Ol Parker's 'Imagine Me & You' (2005)

Imagine Me & You is not a remarkable film. Though well-developed, the characters aren't particularly original, and the story follows the comfortable romantic comedy formula. The lesbian twist on the romantic triangle is really the only aspect that differentiates it from dozens of other romcoms.'Imagine Me & You' poster However, the fact that Imagine Me & You is so commonplace makes it significant — it portrays a queer relationship with little distinction from a straight one.

Ol Parker's directorial debut is part of a burgeoning new generation of queer cinema that features LGBT characters in stories that are not LGBT-specific. Most films made for the general viewing public with queer characters at their center have addressed coming out, AIDS, or homophobia, issues specifically associated with the queer community. While those stories were and continue to be important to tell, they offer a very limited glimpse into the lives of LGBT individuals, and they focus on how their lives differ from rather than resemble most people's. Queer audiences and probably a good portion of straight audiences are ready to see films with LGBT characters that do not involve alienation from family members or death, whether by illness or violence. While films that meet those criteria have been made, they have been resigned to very limited releases and more often LGBT film festivals. Even though a couple aspects of the film feel "not Hollywood," Imagine Me & You is definitely intended for a wide, mainstream audience, making its nonchalant approach to this (pink) love triangle rather notable.

While there's a little coming out in Imagine Me & You, the heart of the story asks whether love can happen in an instant or if it develops slowly over time. For Rachel, that moment of instant attraction happens as she walks down the aisle to marry her longtime boyfriend Heck and sees Luce amongst the crowd of wedding-goers. While Rachel shares an affectionate, comfortable relationship with Heck, she cannot seem to shake the connection and attraction she feels toward Luce. Though Rachel does some questioning appropriate for someone who has never before been attracted to a person of the same sex, Luce being a woman matters little in regards to Rachel's main quandary of whether she can leave a man whom she cares for very much and does love, though probably more as a friend. Rachel never seems conflicted about possibly being gay or concerned whether friends and family would still accept her if she were. Rachel's mother reacts hesitantly to her daughter's attraction to another woman, but both Rachel's parents and Luce's mother come along for the ride during the requisite chase scene that concludes the film, implying their approval of Rachel and Luce's relationship. The gay characters remain pleasantly devoid of the usual stereotypes, and no one treats them as if they were unicorns or lepers — people seem aware of and, for the most part, quite accepting of gay and lesbian relationships. But Parker does include small, appropriate reminders that queer relationships still exist on the fringe of society to some extent.

Despite its formulaic plot, Imagine Me & You is far less saccharine and superficial than most Hollywood romantic comedies. While Luce and Rachel's romance is undeniably sweet, it's not cloyingly so. The humor, which comes mostly from Heck's biting one-liners, is low-key and clever with nary a wacky misunderstanding in sight. Relationships are treated with maturity and intelligence, and all of the characters feel fully realized and three-dimensional. Though receiving less than favorable reviews from most critics, the film has been embraced by queer audiences for its positive portrayal of a lesbian relationship and the delightful performances of Lena Headey and Piper Perabo.
Piper Perabo & Lena Headey in 'Imagine Me & You'

Paul McGuigan's 'Push' (2009)

Even though some of the twists and turns don't make much sense under scrutiny, Push moves at a fast enough pace and Paul McGuigan directs with enough style that its occasional plot holes didn't interfere with my overall enjoyment. The script could definitely use some tweaking, but the material has a lot of potential that a sequel, which the ending leaves plenty of room for, could really deliver.

The world of Push revolves around people with special abilities that have catchy nicknames, such as watchers who see the future, movers who are telekinetic, and shifters who can change the appearance of objects. While most of the psychic abilities are the familiar stuff of science fiction, the pushers keep things interesting with their ability to "push" thoughts into other people's minds and make them believe and do whatever they want, which calls into question whether the characters really experienced what they remember or if a pusher created false memories.

Push features a cast of fairly young actors, and its youngest cast member Dakota Fanning leaves the biggest impression. Fanning handles both the comedic and dramatic demands of her part with aplomb, demonstrating her growing maturity as an actor. Though Chris Evans is arguably the star of the film, his performance feels wooden at times, but he and Fanning have a very playful, natural chemistry that's fun to watch. Djimon Hounsou offers an effective and refreshingly quiet portrayal of the ingenious Carver, and Cliff Curtis is charismatic and entertaining as Hook. This performance coupled with her portrayal of Dot in The Quiet convinces me that Camilla Belle is most effective when silent. I'm not sure what that says about her acting skills, but I don't think it's good.

