Sunday, September 28, 2008

What Would A Real Director Do?: Choke

“Choke” – Clark Gregg’s film adaptation of the book by literary darling Chuck Palahniuk—is, according to the press notes, “the subversively comedic tale of Victor Mancini, con artist, sex addict, Colonial village re-enactor, angst-filled son, serial restaurant choker … and unsuspecting romantic antihero for our unsettling times.” This jam-packed one-liner should give some indication as to what Gregg was up against in attempting to translate Palahniuk’s prose to the screen. David Fincher had an equally difficult challenge with the author’s “Fight Club,” but unlike Fincher, Gregg is an actor and first-time filmmaker hailing from the theater world (a founding member and former artistic director of the Atlantic Theater Company) whose only qualifications to script-write and direct the cult novel seem to be friends with money, a love of the book, and Palahniuk’s blessing. Well, sometimes love and money and a pat on the head just ain’t enough.

To read the rest of my smackdown visit The House Next Door. (And, yes, I do feel guilty about panning the film after interviewing my fellow Random Houser Chuck Palahniuk, but hey, he didn’t direct!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chuck Palahniuk, Author of CHOKE

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Chuck Palahniuk, Author of CHOKE

Chuck Palahniuk, the author behind David Fincher’s “Fight Club” and Clark Gregg’s “Choke,” opening in theaters this Friday 9/26, pens intelligent, well-written junk food. I enjoy reading all his books, and even have a friend I nicknamed Brandy Alexander after the transgender lead character in “Invisible Monsters,” yet whenever someone asks me the plot of a particular novel that isn’t “Invisible Monsters,” I draw a blank. I mean, I’m certain I’ve read his books, just like I’m certain I ate dinner last Thursday, I just can’t tell you exactly what it was.

So when I learned I had an email interview with the author himself scheduled I had to dig out my old copy of “Choke” and check the jacket. Ah, sex addicts who work at a fake Colonial village – how could I have forgotten? No matter. The writing is terrific. Palahniuk might be able to shed some light on the grander themes he seems to be addressing, from numb consumer culture to transgender issues to the difference between nonfiction “truth” versus “truth” in fiction, I reasoned.

You see, I just couldn’t accept “Choke” on the same terms as a piece of well-made but empty entertainment like “The Scorpion King,” which worked because it didn’t overreach beyond what was necessary, tailored the script specifically to The Rock’s charming, self-deprecating personality and nothing more. I wanted to know why I always felt an important statement about society was being made in Palahniuk’s books.

But after finally interviewing the author I got a strong sense that his working method is more akin to that of the car mechanic he was for years. As a writer he seems to take the same sort of Meyerhold biomechanics approach (“I saw a bear, I ran, I was afraid”) that I learned in acting school. In other words, through the physical, mechanical act of writing – and not reflection – he gets at a deeper truth. Which is deep in itself. Now if only I could remember what “Rant” was about.

LW: “Choke: deals with sex addicts similarly to how Terry Southern treats bombshell virgins and porn stars - as social satire. In other words, there is very little that is “sexy” about your (or Southern’s) work. Sex is just another part of our numb consumer culture. Can you discuss this more?

CP: Actually the sex in “Choke” — like the violence in “Fight Club” — is merely physical business for the characters, to keep their hands and feet busy while they say their dialogue. Otherwise, you just have talking heads, and I loathe that type of fiction. We adore films because the moving object is so hypnotic. Books can hold our attention with that same device.

LW: During the “Antidote Films vs. JT Leroy” lawsuit I started writing about the fine line between fiction and nonfiction – and does it even matter? As the author of a nonfiction memoir that was marketed as fiction I find this whole quest for “truth” absurd since there is no definitive “truth“ truth is always subjective. You write nonfiction as well, and your novels contain more elements of reality than certain historical documents (and there’s even the fake Colonial village in “Choke”). What is your take on this debate?

CP: There’s a world of difference between fiction which presents itself as such… and a person telephoning you at all hours, sobbing and claiming to be a child sex worker dying of AIDS. For hours, claiming to be crippled because he/she had been fisted so brutally by a sadistic john. Such a callous deception undermines all sympathy for and desire to help real people suffering in those circumstances.

