Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reach Out and Touch Someone

"I feel like if somebody were to touch me I would dissolve into molecules."

I'm in an unusually romantic mood and nothing puts me there quite like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise/Before Sunset. Perhaps the greatest thing about the films is that, amongst all of Jesse and Celine's sweet musings on life and love, it's actually the wordless moments that express their connection most profoundly. Whether it's the lingering ascent up a staircase in hopes of missing a plane, or the battling gazes in a record booth, it's such palpable romantic perfection. The closest thing to a cinematic heart swell.

I can't help but dissolve into molecules.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"How To Be Thoroughly Modern" with Millie Lammoreaux

Set goals in life and in love...

"I plan everything I do. I figure out what it is I want and then I set out to do it. Like this apartment -- I've been decoratin' it ever since I moved in. And even if I fell in love with a guy and wanted to get married, I wouldn't move into his place. He'd have to move in with me. And even then I'd want to know everything there is to know about him. Includin' money and health."

Take pleasure in preparation...

"You can start by taking some of that cheese spread and squirtin' it in a circle on those Sociables. And then put an olive on top of each one. I made these once before and they were a real big hit."

"I'm famous for my dinner parties... We're havin' pigs in a blanket and chocolate puddin' tarts!"

Be the life of your own party...

"Do you guys know how to play Scrabble? It's a real good game - you can learn a lot of new words. My roommate's got this boyfriend who's really good at it. He knows some words I've never even heard of before. "Orator." It's in the dictionary alright. I think it's some kind of, oh, professional talker or somethin'. But the most unusual one was "zebus." You know what zebus are? The humps on a camel's back. I didn't like the guy I was with too much, though. All he wanted to do was make up dirty words. We weren't gonna play that way."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Playing Video Games with Jude Law

"That wasn't me that was my game character."

I Love My Fake Baby

I nominate My Fake Baby for Best Documentary of the Year.

It's the story of two women whose devotion to their "reborn babies" totally transcends the ridiculous. Reborn babies are ultra-realistic dolls that can mimic breathing, warmth, wriggling and heartbeats, and there's a growing British fanbase. Accordingly then this documentary is hilarious, but also so painful in its desperation that it strikes an unusual dramatic chord. When one woman presents her husband with her first Reborn acquisition -- a doll made to resemble their grandson in minute detail -- she is met with a reaction of slight concern and repulsion. Her guttural cries indicate she was expecting her husband to be just as passionate as one would be in welcoming a newborn into the family. Her actual grandchild is wise enough to set her straight, "That's a doll, you numbnuts!"

If only Christopher Guest's troupe had made this. The offbeat characters and delusional worldviews would have people rolling in the aisles just as this had me rolling in my computer chair... The only difference here is that these folks are real and so that laughter is tinged with equal parts dread and pity. There are apparently hundreds of grown British women who've taken to playing house with a hunk of finely detailed plastic. Basically it's brilliant (subtly devastating) comedy gold!

Watch it here:

First there's our reborn baby creator, Jamie, a single mom who took up the odd hobby after hunting for a realistic doll for her daughter. She skillfully paints individual veins, birthmarks, facial scratches, the works! Jamie's at the top of her craft; the Michelangelo of reborns. He used canvas whereas Jamie puts baby parts in her oven.

Jamie strolls up and down her local grocer with an empty cart, bumping into the customers, "Excuse me, would you like to buy a baby?... Come here every week and sell me babies." Watch as their utter joy melts into a shudder.

Jamie seems like a mostly stable woman who's great at what she does, and has found a ripe market in the questionably sane. It's also comforting that her daughters seem in on the joke. Yet another case of a child having significantly more sense than these adults.

Which brings us to the customer base:

Left: Sue is a woman overcome by a maternal instinct but with no desire for fussing and cleanup. Still, she individually washes the wheels on her pram (a creepier-sounding British stroller), bathes and even combs the hair of her four reborn daughters. Sue also travels to America for their "adoptions."

Right: Christina is a woman so overcome by sadness upon her grandson moving away that she replaces him with a doll replica.

Daily reminders that you're baby is actually a doll:

1) Those expensive designer bottle holders you bought are actually filled with laundry fluid, for the realistic appearance of actual milk.