While a diverse group of actors composes the cast, a larger number of people of color would be categorized as "villain" rather than "hero." Hounsou, the only Black actor in the film, plays arguably the biggest bad and definitely the most threatening one. He also leads the Division's team that is trying to recover Kira and the stolen syringe, and he seems to oversee the deadly experimental enhancement drugs. A Chinese family with psychic powers makes up the other group of villains, making the film a little unfriendly to people of color.

Unless Push sees phenomenal DVD sales, the possibility of a sequel seems doubtful at this point, which is a shame. I'm interested enough by this world that I can overlook storytelling flaws to anticipate where follow-up film could go. But even if a Push 2 never comes to be, I think screenwriter David Bourla's creation could find a comfortable home in comics.

Sanaa Hamri's 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2' (2008)

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants succeeded as an entertaining film for teen-aged girls that adults could also enjoy due in large part to the four talented young actresses it showcased. Amber Tamblyn and Alexis Bledel were the "big names" on that movie, Tamblyn because of her Emmy nod for Joan of Arcadia and Bledel for her long-standing role on Gilmore Girls. In the three years since its release, Joan stopped talking to God, the Girls stopped talking so fast, and Tamblyn and Bledel stepped back a bit from the public eye since their shows' cancellations. In contrast, America Ferrera and Blake Lively landed successful television series in the intermediary years, and Ferrera won the Triple Crown of TV awards in 2007 for her role on Ugly Betty. With a different director and the absence of one of the screenwriters from the first film, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 feels like a typical Hollywood attempt to cash in on Ferrera and Lively's new fanbases with a quickly slapped-together sequel, and unfortunately the end product seems to support that inclination.

The film takes most of its plot from Forever in Blue, the fourth and final book of the Traveling Pants series, but borrows bits from the second and third books as well. This piecemeal approach may have contributed to the aimlessness of the plot, but ultimately screenwriter Elizabeth Chandler fails to create a coherent story with any emotional resonance. Neither Chandler nor the actors really seem to know where the characters are going, and because the emotional journeys remain inscrutable the characters end up having to say what's going on in their heads so that the audience can figure out what has happened.

None of the four stories work particularly well, but Lena's rebound romance with an artist named Leo is probably the most successful, and not just because Jesse Williams is so pretty. Carmen's storyline about unintentionally becoming the lead in a production of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale turns out to be too much About A Guy when it should be about Carmen gaining confidence and a renewed sense of self after feeling lost during her first year of college. Bridget leaving Turkey to visit her estranged grandmother in Alabama is just unfathomable, though I always enjoy seeing the lovely and talented Blythe Danner, especially when she's sporting a honeyed Southern drawl. Tibby's pregnancy scare and subsequent fears about getting close to people feels underdeveloped, and how frustrating that Tibby and Brian have an entire conversation about a condom breaking during sex without ever actually using the word "condom."

The acting from the four leads is something of a mixed bag. Bledel, Tamblyn, and Lively are solid, though not trying too hard in their separate storylines, but Ferrera seems downright bored. Just like its predecessor, the film really comes to life, or more accurately wakes from its coma, when they have scenes together. Once again, Tamblyn and Ferrera get the heavy lifting with a tense scene in which they argue about their mutual feelings of abandonment, but Bledel also has a moment to shine and gives the most genuine emotional display that I've ever seen out of her. These actresses obviously enjoy each other's company and their chemistry sparkles, making the script's lack of meaty material all the more lamentable.

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer': Tara and Anya

Despite their many differences, I always think of Anya and Tara as kindred spirits in a way. Both of them were always outsiders, never quite managing to break into Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles' tight knit circle, and they both had to overcome being characterized as just "the girlfriends."

While both characters remained underdeveloped and underused for a regrettably sizable portion of their time on Buffy, Anya received somewhat better treatment than Tara. She appears in "The Wish" and "Doppelgangland," and therefore has a bit of history on the show, before exhibiting any interest in Xander. In addition to that romantic entanglement, Anya develops a relationship with Giles through working at the Magic Box. She has relationships with people outside the Scooby gang, namely Halfrek and D'Hoffryn, that receive actual screen time on the show, so that when she and Xander break up Anya is shown without other Scoobies around. She also still owns the Magic Box after the break up, which the Scoobies visit at times.

