Sunday, November 29, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Glee

Dear Glee,

Please get better. Soon. This week's episode was an abomination against all humankind. I seriously haven't rolled my eyes that much in such a short span of time since the love scenes between Troy and Gabriella in HSM3.

I know some readers out there think I'm just a big ole player hater who will never be satisfied with the show, but that's not true. I just think that Glee has the potential to be a great show and isn't living up to its initial promise. The show is coasting on its enormous buzz right now and hasn't done much in the episodes since its phenomenal debut to live up to all of it. Sure, there have been moments of inspiration and cleverness (I especially loved the Mash-Up episode with the girls' singing 'Halo' and 'Walking on Sunshine') but nothing has even come close to matching this moment of magic:

And on Wednesday, my God, I swear recovering from surgery was less painful than what happened on Glee. I mean, the whole "I've seen this episode five times before" plot (Baby business and Rachel loves Finn? Oy vey) was bad enough, but once they showed the deaf choir "singing" 'Imagine,' I almost fucking lost it. What the fuck was that? You can call it "inspirational" or whatever the fuck you want, but that was shameless manipulation, pure and simple, worthy only of the Idol Gives Back special. And then they had the balls to sing another soppy ballad, 'True Colors,' at the very end, just to top off the shittiness. Glee could be so much better than anything as dire as those by-the-books numbers and yet it keeps on relying on this over and over again. If they switch things up a bit like they did for 'Don't Stop Believing,' 'Halo/Walking on Sunshine' and the recent rendition of 'Dancing With Myself,' the numbers become much more interesting. Without this creativity, Glee becomes nothing more than a show with a mediocre plot and kids singing mediocre Broadway karaoke.

Dame James

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When Archie Met GaGa

Why does David Archuelta get to meet all of my gay icons? Seriously, he is one lucky bastard. But he's also completely adorable so it's hard to begrudge him (much). My favorite thing about this clip (and the one with Kathy Griffin) is that Davie is as awkward with the larger than life Lady GaGa as any normal, non-celebrity would be. I know if I randomly ran into Lady GaGa somewhere, I wouldn't have anything interesting to say so I'd spend the time either panting like a sex-crazed lunatic or shouting "I LOVE YOU!" at her like every other gay fan. At least Davie is able to keep his cool and even ends up making a funny when hugging her, "I don't wanna get poked by that" (meaning her dress, obviously).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Top 100 Songs of the 2000's: #100-81

Well, my readers, we're getting to that point. The decade is drawing to a close and it's time to start unveiling "Best of" lists by the score. Of course, I will be jumping on this bandwagon and offering my opinion on the best albums (already in progress with a new installment soon), films and, starting now, songs (a couple others may pop up depending on time restrictions). As I mentioned before, I am not a music critic. Unlike with movies, I don't have refined, highbrow taste; I know what I like and that's usually ridiculous, poppy-as-music-can-get pop music (I've literally said before, "If you want poetry, listen to Bob Dylan. But if you want to shake your ass, listen to Fergie. And that's okay by me"). So, naturally, that posed a problem for me: how do I approach this list? Should I go with sentimental favorites? Pop tracks that even non-pop fans might enjoy? The "best" of what pop had to offer this decade? After some soul searching, I decided to combine all three, hopefully creating a good mix of legitimately great songs with ones that I'm personally attached to for reasons beyond "greatness." I'm giving you fair warning so if you don't like pop music, please don't leave a comment saying something along the lines of, "THIS LIST SUCKS! What about *insert random British indie band that only 5 people have heard of, Girls Aloud mocks in 'Hoxton Heroes' and makes me sound like a pretentious twat*????"

So, without further ado, here's Part 1 of my Top 100 Songs of the 2000's:

100. Ashlee Simpson 'La La'
2005. From Autobiography
What better way to start off the countdown then with the decade's one and only true masterpiece of pop trash. Ashlee Simpson is the triple threat of badness (can't sing, can't act, can't dance) so it seems fitting that she achieves so much with 'La La,' a song with hilarious "so subtle they're not subtle anymore" lyrics ("You make me wanna la la/In the kitchen, on the floor") and obvious innuendo (Gee, I wonder what "la la" is referencing...). Only Ashlee, in all of her awful glory, could make this song work in all the wrong ways.

99. Phantom Planet 'California'
2004. From The Guest
Hate or love The O.C., everyone knows this song, or, at the very least, the infamous "California, here we come" line. Who knew that something so simple could define not only an entire TV show but also said show's devoted following?

98. La Roux 'Bulletproof'
2009. From La Roux
Who would have guessed that one of the most new, refreshing and forward-sounding artists of the decade would be this Neo-80's Synth Pop group? It's a tough call between this one and 'In for the Kill,' but 'Bulletproof' was my first exposure and immediately cemented my love for La Roux.

