In Sickness and In Health

It seems as if the flu has taken up permanent residency at 7903 Airport Blvd. And with three revolving hosts (yes, that includes Dodger who has had his share of diarrhea and puking over the last few weeks), why would it leave? Julian and I can’t seem to catch a break; you name a part of the body, we have been assaulted. When I am well, he is sick; when I am sick, he is well. While this aids in caring for one another, it certainly is frustrating as hell. Especially when it gets in the way of sex and weed (smoking with a chest cold = no bueno). But that’s all a part of marriage; truly, in sickness and in health.

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So here I am, taking my turn in the rotation, shivering under the blankets with puppy in lap, wondering if I even have the strength to eat my dinner let alone go into work tomorrow. I got Vic’s on my chest, some kind of generic cold medicine in my bloodstream, a box of Kleenex by my side, and a steam vaporizer on the coffee table; I feel like Betty, in desperate need of a machine – and a lot of drugs – to help me breathe.

I could just sit here and watch Small Time Crooks. Or take a nap. Or…well, anything else but work on my screenplay. But that’s exactly what must be done.

Earlier today, I watched the ceremony for Carol Burnett’s Mark Twain Prize for Humor. Time and again we hear from these outliers, these legends, to become famous/successful, yes, it takes connections, but it also takes a lot of chutzpah and determination above all else. Carol Burnett related the story of how she got her start by going backstage at The Pajama Game. There she was, standing in her dripping raincoat, like some “low-rent Eve Harrington” and convinced the doorman to let her stay backstage and watch because she “knew” one of the bit players; in truth, someone she knew knew him and all she had to go on was “I’m from California too.” The doorman was sympathetic, as was the bit player, who hooked her up with his agent. He said the same thing every agent says: “Look me up when you are in something.” So did Carol wait to be in something? Nope. She and the other girls living in the Rehearsal Club, a New York boarding house for actresses, decided to put on a show Mickey and Judy style. The agent came, Carol was a smash, and she was on her way.

There are many days when we won’t feel like showing up. For marriage, for work, for our dreams. But Woody Allen says 80% of life is just that: showing up. And thankfully my support team – i.e. my husband – is so driven that he even took his computer to Vegas in order not to break his #30Blogsin30Days. He serves as a constant inspiration to power through at all costs.

The longer I live in Los Angeles the more I know this to be true: in order to achieve your dreams, you must be willing to work exceptionally hard. And make your own art. No one is waiting around to give you a chance. And no one can tell your stories like you can.

So here I am. Carving out 45 minutes to work on my future. I’m showing up for my dreams. In sickness and in health.

For Cameroon

There it sat in my Inbox for weeks like an overdraft notice:

“Man Killed in Cameroon for Sending a Text Message.”

I knew it was going to be depressing, knew exactly why he was killed without even opening the letter, and didn’t want to deal. Besides. What could I do about it?

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I like to think of Cameroon as the birth place of BeBe Zahara Benet, the first winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I can’t even say the name of the African country without intoning it with Mother Ru’s faux-Oprah style elongation. To me, that word means glamour and style, grace and poise. But to thousands of homosexuals, it is yet another place on this planet where we are not wanted, shunned, jailed, and yes, even killed for falling in love. I opened my email and confirmed my suspicions.

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Roger Jean-Claude Mbede was sent to jail for three years for sending the text message, “I’m very much in love w/u” to a man. After his release from prison – where he was beaten, malnourished, and ostracized because of his homosexuality – Roger could not find employment nor proper treatment for his testicular cancer because of his “crimes.” Weeks later, he was found dead in his village. His attorney, Alice Nkom, the head of Cameroon’s Association to Defend Homosexuals, was the one who sent me the email and is leading the charge with Amnesty International to decriminalize homosexual acts, real or perceived. I signed their petition to appease my guilt that I wasn’t going to do anything else and got back to Facebook. Until I was disgusted by my apathy.

We spend so much time in America talking about the unfair treatment of gay people. As we should. It is ridiculous that in 2014 we are still dealing with vitriol from not only the Phil Robertsons of the world, but highly educated, ELECTED officials who are sworn to uphold America’s values, not least of which our founding principle that All Men are Created Equal. We need to be loud and fight against 20th Century values fourteen years into the 21st Century.

But I will admit that even I get annoyed with the Left and GLAAD and the HRC for jumping on absolutely every slight against the LGBT community, no matter how  insignificant it may seem. How sensational coming out stories still are. And our obsession with defining everyone’s sexuality, especially the famous, as if it defines who we are and what we stand for above all else. I long for the days when we are beyond labels, beyond boxes, and can just see each other as people, defined by our actions and not our desires.

However, this is not the world we live in nor will it ever be. We feel a deep need to belong, to feel safe, to feel important within our own group and superior to others; therefore, the obsession with sexuality, one of our most basic personality traits, will always be around. As will the need to defend it from the rooftops. Yet, it must be America’s goal to evolve to a point of if not acceptance, tolerance. America, the self made country. America, the harbinger of freedom and democracy must evolve to a state of equality. We rest in the middle of the continuum, yet claim to be the greatest country in the world. Dozens of countries have marriage for all, not just in certain states, and adoption for all; dozens of countries look at homosexuality as an unforgivable sin, worthy of fines, prison, and death.

