Been & Going

[Why Watch This?] Holiday Edition Part II: Trading Places

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

It’s Christmas time! Time to revisit our Why Watch This list of all time great holiday movies! Never seen these- this is your chance to catch up on some classics.

Watching Trading Places in 2013 makes 1983 seemindex like it was 150 years ago instead of only 30. And it’s not that I believe that some of the racial attitudes and stereotypes aren’t still hidden away in the hearts and minds of those of us living in 2013, it’s more about how upfront they are about it. Nowadays, we are much more subversive when we are racist. We are all so self-aware about how we are perceived by everyone that it is hard to imagine a movie like Trading Places happening now. But what makes Trading Places a terrific movie, and why I can watch it every single time it is on, is not the plot, or the lessons that can be learned by the characters, it’s the little moments, the glances or lines, that expose the world and endear the characters. And make you laugh, oh boy do they make you laugh.

The plot is simple: Brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke (played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) rule the commodities market. Their firm in Philadelphia has been around for decades and is the epitome of white upper class honkeyism. Dan Ackroyd plays Louis Winthorpe. Louis manages he Duke firm, lives in a Duke owned brownstone, and is engaged to the Duke’s debutante niece Penelope. TP EmRandolph likes to read Scientific American when they are sitting in their leather easy chairs within the dark wood paneled walls of their club, and he has a theory about the whole “nature vs. nurture” debate. After their club is inadvertently interrupted by Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy, being chased by the police, the brothers concoct a bet. Randolph believes that if you take anyone off of the street (aka Billy Ray) and give them the life and opportunity as someone like Louis, then he will rise to the occasion and thrive. Conversely, if you take away the life and opportunity from someone like Louis then he will descend into crime and end up on the streets.

The brothers put their experiment in motion and give Billy Ray Louis’ life while at the same time discrediting Louis and TP DAkicking him to the street. Randolph ends up being right, Billy Ray understands the commodities market almost instantly (“You’re just a coupla bookies!” He exclaims and Randolph nods knowingly). Louis, after enlisting the help of prostitute Ophelia, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, descends quickly and ultimately ends up threatening everyone at the Duke firm’s Christmas party with a gun while drunk (and dressed as Santa! See, drunken Santas are the key to all good Holiday movies!). Randolph wins the bet, and while collecting his winnings ($1! “The usual amount”), he and Mortimer sum up their scheme in the bathroom while being overheard by Billy Ray.

Billy Ray is horrified to hear what has happened, as we all are to hear Mortimer TP santaexclaim, “Do you think I would have a (insert N word here) run our firm?” He seeks out Louis, tells him what has happened and the two plot a revenge scheme that involves trains, Jim Belushi in a gorilla suit, Dan Ackroyd in blackface, and Jamie Lee Curtis in Lederhosen. Ok, maybe a little bit off the rails, but you’re along for the ride, so just go.

TP rev plotSo, anyway, let’s get back to what makes this movie great. “He was wearing my Harvard tie, like oh sure, he went to Harvard,” Louis says to Ophelia after having seen Billy Ray in Louis’ limousine, um, wearing his Harvard tie. Once, when I was much younger, I drove a co-worker crazy by repeating that line over and over again for like 30 minutes. The key is to use a “Harvard” accent, and draw out the rs. The only explanation I have was that I was trying to make Eric, who worked with me at the time, laugh, and we liked to torture this poor girl who worked with us, so it made sense.

But it’s the little lines, the little moments like that. Like when Randolph is explaining the commodities market to Billy Ray and is slowly and deliberately explaining what a pork belly is, “Like bacon, that you might put in a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.” Billy Ray lifts his head and looks directly into the camera in this moment. He doesn’t smile or wink but you instantly connect with him, you are TP Eddie look at caminstantly drawn into the joke. Really? He’s saying to us, really? And we get it, we are in on it. Ultimately I would argue that is where it transcends all the racial stereotypes throughout, you connect with the humanity of the characters and by doing so realize how ridiculous the stereotypes are. Billy Ray throws a big party for all of his “friends” and they trash the place. He ends up throwing them out and has a nice little moment with the butler, Coleman where he thanks him for cleaning up. You can tell by the look on Coleman’s face that no one has ever thanked him before.

