Bad Cinema: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (Dir: Rod Amateau, 1987)

“You gotta bad attitude, girl.”
“Oh honey, you haven’t seen bad yet.”

“Funny people should call this junk. When every single piece is a diary of the human spirit.”

What does a 0% really mean on Rotten Tomatoes when the film in question can bring such joy? What does a 0% mean when the film in question oozes with originality and has you coming back three times in one week to desperately try and catch every nuance and file every line of dialogue away for later to appear even more cult-worthy than you already think you are? What does a 0% mean when the film in question is The Garbage Pail Kids Movie? Absolutely nothing.

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The Garbage Pail Kids started as a series of collector cards meant to spoof the Cabbage Patch Dolls. As a child of the 80s, I was deeply rooted in the world of the Cabbage Patch. My mother even made me one, Andy, that I slept with for years – until at ten I saw Child’s Play and hid him for ever and always in my closet; a closet that, incidentally, with the swirls of its faux-stain, reminded me of that creepy painting from Ghostbusters 2; making me forever fearful that either the closet door or the doll would emerge at night and murder me in my sleep.

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The Garbage Pail Kids Movie came out when I was four and even though I was a progressive child, heavily steeped in the culture of my adolescence (the search for Beanie Babies became an unrelenting quest throughout middle school…), I was unaware of GPK the film and GPK the cards until the hunt for Bad Cinema had begun.

Bad Cinema’s roots began with Showgirlsthe greatest worst movie ever. My steadfast love for Verhoeven’s mess-terpiece was unstoppable. In the past four months, I have watched it a minimum of eight times and am kind of dying to turn it on right now. It is the gift that keeps on giving (thank you, Elizabeth Berkley). I have been searching week after week for something to rival its splendor, its quotability, its pure audacity in a lack of taste. And I have found it in The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.

***

As the credits begin to roll, a garbage pail shaped space ship, complete with Spaceball One style taillights, hurdles towards Earth. Leaping from its bowels, we are introduced to the cast via their GPK trading cards. Anthony Newley, a Tony and Oscar nominated composer and co-star of the much maligned musical Doctor Dolittle, is the only “name” actor in the film. In fact the GPK are introduced only by their character names: Messy Tessie, a girl whose nose constantly runs, even going so far as to drip into her mouth; Foul Phil, a baby with horrible breath; Nat Nerd, a boy with horrendous acne and a super hero cape who randomly pees on the floor; Windy Winston, whose favorite past time is farting; Ali Gator, an alligator boy who eats human toes; Greaser Greg, a Fonzi wannabe with a switch blade and a touch of misogyny; and Valerie Vomit, who…well, I’m sure you can guess. From jump street, we know we are in for a wild ride.

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But these are their Earthly forms. The GPK are really a glob of green goo living at the bottom of their trash can spacecraft. Captain Manzini (Newley) has been keeping them safe for years on the top shelf of his magic shop. That is until Dodger (Mackenzie Astin), his assistant/ward (? we never see or hear of his family…) is beaten up by the toughest gang of thugs this side of Blackboard Jungle and send the pail tumbling to the floor.

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Now this isn’t the first time we see the bullies pick on poor Dodger. First off, Astin is actually 14 playing a character who is 14 as opposed to the mid 20 somethings attempting to pass as high school students; an insane trope of any movie starring teenagers like we don’t know what real teenagers look like. Secondly, we have seen the bullies (led by the fabulously retro ’50s creep in an oversized David Byrne jacket, Juice) turn Dodger upside down in a park in broad daylight for his lunch money (has this ever really happened in real life ever or merely a cliche of the cinema?). Wally and Blythe (an obvious descendant of John Waters’ most delicious deviants, dressed in her yellow and black zebra print and fingerless gloves, cackling lines like, “My kinda guys. Psychos.”) even throw Dodger into a sewer after he hits on Juice’s main squeeze, Tangerine. And not only throw him into the sewer, but turn on the sewer pipe, sending piss and, yes, chunks of defecation onto his face.

But down the stairs the Garbage Pail Kids descend to rescue the boy who has set them free from their prison (“That pail be jail,” Greaser Greg tells us). Somehow, also in broad daylight, the “children” (the GPK are played by little people in horrible costumes with big plaster heads) drag Dodger through the streets and back to the antique shop without anyone stopping them or asking why he is covered in waste.

You see, the children truly are heroic in their actions to save him. They have braved the “normies” with the ever impending fear of being kidnapped and taken to the State Home for the Ugly. Captain Manzini has kept them protected all these years, but now that they have escaped the safety of the garbage pail, the only place the ugly GPK are safe (what a statement!) – and refuse to return! – they must be ever vigilant to remain out of the clutches of anyone offended by their hideousness. If only the world knew what Captain Manzini does: “Ugliness is not in a mirror. Ugliness is cruelty, meanness of spirit.” Or little people in horrible costumes with big plaster heads.

Dodger takes a bath that evening in the middle of the basement with all of the kids and Captain Manzini watching him. This is odd and creepy for the obvious reasons, but it gets even creepier when Messy Tessie (my personal favorite of the bunch because the actress employs a similar voice to the one I use to speak to my dog, coincidentally named Dodger) proclaims “He’s got cute legs!” while Ali Gator tries to eat his toes as he wiggles them sensually like Lolita beckoning Humbert.

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But Dodger has bigger things to worry about than getting oogled by mysterious kids from outer space. He is in love with Tangerine. But she is too busy selling her wears at the local discotheque to care (“I’m gonna sell my way out of this town!”). And boy are those girls ever clamoring for her fashions! When Tangerine arrives with her duffel bag full of originals, they are literally running from the club, fiending for the latest creation to make them look like Cyndi Lauper’s Down-Syndromed, color blind sister (honestly, how was tying tulle in your hair and wearing an asymmetrical leotard as a dress not always hysterically tacky? Although that outfit made out of traffic signs is straight up Fish…). But no! Juice arrives and steals all her money, Jack Gordon style. This boy just ain’t no good.

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But Tangerine, the shrewd business woman that she is, decides to take matters into her own hands and seduce Dodger for his own fashions! Well, the fashions that the GPK have made to help him impress her, that is. And she falls for that Michael Jackson military knock-off hard! Suddenly, the GPK are putting on their best Rumplestiltskin hats, turning out a dozen outfits a weekend to help him seal the deal. I guess they really don’t have anything else to do. And they do kind of owe him one for letting them out. And he did promise to help them find their missing friends in exchange. Besides, as the Sesame Street style musical number tells us, while they break into the Non-Union Sweat Shop to steal sewing machines, “We Can Do Anything By Working with Each Other.”

But they can’t be cooped up at their machines all day like they are working for the Kellwood Co. They need to get out and tear up the town! So while Captain Manzini is busy trying to write some musical spell to get them to go back into the pail, the GPK break out incognito looking like girl scouts from Troop Beverly Hills and head to the movies.

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As The Three Stooges (in one of the few public domain; therefore, oft-used shorts, Malice in the Palace) seem to serve up a terrier to a bunch of Muslims, the GPK make a ruckus, kissing patrons, sneezing popcorn all over the crowd, and proclaiming for all to hear that Ali loves to eat dog. Ali also loves to get drunk. He and Windy go to a bar, “The Toughest Bar in the World,” where they drive their motorcycle through the window and kick ass because the patrons are attacking Gator for trying to eat someone’s foot. Then, a random bar patron steps in, proclaiming these little guys have guts and buys everybody a drink: “To all the little suckers of the world!”

All their movie theatre shenanigans and bar fights really make those GPKs hungry so they steal a series of food trucks, build a camp fire in some grungy back alley, and pig out on hotdogs and Pepsi.

