Bad Cinema: Mother’s Boys (Dir: Yves Simoneau, 1994)

There are some actresses who can do anything. Sigourney. Meryl. Nicole. Their talents are genre-less. But most people who have made their name in Hollywood stick to their “type,” relentlessly, showing up in front of the cameras almost by rote. Knowing your strengths as an actor is crucial for success.

While there is something to be respected when people branch out and try new things, when it is so off base, so hilariously bad, one must ask, what the fuck were you thinking?

Jamie Lee Curtis is a fantastic comedienne. Her work in films like A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies, and especially Freaky Friday prove that she could have went toe to toe with Irene Dunne. But Bette Davis? Not even close.

But that is exactly what Mother’s Boys asks her to do. Ms. Curtis is required to play a completely diabolical role with absolutely no redeeming qualities – unless you count her body. Which is banging.

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She tries. In fact, she goes for it with all she’s got. But Curtis Jr. does not have the devilish panache her father had to pull off such a despicable character. Her performance is sadly nothing but a series of outbursts and poses.

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From the get, the film is set-up like a (bad) film noir with Jude (Curtis) confessing – through Dutch angles, no less! – to her attorney (or is it her therapist…) that she is ready to return home after an inexplicable Kramer vs. Kramer style abandonment of her family three years prior. The music – like all noir – is ripe with ominous warnings of danger. We know we are supposed to be afraid of Jude. But why?

Back in the real world – because Jude is definitely being beamed from some 1940s B movie – her husband, Robert (the dependably bland Peter Gallagher) has finally moved on with his life.  He has a new fiance, the too good to be true Vice Principal at his kids’ school, Callie (Joanne Whalley, a woman who looks like a factory made hybrid of Jeanne Tripplehorn and Anne Archer. Which is only fitting because Mother’s Boys is definitely going for a Basic Instinct/Fatal Attraction vibe, with some obvious The Hand That Rocks the Cradle attempts at creepiness). All he needs is a divorce from Jude. And as if on cue, Jude returns.

But Jude doesn’t want a divorce. She is ready to come back into all of their lives. The film tells us nothing about her past, nor her reason for leaving, nor her reason for returning. All that we do know is that she is insane. Like bat shit crazy. Throughout the course of the film, we see her spray paint the word “Whore” on a car, smash a glass frame and cut her face with the shards, and brainwash her preteens into potential murder. Oh, and lest we forget, try and seduce her 12 year old son in the bathtub.

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Top Ten Ways to Ensure Your Child Will Need Therapy

But Jude is one clever sociopath. She agrees to the divorce (of course, not really) if she is allowed to spend the weekend with her kids. Makes sense. Clearly, Jude is a woman to be trusted with the care of children. Children she has abandoned twice before. No matter that Robert knows for a fact Jude was the one who vandalized Callie’s car and falsely accused her of assault. I mean, why wouldn’t Robert leave his children with their mother? If she doesn’t kill them or kidnap them or subject them to her nudity, she could sue him for full custody in the impending divorce proceedings if not allowed her special Mommy time! This is what passes as logic in Mother’s Boys.

The ironic thing is that Jude, posited as the villain from the very first violin string over the credits, is never as scary as her son, Kes (Luke Edwards, rocking his best Tilda Swinton hair-do). Perhaps this is because children are innately terrifying with their little hands and ability to rely on their “innocence” to get away with anything. Perhaps his androgynous bangs make him seem off-putting. Or perhaps it is the way he pushes Vanessa Redgrave down the stairs (yes, somehow Vanessa Redgrave is in this movie).

"I'd like to thank you for not being influenced by the Zionist hoodlums...and for forgetting I was in Mother's Boys."

“I’d like to thank you for not being influenced by the Zionist hoodlums…and for forgetting I was in Mother’s Boys.”

Any way you slice it, he is terrifying; therefore, the most interesting thing in a movie calling itself a thriller.

I won’t ruin the climax for you in case you stumble upon this late one night on TNT, but in typical Hollywood fashion, “good” triumphs over “evil” and someone falls from a cliff, plummeting to their death in a shot at which even ’90s Spielberg would laugh.

Curtis is bad, but the script is worse. And unlike Bette Davis in Now, Voyager; The Little Foxes; The Letter; and Dark Victory, Curtis is incapable of saving this tripe.

I used to own this on VHS and would recommend it to anyone who had ears. My apologies if you were one of those people.

***Is Mother’s Boys a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?***
CAR CRASH

Have you seen Mother’s Boys? What are your thoughts?

*Available on Netflix Instant

Bad Cinema: The Wedding Planner (Dir: Adam Shankman, 2001)

I do not understand Jennifer Lopez. Her music is whatever, her movies are schlock, and she has a reputation for being a horrible person. Of course, being a diva has never stopped anyone from being adored (paging Diana Ross), but The Boss is…well, the fucking Boss. And Mariah Carey can have as many riders as she wants. Just sing “Fly Like a Bird” and I will personally sort your damned M&M’s.

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But Jennifer Lopez has really done nothing to gain the right to be an asshole. And her divadom is not (just) Internet conjecture. About a year ago, I worked on a TV show with J. Lo. I was on headset, piped into the Sound Dept., and I learned two things from the higher-ups on walkie: 1) No one is to call her J. Lo! She is Ms. Lopez. And 2) The girl who had been in charge of changing Ms. Lopez’s microphone was not having it anymore. “Somebody else can deal with that bitch.” Apparently, she didn’t care much about keeping her job.

