Friday, April 28, 2006

It's probably not the first time shit has brought two men closer to one another

When I bought my ticket to Adam & Steve, I expected very little. At least I would see Parker Posey as a fat goth girl. That, truth be told, is really the only reason I went to see the film (I do belong to the cult of Parker - either you do or you don't, and for those who do, the mere raising of an eyebrow can induce hysterical fits of laughter). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the film was an exceptionally poignant and side splittingly funny romantic comedy. That moniker alone has been known to infest some viewers with hives, yet every once in a while, a romantic comedy will come along to remind you why they are made in the first place. Adam & Steve is one such movie. And I don't say that lightly. I am extremely harsh on the newest works of Queer cinema, having independently published a condemnation of Q. Alan Brocka's Eating Out and critically ripping various others where I see fit. Most Queer films today are really just sad sexless pornography. Adam & Steve on the other hand, reminds us that there are homosexuals out there who aren't seventeen and do still have sex. What's more, when they're in bed and look at each other lovingly, you actually believe it. That's something you don't get in Latter Days

First and foremost, you've got Parker Posey in the sort of film that made her an indie deity. And, for the first 15 minutes, her character is a fat goth girl. That's right, Parker Posey in a fat suit! And it's even more hilarious than one might think. But then you start to see the chemistry between the sweetly neurotic Adam (the usually smarmy Craig Chester, who also writes and directs) and slutty control-freak, Steve (Malcolm Gets) is exceptionally sincere and believable. The crazy situations just keep coming and not in the forced way that we have come to expect from Hollywood's current romantic comedies. They are inventive (Adam accidentally stabs his dog while sitting in bed in his underwear eating salami), absurd (every time Adam displays public acts of affection, a beer bottle is thrown at him) and gross (Gets' diarrhoetic expulsion near the opening of the film). And the laughs keep coming - particularly (this should come as no surprise) from Posey whose fantastic lines like "I'm sweating like Whitney Houston in customs," and "Oprah has made it impossible for me to have a relationship with anyone but Oprah."

But it is the sincerity that makes Adam & Steve so memorable. In truth, the final fifteen minutes loses the energy that the entire film has culminated to - throwing in a nonsensical dance sequence and moral heavy handedness. I can take the latter, as Chester has something interesting to say. It is something that goes against the conventions of Queer film and for that I respect him. At one point Chester shouts, "I'm thirty, of course I'm damaged goods. But I'm goods nonetheless." True that.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

My Sexual Awakening (In Black Vinyl)

This article is being published in conjunction with the Michelle Pfeiffer Blog-A-thon hosted/created by Nathan R. To peruse other works of non-pfiction, click here

I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember grabbing the plastic sealed cardboard case from the peg on the wall. God knows what marketers were thinking when they made a six inch plastic S&M Queen replete with a rubber whip and an internal spring which allowed her to wield it. I suppose it helps that they called her Catwoman. Perhaps even more fascinating was the fact that I had yet to see the film for which the figure served as a tie in or know the purpose this sadistic figurine served to its greater narrative. It didn't matter to me. I just used that whip to harm everything in site. I typically constructed little scenarios to justify my actions. I got a pleasure in it that was so abstract and unnameable to my little mind. It was before this train of thought was detectable as "deviant." It seemed relatively innocent. I was only whipping the other plastic figurines (and on occasion, truth be told, myself).

This was a form of idol worship that only grew stronger after finally sitting through the film (my first attempt was thwarted by my abject fear of the Penguin - I was 8). Catwoman was fierce - in a way that, without an adult economy of signs, I could not really fathom. Of course, now I recognize the masochistic aspects of the her character and accoutrements(I am not a practicing masochist, in case you were wondering), the ridiculously fetishized outfit, and the homosexual relatability to the character of Selena Kyle - both before and after womanimalization (she was both total faghag and a drag queen - any femininity taken to such an extreme can be little else - perhaps a televangelist's wife... but that's besides the point). But the way Michelle Pfeiffer writhed and slunk about in her tight vinyl was really unparalleled in terms of childhood role models. As my role models were always the villains.

I was never the one rooting for Batman. In fact, the more he was harmed, the better. The horrible fates he would potentially befall thrilled me to no end. And in very overtly metaphoric ways, Catwoman was the perfect cipher for my unnameable homosexual fantasies. Violence (as is the American way), to me, equated sex in these situations. So when Michelle Pfeiffer caresses down Batman's(a strangely sexy Michael Keaton) side to find the weak spot in his armor then penetrates him with her sewing kit slip on claws, it awoke in me an unexplainable yearning. I had no idea why the sequence was so appealing to me. Only later would I realize the metaphoric sexuality implied in the act.

All of this would be abstractly circumstantial had there not been miniature physical manifestations of these figures with whom I could reenact these curiously stimulating situations. You could say that, for me, Michelle Pfeiffer comodified the masochistic impulses implicit with adolescent homosexuality - before that sexuality develops a language with which to speak about it, to understand it, even. In a way, Catwoman was an exaggerated version of characteristics already associated with Homosexuality. Of course, this is the early nineties that we're talking about here and the image of the Tom of Finland-esque leather Queer was still a predominant public image for Homosexuality. Even within the community, the majority of works from the New Queer Cinema had yet to be made and Cruising was perhaps the most readily accessible cinematic depiction of Homosexuality(true, some more sensitive films had been made, but few equaled the sensational image perpetuated by Friedkin's dubious picture). It should not be a huge shocker than that I could find a strange appeal in the physical (penetrative) harm which Catwoman would unleash onto her victims. It was a manifestation of the public image of that thing which I already suspected I was but had not yet fully realized the consequences of. Then, of a sudden, a small plasticine representamen of these social molds is placed before me, to reenact my playroom fantasies. It was both (immediately) empowering and slightly debilitating.

