Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why Is Superman British?

That's British actor Henry Cavill in a still from the upcoming Tarsem Singh  film, Immortals. Cavill plays Theseus, a warrior king from Greek mythology (and A Midsummer Night's Dream). Cavill has been in Tristan & Isolde; Stardust and the Nazi-themed horror movie Blood Creek, as well as the HBO series "The Tudors." He's very good-looking and as you can see from the picture, quite fit. He has also just been announced (via) as the new Superman in director Zack Snyder's upcoming reboot for producer Christopher Nolan.  I am a huge fan of both Nolan and Snyder, despite continued claims that Snyder's films are homophobic (personally, I think some people read too much into his movies, particularly Watchmen, but that's just me) but I think Cavill is just a completely bone-headed choice.

I have no problem with Cavill as an actor. I've only actually seen him in Stardust, where he played douche, and he was quite good at doing so. My issue is that Superman is a distinctly American creation. Indeed, he stands for "Truth, Justice and the American Way." So why the hell is he being played by a Brit? Don't get me wrong - I'm all for casting the right actor in a role, but what's wrong with Brandon Routh? Bryan Singer's Superman Returns may not have lived up to everyone's expectations but at least everyone agreed that despite the film's shortcomings, Routh was perfectly cast as Clark Kent and his super-powered alter-ego from Krypton. 

Okay, maybe Routh was unavailable or uninterested. What about "Smallville" star Tom Welling? He's been playing Clark Kent longer than any other actor who's taken on the part. Surely he has some insight into the character. And he was born in New York City -- Metropolis, itself. It doesn't get much more American than that. "But he's a terrible actor," you might be saying. Personally, I've never seen "Smallville," so I can't say. But if that's so, then find an unknown American actor, just as Richard Donner did when he cast Christopher Reeve in 1978's Superman: The Movie. Casting Cavill in the role is just as ridiculous as casting a Brit as another distinctly American superhero like Spider-Man. Oh, wait. they did that, too... Skinny, creepy Andrew Garfield will be playing Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the upcoming reboot (as if that needed to happen in the first place) directed, ironically, by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer).

Now before you label your Uncle P an Anglo-phobe, I happen to love British actors. Patrick Stewart; Colin Firth; Ian McKellan; Helen Mirran; Judy Dench and Cate Blanchett are all geniuses. And while several of them have played Americans with great aplomb, none of them have had the audacity to take on iconic American characters. My guess is that both Garfield and Cavill will be spectacular failures at playing these two oh-so-American characters and while I truly hope I am wrong, I will revel in a bit schadenfreude should these films crash and burn.

And just as a reminder, do you remember when you fell in love with Reeve as The Man of Steel? I do...

Still, I suppose we should at least be glad that this never happened. Your thoughts?

More, anon.

Alien Hand Syndrome?

A dearth of anything truly interesting to say combined with a particularly nasty bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder have left your Uncle P in a rather dour mood of late.

I'm still keeping my Dream Journal though, and hope that my most recent bizarro dream about Alien Hands (don't ask, just yet) will result in another full-fledged screenplay, though I have to wonder where that particular scenario might lead. The dream itself involved dismembered alien hands that turned into feet which grew legs that developed into a torso... And no, I didn't eat anything strange, spicy or greasy before bed last night. I'd detail the entire dream here, but I don't want to risk your thinking I'm completely insane (as if you don't already think that, anyway).

I am still feeling rather trapped by snow (and not at all happy to hear that another major storm may be headed our way this coming week), despite having done some grocery shopping today (parking was a literal nightmare, thanks to the 8+ feet high piles of snow in the stores' parking lots). Give me a day or so to cope and I'll be back to my usual shenanigans. Or not.

In the meantime, I encourage the less squeamish among you to check out Bugcrush, a short, gay-themed horror film from 2006. Suggested by J.A. at My New Plaid Pants and posted on Post-Mortem Depression, this short (31 minutes) but effective film captures gay teen angst in a way that few modern filmmakers have been been to do. It's also probably NSFW.

Bear with me. Spring is just around the corner. 

More, anon.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I really do love living where I live. I am within driving distance of five of the East Coast's best cities (Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Baltimore and Washington). I have access to arts communities and some unique shopping districts. I live close to a day job that I (mostly) love and I can drive to either the mountains or the shore in about the same time. There are plenty of cinemas and legitimate theatres nearby; there are several theme parks and other entertainment venues and the crime rate in my community is relatively low. I am connected to all of these things by easy access to Interstate 95, Route 1 and/or the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Turnpikes. 

There are, however, two things I really hate about living in the Delaware Valley - the summer's often oppressive humidity and the winter's even more oppressive snow storms.

Yesterday saw the fourth and fifth major storms since Christmas and I am beginning to believe that I won't see green on my front lawn anytime before June. In the early morning we were surprised to find 5 inches of snow (rain had been predicted), followed by another storm in the evening, which dumped an additional 11 inches of snow (along with a few inches of freezing rain and sleet). Pretty to look at, but annoying as hell when one has to get someplace other than home. And it didn't help that in the wee hours of this morning, Township snowplows piled a 30+ inch wall of ice at the bottom of my driveway, making it impossible for me to get to said day job, today.