LW: I jotted down this terrific quote from you right after “Invisible Monsters” came out: “Brandy Alexander doesn’t really want a sex change. And in a way, having it was the most important thing she could think to do, because it would destroy an identity that was being imposed upon her by society.” As a genderqueer person who defiantly refuses to conform to society’s “insides must match outsides” rule, I’ve always considered the notion of having a sex change kissing up to the mainstream, i.e., why is it my duty to make others feel comfortable? To say that transgender people are in the “wrong” bodies implies that there is such a thing as a “right” body. You also seem interested in this notion of “transcending” society’s dictates – Jesus has a big role in “Choke” – rather than conforming. Can you talk a bit about this and how it plays out in your work?

CP: Say, what?

LW: What is it like to have a character that’s been living in your head appear onscreen in flesh and blood form? Have there been actors who didn’t live up to your idea of the character or who exceeded your expectations?

CP: The trick is to not have expectations. Instead to allow the world to present itself and trust that everyone is doing their best. Sorry to sound so passive, but I’ve learned to control only what I can control: the original stories.

LW: What is it like to lose control of your story through the filmmaking process?

CP: It’s intoxicating, to be around people who love their work — are so passionate about their work — people who are so smart and diligent. It gets me high. God, this is what high school should’ve felt like.

LW: Are there certain actors or a particular director you dream of attaching to any filmed versions of your books?

CP: Sam Rockwell, always. Kate Beckinsale. Bette Davis. Louise Brooks. Ruth Gordon. Jack Webb, when he was younger. You did say ‘Dream.’

LW: Are you interested in delving into screenwriting and/or directing?

CP: I also dream of flying and being invisible, but I’ve no talent at those skills, either.

LW: How has the process of turning “Choke” into a movie differed from that of “Fight Club”?

CP: David Mamet advised Clark Gregg to conduct a film set like a party. That a director should facilitate everyone to enjoy themselves. Clark had to film so much each day that the shooting never seemed to linger on any one scene. Filming “Choke” was more like a party, with a constantly changing focus for our attention. And excellent catering.

LW: Which writers do you look to for inspiration?

CP: Amy Hempel. Katherine Dunn. Denis Johnson. Irvine Welsh.

LW: Your writing has a strong sense of location. Much like Armistead Maupin could only be a San Franciscan, I would never mistake you for an east or west coast author. How important is residing in the Northwest to your work?

CP: Huh? I must be stumbling. My goal is always to avoid too specific a setting. Only my third book, “Invisible Monsters,” cites a city. By avoiding descriptions of place, and physical descriptions of characters, I allow readers to insert details from their own lives. Instead of description I concentrate on keeping everyone in action — fighting and fucking — so the plot escalates more quickly. Like everybody, I love Maupin, but setting a story in a specific city also excludes readers who live elsewhere. Verbs exclude no one.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sex Workers In Hollywood

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Sex Workers In Hollywood

I’ll never forget the thrill I felt reading Werner Herzog’s advice on how to become a film director, which boils down to skipping film school, taking up boxing, walking everywhere and working in a sex club. So where’s my Oscar, damn it?

Yet when “Juno” was delivered to theaters around the country I remember feeling nothing but outrage over the stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody hype. I found the film incredibly tedious (though in retrospect I was probably a bit hard on Cody’s writing in my review – after reading excerpts from the script I think I had a much bigger problem with Reitman’s directing), but I had an even bigger problem with the condescension surrounding Cody herself: Look, a stripper who can put together more than three sentences!

I often find myself in general sticking up for those who society deems “bimbos,” from muscle boys (most of whom are walking encyclopedias of anatomy and nutritional chemistry, if not exactly classic film connoisseurs) to sex workers (the majority savvy businesspeople), who are the exact opposite of their stereotypes, and often just a lethal combination of being incredibly intelligent and equally messed up. The condescension comes in the form of pity as well – “how sad for Courtney Love to have been a stripper” – as if the vast majority of the trade is made up of zombie sex slaves, not consenting adults who willingly chose their profession. As if it were always the industry of last resort.

In other words, Cody’s not the brainy, together exception even if she’s not the Academy Award-winning rule. You just don’t hear about ”smart sex workers” because of the stigma attached to the oldest profession in the world. Cody was already publicly “out” as a stripper by the time she penned “Juno” thanks to her book, but most sex workers only make news in Eliot Spitzer-type scandal not art. Thus the myths remain firmly in place.

