Sunday, June 22, 2008

Random Bests...

Best: Game of Chess
(The Talented Mr. Ripley)

Best: Jude Law being better than you

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There's nothing like a true friend. No one quite like...

The best maid, friend and socialite you could possibly ask for.

She's classy...

"Well you should get out more! Bachelor cotillions, parties, country clubs... I've been on top of the WORLD lately with my debutante party coming up!"

She's always got your back...

"At first I thought he was walking the dog but then I realized it WAS his date!"

She's there in a crisis...

"What's the matter mon petite? You want a little drinkie poo, Francinie?"

She's modest...

"Damn these designers!"

She stands up for you in public...

"You're really gauche madam! A regular little Cochan. And that means pig! Come on Francine... I see we should have gone straight to Peck & Peck after all!"

She'll never leave you hanging...

"Come on, we're going on a picnic! Come on! Come on, Francine."

She's emotionally supportive...

"God Francine, you're the most drinkenest gal I've ever seen!"

She's thoughtful, positive, and she plans ahead...

"Look Francine, TAB, for our diet! Isn't that great?! Look! Cups! Ooh... sandwiches! Wow! ...Francine, happiness is a picnic in the woods! God, look around you Francine... Look at the nature!"

Love Streams Into Ratings!

I just watched/discovered Love Streams, that amazing John Cassavetes film in which Gena Rowlands, with distinctly large hair I must say, goes a little bit too far with her acts of love. It's so honest, hilarious and depressingly human.

In this scene Sarah wants to give Robert something in his life that he can love. Perhaps a baby, or be that as it may, a farm. It's so tragic... Stunningly acted and painfully funny too so that it works on its own as a short film.

I like how that youtube clip is bilingual because this scene also inspires me to my own ludicrous act of getting your love... By linking to what 95% of you came to this site for in earnest:

Hardcore Nudity!

The most searched for image on my site:

And yet I always thought it would be this one...

Judging by that alone, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy's Revenge must be a widely loved classic on par with The Godfather, Part II!

Shameless. Homoerotic and shameless. I'm glad I have consistent readers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Steers, Queers and Judgmental Leers: A Guided Midwest Tour

So many times a character will come from the Midwest, but so rarely is the Midwest actually shown. It's usually just a way to generalize that character as plain or simple-minded, or imply that they're ripe for corruption. Truth is, if it were up to the movies, nobody would set foot here. I mean look what happens... Rosemary Woodhouse stemmed from Omaha, Nebraska, and she's apparently perfect stock to be raped by the devil. Then Jeff Daniels moves his wife Debra Winger away from her childhood home in Texas to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she's immediately diagnosed with terminal cancer!

But maybe things aren't always so dire...

I'm going to attempt to translate the true wonder of the Midwest by looking at those few films that capture the rare soul, spirit and scenery of this singular region -- as seen by someone still at the center of it. So to save you actually having to set foot here, I'll take you on a guided tour of the Midwest via the movies. It's cheaper, without the travel time, and you get to visit with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Laura Dern and Johnny Depp! So use the bathroom now, because we're not stopping on the way...

First Stop: Omaha, Nebraska
see: Citizen Ruth (also Election and About Schmidt)

One thing that can be hard to avoid when driving through the countryside are those colorful (ie. abundantly crazy) billboards of pro-lifers and fundamentalists. Nothing says "Welcome to Nebraska" like an unborn fetus and Jesus judging you. Director Alexander Payne was smart to place his social satires at the center of the country -- in this case the story of Ruth Stoops, a hopeless, drug addicted mom wedged in the middle of controversy surrounding her most recent abortion ("abortiai" as Sarah Silverman would say). While the Midwest region is often disparaged for being conservative, and for consistently being tied to skewed "values," things really aren't that simple here... so says this gay Omaha liberal.

I've been asked by strangers if I have cows in my backyard, but few people ask if there are people huffing paint back there as well, which is far more likely. Then again, that's probably universal, and people on the outside would much prefer to keep their quaint notions of simple farm folk over my reality of suburban sprawl and homeless people asking me for change.

In truth, the Omaha in Payne's films is mostly a plain, subdued backdrop, which is completely true to the city itself. Though not without its admirable qualities, Omaha is a city without a definable energy and visual richness. It's not unfair to say since it holds true of so many cities. Its specifics come in subtler ways, which Payne brings out in his characters and their day to day minimalism. Payne truly understands this because he's from here, and that's why the indistinct authenticity rings so true.

