19 January 2010

"The Envelope" ... Please

Now that the joke show is over (The Golden Globes), time to get serious ... for the other joke show, the Oscar telecast (rim shot!). Though, this one does have Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin co-hosting, and at least does have an actual member-academy voting on the performances of their peers.

Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin will be terrific in their roles as Masters of Ceremony, especially considering their track record of hosting Saturday Night Live, lo', so many times, saving oh, so many bad SNL seasons. Whilst I'm not yet making predictions, I thought I'd share with you, Dear Reader, what the L.A. Times has on their much improved (design wise -- their liberal slant still needs some tweaking) website. From their Entertainment/Calendar section is a very fine bit of industry town musings, viz., "The Envelope." This panel interview by James Horn is a very nice little clip with the top directors for 2009. Do you have a favorite of the bunch?

Let us know what you think ...

15 January 2010

"A Single Man" Reviewed

Tom Ford's adaptation of the Isherwood novel of the same name is a thoughtful, somber piece, where he has adroitly assembled his players into a mise en scène that presages gay liberation amongst academia during the 1960's and 1970's (think of our favorite lesbian feminist, Camille Paglia). The curtain raises on fair Los Angeles. Our 1950's/1960's stage is set with beatnik students, gin-pickled former best-friends-with-benefits pining for players on the wrong side of the plate, homophobic neighbor, broken-hearted and erudite professors waxing eloquent about fear, and one ghost of a love, the paragon of love as all truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime loves should be.

I think it can be said that Colin Firth never phones it in. Even in his performances in cotton candy roles as Amanda Bynes's father in What a Girl Wants, or as the charmster and all-around-good-guy Mark Darcy in Bridgett Jones's Diary, Colin Firth brings, if not his A-game, at least his B+ game. As professor George Falconer, he nails this role. Superb. If Firth were waiting on the beach to open his grades (a la the last scene in Paper Chase), and folded the unopened envelope into a paper airplane and threw it into the surf, there thrashing about the tangled kelp beds of the the Pacific shoreline would be the grade of A+ for this role. Firth occupies almost every shot, and the camera just

loves the guy (and so does director Tom Ford), in his sharp bespoke suits, well-coiffed hair, tan skin, and tall lean visage. Ford the fashion icon even has John Hamm from Mad Men -- that purveyor of all-things 50's cool -- phone-in a voice-over role, basically uninviting George to the funeral of his great love. The interesting choice of Hamm is that in Mad Men, his character tells the bi-sexual (or is it married-gay?) Sal that he's not just an ad man, but also a fine director. Tom Ford can direct as well, and he doesn't need Hamm or us to tell him so.

A Single Man presents a pivotal day in the life of Falconer who is barely coping with the death of his partner from a year earlier. Mathew Goode plays the dotting partner, Jim, subsumed to the arrangement of their union which must not be spoken, though is guessed by neighbors. Every morning is a struggle for George to just get out of bed and fake it through to the end of the day. There are bottles of scotch in desks, and calls from his friend Charlotte to help him get there. As Falconer moves about the city, we witness men and women eyeing him longingly; he is a catch to be sure, and even wives of angry homophobic men find him desirous, inviting him to drinks. Though, I'm not sure I like Falconer, Ford presents his life of elan and fine things as the sine qua non for the professorate. Who doesn't like that? He seems standoffish.

He's a loner for the most part, not very gregarious, and certainly not swimming in friendships, making his loss of Jim all that more poignant, propelling him further into loneliness. If Falconer were a single straight man, perhaps there wouldn't be much of a movie here. It's the difficulty that this British college professor has finding someone to love, who is his intellectual equal --as his partner, Jim, an architect, was -- and who knows the score of what can be said and done in public. Falconer's loss is epic, not just because the eligible population of gay men in the 50's is probably less than a tenth of a percent, but also because Falconer doesn't seem to suffer fools gladly -- gay or not. The title suggests not just Falconer's being a single man after the death of his partner, Jim, but also that this person was the single man that George found to make a life with.

