Saturday, September 24, 2016

In Memoriam: Curtis Hanson, The Quiet Intellectual

Curtis Hanson
In case you missed it (you probably did, what with the first Clinton/Trump debate coming up and the riots in Charlotte, and of course Brangelina splitting up), filmmaker Curtis Hanson passed away last week. Now that last sentence makes me sound profoundly shallow, but I try to have tunnel vision into what's going on in pop culture, and I'm sure I'm late AF to the Brangelina party, just like I missed the Hiddleswift split party, and it's too late for my Best/Worst dressed list for the Emmy's (Sarah Paulson took my breath away). 
Alas, this is not to be overlooked. Not very prolific, and always a bit under the radar, Curtis Hanson has not made many films; most of which, like him, flew quietly under the radar with one exception; L.A. Confidential (1997) which sweeped 9 nominations at that year's Oscars and lost all of them (save for one; Kim Basinger for Best Supporting Actress) to Titanic (just threw up in my mouth a little bit, it's fine). 
Poster art for L.A. Confidential
A little backstory about the film; it's based on the novel by James Ellroy who writes pulp fiction novels, for those of you who don't know the term past the Tarantino movie, let me enlighten you. From the time of writers like Raymond Chandler and Charles Jackson, there have been pulp fiction novels. They're kind of like the B Movie of books. They are seedy, salacious, and over the top; dealing with murder, a hot girl (a Femme Fatale for the expert), and a caper of sorts. They are a great read because they are somewhat easy to digest; they aren't exactly Dostoyevsky. But Ellroy took it to the next level and coupled that camp with the dingy, seedy (again), and deliciously fucked up world that is Los Angeles in the 50's. It's an insider's view; kind of like the back end of the website to the glamour facade of Hollywood; and entire industry and culture built on lies, prostitutes, dirty deals and crooked people. That's basically what the film is about. The film is probably as close to the book as an adaptation has ever been, and that's why it's confusing as hell, even for someone like me. Who's that, why is he doing such and such, wait, I though that was the good guy, wait, who even is that? Those kind of questions run through your mind constantly but you can't help but be swept away in the writing, the performance by now some of our favorite actors...among them; Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, and (arguably) Russell Crowe; and most of all, this nostalgia that most of us don't even remember because we didn't live through it. 
James Ellroy. He could not look like more of a pulp LA writer if he tried. 
Me? I'm a sucker for Old Hollywood. I don't know why I had to make that public and put it in writing, because most people are already saying to themselves; duh!. But hey, let's make it official. I won't go into the convoluted plot that is nuanced brilliantly and beautifully by Hanson, because as I said he had a whole filmography under his belt, among them lesser but still great films like 8 Mile and Wonder Boys. He wasn't exactly an auteur, just a really competent filmmaker. And with L.A. Confidential, he rose to being an amazing filmmaker. And some of us just need that one diamond in the rough to seal our legacy. And that he did. 

-How did you know I was a cop?
-It's practically stamped on your forehead. 
In 2005, it was my first year in New York, I had just transferred to NYU where a professor took a liking to me (not that kind of liking ...I don't think) and happened to be on the Board of Review which meant he got to go to a lot of pre-release screenings, of which I accompanied him to many times. One of them was for Hanson's more blah films; In Her Shoes, a totally forgettable Cameron Diaz vehicle capitalizing on Sex and the City culture, with a weak script and boring plot. Even for a sub-standard chick flick it blew, but I went because I was promised there would be Q&A afterwards. But I didn't know that my professor was on first name terms with Hanson, and invited me down after everyone left so that I could talk to him. I really didn't know what to say except ask him questions about L.A. Confidential's aesthetics, themes, etc. So basically I sounded like a pretentious film student, which I kind of was at the time, but whatever.
Anyway, I think it's important to acknowledge his passing, but moreover his body of work, which yes, was hit and miss, but I believe every director, even some of the best have misses under their belt. He was a very astute and competent man, and a very talented and perhaps deeply intellectual person which you definitely saw come out even in his sub-standard films. He was that quiet New Yorker type who strove desperately to make the films that he wanted, but unfortunately didn't always get his way.

Below, some trailers and scenes: 






Sunday, September 11, 2016

To Mourn the Death Of Hiddleswift I Did My Own Version of 73 Questions with Vogue! Just as Spontaneous, Not Nearly as Basic

I tried to be basic. It didn't fit.

What's keeping you busy these days? 
-Work.

What's the most exciting thing in life right now? 
-The Emmy's 

What are you bored of?
-Snapchat

What is something that recently moved you?
-a moving vehicle

What's going on over here?
-I'd rather not say

How many guitars do you own? 
-1 acoustic guitar and it's missing a string.

What's the first song you learned to play on guitar?
-The House of the Rising Sun

First thing you do after you get an idea for a song?
-I rub one out

What is your songwriting process?
-A lot of crying and white wine

What song took the least time to write?
-'Fuck it' in E Flat

What song took you the longest to write?
-The Libretto to Hamilton ...I wrote that.

Is this the room where you keep awards?
-Does a CPR certificate count as awards?

Who is your favorite teacher?
Graig Uhlin at NYU who taught my first Warhol class. 

If you could teach one subject what would it be?
Sarcasm.

What's your favorite beverage?
Cold brew.

What's your favorite cocktail?
Anything single malt.

What's your favorite food?
Bacon.

What would you order at a drive through?
Starbucks just made a drive through near my house, so Starbucks

Best birthday cake you've ever had?
For my 28th birthday my friend got me a Strawberry Shortcake from Sweet Lady Jane in West Hollywood. They use fresh seasonal berries and make their own buttercream. It was ridiculous.

What was the last thing you baked?
Meth. 

What's one thing you need to have in your fridge at all times?
Grapes.

What is one thing you still have from childhood?
A creepy horror movie looking doll.