So today I’d like to follow up last week’s tribute to the valiant Eddie Izzard (who downplays the prurient aspect of cross-dressing by simply acknowledging it, thus demystifying it, thus transcending the taboo) by celebrating four more talented folks who have made the transition from sex industry to mainstream screen.

Wash Westmoreland, director

It takes a hell of a lot of balls to go from shooting money shots to focusing on girls’ “Sweet Fifteen” parties. Wash Westmoreland, the director of the 2006 Sundance award-winning “Quinceanera” has that and more – an unapologetic honesty that I find simply intoxicating. In an interview with Cinematical he stated, “When I came to Hollywood I was 28 years old – too old to do film school, and I didn’t have the money for that anyhow. So in order to learn how to direct, and to pay the bills so I could work on other projects, I directed some gay adult films. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done — I learned a hell of a lot more directing adult films than I would have learned as a PA.” Werner Herzog would be proud.

Nancy Oliver, screenwriter

Oliver is a longtime friend of Alan Ball from their theater days, though she’s admitted to an array of day jobs before she herself made it big, including a gig that ambiguously included dealing “with a lot of Web sites and a lot of lonely guys.” The result can be seen in last year’s vibrant “Lars and the Real Girl” (for my money the film that deserved “Juno”-level attention in the Oscar push), in which Ryan Gosling stars as a man whose life is transformed by the unconditional love of a mail-order sex doll. That Oliver found magical inspiration – not humiliation – through contact with the sex trade doesn’t need to be noted in an interview. It’s all right there on the screen.

Larry Wachowski, director/writer/producer

O.K., so technically Wachowski wasn’t a sex worker, though he/she sure was a part of the industry. One of the forces behind the “The Matrix” blockbuster franchise is a MTF transgender person who left his/her wife for Ilsa Strix, a woman as famous in the BDSM world as Wachowski is in the mainstream. Mistress Strix in turn left her FTM transgender, gay porn star lover Buck Angel for Wachowski, and took a bit of heat herself for marrying a client. Though Warner Brothers has tried to downplay Wachowski’s personal life, the fact that Wachowski appears to have no qualms acting ladylike in his/her rare public appearances, that he/she even wed the very “out and proud” Mistress Strix, speaks volumes. Though Wachowski may not be Max Mosley, the son of Britain’s prewar fascist leader and head of Formula One racing (and inspiration for my “Notes on a Sex Scandal”), who publicly declared his right to be spanked rather than be passively set up in a “Nazi orgy” sting by “The News of the World,” Wachowski is living his/her life beyond box office terms. As brave an act as anything Keanu Reeves’ Neo has attempted.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor/governor

Yes, the Governator was once gay-for-pay, though with a body like that he probably didn’t have to do more than just flex and pose for dollars, which he did quite hotly and famously in the softcore-homo publication “After Dark.” And his rise from immigrant bodybuilder to Mr. Olympia to international movie star, from marriage into American royalty to the governor of California, his mesmerizing charm and self-deprecating humor rendering the political rule to renounce youthful “mistakes” null and void, should take the “bimbo” out of bodybuilder once and for all. Ah-nuld is one classy leading man, an American action hero both onscreen and off.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

From The Top: The Movie-Going Public, Take 2, On The Role of The Film Critic

Reading the comments thread of my essay “The Movie-Going Public” gave me the same feeling I had riding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World as a kid. This is so bizarre yet exciting, with all these surprising twists and turns. I can’t figure out where I’m being taken and I can’t stop laughing. It would resemble a classic Monty Python sketch if it weren’t so sad.

Because when a deeper discussion I hope to spark fizzles into surreal insanity I take that way more personally than any personal attack. The entire point of my penning the piece was to use myself as a jumping off point, to prompt readers into thinking about their own individual lives in order to foster a meaningful discussion about what it means to be an audience member. Instead, that conversation ended when the focus shifted exclusively to me. And the tragedy is that my particular life isn’t minutely as interesting as the larger picture. It’s disappointing that seven dirty little words referencing sex—in my estimation the least interesting thing about me—out of an entire heartfelt essay could derail the whole critical thinking process.