“My tummy hurts!
“What did you eat?
“Everything!”
“That’ll do it all right.”

Meanwhile, Captain Manzini and Dodger have found the State Home for the Ugly and Dodger is working harder than ever to be a Seymour to Tangerine’s slightly liberated Audrey (Manzini’s Antique Shop’s facade bears a striking resemblance to Mushnick’s). But when she finally meets the GPK, she, like most normies, are disgusted by “these ugly things”: until she discovers they were the ones that made those fashionable threads! And she does have a fashion show coming up and needs all of the samples she can muster. (Apparently, Sue Ellen Crandell ain’t the only teen fashionista in the game…)

While at the fashion show, Tangerine has sent word to Juice that the GPK are ripe for the taking to the State Home for the Ugly where they will collect a large sum of money for helping clear the streets of their hideous faces. And it must be a very large sum because now that the GPK are locked up, they can’t make outfits anymore; outfits that helped her secure the fashion show in the first place. Tangerine is definitely not thinking about the future.

Once Dodger learns the truth, he and Manzini employ the patrons at The Toughest Bar in the World to aid in breaking them free. Out of their giant cage – emblazoned by the words TOO GROSS, btw – the GPK use their “special skills” (bad breath, farting in the face of danger) to escape. Free at last, they run to the fashion show to wreak havoc and get revenge. Dresses are ripped off to reveal the most colorful undergarments possible (yellow cheetah print bras? really?) as the GPK take back their fashions from Tangerine’s sour tyranny. Windy knocks out the audience with his gas, Dodger knocks out Juice with punches that look incredibly real, and with Juice’s goons pinned underneath her, Valerie Vomit finally lives up to her name.

But Tangerine, ever the entrepreneur, goes to Dodger later that night to apologize because despite all of the absolute insanity at the fashion show, the clothes were a hit. And maybe, just maybe, they can be friends. So the GPK will continue to make her clothes. But Dodger is not swayed: “I don’t think you are pretty anymore.” Tangerine is left in a state of shock.

Manzini has finally figured out the magic incantation to force the GPK back into the garbage pail. But as he begins to play the out-of-tune melody on his piano, the children decide to make a run for it and brave the world on their own. Manzini is worried at first, but at last learns the lesson of the film: “Perhaps it would have been safer to have locked them away from the world, but you can’t change the world by locking yourself away from it.” The Garbage Pail Kids ride off into the night on their mopeds to form a better place for us all.

***

There are three things that make this film utterly fabulous. OK, there are more than three – this truly is a film with an abundance of riches – but three that seal its fate as a camp classic for all time.

1) The Dialogue

The key to any cult hit is having quotable, ridiculous dialogue. Here is a sampling to be added to the evidence already submitted:

Dodger: “The pet shop was out of unicorn.”
Manzini: “No wonder there’s no magic in the world today. You can’t get the ingredients.”

Juice: “It’s a matter of principle.”
Tangerine: “Oh yeah? I think it’s just a matter of you liking to see people bleed.”

Tangerine: “That’s great kid. What do you do for an encore. Open a vein?”

Greaser Greg: “Yeah yeah tough toothpaste.”

Manzini: “We can’t choose the way we look. But we can choose the way we behave.” This line is followed by a giant fart from Windy.

I could go on for pages…

2) The Music

Michael Lloyd turns in a fantastic-could-only-have-been-written-in-the-80s score making those synthesizers and drum machines kick aside anything that dares to cross its path. Honestly. It’s worth owning.

3) Katie Barberi

Much like Gina Gershon’s performance in Showgirls, Ms. Marberi knows exactly what type of movie she is in. Her Tangerine is one part sex, two parts camp, and she looks absolutely fabulous in every frame. The costumes! The hair! Tangerine werrrrks it! Of course the movie would be a cult masterpiece without her (Anthony Newley is almost as ridiculous, Astin’s earnestness is endearing, and the GPK are enough to keep you coming back for more), but Marberi’s talent sends The Garbage Pail Kids Movie to the depths of outer space from whence it came.

As if the 1987 version wasn’t enough of a financial and critical disaster, Michael Eisner is trying to get funding for a reboot…

You better believe I will be first in line.

Is The Garbage Pail Kids Movie a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
*** BERKLEY ***

What are your thoughts on TGPKM?

*If you hurry, it is on Netflix Instant until 5/1…

Bad Cinema: White Chicks (Dir: Keenon Ivory Wayans, 2004)

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The Wayans Family are an entertainment dynasty that can only be rivaled by the Jacksons in terms of cultural impact and productivity. Keenon began directing racial satires in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He and his brothers Marlon, Damon, and Shawn revolutionized television with their off-color humor (and introduced the world to Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, and J. Lo) on the highly successful sketch comedy show, In Living ColorDamon has had a successful film and TV career on his own (Major Payne, My Wife and Kids); Marlon has proven he can tear up the drama – and look amazing doing it – in Requiem for a Dream and co-starred with Shawn on their eponymous sitcom.

But they are probably most famous for ushering in a low-brow renaissance of the spoof, taking it places Mel Brooks and John Waters wouldn’t (and shouldn’t have) dared with the Scary Movie franchise, relying on cheap, adolescent jokes without the sophistication and anarchic spirit of their predecessors (meanwhile, Anna Faris proved she was the most fearless comedienne since Lucille Ball; seriously, why does no one know this? See The House Bunny immediately).

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But White Chicks hits a new low even for the often bottom dwelling Wayans Clan. Shawn and Marlon (I can’t remember their character’s names and frankly it doesn’t matter) are bumbling undercover cops. And like every single other buddy cop movie, they decide to go rogue to prove to their boss they’ve got what it takes.

Brittany and Tiffany Wilson are two of society’s most prized possessions. They shop, they obsess over their appearances, and at any moment, will throw a hot BF (that’s Bitch Fit). But someone wants to kidnap these girls (why, I can’t remember and frankly it doesn’t matter). So when Shawn and Marlon crash their car en route from the Wilson sisters airport pick-up (the only job they could get on the case) because Tiffany’s poodle decides to crawl onto the windshield (yes, this actually happens – and you see it coming from space as soon as she asks him to roll the window down), causing the girls to have miniscule cuts on their faces, which would disgrace them in front of their snotty Hampton friends at the social event of the season, it is a blessing in disguise that now they will be forced to sequester themselves in the hotel.

But the Wilson sisters cannot know about their protective custody for some reason. To these Hilton knock-offs, Shawn and Marlon are the chauffeurs. So instead of coming clean with the truth (a concept so common sense, yet heretical to broad comedy), they decide to convince the girls they are too hideous to be seen in public. Then attempt to pass themselves off as a couple of White Chicks so no one is concerned that they have gone missing.

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Now, of course, if the races were reversed, this would be seen as anathema to progress. A minstrel show. An abomination. But given the double standard of race (or as it is called “reverse racism,” because apparently white people have the monopoly on bigotry), the Wayans are allowed to poke fun at white girl foolishness, unscathed. This seems only fair as recompense for the 25 years of silent cinema where we were donning Shinola to play Uncle Tom. They were very smart setting the film in the universe of the rich and the snobby, allowing them to play up every disgusting stereotype about white girls: vapid, slutty, and spoiled.

But this “offensive” trope is so inconsequential to what makes White Chicks so utterly bad. I could go on about how the Wayans in ugly white face drag look nothing like the girls they are supposed to be emulating, yet no one can tell the difference (perhaps this is an intentional wink to the way one race thinks that everyone in the other race looks alike? That is, if black people think white girls look like some Linda Blair/Chucky hybrid). I could go on about the constant aping of other, better films (the gags are a blatant hodgepodge of Mrs. Doubtfire, Tootsie, and Some Like it Hot; this could almost constitute as a remake of Some Like it Hot – Billy Wilder must be turning over in his grave!). I could go on about the constant fart and poop jokes (some land, some really flatline). I could go on about Marlon’s shrew of a wife and the ridiculous ways he placates and apologizes for HER insanity (when he begs for her “forgiveness” at the end, I literally screamed NO at my television and had to walk around the room; clearly one of the seven men who wrote this film is pussy whipped to the Nth). But what struck me most obviously – and most consistently – was the systematic way the film told us that being gay is disgusting.

