Thursday, January 29, 2009

“Sex Scenes” column at Spout

Well, the higher-ups at Spout finally pulled the plug on all weekly columns – which means my “Sex Scenes” column in which I view cinema through a sexy lens is up for grabs (I’ll still be freelancing for Spout, just not in a sexy way;). If anyone has any ideas or suggestions regarding websites or print publications I might approach I’d be very grateful to hear ‘em.



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sex Scenes: 5 Golden Girls

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Sex Scenes: 5 Golden Girls

Recently, at age 50, Emma Thompson became a first-time blogger – a term which, according to her, “as a computer illiterate, I get confused with ‘snog’ (British slang for kissing) and ‘shog’ (Shakespearian word used by Pistol in Henry V meaning ‘leave’) neither of which – I realize – is the correct interpretation.” The email missive posted by Melissa Silverstein was part of Thompson’s promotion for “Last Chance Harvey,” an older-woman-meets-even-older-man romance co-starring Dustin Hoffman (ah, but for the days of Mrs. Robinson!)

The still-radiant Thompson expresses relief that maturity has given her the freedom to let it all hang out rather than nip and tuck it all back in, but she ain’t got nothing on a few women a decade and more older whose sex appeal (plastic surgery aside) is decidedly more French Riviera than Fort Lauderdale. So to welcome this seasoned British actress/ blogging novice to the wild wild world of cyberspace, here are my picks for an international GGILF club.

Sigourney Weaver, b. 1949, U.S.
I once saw the stunning, six-foot-tall Sigourney Weaver up close at a film festival, and though she tried to downplay her looks with sensible glasses and blue jeans, she could still make the young – and old – Dustin Hoffman squirm. With those killer legs that could both lure and kick ass equally Weaver battled terrifying extraterrestrials and silly spirits in the “Alien” and “Ghostbusters” franchises, respectively, took torturous revenge in Roman Polanski’s “Death and the Maiden,” and became buddies with King Kong’s little cousins in Michael Apted’s “Gorillas in the Mist.” Indeed, Johnny Depp notwithstanding, Weaver just may be the big screen’s sexiest swashbuckler of all time.

Helen Mirren, b. 1945, England
Mirren was once known in the U.K. as the actress who could be counted on to “get her kit off” (and if you don’t know what that means ask Emma Thompson). More recently she went the prim and proper route with Stephen Frears’ “The Queen,” which was an acting triumph for Mirren not so much for her impersonation of Her Royal Highness, but for the steamy sixty-something’s ability to place a firm lid on her sexuality, to keep that metaphorical kit on. Remember, this is the same woman who played a part-time hooker in Matthew Chapman’s “Hussy” – not to mention her stint in Tinto Brass’ X-rated “Caligula”! Heck, even Mirren’s Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison of the “Prime Suspect” series still looks to be a better lay than any in the cast of CSI.

Sophia Loren, b. 1934, Italy
Obviously. If not for her loyal love of hubby Carlo Ponti, Loren’s road to the top could just as easily have been paved with the bodies of one-night-stands. This is a lady who caused no-slouch stars from Cary Grant to Peter Sellers to swoon madly in her presence; even today her adult son Carlo Jr. claims it’s like being seen with The Beatles when he’s out in public with his seventy-four-year-old Italian mama. So if you’re a red-blooded hetero male or homo female and you’d kick Loren out of bed tonight you need to re-examine your sexuality, not any ageism. Ditto for –

Catherine Deneuve, b. 1943, France
Brangelina ain’t got nothing on what was once the sexiest couple of all time, the dazzling Deneuve and the equally jaw-dropping Marcello Mastroianni. From Bunuel to Polanski, it was Deneuve’s magnetism that allowed her to work with some of the greatest filmmakers of all time. After all, what male director is going to turn down the chance to spend months on end with a blonde aphrodisiac?

Pam Grier, b. 1949, U.S.
And lastly there’s Foxy Brown herself, Pam Grier. What, you thought Tarantino wasn’t thinking with his dick when he came up with the idea for “Jackie Brown”? Not to mention Roger Ebert in his review of Jack Hill’s “Coffy” over three decades ago. Like her fellow American, soon-to-be-sixty sex goddess Sigourney Weaver, Grier always perfectly embodied tough and tender heroines who could whip the baddies like a dominatrix and leave the audience breathlessly begging for more. No doubt both golden sirens will be celebrating the big six-o this year with an emphasis on the “o.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Cherry Orchard at BAM

Even as the Oscar push for “Revolutionary Road” remains in full swing, director Sam Mendes returns to his theater roots with his latest production of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music through March 8th as part of The Bridge Project, a sort of theatrical foreign exchange program that for the next three years will combine talent from both sides of the pond (in this case the Americans include Josh Hamilton and Ethan Hawke, while Simon Russell Beale, Rebecca Hall and Sinéad Cusack bat for the other side of the Atlantic) both at BAM and at Britain’s Old Vic where Kevin Spacey is artistic director.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Condescension Dripping

