Friday, March 31, 2006

This Entry Has No Title


I promised something lightweight and vacuous, but would you settle for tawdry and amusing ?

Click here for Roger Ebert's review of Basic Instinct 2.

What I loved about Ebert's review is he seems to get that Basic Instinct 2 never had a shot at actually being a good movie. Over on IMDB, the reviews on BI2 are also in, and they're not nearly as understanding as ol' Rog - it's almost as if people expected something good from the affair.

I hated, HATED the original Basic Instinct, but I'm willing to give the sequel a chance for David Morrissey alone. It's a shame his big "coming out" movie has to be an enormous piece of glitzy trash, as the guy's a fucking amazing actor. I expect bigger and better cinematic outings from him in the future, provided BI2 doesn't kill his movie career altogether.

I find it odd that most of the IMDB tidbits focus on Sharon Stone's looks, or rather the amount of work she's had done on said looks. After recently seeing her in the first few episodes of the new season of Huff - which begins this Sunday night on Showtime at 9PM (CST) - I'm somewhat baffled by the compiled IMDB assertions. It must be the difference between what shows up on a movie screen vs. the TV screen, because I thought she looked damn fine in Huff (which I gather was shot after BI2). And more importantly, she turns in a great performance on the show. Highly recommended.

Click here and you'll see a gallery of stills from the first episode of the new season of Doctor Who, entitled "New Earth", which begins on the BBC on April 15th. These pics are just freaking schweet and I've already got this one up as wallpaper.

[1] UPDATE!: Click here to see the latest trailer for the second season of Doctor Who.

Lastly, if you read my recent MySpace rant, you may be disturbed to know that my prediction about where it'll all end up has taken a gruesome turn and parked itself at The site speaks for itself and really needs no commentary from me.

Da Lawd Gets Da Beat Down (Part Two)

If you didn’t read yesterday’s entry you ought to before moving forward.

What struck me about Odie's story (aside from the obvious) is that the woman’s gut reaction was such a Southern Baptist take on a deeply Catholic piece of art.

As a kid attending Catholic mass with great infrequency, I was always freaked out by the gruesome imagery that peppers Catholic architecture. In a way, going to mass is like seeing a disturbing horror movie every Sunday. Catholicism is the one religion obsessed with suffering. This isn’t a criticism – it’s an observation. As my staunchly Catholic friend Don often points out, some of the greatest art ever created comes from suffering – and he’s right. Without suffering, I can only imagine how dire art would be…but I’m also forced to contemplate if there’d even be a need for art were there no suffering.

I’ve still never seen The Passion of the Christ and I’m less interested in seeing it now than ever before. The phrase “it’s just a movie” isn’t typically part of my vernacular, but in the case of this film, which so many people seem[ed] to take as gospel, I’ve really gotta say it: “It’s just a movie, folks”. It had a script [1], it was shot by cameras, Jesus was played by an actor named Jim Caviezel, and the crew that worked on it likely engaged in the same sort of hedonistic behavior that befalls many a film set. It’s basically one man’s vision of how he believes shit went down. God had nothing to do with this film – con yourself or others into thinking otherwise, but you’re just plain wrong. And I'm not going to hell for saying that, this much I know.

But these facts didn’t stop people from reacting to and treating the film as if it were scripture. Maybe it is a powerful film (I wouldn’t know), but I’m sure back in its day people trembled before the awesome might of The Ten Commandments – you know, the movie where Edward G. Robinson pronounces “Pharoah” as “Fay-row”. (Speaking of The 10C, it’s getting a spiffy miniseries redux on ABC in a couple weeks and I’ve been told the Fay-row version will play on ABC the week after.)

There are numerous reasons I’ve never seen The Passion. A big one is the alleged brutality. I just don’t want to see that. I saw Pasolini’s Salo many years ago and have regretted it ever since. And I don’t have fond memories of I Spit on Your Grave, either. I get that Christ (according to legend) suffered. I get that having one’s hands and feet nailed to planks of wood is torturous. I don’t need to see it visualized on film. I get it – I really do. What amazes me is that so many people took the film as some sort of sign to rediscover their inner Jesus. I’m not a religious man, but I do respect other people’s right to believe - however I’m not so good at respecting people’s right to be ignorant. What’s hard for me to wrap my brain around is that such a huge cross-section of church-going folk were so out of touch with these basic teachings that this movie was a sort of revelation to them. You know, as if “I’d never thought of it like that before.”

I don’t even subscribe to the magazine and I’ve never thought of it as anything but. Check out the stained-glass windows people – it’s all over the place.

The brutality thing isn’t even a real complaint – it’s not a reason to dislike the film, it’s just a reason I don’t want to see it.

Offensive on more levels than can be counted is the "Share the Passion of the Christ" website. I vow that as long as this site exists, I will never see the movie. You know that Biblical line about Jesus driving the moneychangers from the temple? I’m no Bible scholar, but if you can justify the purpose of this website alongside that quote, maybe we can talk. When Curb Your Enthusiasm recently mocked the Christ nail necklace, well, the vindication I felt upon viewing that episode cannot be measured. Can you grasp the sheer amount of money that was made by a certain individual (who directed the film)? And that website is still up there, peddling its cheap wares...

Must. Take. Deep. Breath.

You know what sucks? I never intended for this to be some angry, bile-fueled rant. Odie’s story – which really was notably sweet considering where I’ve ended up – is what inadvertently jump-started it and now I’m in this place of frustration and piss and obnoxious vinegar.

This may be hard to see, but I respect the idea of faith so much that I want people who believe to respect and honor the faith they claim to follow and turn away charlatans and ne’er-do-wells attempting to taint or take advantage of their beliefs. It hurts me deeply when they don’t (or at least don’t appear to) and I lose my faith…my faith in humanity, which - being a non-believer - is the singular faith I’ve got to hang onto. Understand - I don't prance around, overjoyed by my atheism...or agnosticism, or whatever it is I am. I wish I had faith in something higher, but I just don't. I envy those that do and I'd imagine it's a bitchin' way to go through life.

We’ve all got our religions and they don’t always involve churches and prayer books. This is admittedly a silly example, but right now Doctor Who is like a religion to me. Go ahead and giggle. No – seriously – heckle me (if you haven’t already). It’s something that’s been with me since I was a teen and I’ve always “believed” in it and here in America, it’s finally getting some cred. This wasn’t always the case, and I’ve spent many an hour attempting to “convert” people. For some, religion is football. For others it’s (sadly) shopping. Many assert that politics is the new religion, and that’s difficult to argue, especially in these times in which the two frequently intersect. I don’t get most people’s religion and they rarely get mine. This is all fine. This is what makes us human. This is what should keep us going.

If you believe strongly enough in something, you don’t need to sell it – it's fulfilling as is. When people begin suffering the delusions that everybody else needs to be on the same page they are, we run into big problems.

