Thursday, June 26, 2008
What is up with Roman? I asked him to dinner when I saw him on Friday the 13th (he was spinning at Lotus), and he said yes, it would just have to be after his mother was in town. He said he'd call the next day, but he didn't, and I haven't heard anything from him except for one text message last Saturday. (He told me he couldn't come to the show I'd invited him to because his mom would be here until Monday.) I thought the guy really liked me, and maybe he's just been busy, but I'm starting to wonder if he's just not that into me. I am Jack's frustration...
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Gossip Girl hears that J and E, recently estranged, may be moving towards putting their differences behind them. The two were spotted talking on the subway and walking home together, looking surprisingly civil for frienemies recently engaged in heated battle. Will this new found thawing out last or is it just a brief reprieve before the next storm? You all know I just love a good cat fight, but I'll let you know what the forecast calls for in the weeks to come. Until then, you know you love me. xoxo Gossip Girl
Monday, June 23, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Inspired by Friday the 13th, I decided to give the eponymous slasher "classic" a second shot. See, I had seen it as a kid and hadn't been very impressed, but it was on TV and I figured it must have been heavily cut. Maybe the uncut original would hold some surprises. After watching, though, I can honestly say I remain underwhelmed. Even assistant director Steve Miner has admitted "When we made Friday the 13th, all we did was rip-off Halloween," and it shows. Starting with the blatantly derivative title (the only other decent holiday to name a horror film after; eventually they were scrounging around with everything from April Fool's Day to New Year's Evil), the movie does what all bad knock-offs do: it copies superficial elements (like the killer POV shots and promiscuous teens) but neglects the characterization and palpable sense of menace that Halloween did so well. While Halloween and to an extent Psycho (which Friday parrots the score of) are credited with giving birth to the slasher film, this is the movie that really started the genre as we know it. Here for the first time are the utterly two-dimensional cardboard characters and the grotesque gore effects that came to define '80s horror. Halloween has virtually no blood, but here FX maestro Tom Savini devises all manner of gruesome killings, including then-unknown Kevin Bacon getting an arrow shoved through his neck. The story is simple, and does attempt to establish a back story in the way that Halloween did. In 1958, two frisky camp counselors are knocked off by an unseen presence; flash forward to the present, when a new group of dopey teens come to Camp Crystal Lake to work for the summer. Locals warn them about "Camp Blood's" dark reputation, but of course they're too concerned with getting laid and smoking pot to worry about the stories of murder and a young boy's drowning. Soon, a killer is picking them off one by one in all manner of inventive ways. The movie has a decent sense of style, but considering that we don't care about any of these kids, there's absolutely no tension or terror. Predictably, the most boring character (Adrienne King) survives, and Alice does her best to barricade herself in one of the cabins before foolishly tearing down the barrier for what she thinks is a rescuer. It turns out to be-- spoiler alert!-- Pamela Voorhees, mother of the drowned boy, Jason. Pamela is determined to keep the Camp from opening again, still angry over her son's death because of the counselors' negligence; instead of watching him, they were "making love!" (Interesting choice of words for two randy teens going at it.) Betsey Palmer's performance as Mommy Dearest is the only interesting one in the movie. (There's even a special credit for her hairstyle-- which is truly bad.) When Mrs. Voorhees talks to herself as Jason-- "Kill her Mommy, kill her!"--it's genuinely creepy. But after-- oh no, another spoiler!-- she's dispatched via decapitation (how did that dopey 18yo learn to wield a knife like that?), the film fizzles out. The infamous "shock" ending-- with Alice leaning out of a canoe, blissfully setting the audience up for the surprise of grimy Jason's emergence from the water-- is followed by a painfully lame hospital room scene. None of the doctors know what Alice is talking about when she describes her encounter with the thought-dead son. "That means he's still out there!" cries Alice, in a shamelessly obvious set up for a sequel. (The filmmakers claim they never intended to establish Jason as a new killer-- but c'mon. Really?) Friday the 13th is nothing more than a formulaic dead teenager flick that managed to tap into the decade's hunger for blood and guts. Why people are such huge fans of it-- inspiring an upcoming remake-- is beyond me. I'll take Michael Myers over nutty Mrs. Voorhees any day.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