A.O. Scott’s NY Times review of Cristian Nemescu’s “California Dreamin’” (1/23/09), The Americans Arrive and Cultures Collide, could be a reference to Scott himself and his relationship to Romanian cinema; that of imperialist critic – who like the character Captain Jones played by Armand Assante in Nemescu’s film of whom Scott writes, “arrives, as Americans so often do, with high ideals and good intentions, greeting the people of Capalnita with a sincere respect that contains more than a hint of condescension” – to a group of post-totalitarian regime filmmakers that insist they aren’t a Romanian New Wave despite Scott’s assurances to the contrary.

If this all sounds familiar it’s because I’ve already taken Scott to task for his penchant for patronizing in Nonsense at the Grey Lady, which I posted in response to the critic’s trip to the Black Sea in search of a New Wave that he’d already made up his mind existed, and when he couldn’t find a Romanian director to validate his American assumptions he simply invented his own validations. Interestingly, the young Nemescu wasn’t much included in this prior article for the NY Times Magazine, perhaps because he’d died in a car crash at the age of 27 right after completing his only feature film, or perhaps because he was an exception to the New Wave rule, or as Scott writes of this “rambunctious, closely observed comedy of cultural collision,” “Compared with Cristi Puiu’s “Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (to limit the field to Cannes prize-winners by directors with nearly identical first names), “California Dreamin’ ” filters its local concerns through a restless pop sensibility.”

You see, according to Scott, it couldn’t possibly be that each of these directors is operating in his own individual, globally influenced world as opposed to as one local collective mind. I guess kind of like that American wave consisting of Lynch and Fincher (you know, just “to limit the field to Academy Award-nominated directors with identical first names”).

“The Americans, so powerful and confident, so attractive and so clueless, are regarded with ambivalence by the Romanians (including the director), whose self-image combines a sense of grievance with a certain stiff-necked pride,” Scott concludes. “They live in a small country that has often found itself in the path of imperial powers, a condition they address with guile, stubbornness and a measure of grace.” As did a very diverse group of filmmakers when a clueless critic once visited them on the Black Sea.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sex Scenes: Robert Redford, Indecent Proposal

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Sex Scenes: Robert Redford, INDECENT PROPOSAL

When I was a kid growing up in the west the dueling sex symbols were Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford, and I was solidly in the Redford camp (though by the time I reached adulthood I’d switch sides and bat for Burt). In fact, Redford became my first movie star crush after I watched him light up the screen in Sydney Pollack’s 1979 “The Electric Horseman” opposite (post-bombshell Barbarella) Jane Fonda. Sure, the sight of pretty boy Redford as former rodeo star Sonny Steele reduced to donning cowboy duds trussed up with lights worthy of a Christmas tree to hawk breakfast cereal is ludicrous, but Redford managed to suavely pull it off with his inherent masculine dignity. Sonny, like The Sundance Kid, is a physical man’s man, his frat boy looks belying a passionate rebel who clearly identifies with those wild horses that can never be tamed.

And interestingly, as a sex symbol, Redford not only vied with Reynolds throughout his early career but with himself. There was the Redford of “Horseman,” George Roy Hill’s 1969 “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and 1973 “The Sting” (in which he played the perfectly named con man Johnny Hooker opposite his hot “Butch” co-star Paul Newman) – portraying guys for whom the rule of law was meant to be broken. Then there are those films like Pollack’s 1975 “Three Days of the Condor” and Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 “All The President’s Men,” in which Redford embodied driven heroes whose allure resided in their rock solid sense of right and wrong. Either way, Redford’s sex appeal always lay in the fact that all his characters were fearless risk takers, guys you could count on even if they lived by their own moral code.

Which is exactly why Redford as the creepy, needy, billionaire stalker John Gage in Adrian Lyne’s 1993 “Indecent Proposal” doesn’t work. As an actor Redford is just too self-assured to play a faux cocky richie. The entire notion that someone who oozes as much charisma as Redford does would waste his time in lovesick pursuit of Demi Moore’s cold fish Diana – especially when a true wealthy and sexy sadist would simply sit back and toy with the women who throw themselves at his feet – is as absurd as those Xmas ornaments on Sonny Steele’s chaps (as is the idea that financially strapped Diana and her husband David, played by a wooden Woody Harrelson, would be such prudes as to even hesitate to take up Gage’s offer of a million bucks for one night with Diana. Heck, in real life Gage could have bought and bonked them both for half the price!)

