Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just 'cause

I just adore Sia. She has the most gorgeous voice and the couple of times I've met her she's just been an absolute doll-- she even talked to my mom on the phone once following a concert. A lot of you may know her single "Breathe Me" which featured prominently in the Six Feet Under season finale; she's also done some really beautiful music with Zero 7.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's all led up to this

Does anyone else feel gypped re: the amount of Georgina we got this season? I feel like her appearances in the last few episodes amounted to glorified cameos; I at least expected more of her in the finale! But despite the dearth of Georgina, the producers still delivered a pretty satisfying finale-- it even paid off loose ends I'd been waiting to come back for months.
The episode begins with the gang graduating from Constance/St. Jude's, which is amusing considering none of them seem to spend any time in class. (Unless, of course, they're taking lessons from a clueless Ohio teacher who likes to hook up with her students.) Blair and Chuck have an awkward pre-grad moment,with her almost-- but not quite-- telling him that she and Nate are dunzo. He doesn't tell her anything, either, even though she knows he told Serena he really does love her. (And really, if he was hiding his feelings, was Blair's BFF really the best person to share with? Right, like *she's* not gonna say anything.) Blair also has a run-in with the three mean girls, who tell Jenny she has a shot at becoming the new "Queen" of the school. Kind of an about-face, huh? One minute she's persona non grata with these bitches, the next they offer her a crown. (I guess they're all just followers incapable of leading.) Jenny insists she's not interested, having hoped the hierarchy would die out with Blair, and Blair walks by just in time to declare that she alone can pick the next queen. The second she leaves, though, the girls tell Jenny they could care less what Blair thinks anymore. In any case, Blair seems glad to leave all the "high school" drama behind, including the girls, Nate, and Chuck, while Serena says she's just glad to be going off Gossip Girl's radar. (Yep, the actual Gossip Girl was discussed quite a bit in this episode.) But she spoke too soon: Gossip Girl email blasts everyone during the ceremony, and naturally they all receive it on their cell phones at once. (Seriously, do these kids ever silence their phones? I'd hate to be at a funeral where the granddaughter's fucking text notification goes off during the eulogy, which is probably what happens with these kids. "Sorry Grandma, but Lonely Boy was just spotted at Dylan's Candy Bar!") Even for Gossip Girl it's a pithy post, essentially just a series of insults aimed at the principle characters. Nate's a "whore" (a reference to the duchess storyline which was the last time Nate did anything interesting), Dan's "the ultimate insider," Chuck's "a coward," Blair's "a weakling," and finally, Serena is "now officially irrelevant."
None of the staff or parents can understand why the kids aren't standing up at the closing. Serena decides she's declaring war on Gossip Girl, and at the incredibly boring post-grad reception, which doesn't seem to have nearly enough students to constitute a senior class in it (plus tons of random non-seniors like Eric and the mean girls), she sends GG a text, reasoning that the mysterious blogger "must be someone in this room." Jonathan's phone goes off-- gasp! (Right, like Eric's barely developed boyfriend would be the title character.) Turns out he's simply hacked into Gossip Girl's mainframe and has access to her inbox. Serena, Jenny, and Eric reason they can use this to somehow expose her, with Jenny laying eyes on some sort of big kahuna re: Blair. (P.S. the Mean Girls have told Jenny she gets to be Queen if she can produce juicy gossip... what a coinky-dink!) But at Nate's big grad party, this plan is foiled. Initially we see Nate talking to his grandpa about the duchess thing and how it could come out. "I had an affair with an older woman," he confesses. "Welcome to Washington," Grandpa replies. "She was married," Nate says. (Welcome to Washington.) "And she paid me." (Okay, Nate, WELCOME TO WASHINGTON!) Grandpa promises he'll protect Nate if need be. I just wish they'd bring the duchess and her incestuous step hunk back. They injected some nice drama into the series.