What is your favorite TV show of all time?
Arrested Development

What is your favorite show currently on air?
Halt and Catch Fire

What is your favorite movie?
Seriously?

What movie recently made you cry your eyes out?
The Theory of Everything

Why do you think you're the most followed person on Instagram? 
My Instagram account is actually a front for a brothel I run.

Have you ever Googled yourself?
Daily.

What do you think when you google yourself?
Google still hasn't learned how to spell my name.

If you had one superpower what would it be?
Mind reading.

If you were not a singer what would you be doing?
Polishing my Tony collection and doing a Scrooge McDuck dive into my giant room of money.

Cool or bizarre talent?
I can say it but you're not going to like it.

Whats something you can’t do?
There's nothing I can't do.

What is the best compliment you've ever received?
Is that Kirsten Dunst?

Whats the best gift you've ever received?
My mom got me a gold Tiffany's bean for my graduation...which I lost so when I finished grad school she got me a platinum one to teach me a lesson. 

One habit you wish to break?
Boys.


Do you have any nicknames?
My friend calls me Gigi because she thinks I look like Gigi Hadid, she's my favorite. 

What surprises you about people?
Celebrities are really short.

What makes you laugh?
Children on leashes.

What does creativity mean to you?
Tennessee Williams.

What's most adventurous thing you've ever done? 
My roommates and I did 5 sprints back and forth in Morningside Park at 2 am for exercise but I think we were drunk.

What are your favorite lyrics?
Shake your head girl, with your pony tail, takes me right back, when we were young. From 'If There is Something' by Roxy Music

One song you wish you'd written?
Killer Queen by Queen

Best fan moment?
I have haters not fans.

Whats your most memorable career moment?
Facilitating the opening night red carpet for Cinequest

What's one accomplishment you're proud of?
Graduating from Columbia University with honors.

What is one thing you want to try but are too scared to?
Snake blood.

What is your spirit animal?
George Clooney's pet pig.

Where should you take my wife?
A swingers bar.

Advice for singers?
Stop writing shit.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I plead the 5th.

Most difficult song to perform on stage?
I always think I'm going to kill Christina Aguilera on karaoke night and I'm always wrong.


How many cats are in this room?
I'm allergic. 

If you were a cat would you get along with your cats?
No.

How many cat breeds can you name in 10 seconds?
Sphynx, Main Coon, British Shorthair, Tabby, Scottish Fold, Germany.

What's the coolest thing in this room?
I have a bottle of 2010 Chateau Margaux.

What is one woman’s closet you'd raid?
Tilda Swinton

What's your favorite fashion trend?
Mod eye make-up

What do you have to have in your purse besides your phone and wallet?
Eye liner.

What are you wearing to this year's Met Gala?
Alexander McQueen

What did i want to do at age 5?
I wanted to be a Marine Biologist I think, which is a glorified way of saying I wanted to be a SeaWorld Trainer.

What do you wish you knew at 19?
Some people suck.

What is something you will not be doing in 10 years?
Babies.

What is the most important life lesson?
Get over it.

What can you say in another language?
My favorite Hebrew expression is 'Chaval al ha Zman' it means 'waste of time' you say it sarcastically when you had a good time.


What do you love most about the town you grew up in?
That the Nazi's tried to take it and we were too badass to give it up.


What is the bravest thing you've ever done?
Admitted I loved someone.

What's the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Drugs?

What is your one most important goal?
To have my play produced.

What is your favorite scented candle?
Bond #9 Sag Harbor.









Saturday, August 13, 2016

Choose Life...Danny Boyle Better Not Disappoint with the Trainspotting Sequel

The boys (L to R): Sick Boy, Renton, Tommy, and Spud.
I like to think of Danny Boyle's career as the ultimate hit-and-miss. His earlier work; Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and even The Beach (I know most critics panned it, but I have some kind of cult attraction to it) were all great. Then it kind of went downhill. Despite the Academy Awards (which they actually make fun of in Trainspotting when Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) says it means fuck all and is a sympathy vote) Slumdog Millionaire might be the most over-hyped movie of the 21st century, and the Steve Jobs bio-pic should have clearly been directed by David Fincher. It was a mess considering the director focuses on style and formalist aesthetics and is working with a sharp bio-pic script from the king of 'don't change shit out of my words' screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Aside from Trainspotting, perhaps his high point was 28 Days Later. Trainspotting was a cataclysmic film in the 90's when making films about rebellion, drug addiction, and nihilism were on every filmmakers to do list. This one stands out, and stands the test of time more importantly, mostly because the protagonist Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is a master of his own destiny. He doesn't excuse any of his actions or try to justify him, and whether he experiences tragedy, fulfillment, or mostly dissatisfaction, he keeps on trucking, and eventually wins us all over...also the script is funny as hell. We notice that in this film, he's allied himself with the idiom of British Filmmakers. He wasn't international, and his films have a hallmark of being bleak, dark, and sarcastic. His visual style is very haptic and hectic, this has worked for him in the past, and when he's trying to make serious films it just doesn't work. 

