Follow Me or Perish, Sweater Monkeys

I spent a few hours at Starbucks today, working on my novel. This particular Bux is a block from an auditorium where many cheerleading/pep squad competitions are held, and apparently one was going on this weekend, because there was a steady stream of cheerleaders coming in to Bux. So many big hair bows, pony tails, teased hair, frosted eye shadow, lip gloss, short shorts and spandex…it was nuts.

I was never a cheerleader, nor did I really want to be. My parochial school didn’t revere sports in the same way that many public high schools do, so it wasn’t a guarantor of popularity. But I think many guys still found the cheerleaders extra cute.

Oddly enough, I still remember a few of the cheers our school’s squad performed. My personal favorite – and I use the word “favorite” with a touch of cynicism here – was the one where the cheerleaders introduced themselves with their name and class. “My name is Moxie, I am a junior, and I’d like to get to know you, yes I’d like to get to know you!” The other one that sticks out is “I got the spirit, oh yeah, I got the spirit, oh yeah,” and then each cheerleader had a different place where her spirit was located. One would say “it’s in my hip, now watch me dip,” and another girl would say “it’s in my skirt, now watch me flirt.” I now wonder if there were more obscene lines they came up with in the locker room, like “it’s in my ass, now watch me sass” or “it’s in my tits, watch me do splits.”

Being the pop culture junkie that I am, I now always think of Bring It On, one of my favorite evil nosh films, whenever I see cheerleaders. Today it was all I could do to not start yelling out random lines from the movie at the girls, or “Ready, O-KAY!” Truth is, cheerleaders are fascinating. The ones who are super committed to it can be great athletes, and I don’t necessarily think they are stupid. All the girls on my high school’s squad were honor students, and several are now doctors. And they had to put up with a bunch of cynical, jaded teenagers. As the cheerleader in Fast Times at Ridgemont High says, “You know, it takes a lot of courage to get up here and do something that you know people will make fun of.”

So here’s to you, cheer teams. You got the spirit, oh yeah!

Swedish Pop Music Has Taken Over My Brain

A couple days ago Giles convinced me to watch The Trip, a 2011 film with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Coogan is on assignment for The Observer to visit several well-renowned restaurants throughout the UK, and when his girlfriend backs out at the last minute, he asks his friend Brydon to come along. The movie is very funny and the pair do several impressions of actors including Michael Caine, Sean Connery and Woody Allen, but it was their singalong of ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” that did me in.

Later that night I was up until 3 in the morning listening to ABBA songs. THREE A.M. It’s not like all their songs were fantastic, either. If you pay attention to the lyrics many of them don’t make much sense. It’s the melodies that suck you in – they are catchy. Momcat had several ABBA singles on 45s that she enjoyed.

What’s worse are the videos. Dear God, the videos.

There’s a clear formula to most ABBA videos:

1. Show the band members performing some activity together, such as eating, drinking, playing a board game.

2. Alternate between showing Agnetha and Frida singing, their faces wracked with emotion and longing for Bjorn and Benny.

3. Alternate between shots of Bjorn and Benny looking suggestively at the camera, their faces wracked with cool Swedish reserve toward their beloveds.

4. Alternate between shots of all four band members singing, looking happy.

5. Alternate between shots of Agnetha, Frida, Bjorn and Benny walking away from the camera, only to turn and look back as if to say, “You miss me, right? I know you do. I KNOW YOU WANT TO GET WITH THIS. But you blew it.” (This would all be said in Swedish, of course.)

6. Some camera tricks that reflect the latest in mid 70s-early 80s cinematography, such as morphing faces into each other, mirror images, etc.

My favorite example is the video for “When All Is Said and Done,” which came out in 1981. I think I have this song on an old K-Tel album.

Now it seems I’ve gotten more into ABBA than I anticipated. I can’t stop listening to their songs on Spotify, or looking at videos on their VEVO channel. I have fallen down the rabbit hole and wound up in Stockholm. Any minute now Steve the Mighty ‘Mo is going to bang on our shared wall and tell me to turn down “Waterloo.” Though this is really all Giles’ fault. Him and Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Damn them all.

Moxie’s Top 5 Movies to Make You Feel All Cold Inside

As I type this, it’s Africa-freakin-hot in NorCal. We’re talking triple-digits hot. This summer has been stifling damn near everywhere in the U.S. at one time or another. And while it’s a dry heat (we former East Coasters can tell you that the lack of humidity makes all the difference), it’s still quite uncomfortable. Like many folks, I have various tactics I employ to deal with hot weather. Stay inside, drink lots of water, watch movies set in snowy climates…oh? You don’t do that? Allow me to offer a few suggestions that may make you feel a little less overheated.