97. DJ Sammy & Yanou featuring Do 'Heaven'
2002. From Heaven
If nothing else, DJ Sammy proved that shitty Bryan Adams songs could be turned into addictive dance club staples. There's hope for you yet, 'Everything I Do (I Do It For You).'

96. Dream 'He Loves U Not'
2000. From It Was All a Dream At the height of this song's popularity, I thought Dream was going to be around for forever. Who knew that after their second single, 'This Is Me,' Dream would be no more? Oh well. At least we'll always have this insanely catch pop number to remember the good times.

95. Sean Paul 'Get Busy'
2003. From Dutty Rock
Sean Paul is usually bearable in small doses (Beyoncé's 'Baby Boy' and Blu Cantrell's 'Breathe' come to mind) but I find him to be generally awful. The stars aligned, however, for a brief moment in 2003 with this explosive, unrelenting dancehall track.

94. Michelle Williams 'We Break the Dawn'
2008. From Unexpected
Beyoncé may have hogged all the attention after the break-up of Destiny's Child, but eternal third-wheel Michelle Williams had at least one stunner of a track buried up her sleeve on her first non-Christian solo album. It's a shame (and somewhat surprising) that this song never caught on with American audiences. T-Pain can have five #1's yet 'We Break the Dawn' can't even get a little love?

93. Martina McBride 'Where Would You Be'
2002. From Greatest Hits
One of the most underrated belters in all of music really belts it out in this ode to love gone awry. Martina may be country, but her pure vocals and the raw emotion of this song quickly make you forget those negative connotations.

92. Brandy 'Full Moon'
2002. From Full Moon
Right before Brandy became almost irrelevant on the pop music scene (she has apparently made some great albums afterwards but I haven't bothered listening to them), she left us with this smooth and sexy R&B track, proving that sometimes the most rewarding songs are the ones that make it seem effortless.

91. Sophie Ellis-Bextor 'Murder on the Dancefloor'
2001. From Read My Lips
My first exposure to SEB before I really knew who she was. She may have produced technically superior work afterwards, but there's something about the relative simplicity and repetitiveness of 'Murder on the Dancefloor' that sticks with me above anything else.

90. Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse 'Valerie'
2007. From Version
As if all of their epic collaborations on Back to Black weren't enough, Ronson and Winehouse teamed up one more time for Ronson's Version in 2007 and produced this soulful cover of The Zutons' original. The end result is further proof that Winehouse's two year long drug-induced haze is one of the decade's biggest tragedies.

89. Jennifer Lopez featuring Styles P and Jadakiss 'Jenny From the Block'
2002. From This Is Me...Then
To prove how real and humble she is, J. Lo wrote a song about how she's real "even on Oprah." I think it goes without saying that 'Jenny From the Block' only proves how high in the clouds she is. But that's okay- I wouldn't have my divas any other way.

88. Fergie 'London Bridge'
2006. From The Dutchess
So out there lyrically and stylistically I pretty much did a double take the first time I heard it; did she really just say that. Hell yes she did and it soon became apparent who the real driving force behind the Black Eyed Peas' recent success was. Oh shit indeed.

87. Madonna 'Hung Up'
2005. From Confessions on a Dancefloor
Only Madonna could turn an untouchable ABBA hook into one of the decade's greatest Europop numbers. The fact that this song was a monster hit in every country in the world except the USA is still a major embarrassment.

86. Girls Aloud 'Something Kinda Ooooh'
2006. From The Sound of Girls Aloud
Most artists couldn't have made this song's wacky, onomatopoeia-filled chorus sound like anything other than complete and utter gibberish. Girls Aloud, however, aren't most artists and turn 'Something Kinda Ooooh' into a ridiculously addictive ridiculous pop gem.

85. Mary J. Blige 'Family Affair'
2001. From No More Drama
Now this is my jam! MJB was a success on the urban charts for close to a decade before this massive crossover hit, but 'Family Affair' proved that she could hang with both sides and still be true to herself. The song may not be as deep and emotionally resonant as some of her other great songs ('I'm Goin' Down,' 'No More Drama') but this one is simply damn fun.

84. M.I.A. 'Paper Planes'
2008. From Kala
If I could say one thing nice about Slumdog Millionaire, it's that it finally made me understand the genius of this M.I.A. track. I really have no idea what's it about but the combination of cash register sound effects and the line "Third world democracy/I've got more records than the KGB" make this song truly epic.

83. Christian Falk featuring Robyn 'Dream On'
2006. From People Say
Right before Robyn returned to the top of the charts around the world (except for the US, natch), she was featured on this slick, beat heavy, ultimately weird song about personal safety and security in the modern world (Yeah, I know. Who knew such an odd topic would make such a fascinating song?).

82. Jesse McCartney 'How Do You Sleep'
2009. From Departure
One of the best pure pop songs on this lists. With its chill, laid back groove, 'How Do You Sleep' is the perfect summer song to jam along to in the car with the windows rolled down.