There's a conversation that takes place out in the desert between Falconer and Jim; he is asked about his friend Charlotte, who is also from England. The redoubtable Julianne Moore has played this role before, and Charley is indeed a messed-up, boozy, disposable ex-wife with kids she no longer sees. He confesses that yes, he's slept with women, and that he and Charley dated for a bit, but now she is his best friend. It's interesting that today there is a disdain if a gay person references their "straightness" prior to their gay lifestyle or after. That somehow, taking a run at the straight life either early or later in one's life (witness Andy Dick, Anne Heche, or Alan Cummings) is met with a "make-up your mind already" retort and a sneer. Ford offers this exchange between these men with no judgment; they are having a frank conversation about an interloper of the opposite sex, and Falconer confirms his love and allegiance to his partner. The flip side of that conversation takes place over a decade later in Charlotte's living room, and Falconer confirms for his dear friend that his love for Jim was not an ersatz bohemian convenient lifestyle choice, but a soul-searing bond for life that was wrenched from his now empty life.

What makes a director great is having an opinion about the material being adapted. Here Ford reveals that opinion with bold choices, surrounding himself with top talent to execute his vision of cool hues of Falconer's now dull existence juxtaposed with moments of warm clarity and connectedness to his fellow man (and life). A connectedness that Falconer confesses he experiences less and less. Ford sparingly colors Firth's appearance (very much like Gary Ross coloring Joan Allen in Pleasantville) when he has one of these moments. He walks into the bank to clear out his safety-deposit box, setting "everything in its right place" (nod to RadioHead), and has a moment with his neighbor's child -- she appears seemingly out of nowhere with her robin's-egg bluest-of-blue shoes, dress, and eyes. Falconer's face and color warms, as he stares into not just a child's azure peepers, but into his own spirituality ... the eyes of a potential life. Earlier in the film, George explains to a student at the student store that blue is associated with spirituality, whilst red is associated with lust and anger. Here, Ford gives Firth's character a moment of pause, to connect once again to something outside of himself and, indeed, his pain. Too late. The moment's over, and the color has faded from his cheeks. The very next scene, Falconer pulls into the parking lot to purchase some gin for Charlotte, and he parks, this time staring directly into the eyes of death. Before him is a large ad for Hitchcock's Psycho, with Janet Leigh's eyes peering into Falconer's Mercedes. It's a nice touch.

Throughout A Single Man Ford allows the professor moments of remembrance, a form of animism or synesthesia perhaps, where his touch animates these objects or brings forth vivid images or memories. At the ringing of a phone, the scent of a Jack Russel terrier, a rose's texture, and we are transported with George to a moment in his life with Jim for further backstory or exposition into what makes George, George. We see where George and Jim met at "Starboard Side" (which I believe is the local watering hole Chez Jay on Ocean Ave.), with Jim still in the service, perhaps a jab against current "don't ask, don't tell" policy. We see Jim and George sitting, legs akimbo, on the couch with their terrier snoozing between them, arguing over whose turn it is to change the record. Poignant vignettes like that fill Single Man.

Any hunk of a professor must have a stalker or two, male and female, and the student stalking George is "Kenny" as played by Nicholas Hoult. You'll recall Hoult as the boy in About a Boy, produced and directed by the Weitz brothers. Chris Weitz produced this film as well, and enlisted Hoult for this role. Hoult is almost unrecognizable as the college-age, hard-bodied student enthralled by his professor. It now seems de rigueur that all former British child stars attempt to shed their boyish personas by taking roles that require romps or rides in the nude, e.g., Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliff atop Equus in the buff, and now Hoult in Single Man showing his buffed-out self. In the surf for a midnight skinny-dip, Kenny shouts to George "we're invisible!" as the professor worries about being seen in such a state. And, that, I think, is what the subtext of this film represents, a paean to no longer being invisible, but accepted and visible, and ultimately, ironically, invisible once again because no one notices two adult men in a loving, committed relationship. But, this will never happen; one's sexuality is so politicized (How many variants of "sex" are there now? Five or six? I can't recall) today, that the so-called "gay-mafia," liberal "thought police," religious extremists, and others with agendas will not hear the conversation the rest of us are trying to have above the din of disagreement and personal destruction. Admittedly, my "straightness" has colored my perspective, but I think I know when my faith, or straight lifestyle precludes a fair review of a film, book, or play. But, I guess that judgment is up to you, Dear Reader.

