Friday, October 31, 2008

A Halloween Treat for You

Hocus Pocus, along with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, is probably my favorite Halloween movie. I watched it all the time as a kid- even when it wasn't Halloween! I guess I should have known I was gay when my favorite part in the whole movie was the above clip of everyone's favorite drag queen Bette Midler (with background vocals from Kathy Najimy and a young Sarah Jessica Parker) singing this divalicious version of "I Put a Spell on You." It's so dramatic and I love every second of it. I wish I could watch it tonight but I forgot to pick up my DVD copy the last time I was home and I'm not driving six hours round trip just to watch Hocus Pocus, no matter how great it is.

Weekend Rental Picks

A weekly series in which I try to help emerging cinephiles reduce their anxiety by pointing them in the right direction at their local Blockbuster.

The Letter (William Wyler, 1940)
On the surface, William Wyler's The Letter may not seem like anything groundbreaking- a woman (Bette Davis) shoots an acquaintance because she claims he attacked her, but the real reasons soon come out- but its actually one of the finest melodramas Hollywood has ever produced. Add to that the fact that it contains one of Bette Davis' greatest performances and The Letter is definitely a must see.

Roger & Me (Michael Moore, 1989)
Before Michael Moore really hit the big time with Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, he made Roger & Me, an indicting film about how when GM left Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, the city fell apart (and is still trying to recover from). The film is everything you would expect from a Michael Moore film: thought provoking, a strong point of view and, above all else, wildly hilarious.

The Shop on Main Street (Jan Kadar, 1965/6)
The Shop on Main Street is a grim, powerful Holocaust drama, but not in the "triumph of the human spirit" vein. Josef Kroner is a lazy Nazi hoping to make a quick buck by taking over the button shop of an old, eccentric Jewish lady (Ida Kaminska). The shop makes no money, but Kroner grows to sympathize with Kaminska and when the Nazis come to round up the Jews to take them to concentration camps, he has a hard time letting that happen. It's during these last 30 minutes or so, where Kroner debates with his conscious whether or not he should hand the old woman over, that the film really makes an impact. It's a fantastic film that more people need to see and not just write off as another Holocaust film.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oscar Predictions: October 2008

I know I haven't been updating my predictions as much as I'd like to, but, frankly, the Oscar race thus far has been boring me to tears. Best Picture, conceivably, has already been narrowed down to 10 or so films and half of them haven't even opened yet. I've been alternating the same 6 or 7 names for Best Actor since March and there haven't been any newcomers to the table (well, we did have RDJ and Viggo for awhile, but their movies got moved to 2009). There are very few viable Best Supporting Actor candidates at this point, which is leading me to just guess at this point. Even Best Actress is slightly snooze-worthy since only a couple potential nominees have opened. The only exciting category right now is Best Supporting Actress and that's mainly because of my campaign for La Tisdale, which is only getting stronger by the day. I'm hoping by the next time I update, there will be some major shakeups to make the race for the Oscar interesting again. Until then, here are my predictions:

Best Picture

The Dark Knight
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke,
The Wrestler

Best Actress

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Nicole Kidman, Australia
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
James Franco, Milk
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger,
The Dark Knight

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ashley Tisdale, High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Best Director

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Jonathan Demme,
Rachel Getting Married
Baz Luhrmann, Australia
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Stuart Beattie, Richard Flanagan, Ronald Harwood, Baz Luhrmann, Australia
Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married

Best Adapted Screenplay

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Justin Haythe, Revolutionary Road
Peter Morgan,
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rants on High School Musical 3: Senior Year and American Teen

Good God, when did I become one of those critics? You know the kind...those who admit right in the open the many faults with a particular movie, which may include weak acting, a horrid script, bad direction or any other numerous problems, but still proclaim, "Well, golly gee, I can forgive all that shittiness because it was so much fun!" and then give it 3.5 stars out of 4. I made fun of them when they came out in droves to support Mamma Mia! and Meryl Streep's hammy-as-hell performance because it was "so much fun!" After High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Kenny Ortega, 2008), however, I just have to forget my critical duties for a few minutes and wildly announce to the world how much I love this film, flaws and all.

Let me get the problems out of the way: the plot, even by the anorexic standards of the first two, is thin. It's so thin, it's practically a poor, African child with starvation bloat. The only hint of conflict comes from Troy deciding whether or not he wants to do basketball at U of A with Chad or head off to Julliard on a music scholarship, and that's mostly an internal one (HSM3 actually makes Yankee Doodle Dandy, that beloved classic of non-conflict, look like a soap opera). Any musical number involving Troy and Gabriella singing to each other became an instant bore. Some of the lines were so incredibly gooey, so incredibly groan-worthy that I was afraid that my eyes would never return to their regular position after the amount time I spent rolling my eyes toward the end.

These are problems, however, that we've come to expect from the HSM movies and only add to its charm (or, if you're like me, its "so-bad-it's-good" factor). If nothing else, High School Musical 3: Senior Year improves upon many of the problems that plagued HSM2. Gone are the shoddy, tin-can vocals that absolutely ruined most of the songs because it was blatantly obvious that they were all fixed in a studio and the ridiculous, "let's gang up on Troy" plot contrivances that absolutely made no sense (I'll never get over that stupid "I don't care about my future, all I care about is what my friends think" line that fucking drove me crazy).

