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Box #1 was collected on the trek home from our family vacation in Cape Cod.

Visual Assessment There’s the presence of pizza box red ink, and the promise of “Italian Family Dining,” but the place is called “The Chateau”? I’m a little confused.

Generic Product Claim: The old stand-by: “Fresh Hot Pizza.”

Rating: Weird but memorable.

Box #2 was found abandoned in a community fridge. I usually stick with boxes from pizza that I personally purchased, but in this case the box was too good to resist.

Visual Assessment: Classicism on steroids. Classic red ink, an Italian Stereotype with a healthy ‘stache and eyebrows, and a nicely rendered slice complete with bubbly cheese.

Generic Product Claim: “Fresh, Hot And Delicious” (with punctuation). Also, PIZZA.

Rating: Probably one of my favorite chef-focused design. Love that neckerchief!

It’s an understatement to say that Behind The Candelabra is a Lifetime Movie. It’s more than that. It’s a Lifetime Movie as produced by HBO and directed by Steven Soderbergh. It’s a Lifetime Movie that dreams of being the cinematic cousin of Boogie Nights or, at least, Gia. And it almost succeeds, owing mainly to heavy mood lighting and the generous use of silent steady-cam shots. But when that quiet breaks with a line of dialogue like this:

Liberace: I have an eye for new and refreshing talent.
Scott (bitterly): You have an eye for new and refreshing dick.

BOOM – it’s like someone blew a fart in an empty room.

Behind The Candelabra is, in the words of Mr. Max, a bizarre, inexplicable movie. Instead of treading the standard biopic territory of fame/career arc, it focuses mainly on the creepy courtship of Liberace and his employee manservant child stand-in lover paid gigolo boyfriend significant other, Scott.

Their relationship begins when Liberace hires the foster teen — played with cornfed simplicity by Matt Damon – to be his “personal secretary” and chauffeur his enormous fur performance coat (which sounds like a double entendre, but actually isn’t).

Also, to look like a lost member of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Scott moves into the big mansion with Liberace and the rest of his Entourage of Insanity and assumes the role of head-of-household boyfriend prized Pomeranian. He spends his days poolside, making use of his new collection of bedazzled speedos.

Guess what’s also part of Scott’s job description? SEX.

Good thing Scott’s easygoing because it turns out that Liberace has a yen for some pretty freaky stuff. Because it’s HBO and they can’t help themselves, we get lots of scenes involving the singer’s porn addiction, patronage of sex clubs, and penis implants. Mom, if you’re reading this feel free to stop any time.

It’s not all about sex – there’s shopping and jewelry, too (thanks, montage). Liberace even promises to eventually adopt parent-less Scott, which is wrong on too many levels to explain.

Fretting about his aging face, Liberace decides it’s time for a consult with his personal plastic surgeon (played by Rob Lowe wearing a Kato Kaelin mask).


I bet Kato would have been in this if someone had asked.

Scott tags along for moral support and Liberace decides he’d like to front the cash for a new face for him, too. And guess what it should resemble?

A YOUNG LIBERACE, OF COURSE.

I think we can all agree that surgically twinning your romantic partner is unacceptably creepy. Scott recognizes this but is unable to say no to his powerful sugar daddy, so they both go under the knife.

At this point, Mr. Max said, “I think I need a ‘making of’ featurette on the prosthetics used in the making of this film.”.

However, even new faces can’t save the relationship. Horndog Liberace gets a case of the wandering eye and gives Scott the bogus “our relationship is strong enough for us to see other people” chat. They fight a lot, mostly over jealousy and Scott’s addiction to the cocaine “energy pills” the plastic surgeon prescribed for weight loss.

During an argument, Scott voices regret over giving up his dream of being a veterinarian to become Liberace’s kept boy, to which Liberace replies,

“Want to help animals? Clean up some of this dog shit.”

I don’t know about the real Liberace, but as played by Michael Douglas he seems more than a little sociopathic. “Hiring” a boyfriend and forcing him to have plastic surgery to look like you? Taking advantage of troubled youth?

Pretty cold, bro.

Liberace eventually finds other guys to hang with and kicks Scott to the curb. Scott refuses to vacate their palatial home, threatening first to call the police and then the mafia (!) before he’s dragged out of the house by Liberace’s goons.