His films also serve as a "best of" travelogue. He captures the Omaha skyline (Warren Schmidt worked in what was, for many years, the single tall building: The Woodmen Tower), the surprisingly great Henry Doorly Zoo (seen as part of Tammy Metzler's day long lesbian excursion), even regional tourist traps like Harold Warp's Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska (Warren Schmidt loved it, I hung out in the gift shop then slept in the car.) It's obvious Payne knows and loves these surroundings, and his connection to them is palpable.

Next Stop: Lincoln, Nebraska, with a detour to Falls City, NE
see: Boys Don't Cry (see also Mysterious Skin)

As an out gay man in Nebraska, I've experienced the obvious stigmas alongside an ever growing notion of tolerance, but then I'm not completely lost in the rural abyss either. When Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, was killed in a sadistic hate crime in 1993, I was too oblivious and young to grasp its impact. Now I see the power in such grisly, tragic moments having happened in places I've actually stepped foot in: indistinguishable small towns you pass every day without notice. This grim true story follows Brandon's escape from Lincoln law enforcement to the remote emptiness of Falls City, where he befriends its many like outcasts, hoping to find their acceptance.

While one would think any gay person in the region should run like hell after seeing this movie, the truth is that Lincoln has a surprisingly large gay population. I can truly attest to this after seeing Kathy Griffin perform there live, to a massive collection of her local gays... The fears experienced in small town America, to those perceived as different, are justifiable though, and a relatively small city like Lincoln begins to seem radically progressive compared to the detachment and minimal connections of a one-note town like Falls City.

If there's one thing that director Kimberly Peirce captures most eloquently it's those nuances of small town escapism. Young people dream of moving onto the next big town and the next great thing, which could never seemingly happen in the wiles of desolate farm country. The character of Lana captures this dreamy youthfulness and stifled idealism perfectly. She works in the one nearby factory, she's surrounded by ex-cons and bored friends lost in their endless nights trying to attain beer from the local gas station, or those long drives down dark country roads without a destination. Her talents for karaoke in the single dive bar allow her to dream that she too could make it somewhere else, somewhere better. I think most small town Midwest teens will relate to this, perhaps small town kids anywhere.

Just Passing Through: Gatlin, Nebraska
see: The Children of the Corn

Then there's the other kind of Midwest kid... There's so much potential for horror in these wide open spaces, worn down churches and dilapidated country homes. The best we got to have set in Nebraska were creepy children named Job and Malachai. I've never met anyone in Nebraska with those names, but I will admit to seeing a number of creepy kids on any given day.

Fictional Gatlin was an inspired choice for Stephen King; a way to place terror amidst the mundane but maze-like fields of, well... maize. Also, an inspired choice to place the evil into the hands of scythe-wielding children getting comeuppance against power-yielding parents. Don't be disappointed if no child tries to sacrifice you, but don't be surprised if you get a few evil leers from bored neighborhood kids.

Stopping for a Photo Op: Laurens, Iowa
see: The Straight Story

I've yet to personally see an elderly man going cross country on a lawnmower, but Alvin Straight did just that, in these very locales, on these very same routes.

If there's one film that captures the unique magic of the Midwest and its expansive open spaces, it's this one. If you're feeling like a picture postcard country vacation, just pop this in instead. It's shorter with better scenery. It's also pretty genuine. The repetitious landscapes, the odd passing thunderstorm, and the kamikaze deer on the highways; David Lynch captures a specific aura that pervades many filmmakers who paint the Midwest as merely drab and isolating. Lynch takes in the warm glow of the cornfields, the vast starry nights, and the slower pace that allows reflection on the occasional and specific beauty to be found here.

Last Stop: Endora, Iowa
see: What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

While technically filmed in Texas, this nicely contrasts that notion of small town detachment with some barren beauty and small town wonder. You could pass many a farmhouse like the one occupied by the Grape Family -- white paint chipping away, a porch on the verge of collapse -- and any one of these country homes could be occupied by a 400 lb. housebound woman, yet you really wouldn't have guessed it...

The characters in the fictional Endora pass their time at the Dairy Dreme, they work at the family owned grocer that's currently threatened by Foodland and its corporate onslaught, and they celebrate the arrival of the a fast food chain like it's the opening of a theme park. It might seem scant, but it's those subtleties and small pleasures that are known to anyone who has resided in a town like this.

Equal though to its plainness in the landscape and minimal excursions are those expansive and often breathtaking sunsets. Juliette Lewis, as a traveler just passing through Endora, says "this place is as good a place as any." In moments like those you could believe her.

I hope you enjoyed the tour! You're probably still thinking "simple minds and drab landscapes," but at least you can now cite specifics.