"So, get a snow-blower," you all may be admonishing me. I had one. It lasted all of two seasons before breaking down into an irreparable pile of junk which still sits forlornly in my shed. "Then hire a local kid to shovel you out," you might be thinking. Good luck. The lazy louts in my neighborhood would rather play XBox games while home from school, than take the initiative to earn a few bucks on their day off. "Then move south," you're thinking now. Really? Have you spent any time south of the Mason Dixon line? Lovely places with delightful people, but moving to Florida (as my sister has done) means moving to a cultural wasteland filled with cartoon mice, bad-driving senior citizens and nerdy Canadians trying to escape their own winter hell. No, thank you.

And yes, a young man did finally show up to help me finish digging out (for a price, of course). And tomorrow I will brave the icy roads to get to the day job that I (mostly) love. Still, more snow is predicted for tomorrow, Saturday and next week. Personally, I'm tired of all he whiteness. Give me rainbows, unicorns and green, green fields of flowers any day...

The video below is from Cherry Hill, NJ, a community about an hour south of Uncle P, though my neighborhood looks very much the same.

More, anon.

P.S. You may have noticed I have a new photo. No, that's not actually me (the old one was). I have no idea where that particular image came from, but I think it conveys my worldview quite nicely. If you're really interested in seeing what I actually look like, take some time to dig into past posts and you will find at least a few images of the 'real" me.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2010 Oscar Snubs

So, the Oscar Nominations were announced yesterday. I, like many film fans out there, am stunned by some of the glaring omissions on the Academy's list this year.

First and foremost, Christopher Nolan (L) was not nominated for Best Director for Inception, despite the movie's nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Really? Did this "Best Picture" nominee direct itself? It certainly didn't write itself. Inception was also snubbed for a Best Editing nod. I ask anyone who has seen the film: How did the amazing last 40 minutes of it come together so brilliantly? Was it luck? Or maybe magic. I think not.

Also ignored: Matt Damon in True Grit. This was really a slap in the face for an actor who has grown by leaps and bounds in every film he's in. His performance as Texas Ranger LeBeouf was one of his best ever. And since I'm already talking about True Grit, why was the amazing young Hailee Steinfeld nominated as Best Supporting Actress? As in the Charles Portis novel, the Coen Brothers' film was the story of Mattie and her journey, where Rooster and LeBeouf are the supporting characters. Surely Steinfeld deserves to be recognized for her amazing debut, but she was the leading actress in the movie, not a supporting player.

And let's not forget the always amazing Julianne Moore in The Kids Are Alright; Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine; Armie Hammer; Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake in The Social Network; Danny Boyle for 127 Hours and Tangled and Despicable Me. Really, did anyone actually see The Illusionist? And why is Toy Story 3 (a movie I loved) nominated as both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature?

My mother, bless her, has complained for many years that the Oscars are no longer really about 'The Best" but rather about the studios who spend the most money promoting their nominees. And sadly, I am inclined to agree with her. I mean, come on... Crash won over Brokeback Mountain? A serious reality check is needed among Academy voters. Hey AMPASS members - 'Gay' no longer equals 'Evil' and 'Excellent' still equals 'Excellent.'

At the risk of repeating myself, here are the trailers for 10 nominees for Best Picture:

May the actual Best nominees win!

My predictions, anon (though as always, I advise against betting on my predictions....)

More, anon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Who Says Classical Musicians Can't Be Hot?

Yes, I know. The Oscar nominations were announced today. I'll get to them, eventually (you know I have plenty to say about them, too). And I have the Second Annual Ariel Awards to get to, as well. I'd look for those this coming Sunday, if I were a regular reader of mine (which I am - how narcissistic is that?).

But tonight, I want to talk about music. In particular, cellists Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic. That's Luka on your right. The 20-Something Croatians have made quite a splash in the Classical Music world and their mad skills on the cello have made them stars in Europe.

Personally, I had heard of neither of them until a friend posted the video below on Facebook the other day. And that's a shame. I grew up on both classic Rock 'n Roll, thanks to Mom and Classical music and opera, thanks to Dad, so my personal choices in music are eclectic, to say the least. While I can appreciate and enjoy the club music of Lady Gaga, I still get goosebumps when I hear a particularly excellent recording of Ode to Joy or The Planets. Of course, the largest part of my personal music library consists of film scores by the people I consider to be the modern Classical composers: Bernard Herrman; Max Steiner; Jerry Goldsmith; Danny Elfman; James Horner and Hans Zimmer (among many others). So, when I find artists who are able to combine modern pop/rock with classical sounds and instruments, I go into paroxysms of Musical Joy. And such is the case with this video of Hauser and Sulic playing Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" on dueling cellos. And it doesn't hurt that they ain't hard on the eyes. 

I already shared this on Facebook, so forgive me for repeating myself, but when I come across something this exciting (to me, at least), I have to share with as many people as I can. Enjoy:

You must admit, no matter what your musical bent may be, these boys have talent. And I can't wait to hear what they have up their sleeves next.