It’s the moments like those, plus the drunken Santa that make this one of my favorites. In fact, I use the following formula: Funny Sayings You Can Drive People Crazy With + Drunken Santas * Any Use of the Word “Pookums” – Jim Belushi in a gorilla suit= 8.5 on the happy go fun Holiday Movie scale of Why Watch This.

TP end

[Why Watch This- Retro Movie Reviews] Halloween I&II

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

sitting upWhy won’t she just leave the house? I mean come on, a crazy masked killer with a knife just attacked her, she stabs him with a wire hanger, and she then just sits there crying. GET UP!! OH MY GOD HE’S STILL ALIVE!! HE’S SITTING UP! WHY WON’T SHE JUST LEAVE THE HOUSE??!!! Thank you, John Carpenter, for making Halloween in 1978 and creating the genre of film where unstoppable men stab pretty teenage girls with really big knives. And thank you, Jamie Lee Curtis, for being the original scream queen who makes ALL the wrong decisions yet somehow survives being stalked and almost stabbed by an unstoppable man. (Well, as Scream taught us years later, she survives ‘cause she’s a virgin. But shhh, don’t tell anyone, we aren’t supposed to know that yet.)halloween-1978-young-michael-myers1

And then they did it again for Halloween II, only this time Jamie is wearing the most wonderful wig because even though real world time has advanced 3 years and a haircut, movie time picks up right where the first one left off.

In the multi-layer cinema universe that is the Halloween movie franchise, you really only need to concern yourself with I and II. Sorry Rob Zombie, but honestly why screw with perfection? Halloween  starts in Haddonfield, Illinois, it’s Halloween night fifteen years ago, the song “Mr. Sandman” is playing and a young boy dressed in a cute clown costume stabs his naked sister to death because she just had sex with some guy.Halloween_1978_girls

Move forward fifteen years and there is unrest at the mental institution. It seems Michael Meyers, the little boy from above, is all grown up and he just escaped. His doctor, played with gleeful over-the-topness by Donald Pleasance, is quite distraught. Dr. Crazy Eyes had told them to keep Mr. Meyers under tighter security, he had told them not to be fooled by Michael’s catatonic state. He’s evil you see, EEEVVVIIILLLLLLLL. And now he’s loose. God help us all.halloween-donald-pleasance12-610x260

Next we meet Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) a goody two shoes if ever there was one. She is the local babysitter and has the worse friends. I mean really, they are pretty bad, but it’s ok they’re about to die horribly. It’s Halloween night and Laurie is babysitting. What a loser! I mean, her friend Annie is also babysitting but at least Annie’s boyfriend is coming over so they can have sex. That’s why you babysat in the ‘70s. Sex. A lot of sex.

pj solesAnyway, Annie sends the kid she’s watching over to Laurie’s house so their other friend Lynda (played by P.J. Soles, who seemed to show her boobs in a lot of movies in the ‘70s) can come over with her boyfriend. Lots of suspenseful murder ensues. Laurie eventually goes across the street, discovers the bodies of her friends, screams a lot, gets attacked by Michael, runs back to her house, saves the kids, stabs Michael in the eye and then—DOES NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE. WHY? Does she know that her intact hymen will save her?

Luckily Dr. Crazy Eyes shows up in time to shoot Mr. Meyers several times. But wait—oh no! When he goes to look at the body, he’s gone! “It was the boogieman,” Laurie says to Dr. Crazy Eyes. “Yes, I believe he was.”

Kick in Halloween II which begins with the last few minutes of Halloween. Laurie is taken to the hospital, the eeriest emptiest halloween2hospital in all of Illinois. There are no patients in this hospital, only horny nurses and hornier EMTs, and one drunk doctor who doesn’t last long. You see, as soon as Michael hears on a radio from a passing car that Laurie has been taken to the hospital, he goes up there.