Ever seen The Last Temptation of Christ ? It’s a movie that’s been almost forgotten by most “regular” people, even though it was reviled and protested by many upon its release. It’s a Martin Scorsese film, starring Willem “The Green Goblin” Dafoe as Jesus. It’s based not on scripture, but on a book of pure fiction, written by some dude, and it’s a beautiful piece of work that keeps the violence at a bare minimum (and it’s a Scorsese flick!). There was no Last Temptation merchandise. People didn’t come out of the film crying and feeling guilty. I think they came out contemplating and feeling alive (well, I did anyway). Part of me hopes there are people out there who mistakenly rent it at the video store thinking it’s The Passion. If so, I wonder how they feel when it’s over. And right now I’m especially wondering how the “they beat his ass” lady would feel – if not about Last Temptation, maybe about my words.

I bet she'd beat my ass.

NEXT TIME ON "SLAP PALS": Something vacuous and lightweight!

[1] Does anybody remember that brief period of time when IMDB actually had an entry for “God” and he was credited as the screenwriter of The Passion? It was on there for a couple weeks, I kid you not.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Da Lawd Gets Da Beat Down (Part One)

Today’s entry is a bit of cheat, because it begins with a nice, long anecdote that I had nothing to do with constructing. (I should do more entries like this - I’d save a lot of time and energy.) Over at The House Next Door, where I also read and rant, there’s this guy called “The Odienator”, and his posts mesmerize and hypnotize in the sickest sort of sense (this is a compliment). I felt that a story he posted yesterday needed immortality outside of a talkback and it’s stuck with me since reading it last night. Without further buildup or adieu, here’s Odie’s reminiscence of going to see a certain film, directed by a certain star of Tequila Sunrise:

[T]hanks for bringing up Da Lawd Gets Da Beat Down, I mean The Passion of the Christ. Forgive me for this brief story about the day I went to see it. I was standing in line outside the theater doors. People started coming out of the theater, or rather, they were stumbling out as if they'd been hit by a bus. Little kids were coming out with wet, red faces and the kind of bloodshot eyes reserved for the singer in the song Lush Life.

The first "normal" looking person to exit the theater was this heavy-set, older Black woman. She reminded me of the women who frequented the church I used to go to when I was growing up. I knew her type well, as some members of my family are just like her. She had a cherubic face, and she smiled at me, which put me at ease. She seemed so poised in a church lady kind of way. As she passed me, she touched my arm. I said "yes, ma'am?" And she looked me in the eye and said, as seriously as a heart attack, "Child, I mean they WHUPPED...HIS... ASS!"

All throughout the movie, I kept flashing back to this woman. She was running commentary in my head. "See, I told you! I told you!" She was saying. "Tore His ass up, right?!" I had to hold my breath to keep from cracking up, and getting the entire audience to have me executed for "blasphemy." She made the movie watchable. Thank you "they beat his ass" lady, wherever you are!

- The Odienator

* * * * * *

It’s criminal that Odie doesn’t have his own blog and if that story didn’t amuse, you probably shouldn’t finish this entry.

Back when I first started doing movie reviews for The Chris Duel Show, on one of my early “appearances” on the radio, I was doing a call-in to the show from L.A. (and there really is something about L.A. that brings out the heathen in a person). This was Summer of 2004 and Spider-Man 2 had recently come out, so I was busy hyperbolizing about it being “the best movie of the year” and so forth.

Becky Whetstone was in studio and I guess she picked up on this and said something like “How is it that there are so many ‘best movies of the year’? Wasn’t everyone saying just a few months ago that The Passion of the Christ was the best movie of the year?”

To which I stupidly said, “I don’t know. I never saw that film. It just looked kind of silly to me, like it was a Monty Python movie or something. I saw Bad Santa though, and that was pretty good.”

And the phone lines lit up like a fucking Nativity Scene. It was as if Satan himself was guest starring on The Chris Duel Show.

And Chris, being the wise host that he is, put some random old fart on the air with me. You have to imagine the most creaky, shaking, heartbroken voice of the oldest man you've ever met, and then picture it saying this:

“That young man you’ve got on there [he was talking to Chris and didn’t even want to address me specifically] has no idea what he’s talking about! He’s mocking the Good Lord and he’ll have to answer to him someday! The Passion of the Christ is a beautiful film. I saw that horrible movie Bad Santa – I sat through every frame of that filthy, disgusting movie, blah, blah, blah…”

If the guy could've smacked me with his cane over the air, I'm sure he would've, provided his colostomy bag didn't get in the way. I found myself apologizing - on the air - to this guy and that I didn’t mean to offend or mock his faith or whatever. Still pissed at myself for not just unloading on him further…but these sheep are a sensitive flock, and I did not wish to worry him further about the downfall of society and the ongoing degradation of humanity. I do have to give the guy props for having seen both films, though; he one-upped me in the movie-going department at that point. Needless to say, that was one of my first lessons learned about preaching at a conservative talk radio audience.

So what’s my point? Not sure yet, but I’ll hopefully make one tomorrow.

Click here to read Part Two.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tequila Sunrise

Tequila Sunrise is one of those films I avoided for years. Back when I worked at Bjorn's, I’d see the laserdisc over and over and over, and probably nothing else on the shelf appeared more deserving of my scorn than a film named after an Eagles song, starring three high-profile actors – none of whom I cared much for at the time - looking desperate to make a quick buck with a bad action film.

Sometimes it's great to be wrong, or at least wildly off base in one’s presumptions.

About 6 months ago, I caught Tequila Sunrise late one night on cable and gave it a shot. (Since the LD days, I’ve also had a permanent image of the title plastered on a movie marquee Louis walks under in Interview with the Vampire.) By the time it was over, I was borderline obsessed.

Perhaps my biggest goof was not realizing it was written and directed by Robert Towne. This alone makes it worth at least attempting to view. The story, as Towne’s scripts often are, is convoluted in such a way that it matters not while you're watching. Maybe when it's over you'll realize you've been taken for a ride, but not while the movie's busy sucking you in. Repeated viewings alleviate this problem to varying degrees, but whatever threads might still dangle are irrelevant.

Mel Gibson is Mac McKussic and Kurt Russell is Nick Frescia. The pair used to be best buds in their younger days. Did and sold a lot of drugs together. Probably got laid in the same room a number of times. You know, the kind of mindless nonsense guys of a certain age engage in with each other; the kind of stuff that binds friends together on a certain level for life.

In the present, Mac still sells drugs – coke to be precise – but he’s “trying to go straight”. Nick on the other hand is now a cop working with the DEA and is in the unfortunate position of having to take Mac down. And Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfieffer) is just a girl who owns a fancy Italian restaurant where Mac prefers to dine. Or is she?

The plot of Tequila Sunrise is less important than the overall story of friendship, or rather the bittersweet souring of one. A love triangle of sorts begins developing between the three characters. While it’s unspoken, there’s an exuded vibe that this isn’t the first triangle Mac and Nick have gotten themselves mixed up in, but there’s a stronger feeling coming across that maybe this one is less expendable than those of the past.