The ending of this film surprised me, and I found it satisfying. I think Ford found a hold on this material emanating from personal experience; it'll be interesting to see what Ford does with mainstream fare the next time he decides to direct.

For an excellent add'l read on this topic, please visit my friend Deb over at Dumbwit Tellher. Tell her we sent you!

09 January 2010

Malibu ... Getty Villa

It's hard to beat sunset in Malibu, right? Meetings, or friends, or visits to the parents take me to Malibu once or twice a week. It's a nice respite to drive along PCH at sunset, grab some dinner and drinks, and just get out of the city. Malibu is slowly recovering from the fire that wiped out a church, one faux castle, and several dozen homes last year. There are blackened trees and chaparral all along Malibu Canyon as one would expect, but some greenery is sprouting nicely, along with an ersatz circus-like Presbyterian tent church that has been raised. There aren't a whole lot of churches in Malibu, but there are many empty lots with cement slab foundations exposing where once beautiful and expensive homes sat staring at the Pacific surf. The church, though, has the best view of all. Well, maybe Pepperdine has a better view ... if we're being honest.

Growing up where we did, we expected a serious brushfire every few years to sweep through our backyard and head down to the ocean, usually
pushed along by those Santa Ana winds in October. Behind our house was part of the Santa Monica mountains where we would hike and chase the cattle that used to graze on Bob Hope's land. The "cowboys" that showed up every few months or so riding their horses, would tell us that they'd give us a candy bar if we chased their "herd" for them back to their holding pen. We never got any candy bars out of our cow-poking days, but we loved it nonetheless. Can you imagine three or four 8 yr-old and 10 yr-old boys grabbing sticks and whacking those fat behinds of those beasts of burden, kicking cow-pies all the way back home, trying to litearlly (and liberally) cover the next guy in cow dung. Almost seems like two lifetimes ago, you know? Two very smelly, stinky lifetimes ago.

My folks still live in a housing development (39 years and counting) just off the canyon that leads to Malibu. When I was younger, my friends and I would regularly make a right instead of the left that would have/should have taken us on Mulholland highway to our senior year of high school. Instead, 8 minutes of driving that winding, serpentine road later, we were lying in the sun, listening to AC/DC's Back in Black with no one else in sight.

So, yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Getty Villa in Malibu, and there spied all sorts of couplings. The young lesbian couple (I think one woman was a local WNBA player) with one chica
very much into the date, and the other not so much. The enthusiastic half of this date whispered to her friend, "Look there," as she pointed to an older gay couple, "they're holding hands." Her entreaties were falling on deaf or perhaps inhibited ears. When they left, the enthralled 6'3" half of the date flattened their potato chip bags and laid them one on top of the other; her friend just smiled an awkward smile. I thought that was a bit aggressive, if you know what I mean, but sweet. The museum is a great place for a first or ninety-first date. One very well-known individual (50-ish male) was canoodling with a woman at the top of the amphitheater overlooking the entrance. They both were dressed as if they were going to present a paper at a conference. Maybe they were.

There were also dozens of foreign visitors with their families in tow. I always wonder what these well-traveled folks think about our L.A. museums. We're getting better, in my opinion, and Getty Villa is a great little collection of Greek and Roman antiquity. The must-see portion of the Villa, without a doubt, is J. Paul's favorite piece, for which he basically built the museum to house it, viz., the statue of Herakles. The Getty built a "temple" commensurate with the piece's value. Really, very impressive, I must say. Herakles was the Michael Jordan of his day, as any son of Zeus should be. He was depicted on many household items and items of commerce, which, of course, are today's antiquities. Some day -- maybe a million days from now -- Michael Jordan will be featured in the buff on some terracotta urn with his junk poking out for all the visitors to the Chilean Nacional Museo de Fine Arts to ogle (in a millenia or so, Chile will be immensely wealthy because the length of one's border will determine GDP, and then they'll be able to afford such prized pieces as the MJ "nude with junk out").