To claim that Michelle Pfeiffer made me who I am today would be a positively ridiculous statement. Any multifaceted person needs more than one figure to assist in their personal development. And though I have held on to very little of what I learned yearning to be whilst simulanteously manipulating a small plastic figure of the weighted social taboos that it represented, I must say that I did learn a thing or two about "alternative" lifestyles from Miss Kyle. The scene at home, when she destroyed the dollhouse and pulled the vinyl jacket from her closet (just what was she doing with it in the first place?) made me realize that there was an alternative to the cookie-cutter world projected by the hero. When Miss Pfeiffer went through the transformation into her most dubious persona, something in me transformed a little too. And for that I am forever indebted. Happy Birthday, Miss Pfeiffer.

My Winter of Love

Scott Foundas, a staff writer for LA Weekly, perfectly summed up Cate Shortland's debut feature, Somersault, when he likened it to "one of those Joni Mitchell ballads about traveling in some vehicle through an unspecified landscape and trying to find a sense of yourself." Like a Mitchell song, Somersault is hopelessly sentimental, yet its earnestness saves it from the damnation I would normally ascribe to the more emotively pornographic heart-string pluckers prolifically swarming multiplexes everywhere. The film's absolute quiescence humbles the film, preventing it from employing the manipulative tactics of most coming of age films. The shots are a tad too beautiful for the film's own good, but because of the dynamism of the main character(which is the Somersault's irrefutable strength), it is tolerable, at times fulfilling, even. The night shots of a snow strewn Australian resort town are certainly worthy of celebration here.

However, Decoder Ring's tres-cool soundtrack is another potential notch against the film, and though it has its effective moments, its glitches and whirs are nauseously hip and cause cringes where there should be soft mews of affirmation. Where a very similar (and potentially damning, had Somersault not been made in the same year) film My Summer Of Love perfectly melds Goldfrapp's original score with its lush images, too great of a disconnect is present here, leaving one wanting of a moment of silence rather than dampered guitars. A likening to My Summer of Love is truly inevitable. The films are oppositionally-seasoned sisters. Had Somersault followed My Summer of Love, it would be far more suspect. But as it is, I would strongly recommend giving this one a couple hours of your time. You won't leave empty handed.

My experience of the film was certainly one of a kind, as the Sunset 5 in Hollywood has Somersault playing just next door to Abominable, a bigfoot monster flick. During the quietest moments of Somersault, the rumblings of Bigfoot's rampages shook the theater. Rather poignantly, it seemed to occur at all the right moments. Hand holding and emotionally eruptive scenes took on an even greater pertinence. It lead me to wonder, if "quiet film" filmmakers shouldn't break from the mold and start actually using sound (as the film's "Sound Designer" appears in the opening credits) a bit more daringly. But then I suppose it wouldn't be a quiet film, would it?

"Show Me Your Diamonds"

When was the last time (if ever) you saw Oprah's Toni Morrison adaptation / travesty, Beloved? I rewatched it last night with a friend and realized what an absolute comedy it is. Albeit a long one, Thandie Newton just steals the show as the ridiculously jabbering and saliva gushing eponymous character. Poor Thandie. This was the first movie I ever saw her in (to my knowledge, at least) and so my impression of her will always be of a drooling, vomiting, retarded ghosty. It doesn't help that she pisses mid-stride in Bertolucci's Besieged (while crying and dripping with snot). Actually, if you trace the trajectory of Newton's career, you will seldom find a excretion free film. Think about it. Yet, that's beside the point. Beloved. That's the topic. That the film works from an unsalvagable script doesn't help much. Consequences occur without our witnessing them. On minute, Oprah's alive and kicking, the next she's bed-ridden. Sethe's (Oprah) living daughter, Denver, develops agoraphobia midway through the film, even though we've seen her leave the house. Problematic plot developments pepper this absolutely passion-free script. Demme's direction doesn't help much either. The the actors deliver their lines straight into the camera is also a great detractor, one that spells more TV Movie than Major Motion Picture. But Thandie! Thandie, Thandie, Thandie! The scene where she cranes her head back, emulating the turtles she witnessed mating by the river, and attempts seductions by gurgling "touch me on the inside part, call my name," is one of the most pricelessly miscalculated moments of cinema! Really, it's that good. Err...bad.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Passing back the hood and Kissing the blade: An evening of exploitation