Most importantly, the music numbers actually seem well thought out and intricate instead of the boring, we-have-five-minutes-to-make-this-work steps that we saw in the first two. In fact, they're the best thing about HSM3 and one reason that I want to see this movie again right now (I think we all know the other two reasons). "Now or Never" seems to be, on first glance, just another retread of those other sports numbers like "Get'cha Head in the Game" and "I Don't Dance," but it's surprisingly well done, exciting even when it shouldn't be. The one part I mercilessly made fun of when I first saw the trailer--Gabriella shouting "TROYYYYYY!" in the middle of the big game--actually works a lot better than I ever thought possible. It is a surprisingly touching moment and, for once, I almost bought the romance between Troy and Gabriella (even if Vanessa Hudgens still can't act or sing worth a damn). "Scream," Troy's obligatory angst solo, starts off just as hilariously stupid as "Bet On It! (Bet On It!)" (I was half expecting him to see his reflection in one of those basketballs) but it grows on you and sucks you in like a black hole until you're entranced with every angsty movement Zac Efron delivers. It's a wild couple of minutes with Efron almost as ferocious and unrelenting as some of Marion Cotillard's most riveting on-stage moments in La Vie en Rose.

The best scene in the film, by a long shot, is the Sharpay and Ryan duet "I Want It All." The song is the best in the film and the accompanying musical number hits all the highs you would expect. The scope is enormous--a far cry from the ladder in "Bop to the Top"--and both Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Gabreel are both game to achieve director and choreographer Kenny Ortega's mad vision. I want to describe for you just how amazing this number is in glorious detail but the only way my jumbled brain can comprehend it is through adjectives like AMAZING, MAJOR, EPIC, FABULOUS, ORGASMIC. You need to see it to even comprehend its amazingness. Besides, what do you say about a musical number that incorporates Troy as a rabid, psychotic fan of Sharpay and Gabriella as Sharpay and Ryan's maid which provides the only time that Vanessa Hudgens has ever been of interest as an actor to me?

The acting was generally decent this time around--even Alyson Reed as Ms. Darbus had a couple of good moments--but the film belonged to two people: Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale, natch. Efron, who showed early signs of amazingness in Hairspray, now completely owns every musical number (and most scenes) he is in. The aforementioned "Scream" number works so well because of his passion and comittment to the dance. There's a moment during the treehouse scene when, whether inadvertently or not, Zac stares directly into the camera for a few moments and, somehow, it turns out to be one of the most beautiful moments of the film. There's no doubt in my mind that the camera loves him much in the same way it loved Garbo, Dietrich and Monroe and only enhances his raw talent into something more.

I could go on for days about how much I loved La Tisdale here. She proves, without a doubt, that she is infinitely worthy of that Oscar nomination that I keep pushing for her. It's hard for me to root for a film that seems so insistent on pushing its most interesting character out of the limelight, but La Tisdale's effective performance makes me forget about that because she sparkles the entire film--from her divalicious entrance to her final curtain call--even when HSM3 keeps pushing for Troy and Gabriella to be the main focus. Relegated to the background, La Tisdale does her best work, rolling her eyes like she's been taking lessons from Michelle Pfeiffer and turning such minor quips as "Genius" when Ms. Darbus announces the name of the spring musical or her sarcastic "Yipee!" when the Wildcats decide to join the musical into perfect bon mots worthy of Margo Channing. It becomes especially apparent that she is a comedienne to be reckoned with whenever she shares a scene with her lowly assistant Tiara. The film tries to pass these two off as equals in some respects, but La Tisdale lets everyone know where its at; there's no way this newcomer bitch will ever be a match for her. Even when Tiara pulls an Eve Harrington and we think that Sharpay has finally been defeated definitively, she rises from the ashes like a phoenix to take her rightful place back. It's during that moment that we realize that La Tisdale's Sharpay is sort of like Scarlett O'Hara in that nothing will ever keep her down and we want to see her succeed, no matter how wicked her ways are. It's due to La Tisdale's epic performance that Sharpay stands out as more than just an annoying bitch stereotype and always comes out looking like the high priestess of the theatre that we've all seen in real life but that we can still, against all odds, still root for in the end.

Is High School Musical 3: Senior Year perfect? No, but that hardly matters when most of the film is such a glorious treat. Will the film leave me on such a big high when I see it again? Probably not, because then I'll probably notice many more flaws than on this go around. Who the hell cares, anyways? This is one great first impression. B

If High School Musical 3: Senior Year represent some kind of imaginary high school universe in which cliques don't exist and an obviously gay theatre kid who isn't ignored by the basketball team and the other jocks but is actually embraced by them for his talent, then American Teen (Nanette Burstein, 2008) is the anti-HSM, showing what high school is actually like (well, at least in my experience). Burstein shows us the cliques, which are obviously a part of any high school, but doesn't exploit them like in The Breakfast Club or countless other high school films. The jock, Colin, and the rest of the team doesn't beat up on poor marching band loner, Jake; they're under way too much pressure to get a scholarship and win the championship to put kids in lockers.

