Monday, April 28, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Last night I caught the second episode of "the greatest show in the history of reality television," VH1's Viva Hollywood. It had more of what made me love the premiere so much: copious amounts of eye candy, bad acting, and brilliant cheese. This week's Deadly Sin was "Lust," so first off the contestants were ambushed by a yoga lesson that they were encouraged to do... in the nude. First the male instructor stripped down, his naughty bits covered up by a giant cartoon sombrero. Then a few of the guys followed suit, and while we couldn't see any of their naughty bits, either (more sombreros), it was still kind of hot to watch. To quote Vinci (above), I almost wished I were "watching TV, you know... by myself." The only girl to bare all was Jenn, and the poor thing endured no small amount of taunting from the other women. Gisel, that bitch, took the opportunity to hurl insults at her along with all the others; no one seemed to acknowledge the fact that they had all been told to do this, yet were all too chicken to do so. Next up, two telenovela stars came on to coach the contestants on their love scene challenge. Last week's winner, Roseny (the one who insulted the famous star she won dinner with) got to pair up the others, and she threw in some nice wrenches: Gisel was matched up with Janet for a lesbian scene, while macho guys Berto and Vinci were paired for a gay one. While Gisel was stymied, her reaction was nothing compared to Vinci's: he promptly threw a fit, started crying, and stalked off to his room to start packing. While the others trained for their scenes, Berto was stuck trying to coax Vinci out of his room. "Come out!" he cried, which made me happy to no end. The guest trainers attempted to reason with him as well. While Berto was willing to do the scene, since it's an acting challenge, Vinci was throwing a baby-ish fit. All of it seemed to indicate someone who's not at all secure in his sexuality. (Earlier Vinci had also noted his discomfort with doing yoga so close to the naked Enrique, who seems to be gay himself.) While Vinci did agree to do the scene, he insisted on changing the script, ostensibly to "show his acting skills" but in truth to remove any kissing or excessive touching. Ultimately, the "love scene" basically amounted to Berto's character coming on to his friend and being gently rebuffed; at the end, they hugged and Vinci gave him a superficial pat on the back. It's too bad, cause both guys have great bodies and played the scene in shorts and towels, all sweaty-- so if they made out it might have been fun to watch... you know... by myself. Meanwhile, prudish Gisel suggested she and Janet get liquored up to practice their love scene; Kalain continued to demonstrate his lack of any acting talent whatsoever as he mumbled, "Your husband will be home any minute"; and Roseny regretted choosing Geovannie as her scene partner, since he became extremely hands-y during rehearsals and filming. I was irritated by this last bit myself, since a few of my girlfriends have suffered similarly unpleasant situations. In the end, Berto won the challenge, which made me happy; he turned in a great performance as the gay friend, and he'd also had to put up with more crap than any of the others. Still, when he won a $10,000 shopping spree and was given the option to share it with someone, he picked Vinci. I would have smacked the goon for what he put me through, but it does seem to have been a calculated move on Berto's part, since he was heard commenting that "I know this will make me look good." I think I may have found someone to root for. Meanwhile, Alexcy was chosen as the loser, and while he wasn't stellar, I would have picked the emotionless Janet, who was actually praised for her wooden performance. (Maybe because it was somehow an improvement over her losing one last week?) The housemates deliberated and went to the chapel to pick Alexcy's duel mate (where many of them had decided to vote for Geovannie in some sort of strategery). Vinci got his share of votes, too; if you ask me, he should have been the landslide "winner." In any case, Alexcy and Geovannie's face-off was not nearly as dramatic as the sob fest between Jaimny and Janet the previous week. Alexcy acted all cocky and went on about his star quality, while Geovannie resorted to lots of big hand gestures. In the end, the hosts decided to give Alexcy the ax, or the bullet in this case. He and Geovannie's death scene ended with Alexcy's character lying on a bed, apparently shot to death with no wound of any kind. (I was amused by the scene's start: Geovannie walks in to find the other man lying in a robe, taunting him with the line "If you come close, you can probably still smell her perfume on me." Mmm... hot.) Next week looks like more of Vinci being a primadonna (how butch) and, hopefully, loads more shirtlessness from all the guys. I can hardly wait.