In lieu of my Giallo double feature (and in reaction to the bad taste left in my mouth from Paranoia) I had another sit-down with a couple horror flicks. Following a friend's recommendation, I rented Eli Roth's Hostel which I found appallingly despicable. Readers will probably file this either under the "no way" or "no shit" category, and I find the former reaction to be incredibly disheartening. There is nothing redeemable about Hostel, whatsoever. It is a dirge of a movie which substitutes pornographic mutilation for conflict. The first hour of the film is tediously dull, following three frat boys on a quest for pussy. There is no dynamism to speak of, no vitality, none of the humor that made the first 30 minutes of Roth'sCabin Fever so enjoyable. All one can do is sit back and wait... and wait... and wait for the inevitable. At least Roth was thinking about our contemporary fears. That I'll give him. Where horror should always manifest itself as the fears of our society, Roth makes his monster the foreigner. In our post 9/11 times, anything unAmerican is the enemy. This is obviously something Roth played upon while making the film. From a particular viewpoint, one could certainly view the film as a justification for all of the truly horrific things that we as Americans have unleashed upon the world. The American characters are infantalized considerably, yet it is a certain nod to the Abu Grhaib torture imagery that I found quite difficult to shake. Roth is, in a way, alleviating our guilt by handing the shroud back to the foreigners. As the torturers become the tortured, one may recognize the age old idiom, eye for an eye.

Hostel has precious little to offer - no Aja style choreographic violence, no huge plot revelations, and scarce is the sardonic dialogue that peppered Cabin Fever. Instead we're left with the image of a girl getting her eye burned out with a blow-torch. If this is what makes it to #1 in the box-office, than I should give second thought to becoming that which Americans hate even worse than foreigners - emigrants. Now there's a horror for you.

In an attempt to forget Hostel, I watched horror meister Dario Argento's Tenebre. Being a fan of his more (in)famous films (Suspiria, The Bird with The Crsytal Plumage, Deep Red, and Opera) I do expect a bit from Argento - at least from his early works (as most post-Opera are quite unwatchable). Tenebre delivered, sort of. The sets and camera movement were unmistakably Dario, as was the fabulous women's' apparel and requisite eighties electro-funk score. Argento muse Daria Nicolodi is given perhaps her most juicy part, as her screams fill the closing credits of the film far longer than any typical "woman in distress" would ever dream of. The best element of Argento's films, the plausible and hair-raising final twist, though slightly fulfilling here left a bit to be desired. One can always rest on how he fetishizes those objects which may slice, dice, blind or mame. They are never simply implements of murder. They are always depicted as treasures. In Tenebre, there's a scene where the camera returns to an empty hotel room and finds a sharp, crane-like sculpture, glinting in the suffused light of the room. 'This will come into play later', you tell yourself. That is doesn't is perhaps the best element to the film. You realize that we rest with it merely because it beautiful and destructive, and since we're in Argento land, so is everything else.

Monday, April 24, 2006

On DVD this week!

Indie Week!

Michelangelo Antonioni's "masterpiece," The Passenger FINALLY gets distribution today. I am really not a fan of Antonioni's work, though people I respect have told me, repeatedly, how much I should be. To no avail. Perhaps this lovely DVD will change my mind.*

Steve Martin's Shopgirl lands on DVD shelves. Here's hoping that there's a DVD function that removes Jason Schwartzman from the film entirely.*

Also, Woody Allen's latest film, Match Point, which was mostly celebrated by critics, though this reviewer called it "one long tedious picture" upon its theatrical release. Maybe extra features will make the film all the more enjoyable.*

Claire Denis' visually delerious and contentially perplexing The Intruder marks one of the final releases by the now defunct Wellspring distribution company. Putting the most though-provoking films in theaters over the past few years, Wellspring's absence will assurably be felt. Maybe this DVD will sell so well, the Wientstien company (who bought out the company) will restart Wellspring.*

Deserving props merely for packaging purposes, The Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Box Set comes with a little action figure of the killer Queen. The movies sound pretty attrocious, but who knows...*

Take your pick from the countless "Editions," "Extended cut," and "Director's Cuts" that flood the DVD racks in hope of raking in mad cash in hope people will thing that since it is longer, it will be much better.*

Oh, and rather unworthy of mention, we find a plethora of big budget DVDs out today. Having only seen one of them, perhaps I have spoken too soon.*

*probably not

Supernatural Muder - Italian Style

Perhaps part of my irritation with Paranoia could be attributed to the confidence of its double-feature predecessor, Lucio Fulci Sette Note In Nero (a.k.a. The Psychic). When good, the 70's Italian Giallo (named for the yellow cover of the era's cheap crime novels) present us with complex murder mysteries, begloved (assumed) masculine entities which frequently prove more feminine than initially perceived, chasing screaming girls in couture through dark alleys, typically, though not always endowing some sort of supernatural element. In The Psychic's case, the flailing and fabulously coiffed protagonist is... you guessed it, a psychic whose vision of a murder and its specifics (while driving repeatedly through tunnel after tunnel - insert Freudian conclusion, here) lead her to Nancy Drew about Rome after finding the skeleton of a twenty five year old girl walled up in the palazzo of her fiance. Of course, the visions that she attributes to this murder prove to be rather premonitions of what is to come.

Good by today's standards, yet typical in the body of Giallo films, The Psychic proves sufficiently nail biting while living up to the genre's pulpy point of origin. It is far more mannered than Fulci's later films and a great debt is owed to Poe. The last harrowing sequence and the films cliffhanger resolution is not to be missed. If interested, you can purchase a DVD-R of the film here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Die, Slowly.