Catch the entire controversy at The House Next Door.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Eddie Izzard Awards: Films That Transcend Taboo

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

The Eddie Izzard Awards: Films That Transcend Taboo

For those who’ve been holding their hot and bothered breath, awaiting a response to the controversy surrounding my taboo-breaking afternoon tryst referenced by Steven Boone in his last column, come swing by Beyond The Green Door. For those ready to move on, please read on –

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again loud and proud: Eddie Izzard is my heroine! I get all happy-go-lucky girly inside just thinking about him. And not only because I spent a good hour and a half doubled over in a folding chair gasping for air like an oxygen-tank-deprived emphysema patient when I saw the John Cleese anointed “lost Python” at a small west side venue years ago, but because of who Izzard is offstage as well: an unashamed cross-dresser with fabulous taste in makeup and heels.

I’ll admit I thought “sellout” when he started doing the gender conforming thing, publicly appearing in pants and facial hair, taking on the role of grifter/father Doug Rich on “The Riches,” but then I read a glorious “NY Times” interview he gave to Caryn James and two mind-blowing quotes chastened me.

He doesn’t always mention being a transvestite in his shows, he said. But he did in the two I saw, and it worked as a disarming strategy: acknowledge it for fans who are wondering what happened, then move on. “I am a transvestite; I’m just off-duty at the moment,” he told the audience, and immediately went on, “I never was a transvestite; it was a tax thing.”

As he explained later: “Some people would heckle me and say ‘Where’s the dress?’ and I’d say ‘Don’t oppress me, you Nazi’ – tends to shut them up. Because I have fought for the right to be able to wear a dress, not that I have to wear a dress. I didn’t jump out of a not-wearing-dress box into a have-to-wear-dress box.”

Yes, this is why I look up to Eddie Izzard even as I’m doubled over staring at the floor: his ability to break a taboo and then break away. In fact, Izzard is growing up, not selling out, just going through what every one of us whose gender and/or sexuality don’t match society’s “norm” eventually face. How do you come out without having that part of yourself define you completely? It’s really no different from what any minority throughout history has had to deal with. How does Spike Lee go from being a “black filmmaker” to being just a filmmaker who happens to be black? In the same way Izzard is attempting to become a comic and actor who “happens to be” a transvestite. You begin by acknowledging the thing that defines you – and then move past it, others’ reactions be damned. It’s the only way for one to grow both as an artist and as a human being. “She’s Gotta Have It” Spike Lee is no less black for having directed the conventional crime thriller “Inside Man.” Likewise, Eddie Izzard will always be a cross-dresser whether he’s wearing sequins or suits (or both). In fact, heterosexual Izzard in pants is more a true transvestite than gay Divine ever was – he only did drag onstage as part of his shtick, and indeed was gearing up to play a male role on “Married With Children” when he died. “Lost Python,” dramatic actor and trailblazing pioneer. That’s Eddie Izzard defined.

So in honor of my leading lady I present a Golden Stiletto to three films that acknowledge, demystify then ultimately transcend taboo.

“Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist”

It’s extremely rare for me to get all choked up just writing about a film, but Kirby Dick’s phenomenal 1997 documentary, which follows the life of performance artist and cystic fibrosis sufferer Bob Flanagan and his Mistress Sheree Rose, bravely waging battle against CF with S&M, still takes my breath away (and it’s got nothing to do with the sensationalistic “nail through the penis” scene). For the most shocking thing about “Sick” is Dick’s poignant profiling of a relationship so deep, so compassionate, most couples would be lucky to experience one percent of what Flanagan and Rose shared. The sadomasochistic aspect takes a backseat to the miraculous love and art birthed from hellish pain that kept Flanagan alive a good twenty years past his supposed expiration date. And the ending in which Dick was allowed access to Flanagan’s last moments, with Rose desperately trying to “order” death away, is without a doubt one of the most heartrendingly painful scenes in any film. Don’t Netflix without Kleenex. Ditto for –

“Southern Comfort”

Kate Davis’ 2001 doc about transgender couple Robert Eads (a FTM who passes well enough to fool his good ole boy neighbors) and his girlfriend Lola Cola (a MTF who passes about as well as her name – and bravely couldn’t care less!) is another film in which the director smartly downplays prurience, in this case the by now humdrum sex change angle, in favor of a much more thrilling love story, in which the vow of “in sickness and in health, till death do us part” is truly tested and survives. Davis manages to capture the everyday domesticity of life in rural Georgia, of an average couple that happen to reside in bodies they weren’t born into – and valiantly refuse to make that fact the focus of their lives. And when faced with adversity they do it together. Indeed, the most wondrous aspect of “Southern Comfort” is that Robert and Lola would make the perfect poster couple for the family value’s crowd.