Publicity still with Danny Boyle on the left. 
I was a little apprehensive about the Trainspotting sequel, particularly because a sequel that comes out 10 years after the original is usually a film no one asked for. Also, the original was to the letter an adaptation of the genius Irving Welsh book. I have no idea what this will be based on, but Boyle is creative enough, and maybe he'll hire Welsh as a co-writer. What's really exciting is that we'll get the same cast back. Unlike what happened with Dumb and Dumber To, or Terminator Gene...shit, Trainspotting launched the careers of many brilliant actors, and brought them out of just fame in the UK to international stardom. Ewan McGregor is a household name, while Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Ewan Bremner haven't been as successful because this film was the high point of all their careers; not to mention Shirley Henderson, Kevin McKidd, and Kelly McDonald who went on to work with brilliant filmmakers like Mike Leigh, also one of the greatest British filmmakers walking this earth. 
I'm sure this movie was so popular because it was cool AF. Rebellion is always cool, even on the streets of Edinburg when you're stealing from shops to pay for your junk habit. 
Now, another point of apprehension. When I was an angsty teenager, I had a poster of the film on my room that was also covered in pictures of Kurt Cobain, a Velvet Goldmine poster I think, and other angsty things of that nature. I thought initially that like Fight Club, I would love it as a teenager and hate it as a grown up. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although Trainspotting is highly stylized, its message of nihilism and redemption is far more genuine than that in Fight Club. Also, it's not supposed to be this cool movie just to be cool for teenagers like Fight Club is, where we see people rebelling against society or withdrawing from it completely; sarcastically justifying it to themselves and the audience. 
There are a lot of elements in the film that are a little too close to comfort, and while hitting all of the angsty nihilism points that teenagers are drawn to, it remains very sincere, and remains a towering statement. 
The is one of the more memorable and surreal scenes that became a hallmark of the Boyle aesthetic, when Renton has to dive into 'the worst toilet in Scotland' to retrieve his opiate suppositories. That's a weird sentence. 
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) realizes that his escape from reality (it's heroin in the film but it could be anything) is not exactly the choice way to live. It's a way to die, and unlike most movies about drugs, it drives that point home in a very sharp and non-sentimental way. His ending monologue mirrors his opening monologue when he talks about choosing life, a career, a wife, all other bullshit that he decided to forgo for 'a healthy junk habit'. In the end of the film, he decides to conform, but it's not selling out. Ironically it's more of a middle finger to society than the initial one he gives it. 
It's a dated film, don't get me wrong, but it stands the test of time. Re-watching it, I was prepared to be like, see this is why I don't like it anymore. I'm not a dumb teenager who wants to rebel no matter what and asks stupid questions like 'why does there have to be war man?'. 
I don't want to say that this movie is about people and not drugs. It's about drugs. And there's nothing wrong with that. Most movies show a trajectory that descends slowly but surely into an abyss of nothingness brought on by addiction, you can have that. Mark Renton is the ultimate existential prototype. He understands the consequences of his actions and that everything is based on his decisions, and is fuck all to do with destiny. It's actually a pretty uplifting film. Also, the dialogue couldn't be tighter, and the characters are very well nuanced; even though seeming one dimensional at first. 
The OG cast returns. I'm excited, are you?
In the end, Renton makes a huge decision that most people would consider low and reprehensible, and he doesn't bother to justify it to himself. He realizes that the only person worth caring about is himself, and kisses his life of being depressed over his surroundings and numbing the pain with heroin behind him. He smiles and says 'I'm going to be just like you'. You don't like the world you live in? Tough shit, that's just how it is. You can become a junkie and ignore it, or as Mark does, you can give it the finger and move on. 
I think this film also appeals to teens because of its quick and witty dialogue, which be honest, you didn't really get until you were much older. Also, perhaps the Scottish accents got in the way. But if Boyle could just revisit himself in the 90's as a filmmaker when he was making films that were hyper-real but not disingenuous, then he'll have a good sequel. His biggest flaw is holding back. In Trainspotting, he doesn't hold ANYTHING back, he's only started to to win Academy Awards. Give up being PC, we all know it's not in your nature, and also it doesn't have to be formulaic or by-the-numbers. It can be a masterpiece much in the tradition of your earlier work, if only you can let go of 'the rules'. We're all holding our breath...well, I am. 

Below, trailer for the sequel: 


Scenes from the original: 







Friday, August 12, 2016

10 Documentaries on Netflix You Need to Watch Right the Fuck Now.

Hope Netflix and Chill is on the agenda this weekend. Let's talk a little before we go into the list. Documentaries are nothing new, they are an incredible art form that we can trace back to basically the beginning of film. Pioneers of documentary that wrongfully get classified as 'avant-garde' like Dziga Vertov from the Soviet Union, created the idea that the real or hyper real was the most important subject that film could approach (don't argue with me, I wrote papers on him). Since then, we've come a long way. Two of my all time favorite documentaries are sadly not on Netflix but for chrissake self out the 3.95$ and rent them on iTunes; Grey Gardens (directed by the Maysles brothers) explores the lives of socialites Big Edie and Little Edie Beale. They are a mother and daughter who were once a big deal with the Connecticut/Hamptons high society of the 30's and 40's, and by the 70's are living in squalor with a bunch of diseased cats in their old mansion called Grey Gardens. Both are hilariously insane and out of touch with reality, it's a form of verité (truth in French, sorry to be condescending) filmmaking first pioneered in the 60's by D.A. Pennebaker. It's one type of documentary aesthetic, for some it works for others, it doesn't. One more I'd like to mention quickly before we jump into the list is actually a documentary series directed by Michael Apted and a social experiment the likes of which the film community has never seen, have you not guessed it yet? It's the Up Series. Damn you Netflix for taking it down! It starts with 7 UP and checks in with a group of 7 year old kids from all walks of British class society, and returns every 7 years. The latest installment was 56 up, so do the math there are 8 films. It's truly monumental and astounding work and will really make you think about your life and how insignificant a lot of bullshit is. That's a crass way to put it...it will make you re-examine your priorities, and have a full on existential crisis. ALSO, BEFORE I FORGET, I HAVE TO TELL YOU; WATCH MAKING OF A MURDERER. I CAN'T INCLUDE IT IN THIS LIST BECAUSE TECHNICALLY IT'S A SERIES NOT A FILM, BUT MY GOD IT'S SERIOUSLY SOME OF THE BEST FILMMAKING AND IS WHAT DOCUMENTARIES ARE AND SHOULD BE ALL ABOUT. IT'S THE BEST, DO IT. Without further ado...here's 10 I found of all years and perspectives and aesthetics in no particular order: 

