Friday, December 19, 2008

Making Spirits Bright

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d tally my favorite Christmas movies and television of all time. For me, specials are an integral part of the holidays, particularly Halloween and Christmas. (Though I’m grooving on A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving more and more these days.) Memories of watching these in years past make me feel like a kid again, and help recapture the magic that’s so easily lost in adult life. (Trust me, after the week I’ve had, I know what I’m talking about!) Here, then, are my most indispensable Christmas treasures…
A Charlie Brown Christmas: Once someone made the mistake of disparaging this special in my presence. I immediately counted off all the reasons that it rocks: it uses real children’s voices; it has a classy jazz score; and it dares to talk about the *religious* aspects of the season. I could also add that it’s unbelievably funny (Snoopy’s animal impressions kill me every time) and heart-warmingly sweet. “It’s not such a bad little tree. All it needs is a little love.” Thanks, Linus.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas: For a beloved children’s book author, Dr. Seuss sure has been crapped on a lot. Don’t even get me started on the garish, irritating big screen version of this story (not to mention the Mike Myers desecration of The Cat & the Hat). But this half hour animated special is pure perfection. Chuck Jones’ legendary visuals and Boris Karloff’s signature voice combine to create an indelible character who’s as believably nasty (“the noise, noise, noise!”) as he is affecting once he makes the decision to save Christmas rather than massacre it. Like Charlie Brown, Grinch is bold enough to attack the rampant consumerism that turns Christmas into little more than a greed fest. Plus, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is one of the best (unconventional) Christmas songs ever written.
Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer: Call this special corny if you will (and you’re pretty much right), but it still works on many levels. The crude but delightful stop motion animation, inspired songs, and vivid characters add up to a classic of children’s entertainment. Rudolph is an endearingly dorky hero, a “Misfit” who finds a way to put his would-be handicap (i.e. the glowing schnoz) to good use. Really, everything that’s bizarre, cheesy, or flawed about this special is part of what makes it so memorable. For example: what the heck is wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys? (Nothing as far as I can tell.) How gay is Hermie the elf? (Gotta love the swoop of blond hair.) And, for lack of a better word, why does Santa act like such a… dick in the beginning? Besides being riotously entertaining, Rudolph also boasts as many if not more quotable lines than A Charlie Brown Christmas. “She thinks I’m cuuuuute!” “Herbie doesn’t like to make toys!” And perhaps the most poignant line in the history of anything ever made: “I haven’t any dreams left to dream!” But don’t worry, Dolly: as Clarice the cute doe says, there’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol: I can still remember the first time I saw this. I was at daycare, and I dug it so much that as soon as my dad picked me up, I asked if we could go to the video store so I could rent it and see it again! I’ve never been a big fan of Mickey and the gang per se, but they’re all put to good use here, with a story that works as both kids’ entertainment and a surprisingly thoughtful rendering of the novel. Plus, Goofy as the ghost of Marley is pretty flippin’ funny.
The OC: Josh Schwartz’s much loved soap contributed to the cultural zeitgeist when it popularized Chrismukkah, the interfaith celebration Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) used to bridge his parents’ backgrounds. (It’s the reason this Jewish Christian has held a Chrismukkah party for the past six years.) One of the best annual episodes is “The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn’t,” which uses the celebration as a backdrop for some earth-shattering Cohen family revelations… but more importantly introduces the “yarmalclaus.” (How much do I love this Santa cap/yarmalca hybrid? I bought one online.) But my all time favorite Chrismukkah episode is the last season’s “The Chrismukk-huh?,” which takes its cue from It’s a Wonderful Life. Ryan (Ben McKenzie) and girlfriend Taylor (Autumn Reeser) fall off a ladder and get knocked out… then imagine themselves in a Ryan-less Orange County. (Unsurprisingly, everything’s different… and bad.) Ryan not only learns how much better he’s made everyone’s lives, but not to blame himself for Marissa’s death and move on—while also reaffirming his newfound affection for Taylor. It’s as fun and fanciful as it is heartwarming.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: Though I enjoy watching all of the entries on this list year after year, there are two I can’t let a Christmas pass without: this 1993 movie and the next film. I’ve always loved the story of A Christmas Carol (naturally—a spooky kid like me prefers *ghosts* in his Christmas fare), and for my money, this is the best and most sumptuous adaptation ever made. Michael Caine makes a terrific Scrooge, with a performance that is fully realized and adult—never mind that his costars happen to be puppets. The songs, by Paul Williams, are nothing short of exceptional (I spent considerable time and effort tracking down the soundtrack last Christmas). The production design and costumes bring Charles Dickens’ world to incredible life. (the Ghost of Christmas Future? Genuinely scary.) And of course the Muppets themselves bring their signature blend of wit and warmth to the proceedings; Gonzo as “Charles Dickens” is a particularly inspired touch.
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Also released in 1993, this Tim Burton classic (directed by animation vet Henry Selick) plays like it was designed with me in mind. After all, what would make a Christmas movie better, in my opinion? A healthy dose of Halloween. Nightmare tells the story of Jack Skellington, the “Pumpkin King” of Halloweentown, who decides to try his bony hand at Christmas… with disastrous results. This macabre musical pays homage to famous forebears like Grinch and Rudolph to render a fantastical world believable. It’s such a joyously weird movie, and yet it works—as cutting edge entertainment and as a very sweet Christmas tale.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Entertaining 'n Green

Last night I saw Shrek: The Musical, the latest in the seemingly endless stream of family-friendly movie adaptations to hit Broadway. While it wouldn't have been my first choice, my office offered us all free tickets, and I'm never one to turn down a trip to the theater. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Shrek is entertaining and smart, although the "music" part of this musical is ironically the weakest. (The show is directed by Jason Moore, with music direction by Tim Weil.) The production hews closely to the film-- and doesn't skimp on fantastical elements like rivers of lava or amorous dragons. It's to the director's credit that the production moves at a brisk pace, despite occasional slow spots, and feels focused and controlled rather than jumbled or chaotic (no easy feat when you're wrangling big costumes, elaborate special effects and sets, and a large cast). Brian D'arcy James stars as the titular ogre, whose solitary existence is disrupted by a sudden influx of fairy tale creatures banned from the Duloc kingdom by Lord Farquad (Christopher Sieber in an outstanding performance). Shrek heads to Duloc to demand he remove the fairy folk from his swamp, and winds up agreeing to rescue the Lord's would be queen, Fiona (stage veteran Sutton Foster) from a dragon guarded tower. Along for the ride is the sassy Donkey (Daniel Breaker), who is as amusingly obnoxious/ingratiating here as he was on screen. It's unfortunate that the music by Tony nominated composer Jeanine Tesori is so forgettable, but the show as a whole isn't lacking in wit or heart. David Lindsay-Abaire's book hits just the right notes of clever, adult-friendly satire and emotional depth, even if the lyrics he contributes are often as mediocre as the notes that accompany them. Still, any show that begins with a line like "This little Piggy needs some Paxil!" deserves our respect. Some may complain, as they did with the movie, that the over-kids'-heads jokes are on the wrong side of edgy, but the children I saw this with seemed totally enthralled. (And why wouldn't they be? Tots today are practically weaned on Shrek.) The show's grandeur and sense of spectacle are just excellent. From puppetry to shifting sets to fabulous costumes, the production provides a massive dose of eye candy without being gaudy. And the whole affair is bolstered by the uniformly good acting: James and the winningly quirky Foster are solid leads, though their supporters truly steal the show. Sieber delivers virtually his entire performance as the diminutive and pompous Farquad *on his knees* , with hilarious spindly legs attached to his costume. (The entertainment value of this transparent and yet effective "illusion" extends to many of the play's tricks; we may see the legs of the man steering the dragon, for instance, but we hardly care, and these behind-the-scenes peeks only add to the joy of the experience.) Even ignoring the physical exhaustion Sieber must go through, his portrayal is simply terrific. He's funny, filled with bluster and personality, and even vulnerable (the writers add a clever back-story that explains the villain's motivation). Meanwhile, Breaker accomplishes the not-easy feat of making Donkey (so memorably voiced by Eddie Murphy in the film) his own: amusing and energetic without seeming annoying. Avenue Q originator John Tartaglia is also in the cast, essaying Pinocchio, the Magic Mirror, and (as puppeteer) the Dragon, but his in-the-flesh-portrayal of the wooden boy is maybe too derivative of Mad TV's fey man-child Stuart. Still, the fairy folk are always a kick to watch, and deliver the closest thing to a gay pride anthem one could imagine in a children's musical, "Freak Flag." (The kiddies may have questions about what the Big Bad Wolf means by "cross-dressing.") By the end, we've been consistently amused and even touched by the story. I won't be running out to buy the cast recording, but I was impressed by the overall production. It's commercial, to be sure, but well produced enough to engage kids and avoid nauseating their parents.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best. Episode. Ever.