Now get home and unpack your things. I think we've spent enough time together, don't you?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ang Lee and the Negative Zone

"To find yourself in the negative zone, as the Fantastic Four often do, means that all everyday assumptions are inverted. Even the invisible girl herself becomes visible and so she loses the last semblance of her power. It seems to me that everyone exists partially on a negative zone level, some people more than others. In your life it's kind of like you dip in and out of it: a place where things don't work out quite the way they should. But for some people, there's something about the negative zone that tempts them and they end up going in -- going in all the way."

This quote from The Ice Storm sums up its many repressed, longing and confused characters. It also works as the conflicted core to many of Ang Lee's accomplished films. Each tragic figure is tempted by something that would ideally lead them closer to some kind of happiness, be that true love or self-realization. At first it seems as though the world would never allow it, but eventually the world opens up and makes it possible, and ultimately it's the individual that refuses it or accepts it only moments too late.

How true to life... How depressing, gorgeously shot, and true to life...

Happy Wednesday!

You stole my Innocence!

I'm sure some other writers out there can relate to this. You write something you perceive to be genuine, filled with startling details unique to your view of the world. No one else could tap into your one-of-a-kind perceptions, your fresh angle and profound voice.

Until they do. Only better.

My graduation requirements proposed that I write a feature length screenplay. Mine was entitled Innocents and it was the story of a young girl's loss of innocence by way of eerie ambiance and a metaphorical woodland setting. You know, pretentious, moody arthouse stuff only dreamt up by film students and later discarded by studio script readers.

Imagine my surprise upon the day of its proud completion -- and turning it in for course credit -- when I flip the pages of "Sight and Sound" and see this: Innocence, a just released French feature by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, about the loss of innocence by way of eerie ambiance and a metaphorical woodland setting...!

I was shocked, irritated, and I was hoping my graduate professors didn't subscribe to "Sight and Sound." But the most grating thing? I wanted desperately to see the film because, hell, it looked right up my alley.

Well it's years later and new ideas have surfaced, so I was finally ready to shed the past and give into THE film that had unknowingly stumbled into creative theft. Now, strange but mild similarities aside, I begrudgingly say Innocence is a sublime piece of work. If it were an American product, I might still hold a bitter, superior grudge. But the French? They know how to enthrall and repel audiences in equal measure, and they know how to make a film that only 10% of audiences would possibly care to see.

Thus Innocence comes with my most sour but sincere recommendation. It's a metaphorical evocation of childhood that's as mysterious, eerie and dreamlike as... childhood, appropriately. A young girl named Iris inexplicably arrives (by way of a small coffin) at an all girl's school residing deep in the forest. The girls live in five separate houses and are assigned different colored ribbons to wear in their hair -- a way to delineate their age. They attend courses on nature and study dance, but so many questions remain: What happens when the girls reach a certain age? Why mustn't the girls leave the park? What are the ominous passageways that run beneath the forest?

Not unlike Picnic at Hanging Rock, it's filled with haunting, meditative images and stirring atmosphere, not to mention a thematically brilliant ending that adds some unexpected weight. It's lyrical, mystifying, and (dammit!) so much better than anything I'd written.

I still wish I got royalties, as undeserved as they would be... but if anyone got to realize the idea for the big screen, I'm glad it was a French female arthouse director, and I'm glad she has a last name no one can pronounce.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Midsummer Multiplex Dream

Sequels, superheroes and spinoffs rule the cinematic world. What fools we moviegoers be...

As I drift off to sleep during the latest uninspired summer spectacle, let me dream of psychedelic drug trips, bi-sexual Spanish encounters, and Jason Bateman.

If there were five films I dream of seeing this very second -- five films that await me in my moviegoing future and that I long to rescue me from this celluloid slump -- these five would be it:

Enter the Void

(Is there a better image and title to describe the summer movie experience?)

Gaspar Noe, the man behind the jaw-dropping and unforgettable films Irreversible and I Stand Alone is back, ready to scar cinephiles with another disorienting descent into the dark side. Noe explains his latest, Enter the Void, as an enticing blend of dreams and hallucination:

The visions described in the script are inspired partly by the accounts of people who have had near-death experiences, who describe a tunnel of light, seeing their lives flashing past them and ‘astral’ visions, and partly by similar hallucinatory experiences obtained by consuming DMT, the molecule which the brain sometimes secretes at the moment of death and which, in small doses, enables us to dream at night.

The film should sometimes scare the audience, make it cry and, as much as possible, hypnotise it. Twitch

I can't recall seeing a film since Irreversible that's had quite the same shattering effect. Its style, its shock, its complete willingness to lose its audience within minutes of the start time... With Noe taking his talents into the surreal, the realm of the mind, I can only imagine it will be an experience like none other. Will he actually try to top that nine minute rape scene or the nastiest of nasty face smashings?