And since some years have passed and this is a sequel, there’s a little more nudity, and a lot more, let’s call them “weird” deaths. No more boring “stabbing” with a big ol’ “knife.” Oh no! Michael gets creative with the implements he has at his disposal in a hospital.

Halloween 2 1981 HospitalDr. Crazy Eyes, still looking for Michael in town, learns that Laurie is actually Michael’s sister. She was a baby when he had killed his other sister, and had been put up for adoption. Oh no! He then realizes that he will be going after her, because Michael has this serious problem with his sisters. He rushes up to the hospital in time to save Laurie again, and hopefully, maybe kill Michael and himself in an explosion. (but of course we learn in later sequels that neither perished in the fire, spoiler alert).

Halloween was made for $325,000 and grossed over $70 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent movies ever made. Wow. And it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress because of its cultural significance. Yes, slasher films are culturally significant according to the Library of Congress. Carpenter wrote, directed and scored the film. He cast Jamie Lee Curtis, a relatively unknown actress at the time, in what can only be a wink to Psycho, the slasher film that started it all and starred Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh.

I have to watch Halloween I and II every year on Halloween. I just do. There is something about them. Maybe it’s the music, a simple two note yet incredibly stressful theme that plays through most of the movie. Maybe it’s because they are so familiar to me now. Who knows? But I think, and not just because I’m old, that there is something great in their simplicity. There are no special effects, no gross-out porn or any limbs being severed. It’s just an innocent girl running from unstoppable evil. What’s scarier than that? Nothing.


[California Seething] Living La Vida Matzo

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

I was watching half a rerun of Fargo last night when I saw a commercial for King’s Hawaiian Bakery. A mom put down a basket of sweet, soft, airy, fluffy, yummy delicious King’s Hawaiian rolls on the dinner table and the family literally inhaled them.

Now- I don’t know if the allegations about Russian militants forcing Jews to “register” in Ukraine are true, but frankly I’m not too concerned- cause the REAL anti-Semites are the ones who decided to air this commercial RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF FUCKING PASSOVER. I mean, state sponsored systematic oppression is one thing- but King’s fucking  Hawaiian??? That’s just mean.

So- as you may have read in my last post, Passover is a holiday in which Jews celebrate their freedom by not eating bread for a week, which I think we can all agree is a terrible way to celebrate freedom, like celebrating the Fourth of July by punching yourself in the face. I got two words for you, people: “FIRE WORKS.” Would it kill us to celebrate freedom by blowing some stuff up? (according to my mother, yes, yes it would.) And we wonder why there aren’t more Jews. Why would anyone sign up for this crap? We’re supposed to have an international banking conspiracy that’s secretly running the world- how can we be this fucking useless at marketing ourselves? The Christians know what time it is- their Messiah gets crucified and they’re all “bust out the Cream EggsCal Seething- 042114- egg and Marshmallow Peeps” and we get liberated miraculously after 400 years of hard labor and the best thing we can think of is going Gluten Free for a week. Who is our target audience here- actresses? And….dudes that want to hook up with actresses? I know the whole point is that we’re celebrating our freedom by remembering the suffering our ancestors endured as slaves but that’s just dumb.  It’s like celebrating your birthday by passing a kidney stone to remember the suffering of childbirth and if you’re wondering you just heard- that was one million Jewish mothers yelling “Boo YA!” at once when they read that. Oh, who am I kidding? The only Jewish mothers reading this post are my mom and my sister- but they both thought that was a pretty bitchin’ idea.

Plus most people don’t remember the suffering endured by their ancestors in ancient Egypt when they give up bread, they remember the suffering they endured in 2004 when they dated that crazy chick on Atkins- which in many ways was worse- I mean, at least the Egyptians never made the Jews use low-carb Margarita mix. Shudder.

