Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ONE AND THE SAME

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A SOMBER, GORGEOUS ENCOUNTER WITH GRIEF IN 1962 L.A.


George Falconer (Colin Firth) is a middle-aged British ex-patriot teaching at a university in sunny Southern California in 1962. A closeted homosexual by cultural necessity, he's possessed of monumental outward conformity. Inside, however, beats the heart of a true romantic.

George is the sort of fellow who keeps his tastefully decorated moderne home spotless and his reputation even more so. "It takes time in the morning for me to become George," he explains in the first of two voiceovers that bookend the film. "By the time I've dressed and put the final layer of polish on the now slightly stiff but quite perfect George, I know fully what part I'm supposed to play."

On the face of it, the immaculately groomed and exceedingly dry George is preparing for yet another day in the classroom – that's his "part" in the quotidian SoCal community in which he resides. But beneath that mask of staid conventionality lies the real George, a heartsick shell of a man who has found himself caught in the riptides of grief following the accidental death of his longtime companion Jim (Matthew Goode). George has decided to end it all, but it's still only 7am and there's one last day of life for George Falconer to get through.

Adapted from the novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man is an exquisite and haunting feature debut from the Austin-born fashion designer/icon Tom Ford. It's a melancholy meditation on love and death and hidden lives, and Ford brings everything he has to the film, not least of which is his picture-perfect designer's eye for detail, composition, and the infinite subtleties of narrative shading. (Spanish cinematographer Eduard Grau makes the film reflect George's mindset; Los Angeles has rarely looked so desaturated yet so inviting.)

A Single Man is, ultimately, Firth's tour de force. He slips into the raw role of George Falconer with exactly as much precision as George brings to becoming Professor Falconer (straight, no chaser), and the masks both actor and character share are uncommonly seamless. Likewise Julianne Moore, who shows up as Charley, George's Tanqueray-drowning ex-lover, closest friend, and only confidante. Their scenes together – they get trashed and dance around her place, then fall to the white shag, panting, smoking, and blearily confessing to each other like a pair of well-heeled high school kids – have the clear-eyed sheen of those left behind, booze or no booze.

When, late in the last night of his life, George runs into one of his students, the impetuous and alluring Kenny (Nicholas Hoult, best remembered looking considerably younger in About a Boy) both Firth and Ford seize on George's equally fervid and presumably final grab at life and love (of a sort), and the sequence, which ends up in the inky midnight of the Pacific Ocean, has a magical grace to it. Few directors, much less big-screen neophytes, have conjured the ability to distill the human byproducts of love and death with such ethereal, elegiac style as Ford does here. Fittingly, Alfred Hitchcock, who did just that while driving Jimmy Stewart to madness over Kim Novak in Vertigo, is referenced all over the place, from Abel Korzeniowski's Bernard Herrmann-esque score to an instant-classic shot that imposes Firth against a massive, piercingly blue image of Janet Leigh's eyes on an outdoor advert for Psycho.

A Single Man is an absurdly ravishing piece of filmmaking. It's not simply that Ford has a ravening and righteous eye for cinematic composition and detail (you'd expect that from the Gucci resurrectionist and onetime guest editor of Vanity Fair); it's that everything fits perfectly, from titles to fin, but most of all Firth, who dons the role of George like a fine bespoke suit. Which, Ford being Ford, it surely was.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LEWIS, KAHN and FELDMAN ruthlessly chew-up and spit out Vonnegut in the merciless 1982 screen debacle SLAPSTICK OF ANOTHER KIND

Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman star in this tragi-comedy of misplaced aliens, based on the best-selling novel, Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut.

Wilbur (Lewis) and Eliza (Kahn) are the smartest (and ugliest) brother-and-sister team ever to set foot on earth. They are two misfit infants kept in hiding by their parents (also played by Lewis and Kahn) and their doting butler (Feldman), and relentlessly pursued by the government. Apart, they are the dumbest kids on the planet, but together they hold the answers to the secrets of the universe. But will anyone believe them?

Alongside 1999's infamous bomb Breakfast of Champions (starring Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte, and Albert Finney), Slapstick (Of Another Kind) is one of the worst adaptations of Vonnegut ever to hit the big screen. Vonnegut's darkly humorous novel about two deformed, dim-witted twins who become super-geniuses when putting their heads together was given a non-sensical subtitle and a pointless framing device involving spaceships and aliens to make it appear to be a parody of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Add in the presence of Kahn and Feldman, and it's plain that the producers of this fiasco were hoping to fool audiences into believing this was a Mel Brooks affair. But writer-director Steven Paul is no Mel Brooks.

In 1982, Paul was something of a wunderkind, listed by Guinness as the world's youngest film producer. Since then, he's gone on to make some of the worst movies on record, including Baby Geniuses (1 & 2), Karate Dog and a cross-dressing Gene Simmons in Never Too Young to Die. (Not the guy most likely to succeed at Vonnegut.) In fact, Paul only ended up filming the first
chapter of Vonnegut's book, leaving out huge chunks of story that might have made us empathize with the twins.

But where else can you find a tiny Pat Morita sitting in a rice bowl? Where else can you see a former castaway on Gilligan's Island (Jim Backus) play the president of the United States? Where else could you see Jerry Lewis and Madeline Khan walking on stilts, wearing giant ears, in Frankenstein Monster haircuts that slide back to reveal foreheads that throb and pulsate? Funny for all the wrong reasons, this Bad Movie Free-for-all is definitely worth seeking out.
 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How the Mormon Church Brought Down the Gays in 8: The Mormon Proposition

Sparks an informed dialogue. VARIETY


Amazing! Will knock your socks off... could be the movie of the year. THE HUFFINGTON POST

One of the buzzier documentaries to debut at this year s Sundance Film Fest. THE WASHINGTON POST
 
Grinning into the camera, a young Mormon in a Prop. 8 commercial highlighted in 8: The Mormon Proposition gushes that her activism around getting the ballot measure (to restrict the definition of marriage in California to opposite-sex couples) passed ". . . makes me feel American."

Diving into the grim irony of one group of Americans denying another group its rights under the guise of upholding American freedoms and ideals, director Reed Cowan locks on his goals of illustrating how the Mormon church played California politics like a fiddle, and how the church's homophobia has ruined the lives of its queer faithful. Cowan strikes a potent balance between heart and head, juxtaposing emotionally wrenching moments (a segment in which queer Mormons delineate past suicide attempts is especially painful) with self-damning portraits of Mormon politicians and church officials, and hard-nosed journalism from reporter Fred Karger, who exhaustively outlines the church's role in conceiving and bankrolling Prop. 8.

The film, whose low budget is underscored in cheesy dramatic re-enactments, might have been strengthened had Cowan connected dots between the fact that at the same time that California passed Prop. 8, Arizona and Florida also passed initiatives banning gay marriage. (He does show how the Mormons used Hawaii as a test run for what they'd achieve in California.) But the flaws pale against what's illustrated, which is not just how Prop. 8 passed, but the sordid, cynical workings of our political machine.

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