Yet it is the latter that makes it hard for me to even complain. I am able to write anything I want about being gay – or anything for that matter – without fear of real punishment. I don’t have to hide the fact that I am in love with a man, that I am MARRIED to a man, nor fear that one of my many text messages of affection will be confiscated and held against me in a court of law. I live in a country where a show about drag queens is not only on TV, but a huge hit.

In my most humble of fantasies, I run through the streets of oppression with Larry Kramer‘s torch, burning down the haters and lighting a fire in the supporters. I know this isn’t true. Nor will it ever be. I am lazy. I am complacent. My husband and I can live our lives without interruption. Sometimes I think about how different Julian’s life would be had he been born in Africa. Or even Mississippi. And take a giant sigh of relief that he wasn’t. But what about his ancestors? His distance relatives in Belize? I feel compelled to do something for the ones who can’t help themselves, yet my activism goes as far as signing a Change.org petition or sharing this post on Facebook with admittedly selfish reasons of putting out new content to get new followers. I wish I would go to marches, start revolutions, or be some kind of gay Harriet Tubman, sneaking homosexuals out of Africa to the bountiful shores of West Hollywood. But I know I won’t. I will waste hours online reading about the Oscars or planning my next trip to Vegas while people like Binyavanga Wainaina are putting their necks on the line to make a difference.

As far as America still needs to come treating homosexuals with compassion and acceptance, I know that we will never feel the true weight of Hatred. And I am grateful. And ashamed for my own indifference to those who do.

Taking Pride in The Dream

I am not what you would call a sports enthusiast. In fact, I am throwing a SuperBowl party specifically for People NOT Interested in the SuperBowl Who Like Fun Commercials and Bruno Mars.

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As a kid, I did play tee-ball (the rite of passage for every little MidWestern boy, regardless of eventual orientation) while my brother, Stephen, was involved in a myriad of sports; at his request, we even had an inflatable ice rink installed in our back yard during the winter months so he and his friends could play hockey. But I quit playing when it got in the way of dance  – and I realized that baseball was about as fun as snaking the toilet after a night of heavy drinking. Dance has always been my sport and even that I didn’t really take that seriously.

So of course I would end up with a die-hard Dodgers fan (hence our dog’s name), a man who loves the Steelers so much that my mother made him a blanket, a man who loves the trade rumors and gossip so much that he watches First Take every morning, and whose life goal – more than being a famous comedian – is to be a writer for the WWE; as I write this piece, Monday Night Raw plays in the background… In my wildest dreams, I never thought my husband would be a sports fan.

And Julian is not only a fan. He coaches the boys’ basketball team at his job and plays in a gay basketball league himself; yes, something like that exists. Which if he is going to play a sport, basketball would definitely be my choice for him (that is, if he isn’t going to be wrestler…)

My interest in basketball above all other sports seems natural. I mean, what other sport has that many tall, in shape, athletic, sleeveless black men in shorts in one place? Plus, it is fast paced and the rules are easy to follow (Football is like some foreign language in which they stopped printing the dictionary…). So when this season started, I wanted to show my support and thought, why not? It could be fun. So I went to one of the games Julian was coaching.

Sandwiched between two dads who couldn’t help themselves from coaching from the bleachers and bragging about their kids, I found myself in shock at how much fun I was actually having. The energy of the fans, the passion of the kids, and the impressive feats of athleticism on the court. I found myself heavily invested in the outcome of the game, cheering for the kids when they scored and sighing for them when they missed the shot. I’m sure my father would have gotten a nice chuckle had he been there.  

This weekend, I accompanied Julian to Vegas for a tournament. His new friends had asked him to join their team, The Dream, in the Sin City Shootout, an annual event put on by the NGBA. It was the first time I was going to see him play and I was excited and nervous. I remember thinking back to the first time I was going to see him do stand-up. God, I wanted him to be good. It’s hard to support somebody’s dreams – or even their hobbies – when they aren’t good. But Julian is good at both. So it’s moot.

There I was in the stands, eating my overpriced hot dog, with the other Basketball Husbands, sitting through the games in utter suspense. It didn’t matter that it was basketball. Truthfully, it could have been curling. As long as my man was out there sweating, and screaming, and clawing for a spot at the limelight, I was going to be there on the sidelines, cheering for him when he scored and sighing for him when he missed his shots.

That’s one of the beautiful things about marriage. When you first get together, you placate one another’s interests, hoping to get into their heart (and their panties). But as you fall in love and he becomes an inherent piece of your daily life, so do his passions and his dreams. You will even find yourself asking him about Randy Orton’s backstory or sitting quietly when Jay-Z plays in the car; and you will hear him asking you about Woody Allen’s chances on winning another Oscar or entertaining your Rihanna obsession with a smirk. You take a deep pride in watching each other chase what they want. You get a thrill watching him get a thrill. And will kill anyone who tries to hurt your baby. It is a really cool give and take that only comes with time.