Before heading up the canyon to see my friends, I stopped -- as is my wont in my dotage -- at The Coffee Bean for a vanilla latte with an extra shot. I backed my MKX into the parking spot, and over the beep-beep-beeping of my rear bumper sensors, I couldn't help but notice Ryan O'Neal talking rather obviously with a much younger woman. If you're a (minor) celeb (these days), and you don't want to be noticed, don't have a disagreement with a person of the opposite sex, then take a call mid-sentence/finger-point and talk rather loudly on your cell, and then lavish public displays of affection. They eventually walked off to Pacific Blue for some make-up shopping, and I pretended I didn't see anything, as we Angelinos affect that we're-too-inured-with-Hollywood to notice such triflings as celebrities. Ryan, btw, just signed for a several episode story arc on the retread of 90210.

After walking contentedly with my extra-hot latte back to my ride, I encountered a group of young toughs standing in front of my Lincoln. "Yo, don't scratch the MKX!" I wanted to shout at the handful of attractive co-eds about to hop into their Prius. (Hey, this is Malibu, and young toughs come in all shapes and sizes.) I eyed the lot of the 19-20 year old females warily as I approached. I opened my door with all the swagger I could muster without spilling my latte and noticed Jennifer Tilly leaving Nobu with her gal pal and several shopping bags. I've seen Jennifer in Vegas, at the airport, and in
Malibu, and each time she is the epitome of the anti-celeb. Young Hollywood could take a note. Girl could care less about anything, except for maybe poker these days (btw, she was great in Bullets Over Broadway). The five young girls resembled a circus clown act and piled giggling into the diminutive Prius with reckless abandon, but then a thunderous roar next to them startled us all. "Hey, Felicity, why don't you ride with me?!" From two cars over a Ferrari California passenger door was thrown open, and young leggy Felicity jumped into the black Ferrari (my dream car, if we're still being honest), with young Adonis at the wheel. Needless to say, Dear Reader, going to college in Malibu has some very distinct advantages.

Anyway, yeah, Malibu is great. There was a "swell" working the California coast, so the surf was great and the beaches were loaded with wetsuit-wearing Barney's and Betty's. The Malibu market was packed with young families playing on the climbing frames and swings, and very expensive sports cars were driven off by young Greek demigods.

07 January 2010

New York State of Mind

Although I am a politically conservative fourth-generation Californian who got into a 3-against-1 fistfight in Times Square (me being the lone one trying to protect his then-wife's honor and rear from being groped any further), I still love New York City. Sure, it can be a real drag (especially in the summer), with folks chasing after (and inheriting) the wind on Wall St., causing international collapses of currencies, or others being too smarmy by-half ("I'm not a real eastern elitist intellectual, I just play one on TV"), with a stark and ever-present hegemony of liberal dems too large for one to sensibly shake a conservative stick at. Of course, L.A. can be a real drag, too, for lots of reasons.

But on a good day, when you're supposed to measure cities against their aspirational idealized selves, New York is awesome. We don't consider politics, instead we marvel at the architecture. We don't harbor sports team grudges, rather we hope-against-hope to hop into a NY City cab to have dinner at Gramercy Tavern only to discover ourselves, mirabile dictu, on Cash Cab

playing with our pals for all of those easy dollars -- without ever having to use our shout-outs!! I bear no ill-will towards Manhattan for its citizenry looking down their noses at us, we their bedraggled, besotted brethren in Los Angeles. (Quick: non-New Yorkers, name all five boroughs.) Besides, half the city has moved out here to the West Coast over the last 50 years anyway.

New York wears sophistication like a cashmere scarf tied into a nifty Parisian knot and struts the hell out of 5th Ave. wearing either YSL pumps or a NY baseball cap and black pea coat (dear gawd, hopefully not both -- I was trying to distinguish between the men and women just then). It has extraordinary restaurants in quaint little villages with tree-lined streets in the middle of the busiest and largest city in America. She is populated by beautifully hip professionals (at least in Woody Allen movies, before he moved to Paris) who take being in-the-know and well-read seriously, with its "city that never sleeps" insouciance, and thick skin that shouts a little further eastward "you ain't got nothing, you 9/11 assholes!" In fact, New York is the land that anchored our manifest destiny westward drive to the Pacific, and we love her for it. Even if she occasionally shouts Bronx cheers our way.

