Extravaganza, Part I

It seems as if it took extra long to get here this year, but movie awards season is almost upon us. I can’t think of five movies I’ve watched this year that merit a spot on Oscar’s Big Ten, but isn’t that always the case in November? Months of nothing, a morsel or two of goodness during the summer and then before you know it December hits and the floodgates of Oscar-bait open. Suddenly, you’re up to your ears in movie trailers promising you, “This is a tour-de-force performance!” And, “It’s best film of the year!” And, “So and so shines!” Movie previews are such teases. As I’ve stated before, the thrill they offer often tops whatever excitement the movies themselves can muster. So it is with the Oscars. Anticipating the nominations and the big event is more fun than the actual show, which, by the time it airs, feels boring and bloated and a little bit like an afterthought. So in the next few days, I’ll discuss the movies I’ve seen this year, the ones that I wanted to see but missed and the ones still to be released in the hopes of sussing out which among them were the best and my favorite of the year and which might take the golden boys home. Keeping in mind, of course, that the best and the Oscar-winning are not always one and the same.

So here, then, are some of the movies hubby and I made it out to in the first eleven months of the year, in no particular order.

The Social Network
If the Academy gave an Oscar for best trailer, this one would win it in a walk. The choral arrangement of Radiohead’s Creep, played over images from Facebook—the network of the title—and later over scenes of the rise of its founder Mark Zuckerberg, is haunting and also strangely seductive. It makes you want to see the movie but also kind of queasy for wanting to see it. That is precisely the tension that Aaron Sorkin (auteur of the late great West Wing) presents in his script, and it mirrors the tension that people my age, Generation X, the ones who made Facebook the success it has become, first felt when we contemplated whether or not to join. I mean, putting your life on display online and seeing those of others sounded cool, but it also felt a little weird, didn’t it? The Social Network works as a movie not because it seeks to relate the real-life story behind the founders of Facebook, but because it questions their motivations and ours. What IS Facebook exactly, and why do people want to join it? What were these guys trying to do exactly, and why did they do it? Why do we?

Let me back up a bit.

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On Childhood, Smallville and Superman

I used to read comic books when I was a kid. I didn’t collect them per se. They were just more reading material, something my nerdy self always felt was in short supply. I read mostly stuff for girls like Archie, Betty and Veronica and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, although there were a few superhero ones thrown in, mostly Superman. I don’t read comics or graphic novels all that often now. I do enjoy superhero movies as much as the next person. When done well, they can tell incredibly compelling, highly entertaining stories. See Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

Batman has a lot of pop culture cachet right now, but as a kid I was partial to Superman. His tale is fairly straightforward and his motivations aren’t all that complicated, making him more accessible to those not quite old enough to get the demons that haunt his batty counterpart. Superman doesn’t hide behind a mask, the better for us to appreciate his rugged, farm-raised (if not quite farm-bred) good looks, and he is quite the American patriot. What other hero, other than the more obviously monikered Captain America, fights for truth, justice and the American Way? All of these things make Superman easy to love, and I did, especially when I saw him in the movies. The first came out the year I was born, so by the time I saw it, its imagery had already permeated popular culture in this country and the one I was raised in. The image of Christopher Reeve with his fists out in front of him and the red cape billowing behind, coupled with John Williams’ unforgettable score, may not have much on the special effects of today’s film industry, but to a little kid like me back then, it was magic. Thinking of it reminds me of playing with my cousins and pretending to fly and of my little brother, about a decade later, running around the house with a towel tied around his neck and screaming at the top of his lungs, “SUPEEEEEEEEEER BOOOOOOOOYYYYYYY!” My sister, who did everything he did, would be heard seconds later, screaming her own spanglishized moniker, “SUPEEEEEEEER BOYAAAAAAA!” It’s my favorite memory of them as kids. So while Superman may not seem all that compelling or complex to us now as adults, the devotion he inspired back then was deeply felt.

Given this childhood fondness for Superman and my love for shows about high school, it should come as no surprise to regular readers of this here blog (hi, mom!) that, given the promise of an angsty teenage Clark Kent, I took an interest in Smallville when it premiered back in the fall of 2001. I watched it off and on until about fourth season, when I started working nights and pretty much stopped watching television period. (Ah, newspapers, how I miss thee.) Cliched as the teen genre always seems, it was an interesting take on Superman, and now that the story is coming to a close as Smallville enters its tenth season, I’ve tuned back in to see Clark’s final days of youthful soul-searching before he fully takes on the mantle of the hero we all know and love (there’s also the allure of finally seeing Tom Welling in tights). Watching it again got me thinking back to what initially drew me to the show when it all started and why the origin of the man of steel is so compelling to begin with. This is a long one, so bare with me.

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