Okay, maybe that's a bit of a hyperbole, but this week's Gossip Girl was damned good. And not just because it was all about Chuck. And Chuck and Blair. But also because we finally learned-- oh wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. It's the aftermath of Bart's death, and Lily is understandably freaked. Not only is her bitchy mom Cici back in town for the funeral, but she's racked with guilt considering she was about to break up with her husband when he got killed. Rufus knows this, as the two share a brief interlude in Central Park. (I'm such a dork for thinking this, but I kept wondering if they were under the same arch from Cloverfield.) He tells her that he's there for her, and will wait "as long as it takes this time, be it six months or six years." Of course, knowing these two and their inescapable attraction, it's doubtful it'll be six episodes before they're all over each other. Cici spots the pair leaving together and smirks knowingly. (We later found out that she deliberately followed her daughter. Speaking from experience, when moms get nosy it just never ends well.) Lily tells Rufus she has yet to listen to a voice mail from Bart, but insists she'll do it on her own. She stops outside the park to do so, which in my opinion is ill advised. I mean, if my dead husband had left me a potentially bitter message, I sure as shit wouldn't listen to it in public. Then again, considering her kids know something's up with her, I guess she wants to avoid their prying eyes. Poor Lily. She hears Bart coldly declaring that he wants to talk to her "not about how my wife is making a fool of me with her old lover . . . I know why you were in that sanitarium." (Again with the "sanitarium." Seriously, was she a knife wielding killer in a Shatner mask, or what?) Meanwhile, Chuck's been AWOL-- all anyone knows is that he's been getting food delivered to his room at the hotel, so he's still alive-- and when we see him he's got tousled hair and an even more intense than usual expression. He's at a shady bar meeting dad's old PI, who claims he's going to sell the file on Lily to the highest bidder. Cut to the church for the funeral, where Dan and Rat Boy (aka Aaron) have an extraordinarily cunty exchange on the front steps. "Surrena's on her way," Dan announces. "I just got the same message," Aaron says. "I got it first," Dan shoots back. "I don't have good reception here," Aaron counters. (Comparing cell service instead of pistols, are we, boys? Seriously, they were this close to "my dad can beat up your dad." Although, frankly, Rufus could probably take Wallace Shawn's adorable but diminutive Cyrus. But I digress.) Eric asks Jenny if she's seen Jonathan, his ex boyfriend. "No, are you guys back together?" she asks. "No, but I thought he might want to be here," Eric says vaguely. Umm... okay. I'm cool with Eric's story lines not being front and center, but could they at least make sense? Sometimes I feel like he's on his own, separate show, and we're just catching glimpses and having to piece it together. Maybe he should get that rumored spin-off. Anyway, drama ensues when Chuck arrives, schnockered out of his mind, with Nate and Blair helping him out of the limo. It only gets worse when Chuck spots Dan and screams at him that he has no business at the funeral, because Rufus is responsible for Bart's death. Dan naturally has no clue what that's about, but he agrees to leave and keep the peace, even though Serena protests that she wants him there. "It's okay, let him go," Aaron says helpfully. (Sure it's okay with you, you little greaser. Blech. I fucking hate Aaron. Anyway.) Lily tries to reason with Chuck, but he calls her a "whore" and skulks off. (*Day-um!*) She protests that he should be "with his family" and he responds, "I have no family." Clearly the kid's hurting, and Lily, Serena, et al's feelings are not high on his list of priorities. Back at the apartment, Chuck's still storming around and avoiding offers of help, i.e. Blair suggesting he eat something. Nate tells Blair "You're really good with him," but she tries to downplay it. Meanwhile, Cici spots Chuck stomping up the stairs and decides there's more going on than meets the eye. She urges Lily to confront him about "what he knows"; Lily reluctantly agrees. She finds Chuck ransacking Bart's office and assures him that he's well provided for in the will. He declares that it's the file on Lily he's after, but of course it's long gone now. And his bitter declarations that Lily's to blame for Bart's demise lead her to slap him across the face. (Although, it was kind of a weak slap. Sort of a let-down, not gonna lie.) Meanwhile, Cyrus is so inspired by all the funereal sentiments on life's preciousness that he insists he and Eleanor marry the very next day. Blair is predictably aghast, but manages to go along with it in support of her mom. There's also an all-too-brief interlude in which Jonathan surfaces, much to Eric's delight. (Again, explanations, please. Why'd they break up in the first place? And didn't Bart imply the kid was screwing his coach or something? Give me some closure, Gossip Girl!) Chuck rushes out following his confrontation with Lily, and none of the kids can stop him. "I already lost my stepfather; I don't want to lose my brother, too," Eric says sweetly. "When are you going to figure out that we are *not* related?" Chuck asks coldly. The look on Eric's face is totally heartbreaking. (I loved the budding brotherly relationship between Chuck and Eric; I bet it will be patched up within a couple of episodes. If there's one thing Josh "The OC" Schwartz loves, it's surrogate brothers.) Out on the street, Blair insists that Chuck either stay or let her come along. "You're not my girlfriend," Chuck snaps, and Blair makes a heartfelt speech about how they're not a conventional couple but "We're Blair and Chuck, Chuck and Blair." And she finally utters the words, "I love you." Chuck simply says that that's too bad, hops in the limo, and leaves. BIG moment for those two, though! (Last week I complained that I wanted to see their storyline advance, and this week I got my wish.) At Eleanor and Cyrus' small and private wedding, held at their apartment, Blair arrives in a tizzy because of the encounter with Chuck. She tells Cyrus that she made a fool of herself and that "only a masochist could love such a narcissist." (Ah, Blair, always with the vocab words.) Cyrus hugs and comforts her, and also declares "I love you." (Seriously, this episode could be really sweet. I'm surprised I didn't cry.) The actual ceremony is very cute to watch, especially since it involves a Rabbi. (What? I'm Jewish. I love that stuff.) Rat Boy asks Serena if she'd like to go to Buenos Aires with him for the holidays. He alludes to her feelings for Dan, which she predictably attempts to downplay. But sure enough, she's soon telling Dan about the development, and he asks her, "Do you want me to ask you to stay?" (I thought of Dawson's Creek and Pacey painting the big "ASK ME TO STAY" wall for Joey. But Serena wouldn't do something like that; imagine what paint could do to her clothes!) Serena hints at their potential reunion, but Dan manages to bow out in the lamest way possible: by saying he got THE WRONG MUFFIN from the shop and has to go back. You read that right: the wrong muffin. WTF? Dan, are you trying to be a douche? I mean, really. At least lie convincingly, preferably in a way that doesn't involve muffins. Of course, a chat with Jenny-- who, btw, made the dress for Eleanor's wedding in a cute make-nice gesture-- convinces him he's being a moron and he rushes to Serena's to convince her not to go with Aaron. Unbeknowst to him, Serena's had a chat with Lily and, finding that her mom's still in love with Rufus, gives her blessing to proceed. (Having previously cock-blocked her over the whole "I don't want to date my stepbrother" thing.) So when Dan arrives, his overture is promptly rejected, and Serena insists she's going to "try and make it work" with Aaron. (Yeah, good luck with that, honey. I mean, the man uses more product than you do, and still looks gross. Ugh.) Meanwhile, Lily has told Rufus she "doesn't want to wait 6 years" and wants to finally take that trip they were about to go on last season, before Lily decided to put her daughter first. It inspires Rufus to play that one damn song from his old band Lincoln Hawk. (Did they even have any other songs? No wonder they were one of the Top 10 Forgotten Bands of the 90s. They only recorded a single track!) But Cici arrives and finally tells Rufus the Big Secret, insisting that he and Lily won't have a chance if this revelation isn't out in the open. Earlier we saw Chuck confront Lily with it, and she begged him not to tell anyone, and not to "turn your back on the people who care about you." Chuck seemed to take that advice to heart, both by burning the file (we still didn't see what it said) and showing up in Blair's room unannounced. "What are you doing here?" she demands, before hugging him on the bed as the music swells. Very touching moment, though of course Chuck still didn't utter the L word himself. Later we saw them sleeping side by side, fully dressed, which was really touching. Meanwhile, Rufus tells Dan that he and Lily will never be together, and Dan immediately calls Serena... but it's too late. She ignores the call and promises Aaron she'll give them a chance, as they ride off to the airport. Meanwhile, Lily is waiting happily for Rufus at Grand Central (with like four bags, of course, a girl like her doesn't travel light!) but her face falls when she sees his. "Just tell me," he says, "was it a boy or a girl?" Dum dum duuuuum! I was sort of thinking the secret involved a baby. But does anyone really believe this will keep them apart forever? Maybe just long enough for Serena and Dan to make a go of it, which should be shortly after her return plane hits the tarmac. Finally, Blair wakes up to find a note from Chuck: "You deserve so much better than me. Don't come looking for me." Awwww. Gossip Girl says something bitchy (like she always does), and the show ends. Plenty to keep us wondering until the show returns in January. I can't wait to see what happens with Chuck and Blair, especially: this episode set up new and emotionally rich potential for both characters, especially Mr. Bass (who is, as the PI put it, "about to become the richest kid in New York City"). Hurry back, Gossip Girl-- you know we love you!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How the Ball Bounces