And, it's the place that gave us some great film schools and writers and directors. Below is one of my faves from 20 years ago, a short film called, The Lunch Date.

Adam Davidson directed this gem of a film that won the Palm d'Or at Cannes, as well as an Oscar for short film. You'll love it. Trust me, this YouTube posting probably won't last long, so watch it while you can.

Let us know what you think!

02 January 2010

2009 Movies in Review

With so many year-end best-of lists demanding our attention, I thought FatScribe should also jump into the white noise of film criticism to provide one more (vapid?) voice evaluating the Top 20 films of 2009. (note: if you want to see how a pro does it, here's Roger Ebert's list.) So, here goes, my list of the best of the best for you, Dear Reader:

1. An Education -- This soon-to-be-classic film set in London stars Carey Mulligan as a school girl who falls for an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) and his charms and great taste in restaurants, music, and art. Education also stars Alfred Molina who should earn a best-supporting nom for his role as the coquettish girl's father. You'll love the soundtrack and the Edith Head-inspired wardrobes.

2. Star Trek -- "The Franchise" (as they call it over at Paramount) got a reboot from J.J. Abrams with a terrific script by writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. The story was taut and each of the new Spock's, Kirk's, and McCoy's performances were great. Almost $400million cume can't be wrong. Plus, Simon Pegg was in it, c'mon!

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox -- I'm always a sucker for Wes Anderson's latest offerings, and he's back with this adapted work from Roald Dahl's classic children's story. The stop-action film works for adults and kids alike, and it will be in our home collection for repeated viewings. George Clooney is great; I hope Wes's next project is live-action though.

4. In the Loop -- Amazing bit of film-making. Seriously. It is both hysterically funny and offensive (offensively hysterical?). For those of us that love public policy and the nasty, icky stuff called politics ("making sausage" never looked so pleasant thank you Mr. Bismarck), In the Loop is a must-see. Peter Capaldi and Tom Hollander (a FatScribe favorite) are terrific as British wonks who come to America to work the rooms in DC and the UN at the bidding of their Prime Minister's statecraft needs. One caveat: pound for pound, word for word, this script has more swearing per page than any I have ever read of seen.

5. A Serious Man -- The Coen Brothers are at it again. This film is a study of one Jewish man's world and examines if sleet or snow or crap storm of life will stop this serious man from his routine. Serious Man asks what a post-modern Job would do if faced with a cheating bitch of a wife and a borderline schizo brother (with a boil on his neck that never drains) routinely planted on his couch. Contretemps abound for this man, and the ending shot is just a gem.

6. Avatar -- This movie will go down as the most anticipated film of all time. It is a cinematic masterpiece that unfortunately is also coeval in its triteness and liberalness. James Cameron weaves a story of corporate (US military) bad guys who stumble headlong into a meta narrative replete with aboriginal innocents and a Gaea-Oedipus complex so profound it tries one's credulity. But ... the stunning visuals. The seamless motion-capture technology. The wonderful acting. My 12 yr-old leaned over to me during the show and said, "Dad, this is the most amazing film I've ever seen." I will see this again, but this time in 3-D IMAX. $800million box office and counting. Update: Avatar is the fastest film to hit $1billion (17 days). Only Cameron's Titanic can hold it back currently sitting at around $1.84billion box office.

7. Broken Embraces -- Pedro Almodovar is a stud. A gay stud to be sure, but a stud, auteur filmmaker nonetheless who just happens to love breasts. He has a thing for Penelope Cruz (and her breasts), and she shines in this movie like never before. Broken Embraces is three movies rolled into one giant carne asada burrito of a film. It's a film about a film being made, while also being documented by a jealous husband's son. It is certainly complicated (muy complicado), and in Spanish with subtitles to-boot, but if you love film as I do, this is one for the cineaste in all of us.

8. Bright Star -- Technically I have four foreign films represented here in my Top-10 if you include Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. I just can't help myself, I am a film snob after all (as many of my friends will attest). This Jane Campion film is about John Keats and his (very) slow death by consumption and his one great muse. Abbie Cornish plays Keats's muse, and is another fine example of an Aussie actor that chews up the scenery with her most excellent chops.

"Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,

To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,

Awake for ever in a sweet unrest ..."

Almost sounds like an Almodovar dialog for Penelope Cruz, but alas, no, that bit of verse was Keats himself from his poem, "Bright Star, Would I Were Steadfast."

9. Where the Wild Things Are -- This one is for my kids. I felt this movie was a bit too dark, but then again, the book wasn't the most sanguine either. At Johnny Rocket's eating a cheeseburger after viewing Wild Things, I asked the boys if they were moved by the movie. They both admitted that they cried several times during the intense moments. I love my boys for their honesty and honest emotions.

10. The Hangover -- Funny. Crass. Well-shot. The Director of Photography, Lawrence Sher (Dan in Real Life), did a terrific job here. He took what is typically handled with barely-a-care forethought for this genre, and lit each shot commensurate with a film of a much deeper storyline. The actors are great, and there is one scene where the dentist of the friends (The Daily Show and The Office regular, Ed Helms) wakes up and walks four feet before sitting down again. It was so painful to watch because it is just spot-on and reminded me of one all-nighter I had in South Beach that lasted 5 days. I laugh every time I see it. OMG! Forgot to mention: the raunchy B-roll shown in the ending credits does not receive the "Family Seal of Approval" nor my endorsement!! You have been warned. Todd Phillips (who also directed Road Trip, one film that had me laughing from beginning to end) just nailed this one, the highest-grossing R-rated film of all-time at almost $500million.

Honorable Mention

Me and Orson Welles -- Almost in the Top 10, but just shy. Never thought I'd ever write these words, but Zac Efron can act. Christian McKay channels Orson Welles scary good. I loved Citizen Kane (probably my no. 1 all-time greatest movie; right up there with It's a Wonderful Life), and this movie is set about 4-5 years before Citizen Kane was made. Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise) handles this period piece with a deft touch and a sack full of love. Me and Orson highlights the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Mercury Theater's newest play Caesar. It reminded me of My Favorite Year quite a bit.

District 9 -- If you haven't seen this movie, do yourself a favor and rent it. It rocked when I saw it the first time, and the second and third times I saw it dragging friends to see it with me. It is very violent, but so original (which is sorely lacking in Hollywood these days, the originality, not the violence) that it receives my imprimatur regardless.

9 (not Nine) -- This post-apocalyptic animated film was perfect for my two sons (12 and 9). They both were frightened and thrilled with the action sequences. It works on many levels, and the animation is fantastic. Worth it.

Extract -- Mike Judge wrote and directed this wonderfully dark comedy about the business world in the form of a business owner (Jason Bateman) who sets in motion the machinations that possibly end his marriage and his burgeoning business in one fell swoop. This is one film with Ben Affleck (since Good Will Hunting) that I didn't want to walk out on.

It's Complicated -- Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep. Need I say more? But, I will. It's not great filmmaking, but it works for me. Shot in Santa Barbara, where everyone is rich with a cool job that they love, driving their hip cars, and all their kids are smart and off to very good colleges. This Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give) film has her requisite production design quality on display, evincing homes that we all want to live in, framed with perfectly-aged actors acting their wonderful ages for all of us to finally realize it's okay to be paunchy, middle-aged, and beautiful. Like I said, a fun bit of celluloid escapism for the afternoon.

Inglourious Basterds -- Not my favorite director, but Quentin Tarantino can make a movie. It's historicism at its finest (a la Oliver Stone), where Tarantino imagines the "real" facts behind WWII and a band of Nazi-killing G.I. brothers.

A Single Man -- Will probably win an Oscar for something. Director Tom Ford has a terrific eye, and we can expect him to develop into a fine filmmaker if he wants it.

Hurt Locker -- Will probably win an Oscar for best-picture, but it's not my choice. Tension-filled film that has powerful performances as brought out by director Kathryn Bigelow. She's made a good one here.

Think I left one or more off of the list? I purposely left off two spots for your choices, Dear Reader ... leave us your pithy comments for 2009 films that should have been listed supra!