Put away the Kleenex. Duncan Tucker’s 2005 indie flick painstakingly dismantles every stereotype about transsexuals, hustlers, and “normal” heterosexuals to build a world of truth cannily within the confines of a comedic road movie. Felicity Huffman’s transitioning Bree – and why shouldn’t the MTF transgender lead, a real woman on the inside, be played by a real woman on the inside (and outside)? – with her long flowing skirts and acute self-awareness is the most conservative character in the film (as anyone desperately wanting to “pass” would be). Bree’s long lost son Toby, played by a wise-beyond-his-years Kevin Zegers, is the pitch perfect profile of a gay-for-pay hustler – young, handsome, charming, a recreational drug user with business savvy. And lost. As the two embark on a cross-country journey of self-discovery Tucker never veers off into heavy-handed melodrama, but gives his characters ample space to both grow and breathe. Bree and Toby prove that whoever we are, it’s always less important than where it is we’re going.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Experimental Animation at Anthology Film Archives

Yup, Kirt & Rose are once again showing their mind-expanding animation at Anthology Film Archives this Saturday, 9/13 at 7PM!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Taking The Bite Out of Sex

When I first met critic Matt Zoller Seitz he disclosed that the initial thing he does when having a strong reaction to a film is to look in the mirror and ask, “Is the movie affecting me this way because I’m a white guy with a blue collar background?” It was a “Eureka!” moment for me, a summation of all the reasons I’d been a fan of his film criticism for so long, and why I’d always felt a kinship with his style. For questioning my own POV first and foremost has been my modus operandi for as long as I’ve been writing. And then I realized it’s also what elevates Matt above the rest.

Recently, I had another “Eureka!” moment when what I thought of as a “fairly innocuous comment” about the collective mindset of the movie-going public posted to my “Traitor” review at The House Next Door infuriated me. Instead of degrading the commenter I did what I normally do, took a good hard look in the mirror and asked, “What is it about me and my life experience that’s causing me to react this way?” Then I tried my best to candidly answer that question not as a “film critic,” but as a movie-goer in a personal essay titled The Movie-Going Public. And that’s where I got into a heap-load of trouble.

For any exploration of myself, my personal POV, inevitably includes a discussion of sexuality. For my gay male identity, my sexuality, inside my biological female form is a part of who I am, which isn’t all that interesting in-and-of itself. But that same gay male sexuality also guides my point of view, which is crucially important, since people like me on the margins of society don’t always have our viewpoints acknowledged. Tossing off what I thought was my own innocuous comment, a campy-toned reference to casual sex that didn’t make any of my gay friends bat an eye, I was chastened by the realization that not everyone in my audience understood homo code, taking the bite out of sex with flamboyant words (and perhaps simultaneously exploding the ridiculous myth about the “beautiful, dumbbell muscle boy” incapable of a conversation beyond protein bars and free weights. You know, just in case the governor of California hadn’t done so already).

The truth is I never even would have become an “erotica author” (a term as meaningless as “film critic” in this day and age), had it not been for my hustler/porn star lover who held a mirror up to my face, challenged everything I thought was “true” for six long years, sharpening my critical thinking skills, until he exhausted me – not with sex but with all his philosophizing. People like us are cut from the same cloth as Juan Antonio in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” who Javier Bardem, when asked about the in-your-face sexuality of his character, explained simply views sex as a starting point on a journey, not a goal. For me if the journey takes off great, if not it’s a fantastic daytrip, just another sport like the Thai boxing I’ve been doing for the past dozen years. And it never even occurs to me that someone might think I’d “brag” about an afternoon workout at the gym. But then I often forget my life experiences are not that of my audience, that my words are often lost in translation. Which is why I knew it was time for me to take another cold look in the mirror.