Dr. Zhivago – An obvious choice. Nothing like seeing Omar Sharif with ice in his mustache, standing in the middle of an abandoned house while a blizzard rages outside, pining for a lost love. And that house! There aren’t many women who would be seduced by a winter wonderland that’s INSIDE the house.

Dr. Zhivago, movie, Russia, snow, winter
Darling, I love what you’ve done with the place.

Dead of Winter – Few people seem to remember this movie from the mid-80s. It was a great thrilled with Roddy McDowall and Mary Steenburgen. Lots of snow in this one, but you’ll be too freaked out to notice.

The Shining – Again, an obvious choice. But such a great one. Big old hotel in the middle of the mountains in winter, a writer going crazy. Remind me to never agree to be a caretaker of a big old hotel, even if I do have a successful novel or two under my belt.

Jack Nicholson, The Shining, movie, winter, snow
What happens to writers when they don’t listen to their editors. Or their agents.

Fargo – Of course I had to include Fargo. How could I not? The Coen brothers weave such fantastic tales full of humor, wit, drama and chaos. For this one, they added a lot of snow. And some ice too.

Fargo, movie, winter, snow
It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in the wood chipper.

A Simple Plan – Another fantastic thriller with lots of the white powdery stuff. I don’t mean cocaine, dammit. Pay attention.

A Simple Plan, movie, winter, snow
Or until you find $4 million out in the middle of the woods.

 What are your favorite movie chillers?

Getting Freaky and Funny with It

Today I finally watched the first two episodes of “American Horror Story”, the new freaky scary show on FX by Ryan Murphy, creator of the plastic surgeon freakfest “Nip/Tuck” and the high school song-and-dance freakfest “Glee.” The show definitely succeeded in scaring the crap out of me, which means I have to keep watching. Sometimes I’m masochistic like that.

Giles said I needed to balance out all the freakiness with something light & funny, so we watched Bridesmaids tonight. He’d already seen it, but I hadn’t. Aside from the scatological humor, which never appeals to me, I really enjoyed the movie, especially Melissa McCarthy. Oh, and Jon Hamm. Poor Kristen Wiig, having to do love scenes with Jon Hamm. Wonder how many takes she demanded needed.

Moral of the story: if you watch something scary, follow it up with naked Jon Hamm something funny.

jon hamm, kristen wiig, bridesmaids movie
So sorry about all the retakes, Jon. I am SOOOO sorry. (Courtesy annehelenpetersen.com)

Wednesday’s Wackiness: Movie Trailer Mashups

Are you the person who must be at the movie theatre in time to watch all the trailers? If you have a good sense of humor, you might enjoy The Trailer Mash, a website that features mashups of movie trailers. In some cases, these new trailers give viewers a whole new perspective on some well-known films.

For example, there’s the trailer for what looks to be a lovely romantic comedy starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.

And this high school romp set in biblical times looks like a laugh a minute!

Back to School: Moxie’s Favorite High School and College Movies

Ahh, back to school. Time for new clothes that you pray will be considered acceptable by your peers, Trapper Keepers (or the 2010 equivalent), homework, a backpack tricked out with pockets for all your stuff. For high schoolers, the first day of class means they are closer to being done with the schooling required of them by law. For college students, it means learning the fine art of drinking beer through a plastic tube while being held upside down. I never learned how to do that, though. Must have been sick that day.

I love a good themed list, and this is one I’ve wanted to do for several years. Now, my friends, is the time to share it. So here are my picks for my top 5 high school movies, followed by my top 5 college flicks.

5. Breakfast Club

Five students come together in Saturday morning detention and learn who they are – and who they aren’t. The setup is simple; the dialogue and characters are not. I’d love to see this film made into a stage play, if it hasn’t been already (update: A playhouse in Long Beach, CA did a stage version). Shout-out to the schools in Evanston, Illinois, where the exteriors were shot. Three years ago I walked by the football field where Judd Nelson did his infamous fist pump and really wanted to replicate the moment, but T-Wizzle (who was born & raised in E-town) wouldn’t let me. Sometimes she really sucks.

4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

We should all have been so lucky to have the charmed life of Ferris Bueller. Not only does he have everyone at his school wrapped around his finger – aside from Principal Rooney, that is – he can also manifest a sweet ride for a day of fun in Chi-town. Save Ferris? Save yourselves, dude.