81. Alesha Dixon 'The Boy Does Nothing'
2008. From The Alesha Show
Everytime I hear the opening outburst of "I've got a man with two left feet," I have to immediately stop whatever I'm doing and sing this song at the top of my lungs. Alesha's vibrant energy shines through impeccably on this single, proving that she could be a pop powerhouse in the coming years.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fuck Jacob and Edward

I'm on Team Bella and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

P.S. Will anyone ever love Kristen Stewart as much as I do?

P.P.S. Only 6.5 hours until I get to see the fierce trio of Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick and Taylor Lautner's abs!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Golden Globe FYC's: Television

In just under a month, the Golden Globe nominations are going to be announced. Say what you want about them, but I love the way they cater to mega stars and nominate some out-there movies and TV shows the more serious Oscars and Emmys wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. And in that spirit, I wanted to point any members of the Hollywood Foreign Press who may have wandered onto my site to some underappreciated and unknown TV shows and performances from the past year. So, without further ado,


Best TV Show (Musical/Comedy)
Best Actor (Musical/Comedy): Joel McHale
Best Supporting Actress: Yvette Nicole Brown

Not everyone is in love with this show and I can accept that. The show's scattershot, smartass humor is a bit hit or miss, but when it hits, damn it is funny. Joel McHale, host of The Soup, is my boo so it should come as no surprise I love him on this show. The show's other highlight is Shirley, played by Yvette Nicole Brown. She's warm, generous and often hilarious with admittedly little to do sometimes. Hell, she can make silence funny.

Best Supporting Actress: Jane Lynch

The show is wildly inconsistent for me. Jane Lynch, however, is always spot on and often has me howling in laughter with her non-sensical metaphors and "Sue Says" TV spot. It's no wonder that Sue Sylvester is quickly replacing Chuck Norris as the ultimate tough guy.

Best Actress (Drama): Leighton Meester

This season so far has been a bit of a wash for Ms. Meester although things seem to be looking up for her (I loved the way she stood back and simply observed the aftermath of the "OM3"; she was far more interesting than any of the participants). My FYC is for, of course, her stellar work from the second half of last season. Do I really have to try and convince you again of her amazingness?

Best Supporting Actress: Chelsea Staub
Best Supporting Actress: Nicole Anderson

The Jonas Brothers may be the "stars" of JONAS, but the true discoveries are the main females of the show. Staub plays the band's stylist and shoulder to cry on about their various problems with an unusual combination of warmness and ferocious comedic timing unseen on any Disney show I've ever seen. Anderson is the band's obsessive fan who has slowly become my favorite reason to watch the show.

Best TV Show (Drama)
Best Supporting Actor: Sebastian Stan

This show never really had a chance on network TV, did it? Ambitious, layered and epic in scope, Kings was doomed from the start. But in its short 13 episode run, Kings had more impressive moments than some shows have had in three seasons. Ian McShane, with his booming voice and larger than life bravura, was great as the king, but I often found Sebastian Stan as doomed Prince Jack to be even more compelling throughout the show. In just a few episodes, the one-time Ed Westwick imitator became an actor to watch for in the future.

Best TV Show (Musical/Comedy)
Best Actress (Musical/Comedy): Demi Lovato
Best Supporting Actor: Sterling Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Tiffany Thornton

Who said that Disney was only for kids? One of the best shows on TV right now is on the Disney Channel and I'm not ashamed to admit that I watch it religiously. Sonny With a Chance is 30 Rock for the tweens and it's often just as groundbreaking and can't-catch-your-breath funny (when compared to its contemporaries, at least). Leading the cast is Demi Lovato as Sonny, the Liz Lemon of the show, and what's exciting about her performance is that over the course of the season, you can see her letting loose more and more, finally getting the hang of this comedy thing and truly becoming a star with each passing episode. Tiffany Thornton, plays self-obsessed diva Tawni Hart, the Jenna to Demi's Liz, and is a hoot everytime she appears on screen. Do you know anyone else who can elicit so many laughs just by repeating "Cocoa Mocho Cocoa" over and over again? And then there is trusty old Sterling Knight as tween heartthrob Chad Dylan Cooper (swoon!). His role as the romantic foil to Demi's Sonny is not particularly groundbreaking but the way he remains a complete douche even during the moments when he's supposed to be "wooing" Sonny is impressive. Less talented, "pretty boy" actors would have completely pussified CDC by episode four, but Knight is just as mean and darkly funny as he was on day one. Kudos to you!