All three leads turn in the types of performances you’d expect from them, especially given the time period in which the film was released (1988). This isn’t a film about great acting; it’s a film about mood and tone (which also sets it apart from most other studio fare of the time). And the less attention paid to Gibson’s wavering accent (he was still somewhat fresh off the Aussie boat at this point in his career), the better. There is, however, one standout performance, and that’s the late Raul Julia. To say anything about his character would be to ruin one of the movie’s pleasures. Another great actor who’s no longer with us, J.T. Walsh, gives a nice turn as an inept DEA agent. (I could be biased there, as I happen to like pretty much everything I’ve ever seen Walsh do.)

An ever bigger part of what sells the affair is Conrad Hall's sun-drenched cinematography, and one scene - between Gibson & Russell facing one another on a swing set, as solar rays blot the pair into silhouette - is alone basically worth watching the film for.

The music is all Dave Grusined / Richard Marxed / Eightiesed-out. If it didn’t fit the film so well, it would be laughable. It’s worth noting that the Eagles tune is strangely nowhere to be heard, although I dare you to watch the movie without it constantly playing in the back of your mind.

Lest you think I'm selling a perfect movie, it'd be unfair to not say the last five minutes of Tequila Sunrise suck dreadfully. Not so much in a way that you’ll feel like you’ve wasted two hours getting there, but in such a way that you’ll know exactly where to turn the film off the next time you see it. This will also save you from having to suffer through Richard Marx over the end credits. Those final minutes smack of studio interference and I cannot reconcile what occurs (or doesn’t, as the case may be) in those moments with the rest of the piece.

The title, however, is wholly appropriate. It sounds like something devised in a studio head’s office – something he came up with on the way into the office on a Monday morning after a wild weekend of doing too much blow with the missus and listening to one too many Don Henley records. But it’s not only appropriate, it’s ideal. “Tequila” & “Sunrise” are perhaps two of most aptly descriptive words ever applied to the front of a movie. Nobody can ever accuse this film of not delivering what its title suggests (unless, of course, you’re hoping to hear the Eagles song).

Monday, March 27, 2006

BAFTAs give nom to "Who"

The BAFTAs just announced their annual television award nominations and Doctor Who is up for Best Drama Series. Way to go, Who!

It's unfortunate that neither of the leads got acting noms, but given that (to my knowledge), in the 43 years the show's been around, it's never been recognized by the BAFTAs in this type of category, I'm willing to let it slide.

UPDATED!: According to IMDB, the show was nominated in both '77 & '78 in the "Drama/Light Entertainment" category, which I gather refers to children's programming (it didn't win on either occasion). Sorry - my BAFTAs knowledge is weak and IMDB isn't helping much.

Check out the entire nomination list by clicking here.

"Evil" Longoria? I think not...

A recent Allure magazine interview with Eva Longoria resulted in an insane amount of negative publicity for the actress. Funny thing is, anyone who actually read the piece would know that much hay was made out of nothing and that the context of it all was changed thanks to the AP. (I have read the Allure article and lived to comment on it.)

Last week, Jeanne interviewed Longoria and gave her the opportunity to comment on everything that's been spread throughout the media in regards to the Allure article (click on this text to read the interview).

I've never met Longoria, but near as I can tell she's a decent lady who's making good use of her 15 minutes and trying to have some fun along the way. What struck me as noteworthy about Jeanne's interview was Eva's assertion that she frankly doesn't care what's printed in any other rag - but when it comes to the city in which she's chosen to reside, she's sensitive to what is said (the E-N reprinted some of the AP nonsense). It's not just the E-N either, I rarely hear anybody say anything nice about her, and near as I can tell, these opinions are always based on gossip and hearsay. I've read a fair amount of the hate mail JJ receives about Eva, and much of it's really ugly. (I will grant that people are more likely to write in with criticism than compliments.)

I'd like someone to explain to me the root of San Antonio's apparent dislike for this woman. Is it because she dates Tony Parker? Is it because she's a latina who's comfortable and aggressive with her sexuality? Is it because people in this town mistakenly believe that she plays herself on TV as opposed to a character?

Don't hate her because she's beautiful folks. I feel for the lady, because were I in her position, god knows what kind of inflammatory bullshit I'd spout that the locals would absolutely abhor. I'd be like Frankenstein's monster with the mob of angry, torch-wielding villagers chasing me to the top of the hill. (Good thing we're short on windmills in these parts.)

San Antonio often times appears to have some very backwards notions when it comes to celebrity. We revel in the fact that the Spurs are "golden boys", but it's realistically only a matter of time until one of them slips up and makes a mistake and the city's going to go apeshit as if it's some kind of crime to be human. Eva Longoria puts forth some very human opinions time and again in the media, and people want to string her up for it, which is unfortunate and shallow. For a city that purports to be this downhome, welcoming, tolerant metropolis, the locals seem to be awfully judgmental when it comes to how other people choose to live their lives. What the city should do is stand behind the people who put us on the map, through thick and thin. If Eva Longoria commits some kind of triple homocide, I won't hold people to that standard, but if she talks about a Brazilian wax in an interview, geez, cut the dame some slack, fer chrissakes.

And then everybody scratches their heads, wondering why the rest of the country views us as a bunch of stupid redneck yokels.

I can understand not liking Desperate Housewives, but that shouldn't equate to disliking Eva Longoria. (I'm not a huge McDonalds fan, but I don't hold it against the girl working behind the counter.) I watch the show weekly because JJ watches it. It's by no means great TV, however, it does a decent job of entertaining for an hour. Like almost every other soap opera ever created, it works on a level of instant gratification. Once you've seen it, no amount of rewatching will provide new insight. It's the kind of show I can easily view every week and enjoy, and yet I'd never sit through the DVD box set for a second helping; in many ways Desperate Housewives ~is~ the McDonalds of TV shows.

Call me silly, but I think it's kinda cool that this woman has chosen to live in S.A. You gotta look at these things with some perspective - I mean, someone like this could take up residence here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"Dead" Ahead

This week’s episode of Doctor Who, “The Unquiet Dead”, is the installment that many old school fans felt was the first of the new series to really “get it right”. Odd that. I’m an old school Who fan and of the first three eps (which form a sort of time travel mini arc ("Rose" – the present, "The End of the World" – the future, "The Unquiet Dead" – the past), it was actually my least favorite, which is not to say it isn’t any good because it is a "cracking-good" yarn. I can see why people would be stoked by the piece. It cranks up and turns out the kind of story old Who often did so well: period pieces.

I recently read something from Russ Davies that struck me as noteworthy about new Who: much of it is shot on location - far more so than most sci-fi series, which are largely studio-bound works. Take Galactica for instance. Aside from the stuff on Caprica or Kobol, basically the entire show is made on a handful of sets, and often times the same set.

This trend seems to have started largely with Star Trek: The Next Generation. So much of that series took place aboard The Enterprise. A big difference between old Trek and new is that you can tune in to any TOS episode and say within seconds, “This is the one where…!” That isn’t always the case with TNG. If you stumble across it on TV, you’ve got to keep watching for a few minutes to figure out which episode you’re viewing, because they all look the same!

The mold of frequently setting sci-fi shows aboard a ship or an ongoing location has afflicted many series, even my beloved Farscape, which frequently fell back on Moya-bound episodes as a means of saving a few bucks. (In all fairness to Farscape, some of their very best episodes resulted from having to “get creative” on the ship; the eps “Out of Their Minds” and "Crackers Don’t Matter" both leap to mind.)

