Sunday, November 27, 2005

BMW: Ambushed in the Night

After ingesting the steady stream of hooey that is Plame-gate, Treason-gate (and whatever other kind of "gate" that'll surface as of this writing) I've stopped tuning in to the news on a daily basis. I've found that my days have been exponentially sunnier since I ceased chasing the 24 hour news cycle and went on with it; stopped que-ing up for the lastest crumbs 'n croutons of reportage from the frontlines of the media based in Washington, NYC, L.A. and elsewhere. Not because I don't want the facts but, to put it plainly, too much info is a tangible thing and right about this time I'm reaching, what Led Zeppelin called a Communication Breakdown. Critical mass as it were and a reprieve is in order. Having said all of that , I still read and watch and conversate with homebiscuits about what's going on in the world. I've just taken a break from writing about it as much as I have in the past...but that shite don't change the way earthly things transpire. Case in point: I was getting ready to go out and hook up with some friends the other night, my CD player was set on shuffle, and "Ambush in the Night," this BMW (Bob Marley & the Wailers) tune from their Survival LP (pressed way back in the late 70s) came on. It spoke volumes about how the more things change, the more they remain the same. Too, the cut reminded me that although escaping reality is necessary -- like going out for a couple of oat sodas on a club crawl -- we can't eschew what we see and know forever, and if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything...The wolves of apathy must be kept at bay, so circle your cognitive wagons around the truth, even though the path to it may hold many twists and verily, it will...

Ambush in the Night

See them fighting for power. But they know not the hour.
So they're bribing with their guns, spare-parts and money.
Trying to belittle our integrity, now.
They say "what we know is just what they teach us."
And we're so ignorant, 'cause every time they can reach us.
Through political strategy they keep us hungry.
And when you go 'fi get some food --
Your brother's got to be your enemy.

Ambush in the night -- all guns aiming at me.
Ambush in the night -- they opened fire on me, now.
Ambush in the night.
(I'm) Protected by His Majesty.
Oooh Wee!

Well, what we know is not what they tell us.
We're not ignorant, I mean it, and they just cannot touch us.
Through the power of the Most High we keep on surfacing.
Through the power of the Most-High we keep on surviving.
Yeah, this ambush in the night, planned by society.
Ambush in the night - they trying to conquer me.
Ambush in the night ...
Anything money can bring --
Ambush in the night...

Note: Marley wrote this tune after the attempt to assassinate him in his home went awry. Though he caught a bullet in the arm and his wife Rita, one of his backup singers, got nicked in the head, he and the rest of the Wailers went on to play the One Love Peace Concert during which he got the political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga to join hands in an historic (albeit, symbolic) gesture of peace to cool the heads heavily armed rival gangs in the ghettos of Kingston who were more or less pawns in a political game that they'd never really benefit from...just like a whole heap of schmoes right now -- just ask those Katrina "refugees" what's up...I think Kanye West was onto something, yo... Truth to power is a beautiful thang, son. Laters...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ice harvest: John Cusack & Harold Ramis (Q&A)

A couple of weeks ago I covered press for The Ice Harvest, the upcoming noir comedy directed by Harold Ramis which stars John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt and Connie Nielsen. Like Jarhead below, this was a press conference with the film's talent and since I covered for a college mag, I participated in a room full of 20-somethings -- but I did get a couple of questions in anyway that weren't of the "what's your favorite color" variety...I've since submitted all the stuff I'm gonna need for print and thought I'd post the rest of the copy on here...

Harold Ramis: ...I go in the middle of the table (sits down and faces everybody): students, I'm professor Ramis. (laughter) - looks over at a college-aged journalist -- have you done the reading? Let's hit it... (Cusack goes over to get a soda and sits back down)

Cusack: (like a waiter) Can I get you something?

Q: John, you're kind of known for playing the loveable losers like Lloyd Dobler [in Say Anything] do you see any of that in Charlie [Aglist]? What did you relate to with this character?

Cusack: I don't know if -- he's definitely a loser -- but I don't know if he's very 'loveable.' I sort of wanted to play him because (Robert) Benton and (Richard) Russo had written a terrific script and I knew that Harold [Ramis] was going to have a very interesting take on this whole noir world. And I think -- I don't know if you'd have a really good time or if it'd be a really dramatic film playing someone who was 'enlightened' because then there would be no conflict. So, I think, characters have to be struggling with themselves or with their place in the world for there to be any ignition to make it interesting to watch, so, that's why people in pain are usually so fun to watch. And that's why they're actually either dramatic or comic, I think.

Q: Harold, The Ice Harvest is a really noir-driven comedy, one can catch a couple of cinematic references here and there, could you tell what some of your influences in that respect are?