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1) Marlon and Shawn, freshly dressed as women for the first time, hit the town and are immediately hit on. They go into attack mode, threatening to beat the men up, before remembering they are dressed like women.

2) The inevitable I’m-dressed-up-as-a-woman-for-most-of-the-film-so-I-have-to-prove-my-masculinity-by-hitting-on-a-hot-girl-while-I-am-dressed- as-a-man conceit that runs rampant in White Chicks‘ aforementioned “influences.”

3) The ten year old boys looking up the skirts of a posse of girls; then, freaking out when they see balls instead of vagina.

4) The slumber party where Shawn as Tiffany has to demonstrate his fellatio skills on a pink rubber dildo, but the film refuses to let him be seen with a dick in his mouth so he just beats his face with it (I’m sure the feminists loved that one).

5) The cop sniffing a pair of ladies panties and then being visibly nauseous when he discovers they once held the Wayans’ junk.

6) The horrified faces and blood curdling screams of Russ and Latrell when they wake up the next morning and realize they had sex.

Kind of true.

Kind of true.

7) After Marlon tries to quell his wife’s fears that he is sleeping with another woman by reassuring him that it is really a man in drag. Her response: You’re sick.

A part of me wants to give them a free pass. A part of me feels that it is all a part of satire, to take things to the utter limit. And a large part of me feels that it is completely subconscious, that they know not what they do; heterosexual men’s discomfort with homosexuality is so ingrained in the DNA of our culture that they may not have even realized they were being grossly offensive.

But just as we receive a citation for turning on a one way street even if we didn’t see the sign, the Wayans’ absolutely do not get off the hook for their insensitive, juvenile, lazy attempts at humor.

The shame is that, as performers, the entire Wayans Clan are really talented and always go for broke (sometimes too far; what works on TV does not always work on film, Keenon…). I would love to see them make a film like this (well, not like White Chicks, but a broad comedy at least) written by others and directed by someone who will actually call them on their shit. And this is shit, ladies.

Yet after all of this, White Chicks somehow succeeds on the most basic level: I can’t stop thinking about.

Is White Chicks a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
***BERKLEY***

What are your thoughts on White Chicks?

*Available on Netflix Instant

Bad Cinema: Gigli (Dir: Martin Brest, 2003)

This was an inevitability.

How can one write a column about the worst of the movies without including Gigli? (Stay tuned for Battlefield Earth and From Justin to Kelly…). It is truly one of the worst films of all time and lives up to every awful thing that has ever been said about it. It also is the film responsible for the omnipresent media circus called “Bennifer” so for better or for worse (definitely worse), Gigli has become a permanent staple in pop culture history.

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After watching The Wedding Planner a few weeks back, I knew that Lopez films had the potential to be painful experiences. I also knew that Gigli was deemed a mess from absolutely everyone. But I must admit. After watching The Wedding Planner, I became obsessed with Jennifer Lopez. I wanted to see every single stupid thing she had ever done in her absolutely stupid career.

Monster-in-Law was almost as terrible (Jane Fonda’s histrionics saved it from becoming another notch in Bad Cinema’s Walk-of-Shame) and Anaconda was so dreadful I had to turn it off mid-way (What accent was that supposed to be, Jon Voight?). But something happened about five minutes into Maid in Manhattan: I could not take my eyes off of J. Lo. And not just because she is an unfairly, criminally, disgustingly beautiful woman (they can dress her down in scrubs all they want, but there’s no stopping her sex appeal). I could not take my eyes off of her because she was…dare I say …ENGAGING! The chemistry with her son! The camaraderie between her co-workers! The choices, the emotions! Lopez was WURKING! I sat there wishing the film were at least passably poor and that Ralph Fiennes were not getting shown up by Jenny from the Block. (Honestly. WTF, Ralph?) I think I loathed her in The Wedding Planner and Monster-in-Law because I hate characters/women like that. And she phoned both of those performances in, collect.

Gigli, on the other hand, allows her, like Maid in Manhattan, to tap into her street roots and give us her Bronx swag. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

"Don't tell anyone. But I have an Academy Award....yeah, I'm not sure why I'm in this either."

“Don’t tell anyone, but I have an Academy Award….yeah, I’m not sure why I’m in this either.”

Affleck is Larry Gigli (pronounced “Gee-lee. Like really”), a mobster who cannot be trusted to get important tasks accomplished. So naturally he would be assigned an important kidnapping, well adultnapping (?). Let’s call it an abduction. A very easy abduction, I should add. You see, the person with whom he needs to abscond is mentally challenged, or as the film repeatedly calls him, retarded. Or ‘tard. Or stupid. And other flattering things. Apparently, the place he is living/having a chronic picnic with his sunflower seeds, allows anyone – especially tough looking guidos with pompadours – to just sashe into the place and leave with their residents without so much as checking in at a front desk. These must be handi-capables, unbeholden to rules or common sense! But why wouldn’t Brian go with Larry? He is taking him to the “Baywatch”. Or as we call it, the beach.

Brian (played with uncomfortable fades in and out of believability by Justin Bartha; star of The Hangover and The New Normal) is the brother of the DA. The plan is to hold him for ransom until after a gangster (played with surprising amounts of restraint by Al Pacino) is acquitted for…something. I think? The film is not very clear how this will be accomplished and the synopsis from Wikipedia sounds like a 5th grader wrote it the class before they were supposed to turn it in for a report. There is no ransom note, no demands. Or maybe Christopher Walken cleared this up during his brief appearance. He distracts me with his odd inflections and most of the time I have no idea what he is saying. He is like a caricature of a caricature of Christopher Walken. He is like the Nicolas Cage of the 90s, still holding onto a career through kitsch and the hope that he will, someday, get another role to remind us why he has an Academy Award. (BTW, Cage is writing a book about his style of acting; one he “invented.” I can see it in the dollar bin of Barnes and Noble now. If B&N still exists in five years…) The point is that Brian’s abduction (one from which he never once tries to leave, even when he could call the police very easily during one of his MANY prank calls Larry somehow allows him to make) is never more than a reason to bring Larry and Ricki together as some sort of strange family.

"Hey, aren't you Ben Affleck? I'm Jennifer Lopez. You know, if we got together, we would have a really catchy nickname that would pervade the culture and annoy everyone!"

“Hey, aren’t you Ben Affleck? I’m Jennifer Lopez. You know, if we got together, we would have a really catchy nickname that would pervade the culture and annoy everyone!”

Because Larry cannot be trusted, Ricki (Lopez) is sent to babysit. She enters his apartment (looking like she just came from a music video shoot) under the pretense of being a new neighbor who needs to use the phone. He drools and despite Brian in the back (because clearly the best place for a mobster to keep someone they have abducted is IN THEIR OWN HOUSE), he allows her to come in. Because hey, she’s his new neighbor. And she’s banging! Ricki makes herself comfy, slumping down into his couch, looking up at him with those music video Fuck Me eyes, and extends her leg above her head to prove her flexibility and flash the sweet outlines of her vag. But Brian cannot be contained and he enters. Shit! But enough of the foreplay. Ricki, like J. Lo, keeps it real. She is his handler, not his neighbor! She never needed to use the phone.