I've never really been that good at watching exploitation cinema, but Sixties Euro smut, now that I can do. I attended a screening of Paranoia (a.k.a. Orgasmo) a film by Umberto Lenzi (most infamously known for Cannibal Ferox a.k.a. Make Them Die Slowly) which the Giallo film festival of which it was a part described as "a tremendously enjoyable mix of Hitchcockian suspense and VALLEY OF THE DOLLS-style histrionics..." My response, however lewd it may be is this, "my asshole!" I found it completely unsurprising that the director of this tawdry piece of meandering sexploitation had gone on to create more grisly works of equal ineptitude. It is typical that those who cannot do - do the most unfathomable sort of exploitation possible. I saw Make Them Die Slowly at a rather impressionable age, and my response was not dissimilar to that which I have towards the Face Of Death fad which so gladly seems to have ended: Why would anyone want to watch this? Moral judgments aside, Paranoia is an absolute dullard. One would think a mixture of Valley of the Dolls and Michael Haneke's Funny Games would at least be interesting to behold, but anyone with half a brain and an understanding of cinematic narrative should be able to see that this film is rank. Carroll Baker's boozed up sex-pot is amusing for the first three minutes of the film, but the film itself drags - and for a 77 minute film to drag is an abysmal feat. This one is not available on DVD and can be found through various bootleg distributors. There are reasons for its lack of distribution! If anyone is on the fence, I beg you: Spend your money on an enema bag. You'll see what it is you are most likely after and it will be far more entertaining!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Drawing the Line: When does Good-Old Trashy end and Emotionally Trashy begin?

What the world needs now is not, as the song would have you believe, love, sweet love, but trash. Real trash. See, the problem that faces our contemporary culture is the fact that they are getting the two confused. A friend told me that a visitor to this site found my review of Sommerstrom very off course. In his opinion, it was film far better than the immaculate Presque Rien because the latter was "boring." The former, I would be willing to wager, he found emotionally fulfilling and "honest." He probably thought it was very "honest." I urge you to take one look at it with this in mind - We like to have the trite version of "love" that we have become acustomed to spelled out in the vocabulary of trash. We watch trashy romance and find love when really, we should be finding trash. We take great joy in allowing our emotions to be manipulated in the most dishonest game of tug-of-war imaginable. How else can you fathom Crash an Oscar winning film. It manipulates the hell out of you - and what's sick is that people LOVE it(the manipulation, that is). People are no longer sated thinking or feeling for themselves. That something like Crash or to some degree, Brokeback Mountain(let's be honest) rides on the fact that the swelling, orchestral music and snappy editing never allow you to wander for a moment is no coincidence. We like being told what to feel. Why else can you explain the huge successes of Jennifer Aniston movies or Lifetime television. Without that stong hand, guiding us to the appropriate emotions to be feeling at any given moment, we would feel lost, naked.

After my recent post on the BBC trash-fest Footballers Wive$, I began thinking about Dynasty and why I value it over the slew of contemporary pseudo-trash-fests that ride on their ability to translate what we want of an amorous vocabulary into a trash one without our noticing - or worse - caring. The O.C.'s and One Tree Hills hold our hearts in their trashy palm - or the Queer as Folks and their serial provocation intentionally confuse their smut with romance to ensure a regular audience (an audience which, I must admit, I am no stranger to). Back when Dynasty was big, the trick tactic was shock. What could they come up with next. Linda Evans and Joan Collins were more demi-Gods than romantic mavens and their exploits, though frequently romantic in nature, were not intended as sentimental vicariousness. It was the eighties. If you were to see yourself in anything on Dynasty, it was that house, the money, those dresses. Your lust for John Forsythe (if you were an housewife or a teenager suffering from a serious Elektra complex) was just that, lust. He was never someone you actually became emotionally involved in. He was too crooked to be empathetic. The same is true for Linda Evans and certainly the vilified Joan Collins. Dynasty was all trashy extremism, not emotional supremacy. It removed the emotive investment of the viewer from the day-time soap opera and replaced it with a glutinously trashy sensationalism. You still cared what happened to Krystal, you still kept coming back, but in terms of being as emotionally invested in these characters, the projection stopped there.

The same can very easily be said for Footballers Wive$. Every character is so deliciously trashy that there is no way of actually relating to a single one of them. What could have made for some potentially vicarious reality television became a sensational monster-fest as these characters, derived from actual women, mutate into choice generalizations of their factual manifestations. Without the humanistic/performative element of reality TV, the viewer is absolved of all voyeuristic guilt while watching our fictitious protags revel in their excesses. Tanya(above, left) is the Joan Collins and Linda Evans all rolled up in one, and though we become interested in her impending divorce with the captain of the team, the uber-tool, Jason (Jase), we never become emotionally invested in it. They are just too tanned, drunk, blinged out, morally-corrupt, in a word - contemptible to allow ourselves be get amorous for these people. Neither do we relate to the more idyllic figures. Suffice to say, with indelible characters like Tanya, there morally based plot lines are about as exciting as a amateur golf tournament. Because of this, those stories that you might expect to empathize with shrink in the shadows of the more fantastic ones. Thwarted murder attempts and hermaphroditic babies abound, the plot is too sensational to be humanistic and therefore emotionally inaccessible.

