Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jane Lynch Controls My Television

It's been a while since I've done a post on television. In the meantime favorite shows have come and gone back into hibernation for the summer, and guilty pleasures have filled in the waning months. So long ago it was that my mild-disdain for True Blood has morphed into mild-curiosity for its upcoming second season. What can I say... trash television is in my blood, and similarly, it only took me six years to realize that mockery alone would never justify my watching The L Word. Then I realized what it was about that show. Set aside the fact that its deplorable characters were barely recognizable scene to scene, and the fact that its season long murder "mystery" was resolved with a L'Oréal commercial, the show did have Pam Grier chewing the background scenery as she struggled to remember her lines. That and Jane Lynch.

She's really all you need to make must-see television. But add in the factor of writing that isn't embarrassing and you can achieve something really special. Two of my current TV interests, Party Down and Glee, are both currently fighting over the brilliant comic timing of Jane Lynch.

Party Down
is a superb show I only heard about a week ago, coinciding with the end of its first season. No surprise really considering it airs on the Starz Network, but that's forgetting that outside of Jane Lynch, we also get the likes of Ken Marino (The State) and Martin Starr (Bill of Freaks & Geeks), as well as drool-worthy Paul Rudd as co-creator and pilot writer! It's also a Veronica Mars reunion of sorts with creator Rob Thomas executive producing and various members of that ensemble making appearances, including a stellar Kristen Bell cameo. And did I mention that Fred Savage directs half the season? Who knew? But again... the Starz network.

The show follows a troupe of struggling actors and screenwriters whose catering job accentuates that their lives and dreams couldn't be more disparate. Party Down is funny, evolving, and with its own unique feel from workplace comedies like The Office. It has just been picked up for a second season and just ended its first on a wonderful high note. And yet... where's Jane Lynch going? Her character Constance, a one-time actress (resume: Dingleberries) with a burgeoning career in self-delusion, is the show's best comic highlight. Although as the season progressed she moved further into the background until she was indiscernible from Jennifer Coolidge!! Though smart casting decision on the part of Party Down since Jennifer Coolidge could almost - almost - make you forgive Jane Lynch's absence, she's just that good. Watch as she trips on mushrooms at a high dollar catering event in "a purple tube of consciousness," confusing lemons for "sun eggs."

Who do we have to blame for Jane Lynch theft? The Fox Network. Always blame the Fox Network... At least it turns out it's for a show with some real potential and another role that serves Lynch's best interest. Fox's Glee, which doesn't begin its season run until September, has a nice mix of good intentions and genuine quality. The show follows Mr. Schuester (played by the "I'm happy to repeat high school, he's so sexy" Matthew Morrison), a teacher longing to inspire new students as he is flooded with memories of past glee - the kind of glee that comes with having been in the Glee Club.

All that glee would be unbearable if it weren't for some honest laughs and a few surprising musical numbers. It may be a small leap from High School Musical, but it's a small and epic leap, and it leaves lots of promise with its pilot episode (currently free for viewing at That promise also includes Jane Lynch as a cheerleading coach, probably equal to Constance in both meager screentime and grand self-delusion. Although if Jane Lynch reads this, it would fill me with... glee... if you'd choose to continue with Party Down. You know how Fox likes to cancel anything with redeeming value. You were on Arrested Development.

Here's the pilot episode's effectively upbeat musical number for Journey's "Don't Stop Believin." You'll either cringe or you'll be filled with... glee. Either way I think I see Jane Lynch!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Defensive Cinema #2: The Rules of Attraction (2002)

Defensive Cinema is a series devoted to films seemingly dismissed by the greater population. And me getting all defensive like and telling you why my opinions hold more water than yours.

How does youth get so jaded? Bad shrooms, contracting mono at the "Pre-Saturday Night Party Party," and sex with a film major. That's how.

"I actually lost my virginity to a townie! This wouldn't have happened with Victor. He would have taken me gently in his big, strong, drama major arms and undressed me quietly and expertly. Taken my bra off with grace and ease. And it probably wouldn't have hurt. I should have given myself to Victor last term when I had the chance. I always knew it was going to be like this..."


Roger Avary's The Rules of Attraction is a sorely underrated film, but then it's not exactly asking anyone to like it. In fact if you showed any direct interest in it, it would probably use you, toss you aside and steal a twenty from your wallet - just to snort a line of coke with it.

It wholly manages to transcend a tired genre: the dire (and usually more cheerful) college movie. But in the hands of writer Bret Easton Ellis we can ensure there will be fewer sorority sagas, revenging nerds, and "where do we go from here?" monologues -- even with a cast composed of 7th Heaven and Dawson's Creek veterans. Ellis's novel is a warped wasteland of sex, drugs, and suicidal thoughts (sounds more like college, right?), and a tricky layering of interconnected characters experiencing some major disconnect. What they desire is fruitless but essential, void but consuming and... well who really gives a fuck as long as you're getting laid? Amidst the constant stream of parties and tapped kegs, there exists Sean, Paul, Lauren, and the rest of the Camden graduating class. America's bright future is buzzed and burnt out.