A picture of special effects legend Stan Winston caught my eye when I was sorting newspapers for my office this morning. Unfortunately, the story was a report on Winston's death at age 62 from blood cancer; apparently this was the end of a seven-year battle with illness. I just posted a blog on Jurassic Park on the occasion of its fifteenth anniversary last week; Winston created the makeup and animatronic effects for that film as well as its two sequels, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Edward Scissorhands, and Predator. He also directed one film, the memorable horror flick Pumpkinhead, which centered on one of his unique creations: a tall, spindly demon resurrected to wreak vengeance by an old witch. Many of Winston's films were part of my childhood; after all, in addition to watching the movies themselves I had action figures of the T. Rex, the Terminator, and the Alien Queen. Being the sort of geeky boy that I was, I knew exactly who Winston was from reading behind-the-scenes coverage on Jurassic Park and Batman Returns, for which he designed the makeup for Danny DeVito's Penguin. (Winston was nominated for an Oscar for his work on that film but lost to Death Becomes Her; he won four over the course of his career and was nominated for several others.) Thanks for the memories, Stan. You may be gone, but you're far from forgotten by me and countless fans.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
It's a phenomenon that's plagued many: why do gay movies and shows suck? Sure, there have been exceptions over the years: compelling or at least passably entertaining queer-centric fare. But for every Broken Hearts Club-- which even I can agree is a largely superficial celebration of West Hollywood hedonism-- there's an atrocious mess like Latter Days, a two hour nighttime soap opera that tackles Mormonism and gayness with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when I sat down this week to watch two promo DVDs from Here! Television and found them both severely lacking. The gay-themed cable net is a subscription service that is advertised heavily in New York, especially in gay venues and neighborhoods, with the slogan "Gay Television. No apologies." (Its closest competitor is the 24/7 Logo network, which is comprised of several exceedingly banal original programs, cult movies, and watered down episodes of Queer As Folk.) Its flagship show is Dante's Cove, a supernatural soap set in a mysterious island community. I had already seen an episode of the horrendously bad spin-off, the vampire-themed The Lair; I foolishly hoped that the "original" would be a little better. No such luck. Dante's Cove plays like a poor gay man's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Actually, "poor" might be giving it too much credit. "Severely impoverished, possibly starving" would be more accurate.) It's silly and campy in the worst possible way; the dialogue is atrocious and the plotlines are laughable at best. Tracy Scoggins, who I remember as slutty Cat Grant on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, stars as witch Grace Neville, who's just been returned from some sort of alternate dimension at the episode's start. Grace runs into newcomer Griffen (Jensen Atwood), a suave black guy who comes from "the Treassom Council" (Treassom is the magic that characters on the show practice; just go with it). He tries to get Grace to join the Council, but she's having none of it, athough the lady doth protest too much when it comes to Griffen's blatant flirtation. (A straight man on Dante's Cove?! OMFG!) Meanwhile, Toby (Charlie David) tries not to let it bother him that his ex Kevin (Gregory Michael) is now warlock Ambrosius (William Gregory Lee)'s butt boy. (In the "previously on" montage, we saw some overblown confrontation in which Ambrosius disappeared with Kevin in his arms and Grace's sister Diana sent her to the aforementioned alt world.) Toby's friend Adam (Jon Fleming) carries a torch for him, but he's willing to have the world's fastest hookup with Trevor (Reichen Lehmkuhl, reality douche bag and ex-boyfriend of Lance Bass, making his fifteen minutes last as long as possible). And Brit (Michelle Wolff) and Elena (Jenny Shimizu) are the obligatory lesbian couple, with matching dyke-y haircuts. (Grace walks in on the pair getting it on in her kitchen and freaks out-- it's a long story.) There's other stuff going on, too, including poor Thea Gil from QAF (I met her once and she's nice as pie, as well as too good an actress for this drivel) losing her magic powers to Griffen and wailing "I need Treassom!" But basically, what it all comes down