My favorite part of American Teen was the relationship between quirky Hannah and jock cutie Mitch. Unlike the relationship between Troy and Gabriella, Mitch and Hannah felt real and genuine- a couple I feel like I could know. Their wicked banter and electric chemistry on their first date excited me at all of the possibilities their relationship had. They obviously had fun together but, most importantly, I felt like they could learn so much from each other. There's this great scene where, on the bus to a basketball game, Mitch tells his teammates that Hannah showed him Brokeback Mountain the other day and that he liked it. He seems so proud of himself that he's done something out of his comfort zone but then his teammates take the usual potshots at him for liking that movie and Mitch is not so sure anymore. It's a shame that peer pressure is the reason for their inevitable split and it makes their heartbreaking ending all the more upsetting. But that's high school I guess; it's never easy or turns out the way we want to. Thank God American Teen is there to show us that and not just offer another easy, stereotypical answer. A-

"Halle-damn-lejuah, I got my period!"

Greatest. quote. in. the. history. of. Desperate. Housewives.

(And, surprisingly, it wasn't said by Bree).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Confession Sundays

For the lapsed Catholic in all of us- a new series in which I confess my deepest, darkest secrets before Oprah and The Madonna and wait for my atonement.

I still haven't seen High School Musical 3: Senior Year yet.

I know! I can't believe it either! I've been talking about it for months and now it's Sunday and I still haven't gotten around to seeing it. Blurg. Well, barring a nuclear holocaust or something equally catastrophic, I'm getting my ass to the nearest theater to finally see this damn movie this afternoon. I can't wait! I've already been hearing from a certain someone that La Tisdale gives her best performance yet in the trilogy and verified that she is, indeed, Oscar worthy. Yipee!

P.S. Remember to write positive comments about Ashley Tisdale in your reviews of HSM3 and I'll link your review to my campaign headquarters!

Oh Mitch

I just saw American Teen a couple of nights ago and I must say that my favorite part was, of course, resident cutie Mitch Reinholt. I'm not going to go into much detail right now because I plan on writing a combined review with HSM3 after I see it tomorrow, but I just wanted to get this off my chest.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What a Shock to the System: Jennifer Hudson's Mother and Brother Found Dead

I interrupt all of the HSM3 festivities with this heartbreaking news I've just found out. While checking my email, I ran across this story about the death of Academy Award Winner Jennifer Hudson's mother and brother and the kidnapping of her nephew. I'm sitting here now and I can barely comprehend what just happened. It's all too sad and horrific to imagine. This is something that no person, famous or not, should ever have to go through. I just want Jennifer to know that my thoughts are with her and her family during these trying times.

UPDATE: I've just done some research and TMZ reports that Jennifer's sister, Julia, the mother of the missing boy, hasn't been seen since finishing her bus driving shift earlier this afternoon. Shit. This family doesn't need any more tragedy today.

"If you're gay and/or eight years old, HSM3 is the movie event of the year."

It may be true, but that was low blow move, Peter Travers, King of the Blurb Whores.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tag, I'm It

Over at Tapeworthy, I was tagged by Vance to do this lovely meme. Not missing an opportunity to talk about myself, I decided to fill it out.

Here are the rules: Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.

The 7 Facts:

1. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a hockey player when I grew up. Never mind the fact that I couldn't skate, had never been on the ice, or wasn't athletic in the least.

2. The first song I ever loved was Paula Abdul's "Straight Up." I used to hear it on the radio on the way to kindergarten all the time and fell in love. My mom borrowed the "Forever Your Girl" cassette from her co-worker's daughter and then made me a copy that I listened to a million times. This is why I'm so supportive of Paula, no matter what crazy shit she does on American Idol.

3. I've never cried during a movie, but I have bawled like a baby while reading A Walk to Remember and Gone With the Wind.

4. If I could live in any other place and time, I would definitely pick 1920's Hollywood. I love the fashion, the carefree attitude of the flappers and the silent era.

5. One time, my friend and I drove for over an hour just to get a Cinnabon. It was delicious by the way.

6. I haven't dressed up for Halloween or have gone trick-or-treating since 7th grade. Even as a young kid, I was uncomfortable wearing a costume (I once got in a huge argument with my mother in elementary school about drawing a mustachio on my face when I went as a devil) and I'm not very creative, anyways. Plus, my family always had candy lying around the house so why would I need to go out and get more candy that I didn't need?

7. When I was really young, I had this strange dream about Charlie Chaplin that freaked me out for years. He didn't do anything in the dream, but something about them bugged the fuck out of me. Years later, after I bought a set of Chaplin shorts, I couldn't watch them late at night because I was still freaked out by that dream.

7 Links
1. Valley Dreamin'
2. Fataculture
3. Vera's Big Gay Blog
5. Because I Saw the Film
6. Stale Popcorn
7. My Stuff and Cr*p

Oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God You Guys! Only 2 Days Until High School Musical 3: Senior Year!

Can you believe that we've finally gotten to this point? It seems like forever since I first started anticipating the third installment of High School Musical and know it's soooo close. To tide you over until Friday, here's a hilarious interview between my number one dream couple, Zac Efron and La Tisdale. If nothing else, it's more proof that these two are perfect for each other. Why can't they see that?