The film adaptation's mediocre reputation seems to come from the expectation that all this sex-fueled disillusionment is meant to be shocking, when really that's inconsequential to characters driven by impulse and a moment's desire... or any genuine emotion for that matter. What people seem to ultimately dismiss is a stylish and funny film with crass and cruel characters that might have more reflection than they're willing to admit. Attraction is dangerous business after all - hence the rules. And fans of Ellis should know this is his most tonally succinct adaptation, even if it's less of a cinematic success than American Psycho.

The ensemble seems surprisingly up to snuff. Shannyn Sossamon as Lauren makes a striking turn that's yet to be followed up in her career (unless you were particularly moved by the remake of One Missed Call). She finds the gravitas in a character with very little, and the sexy humor in someone that reads up on venereal diseases to prep for her dates. And James Van Der Beek hardly gives us the varsity blues either, with a performance that works even better in his most inexpressive moments. Lest we forget Sean is brother to Patrick Bateman, so we should expect there's something special (and especially psychotic) behind that slightly blank pretty face.

If there's one thing I'm not so attracted to it's the subplot involving Sean's dopey dalliances with a drug dealer. They feel out of step with the sardonic misery and malaise of the rest of the film; like discarded threads of Avary's Pulp Fiction past, or a poorly timed echo of the "Sister Christian" scene from Boogie Nights. But ultimately they don't detract from the film's purposefully scatterbrained feel, which includes stellar cameos from the pill poppin' duo of Swoosie Kurtz and Faye Dunaway, and an appearance by Fred Savage on clarinet... and heroin. Secondary characters each get their moment to shine, including two seemingly separate stories that threaten to steal the whole movie. One: the infamous Victor's tour-de-force tour of Europe, told in a smutty and sensational four minutes. And two: dinner with Richard... err, "DICK!"

So it begs the question: what exactly ARE the rules of attraction? The best I could surmise was this:

Rule 1 of 1: If you can't contain your attraction, contain it with a soft feather pillow...

...or a soft rendition of "Afternoon Delight":

After all, it's hardly skyrockets in flight for the characters of The Rules of Attraction. Lonely, one-sided emptiness ultimately lost in translation between two separate entities. That is until the one rare glimmer of a connection that forever keeps them looking.

In the end some would rather die than find themselves without the one they desire. Others should just find solace in their lack of STD's.

"Victor was fucking my roommate Lara. She gave him mono before he dumped her. I'm told that later, after I left Camden, she got really drunk and went wandering through Windham House and did the whole football team. She's now married to a senator and has four kids. How time sorts things."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Retro Posters Conquer the Earth!

"A nice place to visit, but you could never live there!"

It's official. Omaha, Nebraska is an island.

"It will freeze your blood."

... And frozen blood ain't good for pitchforkin'...
Or prowlin' for that matter.

(The Hills Have Eyes)

The worst thing about being stranded in the desert isn't that the hills have eyes, because their view is probably obstructed by that grand city skyline.

She's about to get a real feel for the city.

Ugly Kids.

A friend, Matt, recently sent me this endearing image (no link - "Matt doesn't advertise" - but does refer to himself in third person). Although I take full credit for Michael Keaton Baby...

I once posted that photo when writing of my most beloved TV documentary of late, My Fake Baby: the hard-hitting look at doll collecting... via British women who think their dolls are children... basically. Reborn babies are the wave of the neurotic and scary future, I'm telling you.

I'd once told Matt of a trip to Kansas City where I'd seen an interstate billboard that had two average kids' grade school photos. Beneath it was the text,"Ugly Kids." And there my love of advertising was born.

Making It In the Art World

I thought I should link to a couple of my "Signatures" over at Film Experience on beloved actresses Catherine O'Hara and Jamie Lee Curtis. Not my best posts, sorry (and rude of you for suggesting). These woman deserve better for having had tremendous careers that have forced them to stay fresh and funny, and managing it exquisitely even in their most commercial ventures. This is to say, more exquisitely than I... At least until my cassette drops.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Inglourious Retro Posters!

You know parents mean business when their choice of home
isn't based on proximity to school - rather the town's
giant swinging clock of death.

Checklist: (1) Murder rock (2) Celebrate leg warmers

Falling over has never been this EXTREME!!