Let me preface the rest of this piece by saying I have not seen Selena. So anyone thinking, “Oh my God! She deserved an Oscar!” you may be right. But just as Lohan tore down the screen in Georgia Rule (seriously, see it) and then somehow forgot how to act (gurl, Liz and Dick was paaaaaiiinnnnful), Jenny From the Block somnambulated through The Wedding Planner; one of the worst, most offensive, ludicrous wastes of time ever to get greenlit (and I have seen Bette Midler’s Isn’t She Great?).

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Mary (Lopez) is the best wedding planner in town. Need to know how to fix a terrible self-tan the morning of your wedding? Get Mary! Need to talk a nervous father into walking his daughter down the aisle? Get Mary! Need to leave your stunning groom-to-be alone with a hot woman when you get called out of town just days before your million dollar nuptials? Get Mary! After all, she is the consummate professional. Her hair, pulled back in a librarian’s bun, tells us so! No nonsense for this girl!

Oh, but how she wishes there would be! You see, just days before, she ran into this awesome guy. Well, actually, he ran into her. You know how it goes: girl dashes down the street in her stilettos, gets her stiletto caught in the sewer plate, Asian cab driver gets distracted by his ice cream cone and runs into a dumpster, dumpster starts heading down hill at girl, girl sees the dumpster going in for the kill and finally takes her foot out of her shoe to hightail it out of there, but can’t bear the thought of being without her shoe so she turns back, dumpster be damned, to reclaim it, and just when she is about to be slaughtered by the runaway trash, a handsome man – Matthew McConaughey, no less! – darts into frame to save the day.

Matthew – well, let’s call him Eddie – lies on top of her for several moments in the middle of traffic. And our career oriented girl Mary can only worry about the status of her shoe. Because apparently this is what is most on a woman’s mind at a moment like this. (I’ll take Joe Eszterhas‘ Screenwriting Course on Female Behavior for 1000, Alex…)

“Bitch, where’s my Gucci?”

But he’s so dreamy! And thanks to her best gal pal, Penny (a trying-way-too-hard-to-save-this-sinking-ship-a-la-Anne-Hathaway-Oscars-2011 Judy Greer), Mary has a date with Eddie, dancing under a big old tree in the park. She looks into his eyes and all the years of bitterness – inevitably earned, we later learn, by being left at the altar by her long lost love! – melt away.

But no! Eddie is none other than the fiance of her latest client. But wait, you ask. If he was engaged, why was he hitting on Mary? Because 1) He is a man. And 2) He doesn’t really love the woman he is going to marry. It is more a marriage of convenience (?). Or something. There is no real reason that they should be together. And the film doesn’t try and find one either. Which is just as well because they have no chemistry anyway. Nor do J. Lo and McConaughey, but the script says they get together so they fumble through their moments of intimacy like two actors who have never spoken in real life. Which is probably true. J. Lo – excuse me, Ms. Lopez – may have been too busy practicing what empathy looks like in the mirror or plotting how to not burst into ironic fits of laughter while singing “I’m Real,” to focus on anything like, you know, showing up to shoot a little movie; a movie that paid her 9 million dollars, a quarter of its budget.

But then the kicker: their second meet-cute (or meet-nauseous, if you will). Mary decides to take a dance class with her client, Fran – is this part of her fee? – and who is Fran’s dance partner? But her fiance, Eddie, of course! Instead of both of them acknowledging that they have met and that she was the woman whose life he saved, the two of them decide to be teenagers and try and lie to Fran because…Mary doesn’t want to lose the account; therefore, potential partnership (? Oh, I forgot to mention. Mary is up for a promotion if this wedding goes smoothly, or some cliche like that) and Eddie…well, Eddie wants to play both women (? Who cares. It sets the plot in motion). In fact, if they would speak up now, there would be no need for the rest of the film. The wedding would be off (Eddie had lied and said the woman he saved was old; therefore, not attractive, which, then knowing the truth, would set Fran’s feminine jealousy and possessiveness into overdrive, ending the courtship, allowing Mary and Eddie to potentially be together…if they could pretend for the cameras long enough to actually be in love instead of just huffing and glancing facsimiles of what we have been taught equates pining). Instead of all that common sense nonsense, Fran has to take a business call right as the class starts, leaving, yep you guessed it, Eddie and Mary as dance partners.

Look out, Matt. I danced with Janet!

“Look out, Matt. I danced with Janet!”

And so the film goes for a mind-blowing 103 minutes. There are a few moments of respite – Kathy Najimy in the worst wig this side of Shangela – but The Wedding Planner is really the definition of carrion. There are some other contrivances and stuff only found in movies, like the scene where the penis comes off the statue (reading that sentence again won’t make it any less stupid than it already sounds) and gets superglued in Eddie’s hand, forcing Mary – with her trusty wedding kit – to detach his hand from his cock so she can put it in her purse (OMG has there ever been a more succinct, blatant example of the way women have the ability to castrate a man in a relationship?!!!!!). Or the presence of Massimo, the Italian boy who “annoyed her when they were kids” (J. Lo is Italian, you see. Leave it to Hollywood to get all Rita Moreno on the World’s Most Famous Latina) that is begging to marry her now that they are both older and hotter; the one she almost does marry because her father tells her that love comes with time (He and his wife had an arranged marriage so of course he is the best resource for how to choose a mate) only to end up with the guy she “loves” in the end…or we are supposed to believe she does, anyway. (Oh, I’m sorry. Did I ruin the ending for you? They get together. And live happily ever after. Or at least until Ben Affleck, I mean, Matthew McConaughey, I mean Eddie!, stars with Mary – I mean, J.Lo – in Gigli, which ends their marriage and sends her off to be the judge on a floundering talent show, which is ironic because she has no real talent of her own; while her former husband goes on to direct the film that swept the Oscars).