While a TARDIS-bound episode wouldn’t be impossible to do on Doctor Who (in the old series, it occurred a couple times), it’s something that’s highly unlikely to happen any time soon. In fact, setting a story entirely within the confines of the TARDIS might be one of the biggest risks the creative team could take, as it’d be anything but the norm.

But back to “The Unquiet Dead”. With this episode, the creative team had the challenge of designing a location that represented Victorian Cardiff, smack in the middle of Christmastime, snow and everything. Since the show premiered here in the States last week, I’ve seen numerous people across the ‘net bagging on the effects work or saying the show looks "cheap". There are so many aspects of new Who that buck typical sci-fi trends, that only the most unimaginative (or perhaps uninformed) of viewers would fall back on, “But that ship didn’t look 100% real!” Maybe, maybe – but in the next episode they perfectly recreate Victorian Wales! I’d like to see the Galactica set designers tackle that one. (For the record, I'm a big fan of the new BSG.)

In reading bits and pieces of interviews with David Tennant (the new new Doctor) and also the tidbits that have dribbled out from Chris Eccleston concerning his departure, Doctor Who sounds like an exhausting series to make. In addition to all the location work, the series, also unlike most other sci-fi fare, relies squarely on two lead actors. There is no ensemble cast to go back and forth between and the leads are almost always on the go and I gather get very few days off. This is a series made with a huge amount of dedication and perseverance from all parties involved. And if you think the effects work is subpar, I invite you to blow me…or develop an imagination, whichever you prefer.

Check out this song "Android Men" by McAllister. It’s a great little tune by another dedicated artist. Imagine Angelo Badalamenti producing David Bowie and you'll groove with it. Hopefully it pleases.

UPDATED!: This has nothing to do with Doctor Who, but I didn't want to create a whole new entry for it. I updated the old Blue Velvet entry so it links to this trailer for a "movie" called "Something Blue". I'm fairly certain David Lynch would approve.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


For several minor reasons that are wholly irrelevant, I recently signed up with MySpace. After tooling around on it for several days, trying to get the lay of the land, and generally feeling out the scene, I came to a realization: this is not something of which I want to be a part.

MySpace is self-indulgence on a level so grand that it finally exposes the Internet for the trash it most of the time is (this in itself may be MySpace's singular achievement). It is not a place for communication and networking, it is a place to posture and strut. Each time I've logged in, I've gotten a queasy feeling deep in my guttiwuts, as though my inner-adolescent wants to jump out through my throat and bash me over the head for putting myself in another situation in which he may be unleashed (and he spends ~plenty~ of time running rampant as is).

No good can come of this and these recent news reports about kids meeting "adults" through MySpace are only the beginning of the worst. How far will it go? God I don't know, but I'm positive there's an outstanding piece of sci-fi to be made from the conjecture. I also know that I want as few "Friends" as cyberly possible.

I also want to register the domain and start a site where people won't go because it isn't all about them. Geez, this cyber-culture has gotten so out of hand. Let's all just stick ports in the backs of our necks and be done with it already. We can all be fucking Darth Vader and have computers coming out of our chests. The phrase "you're pushing my buttons" will take on a whole new meaning. Where's my bloody virus protection? Whoever dreamed that e-mail would be passe and out of date!?!?

But it's the new cool thing! Everybody's doin' it!! Jump on board!!! Fuck man, this has gotta be the most subhuman example of sheer debasement the 'net has yet spawned...and people are fucking eating it up like it's free friggin' caviar. I swear to you it makes 'net porn look fairly reputable by comparison - that's how bad it is...and there isn't even any nudity!!!

On top of everything else, MySpace pages look fucking cluttered and ugly and they take forever to load. And if you are surfing MySpace, make sure you've got your goddamn speakers turned down, or else you'll have to suffer through endless shit song after bad tune. Who gets enjoyment out of this? I can possibly see enduring the novelty of it for a week or so - maybe - but there are people who fucking live on MySpace!!!!

I mean TheirSpace, because I don't claim it. I don't want to be infected by it. I just want to go plant a goddamn tree - that's what I want to do. With the cosmic forces aligning as they do, I'm sure somebody will chop it down and make a computer desk out of it.

UPDATED!: The Onion tackles MySpace!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

3AM Infernal

Exorcism movies really aren’t my bag. I first saw The Exorcist when I was about 13 or 14, it seemed silly more than anything else and my opinion hasn’t changed much over time. This likely has to do with the fact I was raised a Catholic, but since around the age of 13 my beliefs have fallen somewhere between agnostic and atheist. For me, the entire premise of a soul possessed by demons holds about as much potential fear factor as Freddy vs. Jason (which is, of course, the bar against which all horror films should be measured).

Enter The Exorcism of Emily Rose. This should be a flick that I've no interest in, and yet the producers nip squarely at my filmic Achilles heel: they cast Laura Linney as the main character.

All Laura Linney has to do is show up in a movie and I’m there. Linney could be cast as the nosy white neighbor in a trash revamp of What’s Happening!! and I’d go see it. To her credit, this is highly unlikely to happen; her track record has been pretty spotless and un-whorelike over the past, um, well…her entire career. She’s easily the best high-profile actress working today[1], and a big part of her success is she makes it look so damn easy. This is also why she may never win an Oscar – the Academy doesn’t seem to honor actors who appear to make the job seem effortless. (Someday soon I will do an entire blog entry on her alone.)

As if the casting of Linney wasn’t enough, Tom Wilkinson is also onboard, and he’s another actor who can do no wrong. Two aces in the hole – even if the script sucked, the film’s got a pair of lead actors who’ll sell it like it’s another account of the Kennedy assassination.

But Emily Rose does not suck. It’s a surprisingly fresh take on a genre that's been done to death, and it engages the viewer from the word go. Did I find it frightening? Having seen it twice now, the first go ‘round admittedly had its share of creep-out moments (due mostly to actress Jennifer Carpenter...I'll get to her later); the second viewing, not so much. I just sat back and enjoyed the piece.

The film’s co-writer/director, Scott Derrickson, sells it as the first courtroom-exorcism drama. This is probably true – after all, can you name another? As such, it sets itself apart from other demonic fare, and will probably always have a unique place in the genre. Despite the film's success, I doubt there'll be a glut of these films in the future [2]. ("Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: The pale man you see before you may stalk the living at night, may sleep in a coffin during the day, and may refuse garlic on his pizza - but I shall prove to you that he is NOT a vampire!")

Quick thumbnail sketch: Defense attorney Erin Bruner (Linney) is assigned the negligent homicide case of Father Moore (Wilkinson), a priest who performed a botched exorcism on a young girl, Emily Rose (Carpenter), which seemingly resulted in her eventual death.

What sells this film for me is that the Bruner character is an admitted agnostic. This is a stroke of brilliance on the part of the filmmakers, because whether or not you believe in heaven, hell, God, demons, etc. – the concept of exorcism is about as neutral as you can find in that area. Many religious people have stories about why they believe; few involve possessed souls. On the subject of exorcism, aren’t we all agnostics in our own way?