Meanwhile, Blair and Chuck share another spectacularly sexy scene, with her asking him how he feels about her "headband" (natch), her "stockings" ("I adore them" Bass coos), and finally, "me." "I..." Chuck begins, and that damn text alert predictably interrupts them. (Seriously kids, have you never heard of "vibrate"??) Then, Gossip Girl decides to drop a series of bombs about *everyone*, including one I'd been waiting for since the winter: Blair's liaison with Chuck's uncle. Busted! Blair blames Serena, who also comes under fire when GG exposes tidbits like Jenny's naked kinda-photo-shoot and Vanessa and Chuck's one night stand. Serena agrees that Dan really is an insider, having gotten into Yale, had a lame story published in The New Yorker, and generally insinuated himself into everything while still professing not to be "one of them." Blair angrily yells at Chuck for taking up with "the dregs of DUMBO." LOL. They eventually admit they're not really upset about the affairs, but they still seem to be at an impasse. Serena decides to try and rectify things by asking Gossip Girl to meet her at the Oak Room or else she'll "tell everyone who you are." (It's a bluff, of course.) But instead Serena is greeted by Dan, Blair (also thinking Gossip Girl's coming, Dan deadpans, "well THAT makes sense"), and finally all the other main characters. Gossip Girl texts them all: "You wanted to meet Gossip Girl, well, now you have. I'd be nothing without all of you. And surprise: I'm coming with you." (Meaning the updates will continue into college.) It was a little too precious and not at all surprising (I doubt they'd disclose her identity before the series finale, if ever), but whatever. Serena and Dan make up, promising to remain friends. Blair sees Chuck outside, staring soulfully. Meanwhile, Lily and Rufus have been partying it up with some pot she found in Chuck's room (?!). Rufus, whose issues with Lily have predictably lasted all of one episode, proposes to her and she says yes. (With an old tour bracelet as a ring, which is cute, I guess.)
Cut to a few weeks later, and a gotta-pack-it-all-in montage of scenes. Blair formally appoints Jenny as new Queen, and tells the girls they better obey because she now has damaging dirt on all of them. (I don't remember what it was or how she acquired it, but in any case Jenny now has a shot at interesting story lines again. Plus she actually looked cute in this episode, although Patrick was still troubled by the bangs.) Nate got hit on by the mayor so he's leaving the internship-- and joining Vanessa on that redonkulous "pirogi tour of Europe"! (Ugh, those two deserve each other.) Nearby, a new NYU student calls his parents while looking at newspaper clippings on Rufus and Lily-- yep, it's the love child, and not only will he be joining Dan at school, but he apparently knows who his real parents are. Georgina calls Dan and tells him she's gotten his money back from Poppy, though she doesn't say how. She hangs up and tells a woman at NYU that she wants to room with her "best friend Blair Waldorf." Does it really make sense for her to magically make that happen unbeknownst to Blair? Would kids this rich even live in dorms? Who cares-- the possibilities for drama with those two as roomies are endless. (Unfortunately Georgina won't become a series regular, as I hoped; NBC picked up a pilot with her starring for next season, although her contract allows for 3 GG episodes, according to the stalwarts at Entertainment Weekly. But some Georgina is better than none at all.) That skeezy Carter shows up out of nowhere with info on Serena's long lost dad, and she heads off in search of Papa Van Der Woodsen. (Guess they're setting up the story for next season. Maybe this is also their way of getting out of sending Serena away for school.) And last but certainly not least, Chuck greets Blair with a bushel of gifts. Turns out he jetted off to Europe only to procure her favorite chocolates, stockings, etc. And he finally-- FINALLY-- says, "I love you." I got a little verklempt, I'm not gonna lie. "Say it again," Blair breathes, and he does, and they kiss, and fans everywhere rejoice. Not a bad way to end the season, all in all.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gossip Girl: They Love the 80s

It could have been a spectacular train wreck, but Gossip Girl's totally awesome 80s flashback-- the so-called "backdoor pilot" for the proposed young Lily spin-off-- was surprisingly decent. It might have launched a decent series, although the project has supposedly been scuttled already, but more importantly it worked better than expected when blended with the modern day storyline.
The episode starts off in New York circa 2009, with Serena still in the slammer and Blair amusingly remarking that "she's been in jail longer than Nicole Ritchie and Lindsay Lohan combined!" Meanwhile, Lily is headed there to bail her out, and begins reflecting on her youth in California circa 1983. Back then, she'd been expelled from school and calls her businessman father Rick (80s stalwart Andrew McCarthy) asking him to meet her for lunch. (Lily is played here by Brittany Snow, and while the LA scenes are blended cleverly with the modern day ones, I'll describe the entire flashback plot in its entirety here to avoid confusion.) She's shown at a payphone with the sign for Neptune's Net in the background-- a seafood restaurant I actually ate at with Ashely during a visit last fall! (It's delicious and total no-frills-dining-at-its-best.) We learn that Lily's been expelled from school, and is hoping to move in with her dad. But her steely mother, Cece (Cynthia Watros), has been called and what's more, both parents know of her predicament already. Her request to move in with Dad is predictably rebuffed. Snow does a decent enough job as the young Lily-- there's a passing resemblance, and she's relatively believable as a spunkier but still square-ish version of Serena's mom-- but Ritter really nails it as her steely mother. Her hard-edged portrayal is totally consistent with the modern day battle ax played by Caroline Lagerfelt, who also appears in this ep. Cece insists Lily accompany her home, but foolishly leaves in her own car, prompting Lily to drive off to LA instead in search of her wayward sister, Carol (Krysten Ritter). She heads to the diner where she works, and meets a bad-boy looking friend of hers named Owen (Shiloh Fernandez), who would clearly be her love interest if this got picked up for series. (I suppose it'd be kind of weird watching the show and knowing that whatever happens with these two, they won't last-- although I'd love to see Lily's alleged hookups with Trent Reznor and Slash!) Owen says his pal is dating Carol and that she'll be at a rock show if Lily wants to come.