TIL Liberace had goons. Who knew?

After that, they lose touch, reuniting only briefly before Liberace’s death from AIDS complications.

Serious aside: This part made me think maybe it’s gross to be exploiting a real person’s life story for campy TV schlock? Just maybe?

The final scene takes place at Liberace’s funeral, which dissolves into fantasy when the casket flies away to reveal a ghost Liberace talk-singing “The Impossible Dream.”

REALLY.

I waited until I finished writing this recap/review before I did any googling because I didn’t want to be influenced by (what I assumed would be) a flood of joke reviews and hate tweets. I was stunned to learn that a lot of people think this movie is actually really good. It even won the audience award at Cannes. Huh?

Well, I’m sticking with my story. After all, I predicted that Black Swan would end up on Lifetime even after it won an Academy Award and I WAS RIGHT. It’s only a matter of time for this one.

cedarlane quesadillas

CedarLane frozen foods and I got history. In college, I nearly subsisted on Cedarlane Quesadillas and Nantucket Nectar Half-and-Halfs. Mr. Max and I would pick them up from the 24-hour Stop & Shop, then return to my dorm room with rented VHS tapes of David Attenborough nature documents.

We were wild, I tell you.

So when I saw that CedarLane redesigned their packaging, my immediate reaction was, ‘Sacrilege!”

(I kind of dislike change.)

On further inspection, the redesign is actually kind of nice. It’s pretty in a minimalist way and it stands out next to the other frozen foods in the “natural” section. Overall, it’s not a huge departure from the original box, except when it comes to the tagline on the side of the box:

“Take home a sexy Italian.”

Get it? Because it’s an Italian dish. Mr. Max and I call dark chocolate cookies “sexy cookies” because it makes sense for a dessert to be sexy. But eggplant? Eggplant is not sexy.

I had big plans for the holidays this year: celebrations in multiple cities, hot beverages of all kinds, a hike in the snow…

But no. Instead I woke up on Christmas Eve with more than the usual amount of malaise and a cough that tasted like a coral reef. I was still convinced I could get over it, so we went forward with our cross-state travel (well, Mr. Max did. I mostly slept in the car with a blanket over my face).

We were supposed to visit with metropolitan-based family on Christmas morning, but by then even I (a person who “ doesn’t get sick”) had to admit that I was really, really, really, sick. Like, too sick open presents. Or move. Or drink.

Instead I slept all day, drifting in and out of fever spells. When I woke up, the TV revealed the silver lining of my unfortunate flu:

The perfect excuse to finally see the Meredith Baxter TV movie that practically defines Television For Women.


A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story is the true-life (according to the title cards) tale of Betty Broderick, the wife of high-powered San Diego attorney Dan Broderick. As a wealthy power couple, the Brodericks are all about swanky balls and country club memberships, and less about, you know, sanity.

Within the first half an hour, Betty ruins Christmas because she got a bad present (a giant diamond ring that’s the WRONG KIND apparently).

Dan responds,  “It’s Christmas. If your Mom wants to behave like a spoiled brat, let’s let her.” Because that’s what you do in front of your children.

It isn’t long before Dan starts palling around with his young new secretary in a convertible.

Dan threatens to leave, and in response Betty burns his clothing in a pile in the front yard. Sensing that this will not end well, Dan moves out, and Betty goes off the deep end in a way that is only plausible in a Lifetime movie.

(I couldn’t get a screenshot of this so I’ll just tell you: she smears a frosted cake on his wardrobe and bed. Points for creativity, right?)

Dan gets a restraining order, but it doesn’t stop Betty’s reign of terror. She starts leaving obscene messages on Dan’s answering machine, drops their kids off in the middle of the night to “live with him,” breaks into the house and spray paints the walls…

…drives a truck into the side of the house, and generally continues to aggressively harass Dan for “ruining her life.” Eventually, she gets a gun and you probably know the rest.


In case you don’t, she totally blows away Dan and his new wife.

And that’s basically the movie, plus the framing device of a still-crazy Betty talking to the camera from jail.