This week's "unmissable" Gossip Girl turned out to be, if not missable, then slightly underwhelming. For one thing, I can't imagine there was a single viewer who hadn't figured out that Bart was going to die at the end, so no surprises there. Not that the hour wasn't entertaining. After all, any episode that features even one scene of Blair and Dorota bantering is worth its weight in gold these days. (The interplay between that duo is quickly becoming a show highlight; "Shouldn't you be polishing something?" was Blair's latest snappish remark.) First things first: Bart. In his final episode, he's trying to make amends for the whole "private investigator" fiasco, claiming that his snooping days are over. Lily isn't convinced, and when she finds out he is, in fact, still seeing his PI, she tells his assistant he's uninvited from the Snowflake Ball. Yes, that's right-- the Snowflake Ball. Now, Josh Schwartz's last show, The OC, had plenty of dumb party names-- "the SnowC," anyone?-- but "the Snowflake Ball"? Really? Gag me. Anyhoo, Bart's uninvited, which gives Lily the perfect chance to cozy up to Rufus (yet again). You just know these two are made for each other, but between the whole Serena/Dan thing (Serena didn't want them to become Greg and Marcia, and who could blame her?) and her marriage to Bart, there have been myriad obstacles in their way. Chuck spots them having an intimate chat, and immediately calls Papa Bass to tell him to get to the ball, pronto. He also confronts Lily and Rufus, and tells Lily to 'splain herself when Bart arrives. (Speaking of Chuck and Bart, I was bemused when Bart angrily told Chuck, "Don't think I don't know who opened that safe [with the dossiers inside]; I know you know the combination." For one thing, if he knew Chuck had the combination, why didn't he change the friggin' lock? And is it really Chuck's fault Lily's pissed at him? The issue is that he had the dossiers made in the first place.) Of course, before Bart can get there-- but not before we see him conversing with the PI in his limo, where it's announced that there's juicy new dirt on Lily-- he has a car accident and dies, as reported by Lily near episode's end. But enough about the grownups-- onto the craaaazy kids! First up: Serena and Dan, another clearly-meant-to-be pair. Aaron's ex Lexie shows up and promptly flummoxes Serena; Serena walks in on Lexie ranking on the photos of her and writing her off as a blond airhead. The three unite with Dan for an awkward walking tour of Brooklyn, where Dan and Lexie hit it off immediately (much to Serena's chagrin). It only gets worse when Aaron lets it slip that Lexie is, as they say, "fast." He couldn't incite Serena's jealousy more if he tried, although he seems utterly oblivious to the effect this casual revelation will have on her. Serena turns to Blair for advice, admitting that she and Aaron haven't done the deed yet; Blair encourages her to do so, while the rest of us scream "No! Who knows what diseases that skanky boy is carrying! You can do so much better, Serena! *SO MUCH BETTER!*" (Okay, maybe that was just me.) At the ball, Serena manages to tell Dan everything she shouldn't, i.e. "your date is gonna try and get into your pants tonight" and "I'm gonna have sex with Aaron myself." When Dan doesn't act horrified, Serena gets all self righteous and says, "I thought sex meant more to you than that." S, ppplease. Like Dan's gonna be horrified that his date puts out; besides, you told him you were doing the nasty yourself with Rat Boy-- er, Aaron! Luckily, Serena comes to her senses and apologizes, and the two agree that their first time was one of the best nights of their lives. Rumor has it they're getting back together this season; it's not hard to imagine based on this episode. Besides, as my roommate commented, they're the heart of the show's franchise-- "they're Tom Brady." Meanwhile, the Jenny/Nate/Vanessa triangle comes to a head. Vanessa admits she stole the letter from Nate and Jenny is understandably pissed. When Blair's trio of ex-Mean Girl BFFs approach Jenny about designing Penelope's dress for the ball, Jenny agrees in exchange for good pay-- and when she lets it slip that Nate and Vanessa are an item, the girls hatch a scheme for revenge. My first thought was pig's blood, but that's not what they have in mind; instead, Jenny presents Vanessa with a dress as a seeming peace offering, only it's undetectably sheer. At the crucial moment, the girls have a spotlight shine on Vanessa, embarrassing her in front of the whole school. Jenny immediately regrets it, having just witnessed Vanessa break things off with Nate in deference to their friendship. Unfortunately, she's too late to stop the stunt, and both Vanessa and Nate give her the cold shoulder. Nate says the feelings he expressed in the letter no longer apply; "You're not the person I thought you were." At least Jenny tells off the girls, whose attempts to intimidate her fall flat; she's no longer the scared little girl in need of approval. In Chuck and Blair land, their storyline was mildly amusing, but didn't really break any new ground. The two make a bet: they'll each select dates for each other. If Chuck likes his, Blair gets his limo for a week; if Blair likes hers, Chuck gets Dorota. (Poor Dorota. Bandied about like a piece of property!) But the two dates, "doppelgangers" for Chuck and Blair, fall for each other and exclude the twosome. Personally, I think they could have gone further with the resemblances; "Chuck 2" didn't even talk through his nose! But anyhow. Blair and Chuck have another one of their "we're made for each other but can't be together for some vague reason" talks and then decide they at least "have tonight" and dance. Yawn. I love them, but at some point they need to stop playing games and actually make another play at a relationship. In any case, nothing earth-shattering really happened besides the announcement of Bart's death. Next week's show, which promises to reveal more "secrets"-- and Lily slapping Chuck!-- should be more interesting.

"You gotta give 'em hope"

Last night I saw Milk, the fantastic new film from Gus Van Sant. Sean Penn stars-- in a buzzy, Oscar-worthy performance-- as Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay man to win public office. Penn shares the screen with a strong ensemble that includes James Franco as Milk's long-suffering lover/campaign manager Scott and Josh Brolin as conflicted politician Dan White (whose resentment of the flamboyant and successful Milk boils over into rage and murder). The standout-- besides Penn-- is Emile Hirsch as colorful, fiercely energetic Cleve Jones, who's brought out of his youthful aimlessness and inspired to become a powerful activist. (Jones went on to create the AIDS Quilt; I was lucky enough to meet the man at a recent New York Times Talk and was in awe of all the history he's lived through-- and influenced.) Hirsch expertly embodies this empowered, plucky queer, to such a degree that I really think he's a young actor to watch. (He already garnered strong notices for his starring role in Penn's film Into the Wild.) The movie starts like a Shakespearean tragedy, immediately establishing that its hero will eventually be assassinated, along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber). Penn is narrating his life story onto a tape labeled "just in case," well aware that his audacious activism has made him a target. We flash back to 1970, when Milk flirts with a cute young man (Franco) in the subway and the two spend the night together. They eventually move to San Francisco, where Milk opens up a camera shop on Castro Street that quickly becomes a community center. Galvanized by the city's homophobia (police, Milk notes, are none too pleased with the neighborhood's new found status as a gay mecca) and by successful efforts to mobilize gays to boycott hostile businesses, Milk decides to run for office. After a string of failed attempts, he finally wins when district rezoning lets the Castro elect him to the Board of Supervisors by a landslide. The campaigning takes its toll on Milk's relationship, however, and Scott leaves when he tires of playing second fiddle to politics. (He remains a friend and ally, however; the emotional chemistry between the actors is richly drawn, and their intimacy is palpable.) Milk soon finds new love with Jack (Diego Luna), a troubled Spaniard; but he has bigger concerns, like growing animosity with would-be ally, Supervisor White, and the need to defeat Proposition 6, which would block gays from teaching in public schools. (The parallel with this year's Proposition 8 is undeniable, especially when Milk declares anti-6 fliers that don't even mention gays as bloodless and ineffectual; the same criticism was lodged at anti-8 commercials.) Milk is up to these challenges, though, expertly using his charm and innate skill at playing the political game to achieve his ends. Van Sant portrays the events with clarity and real human drama, working from Dustin Lance Black's shrewd and insightful screenplay. At times, the movie can feel a little After-School-Special-ish in its gung-ho approach to activism, but that's a minor quibble for a film so rich and beautiful. Van Sant imbues the film with detail and compassion, and it's a gift to both film buffs and gay youth, who are sure to find inspiration and hope in this tale of a gay man who was determined to destroy the closet and win civil rights by any means necessary. I, for one, feel like getting involved again; Prop 8's passage proved that the battle is far from over. Harvey would be proud.