Choice Quips:

1. La Tisdale: "This is so confusing!"
2. Zac: "I have a great random question: Why are there lockers behind us? We're in a hotel room."
3. Zac: "And you got a lot better, 'cause in the first movie you were...alright."
La Tisdale: "Thanks. Yeah, you did too."
4. Zac: "Literally, in the first movie, it was like set up a camera, we've got five minutes to get this. Dance. Now we have actual setups...and lighting."
La Tisdale: "Lighting?"
Zac: "I'm dead serious. We didn't necessarily have that in the first two. Sometimes, he's just like, 'Where's the sun?'"
5. La Tisdale: "But I do love the basketball number, because you're all sweaty and everything."
Zac: "Thanks, Ashley"
La Tisdale: "No, because you look so good. You look like you're really playing basketball."
6. La Tisdale: "I realized the last couple of the days that I get really nervous around you...I actually drink a lot of water; that calms my nerves."
Zac: "Yeah, 'cause you're peeing all the time. You pee out the nerves."

Who knew that Zac Efron was such a sarcastic bastard? It makes me love him more. And La Tisdale is as fun and down to earth as ever. I really want her to be my BFF.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I've Been a Bad, Bad Gyllenhaalic

I know you've probably been thinking the last couple of month that I've abandoned my beloved Jakey for Zac Efron since I post about him nearly every week, but, rest assured, I haven't. It's just that- and I really hate to admit this- Jakey hasn't done anything interesting in months while Zac has been itching to show his penis, getting cozy with La Tisdale, looking eerily similar to Leonard Whiting and cavorting in a dirty three way with La Tisdale and Vanessa Hudgens. Besides, do you really want to see 100 pictures of him looking like this...?

AAAARRGHHHH! Oh sweet Jesus, make that hair go away! It's freaking me the fuck out! Holy Lord, I'm hyperventilating. In. Out. In. Out...

Whew. Thank God. Now that's the Jakey I love best. Please stop playing around in the desert and go back to making regular films that aren't based off of video games. That's when I'll start posting more about you, my dear Jakey.

People Who Can Suck It: Miley Cyrus

Who Needs to Suck It: Miley Cyrus, Disney robot designed for total tween domination thanks to her massively successful TV show Hannah Montana and her Top 40 crossover hit "See You Again"

Why She Needs to Suck It: I'm not going to deny that both "See You Again"-- come on, "My best friend Leslie said, 'Oh, she's just being Miley," is one of the most ingenious lyrics in the history of pop music-- and "Start All Over" are brilliant songs, because they are, but there are two main reasons why she needs to suck it. First of all, Miley is a horribly unfunny comedienne. That wouldn't be such a bad thing if her show wasn't a comedy. I don't watch her show regularly, but I've caught good chunks of a couple of episodes and she's the most clunky, unnatural comedienne I think I've ever seen. How did she get so famous in the first place with that awful, unfunny and confusing (am I the only one who had to have the concept repeated to me at least three times, slowly, just to get the basics?) show. Secondly, this is her boyfriend. Yes, this little fugly elf is dating this hunk of a man. I am beyond jealous right now-- I want to kill the troll and run away to Mexico with her man. So what if he's religious and sings country music? With that body, he could be a priest during guitar mass and I'd still want to bone him.

Monday, October 20, 2008

An Interrupted American Medley in My Heart

Last night, I was catching up on some random Oscar nominees I had my mother tape for me (what a saint!) and one of the numerous DVD's was Interrupted Melody, the 1955 biopic that netted Eleanor Parker a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Over the past year or so, I've grown quite fond of this lovely, under appreciated actress. She's probably best known as the Baroness in The Sound of Music (I've blocked most things associated with that pile of dreck so I sadly can't remember her performance) but she also earned well-deserved Oscar nominations for the women-in-prison drama Caged and the underseen Detective Story and she also impressed me as the crippled girlfriend of Frank Sinatra's heroin addict in The Man With the Golden Arm. Unfortunately for Parker and for us, there's nothing much in Interrupted Melody to do. Parker plays "beloved" (I use that word in quotes because I sure as hell don't know who she is) opera star Marjorie Lawrence who, after a bought with polio that crippled her, made a grand comeback to the Metropolitan Opera House (but not until she overcame a crippling stage fright, of course). The film is one of the ridiculous star biopics of the 50's in which only one interesting thing happens to the person, so the writers spent the rest of the time making up crap and adding scenes to give the film some kind of flimsy dramatic structure. The first half of the film has one of the worst structures I've ever seen. Basically, the story go from Eleanor Parker being humble to Eleanor Parker singing in some random opera to Eleanor Parker crying on the phone while talking to her family in Australia to Eleanor Parker singing in another random opera to Eleanor Parker making out with Glenn Ford to Eleanor Parker singing in yet another random opera...I think you get the idea. The second half of the film, after she comes down with polio, is a tad bit better, but it's still as trite as any material of this nature can be. Poor Eleanor. She really tries her hardest and technically she's quite proficient. That scene where she's forced to crawl on the ground to turn on the record player was excruciating and Parker never oversold it or explicitly cried out for us to sympathize with her. Plus, like Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, her lip syncing was incredible. It may not seem like anything these days, but back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, when pretty actresses were forced to lip sync because their voices weren't up to par, most didn't give a shit and just mouthed the words. Not Parker. She obviously studied breath control and timing and, if you didn't know any better, you would think that that was her voice coming out of her mouth. But, unfortunately, Interrupted Melody doesn't give Parker any acting to do and she's just forced to go along with the cheap theatrics and ungodly amount of opera pieces.