Best TV Show (Musical/Comedy)
Best Supporting Actor: Keir Gilchrist
Best Supporting Actress: Brie Larson

Toni Collette is likely to get a nom, so it seems unnecessary to FYC her right now. Instead, I'll focus on the underappreciated children of Tara. Like I've talked about before, Gilchrist brings a clever twist to a stereotypical gay teen role. Larson is a complete bitch on the show, but she somehow brings enough humanity to her performance that I kinda wish she was my older sister.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Here Come the Girls

In the past couple weeks, not 1, not 2, but six music videos were released from four of this decade's most fascinating female pop icons and two from exciting up-and-coming popstars. As I'm sure you've heard me bemoan before, the music video is a dying art. It's very rare nowadays for any music video to become a sort of national experience as it once was during the art form's heyday. Stemming from this, it feels like most artists and record labels have practically given up, releasing cheap club videos with no creativity whatsoever. It almost makes you wonder why they bother at all. With all this in mind, I still think it's important to watch and discuss music videos because every once in awhile we get a couple that stand out above the rest and give you renewed hope in the art form. I'm not sure how many of these six will go on to become future classics, but let's talk about them anyways.

Britney Spears '3' # # # # #

For a tawdry, explicit song about the joy of threesomes and coming from the decade's Princess of Controversy, Brit's video for '3' is surprisingly tame. Lame, actually, is a more appropriate word. I find it especially disappointing coming after both 'Womanizer' and 'Circus,' two videos which proved in very different ways that Britney hadn't lost her star power and still knew how to attract an audience after the Blackout disasters. With Britney standing around and doing nothing for 3/4 of the video, '3' almost seems like a step backwards to the madness of 'Gimme More.' Then you have to consider the fact that there isn't even a hint of a threesome until nearly the two minute mark and then it's only brief and less sexier than the much ballyhooed "OM3" on Gossip Girl. The very end of the video, with its mad, frantic rush of cuts, seems to get into the feeling of the song, but by then, it doesn't even matter.

Demi Lovato 'Remember December' # # # # #

Let's start with the bad, shall we? Unfortunately, there's quite a bit of it in the should-be Queen of Disney's latest video. How about the fact that absolutely nothing happens in this video. I can live with the performance section of the video, which is actually quite stunning in certain regards, but not that horrible, tacked on bit where the obviously superior Demi is supposed to be hanging out with her peers (her Camp Rock co-stars, which includes my mortal enemy Meghan Jette Martin). What does their hanging out consist of? Sitting in a car, "jamming" out to the music and then, arms linked, walking along the street. Seriously, that's it. There's not even a big party scene! If it leads to nothing, why bother including it in the first place? It seems like someone just thought, "Well all of Demi's co-stars are right here, we might as well lump them in there just for the hell of it" and there you have the 'Remember December' video. The highlight of the video, however, is witnessing Demi become the diva glam goddess we all knew she could become. Like I stated in my tweet after seeing it for the first time, "I want to kiss whoever styled this video." The outfits--most of which include 80's Power Bitch Shoulder Pads (!!!)--are simply stunning to look at and Demi totally owns them, proving once and for all she is ready to stop being lumped in with the Disney Kids and ascend to Top 40 stardom. And all I can say is it's about damn time

Leighton Meester featuring Robin Thicke 'Somebody to Love' # # # # #

The video may not be especially groundbreaking, but I'm just grateful that after the awkwardness that was her "having fun" in the 'Good Girls Gone Bad' video, Leighton Meester pulled it together and worked her star magnetism in her debut solo video. I love that this video looks and feels sexy, but never at any point really crosses that trashy line that so many artists would have pushed through. My only major gripe with the video is that atrocious cut-out outfit in the limo portions of the video. Maybe it's just a personal preference, but I don't find tube top-esque styles flattering on small chested women.

Shakira 'Did It Again' # # # # #

I'm an enormous fan of Shakira's 'She Wolf' video for it's inherent campiness, ridiculous dance moves (I can't be the only one who has tried to replicate the butt move towards the beginning, right?) and the fun she has with the whole ridiculous set-up, so her follow up video 'Did It Again' had a lot to live up to. While it's not as great as 'She Wolf,' 'Did It Again' has some great things going for it. The impressive set piece, a bedroom dance depicting the troubled relationship in the song, actually manages to make interpretive dancing cool again and not just something pretentious morons do to make us think they're insightful. My only major complaint with the video is the random excursion to the steamroom. First of all, Shakira looks much better with her teased out sex goddess hair than flattened and in a ponytail. Secondly, the scene adds nothing to the overall video; I would have found it much more interesting had they stayed in the room the whole time (and maybe do it all in one take à la 'Single Ladies').

Rihanna 'Russian Roulette' # # # # #

I'm no fan of the song--it's growing on me slightly, but it's still slightly tuneless and a very odd choice for a first single--but the video is a complete stunner. If you thought 'Disturbia' was dark and creepy, that video is a Same Difference routine in comparison to this one. My favorite thing about 'Russian Roulette' is that it's extremely visual but suggests rather than explicitly lays everything out for us. While I enjoy videos that have a plot or something else going on besides people standing around looking pretty, it's also a relief to see a video like 'Russian Roulette' that efficiently creates an atmosphere and builds on it with every shot.