In all honesty, I often err on the side of candor because I packed up and left the world of the mainstream a long, long time ago. I’ve always been acutely aware that, straight guys especially, I make extremely uncomfortable so I’ve usually just avoided becoming close with anyone not on the margins, rather than sucking it up and having to censor myself. Subsequently, I haven’t learned much in the way of mainstream social mores, haven’t been exposed to as many hetero POVs as I should be. I don’t speak the language. (And it took me over a decade to figure out that as a genderqueer person, theoretically, I’m a straight guy’s worst nightmare, as bad as any horror flick body snatcher – a 100% biological female with an inner faggot out to suck their dick. The only difference between me and any other gay guy is I “pass” for a straight chick, foxily making my way into hetero beds without a hitch.)

And interestingly, I’ve discovered that a lot of the people I tend to offend with my bluntness are uncomfortable not necessarily with “strong women,” nor “female sexuality,” per se, but with flamboyant homos like me expressing sexuality if it’s not strictly within the confines of a pride parade, with our social code which very much includes talking flippantly about sex – i.e., with our POV – whether they realize it or not. But for me, not talking frankly about sex harkens back to the societal neutering of gays and lesbians in the fifties, when a seat at the table was dependent upon speaking a language that suppressed our sexuality. And like all those gay men who had to pretend they didn’t actually “do” anything with each other save for listening to Judy Garland tunes together, lest they offend the heterosexual majority by conjuring up horrific images of cock-sucking and anal sex (which, tellingly, are equally heterosexual practices), I instinctively respond with a rebel yell of “I’m here, I’m queer, I screw. Get over it!”

And rarely do I get flack from the margin, not so much because these people are my brothers and sisters, but because collectively we’ve known all our lives that our viewpoints are different from the majority. We try – and sometimes fail like all other human beings – not to blindly assume (like so much of the center does) that just because we think a certain way everyone does. In other words, we’ve been conditioned to be constantly checking ourselves in the mirror, the benefit being that it allows us to be open to self-doubt. So I have to say, the most humbling aspect of interacting with my readers online is I’m being taught to get over my own inexcusably innate, knee-jerk prejudice of straight people. For all those heteros who always seem to be rushing to my aid whenever I get attacked for causing offense aren’t defending a chick – they’re crying “not in my name!” Which is all the more humbling.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Rock + Klaus Kinski = Lust: Jerking Off To Genre

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

The Rock + Klaus Kinski = Lust: Jerking Off To Genre

Documentaries and socially-relevant foreign films are sexy, too! Here are my picks for five international hotties who, no matter the plot, create a private porn of their own.

Sociopolitical Drama: Lior Ashkenazi, “Walk On Water”

Who is Lior Ashkenazi? I have no idea. What I do know is that finally getting around to watching American-born Israeli director Eytan Fox’s 2004 “Walk On Water,” starring the incredible Israeli hunk Ashkenazi as a Mossad agent who finds himself intertwined in the lives of the grandson and granddaughter of a fugitive Nazi he’s assigned to capture, I realized I haven’t wanted to lay a movie star this bad since I first laid eyes on Daniel Craig’s 007. The sturdy-bodied, raven-haired Marlboro Man with magnetic eyes and a chin both chiseled and Travolta dimpled is so mesmerizing I can’t get his image out of my head – like a catchy techno tune stuck on endless repeat. The film itself is a fascinating character study for the first hour – until the characters leave the Holy Land for Berlin, wherein the plot descends into ludicrous soap opera melodrama complete with Deutsche drag queens and Jean-Claude Van Damme damage (and Bruce Springsteen’s annoying “Tunnel of Love” stuck on endless repeat). But none of this really matters because it’s also got – Lior Ashkenazi! (And just to make me more hot and bothered he even gets naked, the camera caressing his hirsute chest – before he soaps up another man. And the character is straight. Continue reading while I take a cold shower.)

Suspense Thriller: Said Taghmaoui, “Traitor”

I recently endured Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s international espionage yawner “Traitor” (my review at The House Next Door is titled “Jihad for Dummies” – ‘nuff said) only because it stars Don Cheadle as a devout Muslim/former U.S. soldier/possible terrorist pursued by Guy Pearce’s southern fried FBI man – and my friend Judy talked me into going because she wants to bed Guy Pearce. (Personally I’ll take Russell Crowe’s “L.A. Confidential” thug over Pearce’s clean-cut good cops any day, but that’s another column.)