We learn at dinner about BULLS and COWS, which is of course a very clever metaphor for men and women and who should have the power in the relationship. Then while Brian is getting tucked into bed, he wants a bedtime story. But no! Larry doesn’t own a book so must read the back of a Tabasco bottle. This is what we call heavy handed character development with a dash of irony.

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Rockin’ the Bitch Tits.

That night, as Ricki is preparing to sleep on the floor, Larry graciously allows her to sleep with him in his bed since they will be working together and all. Ricki accepts and we are geared for Temptation Island, Jersey Edition. Larry preps in the bathroom mirror, flexing his soft muscles (really, Affleck? You couldn’t have done some sit-ups first?) and blathers on to his reflection about bulls(hit) while Ricki quietly reads a book in bed. He emerges in the Marshall’s version of Hefner’s signature robe and cuddles up next to her for some nookie. But it is not meant to be because…are you ready?…Ricki is a HOT DYKE! I’ll take unnecessary character traits for 2 million, Alex.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Did I lead you on? Yeah, you ain't getting none of this...until Plot Point 2 rolls around, that is."

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I lead you on? Yeah, you ain’t getting none of this…until Plot Point 2 rolls around, that is.”

OK, so Ricki (of course with the androgynous name) is a lesbian – or as the film calls her, a “clamlicker” – so the common trope of these types of films (although I’m not sure Martin Brest knows what type of film this is) is squelched. They won’t be together. So the film’s drama must come elsewhere.

Oh contraire! On a visit to his mother’s house, presumably so he can shoot her up in the ass with heroin (?), we learn that not only has Ricki been with men but Mrs. Gigli (played by Lainie Kazan, Midler’s mom in Beaches…) has been with women…and then hits on Ricki! After thinking it is her son’s girlfriend. Awk. Ward. This entire scene is designed just so his mother can telegraph us the theme of the movie: “Life isn’t always black and white.”

So ripped from the pages of Chasing Amy (incidentally starring Ben Affleck), Larry and Ricki have some sort of love affair/hook-up thing after bonding over not wanting to cut off Brian’s finger; excuse me, thumb (Pacino clears that up later in one of the worst imitations of Tarantino dialogue possible).

"OK, Marty. You did help me win my Oscar. I'll be in your fucking movie. But I'm keeping my ugly ponytail."

“OK, Marty. You did help me win my Oscar. I’ll be in your fucking movie. But I’m keeping my ugly ponytail.”

Oh, I almost forgot! This is after Ricki’s ex-girlfriend storms in, tells Larry to leave his own apartment, accuses Ricki of infidelity, offers to have a threesome with Larry if that will make her happy, breaks into hysterics, runs to the kitchen, slits her wrists, and collapses onto the linoleum. All while J. Lo is wrapped in a towel, fresh from the shower.

But this, my readers, comes after the most offensive scene in the film where Larry goes on about how lesbian sex isn’t real sex and not as rewarding as being with a man because there ain’t no dick. Ricki gyrates through her yoga poses, sensually of course, defending how ALL sex is about vagina NOT dick because when we kiss, we are aroused because the lips of the mouth remind us of the lips of the labia. I would kill to hear Camille Paglia do a commentary track on this scene.

This scene is also not isolated. It is endemic to Gigli‘s universe. Gigli is really just a series of awful monologues about relationships, dressed up in some fourth rate crime comedy. It is like some strange polemic on sexuality and intelligence that doesn’t actually end up saying anything but things that people who know nothing about sexuality and intelligence recycle from their senior high school Psych class. It leaves you scratching your head in wonder, What is Martin Brest trying to say? Did he get left for a woman? Was he in love with a clingy lesbo? Or does he think he is making some profound statement on the fluidity of sexuality by being crass and sophomoric? It is offensive. And uncomfortable to the max.

"Come on. Let's go hit up Novaks."

“Come on. Let’s go hit up Novaks.”

The film almost redeems itself when Ricki turns Larry down for a life together because she knows he can never be what she needs. Because she is a les.bi.an. Finally some common sense up in here! But as she pulls away in the end after he gives her his car (um…ok), she circles back to pick him up for a ride out of town. Lest we get confused, she has not “hopped the fence,” but as Mrs. Gigli said, “Life isn’t always black and white.” So who knows where the road may take them! Ricki tells him he would look good in mascara and they drive off into the sunset. Oh, and Brian, now a dancing extra on Baywatch, will live happily ever after with some hot blonde because he took Larry’s fatherly advice and “put himself out there.” Never mind that he is slow. The power of the dance bridges all worlds.

What baffles me most about terrible movies is how obvious script problems are to the viewer and how NO ONE, especially the actors, notices them before the camera rolls. Actors are the ones putting their careers on the line with terrible roles. Actors are the ones who have to make the terrible dialogue make sense (paging Elizabeth Berkley). Actors are the ones who need to ask the questions, particularly when the director is also the writer and cannot see the forest for the tress. Did J. Lo and Ben think this made sense? Were they smoking crack between takes to distract them from its awfulness? Or were they just happy to be cashing a multi-million dollar paycheck?

Clearly, they are not completely to blame. In fact, Lopez and Affleck are the only things keeping this tripe from spiraling into UnwatchableLand. A film falls as the feet of its director. And Martin Brest, veteran of such esteemed classic as Beverly Hills Cop and Meet Joe Black, is all over the place. The film’s fatal flaw (besides the 120 pages bound together to pass as a script) is its tone. Brest is simultaneously making a buddy road movie, a gangster film, a melodrama, and a romance with only the screeching score to tell us which at any given moment; the shifts in tone are staggering. We feel as if we have been assaulted. Assaulted by its awfulness. Assaulted by its offensiveness. Assaulted by its very existence. Every negative should be burned, every DVD should be erased, and every download should be deleted. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this film. I would rather drink laxatives than sit through Gigli again.

Is Gigli a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
***COLONOSCOPY***

What are your thoughts on Gigli?

*Available on Netflix Instant

Obedient, Thrifty, and (Ir)Reverant: Madonna’s Last Stand

It really didn’t have to go down like this.

She could have become the Godmother of Pop. She could have taken a look at the landscape she created, taken a breath, and realized, “All right. I am in my 50s. I have four kids. I am interested in making movies and spreading education. And there are a bunch of great artists coming up that I could advise and foster. Besides. It’s not like they are a threat to my legacy. I am one of a handful of musicians who actually altered the course of the culture. My place in history is defined. And no one can take that away from me.”

But instead, Madonna and her cheek implants squeezed her ass into some hot pants, dusted off the riding crop, and decided she was not going down without a fight. Which has subsequently made her spiral into the saddest tailspin in pop culture history since Brando decided to phone it in and become a beached whale.

What is most frustrating, coming from a place of deity worship for Ms. Ciccone, is that this was so unnecessary. The reverse Third Act superfecta of Confessions on a Dance Floor, American Life, Music, and Ray of Light are musically exciting, lyrically challenging, visually mature, and some of the greatest albums ever recorded. They find Madonna playing the part of the mother, gracefully settled into middle age, while still retaining her requisite wink and bite.

But Rihanna was on her meteoric rise, Stefani Germanotta was becoming Lady Gaga, and Britney had had an unexpected comeback with Blackout. So Madonna traded in her purple leotard for boxing shorts and soccer jerseys and returned with Hard Candy, a tongue in cheek look at hip-hop, that once you realize she is doing camp (and if the album cover doesn’t give it away, the lyrics to “Candy Shop” certainly will…) trumpets itself as one of her strongest works. And her best tour since Blond Ambition, proving that 50 could still be sexy and powerful and energetic (check out the tour’s “Into the Groove” where she is jumping goddamn double dutch rope). Madonna was in the best shape of her life, putting all the other so-called divas to shame.