Making the central character agnostic right out of the gate puts us on equal footing for the entire story. We aren’t sure what to believe as the story begins, despite overwhelming evidence (shown primarily in flashback, which is the sticking point; the possession scenes are shown in terms of reminiscence and conjecture, not as fact), and we’re still not sure as it draws to a close.

A noteworthy strength of the film is that the prosecution makes a far more believable case, even though we're never shown anything through the prosecution’s “eyes”. Had the film played out entirely inside the courtroom, sans the hocus-pocus gimmick, its balance likely would have shifted, and the chances of the viewer ever being on the side of Father Moore would have been dependent entirely on Wilkinson's performance. It also wouldn’t have been nearly as wild a ride.

Largely unknown actress Jennifer Carpenter portrays Emily Rose, without much dialogue, character or, inexplicably, effects work. She’s able to somehow contort her face and body into grotesque looks and positions, and she never once utters phrases like “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!” Did I mention Emily Rose is rated PG-13? Weird, huh? That either shows the screwiness of the ratings system or how tame the movie, in its own strange way, actually is. There isn’t much - if any - blood and certainly no pea soup to speak of and cursing is almost nowhere to be heard. My second viewing was the "Unrated" DVD cut, which runs some three minutes longer; I noticed no substantial differences from the theatrical viewing last year. The film is adult only in its subject matter and intensity.

My only major problem(s) with The Exorcism of Emily Rose has/have to do with the opening scrawl, “Based on a True Story”. It is “inspired” by actual events, however the names Bruner, Moore and Emily Rose are filmmaker creations. The real Emily Rose case centered on a girl named Anneliese Michel and it occurred in Germany in the 70s. As the film closes, we’re given similar post-scripts detailing the current whereabouts of Bruner and Moore, which also provide the illusion they’re real people.

Outside the film itself, there doesn’t appear to be a cover-up on the part of the filmmakers to hide the truth, however 95% of the people who see the film will likely never do the research to find out the backstory and will take these words as gospel. The film’s one major downfall is portraying the onscreen events and characters in a manner that suggests more truth than fiction, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why that’s the case. The DVD features a director’s commentary that I have yet to hear. Perhaps it sheds some light on these questions?

There is a character that appears about midway through Emily Rose named Dr. Adani. She's called upon by the defense to testify on the nature of the point where spirtuality and science meet. Played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, Adani may be the film's most fascinating creation. She's onscreen for less than five minutes, yet in that time she challenges the viewer on everything they've believed up until that point by invoking shamanism and Castaneda whilst condemning prescription drug use. I'd love to see Derrickson make an entire movie centered around this character alone, as she's the singular voice of reason and thought and the only person who seems to understand the strange goings-on that perplex every other character in the movie.

[1] Well, Laura ~and~ Joan Allen.

[2] Although there does appear to be another movie in the works, entitled Requiem, that intends to exhume the Michel case once again, only this time sticking closer to the facts.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Back from Spring Break


If only I had some witty, fascinating tales from Spring Break in Port Aransas to recount…but alas, I do not.

There is no fresh take to put forth on the topic of drunken teenagers, bead-offering boys, and stupid girls looking to party and flash their tits.

Spring break is one of those events that never changes. The people don’t change. The booze doesn’t change. The revved-up engines trolling up and down the beach don’t change. It’s the worst written ongoing trash novel with no final chapter, a very weak prologue and a climax that never happens. Am I as critical as I sound? Not really. When I was their age, I never did the spring break thing. This is all new to me as of the last few years and I’m able - in my own way - to appreciate the chaotic nature of it all. It can be a moderately fascinating event to observe in ten minute increments.

Jeanne adores the beach and I loathe the sun, but when you love somebody, you make concessions and learn, through their eyes, to see the beauty of stuff you wouldn't normally enjoy. (Like last night, when Jeanne watched and enjoyed the Doctor Who premiere on SciFi with me; she’s seen those eps numerous times already - without commercials - and yet she indulged me for another two hours.)

I’ve learned to enjoy the beach, so long as I don’t have to bake my skin. You’ll always be able to spot me amidst the tanned ones, because I’m the pale guy wearing black shorts, a black T-shirt, Doc Marten boots, a hat and sunglasses. But there’s an even better chance you won’t see me in the sunlight at all - I prefer to sleep ‘til one or two, and when I arise, start drinking Pina Coladas, watch a movie in the room, hit the hot tub and then when the sun starts setting, the sand and surf seem like a logical destination. The beach at night is kinda sorta rockin’ in its own silly way.

My coolest spring break story isn’t much of a story at all – it’s really more of an encounter. On our first night, Jeanne and I strolled up and down the beach, chatting up the occasional thug or thugette, making comments to each other and taking general notes that will be used for nothing. Eventually we came upon a group of kids who had a really nice fire going. They seemed pretty benign - one of them was playing a guitar - and they invited us to sit down. And so we did.

Bob, Kyle, Michelle, Stephanie, Jim and Ben were not your ordinary spring break revelers. They were kids who had some smarts on display and some thoughts going on and they were unafraid to show it. This was first evidenced by Kyle asking if we’d be interested in hearing him play some Dylan on the guitar. YES! A kid who not only knows who Bob is, but actually likes him and can play his music!?!?! As time moved forward, it became apparent these kids not only had good taste in pop culture, but they had ambitions and dreams and ideas of their own. Despite being on spring break, they weren’t living just for the moment, they were actively thinking about tomorrow. And speaking of tomorrow, we enjoyed their company so much that we went back the following night and hung out with them a second time. It was also a huge plus that they found the whole titties and beads thing to be as laughable as we did.

It turned out that these kids ranged in age from only 17 to 19(!), are from Dripping Springs, TX and the guys have a band called Sixes and Eights. They’ve already recorded a 6-track demo of which I got to hear a few snippets on an iPod, and near as I could glean, it was some really inventive, creative tuneage. After Jeanne went back to the room, I ended up hanging with them ‘til close to dawn. It was time well spent and I often joke around and say “These kids today…”, but if I’d been half as focused and optimistic at that age, I might’ve done more with my life a whole lot sooner.

Meeting them gave me a little more hope for the future than I usually have. I want to believe the future is in safe hands, but that’s not always apparent. Seeing these kids also made me realize how much Jake is going to grow and change and yes, impress me, over the next five years – hell, he’s changed so much in just the last year, that I’m often amazed at the person I see developing on a daily basis.

Heck, if he decides to play a musical instrument, maybe someday Sixes and Eights will have an opening in the band and he can join them. I’d much prefer that to seeing him heading for the beach on spring break with a bag full of beads and titties on the brain.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Second Coming

The U.S. SciFi Channel premiere of the new Doctor Who series is one week from tonight. On March 17th at 8PM (CST), you can catch the first two episodes, “Rose” & “The End of the World”, back to back. And if you miss them, they’ll be on again from 10-Midnight. And if you miss those showings, there’ll be others throughout the week. Check the SciFi Schedulebot and type in “Doctor Who” (Times are Eastern) or just set your Tivo.