Ramis: You know, I'm not a film student. I actually was in college before I knew that there was something called 'film school' and I'm not one of those film nerds who goes back and watches everything in the genre because I never felt that we were making a genre film. For me, what excites me about making any movie is the possibility of doing something no one's ever seen before. And if I feel like people have seen it before, or I've seen it before, why would I do it? I'm not interested in doing homages to anything or derivative work and, in fact, what most screenplays suffer from -- and I read, you know, hundreds are submitted every month -- (is that) they're totally derivative of other films. So when I see a screenplay like this, of course there are noir elements but almost by -- not by derivation, just by association -- I mean this felt like a unique work of literature, you know, by two really mature and wise writers. And just by following the map of the script and my own instincts and combining it with the work of wonderful (set) designers, cameramen and actors, the film results; it becomes what it is. And then you apply labels to it. You don't set out and say 'oh, I'm going to make an existential film noir with laughs.' We make the film and then we see what we've made.

Cusack: -- it was just sort of like 'here comes Billy Bob, here comes Oliver, here comes Connie' and then it's just me and Harold at the bar with the strippers and the rain outside. [laughter] That's sort of how it felt but it could've been a lot worse in Chicago. Because in the winter -- it was cold -- but it could've been a lot colder.

Ramis: -- Well both the novel and screenplay were written with a huge blizzard preventing them from getting out of town -- we couldn't afford snow -- and because we were starting late, we couldn't count on any real snow, you couldn't count on that anyway even if you shot in the dead of winter. So I was driving home wondering what I was going to do, since weather was critical, and -- classic Chicago, terrible February day, it was 33 degrees -- not cold enough to snow but cold enough for it to sleet and the rain to freeze up on the [asphalt] and make it really treacheorus -- and I thought, ' oh, this is it. God is send me a message, if there is one. And the message is: make it a wet Christmas, not a white Christmas.

Q: As falls Wichita falls, so falls Wichita Falls: I was wondering what the meaning of that poem was.

Ramis: The French translator who did the subtitles for us at the film festival was very baffled by that. Is it a question of geography- the linkage between Witchita, Kansas and Witchita Falls, Texas? You know the question of decadence, of "falling" being the key word. But I think the simplest explanation is that we live in a world of cause and effect; our actions have consequences; the choices we make here and now have effects there and then. And it's part of the whole moral ground of the film. John's character has convinced himself that it doesn't matter what you do but, in fact, the film tells you that as Wichita falls, so falls Wichita Falls -- you cannot take action in this world without expecting consequences.

Q: How do you go about creating a full-fledged character without being handed a well-defined back story?

Cusack: Well, you can give him a back story. You can create one, you know? And in a sense, like this you can go back to a book that the film was written on and I think that's kind of one of the fun processes -- you sit around all day when you're waiting for them to bring in the lights and do whatever they do and they say "oh my God, the truck just broke down" [which occurs in the film] and you just sit around the set and you start talking about these people and you sort of invent these past [lives] for them. You fill in the blanks as you go and, so, that's one of the things -- it's like you get to create a human. It's kind of fun.

Ramis: The interesting thing about this particular movie -- and we discussed this at some length -- even though each character, each actor, evolved their own back story based on clues from the script and from their behavior as Connie said, no two people in this movie fully reveal themselves to anyone else in the movie. She dies without telling us where she's from -- we don't know where this woman came from. No one ever told anyone else in this movie where the alliances were, where the conspiracies were; who was doing what to whom -- we don't know. That had an interesting affect on character too.

Q: Harold, your name's included on the production credits of some of the classics of comedy films in various capacities and wearing many different hats -- yo co-wrote Animal House, you directed Caddyshack, you produced Back to School, etc. Do you have a preference?

Ramis: Directing's the best because you get to do it all, really. You don't have the thrill of acting or going on camera with the players but you still get to engage in the process with them -- you know, the whole motivational process, the technical process. I'm on the journey with them. There's certain delicious moments in the movie, you know, I wish I could push them aside and actually get in there. Particularly in the love scene. [laughter] But I'd settle on my actor instincts, I'd settle for the vicarious pleasure of engaging in their process with them. As a writer -- I'm always a backup writer on the set -- when something's not working [with the script] where not going to fly Russo in or get them on the phone [while] shooting in the middle of the night, we're going to work it out ourselves. So I get to use all those writer instincts, techniques...and being a director, you know, the most generous description of it I've ever heard was Mike Nichols saying "he loved the job because he was at the service of so many people." That's a little sappy and the truth's that I'm a little more selfish than that -- it also means I get to tell everyone what to do and I get to have an opinion about everything. It doesn't mean I have to have the answer for everything but I get to express my judgement in every area of the film -- from the photography to the design...even what we're going to have for lunch. It's kind of cool.