You might be wondering: who exactly is the protagonist? I know the question crossed my mind a few times.

It’s not Dan (because he’s a sleazy lawyer dude who’s sleeping with his secretary). And Betty’s like, a crazy murderer, so it really shouldn’t be her. But since she’s always on-screen, ranting and monologuing, you almost begin to root for her. Even though she’s crazy and actually phenomenally unlikable.

And that is the magic of Lifetime.


Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, The Last Chapter

You might think that a TV movie that begins with a couple arguing and ends with murder and handcuffs completes a natural story arc. But that doesn’t stop Lifetime! There’s actually a sequel — descriptively titled Her Final Fury — and it’s (almost) as good as the original.

Unlike most movie sequels, Her Final Fury actually includes the last ten minutes or so of the regular movie. Why? No idea, but Mr. Max says this detail is his favorite part of either (or both?) movie(s).

Shortly after the murder happens (um, again), we see an unnamed suburban couple gossiping about the case in their front yard. “Did you hear who killed her husband?” whisper-shouts the wife with way too much excitement. I love the randomness of this scene. I guess it’s supposed to show us that the murder is big news in town? At least among this particular couple?


The rest of the movie takes place, more or less, in boring courtroom drama land. Betty doesn’t have a lot to do except hang out in jail so the lady prosecutor becomes the de facto protagonist. The first trial ends in a hung jury, but the dedicated prosecutor is undeterred and immediately signs on for trial #2.

Even behind bars, Betty’s up to her usual antics — threatening her older daughter for testifying against her, ranting to the press, and hiring a PR firm to craft her “image.” Eventually, there’s a showdown on the stand between lady prosecutor and crazy Betty. Betty’s no match for the sharp (and powersuited) lady prosecutor, and she’s finally convicted and sent to jail for a long, long time.


Come on Lifetime, it’s been 20 years. Aren’t we ready for Her Final FINAL Fury: The Parole Hearings?

So, it’s halftime for Liz & Dick. What have we learned so far?

1) A turban is the most versatile fashion accessory OF ALL TIME.

2) The best way to charm a woman is to berate her publicly in a restaurant and/or ruin a dinner party. You’ll steal her heart forever!

3) A romance is most effectively summarized using a 30-second montage where the couple enters trailers on a movie set in order to do the nasty.

4) Every scene must include a nightgown and a liquor bottle,

What are you planning on doing tonight? Catching up on laundry? Watching The Walking Dead (even though the mayor character is getting really, really annoying)? Browsing Etsy for a million hours?

I’ve got a way better idea: join me in live-tweeting/blogging the premier (can you call it that if it’s on TV?) of Liz & Dick! I’ll be bringing the sarcasm via Twitter at @attemptedblog and right here at The Lower Crust. Also — be sure to follow my pal Jen Boudinot (@LMNReviews), the queen of all Lifetime Movie reviewers. It’s gonna be GREAT.

The Dunkin’ Donuts empire. The assumption of white clam chowder. The word “Hamburg.” As a former New York Stater now living in Massachusetts, there are some things I have just had to accept. Chief among them? Massachusetts pizza.

Growing up, I took good pizza, in all its thin crust and bubbly cheese glory, for granted. Bad pizza came from Pizza Hut, convenience stores, and mall cafeterias. Everywhere else the pizza was, reliably, pretty solid. Case in point: one of my favorite pizza joints was in a strip mall next to (my mother’s) weight watchers class.

In Massachusetts, you can make no such assumption. Most New Englanders, it seems, are content to create a doughy, pizza-inspired product, skipping that mysterious element that converts modest ingredients into capital-P Pizza.

Characteristics of the dreaded Massachusetts Bread and Cheese Pizza (MBCP) include a thick and slightly soggy crust, a generous helping of lumpy marinara sauce, and a topping of melted (not bubbly/burned) cheese. Adding insult to injury, many pizza joints serving MBCP don’t even offer slices. A pizza joint without slices? What’s up with that?