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (dir. Kurt Kuenne)
Edited, composed, written, directed and everything else by Kurt Kuenne this doc examines the life of his best friend, doctor Andrew Bagby who was maliciously murdered by a spurned ex-girlfriend and a film he made for the child she became pregnant with shortly before she killed his father, so that he would one day be able to watch it and know the father that he would never meet, but you would never believe what ends up happening. It's a punch in the gut, and it lingers. That's why it's brilliant. 
Brother's Keeper (dir. Joe Berlinger)
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, literally ...three illiterate farmer brothers live quietly on their father's land, until their father dies under mysterious circumstances. One of the brother's is accused of the murder and considering he's barely able to communicate, is pinned against a criminal justice system that wants his blood, and he's barely prepared to help himself. It's also shot very much in the style of Grey Gardens and really puts you in a completely bleak and uncomfortable place. 
Tabloid (dir. Errol Morris)
This will not be the first time that Academy Award winning filmmaker Errol Morris will show up on the list, and this is the kind of film that John Waters would make if he made documentaries. It's so campy and lurid that it's wildly delicious. White trash beauty queen Joyce McKinney falls in love with a poor dope who happens to be mormon, her story goes that they kidnapped him and brainwashed him, so she kidnapped him back (I guess) took him to London and had sex with him while he was in 'captivity' to get rid of all the mormon nonsense in his head. This movie really speaks to the whole 'truth is stranger than fiction' thing.
Hot Girls Wanted (dir. Jill Bauer)
A Netflix original, this film is deeply disturbing and very matter-of-fact about a hugely controversial matter. It takes us into the seedy world of amateur porn, the irony of which is that it's actually not amateur. Girls are hired by a Craigslist pimp of sorts, specifically because they look very young innocent inexperienced and virginal; not Jenna Jameson clones. Apparently amateur porn is the hottest thing on the internet and sells more than regular porn. The industry thrives in Florida, where the laws are more laxed than California and you don't have to use protection (I know). It takes you inside a dorm of sorts where girls from small towns want to make it as porn stars. How's that for an American dream for ya? 
Blackfish (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
Even if you care fuck all about marine mammals and have seen that Free Willy movie too many times, you need to see this film. It is not a nature documentary, it is not a crime documentary, and it's not an exposé, well kinda. Remember when Sea World was a thing? This film concerns itself with one particular whale in captivity of what someone referred to as a barbaric prison of sorts; Tilikum; an Orca who was kidnapped in the 70's in the Atlantic Ocean and brought to Sea World to be their main breeder. It talks at length in layman's terms about how intelligent regal creatures like Orca whales shouldn't be in captivity and what happens to them when they are, particularly what happened with Tilikum and his trainer Dawn Brancheau.
The Thin Blue Line (dir. Errol Morris)
This might be one of the greatest movies every made. It actually resulted in the exoneration of a wrongfully convicted man for Murder 1, and in the state of Texas we know what that means. Randall Adams and a kid named David Harris were implicated in the shooting of a police officer after they were pulled over for a minor traffic violation. My man Morris loves reenactments, and utilizes sound like no one before him. What he recreates is dream-like and entrancing; recreating a scenario from many different points of view, points in time, and perspectives. It's an incredible story told by an incredible storyteller. 
Into the Abyss (dir. Werner Herzog)
Veteran buzzkill director Werner Herzog has been making documentaries about death, nothingness, emptiness, depression, all that fun stuff for 4 decades now. He's a total picker-upper, but I have to hand it to him, every single film narrative or documentary has been absolutely unforgettable. This is one of his latest efforts, concerning two inmates on Death Row in....Texas (sensing a pattern here?) Both were convicted when they were barely legal adults, and both are very close to the end. It's like the updated movie version of the Truman Capote classic 'In Cold Blood'. 
The Queen of Versailles (dir. Lauren Greenfield)
This is a genius film, and if you've not seen it yet, well you're a loser and I hate you. Jackie Siegel is the small town blonde wannabe model who married a man her father's age; the wealthy financier and Vegas builder David Siegel. (picture a Jewish Donald Trump) So now they live in luxury in the Everglades, and Jackie's nouveau riche poor taste is too hilarious for even Woody Allen to parody. I mean she has a literal gold throne. She decides to buy a property that (I shit you not, is twice as big as The White House) and model it architecturally and aesthetically after the Palace of Versailles, but then the recession hits, the Siegels loos everything, and keeping up appearances becomes an increasing but hilarious struggle. 
Tab Hunter Confidential (dir. Jeffrey Schwartz)
I worked at the PR firm who ran the publicity campaign for this film so I'm a bit biased, but I'm also biased because I love the stories of closeted actors from the 50's who had to hide their true selves and live in lavender marriages as matinee idols as not to lose their career a la Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson. Tab Hunter was the Chris Hemsworth of that period. He was like a Hitler wet dream; blonde, athletic, tall, blue eyes, large package, and a face that looks like it was carved out of marble by Michelangelo. This autobiographical film let's Tab Hunter himself do the talking about the golden age of Hollywood and it's big world of secrets; him being the ultimate embodiment of that. 
The Hunting Ground (dir. Kirby Dick)
Gaga wrote the Oscar nominated song that brought everyone to tears when she performed it at the ceremony while behind her, standing vigilant, were many victims of sexual abuse on college campuses. Director Kirby Dick always pushes the envelope, whether it being exposing the hypocrisy of the MPAA or taking down sexism in the military. He's better at exposé that Michael Moore, he's probably the best at it. This film is going to sink its fingernails deep under your skin. Especially if you went to what you thought was an elite school like I did, and after I graduated with my master's from Columbia, I do remember the Mattress Girl, and this film shows us that she's just one of hundreds of thousands, and that's not even what's the most shocking. 
Below, visual supplements to entice you:







AND FINALLY...