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But this call for youth was not a passing fancy. With the worldwide success of the Sticky and Sweet Tour, something had been awoken in her that, to an egotist like Madonna, was utterly dangerous and seemingly irreversible: Madonna would continue turning back the clock – or die trying. MDNA, ostensibly a “divorce” record, was so chocked full of adolescence it was like a 12 year old girl wrote it about her parents’ break-up (“Maybe I challenge you a little bit too much/we could have had two drivers on the clutch…” – 30 years in the business, folks). The “Give Me All Your Luvin'” video would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic with its blatant shout-outs to finer days and pleas for relevancy and “Girl Gone Wild,” while artistically executed, is so antiseptically asexual it is hard to remember a time that Madonna was ever THE sex symbol of our times. And “Turn Up the Radio” – the song, the video, the idea that it should even exist – was a figment of all of our imaginations; I have to believe that.

Then came her flatlining performance at the Superbowl (save the soulful orgasm of “Like a Prayer”). Then her tour, where she attempted to dance like she was 35 and dress like she was 15 (honestly, Madonna. What’s with the fingerless gloves? You showing off your black nail polish in English class before smoking in the boy’s room?). Then the perfume ads for her scent, Truth or Dare, another shameless harken to better days, her public feud with Raising Malawi (they claim she was diva, demanding special treatment; Madge denies it), and the you-should-hide-your-head-in-shame photos of her…body parts in all of their sweaty, close-up glory on Twitter.

But the grossest indecency came when she was chosen to present the Vito Russo Award to Anderson Cooper. In case you missed it, it was the event where she showed up dressed as a Boy Scout, ostensibly to make some kind of political statement about their ban on gay leaders and scouts, but like everything she does, it turned into self-aggrandizement.

***

She begins with a “Howdy” and a swivel like she is a five year old dressed up for a costume party, playing on her father’s desk chair. “I wanted to be a Boy Scout, but they wouldn’t let me join.” This doesn’t make any sense for obvious reasons, but if she is, again OSTENSIBLY, trying to make a statement about the Boy Scouts’ treatment of homosexuals, it falls flat because Why? She is not a homosexual. “I think that’s fucked up. I know how to build a fire. I know how to pitch a tent….But most importantly, I know how to scout for boys.” And the Gays Go Wild.

Then she goes on to congratulate herself for all the work and support she has given the gay community over the years while prompting the audience to scream for her, then reprimands them when they don’t scream loudly enough, when she says things like, “Don’t you think they should change their rules?” No, Madonna. A room full of gay people don’t want that to happen.

The entire speech is a battle for control, threatening the audience that she will not go on until they are all seated and that she brought a book in case they take too long. She regales us with stories of her time in the Girl Scouts and how she got kicked out for having her skirt too short (as if that really happened; but Madonna is insisting on us remembering she was once – and apparently always has been and, goddamn it, will remain – a sexual creature) and because she ate the cookies instead of selling them (this of course was before she started giving them away). And the Gays Go Wild.

At the 2 minute mark, we “get serious for a second.” We assume she is going to begin talking about Anderson Cooper, the reason she is there in the first place. Instead, she goes on and on about her tour (“Maybe a few of you here saw it live?”), pop psychology she tries to pass off as depth (“Bigotry is a manifestation of fear…”), and anything else that may make her stand out as a good American (“I created this video in my show to illustrate that we don’t take the time to get to know each other…and we need to”). She mentions the words “Israel” and “Palestine” in the same sentence and something about togetherness. Then ever so nonchalantly juxtaposes Putin and Pussy Riot with an attempt at a straight face (“Ha! She said ‘pussy’!”). Then seeing that once again the Gays Have Gone Wild, she proclaims that Putin would probably want to fuck all of them. And the Gays Go Wild. (“Ha! She cussed! She’s still edgy!”) And as if her self-indulgence knows no bounds (clearly, it doesn’t), she attacks the Russian government for arresting 85 gay men who were, Where? At the Madonna concert. As a final act of megalomania, she then throws herself under the martyr train for allegedly receiving death threats and fighting a million dollar law suit for her tireless work fighting against gay discrimination. And the Gays Go Fucking Wild.

To quell any haters out there, immediately she reminds us that she is not trying to toot her own horn. Then likens herself to Christ with the most cliche proverb in Western civilization.

To wrap up her precocious diatribe, she claims to cry “a river of tears” for the kids who commit suicide due to bullying (in the most affected line reading since Anne Hathaway’s Oscar speech) and hopes that anyone sitting on the fence – a sharp fence, that is – about gay rights is tuning in. Because if you haven’t been swayed by the literally hundreds of people – most of whom are actually, you know, gay – who have spoken on this topic, then maybe you will magically be transformed by Madonna’s sophomoric string of tropes. While dressed as a goddamn Boy Scout. Look out Gaga. Madonna is coming back for her gays! “I don’t know about you, but I can’t take this shit anymore.” As if the atrocities that the world’s gay population suffers have anything to do with her billionaire, straight ass.

And the Gays. Go. Wild.

Then, nine minutes later, she finally gets to Anderson Cooper. This of course is after she quotes her own song lyrics and says she wants to start a revolution. Newsflash, Madge. The gay revolution has been going on for 45 years.

“And that’s why I’m here…to acknowledge someone who is brave.” Madonna winks at the patrons in the front row, proving once again that she is not only a cheeky bitch, but incapable of not making every single moment about her.

As the Gays Go Wild for Anderson Cooper, afraid to be left in the dust, Madonna instructs her followers that they are allowed to stand up. For the man they are there to actually honor. And the Gays Follow Suit.

I wish I could tell you that she finally relinquishes her attention-mongering behavior, but she proceeds for the second time to QUOTE HER OWN LYRICS. Then asks Anderson if he likes her music. To which, of course he does, because as Madonna tells us, he was in the front row at not one, but three of her concerts. Then when HER fans got too vocal about the accolades she was giving Anderson, she told them to be quiet because she was speaking. And that we should respect her because she wrote her own copy (“NO ONE can write my copy!”). And the GAYS GO MOTHERFUCKING WILD!

I wish I could tell you this was all a joke, but it all actually happened.

Anderson takes the stage, kisses Madonna on the mouth, brags about it, rubs her lipstick on his speech so he can save it for later, tells her she can stay up there all day long, and then proclaims to her sycophantic audience how impossible it is to follow Madonna. Then spends the beginning of HIS speech thanking Madonna for her illustrious career and her tiring work promoting the LGBT community and the remainder of his speech telling us that he is not a hero. It is a class act in humility, preceded by one of the most narcissistic, disgusting speeches ever given; given by a woman I once respected and admired above all others.

***

Madonna has always been self-involved, but in the last few years, it has reached an unfathomable abyss. What was once edgy and exciting is now done by rote as a way to keep the image of her as the First Lady of Sexy Provocation. And it is forced, tired, and embarrassing. That speech is an embarrassment not only to Anderson Cooper and the Gay Rights Movement, but to Madonna’s oh-so-carefully-planned legacy. Madonna has become a caricature. And has no idea.

And how could she? Her core audience, gay men, will scream and shout and fawn and scratch and claw at her every utterance as if they were absolutely dire to their own existence. I once felt this way about Madonna. As every good little gay should. But the things that are acceptable at 17 – hell 25 – are not acceptable as you approach the dawn of 30. And I absolutely guarantee that the gay men who are still worshipping Madonna for her crazy shenanigans are well into middle age. Like her. And this needs to stop.