Since this “new” series is actually a year old (it premiered on the BBC last spring), most die-hard Who-fans (myself included) have already seen all thirteen episodes. The point here is not to get the die-hards to tune in, but to get those of you who’ve never watched or even heard of Doctor Who to check it out and experience the latest incarnation of the greatest science-fiction-fantasy TV series ever created. Um, obviously…your mileage may vary.

To many people weaned on the FX work of Star Wars and beyond, old Doctor Who can look kind of silly, and objectively speaking, it often is…but if you look past the dodgy effects, frequent use of videotape and sometimes campy overacting, there are more often than not some incredible ideas on display in the series. As a fan since the age of 13, it was always difficult (impossible?) for the young me to show people what it was about the show that made it so great. It required some patience, an attention span and a huge imagination. These qualities were in short supply back in the 80s.

Enter the 2005 version of Who, which is a straight-up continuation of the old series. But you never watched the old series, right? You needn’t have. A huge strength of the new is that it requires absolutely no knowledge of the old to get what’s going on. Everything you need to understand the concept of Doctor Who is set up in the first 45-minute episode, “Rose”, and much like yourself, the setup is seen through the eyes of an outsider: 19 year-old Rose Tyler (Billie Piper).

Rose enters the world of the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), in a way not dissimilar to how many have: by being in the wrong place at the right time. She’s in the basement of the department store where she works and without any warning, the mannequins around her spring to life and menacingly begin moving in her direction. A stranger suddenly appears, grabs her hand, and issues the most simple of commands: “Run!”

And they do run…for 13 episodes there’s quite the diverse collection of aliens and creatures to keep running from. But lest you think this is just a collection of action set pieces and special effects (the effects work is now as good as most any other TV sci-fi), Doctor Who has an immense amount of heart, wit, humor and class. It’s an adventure, it’s got some minor social commentary and due to the show’s flexible format (an alien with the ability to travel anywhere in time and space), it’s anyone’s guess what’s coming next.

Doctor Who isn’t like much other recent sci-fi TV. It’s bears no resemblance to Star Trek in any if its incarnations. It lacks the seriousness of the new Battlestar Galactica. It doesn’t have the politics of Babylon 5. It isn’t as complicated or weird as Farscape. My friend Bart put it best after viewing “Rose” for the first time: “Above all, this series is fun.”

It’s been suggested that Buffy was a major influence on the new Who, but that’s a call I can’t make. I’ve seen only a handful of Buffy episodes, so I’m hardly an authority. It is interesting to note, however, that an episode of the second season of Doctor Who (which is set to begin on the BBC shortly) guest stars Buffy alum Anthony Stewart Head (Giles). Take that for what it may or may not be worth.

It also seems to have taken a few cues from the Harry Potter movies, if for no other reason than it plays to a very wide audience. In England, the premiere episode captured a whopping 40% of the viewing audience and the numbers for subsequent episodes indicated only very insignificant drops. After the first two episodes played, the BBC commissioned two further seasons and two Christmas specials. Kids are watching it for the first time and adults who grew up on the old series are watching it alongside the kids. It’s become a true family-viewing experience, which is outstanding, because on broadcast TV, that's become the rarest commodity of all.

For the first time in my life, I don’t feel “embarrassed” to be a Doctor Who fan. I don’t feel as if it’s a tough sell to someone who’s never seen it. I don’t feel the need to apologize or preface a viewing upfront with, “Well, you have to take into account…” The only thing a new viewer needs to take into account is the possible withdrawal they’ll feel at the end of Episode 13.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More Movie-Going Etiquette

In my very first entry, I addressed some movie-going concerns, and I wanted to tackle yet another.

A few weekends ago Jeanne and I went to see Match Point at the Alamo Quarry Cinemas, in what turned out to be a very small, very crowded auditorium. We arrived as the previews were finishing up and on first glance there appeared to only be corner, front row seats available, which we grabbed. Now this is the kind of theatre seating arrangement which drives me absolutely bonkers and I've had more than one film ruined by having to sit in a such a seat.

Within minutes, I whispered in her ear that I couldn’t do it for two hours at that angle, in those seats. Jeanne, inexplicably to my mind, didn't seem to care one way or the other. She suggested splitting up and each taking single seats, apart from each other, elsewhere in the aud. I only begrudgingly agreed as I really wanted to see the movie "with her" - I think she just wanted to see the movie. (Had it been up to me, we'd have gone and gotten our money back.)

As we headed toward the rear, I spied another couple clearly using four seats between the two of them - they had “unoccupieds” on either side. I quickly and quietly asked the woman if they could move down so we could use two of the seats. She was agitated and annoyed at my request, however they complied, but not without a fair amount of grumbling. It was obvious that she wanted me to know that I was "putting them out".

Now it became an uncomfortable situation, as I then had to sit right next to her. Through my peripheral vision, I kept noticing the bitch eying me, as if she was searching for signs of cooties. It was all I could do keep from turning to her and saying, "Hey - did you pay for two seats or four? [beat] I thought so. I have more right to these two seats than you do, you ignorant seat hog!"

At a certain point in the film, I had to get up to use the facilities. When I returned, she and her male half had SWITCHED PLACES!!!! Can you believe that!?!?! As if I had body odor or I was trying to cop a feel in the dark!!!! Amazing. I hope I ruined their tight-assed viewing of the film because they deserve it for failing to help make my experience a better one.

We all go to the movies to be entertained and have a good time. I always go out of my way to make sure I can assist anyone around me in the pursuit of such a good time. I've been asked countless times to "move down" for similar reasons, and I've always done it, saying "Certainly!" to whomever asks, and I've done it quickly so as not to inconvenience anyone further. It's called common courtesy folks. A movie audience functions as one big unit. Everyone cries and laughs together and everyone pays for a seat and everyone is entitled to have the best movie-going experience possible[1]. When you start to think you're somehow owed more privileges than the rest of the unit, I suggest it's time to stay home and watch DVDs where your fat ass is truly entitled to take up the entire sofa as you force your mate to sit on the cold floor.

[1] The quality of the movies themselves is unfortunately the one thing that's outside of our control.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bonobos Gone Wild!

Can you imagine having this little guy for dinner?

They say you learn something new every day. I don't know if that's always the case, but last night I did learn some new stuff about a type of chimpanzee called the Bonobo, thanks to this article at , and how they may be facing extinction due to the fact that they taste good. After reading more about them, I couldn't help but think of this practice as cannibalism.

What struck me as most fascinating about these creatures is their social and sexual behavior, which appears to be just so damn human, minus all the jealousy and cheating. To the Bonobo, make-up sex is the only way to resolve an argument. Due to the placement of the female genitalia, they are also apparently one of the few primates aside from humans able to have sex in the missionary position. Not only that, but Bonobos have sex frequently most every day, and since the female can only give birth about once every five years, it's basically something they do for pleasure! And women - pay attention - in the culture of the Bonobo, the female reigns supreme. These cats are a fantastic argument for evolution.

The possibility of their extinction is a very sad development, and I've gone blissfully unaware through my entire life about the existence of the Bonobos. Apparently the San Diego Zoo has bred and maintained them for over 40 years, which makes me want to take a trip to San Diego.