2) The delivery of your baby required cardboard, packaging tape, and that reliable UPS service.

3) If your baby flies out of the car seat or loses its head, there's always a replacement online.

4) Sightseeing with your baby turns YOU into the main attraction.

With the reborn in one of her many designer prams (with detachable parasol), Sue wants to stand out on the playground. So much scary in a single image!

Sue says she's not delusional. "They're perhaps embarrassed for me because I am, perhaps, pushing a doll in a pram. But for me I don't see it like that, " she insists. "I don't see her as a baby, any of my girls. I don't see them as real babies. I know they're real dolls, I'm under no illusion. But it's just where I haven't got children, I guess there is still that female instinct in me."

The husbands are doing their best to remain supportive and oblivious. Sue's husband Terry doesn't even flinch when asked to pose in a family photo.

Of course Sue realizes why she prefers these dolls to real children, "Never grows out of her clothes, never soils them. It's just fabulous. The only difference is of course these guys don't move." Well I'm convinced it's for the best, not just because of the child's impending psychotic break, but also because of those nails!

Terry explains their lack of real kids: "The story behind that is when we was young, we decided that we would enjoy ourselves when we were young and have children later. But it's never stopped -- enjoying it. It's just we've had the holidays."

Sue elaborates, "It's too much commitment and I can't stand the noise, and I'm just so fussy really. If I could pick a child off the shelf, that would be wonderful because I could say, 'Yeah, I want one that's quiet and well behaved, and one that keeps clean.'"

The one Sue claws off the shelf is your "Average Creepy Baby":

There's also your "Ugly Baby":
The one on the right looks like Michael Keaton.

And my personal favorite: "Had a Hard Life Baby." She looks like she went from birth right into retirement.

Emmy voters where are you? Give My Fake Baby some love! If not for me, do it for the reborns and the reborns after them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Election Excitement with Christina Ricci

2009 and Beyond the Infinite: Part 2

A look into the films of the future.

Part 1 available here.

Dark Shadows
Release: 2010 (?)
Director: Tim Burton

The soapy sixties saga from creator Dan Curtis about time-shifting vampire Barnabas Collins and his dark legacy is always ripe to be drained of its blood. There was already the nineties' short-lived revival series, and this decade's botched teenage spin, but now it's Tim Burton's turn to revisit the Gothic mystery of Collinwood Manor. It sounds unexpectedly enticing! Naturally Johnny Depp's set for the lead, but this time it's as much about good casting as it is Burton's friendly obligation. The series had a tone of playful fantasy that can be Burton's specialty, although Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seemed like manufactured whimsy more than inspired streams of his imagination. See Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice for that. John August is writing the script and we can probably assume it will stick to the core story of Barnabas falling for the beautiful visitor Victoria Winters, who bears a striking resemblance to his long lost love Josette. It's all about witches, werewolves and Barnabas Fucking Collins! (John August is welcome to use that line in the film.) Burton's off doing his version of Alice in Wonderland first, also starring Johnny Depp, but we'll wait and see if he can recover some of that old black magic.

A natural progression.

Enter the Void
Release: 2009 (Cannes Film Festival)
Director: Gaspar Noé

If you've got a strong stomach or a substance abuse problem, this one's your golden ticket! Shocking and innovative French director Gaspar Noé (I Stand Alone) takes us on a psychedelic trip through the mind of a man on the brink of death. Noé says the film, which was recently completed in Tokyo, will be an exhaustive experience blending dreams, memory and startling streams of consciousness. He mentions his primary influence was the mind melding 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he already made direct connections to in the bold and controversial Irreversible. The trippy, "melodramatic" plot concerns a brother's efforts to save his sister while having a near death experience. It sounds radically visual with an inventive narrative, and there's no doubt Noé's got a little shock left in his system. Check out the film's striking poster art and more of Noé's thoughts here.

"Someone in here!"

Release: 2009 (?)
Director: Miranda July

Me, you and everyone I know loved Miranda July's indie/performance art debut. Her follow-up is a modern romantic comedy that, according to Variety, "turns on a young couple: Jason, goes off on an ecological mission; Sophie starts an affair with an older man. Both events threaten the relationship." Some threads of the film might even connect to July's recent short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You. Expect big heart, inoffensive quirk, and possibly some small kids chatting poetically about scat.


Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
Release: 2009 (?)
Director: Don Roos

Am I actually looking forward to a movie starring Jennifer Lopez? To that I say, "Enough!" But then I look out the window and hell hasn't frozen over. It's just her good luck to be paired with a hilarious queer director and his perfect sardonic muse Lisa Kudrow. Don Roos, who gave us The Opposite of Sex and the undervalued Happy Endings, is back with another take on the perils and promise of modern relationships. According to the (far too spoilerish) synopsis here, the film follows an aspiring lawyer (Lopez) whose flirtation with a married senior partner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) quickly spins into marriage, pregnancy, and dealing with a difficult stepchild. Did you just nod off? Well it takes some darker turns from there which sound like they'll definitely reap the heavy drama. It's based on a novel by Ayelet Waldman and could be more in keeping with Roos' 2000 feature Bounce. I'm not making this sound good at all... But Lisa Kudrow everybody!

Release: 2009
Director: Lars von Trier

Previously discussed here. While we wait on Washington and pray Nicole Kidman frees up her schedule, we get this equally drool-worthy prospect. Lars von Trier is fusing his notoriously horrifying take on humanity with a more genre-based horror. It's got a cabin in the woods, a demonic pregnancy and Willem Dafoe, all working their way under your skin. Do yourself a favor and gear up for this one by watching von Trier's miniseries spectacular The Kingdom (Riget). Because where else can you see Udo Kier's adult head emerging from a womb?

Rosemary had it easy.

Taking Woodstock
Release: 2009
Director: Ang Lee

Recently discussed here. I lust for any new Ang Lee film, devoid of caution that it could ever disappoint. (Covering my ears as you say The Hulk). Gay themes, Emile Hirsch and Jeffrey Dean Morgan! ...Oh, and something about music... or some kind of festival... maybe?

"Bring on shirtless Emile Hirsch! ...Oh, and the band. We should probably hear the band."

Release: 2009
Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Kenneth Lonergan's second feature has been a long time coming. It was way back in 2000 that he warmed indie-loving hearts with the magnificent You Can Count On Me. Stars of that film Mark Ruffalo and Matthew Broderick (plus your standard Culkin kid) are joined by Matt Damon and Anna Paquin for this morality based drama. The film follows Lisa Cohen (Paquin), a high school student witness to a horrible traffic accident. She feels as though the tragedy may have inadvertently been her fault, and in efforts to make things right with herself she brings about complications with those around her. It sounds like another richly rewarding character piece from Lonergan, and if it's anything like his debut we can expect some wonderfully natural dialogue and subtly affecting humor.

She's too depressed to be fucking Matt Damon.

Part 3 coming soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Less is More Acting with Catherine O'Hara

"When you're talking to someone you close your eyes -- and then you look at them when you're not talking to the person. I mean you open your eyes when you're looking away, but then when you talk to the person you go like that -- and you open your eyes -- and then you look back at the person, but you never open your eyes when you're talking to them."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

UR So Gay and You Don't Even Like Online Polls

AfterElton just released the results of their "Fifty Greatest Gay Movies" poll. Naturally a list like this is never worth much more than curiosity -- the same as with any poll summing up cinematic history. It's pretty much a "name fifty gay movies you can find at Blockbuster" list, but that's not to discount the many absolute gems that made it. It will come as no surprise that Brokeback Mountain took top honors, and I must say it would rank there or nearby on my personal list. The fact that it's followed so closely by 2007's Shelter is another matter -- a commendable film no doubt, but clearly a win based on recent memory rather than sheer brilliance. Also, how cringe worthy that there's more viewers in love with Another Gay Movie and The Birdcage than there are My Own Private Idaho!

Here are five films that didn't crack the list and that are just too astounding to pass by. You may not find them at Blockbuster, but this is the age of Netflix and internet piracy, so queue it or steal it. Better yet, buy them with money you've earned by returning your copy of Another Gay Movie.