Lady GaGa 'Bad Romance' # # # # #

If you, like me, thought nothing would ever top the richness of Lady GaGa's 'Paparazzi' video, then prepare yourself for the visual masterwork that is her follow-up: 'Bad Romance.' It's almost hard to put into words what makes this video so stunning, so awe-worthy, so laudatory since everytime I watch it I'm left completely speechless by the time the last frame rolls around, but I'll try my damnedest. Since the video's premiere a few days ago, I've heard people complain that it is indeed beautiful, but much of what makes it unique (the polar bear rug outfit, for example) is totally unnecessary. I can see that viewpoint, but I'm afraid I have to completely disagree. Lady GaGa is an artist who, over the past months, has come to represent everything great about how excess can be an asset to a pop artist. She works primarily in this excess and the 'Bad Romance' video is a visual celebration of all that. The lushness of the sets and costumes can become over the top, but I think they serve a greater purpose than just for people to remark, "Oh that Lady GaGa and her weird costumes!" The scene where the dancers are crawling out of those laboratory pods wearing white spandex outfits with white masks almost covering their entire face is supposed to visually reinforce their emergence out from this cocoon-like existence, blind to everything in this strange new world; they're in their caterpillar stage ready to morph into a butterfly. Even the polar bear rug could be thought of as representing GaGa's killer instinct and a way of foreshadowing the eventual fate for the man who purchases her. Then there are the tiny moments where GaGa stares into the camera that punctuate this harsh clip with a certain deranged beauty. All of these shots--GaGa with the big round eyes, GaGa with the one tear sliding down her cheek, GaGa looking exactly like Amy Winehouse, GaGa wearing dark sunglasses and looking directly into the mirror--could have been complete throwaways but actually add to the intensity of the overall video. After the cred she got from 'Paparazzi,' this video didn't have to be good and could have just been another disappointing 'Poker Face.' I'm glad, however, that at least one artist is still challenging themselves creatively outside of the studio.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Actor Devotionals: Jean-Pierre Léaud

A new series devoted to the actors and actresses who inspire me to continue watching and writing about the movies. Without these stars, cinema would be a little less bearable.

If you asked a group of cinephiles who their favorite French New Wave icon is, the amount of answers, unsurprisingly, would be wide and varied. Some of the “out there” members of this voting bloc might go with a quirky choice such as A Woman is a Woman star Jean-Claude Brialy. For the most part, however, a good majority of the votes would belong to Jean-Luc Godard’s muse (and wife for a brief period of time) Anna Karina and the sexy, rugged beacon of 60’s masculinity Jean-Paul Belmondo. As much as I love the above choices, for some time now, my heart has belonged to one New Wave icon alone: Jean-Pierre Léaud.

To the casual filmgoer, he may only be familiar as the troubled and misguided youth in Truffaut’s
The 400 Blows, easily the greatest film about childhood ever made, but he actually had, and continues to have, a long and successful career after that film. I would argue, in fact, that Léaud, not Belmondo or Karina, was the ultimate New Wave actor. Although not theatrically trained, he possessed a certain type of naturalism that worked magically with the sort of world the French New Wave (and other highly respected European auteurs) sought to create. And was he ever popular: between 1959 and 1973, he worked with cinematic giants such as François Truffaut, Godard, Jacques Rivette, Jean Eustache, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci. Who besides Nicole Kidman can boast that wide of a variety of auteurs in such a short period?

One of the reasons Léaud was so popular with all of these directors was the fact that he was basically a blank canvas to be used in any way the director wanted. That’s not necessarily a slight against him; actually, it’s one of the things I find most fascinating about him as an actor. Armed with an array of mannerisms, both vocal (a tendency to shout at the camera like an impassioned politician) and physical (you could really make a drinking game out of the number of times he runs his fingers through his hair in any given movie), that would limit most actors, Léaud was able to use them to his advantage. I still marvel at the way the same boy who appeared so down-trodden and hopeless in The 400 Blows grew up to become both the happy-go-lucky youth in Stolen Kisses and the radical, blindingly head-strong Communist in La Chinoise.

The dichotomy between the Truffuat Léaud and the Godard Léaud is perhaps one of the most speculated about portions of his filmography. I once read somewhere that Léaud saw Truffaut as his father and Godard as his uncle and, judging by his appearances in each of their films, that analogy makes sense in more ways than one. Truffaut often cast him as an extension of himself, a hopeless romantic searching for the perfect love in an imperfect world, and you can almost see his role for Léaud as a way of “teaching” him life lessons that a father should. In Antoine et Colette, it is all about the pain of unrequited love and, although this one may hurt, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Bed and Board, the fourth installment of the Antoine Doinel series, seems to be showing him that relationships are never easy and comfortable grooves are never permanent. Godard, on the other hand, was the cool uncle showing Léaud things that his father wouldn’t find appropriate. Masculin féminin seems to be a fun, almost light springboard to the radical politics that invaded both their later collaborations and personal lives. Week End finds Léaud dressed up in Napoleonic garb reciting endless political nonsense in a field where no one can hear him, something Truffaut, no doubt, would have found too preposterous for him to do in one of his films.