Cut to Lily trying on some of her sister's outfits set to "Dancing with Myself," since Owen comments that her uber-preppie fatigues aren't going to cut it. Of course, this is what we really care about: the clothes and the music! They used some choice cuts like "Safety Dance" and "Blue Monday" throughout the episode, and the fashions were appropriately 80s-tacular while stopping just short of silliness. (It'd be interesting to see them parade around in vintage clothes week after week on a series, although I suspect the licensing budget for all those Time Life retro hits could get a little unwieldy.) The concert scene is appropriately raucous, with a down and dirty CBGB's feel and a much touted cameo by No Doubt as the fictional "Snowed Out." (They must have been up all night thinking of that witty moniker.) Carol is pleasantly surprised to see Lily ("are you wearing my dress?"), and the group piles into her beat up car to head to a party they're not invited to. (I don't remember why they go, but it's apparently required that all Josh Schwartz California pilots involve crashing a party and engaging in fisticuffs. Unfortunately, no one here cracks "Welcome to the LA, bitch!") Lily and Carol have some expository banter about what her life is like now, with an amusing reference to fanny packs (!) and Carol explaining that she is "making it" as she claimed-- "This is what making it looks like! When you just haven't... made it yet." She's a likable enough character and I could relate to her cautiously optimistic attitude about her life. The two actresses look nothing like each other, but they do have good sisterly chemistry. (Plus, the brunette and blonde combo evokes Blair and Serena.) At the party, they clash with nasty rich brat Keith van Der Woodsen, aka Serena and Eric's never-before-seen dad! Unfortunately, his appearance is brief but whets our appetite for details on how he and Lily ever got involved. (If the Lily show's truly dead, I'd love to see some more flashbacks on Gossip Girl next season.) Keith and his friends tell the party crashers to get lost with some particularly nasty insults. In a funny moment, Lily and Carol both demand, "What did you just say??" in unison. "No one talks to us like that!" Lily says defiantly, leading to the aforementioned fight. Next thing we know Lily's been arrested-- just like her daughter two decades later! Lily calls CeCe for help, and her mom-- shown working out to a Jane Fonda video-- is typically unsympathetic. But Carol shows up, grabs the phone, and informs their ice queen mother that Lily will be staying with *her* for the time being and voila! We have a spin-off premise.
The sisters exit the jail and Carol reveals she sold her car to pay bail. "What are we going to do, walk?" Lily asks. "Walking in LA? You've got a lot to learn," Carol cracks. (Patrick informs me that this is actually a reference to a pop song, although I thought it was funny in and of itself.) Carol puts on her sunglasses and declares, "we Rhodes travel in style." Next thing we know they're on a bus together holding hands, which is intercut with scenes of Serena and Blair bonding outside of their senior prom.