Ugh. This movie wore me the fuck out. I could go on for days about the “cutesy” bullshit we must endure (Lord, the Scrabble tiles to confirm matrimony. Do women really find this romantic?! I have never been more thankful to be gay).

The most tiring and offensive aspect of The Wedding Planner is the way it looks at love and the completely unrealistic, down right lies about what relationships are or should be about. This incessant search for “The One” that hundreds of movies and thousands of songs have propagated into a supposed attainability in our culture, doing lasting damage to the psyches of millions of people for generations. Love is a lot of goddamn work. Everything I do is actually not for you and love does not mean you never have to say you are sorry. And it is especially not some friggin’ fairy tale where impossibly gorgeous people, with their perfectly coiffed hair and designer clothes, find love in hopeless places.

Why do we want these stories? THEY ARE NOT LIKE REAL LIFE AT ALL! Why do we long to delude ourselves so shamelessly? “Well, it’s just a movie, Jonathon.” Yes, but what does it teach us? You can be a whiny, lying, passive-aggressive fool and still end up with the hot doctor in the end?

I swear I can act, really. Go rent The Paperboy!

“I swear I can act, really. Go rent The Paperboy!”

It’s OK to get drunk when someone makes you sad and while you are a total drunk mess and someone has to babysit you, you will be cute and charming and endearing and funny? Instead of the truth, which is “Bitch, I want to throw you into traffic, you hot ass tranny mess!” And then when we try and enact these indoctrinated lessons in our own lives, we can’t figure out why we are so unhappy. Why we can’t have what Cinderella and Snow White and Julia and Sandra and Jennifer have? Ridiculous! When will this madness end?!

My partner in crime for this celluloid atrocity was my good friend, Trevor, the one with whom I somehow end up watching all of these horrible films (just wait until next week for Mother’s Boys…shit, gurl…). I asked him about midway through, “Who is this movie for?! Are women really this stupid? They can’t be! But who else would even want to sit through this crap than love-sick females (or fags hell-bent on kitsch)?”

Trevor: “Maybe it feeds a fantasy that women can be boring and vanilla and ‘normal’ while also believing they can turn on a dime and be exotic choreographed glamazon sex goddesses.”

And we return to Jennifer Lopez. Maybe this is the secret to her success! She is ethnically ambiguous enough (That’s Amore, Mary!) to be relatable to all women and Latina enough to be the champion for all her sistas from the Bronx. Jennifer Lopez is about as boring and tasteless as an empty ice cream cone, but surrounds herself with enough chocolate chips, sprinkles, and nuts that maybe no one will notice (Sorry, Jenny, but I’m calling your bluff).

And then, to remind us all that she is a singer, J. Lo’s once ubiquitous hit “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” plays over the ending credits, the first song in the Lopez cannon that attempts to prove that she is just like us. Oh, yeah? Why don’t you ask Ben how much your love costs. Apparently it is 1.2 million dollars.

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Kiss Me, I’m Drunk

St. Patrick’s Day reminds me of my grandfather. A proud Irishman, Tod West celebrates today by drinking coffee (and maybe an O’Douls) from his “Erin Go Bragh” mug, wearing shamrock pins and hats and beads, and poorly singing “Toor-a-Loor-a,” which always reminds of that scene from Housesitter, one of the many films – alongside Speed, Passenger 57, and Eraser – that played on rotation in the West house during my teen years.

But my own Irish “pride” is somewhere in the mix with my Italian, German, English, Native American, and Who Knows What Else pride – a casualty, I suppose, of being a mutt.

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I have never really understood St. Patrick’s Day; if Grandpa ever gave us a history lesson, I must have been distracted by my Yahtzee game with Grandma. I know it has something to do with St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland (?), but to me it has always seemed liked nothing more than an excuse for people to get drunk. And why get drunk? Because this is the only stereotype that everyone knows about Irish people. Imagine restaurants discounting fried chicken on Martin Luther King Day to fully take in how fucked up this is.

If you look into the history of St. Patrick (thank you, History.com), you discover that he was the man who brought Christianity – specifically Catholicism – to Ireland and yes, used the ubiquitous shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. The Irish have been celebrating this as a religious holiday for over a millenium, which always falls during Lent, giving them a temporary reprieve from some of pre-Easter’s stringent prohibitions (like drinking and eating meat). The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade actually occurred in 18th Century America while Irish immigrants were, ironically, serving in the British army. Years later, when a slew of Irish immigrants flooded our border after the Potato Famine, xenophobia turned them into slaves (btw, thanks for the railroad) – until politicians realized that their large voting block could be beneficial to their campaigns, most notably then candidate Harry S. Truman.

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Listen to Truman’s Speech – March 17, 1948

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Get it, Barry.