Early next month, CBS will air the "Dynasty Reunion: Catfights and Caviar." Original cast members John Forsythe, Linda Evans and Joan Collins will be joined by other cast members (including both Fallons) in the original Fioli mansion. Collins has claimed it will be all "clips, kissing, hugging reminiscences!" The reunion is surely timed to coincide with the rights transfer of the show from Fox (who made considerably less money than they were expecting when they released the show's first - Collins free - season on DVD last summer) over to Universal in November of this year. And though the Dynasty novice in me is thrilled, I wonder if the reunion is just a stab at imposing a more contemporary, thus emotionally invested light on the (initial, merely) trashy content of the show. This dishonest, emotionally manipulative approach towards entertainment is, in my opinion, the crime century. It is a way to ensure repeat viewers but at the expense of the viewer's owning of their own emotions. TV today - which has, in effect, changed film production - is a new type of exploitation. Emotional exploitation, or emotional pornography (as I most typically refer to it) is now the greatest manipulative device in entertainment. All of a sudden, a hermaphroditic baby is sounding really appealing.

Why Rent the DVD when I live it for free?

I recently watched Scott Coffey's exploration of the world of Los Angeles' actors, Ellie Parker. There's a game most Los Angelinos play when they watch movies - as most are inevitably shot in LA. They play the location game. And even in the worst of movies, calling locations can prove at least decent fun and make a bad situation that much better. The opposite works for Coffey's film. Anyone from LA has had more than their share of wannabe actors. They wait on us at restaurants. They answer our phone calls at receptionist desks. The glare at us in clothing shops. They step in line before us at bars when we've been waiting for a considerable amount of time.

Now Coffey, an actor himself - a fact which is painfully apparent from the trite camera work and under-developed, unbelievable minor characters of the film - expects us to sympathize with this world as his 1 chip DV camera follows one seemingly common actress through a particularly harrowing period of her life. But the whole thing plays out so tediously because of Coffey's directorial ineptness. Not a shred of humanity can be gleaned from the cardboard script Coffey forged over the span of 5 years. As existential as Watts tries to be, she cannot transcend vapid script. The vacuousness traditionally (and not unjustly) attributed to actors is ever present without any empathetic realism that might have redeemed it (or, at the very least made it bearable). Instead, the scene which was the initial short from which the film was extended, the only redeemable moment in the film finds Ellie barreling down some random LA Freeway, changing her clothes, slipping from a bleary-eyed fight with her boyfriend into a part which requires her to shout in a Brooklyn accent, "I sucked his cock." In another humorous moment, we are treated to a blissful car ride while Ellie sucks down a blue cotton candy ice cream cone from Baskin Robbins. In the following scene, a heartbroken Ellie vomits up the blue bile which smears her face for the following 10 minutes. These are the little pleasantries that the film hopes will entertain viewers for the feature running time. And though they are rather amusing, they do not sustain this dud of a film. Watts is competent, but the film, however, is anything but.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Joy of Sex - on 'Footballers' Wive$'

Now I know that this is the film blog, and since I don't even get television reception, I never talk about it. My closest proximity to the tube is through TV-On-DVD. Well, rent one I did. It was a trash sensation that has apparently swept over Britain but has done little to crack American consciousness. Perhaps it would confuse American viewers to realize that WE'RE THE ONLY PEOPLE IN THE DAMN WORLD TO CALL WHAT WE CALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL. You go ANYWHERE else and in the native speak, their Football = Our Soccer. So, when, in the opening credits of Footballers Wive$ (no the dollar sign is not a mistake), a soccer-disco ball spins around to trashy euro-disco, they're not in error. And I'll be damned if this isn't the most all-out trashy show I've seen in a long long time. And I'm talking real trash, not this boring, pornographic, voyeuristic "real" exploration of dimwitted rich American blondes. No, no. That shits boring - and you know it. You watch it because everyone at the office does - because that's all that seems to be there - when one Netflix que away is Footballers Wive$!

The show holds up with the best of trash - Tanya(pictured above), the most obscene wife (and the only one, it would seem, who has made it to the current season 5) could certainly stand comparison to old Joan Collins. There are many things about the show that made me think back to Dynasty, to a time when good trash television was just that - good and trashy. And if you haven't watched that show lately, instead of watching the new season of Nip Tuck,might I recommend picking that up instead. I'm thinking Wild Things trashy, not Desperate Houswives wanna-be-trashy. Blonde bored bitches do not equal excitement. However, morally corrupt millionaires with coke problems and illegitimate children do. Though, while watching Footballers Wive$, I realized the only reason that the show works is because it is fictitious. Had these women been real, the all-consuming blatancy of their escapades would seem desperate and grossly performative. Since they are only somewhat based on real people, they become monstrous generalizations of the maniacs they represent. Because one can never shed the pathetic skin of reality TV - think Anna Nicole - Footballers Wive$ alleviate the guilt implied whilst watching them. It is not, afterall, exploitation if you are watching something which is being (badly) acted. It is, however, if you are watching Wild On with Tara Reed (a show I had the displeasure of seeing unedited footage of during a very-brief stint as a video digitizer for E! Entertainment).