to is this: bad acting, bad writing, and more half-naked man candy then you can shake a stick at. I'd normally be loathe to complain about that last part, but it really is at a ludicrous level; the men lounge around in board shorts like extras from a porno, except the sex scenes are all "butts only" softcorn sequences that are over and done with in record time. (Seriously, do all gays in Dante's Cove prefer quickies?) There's more "Are you close?" dialogue than a cyber sex exchange, and Trevor must have a second tongue to be able to get Adam off so damn fast. The men are all mid-twenties to early-thirties, yet in bed they have all the staying power of a horned-up sixteen year old. Sheesh. By the way, Griffen isn't strictly straight; he hooks up with bartender Marco (Gabriel Romero) and the two enjoy "magic sex," which is like regular sex except with some freaky zapping energy effects. "Once you have magic sex, you'll never go back," Griffen declares, making me wish the writers had just gone for maximum cheese and had him say something like, "Once you go magic you'll never go back-gic!" While Dante's Cove is advertised as "your favorite guilty pleasure" (sorry guys, but that would be The OC), The DL Chronicles is ostensibly a grittier and more realistic series, an anthology focusing on the secret lives of African Americans living on the "down low." It's narrated by writer Chadwick (Damian T. Raven), who's researching a book on this phenomenon and who apparently runs into closeted black guys on a regular basis. In the episode I saw, he literally bumps into Wes (Darren Schnase), a married real estate broker who's hiding a dark secret (golly, what could it be?). How Chadwick knows everything that happens next is never explained; the set-up reminds me of Red Shoe Diaries, except on that show David Duchovny's narrator got letters telling the stories (and the sex scenes were better, too). In any case, we next see Wes coming home to his Latina wife Sarah (Jessica Beshir), who announces that her ne'er-do-well brother Trent (Ty Vincent) will be staying with them for a week while he looks for a job. As soon as smoldering Trent comes down the stairs we know exactly where this is all going. Wes acts visibly uncomfortable while the two exchange bad dialogue; Trent's off-handed comment that "I'm here to service you... I mean, at your service" is particularly telling. (No points for subtlety Here!, folks.) At an awkward couples dinner, Wes sidesteps friends' questions about when he and the wife are going to start a family; back at home, Sarah complains that he never has sex with her anymore. When Trent finds Wes drinking whiskey on the couch-- languidly lifting up his own tank top to scratch his belly-- anyone who's ever seen a gay porn (or any soap opera ever made) will know where this is going. The two have a sex scene that's slightly longer than the ones on Dante's but just as tame; the next day Wes predictably freaks out and rebuffs all further advances. "I'm straight," he growls, while Trent slinks around seductively. (Apparently it doesn't really bother him that he's putting the moves on his sister's husband. Paging Jerry Springer.) Wes has a near panic attack when Sarah tells him she "knows what happened" between him and her brother; of course, she just means Wes telling Trent to leave, and Wes smiles and says that Trent can stay "as long as he wants." That's all the resolution we get on the story. Cut to Chadwick, throwing away Wes' business card while musing that "Some men want ballpoint pens to have erasers, but then find that ink-- is not so easily erased." He's like a gay black Carrie Bradshaw, except that her observations actually made sense. Seriously, what does that comment even mean? And what exactly are the show's creators trying to say about the down low, exactly? That gay black married men will stay married but enjoy flings with Latino boy toys on the side? That gay black writers will make pithy observations about them? That women look good with spider web earrings? (Seriously, I think that was my favorite part of the episode apart from the ink speech.) Both shows led me to the conclusion that while there are provocative and interesting films out there for gay audiences (John Cameron Mitchell's pansexual Shortbus comes to mind), there's also a lot of crap, and we deserve better. I'm convinced that it's possible to make queer entertainment with substance as well as flash, with stories and characters that go beyond stereotypes. (I'm looking at you, Mr. "cavorting in the pool with random naked dudes" Lehmkuhl.) Maybe someday Here! will develop a show that actually respects our brains as well as our libidos; for now, I'll stick to those crazy straight kids over on Gossip Girl.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