Q: Are there any plans for a sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank?

Cusack: I don't think there'd be a sequel but I'm going to try to write in the same vein and continue on with that way of writing. Disney doesn't want to do a sequel. So it's pretty hard to take that specific character and setting and do one but I would like to. Like the further misadventures of...I have secret plans to do a non-sequel sequel.

Q: This is your second film with Billy Bob Thornton. How's your relationship on and off camera?

Cusack: When you work with people that you really like -- or my experience has been wehn I work with people I really like -- you can not see them for a while and it's kind of like, I don't know if you have friendships where you haven't seen somebody in eight months and then you go out to dinner and you just pick up right where you left off and it's as if no time has passed at all -- I sort of had that when I met Oliver and Connie and Billy Bob. You just start to get along and everybody likes to work the same way and - you know, I hadn't seen Connie for a long while and yesterday,we saw each other and it was like 'oh, yeah!' and we started having lunch and it just picks right up. So, that's one of the things that probably keeps me -- also I wouldn't have anything else to do -- but it keeps me in the film business, is getting to work with these kind of artists. Having lunch with them and talking about ideas or talk about film and just be (ing) around all of them. So Billy Bob is the kind of guy that he -- I think a lot, like Oliver, in a sense -- that you can't really go down a road or make a choice that they won't follow and vice versa. There's just no way to shock them; there's no way to go 'too' outside the box -- they're really unflappable in this fantastic way. So, I think Billy knows that if he wants to go try something bizarre that I'll be right there with there's a complete lack of pretense with Billy. If he wants to get in the car and he'll have on some bizarre instinct and he'll mention it to Harold and I'll be like "alright, let's go. Let's try it!" You know, it's not always right -- I don't even know how many ended up in the film -- but it's a very free way to work. I would say that with Oliver and Connie and Billy Bob they kind of broke the mold with those people. I don't know anybody like any of those three people. Because I don't know of any other actresses like Connie and,certainly, I don't know of any other actor like Oliver and I don't know anybody else like Billy -- they're just really authentic, unique people. So I thinks it's kind of like the best job in the world.

Q: Harold, when people look at your earlier work they'll see hints of darkness around the edges of most of them; Ice Harvest seems to be a return to that -- what brought you back?

Ramis: You know I never plotted my own career, you know, based on what I did before or some aspiration to do something generic. Like 'now it's time for me to do THIS kind of movie' -- I never thought of it that way. I'm always looking for the next wonderful thing that will engage me for the year or two that it's going to take to make the movie. And that really is more of a function of belief in the theme of the film than in the style...when I see ideas that are worth talking about and wasting a lot of somebody's money and taking up a lot of the audience's time . Once I've decided that the idea is worth doing, then the style becomes the next question. What's the best expression of that idea? And, you know, clearly this film, it's what it wanted to be. Based on the written material (which) was so specific -- I was not involved in the invention of it -- so, with this film, I was just following this wonderful map I was given. It's really a question of does this want to be a broad comedy? Does this want to be a subtle comedy? Is it satirical? Is it a lampoon? Is it a spoof? You know, all these words to describe something -- is it a satire -- and they all have different rules. They might have a different look, they certain have a different playing style and it derives from the great history of comedy and drama. You won't see Comidea del Arte mentioned in many reviews about Oliver's performance -- he could be a Shakespearean fool if [that's] what it felt like to me. You know, it's not, for me, derivative of something that I saw last year in a movie. It's just part of the whole grand tradition of how we express ourselves on the stage, in drama in film...I don't know, it's just specific to each big idea.

Q: Did you create an extra backstory for your character beyond what was in the book and the script to help you get into character?

Cusack: Well what he'd done is he'd sort of been on this slippery slope downward and he was a lawyer and then he got involved with these guys who wanted to make a quick killing -- he actually was the mob lawyer -- he was one of his legal guys. why some one would end up in strip club in Wichita Falls on Christmas Eve is a philosophically challenging question but I can only assume that their life hasn't ended up how they'd planned...they say if you want to make God laugh, tell him your planS. I don't think Charlie planned to be where he was. [at that point in his life] So I think he's sort of at the end of the end when the film starts...I think it was "how did we end up here?" That's more how I felt about it. These guys have ended up in this sexual bus stop that's just not a place you want to be at on Christmas Eve. [laughs]

Q: Since Say Anything on up to the Frears thing, music's always been an integral part to the characters and storyline in the films you've played in. Is that a part of your process (both writing and acting)?