Take this example. There's a christening for which the parents restage the birth of Jesus. Rent-a-donkey and temporary manger in tote, Chardonnay, the mom (in belly dancer get up) and dad (a white man in a turban) take baby from his hay-filled crib over to the product placement mineral water fountain. Only the baby is not really theirs, but his mother's. One which she had with her son's fellow teammate who, coincidentally, is the baby's godfather. And, if that weren't enough, at the party, the godmother gets arrested for possession of 9 1/2 grams of cocaine! Yes. It is delightful! Run, do not walk to rent this gem of a trash fest.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Adaptation in Russelland

Guffaw as many might (and typically do), British director Ken Russell developed an original and dynamic approach towards filmic adaptation. Any study done of Russell is generally met with more criticism than practically any other filmmaker around because Russell, as an auteur, has for all intents and purposes failed. He has failed miserably and grind deeper and deeper into the depths of failure he does with each low-budget home video self-distributed feature he makes (his forthcoming release is titled The Hot Pants Trilogy, to just give you some idea). And yet having devoted a bit of time not too far back to the man and his work (though certainly not his words - glutinously self-important doesn't even begin to describe the tedium of his NUMEROUS autobiographies) I can safely say that I did not come out empty handed. A little less sane, perhaps.

It would be a crime to dismiss Russell's cinema entirely. Some of the early filmic works (his heritage was in television) are absolute masterpieces. Both Women In Love and The Devils are undeniable masterpieces. Provocative, yes, but never for provocation's own sake. Russell is a British pubgoer through and through with a sense of humor to match. Fart jokes, bare breasts and phallic snake demons pepper his late (infinitely more self-indulgent) works. These are the elements that critics and viewers alike typically react to. His taste of camp is a peculiar one considering his heterosexual, typically British personal temperament. It is one that led Pauline Kael to call his ouvre "flaming anti-faggotry." And I must say I do not entirely disagree, yet his strengths (when harnessed by studio moguls) certainly balance if not overpower his weaknesses. What I wish to highlight here is his peculiar take on adaptation.

Russell began making "documentaries" for an artsy BBC program. Working prolifically (in his heyday, he could have three features finished in a year - once even finding all three of his most critically heralded films playing side by side in London theaters) he soon became comfortable and prodded at the conventions of the documentary. He wanted to feature actors portraying the film's subject (with Russell, this was typically composers). And yield the BBC did, until he was making what is now more conventionally thought of as a biopic. Yet, with Russell, it's never that simple. In Women In Love, which primarily serves as his first auteur feature, (though it was preceded by two lesser known genre duds) Russell was offered a chance to direct the filmic adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's classic novel adapted for the screen by Larry Kramer. What Russell claimed was an unusable script, he sewed with biographic detail of the author himself. Knowing the Birkin character was in many ways Lawrence, Russell took liberties (now here's the part where literary purists get pissed) to heighten the resemblance between the two. Taking cues of Lawrence's other writings, Russell blends his poems into the mix as dialogue or cast a bearded Alan Bates (who very much resembles Lawrence) as the Birkin character.

In The Music Lovers, Russell takes this idea much farther and blends the life of Tchaikovsky with the theatricality of his scores and packages the whole thing as a damnation of commercial-fantasies. In one key scene, he alters a performance which did in fact take place, but allows for all of the key cast members to converge for the first time. Though historically inaccurate, Russell realizes that this is a film and thus refuses to commit to didactic accuracy for a more cinematically concise sequence of events. He mocks not only advertising's distilled idea of bliss, but the idiocy of an "accurate" filmic interpretation. One life, after all is not ninety minutes.

Watching Salome's Last Dance again today, I realized the rather ingeniousness of this approach. While certainly one of his lesser films (though far greater than his bad films, there is a marked difference) the premise of the film finds Wilde attending an illegal performance of his banned play as enacted by courtesans in a brothel. Again, beginning with Wilde's original text, Russell fictitiously parallels this performance with Wilde's arrest at the hand of his jealous lover, Bosey. As Salome betrays John the Baptist, Bosey, who portrays John the Baptist, betrays Wilde. Russell thus denies historical factuality for a more cinematic experience. IT is his indulgences that sink his films, and the more indulgent he becomes the worse off he is for it. The only exception is, of course, Tommy whose highlight is a two minute sequence in which Ann-Margaret writhes in a pool of chocolate, suds and baked beans. But there's a lot going on in Russell's cinema for which he receives little credit. I'm not attempting to defend something like The Hot Pants Trilogy, but films like The Devils and Women In Love certainly deserve a second viewing.

Splendor in Grantville!

It will be really hard to not give anything away with this review, as my initial intent was to post an image from the first horrific revelation provided in Samuel Fuller's The Naked Kiss. Clocking in at a mere 30 seconds into the film, yet disabling the viewer with catastrophic bewilderment, it is a promise you cannot see the film living up to, yet live up it does, with more to grow on. I don't necessarily intend to go too indepth here. The film was, well, not quite a recommendation, but a "before you see anything else, see this movie" sort of thing from a man whose opinion I hold most dear. Being an expert Noirist (if there is such a thing) he claimed to have seen the film on TV one day and had to stop it. It was too much for him.