On June 11, 1993, I went with my parents to see the movie Jurassic Park at the Tower Theaters in South Hadley, Massachusetts. I was ten. Although specifics of the day are hard to remember now, I do remember sitting in the theater and being utterly amazed when a living, breathing Tyrannosaurus Rex (an effect more real than anything I had ever seen) attacked a jeep and scared two kids not much older than me out of their wits. I liked dinosaurs as much as the next kid, but Steven Spielberg and his team of moviemaking wizards made them real for me. I spent the rest of the summer obsessing over every detail of Jurassic Park. I played with the toys. I read the "making of" book from cover to cover, and carried it around my day camp until it was practically falling apart. I ordered the McDonald's "Dino Size" meals. And I talked about it incessantly. By the time I observed that "the book had more dinosaurs," my dad had had enough. But the film captured my imagination so thoroughly that it became a seminal part of my childhood. Maybe it contributed to my desire to be a writer, to create stories that would enthrall and transport people just as Jurassic Park had done for me. The plot mechanics and dialogue will hardly win any awards; the film streamlines Michael Crichton's best-selling novel (which I dutifully read in advance of the release) into a fast and furious adventure lark, skimming over deeper philosophical commentary in favor of cliffhanging action. But what the movie lacked in characterization and subtlety, it more than made up for in sheer entertainment value. The appealing cast gave the material more weight than it might have had otherwise; as intrepid paleo-botanist Ellie Sattler, Laura Dern was easily my favorite character. Dern remains one of my favorite actresses, in part because I have such vivid memories of playing with her action figure and jokingly imitating her exaggerated jaw-dropping in the first dinosaur scene. Gay boys need their ass-kicking girls, and Ellie was one of my first. (The previous summer brought Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns; I'll have to write about that some other time.) I still revisit Jurassic Park on a regular basis, and think I'll do just that tonight, on the fifteenth anniversary of its release. Whenever I watch this movie (or even hear the John Williams theme), it takes me back-- to childhood, to a time when adventure occupied my thoughts and things were simple and fun. As an adult, it's easy to get caught up in bills, work, and stress. But the entertainment we enjoyed as kids can serve as a powerful reminder that it's still okay to play, and dream, and get swept away, back to a land where dinosaurs rule the earth.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Sunday night I returned to Piano's for the second edition of my friend Roman's party Zombie-A-Go-Go. Faithful readers of Easy-'N-Green-- both of you-- will remember that I reunited with my sorta-kinda ex Jesse at the last one, although only in the most ambiguous possible way. Since then, I hadn't seen him and all of my phone calls had gone unanswered (though he did manage the occasional Myspace message or text) and I had decided that I really just wanted to be friends, anyway. Clearly, he wasn't able to handle being boyfriends. He also wasn't willing to open up-- and that trend continued at the second party. I told him I'd heard he was considering leaving New York. He was upset when I revealed it was Roman who'd told me this, and said he "didn't want to talk about it." He did reveal something tremendously personal, but gave no further details. It seemed like I'd upset him, so I avoided any more personal questions. But this awkward conversation only strengthened my resolve to keep things platonic between us. While I'm still attracted to him, and he's always very kind to me, I simply need more-- not just from a boyfriend but from a friend. On the other hand, the evening gave me encouragement that my interest in Roman might be mutual. "Roman loves you," Jesse declared. "Well, I'm lovable," I joked, trying to hide my excitement. "No, really," Jesse said. "He told me, 'Thank you so much for introducing me to your friend Justin.'" I was psyched. I mentioned this to Traci, the blonde bombshell who works with Roman at Barney's, and while she agreed it was a good sign, she also seemed to caution me about her friend. "Roman's really into his own stuff," she said. "And he has issues to work out, but he doesn't really know it yet." Ironically, one of Jesse's friends had warned me about dating him in a similar fashion. This time, though, I'm not entirely convinced I should really fret that much. If Roman is open to dating, I want to explore that possibility, and find out for myself whatever hangups he might have. (It's not as if I don't have a truckload of my own!) Besides, this might be just the thing to help me finally move on from a certain curly haired someone.