What is remarkable about Léaud and his career is that even after fifty years in the business, we know relatively nothing about his personal life. There are no major biographies on him and even minor glimpses into his life have been prevented from going public (all of his correspondence with Truffaut was noticeably absent in a publication from a few years ago). This makes him all the more fascinating because the only way we can glean anything from him is through his performances. As a director’s lump of clay, however, to mold into whatever he needs for the film, we do not really get a sense of who Léaud is on screen either. Therefore, Jean-Pierre Léaud is one of the few movie stars who is completely impenetrable. Some may find this lack of connection off-putting, but I find this rarity to be something that deserves praise and contemplation. And in the age of digital media, will we ever find a star as completely guarded as Jean-Pierre Léaud again?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bette, Sir Larry & Albert Tear Up the Stage, Valentino Lights the Screen and MGM Goes to Africa

Gypsy (Emile Ardolino, 1993): If I could wish for one Broadway show to receive the proper cinematic treatment, Gypsy would, without a doubt, be it. The show has been adapted twice--the 1962 version with Rosalind Russell and this one starring the one and only Bette Midler as Mama Rose--but neither have tapped into the epicness a really well-done film version could have. The 1962 adaptation was a generally pleasant experience thanks to director Mervyn LeRoy's invisible guiding hand, only slightly hindered by Russell's lack of vocal ability. With just a couple of changes, I thought for sure this 1993 version could vastly improve on it. That was my first mistake. Director Emile Ardolino is a complete slave to the stage version, barely attempting to even try and make this version of Gypsy film-appropriate; this could have been a filmed stage play and I wouldn't have noticed. The haphazard sets look like something straight out of a cheap high school production and could fall over and kill the actors on stage set with one good kick. The biggest disappointment, however, is Bette Midler's performance. True to form, she rips into the legendary score, belting out 'Rose's Turn' and 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' like the diva she is while adding an emotional depth that was lacking in Russell's performance. The real problem with Midler here is that she is outrageously over the top and stagy, almost to the point that I was afraid my TV wouldn't be able to contain her anymore. Bette is a naturally overbearing actress and has the tendency to over do her vocals and facial expressions, so she needs a director, even ones as middling as Garry Marshall or Kenny Ortega, to help her reign it in to fit within the film. Ardolino must have been in awe just to be directing a big star like Midler and too afraid of her to actually direct her. He ends up letting her run amok all over the film and she demolishes everything around her. Oh how I wish I was a studio executive right now and had the rights to this show. Just think the wonders that could be done to this show with a musical director who understands what makes a film musical different from the stage (think: Luhrmann, Rob Marshall, Adam Shankman, Kenny Ortega) and a film actress who can be both grandiose and larger than life without playing to the balcony like a stage ham (And, no, in my ideal version I would not cast a Broadway actress as Mama Rose. There are plenty of film actresses who can sing and act, thank you very much). Unfortunately, I don't know if I can trust Hollywood to correctly adapt such a tricky show; look how they fucked it up here. C

Henry V (Laurence Olivier, 1946): Look, I've already admitted that I'm not a fan of Shakespeare and think he's highly overrated (Boo hiss, yeah, I know I'm a neanderthal. Whatever) so I'm not exactly a fair judge when it comes to adaptations of his work. Usually, however, I can get the gist of what the play is about when I see it actually performed instead of simply reading the damn thing (people who enjoy reading his plays seriously deserve some kind of medal for their bravery and intelligence). Olivier's version of the play, with its static camerawork and long, drawn out takes, made it even more indecipherable--if that's even possible. Half the time, it felt like I was watching a foreign language film without the subtitles; people would just talk and talk gibberish for five, six minutes and I would have no clue what happened. The opening scenes on the stage were much better than anything that followed. The actors may have been playing to the audience too much for my taste (and I get that they were supposed to) but there was a surprising playfulness and sense of humor that was sorely missing from the rest of the film. There's a moment when some advisor and his assistant are reading from some documents, advising the King about something (I really have no idea what about) and the assistant keeps mixing up the papers and getting them out of order, causing the advisor to fumble and stumble trying to get the facts straight. I'm not sure if this moment is in the text (I seem to remember very few stage directions in his stuff), but I loved Olivier's take on it. He's seems to be entertaining a very liberal notion that you can play around with Shakespeare's work and even make a stuffy history lesson more enjoyable. I just wish the rest of this film was that inspired. C-