Sure enough, it was far beyond my wildest expectations. It made me gasp and clasp my hand over my mouth repeating "oh my GOD! oh my GOD!" And I've been around the block - at least as far as film is concerned. The tawdry plot also involves a woman who's been around the block, but in the more commonly referred to sense of the phrase. As she tries to rewrite her life in a small town, it seems as though all might turn out for the best - a rich fiance, a meaningful (and honest) job WORKING WITH CRIPPLED CHILDREN WHO DO A MUSICAL NUMBER IN PIRATE HATS! Yes, it is that fabulous, and no, everything isn't what it seems. But who ever thought that it really would be. I'll just allow this post to serve as a recommendation for all of you who have not seen this as it is too vividly haunting my mind at the moment. Have no doubt, this one goes right up there with the best of 'em.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Oh, I think so...

In a history deprived society, there are times when we forget our roots. We know what something has become, but not always how it got there. Even the "grandfathers" picked up a thing or two from outside sources. And while I have credited Jack Smith with being a sort of father of Camp (and Waters more a perverse second cousin) he certainly didn't "make up" Camp aesthetics(hardly - in Sontag's Notes On Camp she traces it even before Wilde or Versaille, even). What he would make - which would then later be defined as (high) Camp - came from a direct lineage of more extravagantly confused efforts. Films that aimed at a particular aspiration, allowing all other elements typically required of film to fail abysmally. This is the case in the films of Von Sternberg.

So also is it the case for Universal's "exotic" Cobra Woman. Starring Maria Montez (who else), the film was made right at the onset of Color pictures. In her early color films, the production was more preoccupied in visual opulence than anything else. Red is not red but RED! The sets are not realistic but fantastic. Everything else, plot, characterization, originality all go by the wayside for visual decadence. And I mean this in the best possible way. Cobra Woman just played a midnight stint at a local art-house cinema here in LA where I was fortunate to see the film that time would have you forget.

To call Cobra Woman fabulous would be a drastic understatement. The film is so glitzed up in its own revelry that you must pinch yourself to prove it truly exists. The plot concerns two twin heirs to the thrown of Cobra Island who are separated at birth. The elder (and benign) is taken to a neighboring island, whilst the younger (and malevolent) stays to rule. Of course you can guess what happens next, and if you can't, it really doesn't matter. All you need are eyes with which to soak up the saturated spectacle of the film.

The film shines as a series of sequences - there are two in particular that deserve special mention. The first - and one which obviously inspired Divine's "nightclub act" from Waters' Female Trouble - is the evil Montez's snake dance. You see, they mean it when they say Cobra Island, and the god here is a "giant cobra" (who, you may have already guessed, resembles rubber tubing more than an actual serpent). Evil Montez also serves as High Priestess and must dance the cobra dance in a glittering sequined dress. As King Cobra is riled more and more, he lunges and that group of people are sent to feed the volcano. Like Divine in the previously mentioned film, this sends Evil Montez in a ecstatic fury, going all Abigail Williams on the poor townspeople (who are so hopelessly "brown" or "exotic" in their pastel sarongs). Her fervor is ridiculously entertaining and she twists and spins her hands about extending an index finger to the next who shall be condemned.

The other scene is that in which Evil and Good Montez face off. Part of the brilliance of Montez is her poor mastery of the English language which makes the early English language efforts of Antonio Banderas seem PhD. caliber. When she faces herself, it is like a war of cardboard cut outs - all the more thrilling because it ends as quickly as it begins. This is an absolute must for any connoisseurs of Camp. It is not on DVD officially, though a bootleg copy can be acquire through this website.

One for the Money

Why did Spike Lee make Inside Man? Well, let's face it, it's not as though he's had a whole lot going on recently. I mean did anyone see She Hate Me? I rest my case. I was not really looking forward to it, I must admit, but I am always willing to like something (unless of course it stars Will Farrell, in which case, you won't even get me within 200 feet of the theater). And though I will hand it to the film for delivering some witty dialogue and a clever, grade-A caper twist, Inside Man begins to drag its feet at the end of the first act and never truly recovers. At no point is the hold up even tense, lasting well into the next day (although the scenes of the petrified hostages are sobering - alluding not only to our current war, but specifically to Abu Graib through the use of masks and hoods). And even when the caper proper is through, the film trudges on... and on.

Juggling his poignant racial faux-pas and his heavy handed ones, Lee plods his way through the film without any set style or agenda - catering, one might assume to his whims. This plays out like a severely disjointed effects reel. At one moment, we've got a still Denzel Washington zooming forward on a platform as the crowd around him lurches forward in slow motion. Another pits us birds-eye in the bank, observing the waspily coiffed Jodie Foster "do business" with the hooded Clive Owen, bathed in golden lighting. Capers can be fun, and it would be dishonest to say that this one does not deliver. However, the dull outweighs the clever and you never find your heart racing quite like it should.

Now, I made fun of the movie before it even came out for its use of the most humor deprived actors in Hollywood. Washington does frequently attempt at humor here, though much of it falls very flat. Owen, well... how do you tell a joke with a cloth around your face and a gun in your hand. Owen is suave, but seldom humorous. Ms. Foster, on the other hand, is a complete surprise. Her perfectly named Madeline White is all smug cuntdom (a description at least adapted from the film itself - I'm not just being mean here). She traipses along, confidently swinging her $5,000 bag to and fro. She makes jokes! What's more, they're ones that we laugh at - AND SHE'S LAUGHING TOO! At one point she claims, "Now if you'll excuse me I have to go acquire a Park avenue co-op for Osama Bin Laden's nephew." This is not the humor of Flightplan - where everyone's laughing but her. No! She's a super-bitch and she's loving every minute of it. Critics have argued that her character is unnecessary, and while I might understand this claim, I think it is Foster (surprise of my life) that breathed a greatly needed breath of fresh air into the film.