Like anything that has been in the culture long enough, the religious St. Patrick’s Day has been converted into a secular experience. (See Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas for further examples). Now, of course, I am not advocating for upholding the religious aspects of these holidays – in case you are just tuning in, Mr. Saia is a rabid atheist – but without the faith behind these days they are kind of pointless, capitalistic guilt machines. The only holiday really worth celebrating is your birthday.

I don’t mean to take anything away from your festivities. And I am all about getting drunk. But why do we need a special day for it? Is something wrong with a Tuesday morning in September?

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Bad Cinema: Compliance (Dir: Craig Zobel, 2012)

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And already, I am breaking my own rules…

But in instances like this, where a film is so singular, so insane, the criterion of studio backing and A-List stars must be abandoned.

Few films have made me pull my hair in disbelief, squirm on the couch, and pace around the apartment, begging for it to be over, more than Compliance.  

Based on a series of real life incidents known as the Strip Search Scam where a man made 70 prank calls across the nation that led to sexual assault, Compliance follows a ragtag group of gullible fast food employees who decide to hold one of their own hostage because a “cop” calls them up and says that she has stolen money from a customer (in broad day light, with cameras, co-workers, and other patrons all around). Apparently, this “cop” has the District Manager and the Surveillance Team on the other end, but manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) never thinks to ask to speak to either of them before forcing Becky (Dreama Walker) to disrobe, and neither does anyone else. They all think they are being good citizens, never for a minute doubting the utter ridiculousness of these claims.

And these claims go from ridiculous to outright absurd. The disembodied voice (Pat Healy) on the other line spins such bullshit into fool’s gold his name should be Rumplestiltskin. Pretty early on we know that he is not who he claims to be. We see him at home making a sandwich, doodling, and probably masturbating out of frame. If any of these people forced to deal with him had ever dealt with an authority figure of any kind – or even seen an episode of Family Matters – they would have known that cops never put civilians in these kinds of situations, especially over what would presumably be less than 100 dollars.

But the film drags on for an exasperating 89 minutes, bringing in a revolving cast of people (including Sandra’s fiancee) to further degrade this poor girl. At about the hour mark, with Becky bent over the counter, naked, and asked about her pubic hair (all in the line of duty, of course), I started to think about The Human Centipede: Part II, one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The discomfort I felt in that theatre, wondering what abysmal travesty I would be subjected to next. And apparently, it was getting Becky to do Jumping Jacks in place to see if the money would fall out of her vagina. HOW DID NO ONE SAY NO?! HOW DID THESE ACTORS NOT SAY NO!? DID SANDRA REALLY JUST LEAVE HER FIANCEE ALONE WITH A NAKED TEENAGE GIRL?! HOW CAN SANDRA BE SO INDIGNANT TO BECKY, NEVER ONCE DOUBTING THAT MAYBE SHE DIDN’T STEAL ANYTHING?! IF THIS SHIT IS BASED ON REAL LIFE, ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT SOMEONE WAS DUMB ENOUGH TO SPANK A “SUSPECT” BECAUSE SOME “COP” TOLD THEM TO? AND NOT ONLY THAT, BUT PUT THE PHONE UP TO HER ASS SO HE COULD HEAR THE SOUND OF HIS HAND VIBRATING AGAINST HER TAUT FLESH? IF THIS SHIT IS BASED ON REAL LIFE, ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT SOME “SUSPECT” WAS RETARDED ENOUGH (AND THIS BITCH WOULD HAVE TO HAVE HAD FUCKING DOWN SYNDROME!) TO GIVE A STRANGE MAN A BLOW JOB FOR FEAR OF DISOBEYING A COP AND SPENDING ONE – COUNT ‘EM, ONE! – NIGHT IN JAIL!?

Un.Real.

Compliance premiered at Sundance (understandably to boos, walk-outs, and surprisingly to some cheers) and Ann Dowd (deservingly) won Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review. She is the shining star in this insane tripe. And deserves much better material.

***Is Compliance a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley? CAR CRASH***

Have you seen Compliance? What are your thoughts?

*Available on Netflix Streaming, if you dare.

Vegas State of Mind

There’s something in the water in Vegas. Vodka, probably.

Julian and I returned last night from a fabulous weekend in the desert. Of course, Vegas Rules preclude me from revealing the details of our trip, but know that it was good. One of the best times in recent memory.

I had only been there once before, but it was with my parents, so one could say – and I would agree with them – that I had never really been there at all. Sure, with my parents I ate, I gambled, I roamed. But I didn’t fully understand what I will come to deem, forever and always, The Vegas Vortex.

Something happens in Vegas that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Time literally stands still. The lighting is the same at every time of the day, you can drink at every time of the day, and good luck finding a clock. Now, for a man in real life that enjoys planning every moment of his day almost down to 15 minute increments, Vegas could be – should be – a maddening mess. No structure! No schedules! How could this man, who allows his life to be one long stream of obsessive races against time, whether they be work, dreams, plans, relationships, money, disappointments – how could this man actually take two days off to not stress about the art of living? How would he turn off the future, skip the past, and just enjoy the present?

A lot easier than he thought, actually. This is the magic of the Vegas Vortex. Vegas is designed for instant gratification, whether it be fast money, fast booze, fast sex, or fast entertainment; Vegas is all about the Now. And if you fight the Now, you will miss the best things about Vegas.

