October 18, 2006

Recent Raves After attending a pre-screening of John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus recently, my friends and I emerged from the theater cinematically enlightened. The film, which has already garnered mega buzz at film festivals, has also landed in the lap of controversy, as should be expected for a film whose subject matter - sex and romance - is confronted using non-simulated sex scenes. Nonetheless, the film was nothing less than moving. Mitchell's fearlessness as a director results in a refreshing and honest story where the characters encounter sex in a realistic, if not healthily unromanticized fashion. Shortbus is equally hilarious in its positioning of sex as an often funny activity, intentionally excluding the otherwise laughable practice employed in more mainstream cinema where sex scenes tend to appear cartoonishly silly and choreographed. Having arrived late, I didn't get a chance to scope out my fellow moviegoers. However, having attended enough free screenings in Manhattan, it was safe to say that the subculture of Freebie Cinephiles (most often middle aged eccentrics who somehow get their hands on free tickets, whether or not they find the subject matter of the pending film relevant, engaging, or demographically "appropriate") had arrived in style. [The fact that following the film, my friends and I were approached for a cigarette by a tiny, seventy-something woman dressed in faded black tights, a tee shirt that read "High Maintenance," and a baseball cap drowning in rhinestone-covered elephant stenciling only made the night better. After explaining that her friend had found the movie offensive and left early, but that she'd stayed because she considers sex "very healthy," she continued to rant relentlessly about Bush, Hitler, the Holocaust, generation gaps, DVD's, and her favorite political blog, angrygirl.org (to which I've not included a link because, as you might have guessed, the site is not a political blog, but, rather, a screen printing company in California). She also emphasized the word "internalize" about a dozen times and, I later learned, stood on line beforehand eating a meatball parmigiana sandwich even after dropping it onto the sidewalk.] A friend of mine burned me a copy of Corinne Bailey Rae songs months ago before she made her debut stateside. I didn't think much of it. I enjoyed a couple of the singles, and added it to my playlist of lullaby-like songs, ideal for sleepytimes. "Like A Star" was a lovely standout but, again, it wasn't anything brilliant. The record was, at its worst, an enjoyably soundtrack for slumber. And then, after having TiVO'd Saturday Night Live, I witnessed a live performance of "Put Your Records On," and realized that I'd mistakenly had the acoustic version of the song. Little did I know that the original cut of the song is likely the catalyst to Rae's critical [and, in her native UK] commercial success. Sure, posters are plastered all over New York touting her debut album, but despite her gentle, inviting look, all one needs to see is a live performance to be seducted by her undeniably charming smile. "Put Your Records On," a nostalgic ode to innocence, might not work if it weren't delivered by someone as adorable as Rae. Her slinky vocal stylings never enter boastful territory where other female pop singers so often tread nowadays, choosing not to sing, but to "saaang." You can't help think that when Rae instructs the subject of her song to "let her hair down," she's preaching to a younger version of herself. Light, airy, breezy stuff has never sounded so strong. Norah Jones's management should take note. When one thinks of "female comics," the unfortunate terms "comedienne" and "funny lady" often come to mind, word choices that flatter women as much as shoulderpads, Uggs, or being mistaken for Star Jones. But it doesn't have to be that way. Enter Variety Shac, a quartet of ladies who perform separately onstage but together in shorts premiered both on their site and at their shows. Made up of Heather Lawless, Andrea Rosen, Chelsea Peretti, and Shonali Bhowmik, Variety Shac's members each exude her own warped, exaggerated self-caricature that never fails to result in the beautifully absurd. I especially appreciate Lawless's ability to project herself as a wildly creepy, soft-spoken caretaker (check out "Bake Sale" and try not to laugh as she pesters Chelsea to don "black tooth"). Each on their own is a marvel, but together, their shorts recall Stella in its prime: absurdly sophisticated humor that allows the ladies to mock themselves as much as they do everybody else. Plus, with live guests that have included A.D. Miles, Fred Armisen, and Eugene Mirman, it's hard to deny that Variety Shac has solidified a strong presence among so many male counterparts in the alt-comedy scene. Also noteworthy, subversively funny people with vaginas who aren't Sarah Silverman: Jackie Novak, Julie Klausner, Jackie Clarke, and Amelie Gillette I have TiVO set up to constantly stockpile five episodes of the short-lived game show Greed. Hosted by Chuck Woolery (who, throughout the short span of the show, sported an impossibly dark tan, a bad dye job, and suits that look as if they were stolen right off Steve Harvey's back), Greed was Fox's answer to the