Monday, April 21, 2008
On Friday night I caught a showing of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the Judd Apatow-produced comedy written by and starring Jason Segel. I had a feeling the movie would be a good one, and I was right. In addition to being very, very funny, the film has a tremendous heart. It owes much of its appeal to Segel, who takes his excellent script to the next level with his brave and endearing performance. (No, he's not a conventional hottie. But after seeing Sarah Marshall, I kind of have a big crush on him. I probably won't be the only one, either.) The movie follows Segel's Peter Bretter, a television composer whose bombshell girlfriend (Kristen Bell) dumps him in the opening scene-- while he's nude. (The movie has a surprising amount of full frontal male nudity for an R rated picture. They probably get away with it because it's played for laughs.) Peter wallows in despair and meaningless one night stands (some of which are hilariously bad) before his stepbrother (Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader) convinces him to get out of his rut by taking a Hawaiian vacation. Of course, once Peter gets there he realizes this attempt to escape his ex's shadow has a fatal flaw: she's there, too, with a flamboyant Brit pop star boyfriend (Russel Brand) in tow. Luckily, an incredibly cute, charming hotel staff member named Rachel (Mila Kunis) is there to help him realize there's more to life than Sarah Marshall. But can Peter finally let go before he alienates his new flame, too? Key to any comedy's appeal is its cast, and Marshall is blessed with an impeccable ensemble. Bell is wonderful as a potentially unsympathetic character; she's able to convey her character's cold nature without dehumanizing her. Kunis is utterly charming as Rachel, a woman miles away from her bratty That '70s Show persona. She actually acts here (and while I'm sure she always could, her role on that series didn't really require her to) and helps anchor the film with her convincing presence. Brand steals the show as the wacky rocker, Aldous, who somehow manages to be both a tool and a likable fellow, after all. (Even Peter can't help liking the guy, much as he doesn't want to.) Meanwhile, Seth Rogen pops up as a dork hopelessly enamored with Aldous, and 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer plays an awkward newlywed overwhelmed by his bride's lust. Ultimately, though, the reason I loved this film was because it manages "to render love convincingly" (to steal a phrase from an old Armistead Maupin review). Segel has fantastic chemistry with Kunis, and their courtship was delightful to watch unfold. Rachel's gentle encouragement causes Peter to take chances and to begin to actualize some of his own dreams (after years of doting on his starlet significant other). The movie really hit home for me; see, I've been trying to forget my own "Sarah Marshall," and in the course of watching Peter's story I realized that as tough as it is to get over a relationship, it's absolutely necessary. Otherwise you might just miss out on the next great phase of your life. For the multi-talented Jason Segel, meanwhile, that next phase looks especially bright.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Can we please declare a moratorium on men wearing scarves indoors? The trend has gotten reeeally old. It was kind of silly to begin with; sure, guys look cute and stylish in scarves sometimes, but when they wear them inside it's so obviously affected and pretentious. I really started to get fed up with the whole thing when Vampire Weekend appeared on Saturday Night Live recently, and one of the members wore a scarf so enormous it dwarfed his body. How is this cool?! I wondered. Then, when Ashton Kutcher hosted the same show last weekend, he also wore a scarf (though mercifully not one so large). It's been pretty warm here in New York the last few weeks, so I can safely say that Ashton didn't have cause to wear a scarf that he somehow "forgot" to remove once he got inside. (As for the shirt Ashton wore, which lifted to reveal his taut stomach every time he put his arm in the air... yeah, I was fine with that.) If only I could somehow deliver the final nail in this overdone trend.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The other night my friend Eddie took me to see Xanadu, the musical adaptation of the notoriously bad Olivia Newton John film. I had been wanting to see the show for a while, and the giddily silly, gay-as-all-get-out play didn't disappoint. Xanadu stars the luscious Cheyenne Jackson as Sonny, a dimwitted artist who's on the verge of suicide when Clio (Kerry Butler), a Grecian muse, arrives in human form as "Kira" and encourages him to pursue his dream. See, what Sonny really wants to do is... open up a roller disco! "How timeless," Clio says breathlessly. But along the way, Clio and Sonny fall for each other (forbidden since Clio can't love a mortal) and tangle with the would-be disco's owner, curmudgeonly old businessman Danny Maguire (Tony Robbins). Maguire eventually warms to their plan, especially when he gets the nagging feeling that he's met (and loved) "Kira" before... Xanadu is a fantastically fun show, filled with energy and exuberance. The creators use all of the film's terrific songs (probably the sole reason anyone even remembered the God-awful film) and adapt the story in a way that's cheekily self aware. There are references to the cultural sterility of the '80s, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and even leg warmers. One of the best jokes is Clio's decision to affect an Australian accent, a wink at the movie's use of an obvious Aussie in a "Grecian" role. (Newton John is pictured above with Jackson.) "They