Friday, January 31, 2014

My friend Glenn

made a movie and it opened today. It's called At Middleton and it's lovely. I am going to try to get to it this weekend and all of you should too. It's playing at Sundance Theatres in West Hollywood, or you can watch it on demand if you want. Check out their Facebook page for details on that by clicking here.

Here's a trailer.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Catching up on Girls

and just watched the first episode of the new season. Kim Gordon and Richard E. Grant are guest stars. Rita Wilson is back. And Natalia gets her eff you moment to Adam. I am very happy with all of these things.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm donating to

this. You should too.

I'm excited about Looking

I turned on HBO over the weekend so I could watch Looking. I want to write about it, but with only one episode in I can't say much more about it except that I think it looks very promising. JW and I love San Francisco, so it's great to see it depicted. It's one of my favorite places; I can get all Tales of the City and misty-eyed about how magical the city is. In fact, we just got back from a quick weekend trip to get a new dose of it, so we enjoyed the pilot that much more with it fresh on our minds.

Also, Lauren Weedman's scene made us laugh so much we rewound it and watched it again. Listening to people talk about Facebook in TV, movies, and plays usually bores the hell out of me, but she pulls it off.

And that's clearly one of the points of the show -- to have that very zeitgeist, "who we are now" hyper-naturalistic style, one facet of which is to have them talk endlessly about social media -- online dating, Instagram, Facebook. Yes I know it's a part of our lives but I feel like we all get it, so having characters talk about it all the time usually feels self-conscious to me. I can't say I minded it much in this iteration.

It's a testament to the show's quality that they pull it off so well. I think we can credit the gifted actors. We all know how I feel about Jonathan Groff, and Weedman's great. Seems like I saw one of her solo shows out here but I can't remember what it was. I should search the blog....

Ah, that's right, I wrote about it in 2009.

But also, the social media theme connects to what I think the show's main point is (and what the hell do I know, I just saw the pilot): the ways that gay men as lovers, as friends, as a community look at themselves, and how that's changing. Looking (as a title) surely means a lot of things, but the most obvious is in cruising. It reminds me of a moment in Interior. Leather Bar. when director Travis Mathews coaches the young actors that they're filming a scene meant to be an outtake from Cruising, set in the 70s. That means people didn't have their heads buried in their devices. All the action was in the eyes.

And that's why the show's best scene, and what feels like the point-of-attack for a meaningful love story, is a prolonged flirtation on the Muni between the nervous Paddy, having just bombed on an attempt at online dating, and some sweet, handsome guy -- a stranger who has the audacity to speak to him directly. Without the aid of the internet, or a handheld device. To look at him.

Who does that anymore?

Hey, I guess I did get a post out of just one episode. Cool.

P.S. - HBO posted the first episode on Youtube if anyone wants to check it out.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Just saw Wolf of Wall Street

which surely owes Woody Allen (or Mia and Ronan Farrow) a thank-you for what I think is going to be a little break from the internet morality police. But that's a different post, I guess.

I expected to be thrilled or appalled by the movie, and I veered between both extremes at any given moment. Overall it didn't strike me as either that thrilling or appalling. Women and gays fare pretty badly in it, but pretty much everybody looks like an asshole. It's grandiose satire about grandiose wealth, greed and criminality.

I like this quote from A.O. Scott's review in the NYTimes.
Is this movie satire or propaganda? Its treatment of women is the strongest evidence for the second option. On his way up, Jordan trades in his first wife, a sweet hometown girl named Teresa (Cristin Milioti), for a blonder, bustier new model named Naomi (Margot Robbie), whose nakedness is offered to the audience as a special bonus. (Mr. DiCaprio never shows as much as she does.) The movie’s misogyny is not the sole property of its characters, nor is the humiliation and objectification of women — an insistent, almost compulsive motif — something it merely depicts. Mr. Scorsese, never an especially objective sociologist, is at least a participant-observer. 
His camera has always operated partly in the service of his id. This is a virtue and a failing, since his best films register a passionate fascination with the frequently ugly worlds they depict, a reluctance (or inability) to step back. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is no exception, and in this case it may be unfair to demand from the director a clarity of judgment that virtually nobody else — in business, politics, journalism or art — seems able or willing to articulate.
He gets at something I find more and more challenging the older I get...I used to find outrage a little easier to muster. And it's not because I'm cynical and claim to be immune to shock. I think I just find aggressively political, righteously indignant, morally superior attitudes about art to be about projecting the kind of things we want art to be onto the work, and being a scold when it doesn't offer us the comfort of reflecting our values perfectly back to us. I appreciate that Scott seems to evaluate without moral superiority here, even questioning if it's possible to do so.