Monday, June 9, 2008
My mother hated the new movie The Strangers. She even tried to warn me not to see it, because she found the film so unbearable. "I kind of just wanted it to be over," she said, adding that seeing one of her favorite actresses (Liv Tyler) brutalized for two hours was not her idea of a good time. Of course, relentlessly scary movies are my idea of a good time, precisely because they work my emotions so expertly. While many modern horror flicks are laden with cheesy cliches or gratuitous gore, The Strangers is a stylish and unbelievably effective shocker. It's one of the best movies I've seen this year and certainly the scariest in recent memory. The set-up is simple. Tyler and Scott Speedman play Kristen and Jimmy, a young couple who return home after a party. They've just had a fight, and slowly we realize it stems from Jimmy's rejected marriage proposal. The writing and acting here are both terrific, deftly establishing both the characters and their unease. (Emotionally drained and a little drunk, neither is at all prepared to face the horrors that follow.) The two are startled by a loud knock at the door, and a mysterious woman (Gemma Ward) who says she's looking for "Tamara." The couple finds this odd, but quickly forget about it; Jimmy heads out to buy cigarettes while Kristen stays behind. Then the pounding at the door resumes, and as Kristen's suspicions mount, things go from bad to worse. By the time Jimmy returns, the pair are caught up in a desperate fight for survival. The Strangers compares favorably to John Carpenter's original Halloween, borrowing from that film several elements: the masked assailants; the shadowy camera work (which is incredibly suggestive and plays on our fears of what lurks in the dark); and the slow-burning tension. We never really see the stalkers' faces , and we never understand their motivation, either; the randomness of the brutality is all the more frightening for its lack of rhyme or reason. The Strangers takes its time, but once it gets going it plays out like a nightmare. Watching the film, I thought how strange it is that so many movies with similar plotlines lacked any real sense of jeopardy or doom. But in the hands of writer-director Bryan Bertino, the movie is unrelenting and brutal. Sure, there are plenty of "jump" moments; but they come as a result of superb set-up and attention to detail. In one nail-biting sequence, Kristen takes refuge in a closet (again, shades of Halloween) and watches in horror as one of the attackers prowls the house, seeking but not finding her. We are so caught up in the moment that we're rendered sitting ducks for anything the film throws at us, and the same goes for the entire movie. It should be noted that the sound design is a huge part of what makes the movie so frightening; from the jarring knocks at the door to the indistinct scraping and running sounds that bewilder the characters, The Strangers suggests even more terror with what we hear. (The film also benefits from several moody folk songs.) The performances of the two leads, particularly Tyler, are outstanding. Tyler is terrific as a normal woman pushed past the point of reason; she makes Kristen sympathetic and entirely convincing as a victim of unimaginable terror and violence. And while I won't spoil it, the movie boasts a terrific and evocative ending that lingers in the memory. The Strangers proves that you don't need excessive blood or elaborate plot mechanics to make a good horror movie-- just simple craftsmanship and a commitment to scaring the pants off your audience.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Time Out New York interviews In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (whose show is the most-nominated at this year's Tony Awards) in this week's issue. When asked what he does outside of theater, he replies, "Any extra time I have I spend playing Grand Theft Auto or watching Viva Hollywood." The poor deprived writer has never heard of the show, so Miranda explains it thusly: "It's the VH1 search for the next telenovela star. All the stereotypes! It sets our people back 40 years. But given that Flavor of Love sets black people back and Rock of Love sets white people back, I guess it's our turn." I couldn't have said it better myself.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Well, well, well. Times are interesting for me these days in the love department. I've developed a crush on one of my friends, and I'm curious to see if that goes anywhere. (He's also tattooed and bald and kind of freaky looking... and I love it! And he's a horror buff, which appeals to me. Muchly.) One of his friends has actually promised to help me do a little recon and find out if the interest is mutual. I realize that's very high school, but hey, what the heck? We pinky swore on it. Meanwhile, my ex-- with whom I've managed to maintain a surprisingly durable friendship-- is planning to visit this month, and everyone else seems to think something's going to happen between us. I honestly don't know. I still have feelings for him, but I don't know that they're mutual. I don't know if it would be a good idea even if they were. Either way, the visit should be interesting...