But even though Anya had a few more opportunities to be more than just "the girlfriend," she very much felt like little more than an easy replacement and near copy of Cordelia for almost three seasons. The writers were content with her being just the "Thousand-year-old capitalist ex-demon with rabbit phobia" who tactlessly said what she thought in a strange speech pattern. Like Tara, I don't think that Anya really came into her own as a character until her romantic relationship with a Scooby ended, and the writers had to think of something to do with her.

In contrast to Anya, Tara's clear purpose from her first appearance is to form a relationship with Willow. Despite the sincere effort of a couple of writers to create a friendship between her and Buffy, Tara's relationship with Willow is really the only significant one, i.e. with one of the four core characters, that she has. When Willow and Tara break up, she is shown only with other Scoobies around, never by herself or with a character who isn't part of the main cast. During the break-up, Tara has to meet characters who aren't Willow in places like the Summers' house or Buffy's work to interact with them— none of them come to places that are familiar to her, such as the university or her dorm room. Tara's friends outside the Scooby gang (the people at The Bronze in "Family" and the girl who busses her on the cheek in "Normal Again") don't have names, not to mention any dialogue.

With some perspective gained in the years since Buffy's ending, I have come to appreciate Amber Benson and Emma Caulfield's performances more and more. My affection for their characters sneaked up on me the first time I viewed the series. I was surprised when I saw "Tabula Rasa" and "Hell's Bells" to realize how much I'd come to care for Tara and Anya. They are interesting characters played by these talented women, and they deserved better than what they received.

David Fincher's 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (2008)

My first reaction to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had nothing to do with the nearly flawless makeup and special effects or the wonderful performances of Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton. 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' posterNo, the first thing I said to my companion when we left the theater was, "That was based on a short story?"

Benjamin Button is long. It's long and it's slow, which generally are not happy bedfellows when it comes to film. The film also feels off-balanced with much of the story taking place when Benjamin looks to be in his eighties to his fifties and the last thirty-odd years of his life rush by in only minutes.

Director David Fincher seems to like working with Brad Pitt who has also starred in two of his previous efforts, the kinetic psychological thriller Fight Club and the atmospheric crime thriller Seven. While Pitt excels in Fight Club, he fails to offer more than one-note performances in their other collaborations. Here Pitt blands his way through most of the proceedings and pretty-boys the rest. Benjamin's unique Weltanschauung becomes buried behind the makeup, and Pitt never creates him as anything more than his singular aging process. Pitt also affects an uneven, at best, New Orleans accent that distracts.

Eric Roth's screenplay may bear some of the blame for Pitt's flaccid interpretation. Benjamin Button feels like an adult version of Roth's Academy Award-winning Forrest Gump in that both stories follow men whose lives have been measured and marked by significant moments in history. Where I came away from Forrest Gump with Forrest's particular understanding of the world, Benjamin's becomes lost in everything that happens around him.

Benjamin Button does offer some nice meditative moments about change, often symbolized by rainstorms, and to a lesser extent about cause and effect. But any larger points about aging, life, and dying that Fincher and Roth attempt to make were lost on me. Perhaps this film deserves a second viewing, but I'm uncertain if I have the patience or willpower to try again.

Music Crush: Nina Nastasia

Like Mirah, Nina Nastasia is an artist whom I think everyone should know because she is crazy talented. But at the same time I love that I don't have to share her with so many people.

Nina is one of very few artists who makes albums worth hearing in their entirety. She crafts songs from her intricate guitarwork and haunting vocals, frequent collaborator Jim White's distinct drums, and an eerie violin or two. The woman knows how to use a dramatic string section. Her lyrics sound like fables, nearly true tales set in a place both a part of and apart from the world that I know.

I never skip a track when listening to one of her records, and indeed I almost feel like I can't. She creates such intimate, spectral music that even the small spaces of silence between songs seem to jar me out of some spell she has cast. I keep coming back to her most recent album You Follow Me, which somehow feels like her biggest album even though it features the fewest instruments, and I always listen to her 2003 record Run to Ruin on repeat because it just gets under my skin.

Nina Nastasia - "Stormy Weather"

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer': "Witch"

"Witch" is probably my favorite episode of season one. Yes, I like it even more than "Prophecy Girl" even though it isn't nearly as substantive. I'm surprised that Dana Reston, the screenwriter of this episode, didn't write any more episodes of Buffy. Like most of the episodes of season one "Witch" isn't strong on plot, but it makes up for it with Sarah Michelle Gellar's drunken giddiness and an abundance of quippy dialogue.