Valentino (Ken Russell, 1977): Robert Osbourne, resident TCM host and purveyor of vast amounts of useless movie knowledge, introduced Ken Russell's grandiose biopic of the silent screen's tragic icon Rudolph Valentino as wildly inaccurate historically but reassured us that it was all for a larger, artistic purpose. I wasn't too fazed by this because earlier this year I had suffered through the clumsily inept and completely fictitious 1951 version of Valentino's life and nothing Russell could have concocted would be worse than that piece of dreck. True to Osbourne's word, Russell's Valentino isn't necessarily concerned with following Valentino's life from point A to point B. Rather, he seems more interested in discussing the intense fandom and celebrity mania surrounding movie stars. I find it fascinating that Russell decided to tackle this subject with a film set in 1920's Hollywood since it really could be considered the birth of our celebrity-obsessed media. There had been celebrities before, but never before had they been as readily available for public consumption as they had with the advent of the movies. Millions of people could see and fall in love with the same star at the same time and the hysteria surrounding these stars reached unheard of levels. Valentino depicts these stars responding to this madness in different ways, whether it's Nazimova living it up in diva fashion (Leslie Caron, of all actresses, absolutely nails this performance), playing to what her fans expect of her or Valentino himself, unsure of how to react to his sudden God-like status. Russell's film is absolutely beautiful to look at, preferring high art to realism in both sets and costumes. And, unlike with Tommy, the high class look fits much better in Valentino. Dancer Rudolph Nureyev stars as Valentino and although he's not a very good actor and adopts an accent reminiscent of Bellini ("Bellini, Bellini, you're not too skinny!") from Top Hat, he has the same kind of charisma that Valentino radiated from the screen (and it's not like Rudy himself was ever that great of an "actor" anyways). Russell's biopic may not be factual, but it's never dull and makes a greater point about celebrity and Valentino than any paint by numbers version of his life would have done. A-

Trader Horn (W.S. Van Dyke, 1931): For a film almost completely devoid of plot (a good chunk of the film is spent with the main characters pointing out animals along the savanna) and inherently racist (at one point, one of the white characters says to a white woman captured by the "savage" Africans: "Don't you understand? White people need to help each other!"), Trader Horn wasn't half bad. For the time period, the sound design was impressive, mixing animal sounds into the soundtrack to heighten the realism. I loved MGM's decision to shoot the film in Africa, lending the cinematography a naturalistic quality lacking from many of the films of the era (Hallelujah! aside). I find the most interesting thing about the movie is the way the characters are presented. Harry Carey's worldly, experienced explorer is really more of an antihero than the full-fledged action star you would expect. Duncan Renaldo (a dead ringer for James Marsden) plays the romantic juvenile lead and is not as shallow or insipid as you would expect from a 1930's studio film. There are some great shots of him simply looking around his environment, taking it all in and possibly wondering how in the hell he got there. Nothing in Trader Horn completely works as well as it should, but it's such a fascinating mess I couldn't help but be absorbed. B-

The Dresser (Peter Yates, 1983): What in the hell was this movie? A comedy without any laughs? A drama that doesn't make you feel anything? A head-to-head battle of veteran English actors that is more ham-handed and insipid than revelatory or exciting? It sure as hell beats me. I sat for two hours trying to dissect what was going on and nothing came to me. Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay star as Shakespearian actor and valet, respectively, preparing for a performance of King Lear after Finney has a mental breakdown and the aftermath of said performance. There is A LOT of talking going on in this movie but nothing ever seems to be said. Courtenay runs on and on about something and all I hear is "Blah blah blah I'm kinda gay" while Finney's lines all sound like "Blah blah blah I"m a self-important actor." The fact that this film earned Academy Award nominations by the score in 1983 is stunning while not so surprising all at the same time; I'm stunned that something so completely awful could be recognized for anything but not surprised since everything about the film (two respected British stars, World War II, Shakespeare, alcoholism, play-like structure) screams Oscar and their perspective on what qualifies as good filmmaking. D-

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Death of Television

For years, TV watchers and critics alike have been complaining that the success of reality shows like Survivor, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars and The Bachelor[ette] are ruining network television as we know it. We can blame these shows all we want, but, judging by the television season thus far, it is looking more and more like the networks and creative forces behind the shows are killing them faster than any reality show. I know I'm hardly television's most qualified critic because I don't watch an extraordinary amount of shows and some of the ones I continue to watch are dubious at best. However, I feel like I need to say something for the sake of these sinking shows I love so dearly.