Even the way Passover is set up is backwards. Easter has a nice day-by-day build up to the big event- there’s Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, He Dead Saturday and finally Easter Sunday!!! Hurray! He’s back!! Tacky hats and Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs for everybody!!. Passover on the other hand starts off pretty well- you’ve got Day One- Seder- Food! Family! Tradition! Fun! And then, Day Two- Seder Two- More Food! More Family! More Tradition! Slightly less fun. And then- Day Three- Matzo. Day Four- Matzo. Day Five- Matzo. Day Six- Matzo. Day Seven- Matzo. Day Eight- Matzo. Day Nine- PIZZACAKEDINGDONGSBREADROLLSBAGELSDOUGHNUTSTHINMINTSPASTACALZONESTWINKIESHOHOSDIABETICCOMA.  I suppose it’s supposed to mirror the journey of the Israelites- big moment of liberation- dull protracted schelp through unleavened desert and finally…the Promised Land- the Land of Milk (Duds) and Honey (Nut Cheerios) – neither of which I particularly care for but THAT SHOULD SHOW YOU HOW DESPERATE I AM. I wonder if they also have King’s Hawaiian Rolls? mmmmmmmm…..King’s Hawaiian Rolls. I’ve never had them but they look soooo gooood. Cal Seething- 042114- kingrolls

OK- so sure- celebrating Passover pretty much blows once you get past the first couple of day and yeah, sure, giving up bread is a dumb way to celebrate freedom and, yeah, chocolate bunnies are a much more effective marketing tool than unleavened bread. But for those of us that are stuck celebrating Passover- here are my Passover Do’s and Don’ts:

Do ask for matzo in restaurants even though none of them ever have it. Why? Because going to a restaurant when you’re keeping Kosher for Passover (KP or Kizzle to the Pizzle) sucks. It’s like being a recovering alcoholic at happy hour. Everyone’s laughing and carrying on and shamelessly sinking their teeth into burgers on huge brioche buns so fluffy and thick that the tooth fairy could be forgiven for leaving money under them; or shoveling cakes and cookies and pies down their carb holes not to mention brownies…mmmmmmm….brownies (Homer drooling sound) as rich as the Koch brothers and as dark as their souls. And meanwhile, in the midst of all this leavened decadence I sit with two  little heaps of chicken salad on my plate like boobs in search of a training bra, while I’m surrounded on all sides by temptation and red faced gluttons taking their lunch for granted. Like I said, it sucks. And I’m just a tourist in the land of deprivation- I don’t know how people with real food issues keep this up full time. And the only way I can make it fun for myself is to ask for matzo and then be lavishly and theatrically disappointed when they tell me they don’t have it.Cal-Seething--042114--norma

Now, if you’re gonna do this- you’ve got to do it right. You can’t be all Jerry Lewis nebbishy “Nice lady- do you please have any matzo?” about it. NO! you’ve got to be imperious, commanding. When you say “Do you have any Matzo?” they’ should hear Norma Desmond asking “Have you ever heard of Isotta-Fraschini?” and…ooh ooh ooh- here’s the best part- when they tell you they don’t have it and they’re all bowing and scraping before you- then you get to forgive them. Or, more to the point, bestow your forgiveness upon them- smile a little- say “it’s ok”- grace them with a sprinkling of noblisse oblige as they joyfully gobble up the crumbs of your beneficence. It’s a tricky move to pull off- think Lord Grantham sending Mrs. Patmore to the eye hospital. Oh yeah. That’s the stuff. It’s like heroin without the dead babies. Look, I get it- I know the Lord Grantham Dismount is a difficult move to master- but I also know that there’s a fine line between a turkey burger and a pile of shit on a plate- and if you must cross that line, you’d better have some way to amuse yourself.


Don’t Eat Dessert. OK, so you know that scene in Christmas Vacation where they’ve got that perfect-looking turkey on the table Cal Seething- 042114- turkeyand, as soon as Clark cuts into it, it explodes in a cloud of dust and reveals the desiccated atrocity within? Well- just swap out that turkey with a marble cake and you’ve got a classic Passover dessert.  Look – I get it- I love cake. I miss cake. I want cake. BUT PASSOVER CAKE’S NOT CAKE. It’s a sick joke- a grotesque and demented parody of cake. It’s Soylent Green, it’s Veganaise, it’s Stepford Cake. It’s crazy old Betty Davis singing I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy with ringlets and curls and a bow in her hair AFTER FEEDING HER SISTER A RAT.