Monday, November 24, 2008

30 Years of Memories

I'm addicted to Halloween-- the holiday and the movie, a seminal horror classic that spawned seven sequels and a remake (and sparked my love affair with Jamie Lee Curtis). So it should come as no surprise that when I heard about a 30 Years of Terror convention marking the three decades since the original film's release, I was determined to go and experience it for myself. My best friend Ashley gamely accompanied me to this geek-fest, which took place primarily in Pasadena, CA. (This area stood in for Michael Myers' slashing grounds of Haddonfield, IL in the first two films and in last year's remake.) On Friday the 31st (Halloween) we took a 6 hour (!) bus tour covering locations from various "Halloween" films and other horror classics; on Saturday we went to the convention center to meet cast and crew from all 9 films. While Friday's tour was something of a debacle (originally they weren't going to break for "lunch" until 6pm, and was it really a good idea to schlepp out to Hollywood at day's end-- perilously close to rush hour?), Saturday was a pure delight.
The stops on Friday included...
The Myers House (from Halloween, henceforth "H1," and Halloween II, henceforth "H2"; you get the idea). It's been repainted blue (really quite nice looking) and moved up the street from the original location. Our tour guide thought we could take pictures on the porch, but apparently she'd been misinformed as an angry employee came out and started yelling at us. Some things are more scary than Michael Myers! Nearby was Nichol's Hardware Store from H1, which is a Pasadena landmark.
The alley and Mrs. Ellrod's house from H2. I'm glad I'm tall as I was able to see over the fence and look at the window where Michael peered in at Mrs. Ellrod.
The street where Laurie and Tommy took their walk-- and where the ill-fated Ben Tramer (mistaken for Myers and hit by a car) burned to death. In typical fashion, Ashley announced that she was going to "reenact" the burning and started waving her hands around and going "Woosh!" I don't think I'll ever watch that scene the same way again.
Michael's elementary school and Haddonfield High from the remake, which are actually right across the street from each other. Pasadena in general is a beautiful town. Ashley kept talking about how she wanted to live there someday.
Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis)'s house. It still looks the same and the owners even provided us with pumpkins for photo ops. I loved sitting in the same spot as Jamie Lee.
The Strode and Myers houses from the remake. The new Myers house was also Angela's house on My So Called Life.
The cemetery from H1. I heard some fan reciting the groundskeeper's lines word for word, which was funny.
Sierra Madre, where scenes from H2 and H3 were filmed. We saw the Buccaneer bar from III as well as the storefront where the annoying Silver Shamrock mask commercials played in the movie. (It's now a Domino's.) The highlight of this spot by far was watching Dick Warlock and his son Lance reenact the "Boom Box Boy" scene in H2. (In the film, Warlock's Michael Myers bumps into a boy carrying a boom box, played by his son in an in-joke cameo.) Everyone laughed as Dick walked forward in that very purposeful Myers way. Lance kept bumping into cars on his way over to Dick and joked, "It was the 70s, there were no cars back then!" It was also funny to watch confused locals wondering why a crowd was filming an old man bumping into someone and walking.
The Doyle and Wallace houses from H1 and 2. The Wallace house looks totally different, but the Doyle house is instantly recognizable for its front landing. Ashley got me to say "The keys, oh, the keys!" and dig in my jeans while she took pictures. (She's heard me imitate Jamie Lee's frantic squealing in H1 for years.)
On Saturday was the convention itself, where we met...
Dee Wallace from the remake, "ET," "The Howling" etc. She was very nice. You had to buy one thing to get a photo with her and when I told her I was getting the Frighteners trading cards ($5) she said, "Good choice, a low cost item and you still get what you want!" She joked to Ashley that she should marry me and Ashley replied, "He doesn't like girls." "I like girls," I protested. "I can, um, go both ways." "Aww, a switch hitter!" Dee laughed. It's not every day that Dee Wallace comments on your sexual orientation, but there you have it.
Scout Taylor Compton, the new Laurie. Ashley had just bought the hoodie she wears in the movie, so she complimented her on that. She was so unbelievably nice and took pictures with us and signed my soundtrack, all for free. Just a really great girl. Her Gothy looking boyfriend was there with her, which was cute.
The security guard from Halloween II. He wasn't very talkative, and unfortunately he hasn't gotten any thinner! But everyone else from that film was super nice. Gloria Gifford, Mrs. Alves, was really sweet. We joked with her about how Haddonfield Memorial is America's worst hopsital. Ashley and I explained our feelings about the "forgotten children" when we watched the movie a couple nights earlier. "It was an abandoned hospital offscreen," she said, and I cracked, "It was an abandoned hopsital onscreen." Good point," Gloria said. She also signed a "Haddonfield Memorial Hospital prescription" for me and wrote "Time's up" (one of her lines in the film) on it. Tawny Moyer, Nurse Jill, was nice, and explained how they did the famous "knife raising" scene, in which Michael stabs her in the back and lifts her up and off her feet. There were wires attached to her and crew working a pulley to lift her up just offscreen. Finally, Leo Rossi, Bud, was a very nice guy, and his wife was sweet, too. I know I shouldn't be surprised when people are different from the characters they play, but it still struck me how the guy who played the horndog douche bag in H2 was such a standup guy in reality! (Funnily enough, at one point on the bus tour they played Bud's dirty rendition of "Amazing Grace" from the movie: "Amazing Grace, come sit on my face / Don't make me cry, I need your pie.")
Lew Temple from "Halloween" 2007 and "The Devil's Rejects." One of the things I loved about this convention was how people I wasn't necessarily dying to see turned out to be some of the greatest and most fun. Earlier we met Tom Towles, the sherrif from "House of 1000 Corpses" and one of the cops in "Halloween" '07, who was also quite pleasant. Lew had a cowboy hat on and chatted us up about random stuff. Ashley's friend actually directed a short film that Lew had seen, because he's friends with its star Brian Austin Green. He also talked to us about the "Banjo and Sullivan" CD that came out for "Rejects" and how Fatboy Slim remixed a song for European clubs(!) He signed my "Halloween" soundtrack with his asshole character's line "I wouldn't want to bum the freak out." (Ironically, Temple appeared in a rape scene that was cut from the theatrical version of the movie. When I got the "unrated" DVD, I found the sequence so disturbing and repulsive that I traded it in for the original cut.)
Jenny Greg Stewart, the new Lindsay. She was so cute and, not surprisingly, so little! She told us her mom only let her watch the scenes that she was in. When Tyler Mane first did a scene with her and Tommy, they didn't recognize him, but he took off the mask and then they did. I asked her if it was true that she was genuinely scared in the first scene with Michael, and she said yes, but in later scenes when crew checked to see if she was "okay," she told them, in a very adult voice, "Guys, I'm just acting." (This is why I love kids.)
We sort of tried to talk to Daeg Faerch (young Michael in the remake), but he was really quiet and barely looked up from the phone he was playing with. We ended up just talking to his (vaguely creepy) stage mom. We did see him later talking to Kristina Klebe (new Linda). She said, "You've gotten so big!" It was cute.
I only met Danielle Harris (from H4, H5, and the remake) for a second, on her way out. I didn't actually think she seemed all that friendly, but then again I sort of caught her at a bad time. In any case, Scout was by far my favorite of the "new" Halloween girls.
John Graham (Bob in H1), who's actually gay. I told him I knew one of his friends back in NYC, who was amused when I said, "You know John Michael Graham??" "Well, that's how you knew my name," John laughed. He had the original glasses from Halloween with him and let me put them on for a photo, which was great. I told him how, when I saw the Halloween re-release a couple years ago, some queeny guy shouted, "Take the glasses off!" He thought that was funny.
Alan Howarth (who collaborated with John Carpenter on scores for the first three Halloweens and did his own for parts 4 and 5) was fun to talk to, and was sitting with his gorgeous model/actress daughter. Howarth told me that they were instructed to set the Halloween III jingle to "London Bridge" because it was copyright free. He also said that the music for H2 was all laid over an original tape of the Halloween score, which made sense to me as that soundtrack plays like an 80s remix of the first one. We later saw Howarth perform some Halloween music live, which was kinda neat-- he had a keyboard, synthesizer, and a Mac onstage with him. Tommy Wallace (who worked on the first two films and directed the third) was very nice, and seemed pleased when I told him H3 is actually my friend Roman's favorite film in the series, and that I rather like it, too! Ashley told him that his TV movie It scared her so much she had to sleep in her parents' bed-- at age 13!