More, anon.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Gayest Things You'll See This Week

Not that I'm now shilling for Frito-Lay (I'm not). but for the past several years they've been running a "Crash the Superbowl" contest, the winner of which gets to have his or her Doritos commercial air during the Superbowl (you know it exists, even if you don't watch it).*

There have been some very funny entries and winners over the years, though I don't really remember any gay-themed entries in the past (or at least any that were positive - oh wait, that's Snickers. Nevermind - suck it, Mars).

Anyway, I discovered the two entries below tonight on Towleroad. They are funny and inoffensive enough, as long you have a sense of humor -- something sorely lacking in so many people these days. I mean I'm all for political correctness -- to a certain extent. Sometimes, though, you just have to sit back, laugh and admit something's funny, even if it isn't particularly PC. Still, I don't think there's anything particularly offensive in either of these spots (unless you object to half-naked hotties, but that's a different issue altogether). So, without further ado, here are the two gayest entries in this year's contest:

Yes. Yes I do.

I'll bet she never lets him trim those hedges again...

And on a more serious note, also via Towleroad but seen on several other sites today, a courageous young woman (identified only as "Kayla K.") comes out to her entire High School as part of their MLK Day festivities. Kudos to this courageous young lady and to the school officials who were not afraid to let her do it:

We need more kids like this, more educators like this and more people who are willing to "Break the Silence." I certainly hope she finds the partner of her dreams. She (as do we all) deserves it. That video should be required viewing in every High School in the U.S.

More, anon.

*Update - 1/26/11: Since I posted this, Frito-Lay has distanced themselves from these ads (via) saying they are fan-made and will definitely NOT appear during the Superbowl. Personally, I know no one who found these ads offensive and think if Frito Lay was smart, they'd start wooing gay customers.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bad, Bad Movies

Blogger Jonco at Bits and Pieces posted a link to this story on UGO about the Worst Actors of All Time (which is limited to men and therefore doesn't include the truly dreadful Jennifer Aniston, but still manages to omit the even worse Gerard Butler). The post got me thinking about bad movies, in general. But not bad, cheap indies like Troll 2 or Manos: Hands of Fate, which exist in their own MST3K category. No, I'm talking about Major Studio, big budget stinkers that have no business existing.

Let's get started, shall we?

The first on my list is the 1976 Dino DeLaurentiis production of King Kong, starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and Jessica Lange who makes a rather ignominious debut as an actress named Dwan, who is rescued an oil freighter that finds a giant gorilla instead of the oil it's looking for (huh?). DeLaurentiis notably said "Everybody gonna cry when my Kong die." We did, but they were tears of laughter.  He even campaigned to have make-up artist Rick Baker nominated as Best Actor for his performance in the ridiculous ape costume. Directed by John Guillerman (The Towering Inferno; Death on the Nile), the movie is most notable for its terrible acting and even worse special effects.Thankfully, both Bridges and Lange would survive this turkey and go on to Oscar-winning careers. Sadly, this was also the last movie my father, mother, sister and I ever saw as a family. We were all equally excited and disappointed by its cheesiness.

Of course, I've already discussed George Lucas' disastrous Howard the Duck, but a post about the worst movies ever wouldn't be complete without it. Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones and Tim Robbins star in one of Hollywood's worst stinkers, ever.

And since I'm already talking about genre movies, let's add Hugh Jackman in 2004's Van Helsing, a movie that held so much potential but which ended up being a ridiculous, noisy and over-used CGI pile of crap.

Good actors make bad movies on occasion, but it's truly sad when a good actor's last film is as terrible as Raul Julia's last movie, 1994's Streetfighter. Based a video game (never a good idea), Streetfighter features Julia as the dictator of a country named Shadaloo (that's sounds perfectly plausible) and Jean-Claude Van Damme as the hero. Pee-yew!

Of course, not all bad big budget films were made in the last 30 years, Take 1963's Cleopatra, starring acting legends Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison. Still one of the most expensive movies ever made when adjusted for inflation, Joseph L. Mankeiwicz' epic is an epic fail, by any standard.

And since we're talking Hollywood royalty and bad films, let's not forget Paul Newman's debut film The Silver Chalice, a completely crappy Biblical story for which Newman would later publicly apologize.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I'll talk more about these and other films during November's "Turkey Month" posts. And I'll be adding links to this post soon, so you see more of these films' crapitude.
More, anon.

The Continuing Proliferation of Bad Television

It's the end January and the terrible mid-season shows continue to pile up like traffic accidents on an icy highway.

NBC used to have a terrific line-up of comedies on Thursday nights. And while they mostly continue that tradition with "Community;" "30 Rock" and "Parks and Recreation," they have yet to find a fourth show to live up to those particular shows' excellence. "Outsourced" turned out to be a racist and unfunny take on how most American's perceive Indian culture, and the network's newest show "Perfect Couples" is simply a perfect disaster. 

Adorkable (you know what I mean) cub Kyle Bornheimer continues his losing streak, following "Worst Week" and "Romantically Challenged" with this show about three couples who have nothing in common but the men being college buddies. Bornheimer's Dave is in the most sane relationship with his wife Julia (Christine Woods - "Flash Forward"), while David Walton; Mary Elizabeth Ellis; Hayes MacArthur and Olivia Munn ("The Daily Show") play the most dysfunctional couples ever, with MacArthur and Munn the most cloying and annoying of the three.