Sunday, July 31, 2016

What Silver Linings Playbook is Really About

Tiffany confronts Pat at her sister's dinner when she realizes she's in a sea of bullshit. 
Marketed as a romantic comedy, by the rogue director David O. Russell, that should be a clue right there. He's not exactly a by-the-numbers filmmaker. This is definitely his crowning achievement even though I absolutely love I Heart Huckabees. This might be a little difficult for me to explain because I can relate to a lot of it but here we go. 
Set in Philadelphia, a place not exactly known for dealing with mental illness by any other means than a stigma, and coming from LA where everyone is therapy'd out to the point of paralysis, I saw the script as exactly what it was. Two brilliant actors play the two 'romantic leads', who meet at first, hate each other and by the end of the movie they're in love. Common rom com trope yes? But that's not the point of the film. 
Woody Allen might stick his neuroses in every single film he directs, but those are sadly a bit dated when people were still on Judy Garland cocktails and everything was a bit Valley of the Dolls. It was a very black and white time. Either you were nuts, or you were sane, and if you were the former you had all the pills in the world to choose from, which usually made things worse. Perhaps the last film that accurately portrayed mental illness was One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, which is literally set in the insane asylum, ironically where the protagonist (Jack Nicholson) is pretending to be crazy to do time in an asylum rather than prison. There you have the schism between the 'sane' and the 'insane'. Still a bit black and white, but so full of pathos and honesty, that it still holds up today. 

For these two, the best type of therapy is not in a doctor's office. 
Let's examine Silver Linings because its a film full of grey areas, and it's in those that we figure out what the movie is actually about. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is just getting out of the looney bin after 8 months because he assaulted the man screwing his wife. He's now obsessed with being 'sane' and finding a silver lining, and getting his life back together, which in itself are all insane notions considering that a psychotic break usually does not allow you to go back to everything just as it used to be. I had a friend like that. No names, but she thought she saw the light, and because she did her Master's degree in Social Work made it her mediocre mission to chain-smoke a pack a day, rearrange the furniture in her Hollywood apartment literally every single day (we were living together at the time) to keep herself busy so that she wouldn't think about drinking or getting back with her ex-boyfriend. She loved to analyze people and I was definitely one of her guinea pigs. I hated it. I hate being mentally dissected. It's bullshit. 
As I said before, people in LA are therapy'd out, so I was able to even prompt my shrink about what I thought was going on before he could even get it out. That's why I identify with the Jennifer Lawrence's character. Tiffany is a girl with a broken wing (I think that line is actually used verbatim in the film), who's husband just died, but that's not why she's considered crazy. On the surface she's actually probably the smarter of the two. Pat (Cooper) always loves to point out how she misbehaves or behaves in means that are not good 'social skills', and she immediately calls him on his bullshit. 'You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things' is one of her more famous lines. The most important difference between the two of them; both experienced trauma leading to a psychotic break, and Jennifer is the one who moved on, while Bradley Cooper still hasn't, and is completely obsessed with the past. Backstory: Tiffany's husband died; a cop in the line of duty. After which she got fired from her job for 'sleeping with the entire office'. Pat still judges her, because he thinks that he once was crazy and now he's absolutely fine. Tiffany sees this and says 'you think I'm crazier than you'. Perfect. Who is he to judge? 

'You're afraid to be alive! You're a hypocrite!' 
There's a cute exchange when they talk about all the pills that they are on and don't take any longer, but who isn't on some kind of shit these days; does that make us all crazy? Didn't you ever read 'Prozac Nation'?
The plot is in essence irrelevant. It's about two people realizing that they will never be perfect and never find the life that they once had, and the 2 hour run-time of quippy exchanges, completely blowouts, and epic shutdowns illustrates that crazy is a grey area. 
What gets me the most is how much Pat judges everyone (with the exception of Chris Tucker's character). He even gets on his dad (Robert De Niro) about being OCD, like most of us aren't. In Philly, where regularly going to a therapist is still considered taboo, he is very uncomfortable in his current state. Tiffany basically tells him the truth, it's one of the greatest Lear-esque monologues in film history. 'I opened up to you and you judged me, you're afraid to be alive, you're a hypocrite, you're an asshole'. All of these things true. 
What's most telling about this movie is that it's not romantic at all, though both main characters have great chemistry and are very attractive. You know they are going to end up together; you just do. The way they get there is a brilliant examination of life in a black and white world of sane and insane, the pitfalls and the highs and lows that it brings. At least Tiffany is self-aware. Pat eventually comes around, and only then can they be together. There is no such thing as normal behavior, and there is actually no such thing as normal. Sorry if that's crushing some of you right now, it's just the truth. And I guess Pat was right in trying to overcome his 'mental illness' by finding that damn silver lining he keeps referring to, while Tiffany was right to hate him for his hypocrisy. 
The actual romantic angle only manifests itself in the last 15 minutes of the film, because it's in the backseat for most of it.
The only rom-com element in this movie is when both Pat and Tiffany realize that (excuse the cliché) they are not perfect or normal, but they are perfect for each other. And the normalcy that they find is not a normal that is permanent or without its haptic disorders, but its theirs and they are better confronting their demons together. This sounds like love conquers all and that mental illness can be overcome by finding someone just as or even more fucked up than you, but it's not. For everything that happens between the two, it is never a co-dependent relationship and (again, excuse the cliché) they are only able to move on when they confront everything that has brought them to the mental state that they are currently living and allowing themselves to admit that they are not in fact normal, and perhaps that's actually the best thing that could happen to them.

Below: A making-of featurette. 