3. Heathers

This dark comedy about suicidal and homicidal teenagers is responsible for memorable catchphrases such as “What’s your damage?” and “F*** me gently with a chainsaw.” In my undergrad Critical Methods class I wrote a paper analyzing this film from a communist perspective. I got an A.

2. Grease

Welcome to Rydell High, kids! No list of high school movies is complete without mentioning one of the best movie musicals ever. I could quote from this movie all day long…sing every song…and still watch it over and over again.

1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

A much more honest look at what really goes on in high school. You can thank screenwriter Cameron Crowe for its authenticity, as he went undercover at a SoCal high school to write a book about teenagers, which the film is based on. Oh, and those fabulous checkered Vans that Spicoli wears? This movie made ’em famous.

Honorable Mention: Porky’s

Set in the 1950s, this sex-fueled romp also deals with some deeper issues of racism. But not too deep, mind you. Can’t wander too far from the main plot about horny teenagers seeking vengeance against the morbidly obese owner of a dive bar.

Graduates, as you move on from these hallowed halls of learning, we hope you take away from here the knowledge that while high school movies are really quite fun, there are some kick-ass college films, too. Allow me to illustrate…

5. The Graduate

So technically this isn’t a college film, seeing as Benjamin has just graduated from college and he’s trying to figure out why he should give a shit about plastics. But the movie still speaks to that feeling of ennui and disconnection you get while you’re an undergrad. Bonus points to Anne Bancroft for her work as the original MILF.

4. Revenge of the Nerds

Never underestimate the power and sexiness of nerds. No, not the candy, you idiot – I’m referring to exceptionally bright, studious young men and women who want to be loved and accepted just like everyone else. I have fond memories of this film because I was about 11 when I sneaked out with my aunt and her best friend [both 17-18 at the time] to see it. The sneaking around was because my very religious grandmother frowned upon movie-going. We wouldn’t have gotten caught if my aunt hadn’t locked the keys in the car and had to call home for the extra set. We still lied and said we saw Karate Kid, as that seemed less sinful than admitting we’d seen a R-rated film. Good times.

3. Old School

I really enjoy this crazy flick, especially Will Farrell as a wound-up family man trying to relive his youth. And how many times have you told your kids “Earmuffs!” because you saw Vince Vaughn do it in this movie?

2. Real Genius

Val Kilmer + popcorn phobia + mysterious passageways in dorm room closets + Kent the sycophantic student = FUN. I love the wacky things these students do to pass the time when they aren’t in class. According to IMDB it took three months to pop all that popcorn. Thank goodness it wasn’t buttered, too.

1. Animal House

It’s not even up for discussion: Animal House is the best. College. Movie. Ever. Reasons why: Bluto. Double secret probation. “Thank you sir, may I have another?” The bar scene. Eric Stratton with Mrs. Wormer. Bluto. Flounder’s borrowed car. Neidermeyer. D-Day. Kevin Bacon & Karen Allen’s film debut(s). The horse in the dean’s office. Did I mention Bluto?

Agree? Disagree? What are your favorite high school and college movies?

Moxie on Wire

Back in January, I watched Man on Wire, the documentary about how Philippe Petit fulfilled his dream to walk a tightrope stretched between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center.  In 2009 this film won the Oscar for Best Feature Length Documentary – and with good reason. It’s a compelling story about dreaming big and not being afraid to fall – figuratively and literally.

The story seems simple yet so ridiculous: in the early 1970s, a rebellious young man with a love of heights sets his sights on the then-tallest building(s) in the world, the World Trade Center in New York City, as the location for his next high-wire act. With the help of his friends and an “inside man”, he manages to sneak up to the roof, get his equipment set up and actually crosses back and forth between the towers for 45 minutes. He’s 1,350 feet up in the air, without a net. Just typing that last sentence makes my heart race.

While the entire movie was incredibly captivating, there was one scene in particular that stood out. It’s right when Petit is preparing to go out on the wire and he is having a crisis of faith. It isn’t until he gets out to the middle of the wire – did I mention it’s 1,350 feet up IN THE AIR? – that Petit begins to smile. He ends up walking – nay, dancing – between the two buildings for nearly 45 minutes. While there’s no video footage of the event from the aerialist’s perspective, the still photos show the incredible rapture and joy Petit felt as he finally achieved his dream.