The episode I DVR'd concerned Dave and Julia's attempt to celebrate their anniversary, while their wacky friends did their best to distract them from doing so. A pre-anniversary 'game night' proves disastrous, ending with the temporary break-up of Walton's and Ellis' characters while exploiting the insipid New Age platitudes of MacArthur's and Munn's. I kept shouting at the TV: "Throw these A-holes out of your house!"

Creators Jon Pollack and Scott Silveri have some impressive writing credits to their names (most notably "Friends"), though this mess isn't one of them. Sadly, Bornheimer and Woods are both likable and talented comedic actors who deserve a better than show this one. "Perfect Couples" is two for two, along with Fox's animated "Bob's Burgers" as the worst of what network TV can be. Happily, David Kelly's new show "Harry's Law," starring Kathy Bates is a winner and the superhero drama "The Cape" at least shows potential (more on both of those shows, soon).

Don't believe me? See for yourself:


More, anon.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Top Ten Movies of 2010

Okay... the end of the month of the January is approaching, the Golden Globes have been awarded and the Oscars are about to be announced. Last month I posted my 5 Best and Worst movies of 2010, but I've seen several more movies from last year and I suppose it's time to finally list my Top Ten; a difficult task in a year of many, many bad films. Some of these films have been reviewed previously (a few even recently), while others were not reviewed because I had other things on my mind. If your personal favorites' on the list, yay! If not, get over it and go write about them on your own blog -- Sorry. I had a pretty crappy day at the day-job and it seems to be spilling over here. I'll try to keep that in check for the rest of this post, if you promise not to hold it against me. So, without further ado, here are Uncle P's picks for the Ten Best Movies of 2010:

#10: Kick-Ass

Director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust) takes on the indie-Superhero genre with his hilarious adaptation of Mark Millar's story about an average kid who dreams of being more than he is. With break-out performances from Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass was the most fun I had at the movies this year.

#9: The Kids Are Alright

Anette Bening and Julianne Moore star as the lesbian parents of kids who seek out their biological father in this touching and often amusing story about what 'family' truly means.  

#8: Despicable Me

"The Office" star Steve Carrel is the voice of wannabe super villain Gru in this hilariously delightful film from the guy who made Ice Age, that also redefines 'family.' "It's so FLUFFY!"

#7: Toy Story 3

Pixar once again proves they're the best in the business with this sequel that drove grown men (myself included) to tears. 

#6: Let Me In

A box-office disappointment, Let Me In is the Americanized version of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee are the vampire and her thrall-in-training in this dark tale that features's "Best Scene of 2010."

#5: The King's Speech

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush star in this true story of King George VI, his speech pathologist and their struggle to overcome George's stammer on the eve of the most important speech of his Regency. With similar themes to The Madness of King George, Tom Hooper's film reminds of that royalty are still very human beings.

#4: The Social Network

Director David Fincher is best known for his explorations of the darker side of the Human Condition (Se7en; Fight Club; Zodiac) and his take on the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, while far less grim than his usual fare, is yet another fascinating take on the same subject.

#3: True Grit

Westerns will never be at the top of my Favorite Genres list. Still, the Coen brothers' version of the Charles Portis novel is not only brilliantly acted and gorgeously filmed, but it bears the kind of emotional impact that only the best movies can, reminding us once again of the universality of the Human Condition.

#2: Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's film about performance and obsession is dark, fanciful and plenty disturbing while featuring the year's most amazing performance from seasoned veteran and Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman as a dancer who'll go to almost any lengths to achieve the performance of a lifetime.

#1: Inception

I always think the Best Film of the Year should be the Most Entertaining and Thought-Provoking movie of the year, and for me, that film was Christopher Nolan's Inception. A Sci-Fi espionage thriller with amazing visuals, terrific performances and an amazing score from the always brilliant Hans Zimmer, Inception was the movie that intrigued, excited and provoked me the most this year. A great ride from beginning to end, Inception was simply 2010's Most Entertaining (and therefore Best) movie of 2010.

Agree? Disagree? Have other choices? Let me know. I always love to hear what you have to say.

More, anon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Gayest Thing You'll See This Week

The always hilarious Amy Sedaris ("Strangers with Candy") has a new book out; "Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People." Amy and her brother David are probably two of the funniest people on the planet and whether she's making clothes for rabbits or doling out hints for hosting fabulous parties, Amy's totally off the wall humor never fails to make me laugh until my stomach hurts. If you've ever seen her on Letterman, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

In the clip below, Amy and a friend demonstrate a tip from her book. How she, her assistant and the camera operator got through this without cracking up is beyond me. I can only imagine it involved multiple takes and a whole lot of hot dogs. Ladies and germs, I give you (via) "Amy Sedaris Makes Hot Dogs on a Rake:"

More, anon.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bat News

So, here's some news all you movie geeks already know: Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy have officially been announced as the villains in Christopher Nolan's third and final entry in Warner's Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises. Hathaway has been cast as Catwoman (or at least, Selina Kyle) and Hardy as Bane (via).