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Let's Talk About 'The Shining' #Kubrick

First scene and I already don't trust her, even though she's the 'victim'
It's Saturday night, I cancelled my plans so that I could watch The Shining by myself...at night. This is crazy for many reasons, I should be around three-dimensional people or so they keep telling me, it's night time, and though I've seen the movie, oh I don't know, a BILLION times, it still scares the living christ out of me. I recently went to a Kubrick exhibit, granted it was almost exactly the same as the Kubrick exhibit I went to see with a bunch of former NYU folk at LACMA in LA, but it's still great. There's always something new to learn about Kubrick. Although The Shining is not my favorite film of his by a long shot, it does basically create the blueprint of modern horror, of haptic psychological thrillers, and mysterious happenings and endings; open-ended storylines, bizarre manifestations, and best of all...NO JUMP SCARES. 
I'm writing as I'm watching it, so let's examine a few things. The film starts off with the already terrifying looking Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance) shoving some unimportant exposition down our throats that give us an insight into the family. The husband Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) doesn't drink because he had a violent episode with the kid in the family Danny after a few too many adult pops. 
So immediately you're thinking, she's going to be trouble, something's up with her...and when they check into the Overlook Hotel, she's just a little too excited and too nice. So we focus our attention on her being possessed by a baby killing demon or something. Kubrick has a thing for agoraphobia. And the first scenes at the Overlook Hotel play to that brilliantly. It's a huge open space that when people talk to each other, there are echoes. This comes back into play later, but not before Kubrick turns the atmosphere on its side when it is revealed that the Torrance family will only be using this tiny room in the corner of the hotel as living quarters. 
The first serious scare that we get is when Danny is playing darts in the game room as his parents take a tour of the hotel. We hear a weird meandering noise, that's basically the only way I can explain it, it's not music, but it's so ominous it's scary on its own. He turns his head and instead of immediately pointing out his POV, Kubrick meditates on Danny's reaction which is stoic AF. That's when we see those twins for the first time. Strangely enough had that noise not been playing in the background, we might think that they are just guests leaving the Overlook just like everyone else, but they just stand there. The longer they do, the scarier they become. Now we have horror movies where apparitions jump out at people grab them, push them down stairs etc. But admit it, the scariest thing you can experience is feeling like you're being watched. 
Before I continue, I'm not going to incorporate ANYTHING about Stephen King's novel into this. I'm judging the movie and the movie only. You would think that Kubrick's brilliant blue-print and first and only horror film would change the landscape, but there's a reason why it still scares the pants off even the most hardened Clint Eastwood type grown man, because nothing has ever been more frightening. 
The scene that everyone remembers, even if they haven't seen the movie, and that has been the only take away from The Shining that filmmakers use as a horror trope today.
At this time I'd like to defer to one of the scariest moments in my opinion, one that involves one character, and it seems like that's where his biggest thrills are. It's not Jack confronting Wendy with the infamous 'Give me the bat' routine, nor Jack discovering what's in room 237, though that is pretty gross/horrifying. It's when Jack is upset because Wendy blamed him for being rough with Danny again, though it was actually one of the ghosts. A tracking cam, which is so important in this movie moves backwards as he walks towards it unbelievably pissed off, screaming to himself. That noise again permeates through the halls, and you realize at that moment it's not the ghosts of the Overlook we should be scared of, but Jack. In that, Kubrick turns the film from supernatural horror to psychological horror. 
I'm sure I'm not giving you anything you haven't already heard in the film Room 237, but I'm trying to stay away from things that are too easy like the damn hedge maze, the scooter scene down the hallway, etc. Yes those are iconic shots that Kubrick so brilliantly messes with before the payoff. If you pay attention, Danny rides around on that scooter about 5 different times before those two girls appear to him again. And Wendy and Danny take a morose stroll through the hedge maze for fun before it ever becomes a game of kill your kid with an axe. 

Perhaps a symbol of the labyrinthine craziness of Jack Torrance's mind...I don't know, ask the weirdo's from Room 237.
This movie is so terrifying because it literally messes with your head. When we first meet Dick Hallorann, there's something off about him too. Kubrick decides not to distinguish between who is the scary influence and who is the innocent. He confuses you to basically be on edge about the whole thing. It's pretty brilliant. Kubrick loves to meditate on every scene, stretching every scene makes it somehow more frightening. 
Also, to finish off because I'm rambling, and some of my favorite parts are coming up; what is it that makes this movie fucking shit balls scary? Different from all other horror films ever? It's the setting, not the characters. Not the humans, not the ghosts, not the weird hallucinations, or people's ability to 'shine'. 

Filming the 'give me the bat' scene. 
The Overlook Hotel itself symbolizes people's fear of being alone in a large ominous place, it's uncomfortable, it's disconcerting, and in the case of The Shining, it drives people completely out of their minds. I don't even find the Wendy chase sequences that frightening except for her face with the bulging eyes and her clenching a knife like she's doing shake weight exercises, nor do I find Jack Nicholson's thousand yard stare that particularly uneasy. It's the scenes that are absolutely quiet, eerie, and you know that something is just not right. The music is great tonality for that. But what are we most afraid of? I'll just speak for myself, but it's long hallways. Swear to god. The Overlook is full of them, whether they be in the the hotel itself or in the hedge maze. The unknown behind every corner is truly something that is universally terrifying, and my opinion of why Kubrick kept the film so open ended, is because it's not about what actually the fuck is going on. The sound of the typewriter, the tracking shot of the scooter, the look on Dick Hallorann's face when Danny shines to him. Those are the images, sounds, and occurrences that sink their teeth under your skin. It's a weird setting for a weird film, and it's not supposed to make sense; it's supposed to scare the living shit out of you. Mission accomplished. 