Trevor and I have been arguing about Britney Spears for the past few weeks. We are roughly the same age, but he has always been Team Christina. (It is rare you will find someone who signs up for both equally). I on the other hand have been a live or die Britney fan since Oops! I Did It Again. I preached violently that Britney, the original Bad Girl of Pop, was the predecessor for Rihanna, and that In the Zone was one of the greatest albums ever recorded. By anyone. I went on and on about the very shrewd, Madonna like moves Britney made during the K-Fed days (covering “My Prerogative” being the foremost) and how she also doesn’t take herself seriously. Like Madonna. But as I recently watched interviews with Britney (miraculously eluding them for all these years), I realized (and she told me!) that she really has no input on her career. That she is essentially a willing puppet. So all of those clever winks, all of the bad ass gospel I added to my own swag, had all been manufactured. And I was angry. Angry at myself that I ever liked someone so much for doing so little.

I want gay men to get angry about Madonna. I want gay men to get angry about the way she (and Kathy Griffin) shamelessly clings to us for sustenance, yet we allow ourselves to be manipulated by her. I want gay men to see that she is not helping The Cause. I want gay men to stop rewarding women for doing what WE should be doing for ourselves. They are not heroes. They do not risk anything stating what should be a given. We are the heroes. We need to stand up for ourselves – family, society, and churches, be damned – and take the power away from those who don’t deserve it.

Now God knows what Grandma Whore is doing. With her fucking selfies…

The caption read: "Just brushing my grillz before I go booty pop." Yes. That happened.

The caption read: “Just brushing my grillz before I go booty pop.” Yes. That happened.

…and this “secret project,” which looks HOT lame…

…and making out with her boyfriend on stage, the one who is nine years older than her daughter…

OK...I'm not really upset about this one. Get it, gurl!

OK…I’m not really upset about this one. Get it, gurl!

…Madge has irrevocably entered a land of delusion and sadness that I fear she will never be able to recover.

Madonna was a fantastic pop culture phenomenon that got us thinking about sex and faith in new ways. She turned out some of the best tunes of the last 30 years, videos that sometimes outshone their inspirations, and single handedly created a genre of music. But now, she is not only a joke as an artist, she is a joke as a human being, so far out of touch with reality that she can’t see just how far out of touch she really is.

This Car is Flying Away

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There is a phone book at my door step and it haunts me.

It has been there for four days and I can’t seem to figure out what to do with it. The obvious answer is to recycle it. To pick it up, walk down the two flights of stone stairs, open the gate, pop the lid off the big blue bin, and sink it to the bottom with the piles of Pennysavers. My neighbors have slowly taken care of theirs, one by one, clearing the paths to their front doors, but there mine remains, these yellow pages in their yellow plastic bag outside my apartment, like a lazy dog who has found the perfect spot to soak up some sun.

Part of me would feel guilty just chucking it in the garbage. I think about the tax dollars that went into printing it, the man hours that went into compiling it, and all of the people that spent their hard earned dollars to advertise in it. I feel some sort of obligation to keep it, to uphold some kind of archaic tradition, but I know that I will never use it and it will end up sitting on top of the refrigerator, untouched, until we move, at which point I will either toss it or leave it for the next tenants.

Part of me can’t figure out why this phone book exists at all; it is completely irrelevant. Anything you could possibly need to know is on the Internet, which for most of us, is already in our phones, so any number we would ever need is merely a Google search away. I am paralyzed to action by disbelief.

This phone book makes me think about my relationship, or lack thereof, with technology. I have always been somewhat of an old soul. I watch old movies, like vintage clothes, and own a record player. I just got on Twitter, doubt I will join Google +, and have no idea what Digg is. My hairstyle is straight up 90s, I read books (actual books made of paper) about the 70s, and I feel very at home hanging with moms in their 40s. Yet, my politics are extremely now. I am vehemently pro-pornography, pro-prostitution, pro-socialized medicine, pro-choice, anti-religion, anti-censorship, anti-gun, and, of course, pro-gay marriage. If I got any further left, I think I would fall off the scale.

Ironically, I am slow to change. I am a creature of habit. I wake up every day and say the same thing (“Hi, puppy!” in the same high pitched inflection), eat cereal from the same little bowl with the same array of fruit (blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries), sit on the left side of the couch with my computer on that same little black table, visit the same websites (Facebook should be listed as a certifiable addiction), and put on my headphones to block out the same sports program Julian listens to without fail. My day is spent texting Trevor any and all forms of foolishness (my phone now recognizes “gurrrrlll” and “cooterpoon” in AutoCorrect) and almost every night, Julian and I fall asleep to The Golden Girls (something I have done for the past decade; I dare someone to beat me in a quiz…).

Back in my flip phone days, I would get severely irritated that Julian would have his face constantly buried in his phone. I felt disconnected from him (and jealous that I could not do the same). Yet, when I finally made the leap to 2005 last year, I found my own nose buried knee deep in the wonderful world of the SmartPhone, posting pics to Instagram, managing my work calendar, and learning about Prince’s discography like it was my job (incidentally, while I was at my job). Yet I am strapped to my old habits. I am aware of things like EverNote and Mint.com and I’m sure a million other things my phone could do that would streamline my life, but I am a scraps-of-paper-scribble-on-my-hand kind of guy. Someday I’m sure I will become completely digital. Or not. Change comes slowly.

I’ve heard people, usually my parents’ generation, lament about the disconnect that Facebook and SmartPhones and texting has created. That people don’t just sit down and talk anymore. That the interpersonal is gone.

I’ve heard people lament over the Hospice like demise of the USPS. It is an institution that should be upheld, they say. Tradition dictates it, they say.

I’ve heard people lament over the death of physical music; the excitement they once felt going to the store and buying CDs, which is now gone with the digital age.

I’ve heard people lament over the death of “traditional” marriage and how this has affected the nuclear family.

Well, I’m here to say, Get with it.

1) Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. have not made us less sociable. In fact, it has made us more so. I communicate with people online who I would a) never pick up the phone to call or b) live clear across the world. The Internet has connected us in a way I’m sure our grandparents never thought possible. We are social in a different way now. And at any moment, we have the option to turn our computers off and interact “traditionally.”

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2) Personally, I have no connection to the post office and frankly, since they have begun their very slow Going Out of Business sale, I have become even less interested in setting foot through their ghost town like doors. The workers are crabby, the lines are long, it looks like it has been hit by a tornado, and you can’t buy stamps from the machines anymore without buying a book of 18. And in this modern age where 90% of your correspondence can – and does – happen electronically, this is a waste of 7 dollars. Why don’t we send telegrams anymore or use the Pony Express? Because there is an easier, more efficient way.

3) Music took me a while to transition. I can remember standing in line at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, waiting to buy Confessions on a Dance Floor. The card board cutout of Madonna, looking a hot diva! The anticipation! The shared excitement with other fans! How disappointed I was to see how things had changed come MDNA. (BTW. If you do follow this link, please disregard any kind words found therein about MDNA. It is absolutely abysmal carrion that requires multiple listens to fully comprehend his awfulness). But then I discovered Spotify. Not only has this opened me up to innumerable artists I have never heard of, but it has allowed me to fill in the Grand Canyon sized gaps in my musical knowledge. And if I feel the need to purchase music, iTunes is the only resource you really need (when The Beatles have made the leap to digital music, it’s time, y’all).

4) Sigh. I can’t believe we are still talking about gay marriage. I honestly wish people could hear how utterly stupid they sound. In the off-chance someone who holds this antiquated belief is reading my blog (gurl, you have come to the wrong party), give me your address. I will send you my phone book.

***

There is nothing wrong with loving the past. We glean so much knowledge, pleasure, and inspiration from the past. But we must also embrace the now. It is already happening! The now will prepare us for the future. Which is inevitable, terrifying, and exciting. Tomorrow is imminent. And you can either get on board or get left behind.

This car is flying away. So buckle up.