These are two actors I like a lot. Hathaway is always amazing, even in sappy treacle like The Princess Diaries and Hardy is just a sexy bear who could recite the phone book, as long as he has his clothes off at some point. 

Yikes. That sounds awful. Still, Hardy was quite good in Nolan's Inception and I have no doubt he'll be terrific as the hulking Latino villain who actually broke Batman's back in in DC's "Knightfall" series. Not that I am all that familiar with the comics -- I do have Internet access, though and know he's much more important to the storyline than than the idiotic character in Joel Schumaker's reprehensible Batman and Robin.                                                                                 
Now, it seems that lots of folks have problems with this casting, particularly when it comes to Ms Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Michelle Pfieffer was quite an amazing Catwoman in her pleather catsuit and smoky eye makeup. But Hathaway is tall and sexy and will bring her own take on the jewel thief who manages to steal Bruce Wayne's heart. .And since Nolan has proven himself to be quite the genius when it comes to this particular franchise, I have total faith his casting choices. If anyone can turn Hathaway into Catwoman, it's Nolan. And I, for one, can't wait to see a bulked-up Hardy flexing and strutting his way through Gotham City.

Of course,Catwoman has been played by more actresses than any other female character in the franchise, starting with Julie Newmar in the campy 1960's TV series, followed by Eartha Kitt; Lee Meriwether; Michelle Pfieffer and (most lamentably) Halle Berry. Bane's only appearance on film was in the aforementioned Batman and Robin, portrayed by the late wrestler Jeep Swenson simply as a grunting minion of Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). I'm very interested to see how Nolan uses the character in the new movie, especially given his rich history in the DC Universe. 

Nolan has yet to disappoint with this franchise, and I have all faith that his 2012 Birthday Present to me will stand up to his previous Batman movies (though finding a performance like the late Heath Ledger's as The Joker may prove a rather daunting task). Still, I am excited to see where Nolan will take the story next.

More, anon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Turn Off the Lights, Already

Not a single thing I've read or heard about Julie Taymor's $65 million disaster, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has been positive, unless it was coming from Taymor herself. The few folks I know who've seen the show have described an unimaginable mess which makes no sense at all: especially in the second act which involves the mythological Arachne, a weaver who was turned into a spider as punishment for her hubris. In Taymor's "vision," Arachne needs Spider-Man to release her from her curse, employing a chorus line of spidergals who sing about shoes in doing so. Really? Curiously, composers Bono and The Edge remain silent about the show and it's oft-reported accidents and ridiculous (at best) second act. Audience reactions have been reported as everything from appallingly stunned to out-and-out horrified by its lack of coherence. Indeed, the comic's defining line and central theme ("With great power comes great responsibility") isn't even uttered by the original character, Peter Parker's Uncle Ben, but thrown away by Spidey himself in a battle with the Green Goblin. Disrespectful, at best; bad writing at it's worst.

As for Taymor's vision? Just take a look at the costumes pictured above. On the left is the Green Goblin, a villain depicted in the Marvel Comics like this. In Taymor's version, he looks more like an aging club kid who's done one too many hits of E for his own good. On the right we have Swiss Miss, a villain Taymor made up just for the show, so named for her resemblance to a Swiss Army Knife. Seriously? Swiss Miss? The name makes me think of cocoa, rather than a super-villain. I certainly don't think of a metallic dominatrix with goat horns on her head. And Spider-Man's creator Stan Lee is okay with this? I think dementia must be setting in.

Clearly this is a case of a director's ego gone wild. Sure, Taymor's production of The Lion King is a visual feast, based on material that already existed with a clearly defined story. And her film Titus was an inspired take on a Shakespearean classic (also previously existing material with a clearly defined plot). And her well-received biopic Frida was at least rooted in reality (but came about more because of Producer/Star Salma Hayek's passion for the subject matter). Then came Across the Universe, a psychedelic love story set during the Vietnam War era, using the Beatles' music in much the same way that the disastrous Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band did, weaving a story around songs that already existed (sensing a pattern here?). But the former costume designer (aha) has started to show signs that she's gotten in over her head, most recently with her ill-received production of The Tempest, a film that left critics cold and which audiences avoided like the plague, despite the presence of Dame Helen Mirren as a re-sexualized 'Prospera.' But this show, while based on previously existing material, sprung almost entirely out of Taymor's head, based on a dream she had about Arachne after 9/11. What? Yes -- look it up. Talk about hubris...

Now comes word that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has delayed it's opening yet a fifth time, until March 15th, so additional corrections van be made to the second act (perhaps to make it make sense?). I'm thinking Taymor and company should heed the warnings of another Shakespearean play and "Beware the Ides of March." After all the accidents (4 major injuries); protests from other members of AEA and the truly terrible word-of-mouth from those who've already seen the show, the show's producers should just cut their losses and let this terrible-from-the-start idea die. Of course, $65 million dollars is quite a loss to claim on a 1040. 