In addition to the links I provided above, do a Google search on the Bonobos and you might just learn something. (Why do I feel like Bill Cosby all of a sudden?)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Altman, Altman Everywhere

I'm not doing any serious blogging this weekend, but I'd like to mention the Robert Altman "Blog-a-thon" going on in honor of Altman receiving an honorary Oscar on Sunday night.

Start at Matt Seitz's The House Next Door and click 'til you're Altman-ed out.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Roman along, Singin' a song...

How far are you willing to go to keep your marriage/relationship together?

Think about it for a little bit.

Whatever point you’ve arrived at, I’d wager it isn’t anywhere near as far as Oscar (Peter Coyote) and Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner) go to keep theirs afloat.

"Afloat" is a noteworthy word, too, since the wraparound, secondary storyline in Roman Polanski’s 1992 romance/chess match/smut fest, Bitter Moon, takes place aboard a cruise ship bound for India.

But most of the film takes place in the past, primarily in Paris, as handicapped Oscar's reminiscence to fellow passenger Nigel (Hugh Grant) - a bored Englishman in search of anything resembling something other than his paint by numbers marriage to Fiona (Kristen Scott Thomas) – about how he met and fell for Mimi and how he came to be in a wheelchair today.

Almost in shifts, Oscar and Mimi’s relationship goes from sweet to passionate to perverse to sour to cruel to sadistic and where it may go from there, well, you’ll just have to watch to find out. When Fiona asks Mimi (whom Nigel gets a hard-on for at first sight) if she and Oscar are also going to India, she replies, "[We’re going] further. Much further…", as Vangelis' ominous, beautiful, and highly underrated score swells over the soundtrack.

Sydney Pollack once said when deciding on whether or not to make a film, he first considered if he’d like to have dinner with the main characters. Pollack never would have made Bitter Moon as nobody would ever want to have dinner with Oscar and Mimi, nor likely Nigel and Fiona either. Polanski gets this, and one scene, where the two couples attempt to have dinner together, is weirdly uncomfortable in one of those unspoken kind of ways.

Bitter Moon used to be the kind of film I’d show potential girlfriends. A woman who can’t take what it dishes up is someone I probably couldn’t be with for any length of time. I realize that means I’m asking a lot of the female sex, but a guy’s got to set some precedents, and I don’t want to delude someone into thinking she’s getting something easier than the potential reality of me. It’d be a waste of my time and hers. Good thing for me Jeanne likes it, but she doesn’t take it nearly as seriously as I do – this is probably to her credit.

Because for all its posturing drama and trips through the hills and valleys of relationships, Bitter Moon is a farce…a tragic farce, no doubt, but a farce nonetheless. It hits me emotionally in the sickest part of my heart and I love that about it. It’s a completely polarizing film: you’ll either admire its audacity or be sickened by its depravity. It is audacious and it is depraved, and whether one sees it as a success or a failure would probably be measured through a reconciliation of the two.

“In the eyes of every woman, I could see the reflection of the next.” – Oscar

Coyote has a lot of dialogue throughout the film (usually in voiceover) that sounds like the above - creative to a degree, but pompous and bloated on most every other level. It’s easy to look at it as bad dialogue, but take into account that Oscar is a failed writer; a wannabe Hemingway, who simply never had the connections or talent to make it work. The “bad” dialogue makes sense in that context, and thus on the part of the filmmakers becomes good dialogue.

Mimi seems to be the only person in the world who loves Oscar’s writing, and in turn he has contempt for her admiration. This is an idea I can understand, although it’s a fundamental flaw in the human species. Eric Bogosian uttered a great bit of dialogue in Talk Radio: “There’s nothing more boring than people who love you.” Oscar gets bored with Mimi, and it can be easy to get bored with love, as the most exciting part is always at the beginning. After that, reality sets in, and it’s all about just being there for and putting up with one another when the novelty fades. This is an idea Mimi understands very well, as women often seem to, and she resents Oscar for his failure to grasp the simple notion. She is damn well not letting this one go, and if he isn’t willing to work at it, she’ll go to whatever lengths it takes to make it work.

This is the role of a lifetime for Coyote, who’s an engaging actor, but like Oscar himself, has often times been put to the back of the line. It’s a meaty role for Seigner as well, who was (and still is) Polanski’s wife, which somewhat recalls David Lynch’s throwing of Isabella Rossellini headfirst into Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet. She has exactly the right mix of naiveté and ruthlessness that makes the character tick. I’ve often wondered what she and Polanski talked about when coming home from the set every night or if they sometimes talk about the movie to this day, or if even, just possibly, it’s a factor of sorts in the pair still being together after all these years. It’s hard to imagine a marital challenge greater than being wed to Roman Polanski.

If you dislike Hugh Grant, then you’re in luck, because he isn’t onscreen all that much, but if like me you’re an unapologetic fan, then it’s a noteworthy look into the actor pre-Four Weddings and a Funeral. His Four Weddings co-star, Kristen Scott Thomas, has the toughest job, as she’s given the least with which to work, or at least that’s the case until…

I’ve already said too much. Most people don’t like this movie. You probably won't like this movie, but I'm pretty sure it won't bore you. I can almost guarantee, based on what I’ve written, that you already know whether or not Bitter Moon is your cup of tea. And if you rent it and it’s not, please don’t come up behind me, tap my shoulder, and throw the cup of tea in my face.

P.S. If anybody out there reading has access to the soundtrack or the Vangelis score for Bitter Moon, please contact me. I've searched far and wide for it for years, with no luck.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Narc, A Ho & Tinkerbell

NOTE: If you haven't already read this entry then you need to, as todays is a sequel of sorts.

Well, I had to do it - I had to be an old man and tell the pot smoking teens to take it on the arches.

I hated doing it, too, but instead of harmlessly baking themselves in the mid-morning sun, they decided that after school would be a good time to kill some more brain cells. What they didn’t consider, or were unaware of, is that my 12-year old kid was home from school at this time.

“There are some guys in the back yard. I think they’re gettin’ high or something.”

That sentence kinda sorta sealed their fate. What was I to do?

“It’s OK, Jake. They’re not hurting anybody. It’s only an illegal activity and I have no beef with such things, so just go do your homework and pretend like they’re not there.”

Now that sentence, as even an only moderately responsible parent, is one I wasn’t prepared to speak. I had to “be seen” taking action.

So I wandered out there, and while they were clearly taken aback, the one with the pipe in his hand made absolutely no effort to hide it! Amazing. I swear my balls shrunk to about peanut size in awe of the temerity of this kid.

“Hey guys. Look, um, I’m not gonna narc on you or anything…”

NARC!?!?!? Did I say “narc”? I did. Does anybody use the word narc anymore? It’s been a long time since I’ve been worried about being “narced” (sp?) on, so I’ve got zero idea if they even knew what I meant, or if I simply came across as the fogey I am. If anybody out there knows the newer, hipper terminology, please let me know for future reference.

“…and I know this seems like a cool place to hang out and all, and nobody can see you, but I gotta 12-year old kid in there, you know?”