Bad Cinema: The Princess and the Frog (Dir: Ron Clements and John Musker, 2009))

I had been waiting for years. The return of a beautifully, hand drawn Disney 2D film! Plus, for the first time, Disney had emerged from the antebellum to make a black girl the princess. I couldn’t have been more excited for The Princess and the Frog.

Then I saw it.

frog1

Addressing my second assumption, silly me, I thought this movie was going to be about a black princess. To my chagrin, Tiana (our supposed heroine) is really a sidekick to Charlotte (herself not a real princess, but princess by proxy due to her father’s title of the King of Mardi Gras, embarrassingly voiced by John Goodman.  My dear John, how can you go from Roseanne to The Coen Bros. to this?). Tiana has but one goal – to run a restaurant. I guess one could look at this as “All the women! Independent! Throw your hands up at me!” but it really reads as, “Oooooo, I’m gonna get in theres and cook me up a mess a’ something!”

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But Whitey tells her that a “girl of [her] uh, social background” (read black) has no business running a restaurant. Seriously, Disney? This is where we are? Making back door racial slurs? In 2009?

Not only is Tiana not a princess (only dressing up as one in her rich white friend’s outfit), she spends most of the movie as a friggin’ frog. That’s right. A frog. Disney’s first black “princess” and she spends the movie in the friggin’ bayou.

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“Oh! What funny hair!”
“Girl, if you touch my weave, you gonna lose your fingers!”

She turns into a frog because she kisses Prince Naveen (a LIGHT skinned Creole, voiced by an even whiter actor)…

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…to try and break the spell of Jafar wannabe, Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David. In case you don’t know who he is, he’s the guy in Requiem for a Dream who whips his dick out for Jennifer Connelly to suck for her dime bag).

frog5

“I know it’s pretty baby, but I didn’t take it out for air.”

Of course, not being a real princess, Tiana cannot fulfill the main conceit of the fairytale. That’s left to the fake white princess, Charlotte. Thankfully (averting an even more racist outcome), she also cannot reverse the spell, not because she isn’t a princess but because she fails to kiss him before midnight.

frog6

“Jasmine didn’t have to slum in the swamp!”
“Shut up and row.”

Tiana and Naveen decide to being frogs ain’t so bad because at least they are together. They have a frog wedding in the bayou, administered by Mama Odie, the blind witch doctor, nee Glinda the Good Witch of the Swamp Things. They kiss and whatta you know, they become human again! Because now she is a princess. What happened to that whole midnight thing? Guess it wasn’t convenient anymore.

Tiana gets her restaurant and they live happily ever after (of course) with Naveen apparently giving up the throne to be with her, Duke of Windsor style. But this doesn’t make sense either because if he is abdicating his throne, then he is no longer a prince. And if he is no longer a prince, then she is not a princess. Which means she would still be a frog. At least they got the deus ex machina of traditional fairy tales right.

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“Well, at least I’m not starring in The Help.”

What is such a shame about the way Disney handled race in this film is that it was VERY easily avoidable. Instead of placing it in 1920s New Awlins, complete with voodoo and mammies, they should have expanded upon a fantasy sequence (the only truly beautiful one in the film) where Tiana daydreamed of her restaurant, dressed to the Josephine Baker nines, smack dab in the middle of the Harlem Renaissance. The writers should have watched more Lady Sings the Blues and less Gone With the Wind. Or Song of the South.

"Even I's knows dis here movie is racist."

“Even I’s knows dis here movie is racist.”

Now about my first assumption. That Disney 2D was back. It is no secret that 2D animation has been rightfully usurped by Pixar’s genius filmmaking over the last 15 years. Let’s face it. Disney hasn’t had a bona fide 2D hit since 1999s Tarzan. But I assumed that having been 5 years since their last hand drawn theatrical release Home on the Range and 14 years since their last princess driven film (11 if you count Mulan), not to mention watching Pixar’s oeuvre dominate them, one would hope they had learned how to return to their roots. Sadly, what they have learned is how to be extremely lazy.

The opening shot of the film, a quiet British looking town with horse drawn buggy and a peaceful sky, is torn straight from the opening shot of Lady and the Tramp. The second shot, a rooftop with the moon in the distance, is from Peter Pan. The film is littered with characters from other, better Disney films. Mama Odie’s snake is Kha from The Jungle Book. There is a scene where Frog Tiana and Frog Naveen dance on the lily pads that I kept hoping would magically turn into its source material, “Kiss the Girl.” Some of the birds in the bayou are from Fantasia and the North Star, who the firefly sidekick Ray mistakes for his lover, is ripped straight from the skyline in Pinocchio. Is it merely coincidence that another bug wishes on that star? I think not.

Then there is the sloppy plot. Disney has never been known for brilliant dialogue or overly original storytelling, but The Princess and the Frog tests the limits of even an avid lifelong Disney fan like yours truly. Not only is the “main character” peripheral, the “love story” is thoroughly unbelievable with a villain not nearly evil enough with confusing objectives to boot.

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“What do I have to do to win a goddamn Oscar!?”

And to add dire insult to traumatic injury, who the fuck decided Randy Newman should write the score? This is New Orleans jazz! And Randy hasn’t written that type of music in a loooooong time. They couldn’t get a black person to write it!? Was BB King too busy running his restaurant? Was Etta James too busy counting her Grammy’s? Even Beyonce would have been a better choice! For Christ’s sake, if you are going to go with a white person at least pick one who hasn’t lost their soul. I’m sure Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, or Norah Jones would have been honored. Instead they go with Randy Newman. What’s next? Woody Allen as the Chancellor of Germany?

It pains me to call The Princess and the Frog the worst film of 2009. And it pains me even more to call The Princess and the Frog the most racist film of 2009. After all, this was the year of The Blind Side and Madea Goes to Jail. But I cannot avoid the truth. If Walt knew how far his company had spiraled since Steamboat Willie, he would be rolling over in his cryogenic chamber.

Disney

“Silly Negroes. Like they could ever have their own movie.”

Is The Princess and the Frog a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
***CAR CRASH***

What are your thoughts on this Disney misfire?

American Idle 2: Lazaro’s Revenge

laz2

I never thought I would be writing one, let alone two, pieces about the embarrassing cultural staple called American Idol. But then again I never thought I would be on Twitter so I guess all bets are off.

On a day in which I learned of Elaine Stritch’s retirement due to her debilitating memory and the death of one of my heroes, Roger Ebert, I really was not in the mood to see Lazaro, one of the worst singers this side of William Hung, make it into the Top 6. And not only was he safe this week, but was in the Top 3. And because Seacrest did not announce the order of the three, it is somehow plausible in whatever universe this TV show resides, that Lazaro received the most votes of the night; more votes than Amber, the girl the judges consistently (and misguidedly) compare to early Whitney, and Candice, the only girl who is actually ready to be duking it out with the other hot divas on the scene. Not only did Lazaro make it into the Top 6, but Burnell, the boy with the sexy John Legend grovel, went home. Not only did Lazaro make it into the Top 6, but achieved this by forgetting the lyrics to his duet and sauntering around the stage, deadpan, while whisper-singing his solo, one of the most iconic songs of all time. Due to the judges deciding a few months ago that Lazaro was one of the best male singers out of the tens of thousands they heard, America has taken the bait and eliminated his competition. So not only did he make it into the Top 6, but Lazaro Arbos is now the only boy left in this competition.

This is insulting, baffling, and absolutely maddening to anyone who loves – or even marginally enjoys – music. And I want to know, what gives, America?