We also talked with Nancy Loomis, who I'd met a couple years before at a convention in Worcester. We'd talked about teaching, so I asked her about that again. She's now interested in studying to direct theater professionally, and continues to sculpt.
William Forsythe was a cool guy; Ashley actually thought he was flirting with her a bit and got that vibe from some of the other actors, who were probably happy to see a cute blonde girl at the convention! I told Forsythe he was great in Devil's Rejects and asked him if it was true he got hurt just before filming the Halloween remake. He said it was already in the script that he'd have a cast on his arm, but he broke his leg and had to ask for a leg cast to wear, too. "I think it worked for the character," he explained, "because then he was really like a cockroach." "The ultimate mooch," I agreed.
The very last person we met was Leslie Easterbrook, who played one of the cops in Halloween '07, Mother Firefly in The Devil's Rejects, and starred in the Police Academy movies. She looked good; she seems to have slimmed down a lot since Rejects. I caught her by the elevators and introduced myself; she was very warm. She asked me where I was from and asked how the bus tour was. "Honestly, it was kind of a debacle," I said (it really was, I just left out the boring details and concentrated on the locations for you guys). Ashley was next to me and agreed. "They weren't even planning to give us a lunch break originally," she said. "You two are the first ones to be honest about that," she said. "Must be 'cause you're from New York!" As we left the convention center, I saw her sitting with fans smoking a cigarette. It was such a funny image I wish I'd snapped a picture. Overall, the convention was a very cool chance to see the sites of Halloween and meet the people involved-- almost all of whom were extremely personable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gossip Watch: Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving in the Upper East Side, and Gossip Girl served up a heap of drama to go with the turkey and pumpkin pie. (Apologies for all the horrid puns I'm sure to make in this recap.) Blair was in fine form all episode, working herself into a tizzy at the thought that her mom was getting engaged to Cyrus (Wallace Shawn); guess the "truce" didn't last! Her moments with maid Dorota were particularly fun; "Who do you work for?" she amusingly demanded, when Dorota clearly knew more about Eleanor and Cyrus then she was letting on. I also love that Dorota's ring tone is "I'm a Slave 4 U." Blair and Dorota flee the house to boycott Thanksgiving, and when Dorota asks where exactly they're going, Blair snaps, "I don't care if we have to wander the streets all day like characters from a Jane Austen novel, I won't stand for this!" (Only on Gossip Girl do teenagers make so many literary references outside of English class.) Meanwhile, Nate had to deal, once again, with his huge douche bag of a father. Seriously, between the embezzling, cokehead dad and the cold, enabling mother, this kid has the world's worst parents. Daddie Dearest emerges from hiding and asks Nate to come live with them outside of the country. But the FBI is snooping around, asking Vanessa what she knows about Nate, so she enlists Chuck's help (!) to stage an intervention of sorts with their estranged pal. This nicely served as a way to reunite all three characters, and in the end, shockingly, Dad actually did the right thing and turned himself in. Of course Nate had to convince him to do so; it's classic "kids parenting the parents" television. Dan similarly helped his own father see the light regarding wayward Jenny, who began this episode hiding out with Eric at Serena/Lily/Chuck et al's place. In a rather heartfelt storyline, Rufus finally told Jenny how much he loved and missed her, and this softer approach made her see the light at last. "I don't want to not be your daughter," she said, tearing up her emancipation papers and crying. (And, OMG, I totally cried, too.) But before this warm and fuzzy reunion could happen, we had some intriguing dynamics with Eric and Serena's own family. First Bart gives Eric a tip regarding his little-seen boyfriend Jonathan-- implying that he's sleeping with his coach(?!). When Eric asks Chuck about this WTF-worthy comment, Chuck explains that his father retains a private investigator to look into the lives of everyone he knows. Eric thinks this is a little creepy and weird ('cause it is), and Chuck decides to show him Bart's secret safe, filled with all sorts of forbidden goodies. "Are those actual bars of gold?" Eric asks in disbelief. I half expected there to be a girlie mag and a slingshot in with this stash of midlife adolescent escapism. Chuck leaves Eric to pore over the spoils, and he finds three leather bound files on himself, Serena, and Lily. Of course, this is hardly a shock to us, since we know from an earlier episode that Bart had a file on Lily with some sort of Big Shocking Secret in it, but now Eric's even more freaked than before. (Side note: the boy dyed those off-putting blonde locks. I heartily approve.) He brings the files to his mom and Serena, who are suitably aghast. Lily confronts Bart and he simply says he was protecting them, but Lily rejects the excuse and takes the kids out of the house. (Seems like everyone's abandoning Thanksgiving today! Good thing Mickey D's is open.) Of course, the file does serve a function for Serena, who hands it to that icky Aaron character that she's enamored with. (God knows why.) He ran into Dan earlier at Convenient Plot Point Junction-- sorry, the grocery store-- and had his suspicions raised when Dan balked at the comment that "Serena doesn't drink anymore." See, apparently Aaron's sober, and Serena immediately downplayed her hard-partying past to win his approval. (All this for rat-faced stalker boy. Blech.) At least Blair sees the folly in this, urging Serena not to settle for someone who won't put her first to begin with. But Aaron's newfound desire to be exclusive sets Serena's heart aflutter, so she first lies, then admits the truth and hands Aaron the convenient attache case. But he says he doesn't need to look at it; he wants to know everything about her firsthand. ("Fuck that," my friend Patrick commented. "I'd want to read the file!") So, unfortunately, this bit of intrigue hasn't broken them up-- at least, not yet. (Le sigh.) Meanwhile, Lily and Eric visit the same diner where they wound up last year, and we learn a bit about Lily's secret: she was in "a sanitarium," much like Eric was. He's upset his mother didn't tell him this, but she maintains that she wanted to be strong for him. Eric says he looks forward to hearing more about it when she's ready. (Again with the kid parenting.) It's a sweet moment between them. "How did you get to be so wise?" Lily asks. "The nanny," Eric cracks. (Love that kid. Since he and Jonathan appear to be dunzo, I hope he gets another, worthier boyfriend soon-- one who's actually cute!) The pair decide to leave the diner and go to Rufus and Dan's, which also provides a reunion for Vanessa and Jenny. I couldn't remember why exactly Vanessa was even mad at Jenny, but apparently it was because of Nate. He and Vanessa rekindled their flame earlier, with Nate saying he hadn't heard from Jenny "in weeks"; Jenny says the same thing about Nate, and Vanessa insists they shouldn't "let a boy come between us," anyhow. Famous last words: next thing we know, Vanessa's found the letter Nate sent Jenny several episodes back (she's yet to read it since running away from home for two weeks). Vanessa opens and reads it, discovering that Nate felt he "had to stay away" from Jenny because of Dan, but didn't want to-- and couldn't stop thinking about her. The plot thickens; maybe Vanessa will actually turn out to be kind of interesting? (I hope so, because I've pretty much given up on her being the one that dies.) Back in Blair land, the girl's pleasantly surprised to find her gay dad (John Shea) back to visit, with Eleanor insisting she needed his approval for "the man who could become your stepfather" before accepting Cyrus' proposal. What's more, he has his famous pumpkin pie (the one Cyrus horrified her by criticizing earlier) in tow. All together now: Awwwwww. But while there's plenty of bonding going on at the end of the hour, there's the Vanessa bit of intrigue, too, along with Bart creepily idling outside Dan's apartment in his limo. "You know how I said I didn't want to know why Lily was in that sanitarium?" Bart asks someone on the phone (which is very helpful for us viewers). "I changed my mind. I want to know everything." Dum dum dum!!!! (Side note: why does everyone refer to it as "a sanitarium"? All I could think about was the movie Halloween. Was Lily across the hall from Michael Myers?) So concludes another kinda-heartwarming, kinda-dark and weird Gossip Girl Thanksgiving, with previews promising an "unmissable" episode in two weeks. Yep, someone's gonna kick the bucket... and my money's on Bart.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gossip Watch