How bad can be it be? Take a look at this commercial for the show and then tell me:

Honestly, as a performer and director who got his start in Musical Theatre, I hope I'm wrong. But I doubt that I am. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is destined to go down as one of the biggest Broadway disasters since Carrie: The Musical.

More, anon.....

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: "Black Swan" (Plus Some Movie Etiquette Advice)

I took myself to the movies today to finally see Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller set in the world of professional ballet. While I am hardly a dancer by any means, I did spend four seasons acting for the NYC Ballet and have performed in that magnificent Lincoln Center theatre, so I'd like to think I have a little insight into the subject matter.

Ballet dancers are very unlike actors in that while they understand technique and performance, they have no clue as to how to access character. And such is the problem with Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a featured soloist who so very much covets the role of the Swan Queen in the company's upcoming production of 'Swan Lake.' Company director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) sees great promise in Nina, whose technique is nearly perfect, but who has no idea how to access the passion required to dance the role in which she has been cast.

That may well be because her insanely over-protective passive-aggressive mother (Barbara Hershey) has kept her sheltered in their cramped apartment for most of her life.  When new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the company, the stakes are raised and Nina begins to push herself harder than ever. So hard, in fact, that she becomes obsessed to the point-of-no-return.

Nina soon begins to exhibit signs of instability, starting with a series of scratches on her back and leading to... well, see the movie for yourself. Needless to say, Nina's descent into madness is a harrowing thing to watch. It doesn't help that the company's bitter former Prima Ballerina (Winona Ryder) attempts suicide, resulting in an ugly wound to her leg which ensures she'll never dance again.

Portman's performance here is simply breathtaking and she certainly deserves every accolade she's been given, including last night's Golden Globe win. It actually saddens me that her follow-up is in what looks like a completely lame romantic comedy, No Strings Attached. Cassel is appropriately creepy as the pompous director and Kunis has come a long way from her "That 70's Show" roots, embodying the role of the calculating upstart in a dance version of All About Eve. Hershey gives the most over-the-top performance as the smothering Mother From Hell. Ryder isn't given much to do other than to play bitter, but she does so with a certain panache only she could bring to the role. Aronofsky's direction is spot on, even if he is a bit heavy-handed with the black & white imagery and the proliferation of swan figures in as many scenes as he could manage. One can only imagine how much darker (and it's pretty dark) this film could have been in the hands of say, David Fincher or Christopher Nolan. **** (Four Out of Four Stars). Black Swan is rated "R" for Strong Sexual Content. 

And now on to the second part of this post - Movie-Going Etiquette:

I may well have enjoyed this film much more than I did if it weren't for the neanderthal seated directly to my left. The auditorium was crowded because it was both a holiday and Portman's win at the Golden Globes. The person (I refuse to use the word 'gentleman') seated on my left was the worst kind of movie patron. He spent the first half of the film grunting and snorting his way through his bag of popcorn, poking me in the ribs with his elbow every time he reached into his bag. He gabbed to his companion constantly, commenting on the movie and questioning things he didn't understand. When he finally set his empty popcorn bag on the floor, he made much of wiping his hands on about a dozen napkins, before toting out his Smartphone to check his messages.

So - a note to movie-goers everywhere. YOU ARE NOT AT HOME! You are sharing a film experience with people who have paid the same amount as you to see a movie. The rest of us don't care what you think (or don't understand) about the film. We don't want to listen to you eating like a sow at the trough; we don't want to be poked by your elbow or blinded by the light from your phone. We want to see the movie without you intruding on it like some annoying gopher spoiling our gardens. If you cannot be civil in public, then stay home and burp and fart your way through movies on DVD or Pay Per View. We paid to see a movie, not listen to your bodily functions.

Rant over. If you have yet to see Black Swan, then I urge you to do so. It's certainly one of the most disturbing and brilliant films you'll see in a long time. Just try to see it as far away from an idiot as you can.

More, anon.

Why the Golden Globes Don't Matter

Tonight saw the 68th Annual Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards, which supposedly honor the best in both movies and television. Since they are the first awards given during "award season," many people consider them to be indicators of how the AMPAS voters will choose the winners of the Oscars. To which I say:  Feh!

Why do I say this? Two words: Pia Zadora. Yes, Pia Zadora. Does anyone remember her? Way back in 1982, Pia won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer (an award which is no longer given, by the way) for her work in the truly awful Southern potboiler Butterfly. A true stinker of a film, Butterfly  is basically about the incestuous relationship between an Arizona farmer (Stacy Keach) and his daughter (Zadora). A wretched train wreck of a film, co-starring Orson Welles as a bellicose judge, Butterfly had yet to be screened by anyone when Zadora won her award. It turned out that her husband Meshulam Riklis (who was 31 years older than she was when they married), actually paid members of the HFPA to vote for her. The scandal nearly scuttled the Golden Globes for good.

So tonight, while I watched the first two hours of this year's Golden Globes (mostly to see just how catty host Ricky Gervais would be), I couldn't help but think of Pia Zadora and her completely undeserved award. And of course, Gervais delivered the goods, taking jibes at certain Scientologists not in attendance and the most recent scandal involving tickets to Cher's show in Vegas.