Do you want to eat rat??? Do you????? Fuck no. And you don’t want Passover cake either.  So suck it up and skip dessert for a Cal Seething- 042114- cookiebutweek. Or if your sweet tooth really is so overwhelming and you just can’t resist than just do what I do and have a little TJ’s Cookie Butter on Matzo- delicious! Wait what? There’s cookies in that??? GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE.  Crap. One more thing I can’t eat- thanks a lot honey. Yeah- that’s right- keep eating frozen waffles in front of me SEE IF I CARE (I do. sigh).

Do Accept Plausible Deniability. Donald Rumsfeld once divided up all human knowledge into a few categories- there were the “known knowns” the “unknown knowns” and the “unknown unknowns”. Of RUMSFELDcourse, Donald Rumsfeld is insane. Seriously, he’s out of his fucking mind. He once fed Colin Powell a rat. Nevertheless- when it comes to keeping Kosher for Passover- I prefer to focus just on the Known Knowns. Stuff I know I’m not supposed to eat- bread, cakes, doughnuts, pie, bagels, Snowballs, Combos, Girl Scout Cookies..mmmmmm….. sweet….sweet delicious Girl Scout Cookies (Homer drooling sounds- how do you write that?). Sorry. Sorry. I’m back. Now- a lot of people may say that I’m not really keeping Kosher for Passover if I’m not scrutinizing every ingredient list and sticking to strictly to designated items.  But I disagree- I think I’m actually acting in the true spirit of Passover. I mean, if you think about it- we eat matzo because our ancestors had to leave Egypt so quickly they didn’t have time to let the bread rise. Well- if they didn’t have to time to let their bread rise- do you think they had enough time to scrutinize the ingredients on their barbecue sauce to see if it has corn syrup? Hell, no. And you think they would have had time to go all the way down to Ralph’s to peruse what they have on the Passover end-cap?? Not on your life! They would have just grabbed whatever they could from the house and gotten the fuck out. And that’s why- to honor them- I too celebrate Passover in a half-assed and hurried way- just the way I honor them when doing the dishes, making the bed, picking out clothes and trimming my toe-nails. I don’t have time for you “roast beef”- the Egyptians are coming!

Plus, when you think about it, if we had just stuck to the “known knowns” we never would have gone to war with Iraq in the first place in search of non-existent yellow cake Uranium. Mmmmmmmmm…yellow cake Uranium.. ulggggggh (thanks Yahoo Answers! )

Do eat fiber

No seriously- DO EAT FIBER. God’s no dummy. He needed those Israelites out of Egypt fast and he knew, in his infinite Cal Seething- 042114- activiawisdom that a people only moves fast if their bowels don’t (Exodus 21:14- Parashat Nid Tapoop) So he gave them matzo, got them out of Egypt and now I’m slugging down Citrucel with an Activia chaser. HOW MUCH LONGER DOES THIS HOLIDAY GO ON??? Seriously- two more days of this, and I’ll be Jamie Lee Curtis- and I KNOW she doesn’t want to trade places. Not even if I go as her for Halloween. Ha! I’ve got a million of them. No, wait, just two.

Do stop and think about… stuff. Look- I’m lucky. In a couple of days, Passover will be over and I can go back to eating whatever I want. A lot of people aren’t so fortunate, though. They go to bed hungry night after night because they can’t even afford the bread of affliction. And whether they are victims of war, drought or Wal*Mart- they remind us that none of us are truly free while others suffer. Or something like that. I don’t know. Maybe they just remind us that the next time we’re checking out of the supermarket and have the option to add $5 to help feed a family in need, we should press “Yes”.  It won’t heal all the suffering in the world- but it may make someone’s day not suck.