Trying something new this week with a recap of every one's favorite ludicrous teen soap opera, Gossip Girl. I'm not ashamed to say I love this show, especially living in New York which is practically one of the characters. And I love Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick). Looove me some Chuck Bass. Can't quite explain it; objectively he's the least attractive of the male leads, and yet there's just something about the guy. Maybe it's his outrageous wardrobe. Maybe it's the way he always talks through his nose. (With regards to Joel McHale.) Maybe it's that he always acts like he owns everything and everyone he comes in contact with. All I know is that if Westwick is unlucky enough to ever cross paths with me, I will probably end up doing something that will embarrass us both in equal measure. Anyway, on to the recap. Last night's episode continued the spiraling "Jenny goes rogue" plot line. Jenny spent the episode trying to get her clothing line off the ground, with mostly disastrous results. Her would-be partner, Agnes (Willa Holland, who I loved on The OC but who played a total bitch here-- and seriously, what's with the name "Agnes"? Was she born in 1945?) was by turns unreliable and treacherous. Jenny tries to go it alone with a potential agent, only to have Agnes catch wind and burn her entire collection in a barrel conveniently placed by her apartment. (I found it hard to believe that she could scoop up every piece in the whole collection at once, but whatevs.) "You're out of your mind!!!!" Jenny screamed. I know it sucks, little J, but how often do you get to scream those words? Not very. Meanwhile, Blair spent the episode trying to sabotage her mom's new relationship, having instantly decided that the guy (the always wonderful Wallace Shawn) was inappropriate. Blair really is one of the show's best characters; she always gets the best dialogue. Although it was amusing that part of the plot revolved around her 18th birthday, since Leighton Meester looks like she's been on the wrong side of 18 for several years. Anyhoo, this subplot came to a sweet end when Shawn's character won her over, with the help of Cyndi Lauper (!). As for those two star-crossed, currently off-again lovers, Dan and Serena? Well, Dan became convinced that he was the next Deepthroat or something; asked by New York Magazine to dig up dirt on Bart Bass, he stumbled onto some sort of shady real estate scam-- and when he pressed Bart for details, the guy let it slip that someone died, too! Fortunately, Chuck appealed to Dan's decency and he killed the story, while also giving Bart a copy of his thinly veiled account of Chuck's inner turmoil. Finally Bart, who up to now has earned the World's Shittiest Dad title, talked to his son and told him he never blamed him for his mom's death. It was another sweet moment in an episode that demonstrated the heart that (occasionally) boosts Gossip Girl beyond mindless escapism. Serena's storyline was less heartfelt and more mind numbingly saccharine. Up until now I'd been willing to tolerate her "cute" flirtation with a former summer school pal, Aaron; but his "free spirited" philandering, transparently manufactured "scruffy" look, and meant-to-be-sweet-but-actually-just-creepy gestures really got my goat in this episode. At one point he showed Serena a cheesy "installation" involving curtains and photos of her that he'd spent all night constructing; "where does he hang her teeth?" I wondered aloud. These scenes are watchable because Blake Lively is both gorgeous and lovable, but I'd love for her to ditch this rat-faced hipster trash. I sure wouldn't kick Penn Badgley out of bed for the likes of him! At episode's end, Jenny was making the predictable decision to seek emancipation from her parents, even while Dan urged Rufus to get her back home by any means necessary. I'm not sure how I feel about the way this Jenny arc is headed; she's an essentially sweet girl but the writers have gotten her mired in so many bad decisions and cliched rebellion (i.e. her horrendous bangs and raccoon eye shadow) that I'm afraid the character as we know it may never recover. At least next week's ep looks promising: Serena's underused gay bro Eric is back, with newly darkened hair, and so is Blair's suave gay father ("Lois & Clark's" John Shea, who happens to hail from my hometown of Springfield). Just as long as the title is better than last year's lamentable Thanksgiving ep's "Blair Waldorf Must Pie," we should be all set.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rest in peace, Michael Crichton

Over the summer I did a post on Jurassic Park, one of my favorite childhood films. I was saddened to hear this week that JP creator Michael Crichton, a best-selling author noted for his cautionary science fiction (and for creating TV's hit ER), died after a long battle with cancer. He was 66. I remember reading about Jurassic Park's genesis in the movie "making of" book. (I took that book with me everywhere that summer of 1993; it's worn and falling apart now.) Crichton said that he had the idea to do something with dinosaurs, but wanted to wait until the "craze" died down. It never did, so finally he just decided to write his book! Of course, no one could have predicted how the novel and subsequent film adaptation would bring interest in dinosaurs and palentology to new heights. I remember reading the book in preperation for the movie; I was only ten at the time and I felt proud of myself for reading such a long book! While the novel is darker and more complex than the fast-paced movie version, it laid the foundation for an adventure that really did thrill audiences the world over. As someone who spent hours poring over toys, books, and trading cards related to Jurassic Park and its sequel, The Lost World, I really have to say: thanks, Michael. You were a brilliant creative mind and you will be missed.

I don't have much to add...

Except to say wow. I truly am proud to be an American right now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Sick "Mother"

Italian horror director Dario Argento is an acquired taste. Sure, the guy's a legend: "Suspiria" (1977) is hailed as a classic and all of his films are respected for their elegant visuals and freakish scares. But truth be told, watching an Argento film can be a trying affair. There's the bad dubbing. The occasionally flat acting. The incomprehensible plots-- his movies are beautiful and eerie, to be sure, but you may find yourself wondering "What exactly is this about again?" Which makes "Mother of Tears," the long awaited final chapter in the "three mothers" trilogy that began with "Suspiria" and continued with 1980's "Inferno," something of a pleasant surprise. Critics have complained that this movie lacks the bold colors and artful visual aesthetic Argento's known for. But what "Mother of Tears" lacks in those departments it more than makes up for in coherence and naturalism, along with a healthy dose of indelibly gory images. Argento's daughter, the beautiful and talented Asia, stars as Sarah, a young woman who finds out that she alone can stop the return of the last of the witches-- the titular Mother of Tears. Spurned on by the ghost of her "white witch" mother, Asia must unravel the mystery and use her new-found powers to vanquish this evil hag. The dialogue scenes are much more realistic and lively than in previous Argento movies, and the movie as a whole is much more streamlined and easy to follow. But it certainly doesn't skimp on the shocks. As the Mother rises, attracting hordes of creepy Eurotrash witches, anarchy breaks out throughout Rome. Scenes of rioting people and even a mother tossing her baby into a river are suitably unnerving. But they're nothing compared to the bloody kills perpetrated by the film's demons and witches: gouged out eyes, intestinal strangulations, and more are not for the faint of heart. And don't even get me started on the creepy monkey! (Don't ask, just watch and see for yourself.) While the finale left me somewhat underwhelmed-- I was hoping for more of an empowered climax for Sarah-- on the whole I enjoyed this scary and polished effort from Italy's master of the macabre. At nearly 70 years old, Argento is showing no signs of stopping as he enhances his legacy ever more.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Queers for Fears

Until recently, horror movies and gays weren’t seen as very compatible—despite the fact that an inordinate number of gay men I know are rabid fans. (And you all know yours truly is certainly one of them.) But the list of notable gays in horror film goes beyond fringe films like Hellbent to encompass men who’ve contributed to some of cinema’s greatest screamers. Here's my run-down, originally written for Next Magazine. (You can read my piece on the hottest men in horror in next week's issue.)