After watching this film I sat for a while, just thinking about the courage involved in making this walk happen. Not only did Petit have to be fully committed to doing this, he had to have buy-in from his partners in crime, as it were. One close friend had to bow out of the mission, it was that intense.

How many of us are not taking that chance to step out on that wire, to go beyond the feats of derring-do already accomplished? Yes, it is scary, and there’s no guarantee it will end well. But just as Philippe had a support team helping him achieve his dream, we all have people who are ready to help us create that path to success, even if that path is narrow and treacherous. I’ve learned this firsthand over the last couple of years.

When I first started writing this post back in February, I knew it was time to step out on that wire and I was scared shitless. It was high time to leave LA, but where to go and what to do was unclear, at least to me.

And then the answer came. In late March, while I was in meditation at my favorite place in Los Angeles County, the answer came. And the answers kept coming…in the form of a place to live up north, in the form of friends and strangers and opportunities.

To put it simply, I’m here to tell stories. My stories, others’ stories. And by sharing these stories I help myself – and others – process and heal and move forward.

As my first step in honoring this path, I applied to attend the Tomales Bay Writers’ Workshop this October. It’s run by Pam Houston, an amazing writer who also happens to be the director of the creative writing program at UC Davis. I’d never tried to get into a workshop before, as I always thought my writing wasn’t good enough. But this time, with the help of a great friend who read a piece I’ve been working on and gave me unwavering support, I stepped out on the wire and applied.

And I got in. Holy cannoli, I GOT IN.

Now comes the bigger challenge: paying for this shindig. I applied for a fellowship, but with only one per genre (fiction, nonfiction and poetry) there was a slim chance I’d get it. So I have to look for other funding, which is where you, dearly devoted blog reader, come in.

T-Wizzle advised me that I put a PayPal link for donations here on the blog. “You never know what people are willing to do to help,” she said. And while that’s another big step forward, I keep finding, over and over again, that she’s right: you never do know what people are willing to do to help.

With that, I’m taking another step forward on the wire and telling the world:  I want to go to this workshop and I need $1550.00 before July 15 in order to attend. The Donate button is in the right-hand column.

The more I think about how far I’ve come, as a writer and as a person, I wonder if I’m truly ready for the next step. But like Petit, I know I have prepared myself. I have set my sights on other goals and achieved them. So I’m going forward with my own high-wire act. I don’t know if I will reach the other side safely, but I’ve gotten this far, dammit, and turning around now would just piss me off. And more and more I have this sneaking suspicion that, like Petit, I will reach the middle and realize just how effortless it is to reach the other side.

man on wire 2

To me, it’s really so simple, that life should be lived on the edge. You have to exercise rebellion. To refuse to tape yourself to the rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge. Then you will live your life on the tightrope.

– Philippe Petit

Protected: Let’s Get It On: Moxie’s Top 10 Sexy Movie Scenes

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With Friends, Failure Is Not an Option

wonderful life flickEarlier this week, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time. I actually owned a VHS copy of the movie at one point, but never got around to watching it. Now I think I know why: I wasn’t ready to hear – or believe – its message.

I admit to having some issues with the film’s structure – blame it on studying screenwriting and being an avid film watcher. The back story on George Bailey took way too long and I wanted to choke Uncle Billy. Didn’t George’s father know it’s rarely a good idea to go into business with family members, especially one as daft as Billy? Shouldn’t the string tied around nearly every damn finger be your first clue that this guy should not be allowed to handle money?

What required no suspension of disbelief, however, was the message of not being a failure if you have friends. I have learned the truth of that lesson over the last two years – more than any other time in my life. Starting in December 2006 through now, I have struggled with some heavy issues: being fired, having a boyfriend who turned out to be absolutely horrible, having my car repo’ed, finding a job only to be laid off less than a year later, losing my grandfather and my mom in the same year.

But in 2006 I started making friends for real…and I continued to make friends in 2007. Anyone who’s lived in a major metropolitan area for any length of time knows how difficult it can be to meet people and make friends. If it wasn’t for T-Wizzle encouraging me to join Meetup, I would have never met my current circle of friends – and I wouldn’t know the blessing that comes from being part of such a warm, loving community.

Over the last two years these friendships have grown stronger, even when I thought I wasn’t being the best friend I could be. These are the people who have risen up to meet me where I am at, in ways I did not expect. When I have felt lost, they have found me. When I have felt down, they have lifted me up. When I needed to sit and be sad, they let me do that. And when I was being an absolute pill, they forced me to buck up.