I also have no problem admiring the work of talented, complicated, perhaps even morally compromised people (that last phrase circles back to Allen, since I've been thinking about him a lot today). Especially since it's safe to say we're all morally compromised (which I think is what Scott is getting at). Misogyny and casual homophobia suck, and they're both trotted out repeatedly in this movie. But our culture, and the people who inhabit it, are misogynistic and homophobic. A lot of the art and artists are too. And the audiences who watch. I just think more and more as I get older that art can be important and valuable and extremely problematic at the same time. And it's okay to appreciate all of these things about the work.

And in this case the work -- The Wolf of Wall Street -- is all surfaces. Its one big idea -- that we're looking at America when we look at these gaudy, thrilling surfaces -- isn't especially new, surprising or devastating. The movie belabors the point, honestly, and as it went on it took me out of things too much. I started to feel sorry for all the women having to parade around the set naked all the time, while Jonah Hill gets to wave a prosthetic penis through his zipper and Leo stops at showing his ass.

Still, some of those gaudy surfaces are thrilling. The performances and the camera are kinetic and nervy. To steal a word from earlier in Scott's review, the whole thing is exuberant.  And that Lemmon Quaalude sequence alone was worth the price of admission. That and the Joanna Lumley cameo. And the Fran Lebowitz cameo.

American Hustle, meanwhile, tells a similar story with more thoughtfulness about those surfaces and what lies beneath them, and makes its women, also morally compromised, complicated, gorgeous and fascinating. So it's easy to say I'd rather sit through that one again. Or Nebraska, which is warm and relatable, melancholic and funny, but is also about the ugly or ridiculous things people do for money and occasionally displays some rather sad sexual politics of its own. Or Inside Llewyn Davis, which is more textured and challenging, but also very much about money, with a pretty difficult protagonist who doesn't treat women very well either. It's probably fair to say we could talk about this stuff with pretty much every Oscar-bait movie out there this year. And there's still a lot to admire about all of them.

But I guess, if I had to choose, I'd probably rather see any one of the others again over The Wolf of Wall Street. Unless you want to fast-forward to that Quaalude business so I can watch that again.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday night post

I finally focused enough yesterday on my new play, Hope House, to get some work done and feel like I'm starting some momentum on it. Of course today I didn't work on it at all, so there's that.

Otherwise, I saw Nebraska yesterday, which is sad and very funny. And JW gave a lecture at St. John's Episcopal last night about stained glass and Canterbury Cathedral. Then Andrew and he and I had a late dinner downtown. It was good to see Andrew.

Today I tried out my new crepe pan I got for Christmas with an overcomplicated recipe that made kind of a mess. I managed to salvage enough to put together a meal for JW and me, though.

And we got a long overdue new bed delivered today. I'm propped up on it right now, watching some odd Christopher Isherwood movie with Toby Jones and Imogen Poots on Netflix streaming. JW and I started it after watching a few minutes of the Golden Globes. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made me laugh a few times, but all the men and their bronzing was a little unnerving.

I was happy to see Elizabeth Moss win before I turned it off. She looked great.

\"Mad Men\" actress Elisabeth Moss

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I wrote this in October

about the HBO documentary Valentine Road, and never posted it. I was looking over old posts tonight and looked at it again; the movie really upset me at the time and I felt strange about posting this for some reason. Reading it with some distance I think it's worth sharing, so here you go.

I saw Valentine Roadthe powerful documentary about Lawrence King's murder, last night. Since I don't have HBO, I ran over to Pasadena for the late screening at the Laemmle Playhouse 7. Thanks to Laemmle Theatres for screening it; the more people who see it the better, I think.

I've followed the Lawrence King murder since it first hit the news (posting about it here and here). The movie about it is full of stunning and infuriating people, young and old, on both sides of the case. I'm not really sure how to write about it; I found myself more moved and emotional ruminating on the events of the movie than I was while watching it. Certain descriptions of events (particularly King's teacher Dawn Boldrin's recount of the shooting and immediate aftermath) were horrifying, other interviews made me want to take off my shoe and throw it at the screen. But I didn't really lose it until I got in the car and drove home, and I didn't get much sleep last night either. We just failed that child. It should never have happened.

But of all the intensity of this story, one big detail stood out to me. The school worked with King's guardians to create an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, one that included behavior modification requirements discouraging attention seeking. A teacher in the school describes her response when she saw King come in with make-up; she sent the child marching right down to the office for violating the IEP. Granted, I don't know what special needs required this sort of modification plan, but the potency of that struck me hard. Assimilation and invisibility weren't just institutional or social expectations at this school. In special cases its staff was handing down these requirements on an individual basis.