Monday, June 2, 2008
Like a zillion other gay men and straight women, I hit the multiplex this past weekend for Sex and the City. (You may have heard of it. It's a small independent film which had very little advance publicity.) The thing is, I'm not a hardcore fan of the show; the TV-to-screen adaptation I'm really looking forward to this summer involves flashlights, something creepy, and Gillian Anderson. But even for a Sex novice like me (I've seen a handful of episodes, finding them by turns enjoyable and unbearably cheesy), the big screen version was thoroughly delightful. After all the hype-- and a smattering of mixed to negative reviews-- I was primed for mediocrity or worse. Fortunately, the cast and crew seem to have taken their time with something that actually respects its audience and gives us a reason to spend $11 instead of staying in and watching those DVDs. The movie quickly catches us up on who these ladies were and where they are now (with that interminable Fergie song "Labels or Love" in the background-- enough to drive anyone to drink multiple Cosmos), then revisits them as they go about their lives. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is still with Mr. Big (Chris Noth) but now they're moving in together and planning a wedding. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is living in Brooklyn-- which may as well be Guam by these Manhattan-centric gals' standards-- with her husband Steve (David Eigenberg) and son. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) remains as happy as can be with her gentle husband Harry (Evan Handler) and cute-as-a-button daughter. Across the country, sex-lovin' Samantha (Kim Cattrall, older but no less hard-bodied) is doing her damndest to embrace domesticity with her man meat actor husband Smith (Jason Lewis, older but no less hard-bodied)-- but never fear, she cross commutes so much that we barely realize she left New York. That the Big wedding doesn't go off without a hitch is no spoiler (the trailer reveals as much) and this emotional crisis drives the rest of the movie. Carrie's friends rush to her aid, while she tries to put the pieces of her life back together with an earnest young assistant (Jennifer Hudson, appealing in a fairly non-descript part). Her heartbreak seems to have a ripple effect on her pals, as Miranda grapples with Steve's infidelity, Samantha grows increasingly restless (and, thanks to a porn-on-legs neighbor, horny), and Charlotte... well, actually, Charlotte spends the majority of the run time in blissful contentment, though she does dream up some choice words with which to reprimand Big. (There are probably few things funnier than seeing someone so docile and sweet get really, really pissed.) Over the course of its nearly 2 and a half hour runtime-- which thankfully feels earned and not padded out-- the film manages to hit on hard emotional truths while also providing us with the requisite number of laughs, fashions, and sex. The writing and direction are strong, but so are the actresses-- these women are all professionals with an easy, lived-in chemistry with one another that elevates the film far beyond typical romantic comedies. Parker, with her long features and bony frame, has never been a conventional beauty, but her charisma and likability can't be emphasized enough. This is an actress idolized by millions for embodying the trials and tribulations of young adult (and now middle-aged) life while simultaneously wowing us in a succession of fantastic looks. She does the same in Sex, the movie, as Carrie reins in the banal observations (mostly) and struggles to stand on her own two feet while fulfilling her hunger for love and commitment. Sure, Big is a cad, but as the movie thoughtfully suggests, sometimes emotion is more important than logic. (And who among us hasn't loved a cad at one time or another?) The rest of the ensemble bring their signature characters back to life. Nixon has the most to work with after Parker, with a parallel storyline that finds her trying to forgive Steve-- and ultimately herself. But all of the women in the film do a fine job, and they are ably supported by Noth and the other guys (including Mario Cantone and Willie Garson as the gay BFFs to beat). In the end, Sex and the City justifies its existence as more than a cash-in, pleasing the crowd with fun and drama but also touching on the human condition the way the series did in its best moments. Sure, it's a giant hunk of consumer porn (the sheer amount of things, particularly of the couture kind, that are goggled at defies description), and it wraps itself up pretty tidily considering the amount of emotional debris Carrie sifts through in the first two hours. But these are small quibbles for a movie as polished and entertaining as Sex. I'll clink my Cosmo glass with these women any day.