call me Keeeeeeeeraaaaah," Butler says repeatedly, overdoing the accent to hilarious effect. She's terrific, charming and fun, with a fine singing voice and the impressive ability to perform nearly the entire show in roller skates. Ditto Jackson, who's lovably, wonderfully dunder-headed as his character-- and so hot he practically burns the theater down. (If only all strapping male leads were dressed in form fitting tank tops and jean shorts.) He can also belt it out with the best of them, reaching impressive high notes throughout the numerous production numbers. The supporting cast is fine as well, with Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman stealing the show as Clio's jealous, scheming sisters. (At one point, the hysterical Hoffman literally starts to chew the scenery.) Xanadu also pulls off the neat trick of being both adult and kid-friendly; while Hoffman aptly describes it as "like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people," it has all the spunk and sass of a great Disney movie, and audiences of all ages seem to be responding favorably. (As for lines referencing Jackson's "big hands and big feet," well... what the kiddies don't know won't hurt them.) Xanadu is a guilty pleasure, but it's one with heart and humor, and entertains fabulously. "Huzzah, sisters!"
Monday, April 14, 2008
This past weekend my roommates and I caught the premiere of VH1's new reality show, Viva Hollywood. Now, usually I avoid this sort of fluff, but every once in a while I get sucked in by a particularly cheesy property, and Viva certainly fits the bill. Advertising itself as "the search for America's numero uno telenovela star" (this kind of Spanglish is common on the series), Viva follows a group of aspiring actors as they compete for an agent, contract, and role on a Telemundo soap opera. The hosts are all Latin celebrities whose backgrounds are carefully explained for gringo viewers. Hostess and judge Maria Conchita Alonso elicited screams of excitement from the cast members, including Vinci, who revealed that she was part of his "first sexual experience... you know, watching television... by myself." (Speaking of sexual confessions, fellow contestant Berto claims to have lost his virginity at the beyond-tender age of 9. Perhaps he'd already developed his killer physique back then?) Handsome Carlos Ponce serves as co-host, with weirdly androgynous "astrologer to the stars" Walter Mercado (who looks like some sort of '60s Batman villain) popping up to narrate the 7 Deadly Sins of Telenovelas. In the first episode, the contestants train in stage combat and pair up for a series of scenes, all involving Sin #1: "Pa-see-own!" (That's "passion" for all you honkies keeping track at home.) Naturally, the group also takes time to bond in the swimming pool, showing off their buff bods. (Except for Jainmy, the self-righteous, full-figured gal who pulls off the neat trick of alienating everyone within the first episode.) After the scenes are reviewed-- ranging from the humdrum to the hilariously melodramatic (water in the face!)-- the judges assess everyone's performance and single Janet out as the weakest. The hosts explain that the cast will have to select one of their own to face her in the "duel" that will determine who stays and who goes. Here's where it somehow, miraculously and impossibly, gets even cheesier. The contestants are given La Muerte cards (that means "Death!" folks) to cast for the one they want to see go, then sent one at a time to the "Chapel-- a sacred place!" There, surrounded by candles, they make their choices and gravely ask for "forgiveness." This last bit rings false for all of them, none more so than Jainmy and her arch nemesis Gisel, who vote for each other but claim to be ever-so-sorry about it. Earlier the pair got into a heated fight, and we all know that's reality show catnip. Gisel's already emerged as the villain, and though it's Jainmy and not her who gets the most votes, Maria worns her that she received quite a few of her own: "Watch your back." (Bwah ha ha!) In the duel, Janet and Jainmy plead their case before the judges while their fellow cast-mates look on from above; they both burst into tears when made to face each other. After some deliberation (and plenty of booze; my God, they drink a lot on this show), the judges call everyone back for a pre-taped death scene-- "The Massacre of the Masks," featuring the two actresses in a so-fake-it's-brilliant tumble down the stairs. In the end, only Janet gets up, and Maria consoles dejected Jainmy with some Spanish murmurings. (The producers thoughtfully provide subtitles.) Meanwhile, Roseny wins the challenge and gets a makeover followed by dinner with a famous Latina actress whose name escapes me. (Though again, the creators assure us she's really big.) According to Carlos, her stylist has worked "with everyone from J.Lo to Salma Hayek!" (reflecting the broad assortment of notable Latina actresses working today). Gussied up in a radiant red dress, Roseny meets her famous date. Now, I may not know who this woman is, but I feel sorry for anyone who agrees to dinner with a reality show contestant only to be repeatedly insulted. Roseny asks her if things are tough now that she's "older" and says, "Well, at least you have good teeth" before seeking her advice. (Mine would probably have been something like: if you win immunity on a reality show, don't press your luck by pissing off the established star.) The show is silly and overblown, and virtually everyone on it is self-deluded and immature. And I know I won't miss a single episode. (If you want to catch the premiere yourself, visit VH1 for the schedule, as it is scheduled to repeat approximately four billion times before the next ep airs on Sunday.)