Thank you, Julian, for the time.

Bad Cinema: Nine (Dir: Rob Marshall, 2009)

I know I am going to be tarred and feathered for this, but I hate – and I am using the word hate, here – 8 1/2. Fellini’s whole indulgent style. The pretentious way we are supposed to sympathize with a director who can’t come up with an idea for a new movie because he is emotionally dead and creatively burnt out. Oh, and distracted by a bevy of beauties. What a hard life these artists lead! Jet-setting through the countryside, trying to keep your mistress and your wife from bumping into one another. Lord. You want to see a profound statement on the creative process? Watch Sunday in the Park with George. 

And speaking of musicals, I know that musicals based on movies are all the rage, the sad wave of the present (and the future – Hell, even Woody Allen has jumped the shark), signaling the complete bankruptcy of Broadway’s innovation, but there are some movies (OK, most movies) that are just wrong for adaptation; there are actually stage adaptations of Gone with the Wind, Big Fish, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bring It On, Rocky, Urban Cowboy, Little Miss Sunshine, and of course the infamous Carrie. And if there was ever a film that no one was screaming to musicalize, it was 8 1/2, which for some reason was retitled Nine by authors Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit.

Nine follows the same basic structure of the Fellini film. Famed Italian director Guido Contini (i.e. Fellini himself, played in the movie by his doppelgänger Marcello Mastroianni) hits a wall when he turns 40. Everyone is waiting to start his newest picture. But there is no script. And he has no ideas. His marriage is collapsing. His legacy hangs in the balance. What can a troubled genius do? Why, sing about it of course! And have all of the women in his life sing about it too! Oh, here’s a tip. If you are going to make a musical of a film about filmmaking, which seems counter-intuitive, it would help if the music was really great. And besides a few showstoppers like “My Husband Makes Movies” and “Be Italian,” this is one of the worst scores to be awarded the Tony maybe ever (beating Merrily We Roll Along and Dreamgirls, by the way…).

I suppose it is unfair to shit on Nine the movie when I hate Nine the musical and 8 1/2. But here goes.

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The most touted aspect of the film was its illustrious cast. With seven Academy Awards between them, it was like a Who’s Who of Hollywood: Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz, and the Method Man himself, Daniel Day-Lewis. Plus, Oscar nominee Kate Hudson. So why was the acting so goddamn awful? Day-Lewis just sulks around, Cruz (who actually got a Best Supporting Actress nod!) just sashays in various forms of undress (those old men in the Academy certainly love to reward their scantily clad comrades…), Kidman is as stilted as her Botoxed face, and Dench smokes her way through a thankless role. Cotillard is great as his long-suffering wife because she is given the most time to develop any kind of character, which isn’t really that necessary because Luisa could have just been named Long-Suffering Wife; the entire film is littered with stock characters, a man’s fantasies of the Madonna and the Whore, the Muse and the Mother.

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Even Guido is an empty vessel, a passive protagonist enlightening us to nothing and making us care about even less. The biggest irony is that Fergie (yes, My Humps Fergie) is the film’s foot-stomping highlight when she rubs sand across her tits and belts out “Be Italian” complete with the “Mein Herr” inspired choreography. The film is soulless and its very existence seems redundant, a sad waste of time and talent. It was like we were being distracted with style so we would forget there was no substance; the Baz Luhrman Effect, if you will.

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It’s a blessing and a curse that Bob Fosse was such a special force in the history of the medium. His shows almost require you to retain his signature style and sex appeal, yet always end up paling in comparison to the man’s individuality and eccentricities. While Nine was never a Fosse show, the film was directed by Rob Marshall; a Fosse “inspired” choreographer who without coincidence mounted the esteemed Broadway revival of Cabaret (based heavily on the Oscar winning Fosse adaptation), choreographer of the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees, and the choreographer of the Oscar winning, Chicago, Fosse’s most famous production. Nine, with its wooden black chairs and smeared eye liner, its theatrical lighting and trashy-as-“sexy” ensemble, feathered head pieces and flashy sequins, plays like Chicago in Italy. Here’s hoping he doesn’t put Meryl in a bowler hat and corset for “Children Will Listen”.

The Public’s Privates

Once upon a time, in the magical world of New York, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen made a couple of masterpieces.

They met in 1981 on the set of his film A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, fell in love, had some kids, and adopted a few more. Woody entered his most fruitful period with Mia as Muse; Mia did the best work she has ever done. Then in 1992, ironically during Husbands and Wives – Woody’s divorce dramedy that sees his character leave hers for a much younger woman –  Woody and Mia’s romance came to a screeching halt when Woody was discovered with nude Polaroids of Mia’s 18 year old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. They had been having an affair.