unexpected blockbuster ABC found in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (although it's now fair to say that, as America's Got Talent proved this past summer, Regis holds no saturation point -- morning or night, his shrill, patriarchal bark garners an audience like bees to honey). The "game" aspect of Greed wasn't necessarily intriguing: a group of contestants answered questions by process of elimination, all under the guidance of a captain who could choose to walk away at any moment and split the cash earned. But it was the uniquely campy nature of the show that made Millionaire look like C-SPAN. The set alone looked like it was built by the designers of Epcot, had they taken a time machine from 1980 to the Fox Studios lot. Every time Woolery activated "The Terminator" (which gave $10,000 to a random contestant who would challenge a contestant and, hopefully, oust him from the game thusly increasing his share of the final payoff), he banged on a large button atop a podium that would immediately teeter back and forth. Whether the set was as cheap as it appeared or Woolery's hands really are that strong still remains a mystery. Additionally, the heavy orchestral riffs combined with robot-inspired sound effects worked perfectly for a show whose entire set was back lit by bright neon shades of purple and blue (although, again, Millionaire had already figured that shit out). Filling the contestant chairs, however, were often individuals who appeared as if they'd been flown in from another universe. Greed was one of those shows that seemed to exist in a time vacuum somewhere between 1987 and 1993, and the players - so often women who resembled Twink Caplan and men who resembled ...Twink Caplan with a mustache (there were probably more mustaches on Greed than any other show in television history besides 227) - left little to the imagination. The tag line, alone, should let you know what you're in for. What else is there to say about a show that begins with Chuck Woolery asking a line up of strangers if they feel "the need for Greed"? Lastly, Paul Rudd's not bad-looking. So that's fun.
Red: Good, AIDS: Bad This past month, The Gap introduced a limited collection of clothing and accessories for men and women designed to "help eliminate AIDS in Africa." Half the profit from PRODUCT RED will go to The Global Fund to finance programs that help women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. And that's fantastic. However, the ad campaign of portraits by Annie Leibovitz, might raise awareness less about the African AIDS crisis and more about...other stuff... Shall we? "No more pain, no more fear, no more drama, NO MORE AIDS! I'm wearing red, my eyes are shut, and one of my necklaces is a peace sign! But guess what, AIDS? I'm not gon' cry! AIDS is whack! Some think my being titled 'The Queen of Hip Hop Soul' is whack, as well, because my strained, throaty singing isn't necessarily pleasant to everyone, but guess what? I'm NOT GON' CRY! ...But AIDS will. Cry, AIDS, cry." With all due respect, Don Cheadle might want to save the strip show for a different photo shoot. Seriously, AIDS has not gone away, and as much as we like to think it has, we'd be lying to ourselves if...Oh my God, look at those GUNS! His bicep looks like a goiter, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible! Honestly, what do you think he benches? If I were to guess 200 pounds, would you think I were crazy? I don't even think it would sound crazy. ...Man, who knew, right? Who knew? *Sigh* ... What were we talking about? What's up? After a little research, I learned that this fella was Olympics star Apolo Ohno. And, yes, he's skating against AIDS, the li'l dreamboat. As someone who never found Chris Rock to be especially witty, despite the critical praise in which he bathes, I must say that he's really surprised me here. Not only is Rock making a statement by wearing apparel from PRODUCT RED, but he's also being comical by mocking the mentally ill! The old strait jacket gag never gets old ("I'm CRAAAAZY!") Oh, and fight AIDS! Hey, Africa! Guess what? Jennifer Garner has a message for you, and that message is: "Stop having unprotected sex! That's why you got AIDS in the first place, silly nation! Instead of hooking up with the diseased, masturbate to photos like this one, where my privates are shadowed beneath my healthy Caucasian glow! Even if you're not into girls whose faces look like those of disabled adolescent boys, I guarantee you'll feel better! Keep it real, homies!" Supermodel Christy Turlington strikes the "spiritual pose." Here, she's photographed in a sexy off-the-shoulder, red one-piece meant to remind us that sexy, off-the-shoulder, red one-pieces may serve as why AIDS spreads in the first place. And the nipples? Those are meant to imply that she's cold. I'm pretty sure it's a safe assessment to say that Dakota Fanning is unanimously considered disgusting. I realize that she's a kid (although I can't figure out it she's seven, twelve, or thirty five), but that air of Not-Yet-Damaged Child Star rings strong here, as the "casual" pose she strikes here seems to say, "Sup, y'all? ...Oh, not much. Just hangin' out, fighting AIDS...just hangin' out. Watchin' Degrassi." It's annoying.

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