Yes-- back to 2009! Lily shows up at jail but Serena's already called CeCe to get her out (and hey, in light of the 80s storyline, that's, like, ironic!). Lily and CeCe have their zillionth parenting debate. Serena's bailed out just in time to go to the prom, with Dan whisking her away via cab, and even bringing her (typically gorgeous) dress along. Blair, meanwhile, is living her dream prom by attending with Nate in a fanciful fairytale gown. (Blair in the gown, not Nate. I quite liked it, and the media ate it up, with Entertainment Weekly declaring it "A+".) But those scheming bitches Nelly, Penelope, and, um, the other one (who've been MIA for a while) are up to no good, rigging the votes so that Nelly steals the prom queen crown from Blair. (What, were they all out of pig's blood?) Blair chastises Chuck when she catches him rifling through the votes, but he's ultimately redeemed when we learn-- of course-- that he was actually securing her victory. He also hands Serena the key to a hotel suite for the couple, because he wants her to have the perfect night. All together now: awwwwwww. But on the dance floor, Blair realizes that having lived her high school fantasy, she no longer needs her high school boyfriend, and explains this to Nate as they share a somber dance. We expected as much, since there has to be more B & C drama at season's end, but Gawwwwd I hope this doesn't mean Nate and Vanessa are going to rekindle their non-flame. (I saw a promo photo of the two of them in next week's finale-- argh!) Meanwhile, Lily apologizes to Rufus for her questionable decision making with Serena, and says she realizes he was going to propose. Rufus accepts her apology, but cautions that this doesn't mean they're back on... yet. (He'll probably be over it by next week. Or not. We're overdue for the return of the love child from Boston, aren't we?) Lily and CeCe share as tender a moment as they possibly can, with Lily forcing a hug on the old coot and CeCe seeming to thaw out enough to realize that her daughter really does love her. (As they embraced, I wanted CeCe to remark, "I can feel your baby kicking!") We close on Blair and Serena sharing their heart to heart, paralleled with Lily and Carol back in 83. Only one more episode left, and it looks like we'll have plenty of Georgina bitchery, Chuck/Blair drama, and Serena vowing to bring down Gossip Girl her (or him??) self. Can't wait!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just because

I just happened to see this online shortly after writing the last post. You can click on it for a bigger version. Incidentally, I think Calvin and Hobbes is the most brilliant cartoon strip this side of Peanuts.

The Hauntingly Beautiful Films of James Whale

I just recently read A New World of Gods and Monsters, an outstanding and exhaustive biography of director James Whale written by James Curtis. Although the British Whale helmed a vast array of movies and plays in his career, he's best know for directing horror classics like Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Old Dark House (which starred Gloria Stuart yeeeears before Titanic). The book inspired me to revisit the Frankenstein films last weekend for the first time in years.
I knew I loved The Bride of Frankenstein, which is a much jauntier and more comical effort than its predecessor, but I was equally impressed with the original this time. Stylishly directed and handsomely produced, it's a lush and supremely dark story that must have really freaked out audiences in 1931. (I still think it's creepy as all get out, immersed as it is in the world of cemeteries, alleyways, and cavernous laboratories.) The cast is uniformly excellent, with Colin Clive an appropriately brooding and obsessive Dr. Frankenstein, Mae Clarke as his bewildered and anxious bride Elizabeth, and Fred Kerr as an amusingly ornery Baron Frankenstein. Of course, Boris Karloff steals the show in a legendary role as the monster, and while his appearance, mannerisms, and guttural growls may be the stuff of parody now, he remains a startling presence onscreen. As Curtis notes in his book, Whales stages the creature's first entrance for maximum effect. The monster backs into the room, then slowly turns around as a succession of increasingly close shots (a trademark Whale flourish) reveal his ghoulish visage. Jack P. Pierce's iconic makeup frightened the public upon the movie's release; indeed, it frightened most of the cast and crew, and retains a powerful effect to this day. Watching the monster stalk in the background as an oblivious Elizabeth paces her room, I couldn't help remembering a thousand latter day slashers containing the same set-up. But here, nearly eighty years ago, was where it all began. Despite these ghastly details, Whale's success with the material stems from his deep empathy with Frankenstein's creation. According to Curtis, an associate who read the script revealed that he "felt sorry for the damned monster," and this comment unlocked the key to the material. The pitifully misunderstood creature does not set out to create havoc; even his most heinous act, the drowning of a young girl (a scene often targeted by censors) stems from his naive belief that she will float like the flowers they've been tossing in the water. Indeed, it is the vicious and ignorant reaction of the villagers and Frankenstein's own humpbacked assistant that dooms the monster to brutality and fiery destruction (or so we think).