Still doubting? Then take a gander at Zadora's "Award-Winning" performance:

Zadora would go on to be in the film adaptation of Harold Robbins' The Lonely Lady and later make a hilarious appearance as a beatnik artist in John Waters' 1998 Hairspray. She also had a small role in The Naked Gun 33 1/3, but has since gone on to be a rather minor footnote in Entertainment History. I should also point out that as a child, she appeared in the horrendous Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, though the hilarious folks at MST3K have already skewered that movie - My favorite line? "Pills for breakfast? What are we, Judy Garland?"

So, while favorites like "Glee," The King's Speech and The Social Network may have won Golden Globes tonight, I'll wait until the real awards are given out later this year.

More, anon.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'm a Moonchild, Damnit!

Okay - here's the deal. It was recently announced that none of us are the Zodiacal signs we've always assumed we were. It all has to do with the position of Magnetic North and the alignment of the stars when the Zodiac was first established over 3000 years ago vs. their positions today.

This is not really new news. Astronomers have known this for about 2500 years. Astrologists, however, have chosen to ignore this bit of science for the last two and a half millenniums, simply because it doesn't jibe with what their charlatan predecessors wrote all those years ago. It's also something I remember being reported with much less fanfare about 10 years ago. We all seemed to ignore it then, so why the big uproar now? Maybe because the much-feared (and completely over-hyped) 2012 is looming that much closer (and please remind me to point and laugh at those people when 2013 rolls around and the Earth is still spinning on it's axis).

Anyway, according to the new positions of the stars, we are actually the Zodiac sign preceding the sign we've always assumed ourselves to be. So, according to the new charts I am actually a Gemini. But I'm not buying it. Not that I actually buy the whole Horoscope thing in the first place. But when one looks up the attributes of Cancer in a Zodiacal chart, I am the embodiment of that particular sign: Creative; artistic; a homebody; emotional and slightly stubborn; opinionated and affected by the cycles of the moon. Check, check and check. Cancers tend to get along with other Cancers (an apparently rare thing among the signs - and something which would explain many of the relationships and adventures I've had during my life) and we don't like being told that we are wrong. Of course, over the last 20 years or so, there has been a push to rename Cancer (because of the negative connotations associated with the word) to "Moonchild," hence the title of this post. But surely, there are plenty of creative homebodies with headstrong opinions who were born during other times of year. I can name at least half a dozen among my own friends and acquaintances.

Now, anyone with half a brain knows it's all BS and nothing about who you really are has anything to do with the time of year in which you were born. But humans have a tendency to try to make order out of the chaos that is the Cosmos. We try to try the force randomness of the Universe into orderly things we can both control and comprehend. But to me, that randomness is the beauty of life. Do things happen for a reason? We would all like to think so. But they probably don't. Accidents are just that; synchronicity is just coincidence and fate is a concept created to comfort us in the face of all the random crap that happens just because it happens. Time is a randomly assigned set of numbers (which varies depending on which calendar you happen to follow) and no one will ever really know the true nature of existence, except perhaps the Zen Buddhists who believe that life is its own reward and we should rejoice in the fact of our own existence, for its own sake.

I suppose that all sounds bleak and existential to most of you. Hell, after almost 50 years of thinking about such things, I'm still not sure myself. Still, after almost 50 years of thinking about such things, the uncertainty of all is what makes our lives so very precious.

In the end, I'm still a Moonchild (Okay... Cancer, you purists) and that's the silly blurb I'll read in the Daily Horoscope, hoping it's true despite knowing it's nonsense, forgetting what it says 10 minutes after I've read it.

MSNBC's amazing and funny Rachel Maddow has her own thoughts on the matter, which you can see in the clip below (via):

As for me - I'm a Moonchild, and a Moonchild I shall remain.

More, anon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Best of the Decade: Fantasy Movies

Well, after several days of sleeping like I've been bitten by a tsetse fly, I'm starting to feel like myself again. If you have the nasty cold that's been going around the last few weeks, I sympathize completely and hope you feel better soon. Anyway, finally feeling better, I decided it was time to get back to my 'Best of the Decade' series before the decade actually ends (well, at least before the end of the month).

So, without further ado, Uncle P's picks for the Best Fantasy Movies of the Decade:

10. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Pixar's only entry on this list is also one of their most delightfully silly movies. Monsterland powers itself on fear and scaring little kids is what Sully (John Goodman) and his buddy Mike (Billy Crystal) do best. That is until Sully stumbles upon the closet of a little girl too young to scare. When Boo (the name Sully gives her) crosses over, all sorts of silly nonsense ensues, including a brilliant homage to a Warner Brothers' classic:

Monsters, Inc. is sweet, scary, exciting and a pure delight.