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Woody – Oscar winner, beloved icon – was dragged through a very ugly legal battle over the custody of their children (one of which, Dylan, had accused him of molesting her) and his reputation was further sullied by his cavalier attitude: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Anyone who had been following Allen’s films knew of his – or at least his character’s – proclivities for younger women. In Manhattan, Woody’s character Isaac dates 17 year old Mariel Hemingway; and Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow herself are 10 years Allen’s junior. But to sleep with, date, and eventually marry a girl who for all intents and purposes was his step-daughter was seen as reprehensible by the media, the fans, and of course the girl’s mother. Still twenty years later and 15 years after Soon-Yi and Woody got married, Mia (and her son with Allen, Ronan) are leading the Lest We Forget campaign to remind everyone that Woody Allen might be a great filmmaker, but he is a home wrecker and a (potential) child molester. Mia is still so pissed that she and Ronan felt the need to take to Twitter to comment on Woody’s Cecil B. Demille Award, so vengeful that producers are worried they will make trouble at the premiere of Bullets Over Broadway, and so disgusted by her own history with him that she has recently started making claims that Ronan might actually be Frank Sinatra’s child; Ronan stands with his mother in hope, shaking his head in disgust that he could possibly be related to someone as despicable as Woody Allen.

And yet Woody Allen reigns on in the Hollywood pantheon as a living legend, an American icon, an undisputed cinematic genius; nominated the same year as Mia-gate for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards and has been recognized by the Oscars eight subsequent times, including this year for Blue Jasmine.

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And why not? If awards are meant to honor merit, the best achievements in cinema of the year, Woody Allen the Filmmaker, Woody Allen the Writer will continue to earn a place among the ranks. He is one of the best. Period.

As far Woody Allen the Human, Woody Allen the Father, who knows? I am not his kid and have never been married to him. I am not even his friend. I have never been alone in an attic with him as a child, nor posed for Polaroids. Perhaps he is a creepy old man. Perhaps he is a pedophile. Perhaps he is a terrible human being. Honestly, I don’t give a damn. I am choosing to judge the artist on his art. And leave the moralizing to those it actually effects. I wish for their own sake Mia and Ronan could let the past be the past and move forward – the incident with Dylan was supposed to have happened 22 years ago – but I can understand their indignation if they never decide to get over it.

What I don’t understand is why anyone gives a damn about it. Then or now. Or why anyone gives a damn about Chris Brown. Or Roman Polanski. Or O.J. Simpson. Or Robert Blake. Or Lindsay Lohan. Or Winona Ryder. Or Walt Disney. Or Phil Spector. Does the fact that O.J killed his wife change the fact he was a great football player? Did Rosemary’s Baby suddenly become unwatchable after Polanski slept with that 13 year old girl? Did “Be My Baby” lose its magic when Spector was indicted? Does it matter that Disney was an anti-Semite when he gave the world Mickey Mouse? Of course not. But we pass these judgements on people that we really know nothing about because we feel “betrayed” and offended. How could these amazing artists – artists with whom we have aligned, artists with whom we have put our faith and trust and own emotional stake (and money) – have deceived us in such a way that we never saw the evil actions of which they were capable coming? We feel personally affronted. And I think this is ridiculous and sad.

As artists, we share our soul through our work, hoping to make some kind of connection or statement. We tell you our dreams, our hopes, our world views, our passions, and occasionally our missteps through a seemingly candid persona that is heavily constructed by teams of people and/or our own lessons on what the world can handle and how we want to handle the world. As much as we may think we KNOW an artist, we don’t. And unless you are also an artist, you probably never will; we live in an insular world of mystique and mayhem.

Artists are also people. And sometimes people do shitty things. But does this take away the good? The beautiful? The inspired? Should we shun the benefits they have given humanity? Burn their books? Melt their movies? Never listen to their music? Are they past the point of redemption? And which actions are redeemable? And which are not? And whose decision is it? This extends past the Artist to everyone. Most “evil” people were once “good” until that one terrible thing they did to taint them. I’m sure even Eva Braun could tell us stories of kindness and love about the World’s Most Hated Man.

Can judgement ever be justified? And should our judgements change depending on who we are judging?

I look forward to your responses.

Defying Gravity: The Toughest Oscar Race in Years

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Usually, Academy pundits – or “Oscarologists” as Tom O’Neill and his ilk have dubbed themselves – are scrambling for nominees to fill the slots for AMPAS’ annual evening of self-congratulations and cinematic legacy. But this year, there were so many great films that soared such unbelievable heights (some even out of this world) that whoever Chris Hemsworth announces, inevitably many terrific performances and films will be left on the ground; this is one of the best years in film of the past decade and it is going to be close.

Since I think the journalists on Gold Derby have essentially chosen the nominees, I will spare you a regurgitation. Instead, these are my choices for induction into the club:

*Note: I have neither seen Dallas Buyer’s Club nor Captain Phillips

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BEST PICTURE:

12 Years a Slave – Stripping the humor from Django Unchained, Slave is a difficult, beautiful, and surprisingly subtle treatise of America’s darkest hour. Forget Roots. This is the film that will be taught in high school history classes to illustrate the horrors of our past. Steve McQueen is a force to be reckoned with. I need to seek out his other films.