After MBCP, the most common type of pizza to encounter is the novelty slice. Think: endless varieties of unlikely toppings and “themed” slices. Taco Pizza. Cheeseburger Pizza. Turkey Club Pizza. As you may have guessed, novelty pizza establishments are typically found adjacent to bars in college towns. And they’re not all bad — Antonio’s in Amherst, MA, makes a pretty nifty Salad Pizza, which trades both sauce and cheese for a deft combination of fresh spinach, tomato, artichokes, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, and a balsamic vinegar and oil infusion. It’s pretty tasty, but a far cry from the slices of my youth.

Traditionalists on a quest for an old school slice will find the task hard but not impossible.

Some general advice:
1) Under no circumstances rely on Yelp reviews. They are written by people who have no problem marrying the phrase “New York Style” with “3 inch crust.”
2) Be suspicious if the pizza joint in question serves coffee or has an extensive sandwich menu. Delis are not pizza joints.
3) Ask yourself: do I want traditional greasy slices or a something fancier? Many trendy restaurants can provide a high-end, if not traditional, interpretation of pizza. Baba Louie’s is at the top of the list for quality wood-fired Massachusetts pizza with fancy ingredients. If you do go the chichi route, watch out for “fake gourmet pizza,” which is usually just flatbread with a handful of arugula on top.

Real deal gourmet pie from Baba Louie’s. Famazing.

4) Look around. Are there old, possibly broken, arcade games? Fluorescent lighting? Vinyl booths from the 70s? These are all good signs, as the best, most classic, slices come from what I would term “Dirty Pizza Caves.” Get past the ambiance (or lack thereof) and you’re usually rewarded with thin and crisp slices (with no need for novelty toppings).

An example of a “dirty pizza cave.” Note the faded sign made with a stencil. There’s probably an old cigarette machine inside.

Follow this advice and you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect Bay State slice. And, god willing, there might even be a table-top Pacman game in your future.

Oh. Oh my.

We got sucked into this movie on a Sunday afternoon, the traditional time for doing laundry and watching 5-hour Lifetime Movies. But! It’s not technically a Lifetime Movie. At least, not originally.

Chloe has real stars in it and appeared in actual movie theaters. It’s got arty camerawork and tense dialogue, but instead of retiring to IFC it ended up on Lifetime. This happened because 1) it is terrible and also 2) it was filmed in Canada.

It stars Julianne Moore…

?????

I know. Everyone has at least one person (real or famous) who makes them feel inadequate and dumpy and Julianne Moore is definitely on my list. The woman has cheekbones that just WON’T QUIT.

They make my face look like a cheese danish.

It’s more than just her looks, though. Julianne Moore is a really good actress who’s made a career of playing intelligent and complicated characters. She’s classy and smart so WTH is she doing in this trashy “erotic” thriller? It’s like if Meryl Streep was suddenly in some stupid, lame, dorky…

….oh.

Ahem, back to Chloe. The main plot follows Julianne Moore, a bored housewife living with her husband and teenage son in a big, sparsely decorated house straight out of Unhappy Hipsters.

The interior designer’s monochromatic color scheme had relegated the children’s toys to the exterior. The architect would not be pleased.

Julianne’s got a pretty sweet life, at least in terms of hegemonic middle class values: she’s a doctor, she’s married to a professor, their kid is a talented, they’re pretty wealthy, the house has a lot of windows, she’s got great cheekbones…

But there’s trouble in paradise. Julianne finds a cell phone picture of the husband hugging a college student and becomes convinced that he’s having an affair. She has a great idea: hire a random call girl to flirt with him and report back to her. This scheme reminds me of those rom-coms where a girl vows to find her platonic male friend (who she’s secretly in love with) a date. WHY, WHAT A PERFECT PLAN THAT CAN IN NO WAY BACKFIRE HORRIBLY.

The call girl is the eponymous Chloe (played by Amanda Seyfried). Kudos to the casting agent for picking an actress that, appearance-wise, seems like she could actually be a young prostitute.


I think it’s the dead eyes.

Chloe starts flirting with the husband and eventually they kiss. She reports this back to Julianne Moore, who gets pissed off because Chloe was just supposed to see if he was interested — not actually do anything.

Too late.

Eventually Julianne gets over it and asks Chloe to continue her fake relationship with the husband. (Which is always shown in flashbacks told from Chloe’s point of view — hint, hint.) At this point the movie veers into bad fake French film territory as Julianne gets all hot and bothered about Chloe seducing the husband.