One never gets the sense that Redford’s character is truly emotionally lost, as the actor’s strong moral compass overrides Gage’s shady desperation. John Gage is the type of role Michael Douglas pulled off flawlessly as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street,” a man whose power of repulsion matched his power of attraction. The miscast Redford is all attraction, which is why he’s not at all believable. Instead of a portrait of a self-made, Type A gambling addict whose terror of exposed vulnerability serves as his windup mechanism, we see a laidback, former surfer boy completely at ease with his own vulnerability. The question at the heart of Lyne’s film becomes not one of morality, of whether or not Diana and David should take Gage up on his sleazy offer and suffer the self-inflicted consequences, but why a secure guy like Gage even bothered with that indecent proposal in the first place.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Connection

Riding the subway down to the Lower East Side to catch a performance of The Living Theatre's 50th anniversary production of Jack Gelber's “The Connection” I happened to glance over the shoulder of a man seated to my left who was reading a book, specifically a chapter on "making connections." Considering The Living Theatre's mission statement contains the proclamation "to move from the theater to the street and from the street to the theater" that chance encounter was perhaps inevitable. For The Living Theatre has always been less a theater company than a flesh-and-blood philosophy based on humanity's global connection (over half a century before that idea became downgraded to Internet buzzwords), a way of living infused with the firm belief that artistic passion can be a catalyst to provoking positive change.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sex Scenes: Sex and Drugs and My Way

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Sex Scenes: Sex and Drugs and My Way

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Sinatra standard “My Way,” while sitting in the balcony of an art house in Denver, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges ultra-light menthols, staring nearly hypnotized by the sight of sexy Gary Oldman transforming himself into the swaggering embodiment of punk rock, tearing through both cover song and screen. “Sid and Nancy” (along with Howard Deutch’s “Pretty In Pink” which also came out in 1986, and Martha Coolidge’s 1983 “Valley Girl”) was nothing less than a revelation to this teenager with Aqua-netted hair, Doc Martins and ripped fishnets, because it actually portrayed “my people,” spoke to me in my own musical language.

And my feeling of identification probably was not unlike that experienced by a certain segment of the movie-going public 31 years before Alex Cox paid tribute to the junkie romance of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, who witnessed another tale of fucked-up love, possible homicide, and enduring heroin chic. Heartthrob Frank Sinatra would not sing “My Way” in Otto Preminger’s groundbreaking 1955 “The Man With The Golden Arm,” but he would play the fictional Frankie Machine, another lean and hungry musician of dubious talent weighed down by both a needy blonde and a monkey on his back.

With a sizzling jazz score by Elmer Bernstein as perfectly wedded to image as Joe Strummer’s powerful sound is in Cox’s film, and with production design every bit as hyper-real as the addict’s hallucination style of “Sid and Nancy,” Preminger’s movie, like Cox’s, uses its sleek, feline, magnetic lead to shed light on a hapless guy unwittingly the helpless victim of his own charm, a plaything to both ruthless women and greedy men who take advantage of his naïve nature. Sinatra’s Frankie is a kindhearted, charismatic card dealer just out of rehab, trying to follow his dream of being a drummer, but he’s stuck with a scheming wife in a wheelchair (Eleanor Parker, who seems to be doing a camp version of a Tennessee Williams heroine) and a sometime employer/drug dealer (the appropriately slimy Darren McGavin) who uses heroin as an ace in the hole to control the fragile Frankie.

Sid likewise was just a young, working class punk who suddenly found himself stuck with a scheming groupie/junkie/drug dealer (played by Chloe Webb who manages to make Nancy both annoying and endearing), a bass he could barely play, and a Machiavellian manager in the form of Malcolm McLaren who used all the Sex Pistols band members as his own personal puppets. Sid never wanted to be a nihilist icon any more than Frankie wants to deal cards; they’re just so damn alluring, so good at what they do, that others demand it!

And pretty soon the lifestyle – including heroin – they’ve nodded into becomes all they know. Tellingly, the most sexually fraught scenes in “The Man With The Golden Arm” occur not between Frankie and his mistress Molly, played by va-va-voom Kim Novak, but between Frankie and his dealer Louie. It’s Louie who is forever massaging Frankie’s back when he’s tired, intimately cooing in his ear like a lover, taking him arm in arm back to his flat as Frankie swivels his head like a two-timing spouse, for he’s more nervous being seen alone with Louie than with Molly. In one scene a tired Louie begins to relax and get undressed, even takes off his shirt before shooting up that golden arm. Neither Molly nor Frankie’s wife Zosch ever show that much skin in front of Frankie!

Indeed, towards the end of “Sid and Nancy” the bond between the couple isn’t sex, isn’t love, so much as a shared insatiable lust for the drug, the third party in their fatal ménage a trois. For the pursuit of the fix is sexual in itself. And yet the most painful truth in “Sid and Nancy” is laid bare in that one scene in which Sid destroys everything around him, slaughters that old Sinatra standard in a big ironic “fuck you.” For in a world where outside forces like sex, drugs and rock and roll can determine an individual’s fate there is no such thing as “My Way.”