Just a taste of the delicious quotability:

"I laugh in the face of danger. And then I hide until it goes away."

"There's a veritable cornucopia of, of fiends and devils and, and ghouls to engage.... Pardon me for finding the glass half full."

"Okay, into battle I go. Would you ask her out for me?"

"Pretty much like we're goin' out."
"Except without the hugging or kissing or her knowing about it."

"Why should someone want to harm Cordelia?"
"Maybe because they met her? ...Did I say that?"

"Someone doesn't like cheerleading?"
"Or likes it too much."
"So, you guys are leaning towards Amy?"

"Well, I know that I'll miss the intellectual thrill of spelling out words with my arms."
"Ooh, these grapes are sour!"

I also love that Cordelia has to turn her back to the cheerleading tryouts because she is so disgusted by how good Amber is. It's a great character moment. There's also a couple of lines in this episode that I find hysterical, but sometimes people give me a weird eye when I laugh at them. I love Willow's explanation that Amber (Grove not Benson) got detention for, "Regular smoking. With a cigarette, not, like, being smoky," because, well, could you imagine that phone call to her parents in the other instance? "Yes, Mrs. Grove, this is Principal Flutie. Amber is being held after school today for detention because she was emitting smoke in the hallways. I don't know how you do things at home, but I have very strong feelings about students spontaneously combusting in my school." The directions for the spell that say, "Heat ingredients and apply to witch," also crack me up because, well, come on. "Heat ingredients and apply to witch." It's funny. It's like she's a carpet stain or something.

The only part of the plot that really bothers me is Cordelia going blind. First, Buffy should have realized Cordelia was losing her sight when she saw the outfit Cordy was wearing. Shiny floral patterned green shirt tied at the waist with pinstripe pants? Second, would that driving instructor really make his student, who had flunked the test three times, drive when she says that she doesn't feel like it? Not a smart move on his part. Third, Cordelia's failing vision would not have impeded her ability to step on the accelerator or the brake so that dramatic crazy driving that leads to Buffy saving Cordy from being hit by a truck sequence feels really implausible. But those white contacts Charisma Carpenter wears when Cordy's blind always creep me out.

I think "Witch" is the episode when I really start to like Buffy as a character. The show as a whole piqued my interest with "Welcome to the Hellmouth" and "The Harvest," but those episodes didn't have any moments when I really fell in love with the particular characters, with the exception of Xander whom I love when he says, "The only thing I can think is that you're building a really little fence." The opening scene of this episode when Buffy asks Giles, "You don't like the color?" made me fall in love with Buffy, and her loopy cheerfulness and slightly off-key rendition of "Macho Man" are delightful to watch. Even this early in the series, it's refreshing to see Buffy so angst-free and chipper.

The relationships between the main characters really solidify as well. The love triangle between Buffy, Xander, and Willow becomes sparklingly clear just in case you weren't paying attention during the first two episodes. Willow and Xander become Buffy's "Slayerettes," a name I dislike more than "the Scoobies" but only slightly more. The ill effects of the blood stone vengeance spell compel Buffy to trust Giles, and Giles reveals how protective he already feels toward her. Their exchange "Did we find?" "We found," also underscores an intimacy that they've formed. Buffy both resists and desires a relationship with her mother, who is caring but flawed. Joyce comes across as less new agey, and despite the whole hiding the fact that she's a Slayer thing, Buffy is surprisingly candid with her mother. I probably would never say to my mom, "Mom, I've accepted that you've had sex. I am not ready to know that you had Farrah hair."

While witchcraft itself straddles the line between good and evil throughout the series, the first bonafide witch depicted on the series is most definitely evil. Poor naive Willow has no idea that she's looking into her future when Amy's mom strangles Xander and then assaults her. The witchy effects could have used some help here. The swirly lights that finally take care of Amy's mom aren't bad (remember, the special effects budget was whatever loose change Joss Whedon could find in the seats of his car at this point), but some of the practical effects could have been better. The cauldron looks like it's boiling green tempera paint and Anthony Stewart Head looks pretty silly when he winces at immersing his hands in his magical brew and it doesn't do anything at all. They couldn't have made it bubble a little more or smoke or something? Not regular smoking, like with a cigarette, but actually being smoky.

Of course, the wonderful Elizabeth Anne Allen makes her first appearance as Amy. It's amazing to me that Amy, who feels like such a part of the Buffyverse, only appears in eight episodes. As a human, that is. Given that Allen really only plays Amy for about five minutes in this episode, I was a little surprised when she pops up again in "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered." And then another season goes by and she appears in "Gingerbread." ...I really wish she could have been around more often.