During the second half of the film, however, I was constantly reminded of another Oscar nominated performance from the 1950's in a ridiculous star biopic about a "popular" singer who overcomes being a cripple (this time from a plane crash) and makes a grand comeback, performed by a largely forgotten, but still utterly amazing actress from the same era: Susan Hayward in With a Song in My Heart. The film is an utter piece of garbage, much like Interrupted Melody, and really plays into Hayward's worst tendencies as an actress (overly-stylized and hammy). The film does, however, have one A-MA-ZING moment right at the end that Interrupted Melody reminded me of. In the course of her comeback, Hayward performs for the troops during WWII and delivers this rousing patriotic medley that is absolutely shameless and Hayward is about as subtle as George Bush at a gay pride parade, but it gets me everytime I watch it. In fact, the first time I saw With a Song in My Heart (yes, I have unfortunately seen it more than once) I rewound this scene about 10-15 and watched it over and over again. It's so good that I almost don't mind Hayward's Best Actress nomination over Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain or Judy Holliday in The Marrying Kind. Almost. Here, have a look for yourself:

My Favorite Parts
1. Susan Hayward's very dramatic fist during the line "It's a great ole wonderful home sweet home."
2. The way Susan Hayward poses at the very end of the song about Chicago. So dramatic.
3. That really dramatic guy singing in the audience during "California, Here We Come"
4. "HOW ABOUT TEXAS?" "Well, how about it?" *cheeky smile* Oh Susan, you're such a ham, but I still love you.
5. That really weird guy clapping away in the audience and his stupid grin during the song about Virginia.
6. "For you...anything." I wish I had the chance to say that more often, with that same inflection, and people would know what the hell I was talking about.
7. The way How About Texas Guy interrupts the tender moment of Susan Hayward singing to that guy in the front row and her classic response: "Texas? Never heard of it!"
8. The Amazing Thelma Ritter joining in on "Deep In the Heart of Texas." What a lady.
9. The way everyone goes batshit crazy over "Dixie." It's a good song, I must admit, but unless you're from the South, I can't imagine going that insane over it (and I know all of them can't be from the South).

Dakota Fanning: Cheerleader?

Is she preparing for a movie role in which she gets gang raped by the football team?

Why couldn't they have dropped her?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rants on W.

Having the misfortune of spending the Bush years in a backwards, hick small town while growing up in a strongly Democratic (or, at least, anti-Republican) household has always put me in an awkward position. For some reason or another, I always thought that young people could tell "right" from "wrong" and knew that Bush, like my parents had taught me, was the devil incarnate. Needless to say, I was shocked the morning after some presidential debate between Kerry and Bush in 2004 when nearly all of my friends loudly voiced their support for Bush (of the two friends who did back me-- we called ourselves "The Democratic Bitches"-- one also lived in a strongly Democratic household and the other's strongest attack on Bush was "He's really short"). The shock continued awhile later in my English class when I was put in the unfortunate position of single-handedly defending the anti-war movement against a plethora of Bible-thumping, ignorant-ass motherfuckers. I just couldn't understand how these people couldn't see just how much George Bush was fucking this country over. Didn't Fahrenheit 9/11 make it completely obvious, or did they just think Michael Moore was making everything up?

With my obvious hatred of everything Bush does and stands for, I was really fascinated to see what W. (Oliver Stone, 2008) was going to do with Bush's life: would Stone savagely rip him apart, turn it into a complete farce or make us feel for the poor man? Stone, somewhat surprisingly, opts to go down the softer road with a couple of amusing moments thrown in. A lot of critics would have preferred for W. to have been a lot harder on Bush and his dumbass administration, but I give Stone credit for not taking the bait. It would have been easy for him to turn Bush's life into a complete mockery, cutting him down to size. Instead, Stone dares us to empathize with the soon-to-be ex-president and I think that's a lot more daring than any political statement he could have made with this film. Open any newspaper, opinion column or blog and we can see that Bush is a complete fucktard; Stone wants to dig a little deeper and figure out why he's such an abysmal president.

I'm not going to deny that the film has problems: the tones change too wildly between overlapping scenes, there is a strange obsession with food that creeps into nearly every scene that's eerily reminiscent of that weird buffet scene in Myra Breckinridge and, towards the end, the film seems to come to a natural climax but then starts up again multiple times. However, the films best scenes easily outweigh the few that don't work. I loved all of the cabinet meeting scenes which delicately walked the fine line between farce and dark comedy. They effectively show how clueless and powerless Bush is without going over board on the easy jokes. At one point, Bush (played magnificently by Josh Brolin) tells Dick Cheney (a wonderfully evil Richard Dreyfuss), "I'm the decider" but we can all see who really runs things in the White House.