American Hustle – A fun pastiche of ’70s excess and bad wigs with the best acting ensemble this side of August: Osage County.

Blue Jasmine –  Woody Allen is an (almost) untouchable God to me. Even his bullshit is exciting and worthy of a viewing. Which is a moot point when it comes to his 46th feature film as writer/director. Blue Jasmine – a modern day Streetcar meets Bernie Madoff scandal – joins the ranks of Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives, and Broadway Danny Rose. Just superb. And Blanchett. My God, Blanchett.

Frances HaNoah Baumbach has steadily been positioning himself as the new Woody Allen with his nuanced, neurotic characters and their crimes of the heart. Frances is a 27 year old dancer, living, loving, and failing at both in New York City. The film hits a chord with any artist trying to make it, as the clock relentlessly beats on, making us assess reality and the attainability of our dreams. Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the film with Baumbach, is great as the aimless, plucky, immature Frances. Instant on Netflix. Watch it today.

GravityI feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t get a chance to watch this in the theatre. Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) proves once again that he is the best cinematographer in the world. Need proof? Maybe that 13 minute unbroken opening shot. Cuaron’s vision is epic, yet intimate. And Bullock is the perfect choice for our lost in space surrogate, all the more impressive knowing that she spent up to ten hours a day in a harness acting in front of a green screen. I wish there was room for her on the ballot. 

HerIs there anything that Joaquin Phoenix cannot do? Spike Jonze makes one of the defining films of the zeitgeist, romanticizing and indicting the ways we rely upon technology. The most moving love story of the year, maybe the decade. And yes, Scarlett Johansson deserves a nomination.

NebraskaWhile August: Osage County showed us the complicated, theatrical version of the Plains, Alexander Payne showed us the simple, documentary version of what it means to be from the fly-over states. Charming and sad, poignant, and very close to the bone.

Mud – A dark, coming of age indie that has sadly slipped under everyone’s radar. Matthew McConaughey is on the poster and billed as the star. But the heart and soul of the film is 17 year old Tye Sheridan. Watch his face as he learns that adults lie and that love is not always pure. Vulnerable and beautiful. This should have been a star making turn. Check it out on Redbox.

Saving Mr. BanksI expected to hate this movie because I assumed, with the Disney moniker, it would be hopelessly sappy. What a pleasant surprise. Emma Thompson is tough as nails as Mary Poppins‘ author, P.L. Travers, and Tom Hanks matches her with whimsy and his own brand of likability as Walt. Special kudos must be given to the screenplay – certainly one of the most original of the season – for showing us the filmmaking process without being didactic and showing us how her past has influenced her present without beating us to death with sentimentality.

Wolf of Wall Street, TheUnapologetically self-indulgent, Scorsese’s latest masterpiece takes us into the world of the ruthless and the bombastic (WITHOUT, I feel the need to add, celebrating or punishing their behavior…). The quaalude scene is worth the price of admission. Please, oh please. Give Leo the Oscar he deserves. Or at least a goddamn nomination.

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BEST ACTOR:

Christian Bale – American Hustle
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofer – 12 Years a Slave
Joaquin Phoenix – Her
Robert Redford – All is Lost

*Honorable Mention: Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station; Tye Sheridan – Mud

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BEST ACTRESS:

Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks

*Honorable Mentions: Sandra Bullock – Gravity; Judi Dench – Philomena

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Bobby Cannavale – Blue Jasmine
Chris Cooper – August: Osage County
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Will Forte – Nebraska
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

*Honorable Mentions: James Franco – Spring Breakers; Tom Hanks – Saving Mr. Banks

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Scarlett Johansson – Her
Margo Martindale – August: Osage County
Lupita N’yongo – 12 Years a Slave
Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station

Honorable Mentions: Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle; Juliette Lewis – August: Osage County

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BEST DIRECTOR:

Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine
Noah Baumbach – Frances Ha
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Spike Jonze – Her
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

Honorable Mentions: David O. Russell – American Hustle; Alexander Payne – Nebraska

WINNERS:

12 Years a Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio
Cate Blanchett
Chris Cooper
Sally Hawkins
Alfonso Cuaron

TUNE IN THURSDAY AT 5:36 AM TO SEE ALL THE NOMINEES

Good Cinema: Dolores Claiborne (Dir: Taylor Hackford, 1995)

“Sometimes being a bitch is the only thing a woman has to hold on to…”

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Kathy Bates.

I am sitting here trying to figure out how to properly convey the greatness of Dolores Claiborne and all I can come up with is Kathy Bates.

Which is a little unfair. Yes, Kathy Bates shines, dazzles, floors you as the titular character – a maid who is charged with murdering her boss – but the above statement seems to undersell Jennifer Jason Leigh as her estranged pill-popping, smart mouthed, big city daughter. Or Christopher Plummer as the smarmy detective. Or John C. Reilly in one of his earliest roles as the good-natured deputy. Or David Strathairn as…maybe I am getting ahead of myself.