And what's frustrating about King's death is that it proved they all had a right to be concerned. Even if their attempts to care for their children, and their responses to their own failures to do so, were misguided, a child died because a refusal to remain invisible made another child commit murder. So the completely fucked up status quo got maintained. It was maintained by Brandon McInerny, a budding white supremacist who killed a classmate for making a pass at him, then won the sympathy of some misguided jurors, got a mistrial and a plea deal. (We failed that kid too, by the way.) (Either way, he should thank his lucky stars for his pro-bono lawyers; I hope if I ever get accused of a hate crime I can find a lawyer who'll get my name tattooed on her arm and profess her love for me while weeping openly on camera.)

The most galling moment (among many) in the film was the letter King's killer wrote to their teacher; Boldrin reads it to the camera. In it, McInerny announces his graduation from high school, his perfunctory acceptance of responsibility, and his declaration that he's "moved on."

Meanwhile Lawrence King, a gorgeous, biracial, gender-nonconforming youth, remains dead. The school apparently would like to continue the invisibility trend; it won't even allow a tree planted in King's memory to be bear the child's name. It's not right.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The poster for HER

is perfect, because that movie is all about his face. Also, is the mustache an homage to Lars and the Real Girl?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Woody Allen and Blue Jasmine in the LAT

(See here for the full story.)
"It's accidental. I was not in any way thinking of that," [Woody Allen] said. "The two things that come up all the time that I was never thinking of were anything of Tennessee Williams, and I was never thinking of Madoff. It's purely accidental."
I love Woody Allen movies and I love Blue Jasmine (I'd watch it over Midnight in Paris any day), but I can't get over Allen's refusal to cop to aping the structure of A Streetcar Named Desire in writing this script. Does he mean to tell us that he has so fully absorbed that play over the years that he can unconsciously repurpose whole scenes to serve his needs in his movie? That he could cast one of the major living actresses who's made headlines playing Blanche DuBois in recent years without it ever coming up?

The 2nd quote in the story illuminates why he's so adamant about this--
"The only thing that interested me about the story was the psychological breakdown of the woman. I didn't think of the social ramifications, the recession, the economics, the chicanery on Wall Street or anything like that."
It's an issue of focusing or staying on message about what he wants the media to emphasize about his movie, so I appreciate his one-track mind in service of his movie (and, I think, by extension, Blanchett and her epic performance).

Honestly, I think it's a brilliant, delightful spin on the classic. JW and I giggled all the way through the movie, and one main reason was out of recognition of his clever modern-day re-imagining of Blanche and the events of Streetcar. It doesn't really matter what he says; it's there plain as day, and he has nothing to be ashamed of about it. He's a great artist and he drew on the inspiration of another great artist to make something new and relevant. We should be grateful he continues to do it so well.

Later in the interview he says he has no influence on younger filmmakers at all. That's another absurd insistence I can't help but wonder about. Is it false modesty? Maybe, but my money's on a focus on the work, a disinterest in myth-making. Regardless, I think we can feel comfortable taking all these sentiments for exactly what they're worth.

Interior. Leather Bar: Part II

Or, if you prefer my obnoxious subtitle, "The Straight Gaze."

See here for part I.

One element I found a little strange as I watched was the lack of any real sense of POV for the main gay players in the film. Various extras get featured in their audition tapes, and one couple that appears to be committed in real life performs an explicit sex scene and then talks about what it means for them to have done the job. They're literally baring all, exposing themselves and, in this couple's case, their own intimacy (even if the movie's BDSM consultant has to coach them on how to play their roles as Dom and Sub). One of the gay men in the sex scene states in an interview scene that this is the third role he's had and the third role he's had to be naked in. He didn't want that to be the case, but he took it anyway. And the straight guys are the ones with all the anxiety.

That gay couple may get to show how real they are in that interview, but the interview is essentially conducted by Lauren. As a result the guys aren't really allowed a platform distinct from the gaze of the straight man suddenly moved by the humanity of the homos he'd seen as tawdry, rutting sex objects before. He warmly compliments the couple, telling them they make sense together and he could tell how much they cared for each other, after which point I suppose we're supposed to applaud him for genuine regard of same-sex love after so much prudish pearl-clutching before.

Just like the gay actors, as I mentioned earlier, we don't really get to know Mathews in the same way we hear from Franco and Lauren. That said, JW's favorite moment came at the end of the film, when Lauren, safe in his car and talking to his wife on his cell, watches Mathews leaving the theater and embracing the gay couple. The three gay men have an earnest moment of connection and affection as the straight actor watches from across the street, isolated and alone. Just like Franco, for all his queer interest. Mathews is definitely in on that joke, but I like to think Franco gets it too.