The same goes for the rest of the world. If you worry about that bill, that reaction, that goal, you will miss the Now all together. So many of us miss life while we are out making plans on how to make life “better.” Life can always be “better.” Love can always be “better.” Money can always be “better.” But sometimes – most of the time – what we already have will aid us in getting the things we want, instead of hindering us. If we let them. To foster the relationships we already have instead of seeking out others that may be more “exciting”; to be thankful that we aren’t digging through the garbage to get enough cans to take to the recycling center for change; to take stock of our assets instead of our flaws; to enjoy Today today and worry about Tomorrow tomorrow; to stay in the moment long enough to actually see the moment for what it is instead of what it could be. Then and only then will we have the wherewithal to get to the Future we want.

The Vegas Vortex also teaches us about Focus. Everywhere you turn, there are numerous ways to get ahead – or fall irrevocably behind. This is like life. We are presented with innumerable choices each day on how to proceed with our lives. The challenge is deciding which one. This has been the biggest piece of consternation in my adult life: what do I want to be when I grow up? Writer? Actor? Dancer? Teacher? Couch-Potato? The truth is that I can be all of these things – just not at the same time. The key is picking one and betting the house. To make a slot machine analogy, you could play it safe and bet one line at one credit each, but the pay out, if you win, is only enough to keep you playing the same tired line. To win that Jackpot, you have to suck it up and push Max Bet. You will probably lose – the chances are astronomically against you – but you can’t win big if you don’t play big.

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I have been playing small for way too long. Last Thursday, I applied for ten catering jobs. I relayed this piece of information to my friend and she practically shit the floor. She went into a twenty minute lecture on how I deserve more than that and need to go after what I really want…but, I’m poor…so…but I need to make money…and catering will make it?…no, but it’s all I know…then learn something else…but…but nothing. It’s your life. Make it what you want.

OK. But what do I want? To make a lot of money. So I don’t have to work anymore. That’s not true. I would go insane if I weren’t being productive. What I want is to make a lot of money so I can choose the work I want to do. Which is making art.

OK. But how am I going to get there? Audition here, cater here, write here. Fine. All of that is just…fine. But I’ve been playing that line for too long. In fact, this is like playing one line at three different machines. Which, mathematically, is a waste of credits. I need to Max Bet on something. And ride it out until the money is gone.

While riding on the Excaliber Walkway (!), I had a revelation: get a job at a studio. Any studio. These are the people who can get me what I want. The producers who fund projects. The crew who help you make them. The casting agents who cast you. The writers who need assistants. And while planning for the Future, I could definitely get down with the Now of a film studio.

The Vegas Vortex also made me evaluate how I interact – or more accurately – don’t interact with other people and the outside world. If I have to venture from the comforts of my home – it being its own Vortex of television and Internet – I always have a book or my iPod on hand to take me to the Past and block out the Now. If I am driving, I must have music on at every moment. If I am watching a movie or reading a book, I rarely enjoy them because I am concerned with finishing as quickly as possible so I can move on to the next one. If I am walking the dog, I must be talking on the phone, or singing, or planning what I am going to do when Dodger and I return from the walk, instead of just…enjoying the walk. And nothing ever really gets accomplished other than feeling exhausted.

Well, I’m tired of feeling exhausted. I spend my entire life running in place to a vague destination of Stardom and Wealth. And I need a breath. This is not to say give up. Or sit around and do nothing under the guise of enjoying the Now. But to take each moment as it comes. And to allow some moments to be silent.

American Idle

My friend Trevor is a music enthusiast. Most of our conversations revolve around Rihanna’s transition from pop star to pop artist with Rated R, Whitney’s greatest vocal (for the record, it is “I Believe in You and Me”), and, much to the chagrin of our friend Jennie, Aguilera’s dubious choices as an artist, particularly Bionic. He also is a very good singer and a burgeoning producer of sweet neo-house; he lives and breathes music.

I, of course, am a film/TV enthusiast. Most of my moments not working revolve around watching classic movies, the sitcoms of Seth MacFarlane, and, as of late, a steady stream of Bad Cinema. However, I hate Reality TV. It plays to the absolute lowest common denominator and amplifies our worst qualities to cosmic proportions. It has taken away innumerable jobs and dollars from people with talent who can no longer get support from the Industry because it is dedicated to cranking out crap on the cheap. So naturally, American Idol was not a part of my television rotation.

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For Trevor, this was an almost unforgivable sin. In one of his numerous, hilarious texts, he called Idol, and I quote, his “lifeline” and that we should watch it together so we can talk about it. And now that our mutual obsession Mimi – that’s Mariah Carey for anyone who is not a part of Honey B. Fly – was going to be a judge, it would at least be full of diamonds and her perfectly coiffed hair. So I agreed, begrudgingly, to return to Seacrest and his douchiness.

You see, I watched the second season pretty religiously. That was the one when Ruben and Clay went head to head for a chance at anonymity. (Honestly, when was the last time either of them were marginally relevant? Oh, yes. When Clay “came out” of the closet. As if his gayness wasn’t blinding us from the cracks in the door…) I may have even voted. For whom I can’t remember. Neither of them, I am certain. It was whoever that girl was, the one who came in third, she sang “Over the Rainbow”…clearly, Idol is the place to begin your road to fame. Of course, fame does occur – Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, even I must have thought it would lead to the life I wanted; I auditioned back in New Jersey a million years ago, during a crazy eight hours I will never get back – but look at the record sales of the last five winners. If you can even name the last five winners. It is not an encouraging sight. Which garners the greatest irony because America actually voted for these albums – and then didn’t buy them. So it was with a heavy heart and a hint of embarrassment that I was going to actually tune in week after week and watch kids not only doing what I want to do – and was denied the chance! – but watch kids who for the most part are, to put it mildly, Me.Di.O.Cre.