Come Undone
(Presque Rien)

If there must be a coming out film on this list, it best be from the French. No preaching, no shouting matches, and no falsely sentimental endings. Come Undone is all about the mood of self discovery and conflicted first love. For Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaim) it becomes an issue of finding himself amidst his desires for the more open Cédric (Stéphane Rideau), as well as some troubling family drama. But drama is hardly the focus in this film, in fact it largely avoids those big moments in pursuit of something far more subdued and atmospheric. The official "coming out scene" is so passingly subtle that it exists merely as a stage of Mathieu's often dark emotional transition. It contrasts well with the sunlit warmth of his escalating feelings for Cédric and their exploratory summer romance. Talented director Sébastien Lifshitz cuts between these two tones to form an ambiguity very much in keeping with Mathieu's internal struggle. Compared to most American fare it's quite sparse and ambient, and that's precisely what gives the film its naturalism. Equal to that is the film's frank sexuality, especially notable in a scene where Mathieu and Cédric take to each other passionately in the dunes. Stéphane Rideau is a wonderfully sexy presence here as well, making the swooning desire all the more palpable.

Law of Desire
(La Ley del deseo)

Pedro Almodóvar's equally masterful Bad Education did manage to get honored, but this less available film from the gay Spanish auteur officially cemented his place in queer cinema. Part of the charm of Bad Education is the reflexive nature of Almodóvar's work, and this film acts as somewhat of a precursor to that. The story follows queer director Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela) as he becomes the object of desire for a young fan, Antonio Benítez, played by a smoldering Antonio Banderas. Antonio's endearing nature and inexperience has Pablo quickly warming to him, but Antonio's intense feelings of first love mean taking drastic measures when he finds that Pablo has eyes for someone else. Almodóvar shows his usual talent for rich, unusual love stories and passionate, involving characters. The plot turns are nothing revelatory, but the motivations and complications are effortlessly thoughtful and compelling. It's beautiful work on all fronts, even taking in a notably progressive transgender character, played to perfection by Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura.

Happy Together
(Chu gwong cha sit)

Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung) and Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) are off and on lovers whose worlds constantly converge and break away in this beautiful and expressive film from Wong Kar Wai, who knows a thing or two about sensuous romance. Kar Wai uses a unique process as a director in which he lets the story evolve and change completely during filming. It allows him to find the greatest truth in his characters and their relationships to form naturally. The outcome is as much a surprise to him as it is to the audience, and perhaps that's why this love story feels so honest and so innovative. Yiu-fai and Po-wing aren't the typical couple cinematically speaking, but their constant battling crossed with their invested need for one another is very typical of real life couples. Happy Together is gorgeous, organic and longing in a way so few relationship films are, especially ones that just happen to be about two men.

"I worry that you'll work in an office, have children, celebrate wedding anniversaries... The world of a heterosexual is a sick and boring life!"

It's scandalous that not one John Waters movie cracked the list! I'm hoping it's that none of his films are overtly about gay relationships and not that gay audiences haven't sought out his work. Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble are two of his most raucous and reprehensible masterpieces, and Waters influence on queer and underground cinema must be acknowledged. He manages to make absolutely everything subversive, including having drag queen Divine play both the naughty Dawn Davenport and her repugnant rapist. Likewise there's the lovable Aunt Ida (played by the incomparable Edith Massey) persistently urging her nephew to stop being straight, "Queers are just better. I'd be so proud if you was a fag and had a nice beautician boyfriend. I'd never have to worry!" It's hilarious and refreshingly unfiltered. Being crude is one thing, but Waters has the wit to back it up.

Fox and His Friends
(Faustrecht der Freiheit)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder always tackles complex characters and socially relevant themes, and this one is an especially powerful cautionary tale starring Fassbinder himself in the lead. He plays Franz Bieberkopf, nicknamed 'Fox', a gay carnival worker whose desire to transcend his station ultimately pushes him lower than ever before. Fox buys lottery tickets in hopes of making it big, especially since he has to steal or borrow just to get money for the ticket. A chance encounter leads him into the arms of some wealthy and elite gay men who happily feed off Fox once his luck finally cashes in. For a 1975 release date it's a remarkably rounded portrayal of gay characters, both good and bad, which is an immense rarity even for modern releases.