Though the caper is wonderfully planned, the film bores itself in the details. All of the interesting mysteries that you believe (if only for a moment) that you might be left to chew on are resolved in horrifically blatant snippets of dialogue. I'd say wait, and when there's nothing better to do... TiVo it. Oh, and just for clarifications sake, my title for this review does not refer to the caper itself. Allow it instead to serve as the answer to the question posed in my introductory sentence.

Monday, April 03, 2006


As misanthropic as it sounds, sometimes it's just a hell of a lot of fun watching people get their heads shot off. When done correctly (like in the recent Hills Have Eyes remake) it can be exhilarating, scary, and vindicating. Like contemporary action fare (which most assume to be easy, but allow the countless action dullards to prove otherwise) it is only true bliss placed in the hands of a true connoisseur. James Gunn, writer/director of the new horror/comedy Slither, is one such savant. The glib delight he takes in exploding heads and creepy crawlies is truly a rare treat in the multiplexes today. Most contemporary Hollywood films are by the book bore-fests - no soul, just formula. That Slither recognizes its formula already pits it one step above the rest. It knows what it is, and does it revel.

Taking cues from B-horror of the fifties (The Blob, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing) sixties (Night of the Living Dead) and a special direct nod to the first few films of David Cronenberg (Shivers and Rabid, in particular - both creatures appear in some form), Gunn brings the sardonic flair that infused his Dawn of the Dead remake with wit and vitality. It works doubly well here, as a band of killer slugs wreaks havoc on a town of bumb-fuck South Carolina locals. These locals are, as you can imagine dumber than their livestock and Gunn makes use of his gift for dialogue here. When one sees the main creature (pictured below) in a field, he exclaims,"That looks like something that fell off my dick during the war!"

Social satires abound (a girl saves herself by sinking her hideous floral decal press-on nails - done, she informs her parents, by a Japanese girl, no less - into a slug, ripping it from her mouth. Oh yes, they enter through the mouth - looking like lascivious Linda Blair tongues. Of course, Darwin is more than alluded to here. Using this framework for a parable of US presumption, Slither proves a...err.. biting satire. Gunn also employs the elements that typically sink contemporary horror to his advantage. Background information (like Leatherface's facial cancer or the Hill's inhabitants' nuclear radiation) here merely adds to the glutinous ridicule of the genre. And the shimmer of the CGI slugs is the best use of the technique that I can recall - because it looks terrible. This is a movie where the worse it looks, the better it works. Don't be fooled, nary a new idea lies in Slither but as an amalgam of genre tropes it add up to one of the more delightful movies I've seen so far this year. I'll be using this to forget my wretched experience with Basic instinct 2

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Listless Addiction

The opening scene of Basic Instinct 2 supplies us with a promise. Sharon Stone returning to the screen in the role that made her (in)famous, speeds through the streets of London in a VERY expensive car while her black companion fingers her. The sequence is shot like an action film, speeding cars and flashy bling. Suddenly (and in keeping) the car bursts through a street sign and plunges into the river. Stone's Catherine Tramell attempts to save her lover, yet gives up all too quickly, floating to the surface of the water with water-balletic grace. Though you could see the sequence being a tad more crass, you hope the following film will make up for the lack of gratuitousness. You take it as a promise. Alas, it is the sad duty for this critic to inform you that Basic Instinct does not keep its promise. Instead, it plays out as a supreme bore.

I was REALLY looking forward to Basic Instinct. It's been a while since we've had a good Pop Culture sex flick in the Wild Things or Cruel Intentions vain, and god knows America needs a good finger in its asshole. Basic Instinct 2 rather wallows in a tale of a successful London psychiatrist who fucked up once and cannot afford to do it again. Enter Sharon Stone. Yeah, you already get the idea. Even Charlotte Rampling cannot save this one from dullsville. I found myself trying to get excited about a slightly provocative nude shot of Morrissey from behind, or Morrissey "violently" (which this day and age is hardly violent) fucking random girl on all fours. Stone gives us a peek at her wholeness, but its only, pardon the pun, a sliver - and that's hardly enough to live up to the scene.

It will come as no surprise to say that Stone is the sole reason to see the film (thought I'm a big fan of Charlotte Rampling). Stone seldom reveals her age, as everything on that frame has been stretched, pinned back and puffed up, respectively. Her breasts resemble some sort of vestibule plucked straight from the assembly line. But when a gangly arm or knobby knee is shown in the wrong light, one that has escaped the art of post production, that illusion of the flawless Stone is obliterated, and the film could be read as a contemporary Plastic Surgery parable. More compelling, however, is watching her drop all pretenses and act on her delusions of grandeur. Oddly, Basic Instinct 2 delivers the psychological study of its tagline in a very different way. We are watching Stone's inner fantasies play out on the big screen. When it comes right down to it, there is not that great of a difference between Tramell and Stone. However much she may want us to believe it's her character, it's not, and when she is "acting", that's another source of amusement entirely.