Let's start with Desperate Housewives, a show I used to be so obsessive about I would tell people not to call my cell phone during the show unless there was some kind of medical emergency that couldn't wait until 10:01; now I'm so meh on it I can do homework, IM someone and eat all while watching it. For a show that started off so brilliantly with it's parody on suburban values and mores ingeniously mixed with a compelling, season-long mystery, it's a shame that the show quickly descended into a shadow of its former self. Don't get me wrong, I was still hooked on the show and loved some of the major arcs (Dixie Carter as Orson's mother, the season where Dana Delaney's Katharine was introduced) over the past few seasons, but the magic of that glorious first season has always been missing. This season, however, has been the absolute breaking point for me. The season premiere was hilarious and hinted at better things to come this season, but honestly, looking back, I'm guessing this reaction was due more to the fact that I missed the characters over the summer rather than the show was actually doing anything interesting. Needless to say, the show has progressed to shit. My main problem with Desperate Housewives is that the show doesn't have any balls anymore. I'm not suggesting that the show was incredibly ballsy before, but it at least talked about interesting subjects that few other network shows would touch (the child molester who Lynette inadvertently unleashes on the world, the dynamic between Bree and Andrew during season one and two, etc.). Now, Desperate Housewives has become passive in its refusal to even mention other darker alternatives to the character's problems. Take Lynette's unwanted pregnancy this season for instance. In the old days, she would have considered getting an abortion and, if the show was feeling particularly risky, she would have went ahead and gotten it. Instead, the word is never even mentioned and Lynette is forced to grin and bear it like a good woman and accept the pregnancy like she's a 50's housewife. It's gotten so bad that I hardly recognize these women anymore. The only one who has gotten better with time is Gabrielle and that's mainly because Eva Longoria Parker continually improves her comedic timing each season. The entire show has been sanitized of anything fun or groundbreaking every year to the point where it has become the type of show that it set out to parody originally. For years, creator Marc Cherry has promised a revamped Desperate Housewives that will return to the glory of the first season and for years the audience has been waiting for this to happen.

Gossip Girl is another show that has failed to live up to its high standards this season. I realize the show has had some tough shoes to fill after some incomparably golden episodes last season (the gorgeously shot The Dark Night, the one where Blair totally owns Serena in front of Yale's dean of admissions, the hilarious and spirited take on The Age of Innocence which managed the impossible task of momentarily making it look like Chace Crawford is a good actor) but it's like they're not even trying anymore. Like Desperate Housewives, the show has been heavily sanitized and interesting subplots either lead nowhere or to absolutely clichéd, One Tree Hill-esque endings. When Leighton fucking Meester (my #1 performance of last season) can't even manage to engage me except for the occasional bitchy one-liner, you know you're in trouble. Hopefully this week's highly publicized threesome will get thing back on track for my favorite guilty pleasure on TV (considering, of course, they pick the right people to be in this threesome).

Can you think of a show like Ugly Betty that has wavered in quality so many times during it's three season run its nearly impossible to keep up half the time? Last season ended so promisingly but right from the start, this season has been a big pile of shit. For a show that has depended for the most part on its main character being hated by every other character on the show, this season has really piled on the hatred to an almost unbearable level. If Marc makes one more snide comment about how he deserved the editors position over Betty, I swear to God I'm going to beat his face in. Shut the fuck up and get over it, you whiny bitch. The show has gotten so bad so fast I am actually dreading this week's episode in fear that it's going to be nearly as stifling and uninspiring as last week's.

I could try watching some of the new shows this season in hopes that something will fill the void left by these bland ones and that would be great if there was actually anything interesting to pick from. I'll admit that I haven't watched the supposedly great Modern Family yet, but if Glee (a fantastic debut, hit and miss ever since) and Community (I love the show but there are plenty of player haters out there) are the best new shows this season, TV is in serious trouble. It doesn't help that most of the new shows sounded either like clones of stuff that was already around (seriously, how many ER clones do we need on every channel?) or completely stupid from its description (Bitch please, The Good Wife. Like I'm supposed to feel sorry for a woman who was married to a politician and has to start life a high powered attorney! Get a real problem, twat). I suppose I could quit bitching and just stop watching these shows but (a) do I ever just stop bitching about something? and (b) I have a hard time giving up on shows--it takes something catastrophically bad for me to stop watching a show I've loved for so long. None of these shows have hit that level yet, but desperately need something to shake things up again. If they don't, network TV will fall one step closer to its demise.

P.S. I know what you're thinking, "Well, what about last year's Emmy winners: 30 Rock and Mad Men? Those are surely still great." 30 Rock has been good this season so far, but there hasn't been an outstanding moment yet to compare with last year's mad season. As for Mad Men, well I kinda haven't been keeping up with that show. I started watching it every week but soon I grew tired of the way the episodes weren't really connecting with each other (they truly felt like distinct 40 minute shorts with the same characters each week). I missed one week, then another and finally I got so far behind I didn't even care anymore. Perhaps I'll catch up with a marathon one day, but at this moment I couldn't be bothered.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mr. Schu, Can It Really Be True?

Good God, I hope so.

I've long contested that Matthew Morrison was the hottest guy on the Glee set, so when these pictures appeared before me this morning it was like a hug from Oprah. You see, I have the world's worst gaydar and never in a million years would I have guessed he batted for my team. Sure, he's a Broadway star, but isn't it usually the straight (or at least butch) male performers that make it big in other mediums? But I digress. My main point is that finally NPH can stop carrying the burden of being the only hot out male celebrity (that I've actually heard of).

P.S. No, I'm not self-loathing, I just don't think that I'm supposed to find T.R. Knight hotter than Zac Efron just because he's out. Gay or not, he still looks like a fucking troll.

(Source ONTD)