I blamed my kid. I tried so fucking hard to be cool, that in a very roundabout manner, I blamed my kid. I am so not cool. I am lamer than FDR and Stephen Hawking combined. Hopefully they don’t know which kid is mine and beat him to a pulp for narcing on them.

They were pretty decent about the whole thing. They apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. Upon closing the deal, I had to stifle the urge to say, “Next time, just don’t be so damn loud…and make sure you tap on my window so I can come out and supervise.”

Later in the evening, I went to see Jake in a goofy school play, where he flirted with some girl who he and his friends obviously liked and yet later on labeled a “ho”. I of course pointed out, “That’s not very cool, dude”. He matter-of-factly replied, “No, she calls herself that. She’s our ho.” Stymied. I know nothing about the youth of today and I’m still closer to 30 than 40.

After the play we went to The Magic Time Machine, where this cute, friendly little girl dressed as Tinkerbell was our waitress. We ordered the famed Roman Orgy and Jake got Tink to feed him dangling grapes from a vine. This is the kid who narced on some other kids only a few years older than him, mere hours earlier, for smoking pot outside the house.

I think he was jealous of them. Takes after the old man, yes he does.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Worst Homosexual Ever Created

The Prosecution: Mr. Dallas, are you a practicing homosexual?
Jodie: I don’t have to practice. I’m very good at what I do.

Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgendered characters are everywhere on TV these days, but before these fictitious individuals get caught up in congratulating one another by holding a Pride Parade, they must always remember from where they came and who laid the groundwork: Jodie Dallas.

Jodie Dallas, for those of you with short memories, is largely credited as being the “first openly gay character as a regular cast member” on a TV series, and that series was the late 70s/early 80s spoof sitcom Soap. He was played by Billy Crystal, and remains one of the actor/comedian’s greatest acting achievements to this day.

But exactly how gay was Jodie Dallas?

When we meet Jodie, in the very first episode of the series, he’s busy dressing up in women’s clothing and by episode two he’s expressing to his mother his desire for a sex change operation, primarily so he and his lover Dennis can live a “normal” life. Dennis is a star quarterback, and having an out-of-the-closet relationship with a man would be unthinkable for a pro-football player (in that respect, I guess times haven’t changed all that much). The solution the couple agrees upon is for Jodie to get the chop. There’s also the baffling implication in the opening episodes that gay men feel like women on the inside, and therefore desire to be women. I know many gay men – none have ever expressed this, or at least they haven’t to me.

Now I don’t think I have to point out to even the most close-minded conservative that 25 years after this was considered a reasonable situation, not only would it not fly in the real world today, it would be laughed off our TV screens before it made it past episode 3. Gay men everywhere would be in an uproar at the very idea – even in a show like Soap - of removing their manhood in order to validate a relationship (as well they should be).

The operation never happened and Jodie and Dennis broke up halfway through Season One (good thing he didn’t get the sex change), only for Jodie shortly afterwards to fall for Carol, a woman. Bisexuality wasn’t a word uttered on the show – Jodie considered himself gay until the very end. Instead the writers opted for him to marvel at having feelings for a woman for the first time in his life. He impregnates Carol, decides to marry her, only for Carol to flake out, leaving him at the altar as she runs off with their unborn child.

After his relationship with Dennis and the subsequent Carol debacle, Jodie never again had a relationship with a man – for the entirety of Soap’s four season run – although the writers continued to hammer us over the head with his alleged homosexuality.

Jodie’s next relationship was with a lesbian, Alice. They were platonic friends and that’s all they ever could be (because clearly it’s harder for a lesbian to “turn” than it is for a gay man), but decided to move in together for reasons of practicality. In the midst of this, Jodie obtained custody of baby Wendy, at which point Alice moved out.

(A detailed analysis of every Jodie plot point would result in much tedium on both our parts, so assume I’m telling you everything you need to know.)

The idea of a single gay man raising a child may well have been the boldest move ever made with Jodie Dallas and it’s the biggest thing Soap ever got right where he was concerned. It’s his most touching ongoing storyline and huge chunks of the series revolved around this and the problems that ensued.

For instance: Carol kidnapping the baby and Jodie going after her with private detective Maggie Chandler, who along the way – guess what? – Jodie falls in love with and proposes to!!! He decides to see a shrink to figure out if he’s capable of a real relationship with Maggie, only to emerge from hypnosis thinking he’s a 90-year old Jewish man.

And then Soap was canceled, and 90 years old Jodie remains for eternity.

So there’s a thumbnail history of the “first openly gay character as a regular cast member” on a TV series. Nearly every character on Soap was to some degree or other totally nuts. To writer/creator Susan Harris’s credit, this was not the case with Jodie as he was one of the most levelheaded, intelligent characters on the show (this also made the 90-year old Jewish man plot all the more dramatic), which in itself was a feat of sorts given his place in TV history. Crystal fumbled with Jodie only in the first few episodes when he’s forced to prance around in a dress and a bad wig singing show tunes. Once that was gone, Jodie Dallas shines, even when Billy Crystal’s selling you on the idea that he needs a sex change or that Dennis leaving him would drive him to attempt suicide.

Jodie was a strong man with conviction and ideals. He didn’t appear to lead any kind of deviant lifestyle nor did he seem promiscuous (he often seemed almost asexual). He genuinely loved and loved strong, never more so than his baby Wendy. The lengths to which he was willing to go to protect her and what they had together are some of the strongest moments for the character.

The meat of Jodie was so much more important and worthy than the baggage with which he was saddled. When you look at all the facts, it’s hard to call him TV’s first gay man. He’s clearly bisexual, as evidenced by his relationships with women, and the near sex change along with the cross-dressing basically qualify him as TV’s first TV as well (no, Klinger doesn’t count).

It’s unfortunate that the character didn’t have more realistic storylines written for him. It’s as if nobody associated with the show’s writing actually knew anybody who was gay, only that they had a vague idea of what gays were about and wanted to portray them in a sympathetic light.

Soap was hugely controversial when it was on the air (watching it now, you’d never believe there were actual protests!), some of it due to Jodie, and perhaps in order to deflate some controversy, the team decided to give him female love interests. If so, I have to wonder what the point was of keeping him gay at all? They certainly had no problem constantly revising aspects of what made him gay in the first place. It smacks of tokenism in hindsight and I suppose there are big reasons why people (gay or otherwise) don’t speak much of Jodie Dallas these days.

To say that Soap is an imperfect show is an understatement. To say it was never any good at all would be just as unfair. I’m a huge fan of the series despite its faults, and as it’s slowly been released on DVD (all four seasons are now available), I’ve looked forward to playing each disc less and less, as the quality of writing declined sharply over the years. The first two seasons are outstanding and well worth viewing. One can oddly pinpoint almost the precise moment it began to derail – when Robert Guillaume’s Benson left the series (Episode 3 of Season Three) to have his own sitcom. Had he stayed, I doubt the series would have remained great, but like Jodie, Benson was a voice of reason amongst the madness. Only difference is, Benson had the shit to back it up.

ADDENDUM: After writing this, I found this article which seems to comfirm some of my ideas.