Of course, the massive success of Frankenstein had Universal clamoring for a studio, but it was not until 1935 that Whale relented and gave them one. While Curtis revealed Whale's initial belief that he had nothing new to do with the story, the director ultimately hit on a stroke of inspiration within the original Mary Shelley novel. In the book, Frankenstein's creation begs for a companion to assuage his loneliness, but the would-be bride is destroyed before she can be revived. The fancifully titled Bride of Frankenstein would expand on this plot line to unforgettable effect. This time, the script was imbued with a heavy dose of gallows humor, and opens with a hokey and yet wholly appropriate prologue depicting Mary Shelley regaling her friends Percy Shelley and Lord Byron with the continuation of her ghoulish tale on a stormy night in Switzerland. (The three friends were famously recounting ghost stories when they hit on the idea to write some of their own, leading Mary to write her famous novel. I somehow doubt their banter was quite as polished and zippy as was depicted here, though.) The sequel's plot brings in another strikingly mad scientist, the comically sinister Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger in a wonderfully flamboyant performance). Una O'Connor steals most of the show, meanwhile, as the hilariously dramatic and screeching housekeeper Minnie. (That Minnie's terrified hysterics have the audience rolling in the aisles mere moments after the monster kills two people is a testament to both her comedic gifts and Whale's deft balance between humor and horror.) Frankenstein is tempted back into more forbidden experiments by Pretorius, who initially appeals to the doctor's still raging curiosity before resorting to kindapping to force his compliance. Meanwhile, the surviving monster escapes the ruins of the windmill where he and Frankenstein clashed in the original film, killing off the drowned girl's parents in the process. (I love the bit with him drowning the father while an owl looks on dispassionately, truly a clever and unsettling touch.) The monster wanders aimlessly until he encounters a blind hermit (a perfectly cast O.P. Heggie) who shows him kindness and teaches him how to speak and enjoy life's pleasures. Karloff was opposed to this development, according to Curtis, but Whale's instincts were correct. The creature is further humanized and fleshed out, expanding on the themes of the first film and showing the audience that the monster is to be sympathized more than feared. In fact, it is only the intrusion of violent villagers that shatters the new found peace and harmony between the creature and the hermit, leading to one of the most poignant images in all of cinema: Karloff stumbling out of the hut's burning ruins, wailing "Friend, friend!" Their relationship has been the subject of some critical speculation, especially in light of Whale's homosexuality. (My queer identity professor even showed us a clip from the film, emphasizing how tender and loving the characters' first meeting is.) The monster himself has struck some as a queer allegory, a misfit who is persecuted simply for being different. While Curtis balked at any such interpretations of the material, arguing that Whale's reserved manner would have precluded any overt manifestations of his sexuality, I can't help feeling there's something to these readings. After all, it's entirely possible that Whale expressed certain themes on an entirely subconscious level, and I'm reminded of that old adage: "Never trust the teller, trust the tale." Besides, the gay Thesiger's queeny Pretorius could singlehandedly elevate the film to a high level of camp. In any case, Bride concludes with another spectacular creation scene and the revelation of one of the strangest and most compelling creatures ever put on celluloid. In less than five minutes of screen time, Elsa Lanchester makes an indelible impression with her bird-like movements, hissing and screaming vocalizations, and utterly bizarre appearance. When she rejects the monster just as cruelly as everyone else, he decides to destroy them both, along with the nefarious Pretorius. (In a last minute editorial decision, the Doctor and Elizabeth are allowed to live, though sharp eyes viewers can apparently spot Frankenstein in a shot of the tower exploding.) Thus concludes an utterly spectacular and hugely entertaining one two punch from the man who would be, fairly or not, forever remembered as the Father of Frankenstein.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Scheme a little scheme

Gossip Girl's Serena continues to be willfully naive. Seriously, it's bad enough that she falls for losers like Aaron (eww) and now Gabriel (who at least has better hair care skills), but then she keeps buying into all of their lies. At the start of the episode, Serena realizes that Gabriel's made off with all the investors' money and she consults Blair and Chuck to see what she should do. Nate's tagged along with Blair because he accused her of using Serena's latest predicament to avoid discussing their issues: i.e. whether or not they should move in together. Of course, Nate is utterly useless when it comes to things like this: he's much better at pouting than he is at devising schemes. Dan arrives to announce that Rufus has sunk his college fund into Gabriel's bogus deal, and Serena apologizes. She assures him she can get the money back, because "the feelings are real" even if Gabriel's African wi-fi bullshit wasn't. She and Chuck meet Gabriel for lunch at Gilt (which I think is the real hotel restaurant that has a sandwich named after the show) and he cops to the scam-- which Chuck identifies as, yep, a Ponzi scheme-- but claims that Poppy has the money now and he couldn't return it even if he wanted to. Chuck is still skeptical, but Serena is convinced that Poppy is the more evil one and falls for Gabriel's "I really came to love you speech" and he even says, "You're the only one worth waking up a Spanish priest for" (a reference to their quasi-wedding). Barf. He's so full of it, but Serena even lets him leave, convinced that "he won't be hard to find" if