The ensemble Stone has gathered for this film is impeccable, one of the best I've seen in a long time. Josh Brolin is simply magnificent as George Junior. He could have easily slipped into cheap parody or sketch comedy characterization, but he makes Junior seem like a real person, flaws, quirks and all. Dreyfuss is the standout among the supporting cast; his line reading of "There is no exit strategy. We stay" when asked about Iraq is one of the most horrifying things I've ever heard. James Cromwell is emotionally effecting as the closed off Bush Senior. Jeffrey Wright, as Colin Powell, the lone voice of reason in Bush's cabinet, really makes you feel his frustration with everyone who can't see what a colossal disaster the Iraq invasion is going to be. Ellen Burstyn really makes the most out of her underwritten role, standing up to her illogical son and never letting a moment pass by in which she doesn't voice her opinion loud and clear. In fact, the only members of the cast who stick out in a negative way are Thandie Newton (she plays Condi Rice in much the same way Bette Midler would have) and Elizabeth Banks (although it's not her fault that the role is simply boring).

Like I mentioned before, Stone really makes you empathize with Bush on his long, complicated road to the White House. Long before he ever became the president, he was considered the fuck-up of the Bush family. He couldn't keep up in college, control his drinking, maintain a job or please his "poppy." The only reason he went into politics, according to the film, was to gain some respect in the eyes of his father. By the end of the film, you're almost ready to forgive him for the shit he's unleashed upon this country. I say "almost" because doing whatever you want and, consequently, screwing up one of largest nations in the world is a big price to pay to prove poppy wrong. Oliver Stone doesn't bring this up explicitly in W., but he knows it's running through the back of our minds and that's ultimately more frightening. B

Confession Sundays

For the lapsed Catholic in all of us- a new series in which I confess my deepest, darkest secrets before Oprah and The Madonna and wait for my atonement.

I like one Nickelback song.

I know, right? It's a proven fact that Nickelback is the worst band in the history of music. Every time I hear "How You Remind Me", "Rockstar", "Photograph", "If Everyone Cared", "Far Away" or "Savin' Me" a little piece of me wants to die. Or just bang my head through a concrete wall. But, they do have one halfway decent song that, somehow, among the many piles of turds that they've released during the course of their soulless career, gets ignored. The song is "Too Bad" and it was released right after the mega-success of "How You Remind Me" (their breakthrough in America). It figures, however, that the one song I like of theirs is the one that wasn't played every 14 minutes on the radio. That's probably for the better because I can now listen to it and not want to swallow a bottle of asprin.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Beyonce Has Lost Her Damn Mind

Yes, I said it. Beyonce has officially gone from occasionally loopy but generally stable to completely batshit crazy. What has caused this sudden transformation? First of all, have you seen those insane new videos for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" and "If I Were a Boy"? "Single Ladies" is less psychotic, but what the hell is up with that cyborg hand? It's like Beyonce woke up that morning and thought to herself, "The dancing is pretty fierce in this video, but do you know what would make this video hotter? A cyborg hand! Perfect!" Where do you think of something like that? Then, we have the video for "If I Were a Boy." Where do we even begin? If you were expecting an indicting song on male and female stereotypes a la Ciara's brilliant "Like a Boy" like I was, then "If I Were a Boy" is definitely a bust. The song is pretty, kinda, but Beyonce pussy-fies the issue she brings up with completely insipid and generally gross lyrics (Example: In the chorus, Beyonce whines, "If I were a boy/I think I could understand/How it feels to love a girl/I swear I'd be a better man" Ugh, shoot me now). And the video isn't any better. You have to give her points for trying something a little out of the box, but the concept is executed poorly. That bedroom scene in the middle when Beyonce proudly cries out, "Well, it's not like I slept with him" seriously had me laughing for like 20 seconds straight. Where the hell did it come from? You seriously need to watch these two videos to believe them.

The cherry on top of this crazy sundae? Beyonce's new album is a 2-disc collection entitled I Am... The first disc will be called I Am Beyonce and contains "If I Were a Boy" and all of the ballads. The second disc, and here's the insane part, is called I Am Sasha after Beyonce's "alter ego" Sasha Fierce and has "Single Ladies" and the up-tempo tracks. Divalicious move, for sure, but when exactly did Beyonce gain this alter ego? Maybe after the success of Mariah Carey and her Mimi? When did it become normal for all of these R&B princesses (remember Janet Jackson's Damita Jo from a few years back) to suddenly acquire these alter egos? If I suddenly went around campus telling people "My name is James, but my alter ego is Rudolph Desmond" people would think I was a nut, but when Beyonce, Mariah and Janet do it, it's completely normal and almost expected at some point. Say what?

For more Beyonce ranting, check out Stale Popcorn and this amazing post.

I'm Seeing Double as Well

After reading this great post at A Blog Next Door, I noticed another peculiarity while at the movies this afternoon. Here's another instance of two very different characters saying the exact same thing:

Liz Lemon, when firing her potential boyfriend's current girlfriend, Liz Lemler, on 30 Rock: "I'm the decider."

George Bush, when admonishing Dick Cheney for having too much presence in the cabinet meetings in W.: "I'm the decider."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Weekend Rental Picks

A weekly series in which I try to help emerging cinephiles reduce their anxiety by pointing them in the right direction at their local Blockbuster.