We all know that voters are gullible and like to have their decisions made for them. (Why else do candidates spend 100s of millions of dollars on slander ads during elections?) On a less important, yet almost just as hyped scale, the judges’ comments definitely influence the opinions of the viewers when they are ready to cast their 50 – count ’em, 50 – eligible votes. (This is only via the Facebook/American Idol App. If you have the patience to sit on the phone or send texts for two hours, you can vote as many times as you want!) That is, unless the judges’ negative comments are about Lazaro. This boy has more lives than Shirley MacLaine’s cat.

I honestly need a breakdown of the demographics, here. Seeing as I do not vote for Idol (I didn’t even vote for Mayor so I, in good conscience, cannot vote for a fabricated pop star), I can’t truly get inside the head of an Idol voter (clearly, my vote, if I were inclined to text it, would go to Candice). So I am asking – Seriously. Someone please tell me… – how does ANYONE vote for this boy?

Now. If this were American Sex Star (a real, cancelled reality show that auditioned new porn stars for the voters; hosted by Jenna Jameson, of course), I would be casting my 50 Facebook votes, sending texts, and sitting on hold until my phone died if it meant I could see Lazaro Arbos spread eagle with Michael Lucas thrusting into him, pouting through his botoxed face. But this isn’t American Sex Star. It is American Idol. A singing competition. I can’t understand for the life of me how people don’t know this. I know the tight pants, showing off his sizable bulge, that Julia Roberts smile, and sassy hair-do, can all be distracting. But when he opens his mouth to “sing,” it is never an enjoyable experience. AND he looks like he doesn’t even enjoy it. Yet a boring singer who looks bored at his own boredom is one of America’s Top 6 new singers. A boring singer who may actually win this thing.

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Let’s posit that his (homo)sexuality is his primary source for votes. This would mean that the people who are voting are mostly women and gay men. Which may be true. I would guess that teenage girls in particular are the number one voting block for this show, due to the fevered obsessive way they line up for the JoBros, Hannah Montana, or any other hot teen sensation. Then of course there are Boomers, most likely female Boomers, who are voting for people who remind them of their kids/grandkids/give off the “innocent” vibe I discussed in my last Idol post. And of course, there is the inevitably sizable group of struggling, bitter queens who wished they were on the show themselves, voting in spite (unless they feel that voting would somehow be beneath them so they just write scathing reviews on their blogs about the outcomes instead).

In addition to his unparalleled hotness (a hotness he doesn’t seem to know he has, which kind of makes him hotter), he also has the stutter thing going for him. America lives for people overcoming adversity and this, coupled with Mariah Carey’s incessant comments about his “courage” (they have almost become obligatory at this point) must tug so hard on the Heartland’s heart strings that they just can’t help but vote for this “special” kid. How else can this madness be explained?! I’d like to think it is Vote for the Worst – a website devoted to getting people to vote for, well, the worst Idol contestant in order to prove how stupid the show really is – that has kept him around, but alas, I think it truly lies on the shoulders of the American people who voted for him earnestly.

I don’t know why I am so surprised about America’s taste level. We are a country who regularly goes to see horrible films because things blow up or they are based on a comic book, a country that went apeshit over Beanie Babies and Pogs, and a country that made “The Macarena” the number one song for 14 consecutive weeks. Taste is not something inherent to our culture.

I also don’t know why I am so upset about America’s choices. It is a dumb TV show that I haven’t watched in years that I have fallen back into watching, mostly for kitsch. Yet, I sit here on the couch with Julian – and on the phone with Trevor, texting feverishly – analyzing the performances of these sort-of stars like it matters AT ALL. Save Fantasia and J.Hud, I do not listen to, nor follow the careers, of ANY of the other 10 winning Idols (Honestly, who is Kelly Clarkson as an artist? Does she know? Does she care? Or does she just sing whatever Clive tells her to? Talk about HOT boredom!)

I wish I could just tune out and never tune in again. But I can’t. I will sit here and pretend that I won’t watch next year. But I know I will. I’ll tune in to watch whoever inevitably will replace one of the judges (Kanye West smirking behind his sunglasses? Toni Braxton riding the reality train to a payday? Cher giving them tips how to sound like bullfrog?! Lord…). And I’ll tune in to be on the ground floor of perhaps, maybe, potentially the next greatest thing to happen to music. This is how this show survives, mind-numbing year after mind-numbing year. We want to feel like we helped discover the next Whitney. The next MJ. And, yes, maybe even the next Mariah.

But just like true love can never be found on The Bachelor, icons will never come from the factory mill of American Idol. Or The Voice. Or America’s Got Talent. Or The X Factor. The “X” factor of stardom cannot be discovered jumping through hoops in front of a live studio audience nor subjected to the shameless pleas for the nation’s bored to vote for you nor even the nurturing words of Nicki Minaj. That “X” factor of stardom comes from something within the artist themselves. Knowing who they are and becoming it. Star quality cannot be taught because it cannot be learned. Raw, unadulterated charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent are inherent parts of our make-up.

The problem with these shows and American Idol in particular is that they choose people with potential to be good instead of people who are already great. Which lowers the bar for the expectation of the competition. This is only natural when they are choosing a bunch of 19 year olds who have no sense of self. Their sense of “self” can later be inserted by which ever producer gets to them first.

You look at the greats – and I don’t just mean the ones with the greatest voices, but the artists we worship even years after they have died – and they all share one thing in common: a sense of self. Elvis was Elvis. Janis was Janis. Judy was Judy. And Dylan is Dylan. Jagger is Jagger. Madonna is Madonna.

Perhaps my standards for these kids are too high, but that is essentially what the program is asking me to do: to pit the motley crew of misfits against one another for the chance of playing with the big boys. Which one of these singers will be able to compete against Bieber, Gaga, Timberlake, and a slew of others? It also, intentionally or not, forces me to compare them with the singers in my own beloved pantheon. Candice has a great soulful voice, but can she compare to Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, or Aretha? Is Burnell as good as Legend and Seal? Is Amber as good as Whitney?

The answer to all of these questions is, of course, NO.

But I’m sure at the bottom of all of the aforementioned singers’ closets are some demo tapes for some shitty songs where their voices are not quite honed, their style not quite established, and their phrasing carbon copies of other singers they admire. This “X” factor takes time to know how to use. And, fittingly, American Idol, etc., in an era where everything is public knowledge, is giving us the very public behind the scenes look at the Making of a Star.

The most ridiculous irony is that these kids are being asked to be artists in an insanely commercial atmosphere. The whole production, with its animated credits, computerized music, and the glazed smile of Seacrest give the show an antiseptic feeling. It’s about as glamorous as an ICU wing. The flashing phone numbers, reminding us of telethons, the PC commentary of the judges, and the obvious product placement of Coca-Cola make it seem next to impossible to foster any kind of artistry. These kids must be drowning in a sea of corporate America. Or do they even realize it because this is the only world they have ever known?

And yet, this is the world of the pop star. A manufactured image set to manufactured music fed to manufactured fans.

Perhaps this is Lazaro’s greatest revenge. Perhaps, secretly, he knows he is a terrible singer. Knows that he is coasting on his likability and good looks. Knows that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Because since he has presented himself as a blank canvas, he can become anyone. Any persona that is foisted upon him. Pour him into a sexy outfit, pump up the auto-tune, and he can become Ke$ha. Team him up with some great producers who can make the orchestrations hide his imperfections and he can be Macy Gray. Teach him how to dance and perfect his lip-synch and he can be Brit.

Perhaps Lazaro is winning this competition against all odds because he is symbolic of the American Dream. Millions of people long to be singers, long to be famous, but know they have no talent to compete in the game. Then you have a talentless person, a person with a disability to boot, coming on your TV and is being told by Mariah Carey that they are talented. They are worthy of America’s love and attention. That’s a very powerful message.

If an idol is representational of god, someone we see worthy of worship, someone we want to be and envy, then perhaps Lazaro is the only choice we have for the next American Idol.

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