Noe is the rarest breed of cult filmmaker in that he's able to push all taste barriers and still maintain a level of artistry and technical innovation. Mental trauma might rarely make for great "entertainment," but when the time comes for Noe to install electrodes in theater seats, I'll be front and center.

Broken Embraces
(Los abrazos rotos)

Pedro Almodovar's been on a vicious hot streak, making masterpiece after masterpiece for quite a number of years now. His latest, Broken Embraces, re-teams him with Penelope "she's amazing... when she's in Spanish" Cruz. Her turn in last year's Volver was sexy, subtle and astonishing, so it's all the more exciting to see what direction they'll take with this, their fourth collaboration. Almodovar regulars like Rossy de Palma and Chus Lampreave are also attached to smaller roles, so there's no reason to believe this delirious streak won't continue.

The basic premise remains vague. It's about... you guessed it, a broken embrace. But who needs more details than that? Almodovar says his inspiration for this project "comes from the darkness," and that it's his "most novel-like story to date." That's quite a drool-worthy statement, considering the man's work is always so richly textured and effortlessly evolving. If Pedro were here right now, I'd hug him and I'd never pull away.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Two Penelope Cruz movies on one list? I'm as surprised as you are, but then the girl has proven her chops. And technically she's still in Spanish speaking territory so we're in the clear.

I've been on a Woody Allen binge lately, falling in love again with some of his often forgotten classics like Another Woman, Husbands and Wives and Interiors. Simply put, they're AMAZING and the man can make forty-billion Small Time Crooks with those on his resume. Realistically, Woody's reputation doesn't deserve the beating its gotten in recent years. Even his weak films are decidedly better than most, and it was evident with Match Point that he's still got a heavenly gift, it's just waiting to shine on the right project.

Let's hope Vicky Cristina Barcelona is it. I love the idea of Woody Allen trying out new environments (this time Spain... obviously) and, true to his skill set, he seems to be dealing with moral conflicts and sexual mores at their insightful, probing best.

Cruz stars alongside boyfriend Javier Bardem, the amazing Patricia Clarkson, and current Allen muse Scarlett Johansson, in a story of lustful encounters on a Spanish summer holiday. We have the promise of gorgeous sunlit locales and steamy sexual deceit, some even of the bi-sexual variety, just for good measure. Sounds to me like he's on the right track.

I'm hoping the movie's title derived from Woody Allen being SO excited about his idea that those three words in tandem were all he could get out.

The Informers

Bret Easton Ellis and his ever-charming nihilism have served the makings of two sublime cult classics, American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction. The latest adaptation comes in the form of The Informers, based on a collection of randomly linked short stories that Ellis wrote in 1994. The book is a deliciously bleak and funny view of the LA wasteland, with characters as despicable and delightful as those we've come to expect from Ellis. The film version is well on track with a cast ironically culled from the same LA wasteland. Winona Ryder, Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke and Chris Isaak star, and it's also the final film for actor Brad Renfro, who died back in January of a heroine overdose.

Ellis co-wrote the script this time around (with Nicholas Jarecki, a newcomer), which should be interesting since this is his first film adaptation and it's of his own work. The previous film variations have had to take their own unique slant to even attempt capturing the dark tone of his work and they've succeeded remarkably well. Naturally one would assume his own personal touch would be a bonafide plus.

The stories contained here include rock stars, movie executives, child murderers and... vampires? It's a challenging bit of material to be sure, but with just enough cerebral satire to sour anyone who's feeling good about themselves or those around them. Guaranteed.

Arrested Development: The Movie

I'm a total cheat, this one's not even in production yet, but... the rumor mill has been heating up like a Bluth Company Cornballer! Given Michael Cera and Jason Bateman's surging careers, as well as the show's still surging reputation for unabashed brilliance, it's about time we pay another visit to the Bluth family.

If we must suffer movie spinoffs, at least make one that's justifiable. COME ON! How about one based on a now classic series whose life was cut tragically short when people preferred to see D-grade celebrities have a dance off. The silver lining was that Arrested Development never had the chance to decline past anything but perfection. The tragedy was that there wasn't even a hint of that decline. The Fox Network made a huge mistake...

I don't even care to imagine the plot because creator Mitch Hurwitz would come up with something infinitely better, but if he can reassemble the dynamite cast, I have no doubt this would be a comedy for the ages. Considering the building fan anticipation and the lingering studio restraint, the series' title gains even more significance.