Based on Stephen King’s novel (and for my money, the best film based on one of his books yet), Dolores Claiborne tells the dual story of a double murder: the pending homicide investigation of Vera Donovan, the richest woman on an island off the coast of Maine…

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and the 18 year old death of Joe St. George…

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…deemed an “accident” by everyone except Det. Mackie (Plummer) who still believes that Dolores murdered him, got away with it, and ruined his perfect record. But not this time. Now that he has her back in the throes of the law, she will be punished for Joe via Vera – even if she is innocent.

Screenwriter Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Devil’s Advocate) drastically changes King’s monologue style structure to one of interweaving past and present narratives. Hackford’s directorial touches are inspired. He shoots the present day material in a blue filter, symbolizing the austere, emotionless ways the characters relate to one another and the blanket of malaise that seems to suffocate them, yet we are always aware of their breath from Maine’s cold coastal breeze; and he shoots the past scenes in an almost Technicolor vividness to give an ironic tone to their completely dire circumstances – some scenes even come off Sirkian in their phoniness, like we are watching a play on a cheap soundstage. Hackford is making a statement on memory and how we romanticize even the awful, yet the present is seen as nothing more than a frigid wasteland. Selena (Leigh) and Dolores are so beaten down by the past that they have no life left to give to the future. The transitions between the past and present are seamless, illustrating the way the past never truly leaves us, but is merely a glance away.

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The film’s central crux is the relationship between Selena and Dolores and the secret they don’t know they remember. It’s better if I don’t give it away. But trust me. I have seen this film about a dozen times and could not recommend it more.

***Check out my other Good Cinema reviews here.***

It Sounded Better in the Shower

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It’s 12:12 and I promised myself I was not going to waste the day fucking around online, embroiled in the latest Oscar gossip. (By the way, this morning Scorsese was nominated for his 11th DGA Award, perhaps sending him to his 8th Oscar nod, which would make him the most nominated director still working today. Tune in next Thursday at 5:36 am…) I told myself I was going to brainstorm for DMR (My husband’s and my upcoming web series), which I already did. This was the big plan for the day. And it’s done. So now what?

I could work on my screenplay, but left my research at home and am really not feeling like going to that dark of a place. I could comprise a list of places to submit my writing, but can’t do anything about it until I upload Microsoft Word on my new Mac (seriously, at this point, why does it just not come with it?), and I left the package at home. I could watch a movie for Good Cinema, but am feeling more motivated than to just remain sedentary. I could get started on this massive organizational project at work, but no one else seems the least bit concerned about it so I am not going to be the one that kickstarts weeks worth of work when I could just hang tight and kill time. I told myself I was going to write something today. I told myself I was going to post at least something – anything – between my Sunday reviews. So here I am writing. About what exactly, I’m not sure.

I had this big plan on the way to work to write a piece entitled, “It Sounded Better in the Shower” after rehearsing in the shower this morning the speech I wish I could have given someone who deserves it. All of the things I wished I had thought of to say in the heat of the moment, but couldn’t get out. We are always so articulate in the shower.

It got me thinking about how we make plans that then never turn out the way they do in our heads. But that was it. I had no thesis, no deep point, no new argument to add to the conversation. So I scrapped it. But the title stuck with me. So hear it is. All I am really going on is a title.

I’m jamming here to Mariah Carey Unplugged, sipping my green tea and eating a peanut butter covered granola bar, trying my best to keep it inside for as long as possible before this stomach-flu decides to expunge it. I look up at my magazine rip outs of this season’s Oscar hopefuls that I’ve taped to my overhead cabinet, creating some kind of teenager’s cinematic paradise. I glance over at the black and white photo – the only one that is on my barren desk – my husband (wearing my grandfather’s flannel shirt) and I took last Christmas, complete with our adorable rascal sniffing my lips, hoping to get the remnants of my hours-old breakfast. I think of the evening Julian and I will spend together, watching movies and eating take-out. I think of the things I want to accomplish in my life and wonder if any of them will really happen and if they don’t will that make me a failure. I think about my job. How long will I be here before I get a promotion? Will I ever get a promotion? Is quitting catering really going to happen in 2014? I think about the year, all of the lofty goals Julian and I have set. How many of them will actually get done? How hard am I really willing to work? How much slack am I willing to cut myself? I think about this morning. I had planned to get up at 6:30 to fold all of the laundry, but stayed in bed until 7 and only got a third of it done. I think about my plans to be ritualistic. To set attainable weekly goals. To not bite off more than I can chew. To stick to my guns. To exercise. To write. To connect. To not get distracted from what I really want by what is easy. To keep my head above water. To break the old habits and start new ones. To listen. To accept. To love. All of this swims in my brain, yet I am not drowning. Merely treading the waves.

Today’s goal was accomplished. Enjoy the feeling. Now plan tomorrow’s. And follow through.

You’re Makin’ Me High

“Nobody told me, nobody told me…the side effects of you.”