Philippa Lowthorpe's 'The Other Boleyn Girl' (2003)

In almost every respect, the modest BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory's bestselling novel The Other Boleyn Girl is superior to that of Justin Chadwick's lavish blockbuster. Leads Jodhi May and Natascha McElhone far surpass Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson in the depth of their portrayals of Anne and Mary Boleyn. And though I have not read Gregory's novel, I think I can fairly say that writer-director Philippa Lowthorpe's screenplay offers a better treatment of the material. Lowthorpe keeps Anne and Mary's relationship at the center of the film, making The Other Boleyn Girl actually about the other Boleyn girl.

Despite the superior acting and screenplay, I'm not in love with the digital video/handheld camerawork approach to the material, which sometimes made me feel as though I was watching someone's home videos of a costume party. Though I'm sure that budget restrictions necessitated the DV, I don't think the material merits the "gritty" handheld work and the to-the-camera confessionals feel straight out of reality TV. I'm accustomed to historical dramas being like Chadwick's version: on film with beautiful photography and lavish set and costume design. The 1500s are a little too far removed from my everyday experience that not even a "cinéma vérité" approach can make me feel like I'm "really there."

Where Chadwick's film focuses on political machination, Lowthorpe concentrates on the restrictive roles of women in Tudor England. The ladies at court are either sleeping with the King for social gain, vying to become his mistress, or compelled to sleep with him despite their marital status. Their engagements must be approved of, and often matches are even made by, the King and the court. In Anne's case, once she marries the King her worth becomes defined by her ability to produce a male heir. Her failure to do so puts her life at risk and drives her to committing incest with her brother to become pregnant. Anne sums up the pervasive attitude about women when she says, "What use is a girl?" as she lies crying after giving birth to a daughter. Indeed the social climate encourages a certain amount of self-loathing in women. Men call them whores with little provocation and, in Mary's case, when they have no choice in sleeping with the King. Anne is beheaded on charges of adultery while Henry may court and sleep with as many women as he chooses. In fact, Anne even blames her failure to bear a son for causing Henry to stray. These Tudor women must be nice to look at, even in temperament, submissive to their husbands, and bear sons.

"We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks (1960)

We Real Cool

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.
I can include "We Real Cool," Gwendolyn Brooks' poem that has become a staple in American poetry anthologies, because it's only 24 little words divided into eight short lines. But with those two dozen words, Brooks manages to paint a portrait of these seven pool players at The Golden Shovel.

They can only express their identities as inextricably entwined with one another's, and yet Brooks' placement of the 'we's at the ends of the lines suggests that they struggle with that group identity. Brooks has said that she intends for the 'we's to be read very softly, emphasizing the things they do that make them "real cool." These boys — the reader knows they're boys even though Brooks doesn't specify — these boys don't quite understand their place in these activities, but the last line implies that they do understand their consequences. And yet knowing the ultimate consequence of their actions does not seem to deter them from pursuing these things. Being cool seems more important to them than living a long life.

Brooks associates this construction of "real cool" with a particular, namely the African-American, community with her reference to "Jazz June." The only statement that the boys make with confidence is that they are "real cool" with the subsequent statements defining how they know they are cool. And with that finality of "D[ying] Soon," the poem comes across as critical of these boys' lifestyles. But does Brooks put the blame for their grim fates on the boys for participating in this self-destructive construction of "cool" or perhaps on a community that fosters such a construction?

Alyson Hannigan Had a Baby: or A Flimsy Excuse to Post Silly Pictures of Her

So Alyson Hannigan recently gave birth to her first child, a little girl. And even though she and husband Alexis Denisof didn't name the baby Willow, I'm excited for them. Hannigan and Denisof are pretty darn adorable.
See? Alexis is all, "Ooh! I'm gonna touch her boobs"! Or he's about to do the safety dance. I'm not sure which.

But Alyson's face in this next picture clearly says, "Neil Patrick Harris is grabbing my ass. It's awkward."
Alyson looks like she might be copping her own feel of NPH's behind and he's not minding too much. I think that Lily and Marshall are adorable, but I love it when Aly and NPH get to work together on How I Met Your Mother. I hope that Lily and Barney get over some of their antagonism so that there can be more episodes like "The World's Best Couple."

But can a robot lady learn to love?