they need him later. Is this why it was so easy for Bernie Maddoff to bilk New Yorkers? Are all of them dumb, trusting sheep? I thought we had more know-how than that. Anyway, Georgina, who's assuring everyone she means no harm (loved the moment when Blair instinctively pulled her purse away), is recruited to entrap Poppy by pretending to be yet another gullible, rich New Yorker for her to dupe. She's reluctant to join in the subterfuge, but Blair convinces her it's a good way for her to atone for past sins. They provide a makeover-- out with the Jesus threads, in with the Upper East vixenwear-- and Georgina makes a date to meet Poppy for lunch at yet another posh eatery: the Russian Tea Room. Meanwhile, dopey Dan has spilled the beans to Lily (whose layers of pregnancy-hiding props and wardrobe were so funny I included a pic above) about the Ponzi scheme. He's understandably concerned about his dad, but his meddling ultimately makes things worse. Lily decides to pay back the investors and handle the whole thing quietly, not wanting to taint Serena's or her reputation with "a scandal," but rather than be upfront with Rufus she opts to have him paid in monthly installments that will create the illusion his investment is actually paying him off. I'm hard pressed to understand her logic here. Did she really think she could keep this a secret? And why doesn't she want to prosecute the ones behind this sordid scheme? The fear-of-scandal doesn't seem like it should outweigh a desire for justice. She orders Serena not to interfere, even as her daughter is horrified by the sight of Lily having tea with Poppy and accepting all her lies about how she, too, was a "victim." Inevitably Serena goes ahead with the entrapment plan, anyway. When Dan gets wind that his dad is being payed in installments-- which clearly aren't from the bogus scheme-- he calls Serena who assures him she'll get the money back, and also snaps that he may as well tell her mom since he's good at it. Of course, dopey Dan does just that and Lily is furious that her kid's still plotting to bring down Poppy. (I can't really relate to this. If I were in the same position, my mom would probably be the one *behind* "Operation Nail the Bitch." I guess the Lockwoods are generally a less blase, forgiving bunch.) She calls her and demands that she call off the plan but naturally Serena ignores her. (We see her on the phone and spotting Poppy approaching. I can't blame her for ignoring Lily on this one. Just the site of that girl makes me want to bitch slap her, too.) Georgina does her best "wide eyed idiot" act, all the while secretly recording Poppy's request for money to get her in on the investment-- cash only, of course. Meanwhile, Chuck and Blair have time for a Momentous Exchange that provides yet another first. After Nate demands that Chuck either man up and declare his feelings for Blair or let her go, he's asked the burning question by Blair. "I need to know if this is real, or just a game," she declares in yet another Emmy worthy performance. (Seriously, I may have the hots for Chuck, but Blair is the best part of this show. She's both hilarious and heartbreakingly emotional. Too bad the TV Academy is way too snobbish to reward a "soap opera" performance as opposed to umpteen procedural actors.) "It's just a game," he says, and Blair, with tears in her eyes, thanks him and walks away. Serena, who's witnessed the whole scene, asks Chuck, "why did you do that?" "Because I love her," Chuck says. "And I can't make her happy." Big moment: he finally admitted he loves her! Of course, his response to Blair's face ensures that he keeps the love triangle going; pretty clever move by the writers. (Also somewhat more plausible than last fall's "the game is what we do best" bullshit.) Outside, Blair tells Nate they shouldn't move in together, and he agrees he was just "trying to force our issues." But they're still on as a couple, at least for now. Meanwhile, Georgina hands over a satchel of cash to Poppy and cops arrive... but they arrest Serena, not Poppy! Turns out Lily's foisted them on her daughter on bogus theft charges (for "stealing" an heirloom bracelet she gave her earlier) to prevent her from sullying the family name with the Ponzi scheme debacle. Really, Lily? This is your brilliant plan? I say Parenting FAIL. Rufus certainly agrees; not only is he disgusted when he finds Lily's list of the people she's paying off (him included), but he's repulsed by her willingness to have her own daughter arrested. "You sound just like your mother right now," he declares. (Side note: what's with these two leaving smoking guns around for each other to find? They really need to stop being so careless with lists, manifestos, etc. Will they ever learn?) Rufus was actually on the verge of proposing to Lily, but he backs off and tells his kids back in Brooklyn to "return this for me." There was a sweet little interlude earlier where he asked for Eric's permission to marry his mom, which was notable mainly for the first glimpse of that kid we've had in what seems like forever. (Still dig his new hair... but someone write this kid a decent storyline! He and Jenny seemingly exist only for the purpose of giving other characters advice-- it's like they're *both* the Token Gay Male!) The episode ends with Serena posing for the cutest mugshots this side of Lindsay Lohan. And next week-- it's a totally awesome "backdoor pilot" for the Lily in the 80s spin-off! Lily flashes back to her own arrest as a teen in LA, and we'll get a sneak peek at the producers' potential new series, with Andrew McCarthy as her dad and No Doubt cameo-ing as punk rockers. Looks like fun, although I still think Lily's kind of a bitch for having her own kid arrested. But what do I know?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hostel territory