The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980)
The David Lynch film for people who don't really understand David Lynch. I understand why people love him, but I personally need a coherent story to go along with the visuals. The Elephant Man is the first film of Lynch's I saw and the only one that hasn't made me question his sanity. In any one else's hands, this film would have been turned into dreck; with Lynch, it's still uplifting and touching, but the emotions don't feel cheap or forced on us. The friendship between Anthony Hopkins' kindly doctor and John Hurt's grotesquely deformed man (he's not an animal) is a surprising treat as well.

Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
The greatest screwball comedy ever made. The film is so layered and well-constructed that it may take a couple of viewings to begin to understand just how brilliant it is. In comparison with romantic comedies of today, Bringing Up Baby just makes them look so lazy and lifeless. The character actors here (Charlie Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald and May Robson) are all fantastic, but the film really belongs to Cary Grant as the befuddled professor looking for his missing interclostal clavicle and Katharine Hepburn as the motormouth heiress who's in love with Grant, both giving the greatest performances of their careers (although I'm sure that there are others who would disagree).

Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar, 2004)
I was just talking with J.D. about how amazing this film is and I really, really want to see it again. Almodovar's self-proclaimed "fag noir" is really hard to describe since it's basically a strange combination of Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, a Hitchcock thriller, RuPaul and the infamous make out scene at the end of Y Tu Mama Tambien with sexual abuse at the hands of
Catholic priests thrown in as well. As a bonus, Gael Garcia Bernal burns up the screen as the mysterious femme fatale and let's us now that he is an actor to be reckoned with.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

In Bed With Jamie Bell

I know this isn't news to some people, but I've just realized that Jamie Bell is freaking gorgeous.

The sad news: I've seen exactly three of his movies and they're not the ones you'd expect. The first was King Kong, which he's in for approximately 1.5% of the total length of the film. Then, Flags of Our Fathers and I honestly can't remember him in it at all (Sorry!). Finally, I just saw him in the abysmal Jumper and he was, by a very long mile, the best thing in that awful movie. I can't believe I haven't seen Billy Elliot yet; I think I need to remedy that immediately.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leanne is the Project Runway Winner!


I've loved you all season and I was hoping that you would pull it off in the finale. Of course you did and you were rightly crowned the winner of season 5. It's about time that I actually agree with the damn show about who should win after the Michael and Christian debacles in the previous two seasons. In case you missed the show (or just want to relive the glory) here are some of Leanne's best designs from her wave-inspired collection.

Aren't they so dramatic?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blair Waldorf, Je T'aime

Gossip Girl is seriously one of the greatest shows on TV right now. You may dismiss it as simply another teenage soap opera a la Beverly Hills, 90210 or One Tree Hill or The O.C. (which was actually amazing, but that's for another time), but nearly every week it rises above the standards and expectations the doubters have placed on it. Not only are the storylines juicier than any other show on cable (has there even been a cable show that dared to show a teenage man basically prostituting himself to save his family's financial status?), but the show is, on occasion, one of the most beautifully shot shows on TV (that blackout episode was more visually interesting than half of the movies from 2007) and it always has excellent performances from its young cast. The best in show, however, is Leighton Meester as Blair Waldorf, the bitchy, manipulative mastermind (who sometimes has a heart) who runs the Constance School for Girls like a dominatrix. Every week, she gets to deliver deliciously bitchy one-liners, manipulates every one around her to get exactly what she wants and Meester does it all with the ease and brilliance of an actress twice her age. Last night, however, she did what was perhaps the most vindictive thing she's ever done on the show. Here's the backstory: frenemies Blair and Serena are in another one of their petty fights. They both end up at a weekend tour of Yale for prospective students and are given the opportunity to speak with the Dean. Serena sparkles, of course, and is given an invitation to the Dean's ultra exclusive party later that night for students whom he's really serious about. Blair, who's been planning to get into this party for years, doesn't get an invitation and blames Serena for making her look lame in comparison. Apparently, there's this parlor game at the party in which the Dean asks everyone "If you could invite any one person, living or dead, real or imagined, who would it be?" Blair has the perfect answer already lined up, according to Chuck, and he tells Serena the answer (Georges Sand) since Blair won't be going to the party. Serena doesn't feel right stealing it, until Blair manipulates her way to the party and sends Serena over the edge. She writes down Blair's answer and reminds her that the Dean asks for answers in alphabetical order and van der Woodsen comes before Waldorf. When the game starts and the Dean comes to Serena, he reads her answer out loud: Pete Fairmond. Serena is shocked and Blair is smitten with herself. If anyone was like me, they had no idea who Pete Fairmond was, until Blair was kind enough to remind us.

The Dean: Who is Pete Fairmond?
Blair: Oh, that's the man she killed.