It took a visit from an angel to teach George Bailey the value of his community, but it took me a couple hours with a classic film to fully appreciate my amazing friends.

And if you’re reading this, yes, I’m talking about you.

Top 10 Romantic Scenes for Valentine’s Day 2009

Back in 2007 I did a Valentine’s Day post on my top 10 romantic movies, focusing on specific scenes. For 2009 I’m doing a second list for two reasons: one, because I’m trying to be better about posting stuff to my blog, and two, because the more I watch movies the more I see scenes that fit the category of “most romantic.” So, without further ado, here are my top choices, in order of romanticism (well, according to my standards, anyway). Sit back, enjoy the show, and share your favorite romantic scenes in the comments.

10. Sleepless in Seattle
My vote for most romantic line from this sappy movie is when Jonah, the little boy who wants his dad Sam (Tom Hanks) to meet Annie (Meg Ryan) on Valentine’s Day in New York, gets in the cab and tells the driver to take him to the Empire State Building. “You gonna spit off the top?” he asks. Jonah’s reply: “No, I’m going to meet my new mother.” Talk about precocious.

9. Four Weddings and a Funeral
This movie is one I will watch over and over again if it’s on cable. The most romantic scene to me is when Matthew (John Hannah) recites the W.H. Auden poem, “Funeral Blues,” at Gareth’s (Simon Callow) funeral. It’s in that moment the audience realizes the nature of their relationship and how much Matthew will miss his friend and lover. I cry through this scene every time.

8. That Thing You Do!
I am a sucker for movies about music and this flick is another one of those movies where I stop what I’m doing and watch it, should it happen to be on cable. Moxie’s pick for most romantic scene: Guy (Tom Everett Scott) asks Faye (Liv Tyler) when was the last time she was properly kissed. She tells him it was junior high. He nods, looks at Faye, then kisses her passionately.

7. Serendipity
I don’t really consider myself a hopeless romantic, but I do love a good romantic comedy and Serendipity is high on my list of favorite rom-coms. Most romantic scene for me? When Jonathan (John Cusack) unwraps the groom’s gift from his fiancee (Bridget Moynahan) and sees that it’s a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera – the same title that Sara (Kate Beckinsale), his erstwhile soulmate, bought and wrote her name and number on the title page before selling it to a used book dealer. Hesitating for a second, Jonathan opens the cover and we briefly see Sara’s name and number written inside before he shuts it. In that instant, you know he’s going to look for her. Sigh.

6. The Namesake
This movie features Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar fame in a more dramatic role – and he does a fabulous job as Gogol, a young Indian man struggling to find his cultural identity. Most romantic scene: When Ashima (Tabu) tries on the shoes of her suitor Ashoke (Irrfan Khan). She decides to marry him and they end up emigrating to America, where they have a son, Gogol.

5. The Sound of Music
This movie is just an all-around sap fest and another classic I’ll watch again and again. While pretty much any movie scene involving a gazebo and moonlight is bound to be a favorite, my preference is for the scene where Maria (Julie Andrews) and Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) are in the gazebo during the dance, finally confessing their love for each other. I especially love the song Maria sings here: “Somewhere in my youth or childhood/I must have done something good.”

4. Michael
A lovely inspired tale about an angel and three people whose lives are changed for the better, Michael’s stand-out scene, romantically speaking, is when Michael (John Travolta) tells Dorothy (Andie MacDowell) “sing” and she gets up at the pie restaurant/diner and sings her song about her three husbands. It’s at this point that cynical reporter Frank (William Hurt) visibly softens and it’s quite obvious he’s smitten with Dorothy.

3. Enchanted
So many sweet moments in this movie, it’s hard to pick one that stands out as the most romantic. But I’d go with the scene at Robert’s (Patrick Dempsey) law office, where Giselle (Amy Adams) discovers what divorce is and she has a meltdown. It’s a great reminder that the end of a marriage, no matter what the circumstances may be, is still a very sad thing.

2. The Notebook
It’s hard for me to even think about this movie without crying. The best scene, by far, is when Allie (Gena Rowlands) realizes that Duke (James Garner) is telling her the story about how they fell in love. That moment of recognition on her face and his response is so warm, so loving, you can’t help but choke up a little.

1. Moonstruck
The following clip shows Johnny (Nicholas Cage) and Loretta (Cher) arguing about their relationship. This is my all-time favorite romantic scene because it speaks the truth about love: it’s not always pretty, with hearts and flowers and bon-bons.