Also missing from the list, perhaps not surprisingly, were any documentaries of value to gay audiences. Upon finally sitting down with The Times of Harvey Milk this last week, I was astounded at just how moving and impactful the life of this legendary activist still is. Harvey Milk's legacy will soon come into focus once again with Gus Van Sant's biopic Milk, but it would be a difficult feat to match this documentary, which will light a fire in the heart of anyone passionate about gay rights.

Additionally, there was no mention of The Celluloid Closet, which gives a worthwhile look at gay cinematic history. I'm actually partial to this compilation I found online called The Lavender Lens. It forms its narrative solely through the editing and takes us through gay representation since the beginning of cinema with clips that are surprising, funny and often unbelievable. A must see.

Get to watching these now if you haven't already had the pleasure. And if you have, write up your own list bitching about the great gay films left off mine.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cruising with Lisa Kudrow

"Why did he grow that beard?
And his posture! He looks like Early Man."

I'm Down with F.O.T.G., Yeah, You Know Me

This comes to you as part of the sublime Final Girl Film Club. Stacie Ponder's so much better than me, and arguably much better than you.

That's respected actress and director Ida Lupino screaming at the big maggot that just gnawed her arm.

The good backwoods Christian wife, Mrs. Skinner (Lupino), thought that yellow puddle in her backyard was the Lord's work. She insisted, "The good Lord give it to us cause we're deserving people, and we pray regular we do. The lord's gonna see to it that we don't need money no more, never." Once old Mr. Skinner saw that the substance wasn't oil, he naturally thought to himself, "why not feed it to my livestock?" Waste not, want not. I guess... They still had to force it down their chickens' throats by using additional chicken feed. Never mind the unusual color and consistency, and that animals refuse to eat it of their own accord; The Skinners love the Lord, so that gosh darn slop better be good for something!

Well that specialty slop has been lovingly labeled for pre-sale as 'F.O.T.G' by Mrs. Skinner. That's The Food of the Gods to you city folk! Wasps, rats and roosters love the stuff about as much as those greedy corporate types, but it's only the animals that experience a laughably terrifying case of giganticism. The human race is doomed! Have the Gods forsaken us, or do they just see the novelty in mega-chickens like the rest of us?

But let's be honest, we didn't seek out Food of the Gods to see big animals devouring people via shoddy trick photography. We came for those beautiful characterizations.

He's the wise pro-footballer drawn into a chaotic world of monster roosters and evil sludge. She's the female bacteriologist who loves him. Theirs is a romance that will transcend time... Or at least until they get back to the mainland. Jack (Marjoe Gortner) is what we'd call our hero. He's completely unappealing and bland, but he's at least he's conscious of the cataclysmic problem fifty-percent of the time. The same can't be said for his love interest Lorna (Pamela Frank), who sums up her story right off the bat: "Female bacteriologists are not that easy to find..." Clearly she's right, but someone could have looked a bit harder given Lorna's complete uselessness in a crisis. She gets a little depth when, seconds after (finally) shooting a human-sized rat in the face, she's more aroused than ever. Lorna seductively turns to Jack, "If I told you what I felt right know you'd think I was crazy. I want you to make love to me." See? Layers.

Meanwhile Lorna's business companion is the soulless Jack Bensington (Ralph Meeker), who wants to sell the supersizing slop for money. We already know Jack's a bastard because he loves being called one. In fact he's such a bastard that he joyfully drives past a bloody car accident AND a pregnant woman in distress. But Jack's interests lie solely in that supernatural chow ("This is the end of it! I want it all!") and making sure he can get the profit when it inevitably hits big on the market. Then there's the rest of the sideline characters -- pregnant girl, dim husband -- doing their best (ie. worst) to survive the onslaught of the Gods. Best of luck to them!

With Food of the Gods it's all about the trick photography, and the trick is not to laugh. It's harder than you'd think. Miniatures and the like make your standard scene of rats overtaking an RV seem especially charming. Consequently, two-thirds of the runtime consists of rats running into frame and being blown out of frame. Perhaps I'm too sensitive, but by the twentieth gunshot to a rodent's face, I've had my fill. It's glorified rat snuff! There's no enjoyment in that, and it ultimately derails the film for those of us with souls. Alas, giant puppet rooster heads and transparent wasps make my heart swell, so you take what you can get. After all... if you don't clean your plate, you don't get dessert.