Here's a blog I originally posted on Myspace (remember Myspace?). I was inspired to put it up on here after reading a clever queer reading of Hostel on Camp Blood, an amusing site that reviews horror films from a gay perspective. (See the newly added link at right.) I've also been psyched since Eli Roth announced a new feature length film based on his brilliantly grotesque "Thanksgiving" trailer from Grindhouse. ... Just saw "Hostel" for the first time. Interesting movie. Fairly creepy, and disgusting as all shit at times. I found the movie to be fascinatingly rife with psychosexual implications, actually. The film, about three horndog guys backpacking through Europe in search of T & A, was both casually homophobic and rather homoerotic. One of the boys teases another for his "fanny pack" and suggests he and someone else at the club have "fannypack sex . . . and jizz all over each other." Their other friend Oli is constantly mooning people and showing off or referring to his "shaved balls." We also see a fair amount of the boys' flesh, and their sexual exploits seem contingent on a camaraderie with each other; in an early scene, we even see two guys in the same room, having sex with girls and banging their fists together. It's all reminiscent of some gay porn fantasy of straight frat guys who might just be open to playing with each other for lack of girls. The Dutch Businessman who is central to the plot also has a notable degree of stereotypical, urbane gay affectation, and freaks out Josh by placing his hand on Josh's thigh. Josh freaks out, whilst his friends tease him for "finally hooking up." Later, when Josh runs into the Businessman again, he apologizes for his earlier reaction. The older man tells him that he understands and that "for me, having a family was the right choice . . . but you have to decide what's right for you." It really does seem like he suspects Josh is in the closet and is encouraging him to pursue his own path. In the next scene, all three boys have sex with women in the same room, and Josh keeps looking over at Paxton; one has to wonder what the meaning of this is. Josh is ostensibly trying to get over an ex-girlfriend, and yet he seems more than a little sexually ambivalent. Eventually Josh settles down, as does Paxton, the girls riding them. They're the ones being f***ed here, not the girls, a dynamic that is echoed later when one of the girls declares "Now you are *my* bitch." The scene ends on Josh, enjoying the throes of orgasm; it revolves around his facial expressions, with the girl more like window dressing. Josh is objectified later on in the movie's first real torture scene, stripped to his boxers and tied to a chair. (Sadomasochism adds a perversity to this gory, disturbing film; the ball gag that Paxton is forced to wear is straight out of the Mr. S Leather catalogue.) There is an interesting dynamic to the interplay among the film's men; they either join in sexual highjinks together or inflict violent pain on each other's bodies. SPOILER AHEAD During the movie's climax, Paxton plays dead and is wheeled right next to Josh's corpse. Josh's lips are sewn shut, and he stares lifelessly (yet soulfully) at his friend, who is obviously shaken by this. SPOILER OVER Considering what I'd heard about director Eli Roth-- that he was suspected of being an asshole because he's homo repressed-- I wasn't surprised to see publicity shots for "Hostel" that depicted beautiful boys suffering exquisite torture. Although it purports to be just another demented, bloody horror flick, "Hostel" is heavily laden with all sorts of social and cultural messages-- about men, about youth culture, about the way Americans are viewed by the rest of the world and the way that we view (and often exploit) people from other countries. And it does seem like the kind of film a man ill at ease with his own sexuality and masculinity would make. The movie both pokes holes in and reinscribes traditional notions of what it means to be a man; Paxton in particular starts off as the standard alpha male, is made confused and vulnerable, and then asserts his manhood yet again, through the saving of a young woman and through numerous acts of violence against other men. SPOILER AHEAD Actually, he isn't able to stop that woman from killing herself, which may be another reason he takes such a brutal, eye-for-an-eye-- or fingers-for-fingers-- revenge on the Businessman. SPOILER OVER The movie is also infused with a fair amount of misogyny; all the women are either sex objects, treacherous bitches, or both. Like "The Devil's Rejects" and the original "Hills Have Eyes," "Hostel" depicts a world in which their are no clear heroes and the victims end up just as vicious as the aggressors. I think it means a lot more than Roth realizes, at least at the moment. After all, I just wrote a ton about the film-- I think there's probably a whole paper here, actually! In any case, I'm glad I saw it and found it a pretty effective little thriller, even if the Grand Guignol schtick got to be a little much. (As did Paxton's clumsily inserted "I didn't save a girl from drowning once" back story.) The characterizations were good and Hernandez in particular did a good job of making us feel for a character who isn't particularly sympathetic until his life is in jeopardy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

My favorite Whores

A little over a year ago I became acquainted with the fierce and fabulous members of Whore's Mascara, an electro-pop trio whose songs are fun, danceable, and defiantly, filthily queer. Besides being sexy and wonderful people, members Chaz Kourday (tall dark and handsome in his trademark aviator shades), Lonni Bahls (a "boy next door" type who's actually more perverse than you could ever imagine, or hope for), and Georgia (truly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful women I have ever seen-- with killer pipes to match the glamour) are some of the best and most exhilarating performers on the New York scene. Their lyrics are funny, dirty, and outsized, touching on everything from the connection between religion and lust ("I'll devour your bread and guzzle your wine") to the night Bristol Palin got pregnant ("Let's bareback tonight / Nothing can touch us / Cuz we're white"). I don't know why it's taken me so long to give them a shout out on here... but better late than never. Click on the link to download their latest single, "Monogamous," their first ever love song. You'll be glad you did.