Fortunately, the one saving grace of this renegade mess comes in the form of Said Taghmaoui (who made his debut in Mathieu Kassovitz’s “La Haine”) as Cheadle’s character Samir’s baddie pal Omar (or more accurately, “Oh my,” every time I think of those sexy flexed biceps as he grips his gun!) No matter that Omar’s also a religious man, for when I initially caught sight of those dark penetrating eyes set off by a skullcap as he toys with Samir upon their first meeting I fell into immediate lust. During the shoot and bomb jailbreak scene I even not so piously prayed for Omar’s Middle Eastern garments to shred, to fall from him Incredible Hulk style as he emerges without a scratch. (Alas, my prayers fell on Nachmanoff’s tone-deaf ears.) There hasn’t been an Arab actor this Casanova dreamy since Omar Sharif. And speaking of Omar Sharif –

Historical Epic: Klaus Kinski, “Doctor Zhivago”

O.K., so Kinski only has a cameo as a (what else?) wild disillusioned radical in David Lean’s sweeping take on Boris Pasternak’s Russian Revolution-set novel (screening September 24th as part of the director’s retro at NYC’s Film Forum), but because we’re talking Kinski – a man who doesn’t just chew scenery, but devours it whole like a snake swallowing a rat – his animal passion steals a giant chunk of the show. The first time I saw “Doctor Zhivago” it took me a moment to realize the ice-eyed and hot-blooded, nonsensical madman was indeed Kinski. No, my very first thought was, “That crazy person would make one hell of a lay!”

The man couldn’t help it. Kinski was an actor who, onscreen (metaphorically) and off-screen (literally) couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, was always showing it off, swinging it around (and oftentimes using it for pissing matches with Herzog). Kinski was one of those rare stars with a sexuality that both infused and dwarfed that of the characters he played. And since I’m on the subject of larger-than-life dudes –

Documentary: The Rock, “Operation Filmmaker”

So I’ll admit it, the only reason I requested a screener of “Operation Filmmaker,” Nina Davenport’s painfully P.C. doc following an Iraqi student filmmaker plucked from Baghdad and thrown into the vapid world of Hollywood, is because Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was listed in the credits. Like with Daniel Craig, I’ll get my rocks off to anything with The Rock in it. Or, more precisely, I’ll fast-forward through anything with The Rock in it just to get to the rare scene in which he might show some flesh. And by the way, the African-American/Samoan hunk stalked the ring half-naked and steroid-enhanced, baby-oiled muscles bulging during his wrestling days, and now I’m lucky to catch a glimpse of forearm. What’s up with that? But then, some men ain’t afraid to show some leg.

Road Movie: Terence Stamp, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”

Yup, Terence Stamp, like Mastroianni, is a hottie for the ages. Even under all that fab makeup and frou-frou frocks in Stephan Elliott’s drag chick flick, those lusty eyes and Frankenfurter bisexual appetite scream “hardcore perv!” I didn’t buy for one minute that Stamp’s Bernadette Bassenger was the proper good girl on a busload of badass trannies. I kept thinking of “Teorema,” expecting Stamp to use that entrancing gaze and cat-like prowl that could never be muted to seduce every man, woman and dingo that got in the way of oncoming Priscilla. Pasolini knew instinctively that Stamp has a sexuality that is equal parts sinner and saint – a truly unique and intoxicating combination that transcends both time and screen.

The Movie-Going Public

Recently, a fairly innocuous comment posted to my scathing review of “Traitor,” at The House Next Door made my blood boil. The commenter suggested that I was speaking from an elitist point of view, that the film’s important themes needed to be put across through the director’s decidedly non-highbrow means in order for the general public to be able to absorb the message. The reason I found this comment so offensive is that it assumes the “movie-going public” to be somehow “dumber” than those of us who publish our takes on the movies. That “they” somehow don’t deserve any better. And I consider this an absolutely condescending, elitist POV.

To read more visit The House Next Door.

And stop by Spout for my colleague Steven Boone's companion piece Film Critics & The Audience: Peeing on the Professionals.