I know what you’re thinking. “God, what a bitter, whining baby. There is no way he can be objective about the show and the singers because his jealousy is blinding him!” OK. Unlike black female singers who hate Beyonce (or how I used to hate Lady Gaga), I can most definitely separate my personal failings from the successes of others. If someone is talented, I have no shame in saying it. The great thing about the entertainment industry is that there is more than enough room for everyone on the billboard. I welcome talent. I love talent. In fact, unlike many people in America, I am not tuning into American Idol to see people fail. I actually want them to be good if for no other reason than to not make me want to tear out my ears and eyes while suffering through two hours of bogus drama and pseudo-feuds between the divas sipping Coca-Cola. Unlike other reality shows I watch – yes, I admit it. I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, Tabatha Takes Over, and Judge Judy. And all those killer shows on ID – with their completely engaging fits of throwing shade, shampoo bottles, sass, and shanks, I really don’t give two shits about the “drama”/backstory of any of these kids on American Idol. I don’t need to know them, like them, root for them. I need to enjoy their voice and/or the persona they are giving us. I know nothing about Rihanna’s personal life (except, you know…that) and I want to keep it that way. She is a fascinating mystery who churns out hit after motherfucking hit and that is enough for me.

But this is not American Idol‘s way, which is evident in the people they choose. Ostensibly, AI is a singing contest. And lest we forget, Randy is on hand to remind us, ad nauseum, like he needs to convince himself and the other panelists. The truth is that they are looking for a pop star who sings well. Or sort of good. The most important thing is marketability. And fuckability. Something Nicki reminds us every time a male contestant comes on stage. Seriously, she just needs to have an orgy with these guys and get it over with. That would be reality TV worth watching.

But alas, we will never be granted a window into some Paula/Corey realness (allegedly). Because the unspoken rule of American Idol, despite the drip-drip-drip of Minaj’s Niagara Falls, is that the “American Idol” must be innocent, bordering on Disney, and appeal to everyone from pre-teens to senior citizens. Could they have gotten more down homesy than Taylor Hicks? More girl next door than Carrie Underwood? Really, Kelly? “Dark Side”? Is this your attempt at edginess? The only one who has broken out and taken ballsy chances is Adam Lambert. And he didn’t even win. (Nor did the most arguably successful alumnus of the show, the Oscar/Grammy winning, White House singing, Jennifer Hudson – who came in 9th, folks). Which doesn’t make any sense from a branding stand point. Perhaps they are trying to be noble, or promote what they feel to be American id(ea)ls, but if we look at the most successful musicals acts of all time – and by successful I am speaking not only in terms of album sales, but cultural relevancy – from Prince to Elvis to Jagger to Janet to Madonna to Britney to Beyonce to Rihanna to, yes, Mariah Carey – sex was driving their train all the way to the bank.

Yet, ironically/tellingly/inevitably these kids – and I say kids because all of them are younger than me; God, when did I get to be another demographic? – are attractive, some of them bordering on porn worthy, usurping any talent (or lack thereof) they may exhibit (or attempt to).

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The most obvious example is Lazaro, a boy so sexy that he very well could single handedly replace all five members of One Direction on the cover of Tiger Beat (or the centerfold of my dreams…). But he can’t sing. Like, really can’t sing. He also can’t speak. He has a terrible stutter that miraculously disappears when he is, I guess we are obliged to call it, singing. And the judges go crazy for him! Of course Nicki does. He has a penis. And rocks form fitting pants that leave very little to the imagination. (The jokes on you, Roman! He is as gay as a picnic basket!) But something must be getting lost in translation from stage to screen to living room because this viewer, who is dying for him to be good, making him even more hot, is hiding his head in disgust at America’s ridiculous softness for a sob story, only choosing him because they feel sorry for his disability. This ain’t the Special Olympics, folks. This is American Goddamn Idol!! A singing competition that somehow has very little to do with singing.

The drama continues as we go through some of the other dubious choices the producers/judges have made us sit through these last few weeks. Like Charlie. Poor Charlie. With the peach fuzz ‘stache who thought it was a good idea to try and become Axel Rose with that stupid earring, ponytail, and mike stand antics. We also had to sit through Kez Ban because she was some manic rocker chic with a bass voice and a stank attitude. And the most insane, ridiculous, straight-up for ratings piece of foolishness maybe ever seen on any reality show ever, Zoanette; a screaming – caterwauling! – girl with an obvious cocaine problem and way too much confidence for some one with way too little talent. Thankfully, all of them have been cut from the Top Ten. Insultingly, none of them should have made it to the Top 40. Or 80. But they made good TV. And so it goes.

 

But not always. Sometimes they have a contestant who not only is great TV, but a great voice and the potential to be a stand-out artist, not only from the other Idol mediocrities, but the other pop stars from YouTube to LA Reid’s proteges. JDA was a high heel rocking/Adele belting/MTV “Like a Virgin” rolling force of nature that they inexplicably cut to make room for someone like Nick. I’m going to sit here and pretend that JDA’s dismissal had nothing to do with him being androgynous and femininely gay; this is the 21st Century, after all. But I can’t really imagine any other reason they would choose him over Paul, a super cute boy next door type with a completely ordinary look and sound, that without coincidence, is now a Top Ten finalist.