I'm pleased to report that my best friend, Ashley Beyer, is now listed on the Internet Movie Database. She is currently in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, preparing to begin production on her first film, Print. It's a psychological thriller starring Gabrielle Cartieris (of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame). I'm so happy for Ashley and can't wait to hear more about the film-making process. I'll update this blog with news on the project as it becomes available.
Monday, April 7, 2008
This past weekend my friends Ben and Patrick and I went to see The Ruins, an adaptation of Scott Smith's horror novel. Queer director Carter Smith (no relation) does a fine job in his debut feature, which manages to be suspenseful, entertaining, and sick-- if not quite as palpably doom-laden as its source material. The story centers on four friends (including Jena Malone and hunks Jonathan Tucker and Shawn Ashmore) who join a German tourist (Joe Anderson) on an excursion to meet his brother at a Mayan ruin site. Once they arrive, though, they quickly become stranded atop the stone platform-- surrounded by Mayan villagers who will shoot them dead if they dare try to escape. Eventually they learn why: they're being quarantined, as the ruins are overgrown with a deadly vine with almost supernatural abilities-- and a hunger for human flesh. Smith's excellent book made this potentially laughable threat harrowingly real, but more importantly it conveyed the hopelessness of a nightmarish survival situation. The author's screenplay for the film is slicker and faster, which dilutes some of the tale's impact but still manages to make for an involving and disturbing ride. Carter's camerawork, pacing, and special effects all combine to make the various horror set pieces pop. He's also good with his actors, eliciting realistic performances from the ensemble (including newcomer Laura Ramsey) and giving the group a natural chemistry with each other. While Scott has switched up character elements and facets of the story, he has kept the main narrative intact-- albeit with the notable addition of an entirely new ending. This denouement had me on the edge of my seat, since reading the book hadn't given me any clue to how it would turn out. Ultimately I was satisified with the movie, though I would still be quicker to recommend the superior and horrifying novel.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Years ago I loved April Fool's Day, and went out of my way to "prank" as many of my friends as possible. I usually went the route of little white lies; I never put someone's bike in a swimming pool or anything like that. (Truth be told I still do this sort of thing from time to time: today I successfully convinced my friend Patrick that I was getting back together with my woebegone ex.) But what really sticks out in my mind is April Fool's Day back in the fourth grade. My teacher was Mrs. Long, who I really liked. But I spent the day making her and everyone else miserable with an endless succession of jokes and pranks. That afternoon I went to use the bathroom. When I came back and sat at my spot in the circle of desks, something was wrong. My things weren't there; someone else's were. "I don't own a Babysitters' Club pencil," I said, dumb-founded. Everyone laughed at that. "Why don't you go take a walk next door," Mrs. Long said, grinning. (There was an empty classroom adjacent to ours.) I got it then. They had hidden my desk somewhere and when I went into the other room they would take it back out and set it right. I waited. And waited. When would they tell me to come back in? Finally Mrs. Long opened the door. "What are you doing?" she asked. "Waiting for you to put my desk back in." "Justin," Mrs. Long said, "your desk is right there." It had been sitting right in front of me the entire time. The entire class erupted in laughter. They had gotten me back, and good. It was embarrassing at the time, but it now stands as one of my greatest memories. After all, I can take a joke.