Don’t Make Matzo Brei. I used to run a small theatre in Santa Monica near Venice Beach. Inevitably, during every closing partyCal Seething- 042114- phouse around 2 AM when everybody was at their most wasted some genius would yell out “HEY!!!!! LET’S GO TO THE BEACH!!!” and in that moment everyone would miraculously rouse themselves from their stupor and be like “Awesome” “The Beach!” “Woo-Hoo!” “I’ve got to vomit!” and like rats leaving Hamelin they would follow their Pied Piper down to the water for what they all believed to be a rollicking good time (getting rid of the real rats would sadly be much harder). And can you blame them? How amazing does that sound? Running down to the beach in the middle of the night? Splashing around by moonlight? Feeling the bracing chill of the mighty Pacific on your bare skin- reminding you that you’re alive- what could be more totally awesome than that???? Turns out- everything. Because Venice Beach sucks. Sucks like eating matzo sucks. Cops, homeless people, garbage, jellyfish stings- it’s just about the last place you want to be half naked and tripping your balls off at 2 AM. So, inevitably, these little escapades ended badly, everyone would come back to the theatre damp, cold and miserable and just sober enough to want to get fucked up all over again- which is probably why in the eight years I was there- no one ever showed up to strike on time. Except, of course, for the rats.

Anyhow –it’s the same thing with matzo brei. I was at my parents’ house for Seder when the subject of matzo brei came up and I thought- Fuck yeah!! I’ll make matzo brei!! How awesome would that be?? Because, in my mind, it was a delicious treat- something my grandmother would have made- all yummy and sweet served with sour cream and nostalgia. Clearly- this was the best idea anyone ever had. I copied the recipe from my mother’s Passover cookbook (1959 edition- it’s like one three recipes that doesn’t use Jello) and flew home excited to cook up this fluffy delicious treat.

Now- for those that don’t know – Matzo Brei is a traditional Passover breakfast treat. You break up a couple of matzos- soak them in a mixture of egg & milk, add some cinnamon and fry it all up. Sounds great, right?? Well? Doesn’t it? No. It’s OK. It doesn’t. I agree. Clearly “Brei” is Yiddish for “Slop”. Still – I had hope – maybe this was one of those situations where the whole would be Cal Seething- 042114- breigreater than the sum of its parts. Maybe, once everything was put together and cooked up just right – it would turn out waaaay better than expected. It could happen! This, btw, is known as Magical Thinking and it is a phenomenon I am no stranger to. Time and time again, I’ve thought- well, ok- sure the script makes no sense and the music is droning and the main actress can’t sing and the director is paralyzed by doubt and the stage manager can’t get through rehearsal without half a bottle of vodka- but maybe- just maybe – once the set is built and the lights are hung and the costumes are on- maybe it’ll all come together and be much better than we could possibly expect!

It doesn’t. It never does. Magical thinking may keep you sane, but it can’t save a bad show and it can’t save a bad breakfast. Supposedly, matzo brei tastes like French Toast. In actuality- it’s a semi-sweet egg-lump chock-full chewy matzo bits- like a series of tragic decisions made at the omelet bar of the King David Hotel by world’s stonedest Jew “dude- put some matzo and cinnamon up in there….this is gonna be EPIC!”

Alright- there you have it- my Passover Do’s and Don’ts- just in time for the end of Passover. Be sure to read my 2014 Holiday Shopping Guide coming in January 2015. Wow. I suck at this.

Anyhow- maybe it’s not so bad that we celebrate freedom with matzo. I mean, after all freedom doesn’t come without struggle and sacrifice and it’s important we remember that- otherwise- what would we have to feel guilty thankful for. And as far as the marketing angle- well, maybe it’s best that we don’t misrepresent ourselves as more, you know, “fun” then we are. We’re not a chocolate bunny religion – so why pretend? After all- if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you can’t make French toast using the bread of affliction. I mean – you could – but for the love of God I’m begging you- DON’T. Anyhow- gotta run- the sun’s coming down and I’ve got to track down my motherfucking King’s Hawaiian Rolls! Woo-Hoo- Praise the Lord- it is good to be free!!Cal Seething- 042114- obama