Workin' 9 to 5-- what a way to make a musical

The past few years have seen a glut of movie-to-musical adaptations hit the Broadway stage, evidently backed by wary producers hoping for a guaranteed hit. This oft-criticized trend has led to mostly mediocre (or downright terrible) shows: the middling Legally Blonde, the universally-panned Young Frankenstein. On this very blog I reviewed Shrek: The Musical, and was maybe a little too kind to it: it was funny, with good performances and high end production values, but the music was utterly forgettable and I can't say that turning that film into a musical was a particularly inspired idea. Maybe musicalizing 9 to 5 wasn't very daring, either, but it does have a secret weapon in the form of Dolly Parton, who played Doralee in the 1980 film and wrote its infectious, Oscar-nominated theme song. She tries her hand at musical songwriting here, and while she may not be the next Andrew Loyd Webber, her story-telling style makes a good, enjoyable fit for Broadway. The theme song has been re imagined as an opening "I want" number for the three lead characters, Violet (Allison Janney), Judy (Stephanie J. Block), and Doralee (Megan Hilty), famously played by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Parton onscreen. (It also pops up as a lament for boss-loving admin Roz called "5 to 9.") Their "sexist lying egotistical hypocritical bigot" boss, Mr. Franklin Hart (imbued with loads of personality and even charm by Mark Kudisch) gets a couple songs of his own; Roz's big number is among the most entertaining in the entire play. (We always suspected that old biddy was infatuated with Hart, but this showstopping song declares it in spectacular and hilarious fashion.) The book, meanwhile, has been written by the film's co writer Patricia Resnick, who retains all the best lines while adding some brand new zingers (a few of which poke fun at all that's happened in the world since 1979, when this adaptation is set). The basic plot is much the same, with the three wage slaves bonding together to give their tyrannical boss his comeuppance in increasingly zany fashion. (Act one ends with Hart hanging from the ceiling in a specially made harness-- if you've seen the movie you know how he gets there, but for newcomers I won't spoil it.) Some of the additions are unnecessary, like Violet's superfluous love interest (amiable Andy Karl does what he can with an underwritten role). But none of them detract from the quality of the story or its feminist message, which may be a little corny in this context but still holds plenty of relevance. (And while I was a fan of Legally Blonde's scrappy feminism onscreen, I think this production is more honest and inspiring than the dumbed down musical version of that movie.) Some of 9 to 5's best moments, and it has several, are the spoken word scenes with the girls. The uproarious sequence with them smoking a joint together had the audience in hysterics, and the fantasy sequences that followed actually worked better onstage-- in some respects-- than they did in the film. The three leads are hyper-talented, and while Janney is no great singer, her performance is real and bracing, as are those of her costars. Block and Hilton have the musical chops Janney lacks and display them to great effect throughout the production. Judy's empowered ode after she rejects her pathetic ex-husband was a tour de force, and Hilton matches her sassy, Parton-esque delivery with the kind of vocal range that made her predecessor a star. Their chemistry is also undeniable: these really feel like the disparate types of women who often do wind up as the best of friends. Kuditsch also plays off of them well, and is brilliant as the boss; it's a somewhat one-dimensional character type but in this actor's hands Hart is vibrant and fascinating. The large ensemble performs its choreographed dances with vigor (even if the dances don't break any new ground) and the lavish moving set pieces keep the show crackling as we follow the women from the office to the home (be it theirs or their odious boss's). At its heart, 9 to 5 is a celebration of female friendship and female empowerment, and it's those qualities that give this production infinitely more heart than a zillion other gaudy mega-musical wannabes.