Hi. My name is Jonathon Saia. And I am a drug addict.

I love booze, but hate the way it tears my stomach apart. Those mornings after where I make best friends with the toilet, regretting my decisions, wondering how I made it home alive, vowing never to drink and drive again, yet knowing this is an empty promise because how else will I get to and from (and through) the next party of strangers?

I love weed, but wish I didn’t need it to relax. To stop the hamster from running his marathon in my brain, the constant stream of He Loves Me Nots, the voice that must constantly defend its honor, ready to fight the world if it dares to mess with the Great and Powerless Jonathon.

I love the allure of hard drugs. The no-holds barred lifestyle where nothing – and no one – is off limits, yet fear the thrill of addiction and the possibility of becoming an E! True Hollywood Story. 

I love the high of superiority. The smug satisfaction from knowing that I am smarter than some, that I have read Vidal and Nietzsche, watch foreign films and David Lynch, been to the Met and don’t believe in God, yet desperately wish I could shake this desire to be better than others, this need that masks the fear that I am actually better than no one; to embrace the provincial, to not feel shame listening to Ryan Seacrest or craving a marathon of Baggage or a Big Mac (after they all get their raise, of course). This is the drug I wish I could shake the most. To just be Jonathon without truly caring, not just some dumb braggadocio, what anyone thinks of me.

But these addictions are nothing, child’s play, footnotes, to my real addiction: sex.

Let me be abundantly clear. I am not addicted to sex, per se, but Oxytocin. Yes, I want to write, yes I want to be famous, yes I want to be adored, yes I want to be able to sustain myself on one job and travel the world and see every movie in the Criterion Collection, but every day’s real goal is mainlining Oxytocin, trainspotting that post-orgasm drug in a deep coma of sweat and embrace.

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I have had sex with a lot of people in my life – some good, some great, some goddamn awful – but no one even comes close to my husband. Yes, he is very good at what he does, yes nature was kind, yes our chemistry is still wonderful, yes we are keeping it alive through various means, but he is not the best because of any of that. He is the best because, go figure, I am madly in love with him. Perhaps even addicted to him. Sex with a stranger can be exhilarating, but the high dies within seconds. The high after sex with someone you like can be longer, wondering where these feelings can take you. But sex with someone you love can be mind-blowingly insane, basking in the pants and the convulsions, the snuggles and the snoozes for hours, never wanting to move for fear of that rush of blood to the head that until recently had been much better used elsewhere. If God has a face, it is my husband in the afterglow.

There has always been an undeniable heat between us, reigniting our flames when the fire seems all but dead, but I never completely understood the weight of his need until we recently spent a week a part. It was a busy week, full of funerals and parties and past, but it all felt empty and worthless without him. We talked on the phone more than we had in years. It felt like the beginning. And it was glorious. Those peculiar feelings you get when you first start to fall in love, the anticipation, the lust, the listening as if they were dictating the cure for cancer. And when we were finally back in each others’ arms, we didn’t leave them for five days, flu be damned.

So now here I am back at work, killing time at my desk, counting the seconds until we are together again, seriously considering the reality that I may actually have a serious addiction to my husband. Yet a different addiction than I once had, the addiction that he must validate, the addiction that he must complete me, the addiction that he must heal the wounds of the others. All of that is gone. I know that all of that was folly, juvenile. No, I am addicted to the Oxytocin that only he can provide, my pusher man for life.

The beautiful thing is that sex is no longer necessary to achieve this high. Of course, sex is the preferred method of intake, the euphoric orgasm, the phantasmagoric hinterland where the deepest demons of our psyches are allowed to roam free, but my 100ccs of unfiltered joy can be administered as simply as a glance, a smile, an impromptu Nomi Malone, a kiss on the back of the neck while I am doing the dishes. Making fun of our dog. Laughing at Posey McGlinn. The bitch of it is that the best of all drugs has the worst come down. Thankfully, marriage gives you a lifetime supply.

I used to think drug addiction was a sign of weakness, a pathetic way to live. But now it is my life’s aspiration. To exist in a haze of drugs, natural and synthetic, falling ever deeper down the rabbit hole of Love.

Bad Cinema: Snakes on a Plane (Dir: David R. Ellis, 2006)

The key to satire is that it takes itself seriously. We must be on board with the genre being spoofed and know that the filmmakers have a handle on the history of its chosen genre. There is a delicate dance where the movie must get lost in its genre almost to the point we forget we’re watching a satire and then – BAM – almost from nowhere, we are reminded that laughter is the universal emotion, helping us see the inherent humor in everything. On the dramatic side, Tarantino is infamous for adding humor to cut the tension of slavery and drug deals; on the comedic side, Brooks is underrated for adding drama to deepen the catharsis of laughter. They are two of the kings, always knowing when to use which to effectively tell their stories. But when a satire takes itself too seriously we get something that looks like this:

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Snakes on a Plane. We know from the title that it is not taking itself seriously. I mean, come on. It’s all there from the jump: there are snakes and they will be on a plane. Imagine the ridiculousness of that. The script’s genesis came from the writer’s desire to combine two of the most popular fears: snakes and flying. It has all the makings of a straight to DVD B-movie.