-- Gracious thanks to Wrong Side of the Art and Cinema du Meep for the inspirational imagery.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Club Silencio Causes Cancer

After all this time I should apologize for all that secondhand smoke from my site banner:

It's toxic, and thus an appropriate lead in to my writing. Alas, to any longtime reader(s) I'll provide an apology in the form of some cinematic "No Smoking" scenes. Surprisingly they don't portray smoking as sexy, or sensual yet rugged, like we're used to in most cinema (and which I obviously prefer). Just because I can't smoke for my health, doesn't mean I don't expect actors to do so and die brilliantly for their art. Smoking isn't always pretty, but is oftentimes cool and downright hilarious.

from Heathers: The filthy side of fitting in...

from Beetlejuice: Trying to cut way back...

After all, smoking may seem all fun and cool, but anything that makes Nicolas Cage marginally attractive is not to be trusted. Not after Wicker Man and evidence of his hair in Bangkok Dangerous.

from Wild at Heart:

"I guess I started smokin' when I was about... four. My mom was already dead then from lung cancer."

At least smoker/director David Lynch still has a sense of humor about it.

from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me:

"If I had a nickel for every cigarette your mom smoked, I'd be dead."

Here's to all the edgy cinematic smokers, and we who gladly inhale their cinematic smoke secondhand. And to those of you who still read Club Silencio... Don't quit now! Just because it's bad for pregnant women and lungs doesn't mean you don't need it. It's cool, right?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Defensive Cinema #1: Crash (1996)

Defensive Cinema is a series devoted to films seemingly dismissed by the greater population. And me getting all defensive like and telling you why my opinions hold more water than yours.

David Cronenberg's Crash is .... like a car accident. You can't look away. Partially because there's people having sex in the wreckage, but mostly because it's a deliberately judged, chilling and elegant film that deepens, warps and scars each time you view it.

Crash author J.G Ballard wrote a fanboy letter to Cronenberg, that's how true he felt to this cinematic adaptation. Beyond that it's a film true to the director's style - seeing as horrors of body and mind are the center of Cronenberg's universe. Thus this story of people aroused by car accidents. Each character tells a frightening, oddly beautiful story of detachment, sexual frustration, and love sought in the wreckage that is the human body. They're fascinating people because we have no idea exactly what's driving them. They also have some of my favorite character intros in film:

Catherine Ballard, Flight School Student.
She will undoubtedly excel in the industry.

James Ballard
, Producer.
Loves his work but is overwhelmed.

Helen Remington
, Doctor.
Moving on instantaneously from her husband's death in a car accident. An inspiration.

From the start, only one thing in this film is obvious: You can't take these people anywhere!

Gabrielle, Rosanna Arquette's handicapped character, is showing off her sense of style at the auto lot. Probably because she makes her own clothing. Heavy duty specialty clothing to hold her joints... and her joints.

Not to sound too high on it, but Crash is sensationally dense in creativity. It's about a truly modern form of lovemaking, the fusion of flesh and metal, social attachment wrapped inside social detachment, the American obsessions with sex and the automobile... That's all matched with a stellar sense of mood and detail, a perfect score by Howard Shore, and some entirely classic and original moments.

Including the best game of "show me your scars."

The best gay sex between husband and wife:

(For a translation just highlight here - seeing as Catherine's game of Crash-Victim 20 Questions is hilariously NSFW. Live dangerously.)

Catherine: Is he circumcised? Can you imagine what his anus must look like? Describe it to me. Would you like to sodomize him? Would you like to put your penis right into his anus? Just thrust it up his anus? Tell Me. Describe it to me. Tell me what you would do. Would you just kiss him in that car? Describe it to me. Reach over and unzip his greasy jeans. Take out his penis. Would you kiss it, or suck it, right away? Would you hold it in? Have you ever sucked a penis? Do you know what semen tastes like? Have you ever tasted semen? Some semen is saltier than others. Vaughn's semen must be very salty.

Crash is in Cronenberg's eyes a love story, and James and Catherine Ballard's love story is wholly unique to cinema. Fascinating, oddly erotic... And yet. (And yet.) True with every character really, they seem completely removed from each other and still more passionately close than ever. The problem is that they're always looking for something new. Sharing the experience of a car accident becomes something to strive for, something to survive, and a wound to see manifested on their sleek, stylish four wheels.

And like a car these couplings eventually get a little bit dirty. And so the film supplies a scene with the best worst car wash:

The only car wash where you come out dirtier than you went in. And that's probably a feeling many people have upon seeing Crash. (And probably as of now, reading this blog.) I say give it a test drive, or a second ride. One of Cronenberg's finest films I say (and a think-piece with some softcore.) Whatever you do: Drive Safe! Avoid running into that DVD with Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser - which is often a good rule of thumb. Maybe the next one... Maybe the next one.

Drive defensively! More Defensive Cinema coming soon!