Oh my God! The lengths this woman goes to take revenge on and embarrass the people who have wronged her. I seriously could not believe that Blair had gone there. I was in a state of mixed shock and elation right through the commerical break. All in all, after this batshit crazy episode, I want to be frenemies with Blair Waldorf more than ever. She certainly makes life a hell of a lot more interesting.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stagecoach Sleepiness

This semester, I'm working for my old professor as a teacher's assistant and it's a fun and easy job. All I have to do is basically show up on Monday and Wednesday mornings, pop the movie in and make sure that nothing goes wrong with the projector. The films, for the most part, haven't changed too much since I took the class (he did add The Hours, though, which led me to a major re-evaluation of that film) but it's hard to go wrong seeing Citizen Kane, Boogie Nights and The Graduate again. Tomorrow, however, I have a slight problem. As a part of western week, the professor is showing Stagecoach as an example of the "classic" western. I've watched the film twice now-- the first time was actually the first movie I ever saw on TCM and the second was in this class when I took it-- and I'm surprisingly positive towards it concerning my feelings for John Ford films most of the time. The only problem is this: both times I've watched the film, I've fallen asleep in the exact same place and then waken up in the same place about 30 seconds before the ending. Seriously. I'm good right up until the stagecoach reaches their destination but then I have no recollection between then and the climactic shootout between John Wayne and the bad guy. Maybe tomorrow will go better, but I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Confession Sundays

For the lapsed Catholic in all of us- a new series in which I confess my deepest, darkest secrets before Oprah and The Madonna and wait for my atonement.

I can't stand most of the Gus Van Sant films that I've seen.

My Own Private Idaho was a good film, even if River Phoenix's epic performance overshadows it in my mind, and I didn't mind most of Drugstore Cowboy (ditto on Matt Dillon). But Good Will Hunting? Gerry? Elephant? Give me a break. Can you say pretentious jerk off much? Good Will Hunting is so corny and trite that I wanted to vomit and, coincidentally, it started my unnatural hate for Matt Damon (which thankfully ended after The Departed). Gerry is two hours of Matt Damon and Casey Affleck wandering around the desert and I wanted to rip my eyeballs out; I like long takes as much as the next person, but do I really need to see a five minute take of Matt and Casey walking and saying and doing nothing? Elephant isn't a horrible film, per se, but it's more of the same endless long takes with very little story going on. I really hope I like Van Sant's upcoming Milk. Every time I see the trailer, I want to see it more and more, so let's hope that he's finally made a movie for me.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Three Reasons God Loves Me on This Glorious Day

Reason #1: Britney Spears' video for "Womanizer," her first single off her upcoming CD Circus, debuted this morning....and it is hot! I wasn't a fan of the song at first, but after watching it repeatedly, the song is growing on me at an alarming rate. The video is top-notch and has everything we were missing from the Blackout videos: there is great choreography, sexiness overflowing from every shot and has a sleek, modern style. Britney's back (again), bitch, and all the haters need to get used to it!

Reason #2: According to The Superficial, Zac Efron wants to take on the part in Equus that Daniel Radcliffe is currently playing on Broadway (you know, the one where Harry Potter shows his junk). If by the grace of Oprah this ever happens, rest assured that I will be dropping everything, buying a ticket to New York and do anything it takes to get a ticket to see Zac Efron's penis. Just for a little while, I'm not going to give a shit about "artistic merit" or whether or not he can "act"; I just want to see Zac naked and will go repeatedly if necessary.

Reason #3: The Brothers Jonas think Victoria Beckham is the perfect representation of a earth woman. Wait a minute...the Brothers Jonas have excellent taste? When did this happen? Didn't one of them date Miley Cyrus?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tonight Is Going to Be So Major, Victoria Beckham Will Be Jealous.

Charlie Chaplin's City Lights is, without a doubt, one of the greatest films ever made and one of my five favorites of all time, and I have the wonderful fortune of seeing it on the big screen tonight! It's going to be so MAJOR! Plus, the film society putting it on is also showing The Rules of the Game and The Lady Eve, two more fantastic classic movie that I love dearly. I can already tell it's going to be a fantastic night!

Weekend Rental Picks

A weekly series in which I try to help emerging cinephiles reduce their anxiety by pointing them in the right direction at their local Blockbuster.

Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000)
Only Spike Lee could get away with a film in which a modern day minstrel show- complete with black actors in horrifying blackface- becomes the hottest show on television. Bamboozled will probably turn people off, and it's not a perfect film, per se, but watching a legendary director fly off the deep end trying to get his completely insane vision on film is worth the price. The satire is brilliant and something most directors either wouldn't have bothered commenting on or don't have the balls to make such radical statements. Their truly is only one Spike Lee.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Sydney Pollack, 1969)
Depressing movie alert! If you are in a suicidal mood, please do not see this movie. Wait until the mood passes and then pop this in your DVD and, trust me, you won't be disappointed. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is about the desperate characters who join a Depression-era dance marathon. The contest is grueling and takes it's toll- physically, emotionally and psychologically- on the contestants, which includes a hard-as-nails Jane Fonda, a teetering off the edge Susannah York, and a frail Red Buttons with the cocky emcee Gig Young leading everyone on. The film has a perverse pleasure in punishing it's characters, but the punishment is so engrossing to watch.

Les Enfants du Paradis/Children of Paradise (Marcel Carne, 1945)
It's been called the French Gone With the Wind for many years, so it should come as no surprise that Marcel Carne's epic three-hour romance between a French actress (Arletty) and a shy mime (Jean-Louis Barrault) is also one of my favorite films. The film is a stunner to look at, which makes its incredible backstory (it was made during the Nazi occupation and most of the time was spent trying to evade them) that much more incredible and legendary. If you're afraid of the length, don't be; the time flies by and you'll want to watch it again right afterwards. If you can, try to rent the glorious Criterion edition....perfectly beautiful.