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dance Like Everyone's Watching: Hollywood's Best Choreographed Musicals

About a year or so ago, I did a piece on my favorite musical numbers for any movie. It could be a drama, contemporary, anything. I mean I even put Burlesque on that bill. If you've been following my IG, you know that I have an unhealthy obsession with dance, kind of Zelda Fitzerald style, and it's freaking hard! The whole point is to make it look easy. Also, as someone obsessed with musical theater, and the recent success of Hamilton, I'd like to pay tribute to choreography on FILM rather than the stage. A little bit of history first: Choreography for film started with Busby Berkley and the addition of sound. Trained dancers like Joan Crawford got their start playing chorus girls in the line-up of circular kaleidoscopic shots or one of the girls dancing in a swimming pool around Esther Williams. This transitioned to the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers era, whom I don't think made a bad film, and could dance on air. Fred Astaire's protégé was also his contemporary, the incomparable Gene Kelly who fused his own unique brand of ballet and jazz with ballroom and took the movie musical to new heights. Let's not forget the guy tapped as well. He really was the whole package. I honestly don't think anyone's better. He ruled the movie musical landscape with Astaire until like every dancer, he got a bit old, and tired and before you know it, it was the 70's, and former Broadway boy-wonder choreographer Bob Fosse was making movies. His approach totally revolutionized the genre and indirectly gave birth to all that dancing you see in music videos. Whereas back in the day, the musical numbers were shot on a singular presidium arch, where the camera followed the dancer, Fosse would shoot his numbers from about 20 angles and in a frenzy edited them to free his dancers from gravity. You can call it 'montage dance'. Also, his style was unlike anything done before. Even the most experienced dancers said that he was by far the hardest choreographer to work with and would come home from shooting covered in bruises. Ironically, his numbers look effortless, and his contribution to cinema (though he only made 4 films) cannot be overlooked. Without getting any deeper, here are my favorite musical numbers from movie musicals, in order this time. 

Red Light from Fame (1980) choreographer: Debbie Allen
I love this film, because I went to art school, it was very close to my heart. This film takes place in the 80's, in what would become the Laguardia school for Dramatic Arts. Shot in perhaps the worst time in New York's history when the whole city was filthy and in turmoil, it centers around a bunch of misfit kids who find their calling in a high school that allows them to express themselves through art. In this particular sequence, a rather ammeter and awkward wannabe dancer named Shirley auditions with a friend of hers, Leroy, who just happens to dance like a motherfucker, he ends up stealing her audition and getting in whilst she is left rejected. 'Who wants to go to a fucking school of learnin' dance anyway?' she shouts. 
Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra from An American in Paris (1951) choreographer: Gene Kelly
Our story concerns...you guessed it; an American in Paris who falls in love with a mousy but beautiful ballet dancer played by stunning French actress Leslie Caron. Story goes is that she was a classically trained prima whom Gene Kelly had to teach to dance more 'contemporary', except for this one sequence when they each dance in their own style introducing themselves and their cultures to each other. 
Ain't There Anyone Here for Love? from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) choreographer: Don't Know
Forget the whole Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend number that's too iconic for its own good. This particular number is so deep in the closet it's hilarious. Jane Russell is bored at a gym amongst a plethora of male athletes at the gym who are all training for the olympics that they are all on their way to on a yacht. Oh and Marilyn is in the movie too. While they work out in their peach vintage skivvies, Jane is singing about why no one wants to hang out with her, I wonder why. The beauty of this sequence is how en pointe all of the male athletes/dancers are with their exercise. And Jane's not too bad either. 
Simon Zealotes from Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) choreographer: Don't Know
I saw this live in San Francisco and could not have been more disappointed because the beautiful songs from the rock opera penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are totally lost without dynamic choreography. A bunch of obviously trained dancers in hippie garb create beautiful scenes of dance married with music, none more memorable than the Simon Zealotes sequence, when ...Simon Zealot sings the praises of Jesus Christ with a huge chorus of hippies/disciples. 
Cheek to Cheek from Top Hat (1935) choreographer: Fred Astaire
I have to throw at least one Fred and Ginger movie into here and this is by far my favorite. Never has there been a more brilliant dance couple than Fred and Ginger. They are literally built to dance with each other. It's a lovely little romantic comedy, with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor and was made quite early so it put Fred Astaire on the map. 
Cell Block Tango from Chicago (2002) choreographer: Rob Marshall
Rob Marshall worships at the alter of Bob Fosse who originally put up this play on Broadway in the 70's, and it shows. A lot of people were nervous if he could deliver, but fusing the Fosse essence with his cinematic skill really made for a great musical in an age where no one cared about musicals anymore. Every single number is brilliant, but the one that is most dynamic, eye-catching, and Fosse-esque is the violently colorful and fierce Cell Block Tango. 
Everything Old is New Again from All That Jazz (1979) choreographer: Bob Fosse
Yay! Now to the Fosse part, and this is just the first. Prior to this film, Fosse had had a heart attack, and after he recovered, Shirley McLaine suggested that he write a film about that experience. Roy Scheider plays Fosse, and Fosse's own girlfriend Ann Reinking plays...his girlfriend. There are amazing numbers in this sequence but one that truly stands out is when he goes back home and his girlfriend and daughter Michelle perform a surprise 'welcome back' dance to Everything Old is New Again. It's minimalist, but very heart-warming. 
Moses Supposes from Singin' in the Rain (1952) choreographers: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
This could be the greatest movie musical of all time; scratch that, to me, it always will be. Every single number is absolutely fabulous and you're probably wondering why I chose this number instead of the iconic Singin' in the Rain with Gene Kelly dancing around with an umbrella in the rain. Moses Supposes is a number that includes hoofer Donald O'Connor who plays best friend to Gene Kelly's movie star who now has to learn how to talk considering the movie concerns the advent of sound to film. During a lesson, the two decide to take over and just have some amazing tap dancing, high jumping fun in their teacher's office. They're dancing style is so different that it compliments each other much like Fred and Ginger, and overall, it's just really really fun. 
Mein Herr from Cabaret (1971) choreographer: Bob Fosse
This is probably one of my favorite movies; not just musicals, movies. I think last time I did an all time best list it was #3. The movie concerns a showgirl played brilliantly by Liza Minelli in Weimar Republic Germany right at the onset of looming Nazism. She has high hopes of becoming a grand actress, but has to face a lot of harsh realities, and despite this bleak exterior, she always escapes to her place of work the Kit Kat Club, where she headlines. The last song says it all. 'What good is sitting alone in your room? Life is a cabaret ol' chum, come to the cabaret'. This particular dance sequence, where all of the Cabaret's performers dance with chairs has been mimicked more times than I care to remember, but this one is and always will be the best. 
Prologue from West Side Story (1961) choreographer: Jerome Robbins
Bet you thought Fosse was going to top my list? Well this was on TCM the other day and I just completely could not believe what I was seeing. This musical is an anomaly. The music, composed by legend Steven Sondheim was very jazz-based and improvisational and the dancing went along with it. A lot of the original Broadway cast reprised their roles in the film, and all of the dancing is not only ridiculously complicated set to jazz hybrid music, but looks so graceful and easy. But try doing one of them at home, and you'll knock over all of your furniture. The dancers/actors later said that when principal photography wrapped, they all burned their knee pads in from of Jerome Robbins' trailer. 
Below, any videos I can find regarding the aforementioned numbers, now go dance your heart out!: 