Yet thanks to the title and the casting of Samuel L. Jackson (the actor who will literally do ANYTHING simultaneously upping the camp factor and its legitimacy), the film gained a sizable amount of Internet traction even under its various titles Venom and Pacific Air Flight 121. SOAP is one of the first films to be changed by online fans, helping the producers secure more funds from the studio due to its heavy anticipation.

This is what makes it a let down. Snakes on a Plane is touted as being part of the pantheon of awful greatness like Showgirls or The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. When it is really just middle of the road drabble. Metacritic even gives it an average, inoffensive score of 58%.

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Eddie Kim, supposedly some ominous druglord (?)/gangster/karate master, is spotted killing someone by an innocent bystander. How to ensure he won’t testify against him? Let a plethora of drugged up snakes loose on his plane. And we’re off. Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

But there is one thing Eddie Kim didn’t plan on: Agent Flynn, a stock FBI agent playing another version of Samuel L. Jackson, as the witness’ (Nathan Phillips) escort and the flight’s last hope. He also underestimated the combined forces of Julianna Margulies and Kenan Thompson, respectively the best flight attendant since Karen Black and the surrogate for this generation’s reality meets virtuosity skill set. Not to mention the indomitable human spirit of survival. Or something.

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Ugh. OK. Snakes on a Plane is tedious hokum that belabors its one note “joke”/gimmick repeatedly. Seriously. We watch the snakes bite nipples, latch onto dicks, crawl up a woman’s dress, and skull fuck an old woman – basically every type of heavy handed sexual innuendo the director could muster – for OVER AN HOUR of its running time; even Michael Bay knows when and where to cut away from the action to give us humor and character development. The writers of Snakes on a Plane, when they gave a shit, tried to mold their extreme archetypes into characters as almost filling-the-run-time-after-thoughts. And then for the characters that don’t matter! We get the OCD cleanliness of 3Gs (Flex Alexander) and his brotherly love dynamic with Troy (Thompson); we know that Special Agent Harris (Bobby Canavale) is frustrated being stuck at his desk instead of being in the field; we are meant to feel for the old woman (Lin Shaye) who gives her life for a baby and for a dumb socialite (Rachel Blanchard) whose dog is thrown to the snakes as bait. Yet Sean (Phillips), Claire (Margulies), and Flynn (Jackson) remain one note, teetering the lines of autopilot. Sean is an innocent on fear overdrive, Claire is the calm professional able to fill every role required, and Flynn is the sardonic over it version of Shane that saunters in waving a gun and a bad attitude. With a film so “high concept” (industry speak for unique, bordering ridiculous), one would hope that at least these three main characters could have been infused with some kind of personal stakes. We never doubt that Eddie Kim will be punished; even if Sean dies, the Feds have him on trying to kill an entire plane of civilians with bat shit crazed snakes. This is Claire’s last flight, but the fact she is planning on being a lawyer is not really a high enough stake to care if she dies. Does she have a family? Is there some deeper significance for her becoming a lawyer? We never spend an adequate amount of time with her to invest in her mortality. And Flynn. The typical anonymous Western hero, armed with a one liner and a six shooter played by Samuel L. Jackson with surprising restraint (further proof he is a Western loner hero: at the end of the movie when Claire tells him to call her, and then leaves without giving her his number…) He goes for it, yes, but why is he not chewing the scenery? Why is everyone not devouring the scenery? This is the type of film where not a single stitch of fabric, not a splinter of wood should be left. If this is meant to be a satire, which I’m not sure the filmmakers know what type of film they tried to make, where is the humor? It’s definitely an action film (hell, the cinematographer shot the Terminator franchise) and it has some comedic moments (the film’s infamous line that comes 1 hour and 28 minutes in), but it feels more like a James Cameron wannabe (one of the best directors who always finds ways to add a humorous line or two into the action) than a “comedy”. Maybe it’s not trying to be a comedy. Maybe it’s not trying to be satire. Maybe it was just going for it a la Showgirls and ended up falling into the camp zone. But going for what? Showgirls at least was trying to “uncover the life of a Vegas showgirl.” And if it is an action film infused with humor, it would help that the snakes didn’t look so completely fake (the funniest part is how proud the filmmakers are on the commentary track that their CGI snakes look so real. As if…). If it is a comedy or satirical action film, it would help poking more fun at the films it most directly parallels (namely the Airport franchise). Maybe if it didn’t take itself quite so seriously it would be more fun. Maybe I am thinking too hard about a film entitled Snakes on a Plane.

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And what of Eddie Kim? That evil gangster who has set all of this in motion? He is nothing more than our MacGuffin, making the title true. His storyline is so second thought that Thelma Ritter could have played him in drag.

***Rip van Winkle***

Sadly, the funniest, most entertaining part of the film is the music video that plays over the credits. Now, this girl is werking.