9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh star in director Ang Lee's Chinese fairy tale about a magical jade sword, unrequited love and flying martial arts. It set a new standard in wire-flying stunts and proved Michelle Yeoh could make us understand everything she was thinking without understanding a word she was saying. Originally written in English and translated into Mandarin, Crouching Tiger... is a visual and romantic feast. You may want to turn down the volume - or do your best to ignore the terrible English dubbing - for this gorgeous fight scene among the treetops of a bamboo forest:

8. Enchanted (2007)

Disney finally embraces its ridiculousness in this story of a an animated princess (Amy Adams in an Oscar-worthy performance) who is sent to the real world by a jealous evil queen (Susan Sarandon), where she meets the true love of her life (Patrick Dempsey). James Marsden, Idina Menzel and Timothy Spall round out the excellent supporting cast in this delightful parody with heart:

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ( 2004)

I must admit that I'm not much of a Harry Potter fan. I find the books derivative and just a bit too cutsie, especially when it comes to Rowling's bad puns in naming characters and places. Still, director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) managed to produce a dark and scary movie with his entry in the series, elevating it from kiddie schlock to artful fantasy in the process (to be honest, this is the last film I saw in the series, as Rowling's rambling story simply couldn't hold my interest):

6. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

In his second film based on the Darkhorse Comics character, Guillermo del Toro amps up the visual effects to the point where watching it on the big screen almost tires one's eyes out. When an ancient tribe of magical beings attempts to retake the Earth, it's up to hellboy (Ron Perlman) and company to stop them. An astonishing film to watch, which requires multiple viewings in order to take everything in:

5. The Illusionist (2006)

Writer/Director Neil Burger's stunning love story about a poor boy in love with an aristocrat is shot in sepia tones and irising transitions, giving the audience the feeling they are actually witnessing events taking place in the 19th Century. Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell star in this lush, romantic tale that deserves more love than it gets:


4. Stardust (2007)

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite modern fantasists, and his novel is beautifully translated by director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) in this near-perfect fairy tale starring Clare Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Mark Strong and the adorable Charlie Cox. Sadly ignored at the box-office, I think Stardust was the victim of poor marketing. It deserves to be seen and loved as much as I love it:

3. The Prestige (2006)

Christopher Nolan made my favorite film of 2010 (Inception) as well as the best superhero movie, ever. So it's no surprise that his tale of rival magicians at the turn of the last century should land so high on this list. Featuring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine and David Bowie, The Prestige is a story about competition, revenge, love and weird science, all told in the way only Nolan could tell it. Complex, moving and deliberately confusing (as the best magic tricks always are), The Prestige required at least two viewings before I could decide where my sympathies lied. A smart and breathtaking movie, The Prestige is another under-appreciated gem that deserves more fans:

2. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro makes his second appearance on this list with his dark fantasy about a young girl trying to escape the horrors of both Franco's regime and her stepfather's cruelty. Another movie my dear K hated because of its depictions of man's inhumanity to man, Pan's Labyrinth is a hauntingly beautiful meditation on how far we can go to rid ourselves of both physical and psychological pain. It is also one of the few films I can remember seeing that featured a scene which raised a collective gasp from every member of the audience. A stunning masterpiece from a director at the top of his game:

1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 - 2003)

Kiwi director Peter Jackson managed to turn J.R.R. Tolkien's supposedly 'unfilmable' epic tale and caught our collective imaginations in doing so. I hope I don't need to tell how truly amazing these films are (or attempt to summarize their collective plots). Gorgeous and exciting, TLOR's last film, 2003's The Return of the King is the only film to win every Oscar for which it was nominated (including Best Picture), and tied both Ben Hur and Titanic for most Oscars won at 11. Let's hope Jackson's 2 movie version of Tolkien's prequel The Hobbit, fares as well:

Honorable mentions:  King Kong (2005); Howl's Moving Castle: Amelie; Pirates of the Caribbean; Shrek; Big Fish.

More, anon,

*Watch for more links in this post, soon.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Gayest Thing You'll See This Month

Do you remember Chris Crocker? Chris was the androgynous Vlogger who posted the infamous "Leave Britney Alone!" video on YouTube, which currently has over 36 million hits. He cried and ranted and sobbed and generally made a fool of himself for all the world to see. 

Uncle P, for one, was actually embarrassed for the poor thing. That a fan could get so caught up in what other people thought of his obsession he would post such a ridiculous video seemed to me the ultimate in time-wasting and attention-grabbing.
Well, I guess the joke's on me, because Crocker is back with a music video of his own (via). "Freak of Nature" is Crocker's personal diatribe on accepting him for who he is. And while I have never been the kind of person to flaunt my sexuality (the people I love and who love me accept me already), I suppose I can't fault him for trying to extend his Fifteen Minutes, no matter how ridiculous he makes himself look in the process of doing so. Watch the clip and then tell me you aren't still embarrassed for the poor thing (possibly NSFW):

Chris Crocker - Freak of Nature OFFICIAL (uncensored) MUSIC VIDEO!! from chris crocker on Vimeo.

Seriously. Is it me? Or are you as embarrassed for this young man as I am? Now I realize that posting this clip only perpetuates Crocker's presence on the Web, which is exactly what he's hoping for. But it is my hope that by commenting on it's ridiculousness (not to mention how bad the song is), people will see this little fame whore for exactly what he is, and he will remain a very minor footnote in entertainment history. If you're planning on sharing this, share in the context in which I have - derisively calling a whore a whore and hopefully helping to put an end to the kind of undeserved "Instant Celebrity" that exposure on YouTube has managed to create.

More, anon.