James Whale—Back in the very early days of horror, James Whale created not one but two landmarks: Frankenstein and its campier, entertaining sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. Whale worked to inject subtext into the films, which are, after all, about a misunderstood and persecuted outsider. The director was memorably portrayed by openly gay Sir Ian McKellan in Gods and Monsters, a fictionalized account of Whale’s final days.

Vincent Price—An accomplished stage actor and gourmand, the regal Price will forever be associated with horror after appearing in scores of macabre movies. Price was an effective presence in films ranging from Hammer Horror classics like Masque of the Red Death to the gimmicky romps of William Castle. Although Price’s homosexuality was never confirmed, it was a source of intense speculation, and his campy performances and passion for the finer things in life have made him something of a gay icon.

Tony Perkins—The ultimate mama’s boy, Psycho’s Norman Bates, was portrayed by a man just as troubled by his own “dark side.” Perkins had been a teen heart throb and a Tony-nominated actor before taking on the role that would define (and somewhat derail) his career. Looking back at Hitchcock’s classic, we can see subtle moments suggesting Norman was, if not one of us, then certainly a repressed kindred spirit.

Clive Barker—Prolific horror/fantasy novelist Barker created an unforgettable screen monster with Pinhead, the demonic villain in the classic Hellraiser. This S&M inspired baddie took whips and chains waaay beyond pleasure into the realm of horrifying pain. Barker went on to produce Gods and Monsters and has seen many more of his novels adapted for the screen.

Don Mancini—The writer behind Child’s Play resurrected his wise-cracking killer doll, Chucky, with two increasingly queer sequel spoofs: Bride of Chucky, starring Jennifer Tilly and a then-unknown Katherine Heigl, and Seed of Chucky, with a sexually confused, Ed Wood-inspired character named Glen/Glenda. Bride of Chucky also features a likable gay character and a man candy lead (soap actor Nick Stabile). Let’s just say my tape of Bride of Chucky is a little worn around the Stabile’s gratuitous shirtless car wash scene.

Kevin Williamson—The man who revitalized the horror genre with Scream explored gayness more overtly on his groundbreaking soap Dawson’s Creek, but some viewers picked up on subtext in his slasher satire, analyzing the close relationship between killers Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Stu (Matthew Lillard). (This element was overtly spoofed in the homophobic Scream take-off Scary Movie.) Meanwhile, we have Williamson to thank for introducing us to hunks like Ryan Phillippe (I Know What You Did Last Summer), Josh Hartnett (Halloween: H20), and Milo Ventimiglia (Cursed).

David DeCoteau—I feel almost ashamed to mention him in the same breath as legends like Tony Perkins and Clive Barker, but no run down of horror queers would be complete without mentioning DeCoteau. He’s transformed gaysploitation horror into, if not an art, then into a profitable formula. Straight-to-video cheapies like The Brotherhood, Voodoo Academy, and Leaches transform B-horror conventions into an excuse to put boys in their altogether instead of girls. DeCoteau certainly has a knack for casting quality eye candy: The Brotherhood 2’s Sean Farris went on to star in this year’s homoerotic ultimate fighting hit Never Back Down.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When Good Cakes Go Reeeeeally Bad

I have recently found what just may be the most awesomely awesome blog ever: Cake Wrecks! (You can visit it in my Links section; I gave it coveted "right under Ashley's blog" status.) The concept is simple (but wonderful): a gallery of ill-conceived, misshapen, or just plain awful cakes. Some are well-crafted, yet undeniably creepy. (Who wants to eat the eerily realistic dead puppy? No one?) Some are laughably bungled, like the girl whose friends asked for a black high heel and instead got a black high... hill. (I hear those are really popular with the 18-24 set.) And then there are those that look even more horrendous when you see what they were modeled after. Above top, the detailed rendering of a dog the customer wanted, and below... what they got. (Don't you just hate it when Fido melts?) Now go on and check it out!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This is why Entertainment Weekly is my favorite magazine...

Up-to-the-minute and yet sublimely silly. This cover is just genius.

Is anyone else getting scared?

I was at the gym this morning watching the news. No making up dialogue this time; what they were actually saying was far too serious. The hole that the American economy is in is over 15 Trillion dollars. This new "bailout" they're talking about will possibly cost taxpayers $38,000 a year by 2010. Excuse me? I seem to recall already owing $5,000+ in credit card debt and $15,000+ in student loan debt without the government piling more on! The Bush administration and these greedy capitalist pigs got themselves into this mess, which has in turn hurt all of us, and now we're supposed to bear the burden of digging them back out? This is so ludicrously wrong on so many levels. Adding to the ire is John McCain trying to pull out of Friday's debate with Barack Obama, supposedly because putting the campaign on hold and helping out in Washington is "the patriotic thing to do." Or maybe, just maaaaybe, McCain is unprepared for the debate, nervous about the polls now showing Obama in the lead, and hoping for some more distracting PR? (In a sense, America's financial crisis is the new Sarah Palin! Only much less attractive.) I agree with Obama: this is exactly the right time to hear from both candidates on what they intend to do to fix this giant mess. I only prey that whoever wins protects our wallets, and not just the bank accounts of ludicrously wealthy businessmen.

W. is coming

Visit this link for a new trailer and a clip of George's first meeting with Laura (Elizabeth Banks, who I've always loved). I'm really getting psyched for this movie.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happy birthday, Jim!

Since this blog is named after the Kermit the Frog song "It's Not Easy Being Green," I thought it would be appropriate to give a birthday shout-out to the late Jim Henson, who would have been 72 today. Your rich creative legacy will never be forgotten!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Exit politics, enter histrionics

This weekend I went to see Lakeview Terrace, the new drama starring Samuel L. Jackson as an ornery cop who harasses his new neighbors, an interracial couple played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington. Though the movie earned poor reviews, I still thought the subject matter looked interesting, and Patrick Wilson didn't hurt, either. (I've been in love with this guy since Angels in America. He's damned talented, too.) I myself found the movie to be enjoyable and relatively well done, although I agree with critics' assertions that Neil LaBute's movie (his first time directing someone else's script) just scratches the surface of the provocative issues it raises-- and ultimately devolves into a fairly typical Hollywood potboiler, rather than a truly insightful look at race relations. (At least it's less pompous than the overblown and overrated Crash, which acted like it was the Definitive Look at Race in America-- when in reality it was pretty much a glorified soap opera about bitchy Los Angelenos.) Tellingly, the movie opens not with our nominal heroes, Chris and Lisa (Wilson and Washington) but on Abel Turner (Jackson). One morning Abel wakes up to find new neighbors moving in next door. He watches them with a quiet, nosey intensity; first he thinks it's a May-December couple, as Lisa giddily shows the place to her dad Ron (Harold Perreau). But when he realizes the white "mover" is actually the husband, his surprise and disapproval are written all over his face. Abel introduces himself to Chris with an unsettling car-jacker fake out, then drops some passive aggressive comments about his rap music. "No matter how much of that noise you listen to, when you wake up in the morning, you'll still be white," Turner says. (No, it's not a subtle picture.) Before long, Abel is needling his neighbors left and right, with everything from piercing security lights that he refuses to turn off to a blunt directive that Chris and his wife should move somewhere else. At Chris and Lisa's dinner party, Turner manages to demean and embarrass virtually everyone present within a few minutes. The couple try to fight back, or at least learn to live with the hostility, but events inevitably come to a head-- exit racial politics, enter thriller histrionics. The film is essentially built around Jackson's performance: at this point, he can do this type of steely, aggressive character in his sleep, and the part is by far the most developed one in the movie. We get some insights into what drives him (his grief over his wife proves particularly trenchant), even if we still don't like him. Chris and Lisa, on the other hand, are likable but bland; the actors have good chemistry and bring what they can to their characters, but there's ultimately not much for them to do but react to Abel and have fights with each other. The arguments are generic and shed little light on the very real difficulties interracial relationships can pose; those issues were better explored in 2006's romantic dramedy Something New, with Sanaa Lathaan and Simon Baker. More interesting is the subplot involving Abel's two children; in one scene, Celia (Regine Nehy) and Lisa share a sweet vignette by the pool, only to have it violently interrupted by Abel, who wants to know what his neighbor is "teaching" his daughter. It's too bad the kids vanish from the film with little resolution (shortly before the climax); the narrative of their rocky relationship with Dad could have been a bit more profound than the film's central conflict. In the end, we're left with a decent enough movie that tackles important, rarely handled issues, but on a fairly surface level. Lakeview Terrace is passable entertainment with a higher-than-average IQ, but it could've been so much more.