Monday, July 11, 2016

11 Things I Loved In The 90's: Part Deux

Hard to sum up everything awesome about the 90's in just 11 things. Here's 11 more. Because 22 just about covers it. Look at how good my math is. So here's some more stuff that gives me a nostalgia boner. Again, in no particular order:

Raves.
Before you Coachella jerk offs made music festivals basic, and mainstream, raves were the it thing in the 90's. I'm not going to incriminate myself and talk about ALL of it, but it was our Studio 54. I was a bit of a Candy Kid, wearing bracelets up to my elbows and honest to god thought House music was the shit. (no comment). This was back in the day where you had to go to like an abandoned warehouse, get a secret map, go to another location get another secret map and a glitter butterfly sticker and finally find yourself in an abandoned warehouse between stab street and murder avenue. Good times. 
Nu Metal.
Yes darlings, your angelic friend was once full on into baggy wide legged pants, the Vans Warped Tour and Korn with a backwards R. It was all very angsty and alternative; two adjectives that defined my teens. Fun fact: I was a cheerleader despite all of that my junior year of high school and our big end routine was to Limp Bizkit's Rollin' yeah...I get sick just thinking about it. 
The Bee Girl.
If you had ANY time in the 90's the damn bee girl from the Blind Melon 'No Rain' music video is seared into your memory. No one even remembers the song, or what the bee girl has to do with it. They honestly don't go together but she is doomed to spend the rest of her life living down being the definitive cliché of the 90's. 
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon winning Best Screenplay.
Before Batfeck and Jason Bourne, there was Ben and Matt, two kids barely old enough to drive who wrote arguably the best script of that year, turned into Good Will Hunting with iconoclast director Gus Van Sant at the helm. But it's their speech after receiving the golden naked dude presented to them by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau that I can watch over and over again.
The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
In 1991 Freddie Mercury, legendary frontman of Queen added his name to an ever growing list of casualties of AIDS. By then, Queen was my favorite band (my dad taught me well) and a year later his remaining band mates accompanied by some of musics' biggest acts such as Elton John, George Michael, David Bowie and Annie Lennox paid tribute to him in an unprecedented concert at Wembley Stadium, the profits of which went to various AIDS charities. It gives me goosebumps to watch it to this day and though most people's favorite part was Elton John's duet with Axl Rose of 'Bohemian Rhapsody', but George Michael singing 'Somebody to Love' steals the show.
Life After Death.
After the fatal shooting of its artist, the aptly titled album 'Life After Death' hit Tower Records, and yeah I camped out for a CD. Helmed by anthems like 'Hypnotize' and 'Mo Money Mo Problems', even us white dorks were able to appreciate its artistry, sadly it would be the last of Biggie's gifts. Put it on a loop and drive aimlessly. Trust me. 
O Captain, My Captain.
Again, if you grew up in the 90's this scene from Dead Poets Society is tattooed on your skull. Do you know how much the youtube views jumped after the tragic and untimely death of its star Robin Williams? That's what makes this scene even more resonant now, and even more heartbreaking. I seriously can't watch it without crying, but now it's can't watch it without full on bawling. Fight the power boys. 
The 'Closer' music video.
Long before Taylor Swift's annoyingly iconic 'Shake it Off' video, Mark Romanek was just a struggling short film director until Trent Reznor tapped him to direct Nine Inch Nails' breakthrough video for the song 'Closer'. Shot on a hand crank silent 16 mm Bolex similar to the cameras used by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and layered with disturbing imagery like a monkey tied to a cross and a pig head spinning on a metal torture contraption I don't have to tell you, I immediately loved it.
Death Row Records.
When Death Row Records was formed in 1991 by Dre, Suge Knight and The D.O.C., it launched some of the greatest artists of the early 90's including Tupac, Snoop, and Nate, and inadvertently ignited hostilities between West coast and East coast rap empires that lead to the untimely deaths of Tupac and the aforementioned Biggie. Beyond the tragedy and politics, Death Row Records gave us kids in the suburbs something we couldn't stop listening to and something that terrified our parents. Talk about two birds.
Welcome to the Dollhouse.
You probably know by now that I don't go for your typical movies, or even a-typical. And it's even more rare that I watch a movie that I still would bear hug today. Welcome to the Dollhouse might be that anomaly. Director Todd Haynes didn't push the envelope, he built an airplane of it and shoved it sideways up Hollywood's ass. It's the most bizarre, non sequitur, heart-felt, and heart-breaking story you'll ever see about an 11 year old. I saw it at 11 and at 32, it still speaks to me.
Paul Verhoeven.
Here's a list for ya. Basic Instinct. Showgirls. Total Recall. Starship Troopers. Need I say more?
Below...more crap!