Matt Zoller Seitz gives a lot of credit to Mathews earlier, but he stays focused on Hollywood star Franco, ending his review with a quote that I both appreciate and think is a little unfair--
Even when Franco is prattling on about his desire to free moviegoers from their psychosexual chains -- as if he's the handsome film star equivalent of Lawrence of Arabia or the guy from "Avatar," a straight messiah-liberator helping the impotent queer nation touch hearts and minds -- the movie somehow works. It's self-aware and self-deprecating. "Cruising" is a safari just as this film is a safari. Its tour guide is an interloper trying to convince the natives that he's one of them.
Even if he may have a point with the easy dig about cultural appropriation (Gawker has a more nuanced review along those lines here), I think Interior. Leather Bar. is also concerned with not just the interloping, but the retreat as well. All these straight guys get to show up, entertain their curiosity, feel a little edgy, or enlightened, or maybe even turned-on. They dabble a little for whatever reason, then go back home to their wives and their straight privilege. But, as any queer person will gladly tell you, some roles will never truly fit.

JW and I saw Interior. Leather Bar.

on Saturday at Cinefamily's double feature with Cruising. We've seen Cruising on DVD so didn't stay, although I did want to a little, just to see it with an audience. I probably would've gotten a lot more of Interior. Leather Bar.'s references if I'd stayed too. But I digress.

I've been curious about the movie for a while, but someone posted a review in my Facebook feed by a critic named Matt Zoller Seitz that put me over the edge to go see it. Here's a pivotal quote from his review--
Franco busts out the word "normative" in one of the interview segments, and it doesn't feel forced, because that's ultimately what "Interior. Leather Bar" is about: the difficulty of trying to tell gay stories in a heteronormative world.
This is my kinda movie, of course, but I don't think that's really what this one's about. I think it's about a lot of things, actually, and maybe that's kind of a little tiny bit of what it's about, but it also feels like a smokescreen for what the filmmakers are really interested in.

One of the funniest shots to me is the first, an exterior of the Chateau Marmont on the Strip, Hollywood celebrity playground cliche, and a set-up to the introduction of James Franco, queer ally and star of the movie. Technically he's not the lead; his friend Val Lauren is. Lauren plays himself (and I do think he's playing at that), playing the role of Al Pacino, playing the role of Steve Burns, a straight cop infiltrating leather bars in NYC in 1980. Still, Franco ably plays the role of star, being filmed with Lauren and his co-director Travis Mathews, as they chat in a suite at the famous hotel about the movie they're going to make. Although it's not so much a movie as a imagined reconstruction of the 40 steamy minutes of Cruising that director William Friedkin had to cut to get an R rating.

The Chateau Marmont. As if that was the only place in L.A. James Franco could shoot that scene.

Franco will later prove elusive (Lauren's call to his visionary artist/mentor Franco goes to voicemail at the end of his infiltration of the porny gay film shoot), but in that first scene and a couple of other early, righteous scenes, he is pretty direct in his intentions about the movie. He insists that we should be using sex in our storytelling, specifically queer sex, because everyone does it, there's nothing wrong with it, and it's a lot better than showing constant, indiscriminate violence.

One telling moment in one of his lectures is his response to Lauren when he points out that he doesn't think someone who just did a Disney movie should be doing something like this. Franco replies cannily by telling him that's part of the point. He's deliberate in his role as celebrity/subversive, and he's thinking about how he can use his ability to take on multiple roles to maximize his impact.

We don't ever see much evidence of the reconstructed footage that is supposed to be the point of the movie, but when we do, that further reinforces the theme, as we suddenly shift from the banal behind-the-scenes boredom of filmmaking (make-up artist, camera operators, everyone in their roles, and shot in some shabby black box 99-seater in NoHo) to the hot, exhilarating sex of the resulting footage from the efforts.

And so the show goes. In a sense it feels a little elementary, or like Gender/Sexuality 101 (look at all the roles we play...Straight/Gay! Butch/Femme! Dom/Sub! And leather's just another form of drag, right?), but the amount of layering that this scenario allows makes the whole thing pretty thought-provoking. Particularly in light of the misdirection of Franco telling the audience the main reason he's making this movie is to challenge why we think gay sex is such a big deal.

Co-director Travis Mathews (who seems very smart and skillful, but we never really get to know him in the movie...I'll get to that in a bit) clearly welcomes both the substance and the misdirection of Franco's lecture, but then he seems to have rather quietly gone along and layered in all these other ideas. It's a sly bit of magic he does, and it's all deliberate and interestingly organized. Mathews has the only writing credit on the script; he constructs a formal, thoughtful narrative that feels both authentic and fake, even occasionally betraying the manipulation of the events (at one point we hear him off-camera interrupting what seems like an unrehearsed conversation and giving direction, exposing the documentary artifice) to reinforce the theme.

This is getting long. I'll wrap up in another post.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

I took up

what is probably a foolish New Year's resolution to write every day of 2014. My description of writing is rather loose -- journaling and blogging count -- and this has helped make it doable for the 8 days so far this year, but last night the 13 words I scrawled down on a notepad were my worst showing yet.

Hopefully it'll all be uphill from there. And guess what? This post means I can count January 8 as a success!