I'm diggin' it

I previously wrote about Oliver Stone's W. and it's arresting first poster. I saw a series of ads (including these two) on the way to work today. However the movie turns out, this is a very well done campaign.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Head Games

So I was at the gym this morning (I haven't been going as often as I'd like to, but I'm working on it) and for the first time I was facing the TVs. Normally I don't work out on that side because there's an intimidating lineup of super-fit people running on the treadmills (I can manage a mere brisk walk myself), but today they were absent. The sound was off, of course; I was listening to my iPod, anyway. (By the way, Weezer makes pretty good workout music. Who knew?) But I found myself inventing dialogue for the people I saw up on the screen. (Please note that I stole a few of these jokes. It was my brain, so I think I'm allowed to rip things off.) First it was Kyle MacLachlan on Live With Regis and Kelly; it took me a while to realize that he wasn't just a guess but a special co-host. What could he and Kelly be discussing? They had shown a montage of pictures of Kyle and his wife and new baby. KELLY: And how was the baby conceived, Kyle? Were you and your wife flailing in a pool? KYLE (chuckling): No, Kelly. It was a bit more romantic than that. KELLY: I have to tell you, Kyle, Showgirls was a big influence on me as a young woman. KYLE: Yes, I hear that from a lot of people. It's an extraordinary film. KELLY: The scene when Gina Gershon falls down the stairs, was that really her or did she have a stunt double? KYLE: Well, I don't know, Kelly. I wasn't on the set that day. KELLY: Because that was quite a fall. KYLE: Well Gina was athletic from a very young age, so it easily could have been her. KELLY: Now Kyle, you costarred on Twin Peaks with David Duchovny. Was he a sex addict then? I mean, could you tell? KYLE: I'm not sure. I was a bit of an addict myself in those days. I still am, to be honest. KELLY: Really? Remind me to get your number. We should meet up after the show. ....At this point I had pretty much exhausted my knowledge of Kyle MacLachlan, so I turned my attention to the news station. They were running footage of Sarah Palin because of the "TrooperGate" scandal. (Side note: can we declare a moratorium on "Gate" as the go-to scandal nickname? It was kind of cute when they did "MonicaGate," but now it's gotten really old, especially since it never makes any sense.) Sarah was speaking. SARAH: I firmly believe that man coexisted with the dinosaurs. Yes, approximately 4,000 years ago. The Flinstones was actually a remarkably accurate depiction of life during that time. What's that? No, I can't say for sure whether The Jetsons will be accurate. There are researchers looking into that right now. They are predicting that the future is going to be much more futuristic than we had originally thought. ...A while later John McCain joined her. JOHN: Yes, she's really something, isn't she. She's a woman! Yes. Sarah believes, as I do, that God created the AK47 so that man could fight the dinosaurs... and the homosexuals. ...After that I gave up on the game, except for a brief imagining of what Kid Rock and his hoochie girls might be saying in his new video. (KID: Yeah, yeah! HOOCHIE GIRLS: We're shaking our booties! Mm-hm!) I was somewhat horrified by MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen, though: onscreen, legends revealed that the episode's twitlet had a $26,000+ birthday. I found myself trying to remember what I had gotten for my sixteenth birthday. A Fozzie Bear puppet, maybe? And who were these families dumping thousands on their daughters' birthday parties while the rest of the country faces increasingly bleak economic circumstances? More importantly, why wasn't I auditioning shirtless hotties for my birthday party wait staff? If you're looking for a point to this post, by the way, there really isn't one-- it's thesis-less. Just a peak inside my head. Hope you enjoyed. Have a good weekend, all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What a rip!

I’ve always been amused by rip-offs. In a popular culture filled with derivative crap, these are some of the most blatant examples—and sometimes the most perversely enjoyable, for their sheer “oh no they didn’t!” awfulness. The first rip-off I can remember seeing was Mac and Me. For those of you unfamiliar with this little 1980s gem, its sole purpose was to promote McDonald’s… while ripping off ET. (Well, that’s not entirely true; Coca Cola backed the movie as well, so numerous references to them pop up.) A boy in a wheelchair (gag me) befriends a grotesque little lost alien and nicknames him “Mac” after his favorite Mickey D’s sandwich. (Great, as if the kid doesn’t have enough to deal with being in a wheelchair, now he’s a prime candidate for childhood obesity.) The two have adventures… or something. I honestly can’t remember a thing about this stupid movie, besides one scene with the mom getting dropped off at Sears (product placement #3!) and a later scene in which the boy’s female friend, dressed in her McDonald’s uniform, gives Mac’s dying mother a sip of Coke from a McDonald’s cup. According to IMDB, the film ends with the onscreen legend “We’ll Be Back,” but since it bombed, they, well… weren’t. What follows is my loose and by no-means-complete list of other notable rip-offs.
Battlestar Galactica—Calm down fanboys, I’m not talking about the critically acclaimed new version, which is apparently some of the most brilliant TV around. I mean the atrocious cheesefest original, which according to some was “like Star Wars every week!” even though it lacked that film series’ quality acting, writing, special effects, or anything. (Yes, there was a time when the Star Wars franchise was well written and acted.) The similarities to Star Wars were so glaring that George Lucas and co. supposedly considered taking legal action. Which is understandable, because we all know Lucas would neeeeever allow his Star Wars legacy to be tarnished.
Friday the 13th—Perhaps no horror film has inspired as many imitators as Halloween, the 1978 horror classic whose massive success ushered in a new era of “slasher films” with holiday based titles: Mother’s Day, April Fool’s Day, Happy Birthday to Me, New Year’s Evil, Graduation Day… the list went on and on. But the first was this slapdash concoction, a dull and irritating film that somehow managed to become a “classic” in its own right. Once again we’ve got killer POV shots, a mysterious stalker, and a creepy “holiday” setting, plus lots of promiscuous teens and one plucky virgin. Audiences were so starved for another Halloween that they flocked to this film, despite the fact that director Sean S. Cunningham and star Adrienne King were a far cry from John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Sunset Beach—Okay, I confess, I loved this show. But in the grand tradition of daytime soaps, which have ripped off everything from The Exorcist (Days of Our Lives) to the death of Princess Diana (the kooky Passions, which was forced to scrap that storyline because of the uproar it caused), this sadly short lived sudser ripped off with abandon. The two I remember the most were its aping of MonicaGate, with an intern/politician affair and prosecutor Ken LaMoon (har, har); and a Scream-ish “Terror Island” storyline, with a masked killer stalking the cast. But it didn’t stop there; in a late-in-the-game bid to jazz ratings, the show had an earthquake and a tidal wave, which capsized a cruise ship filled with characters enacting their very own Poseidon Adventure.
Dawson’s Creek—Even nighttime soaps have a tendency to rip things off, as evidenced by this teen melodrama (another favorite of mine). In Season 2, the characters enacted kinky Titanic-esque scenarios like a nude portrait session (“Except, I’m Jack and you’re Rose,” Joey remarked to not-yet-out Jack) and steamed-up car make out session. In Season 4, a dramatic Perfect Storm take-off served as a larger-than-life backdrop for the deathless Dawson/Joey/Pacey triangle (cause hell hath no fury like horny, jealous teens!) and a goofy Blair Witch episode was less than successful.
Lipstick Jungle/Cashmere Mafia—Is it possible to rip off yourself? Seems that way, given that these two Sex and the Wannabes are from Candace Bushnell and Darren Star, the minds behind the original single gals in the city series. Viewers saw through one of these duds (the cancelled Cashmere Mafia, which deserved to die for the title alone), but Lipstick Jungle is back with the beyond-bland tag line “Bright lights, big city, best friends.” Personally, I prefer Saturday Night Live’s pitch perfect parody, Lady Business: “Now that I’m here there are gonna be some changes. Meetings are no longer mandatory—they’re womandatory!” At least the creators of that sketch acknowledged just what it was they were ripping off.