Julianne! What are you doing? You’re a serious actress! Your cheekbones are better than this!

(At this point, Mr. Max reminded me that Julianne Moore was also in that silly it-was-aliens movie, The Forgotten. But this is a whole ‘nother level.)

So, because this is one of those “arty” movies where characters start randomly having sex with each other, Julianne and Chloe begin an affair of their own.

The age difference is a little distracting, I think.

It’s all very moody and dark. Eventually, in a dramatic plot twist that anyone with half a brain saw coming a mile away, Julianne realizes that the husband has never met Chloe — she was lying about everything. She breaks all ties with Chloe and confesses the affair to the husband and who’s all like whatever, sounds pretty hot. All is well until…

Chloe, bent on revenge, shows up at the house to seduce the teenage son. Julianne gets back just in time to CB, but not before Chloe grabs a hairpin and starts threatening her. (Um, a hairpin? Those are dangerous?)

The thing looks pretty blunt to me.

Chloe demands one last kiss, and Julianne complies, thus scarring her teenage son (who’s still hiding out of sight) for life. Teenage son reveals his presence, startling them both, and causes Chloe to accidentally fall through the big glass window to her death.

Seriously, how is this not a Lifetime Movie?

The movie ends with Julianne embracing the husband at their son’s graduation party. She smiles and turns to her guests and the camera zooms in on Chloe’s hairpin in her hair. (GET IT?! IT MEANS SOMETHING. WE’RE NOT SURE WHAT, BUT DEFINITELY SOMETHING. SOMETHING SMART. BECAUSE THIS IS AN ART FILM. WE THINK.)

Boringness Rating: 0 Hotels. Get out the popcorn because this is the best: an awesome trashy Lifetime Movie + pretty actors + self-importance + a huge budget. You might even consider renting it for the non-cable experience (i.e., sex scenes). Also, be on the lookout for Degrassi alum Nina Dobrev. Go Canada!


Vacations are all about shaking up the day-to-day routine, and pizza is no exception. This year’s family vacation brought us (once again) to the hills and valleys of rural New York, and the many gritty pizza joints along the Susquehanna River. If you avoid the gas station pizza (see image above) and college student pizza (large, usually cut into square pieces, thick, doughy, etc.), it’s easy to find a classic dirty slice. As for box designs, it was a mixed bag of old and new. Let’s begin.

America’s Favorite Design: Creepy Genre Scene with Threatening Chef

In documenting pizza box graphic design between MA and NY, this box is a clear standout. I’ve found it everywhere — from family restaurants to gritty pizza joints next to bars. Why is it so popular? It’s got all the elements — an Italian Stereotype, a brick pattern, a generic product claim, and the classic pizza box red — but that doesn’t really account for its ubiquity. Are restaurateurs drawn in by the center chef and his menacing eyes? Maybe the graphic is in the public domain? Internet research yielded no explanation, but it did turn up a Flickr Group dedicated to Pizza Chef Caricatures: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1420109@N22. Maybe those peeps will have a theory.

Chubby Chefs Do It Better

Oh, yes. This delightful slice came from a counter-only pizza joint right off the highway. We braved a detour for several miles to get there, and it was definitely worth it. As a bonus, I snagged a nice new box design, too:

Overall Design Assessment: The opaque red is bold and eye-catching, especially against the large expanse of white. However, the uppercase (shouting?) fonts make me feel like I’m being cat-called (“HOT”).

Generic Product Claims: A threefer: “Oven Fresh,” “Hot,” and “Delicious.” Four if you count “Pizza.”

Italian Stereotype: Definitely a favorite. Key details include the bulbous belly, snappy apron, and twirly mustache. Usually pizza box chefs are throwing dough in the air, but this classy example is revealing the pie on a silver platter. Don’t I feel special!

Mwah!

Lastly, we have a non-box entry for the anthology. I’m a sucker for phonetically spelled Italian-American accents (“Da Best Meal-A Deal-A in Town”) and classic finger-and-thumb pizza chef gesturing. Therefore, I did my best imitation of a bossy tourist and cleared the sidewalk to get this shot. It worked.