Now let’s take a moment to look at the other 8 finalists:

3) Kree – I have a hard time remembering who she even is.

4) Janelle – Of course they had to keep a country singer. But Underwood – even Taylor – she ain’t.

5) Devin – Sings in Spanish better than English. Well, if it works for Shakira…

6) Amber – To quote Trevor: “Ugh! She just seems really full of herself. And she’s not as good as she thinks she is. And don’t give me that, ‘She’s 18′ crap. Aguilera was lubin’ up her poon and slidin’ into her chaps when she was 18, gearing up for Stripped!”

And then the four who are in a different league…

7) Curtis – God. Damn. Taking it to Church!

8) Angela – Already performing her own material, banging out the piano, belting it to China.

9) Burnell – One of the only two who seriously deserve this show. His voice is incredible. Studio ready. I would buy his album.

10) Candace – The one to beat. Her performance of “Ordinary People” was the best of the season.

Coming back to JDA for a moment, I would like to address the topic of Performance. I would be OK with these singers not possessing fantastic vocal talent if they had enough courage, uniqueness, and nerve to compensate; no one loves Rihanna, Brit, or Madonna for their voices (although Madonna’s is better than she gets recognition for – “Borderline”? Shit, gurl…). We love these women because they give good face, sashay like panther’s on the runway, make us hard, fuck the camera, and somehow, almost in spite of ourselves, get us to doll out our wallets at the drop of a boa. But these Idol singers, with the exception of Curtis (He puts you through it!), lack anything that could possibly be construed as a strong stage presence. JDA could play Vegas yesterday; half of these kids would be lucky to sing the National Anthem at their community college and would be swallowed alive if put in a music video.

“Oh, but that is all part of the process!” I’m sorry, but it shouldn’t be. American Idol should not be a televised summer camp. It should be a national stage for people who have not had the exposure to become nationally famous. Herein lies my biggest problem with the show. Why are there only four out of ten – and really what they are telling us, four out of the tens of thousands who auditioned – worthy of even marginally listening to? And we still have two months of this bullshit? How?! WHY!? If this is the best America has to offer, it is a sad day for America. Please. Make it be over already.

And now we come to the judges.

The only two who say anything of any merit are Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson. Minaj, on top of her highly inappropriate borderline sexual harassment style compliments to the male contestants, will actually boo them. Jackson will tell them it was awful. Keith Urban and Mariah Carey are both filling Paula Abdul’s role of Ms. Nice Guy and prance around criticism with the fear of ever so slightly hurting anyone’s ever so delicate feelings. If anyone has the right to criticize vocals, it is Mariah Fucking Carey. Suck it up, gurl, and give ’em what they need to hear.

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Ridic.

Bad Cinema: What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (Dir: Lee H. Katzkin, 1969)

“That’s not very perceptive of you to minimize the courage that it takes to kill.”
“Why, it’s just nerve with a dash of cruelty.”


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It pains me to include this film in a list of cinematic misfires because Geraldine Page, its mad mad mad mad star, gives one of the finest performances ever recorded on the silver screen. But this is no surprise to anyone who has seen her in…anything. Upon winning Best Actress in 1985, presenter F. Murray Abraham called her the “greatest actress in the English language”; her win for The Trip to Bountiful, besting Whoopi Goldberg’s brilliant debut in The Color Purple, was really a Lifetime Achievement Award and an apology for overlooking her the previous seven times she was nominated, surprisingly, shockingly, appallingly none of them for What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?

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Nor is What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? a piece of Bad Cinema because of its co-star, Ruth Gordon, at the time the reigning Best Supporting Actress, winning in 1968 for Rosemary’s Baby. Gordon was enjoying an acting renaissance (she was nominated for a Tony in 1956 as the original Dolly Levi in The Matchmaker, the play that eventually became Hello, Dolly!), after spending a large portion of her earlier years in Hollywood as a writer (nominated for three Academy Awards, including the Hepburn/Tracy smash, Adam’s Rib). The teaming of the scenery chewing Gordon and Page, matched if not surpassed, the original duo of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, a camp masterpiece of suspense. Page walks the line of sanity like a tightrope, imbuing the murderous Mrs. Marrable with sophistication and psychotic specificity, while Gordon gives us a 180 from her demonically charming, Oscar winning Minnie by painting Mrs. Demmick with a victimized brush of terror. The scenes between them are alive, pounding with energy like the most relentless of drums. Unfortunately, they only make up half of the film.

Claire Marrable (Page) has just lost her husband. But is she unconsolably weeping into the arms of a loved one? Of course not. She’s too busy rearranging the flowers next to his casket and practicing faces of melancholy in case anyone is near by. You see, she was in love with his money. And now that he is dead, she expects to collect.

All that changes when his lawyer (Bob Newhart’s favorite dentist, Peter Bonerz) tells her there are no assets, only liabilities. She is bequeathed the pitiful contents of his briefcase: a rusty dagger, a stamp collection, and his boyhood butterflies. What’s a girl to do? Get a job? Learn a trade? Make afghans for the craft fair like other old ladies do? Nah. Why bother when you can murder your housekeepers, bury them in the garden, and steal their money?

After the “disappearance” of her latest companion, Mrs. Tinsley (two time Oscar nominee and Broadway’s original “Big Mama,” Mildred Dunnock), Mrs. Marrable places an ad in the paper for a new victim, ughm, housekeeper. Within days, Mrs. Demmick (Gordon) has taken up residency to field her vitriolic barbs, apologize to the neighbors for her boss’s bullshit, and to do some snooping. Mrs. Demmick knows there is something rotten in the state of Marrable, but can she discover it before it is too late?

Clearly, this is enough drama to sustain an hour and forty-one minutes. Producer Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen, Kiss Me Deadly) knew this when he directed …Baby Jane?, keeping the ancillary action of the neighbors and the housekeeper always related to Davis and Crawford. Why hire brilliant actresses like Page and Gordon, legendary actresses like Page and Gordon, only to cut away from them for some completely unnecessary romantic triangles between walking mannequins Rosemary Forsyth, Peter Brandon, Joan Huntington, and Robert Fuller, who play their neighbor, nephew, niece, and nephew, respectively. Any more explanation of their characters and “story lines” would be a waste of time, energy, and will power because, honestly, they matter less than what Mariah Carey has to say on American Idol.  

But this should not deter you from checking out this cult mess-terpiece. Fast forward was invented for a reason! Make it a drinking game! Any time Geraldine Page looks ominous, take a shot. Any time Rosemary Forsyth tries to appear earnest, take a shot! This is a standing recommendation for any of the films that fly the Bad Cinema flag: they are always more enjoyable under the influence. It only makes sense. Some of this crap can only have been written drunk so why not enjoy it as it was originally envisioned?

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? is part three in the Robert Aldrich trilogy of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964). Upon researching this film, I discovered What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), a “sister” film starring Debbie Reynolds and Shelly Winters, which of course shot to the top of my Netflix queue. Will it be Baby Jane brilliant? Or Bad Cinema at its Best? Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my review.

Is What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley? CAR CRASH

What about you? What are your thoughts on …Aunt Alice? and other entries in the “psycho-biddy” genre?

*Available on YouTube

Bad Cinema: Roller Boogie (Dir: Mark L. Lester, 1979)

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The ’70s gave us many wonderful things: Gay Liberation, the auteur movement, post-it notes.

But for some inexplicable reason, roller skating, which had been around since the 18th century, became huge; like ridiculously enormous, culminating in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overblown, horrible musical Starlight Express. And Hollywood being Hollywood, decided to cash in on the ever-growing fad with films like Roller Boogie, starring the one-and-only, Linda Blair.

Oh, Linda Blair. We all know her as the Academy Award nominated actress who masturbated with a crucifix and told priests that their mothers sucked cock in Hell. You would think that a role as juicy as this one would have gotten her further meaty roles, a la Jodie Foster. And it did. For a while. She had the chance to star in a couple of TV movies where she got raped and played a teenage alcoholic. And even starred in the absolutely terrible sequel The Exorcist II: The Heretic, in where Oscar winner Louise Fletcher and Shakespearean stalwart Richard Burton embarrass themselves for an endless 118 minutes. But then she got arrested on coke dealing charges and her promising career was derailed into Campville forever. I guess that’s what happens when you are dating Rick James. Bitch.

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By the time she got to Roller Boogie, all hope of a successful career was gone, which is sad because she is actually quite engaging in what is essentially an hour and forty-three minutes of people skating.

*Notice how the trailer gives you absolutely no plot.

Terry (Blair) is the Uptown sophisticate with fancy cars, designer clothes, and the requisitely distant parents. Bobby (played by real life competitive skater, Jim Bray) is the best skater on Venice Beach (and the best looking boy in short shorts). This Lady and her Tramp are fated from the start. You see, they both want to be…Olympic skaters (Just go with it). Terry wants Bobby to teach her how to be amazing (at more things than just skating! Get it, gurl…) so they can win the Roller Disco contest. This was one of those specifically ’70s things where people would join at their roller rink and dance on skates to Earth, Wind, and Fire and Cher (“Hell on Wheels” was written especially for the film). Of course, Terry’s parents don’t understand her. How could they? They don’t even notice that the maid is eating off their plate right in front of them. They want Terry to go to Juilliard and be a concert flutist. But she just wants to dance! On skates.

To give the film some much needed, but completely superfluous conflict, Jammers (their roller rink of choice) is about to be shut down by the Mob! But the kids end up getting their hands on some tape that…oh, hell, do you really care?

Terry and Bobby win the competition (naturally) and have a tearful farewell on the boardwalk before Terry goes away to college (evidently, winning the Roller Disco contest didn’t sway her parents enough to let her run off with a street kid and join the Olympics).

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As painfully awful as this film is – to be fair, it is better than the similarly themed Xanadu, which isn’t saying much – I am glad I watched it because I have been inspired to seek out Linda Blair’s canon. Maybe she is one of the greatest underused actresses we have. Maybe someone just needs to give her a wild and fabulous role to bring her back to the limelight where she belongs. OK, Quentin. All eyes are on you.

Is Roller Boogie a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley: COLONOSCOPY

Have you seen Roller Boogie? What are your thoughts?

*Streaming on Netflix

CHECK OUT MY OTHER Bad Cinema REVIEWS FOR Showgirls AND Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band