Cusack: Absolutely. Yeah, for example, I gave Harold mixes and stuff - I do like internal soundtracks in my head and, for some reason, when I read the script and I heard Harry Simone's "Little Drummer Boy" it was really, really haunting in relation to this narrative and I would listen to that and it would just set a certain mood...and Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" -- I just, you sort of just go for the guts or the soul of the character -- just all the yearning and stuff -- But, yeah, I'm always listening to music as kind of an emotional cue.

Q: What're you listening to now?

Cusack: Like lately I've just heard this album, Daniel Lanois did this Willie Nelson album called "Teatro" you ever hear of that? I hadn't heard it either, I'm not like a big Willie Nelson listener but it's like a Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash record, I mean there's Daniel Lanois --

Q: --the guy who works with U2?

Cusack: -- yeah, yeah, and the guy who did the Bob Dylan records and -- everything he does sort of turns to gold, Daniel Lanois. And it's just absolutely haunting, it sound like a Woody Guthrie thing -- it's really, I live for those moments when somebody -- you'll meet Harold and he'll you 'you got to go read this book' and he'll start talking about some book or, you know, a friend will come over and say 'have you heard this?' and you get to experience it for the first time...I live for all those moments.

Q: You a vinyl or digital man?

Cusack: Man, I am so digital. I couldn't keep a vinyl [collection]. iTunes is the greatest fucking invention since the combustion engine, personally -- because you need, also, when you do a movie for me it's always a -- you can always tell if someone's gonna burn themselves out because on the first day they're like full of energy and I'm thinking 'man, this is a marathon, jack. You're going to have to be here for 10-12 weeks and so, it's easy to get your mojo going for that first week -- it's just, what happens at hour 13 of the seventh week at four in the morning when you have to be in front of the camera? So, it's -- I always use music to remember my through line...reminder yourself that you want to think like a poet. Because here, you can sit there, you got to do this thing and it's technical...then you've got to go home. You've always got to find ways to re-inspire yourself. At least, I feel that I do.

Q: You ever see yourself doing the big romcoms in order to be able to do smaller pictures like this?

Cusack: I think that question was directed only at me. [laughter] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the business is -- I'm not bitching about it -- but it's very much like a leverage thing. And in order to get to make [smaller] movies with no interference...I mean the idea where you can go into Chicago and it will be our movie, win or lose. The reason you can do that is because they know that they can sell the movie far and wide or you have a certain kind of cache and it all has to do with box office [returns] - things like that. So, I made a movie called Max that I really loved and I wouldn't have been able to make that without any question if I hadn't done a lot of romantic comedies. You wouldn't think those two things are connected but they totally are to me because I had to get Max made. So I knew I had to leverage it. So that's just the way the business works and I'm very at peace with it all.

Q: You ever look back on films you've done and wished that you could go back and change something on it?
Ramis: You know, for me, I live with all the films I've done -- a lot of them just won't go away -- so, I'm there watching cable, flipping, and I see one of my films and I'll stop. And I just want them all back. I want to get back in the editing room on them -- some of them, for sure -- but for the most part, when I watch the films I have not an aesthetic reaction but an experiential reaction to watching. I remember why we did that. [sequence] And I know, no matter what I think now, there's no way I would've or could've done it differently. It's just: that's what happened.

Q: Harold, as a writer you've written some of the best lines in the comedy genre that people quote on the regular, like "Why don't you call me when you have no class" stated by Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School. You have any favorite lines you've penned?

Ramis: No, you know, I'm so at the mercy of -- when you do broad comedy, there's never been a successful broad comedy that didn't have an amazing comic performance at the heart of it. You know, I've done six films with Bill Murray and you've mentioned Rodney Dangerfield's line...Every time I worked with Rodney, we would - the night before [shooting a scene] -- either on the rewrites of Back to School or on Caddyshack, the every day before we would go over every joke he ever told. He would go, reach back to the 50s and say 'I used to do a joke about' - the 'no class' joke, for instance -- 'you think it'd work in the movie?' and I'd go 'yeah, that wouldn't be bad there.' So he was just reaching into his grab bag of jokes. Bill Murray, the best improvising comic actor maybe that's ever lived -- that's a big statement but I think it might be true -- I've never met anyone who's so verbally funny and so inspired and unpredictable. So, Murray probably should have writing credit on all the movies that we did together because a lot of those great lines that people quote all the time are either his total invention or -- what I call guided improvisonizational -- [which] I kind of worked it out with him. You know on some of those early films --

Cusack: -- how much of Caddyshack was scripted?

Ramis: Bill Murray had only one scripted speech in Caddyshack. [laughter] Everything else was just his.

Cusack: -- I'd like to believe that you had something to do with 'bark like a dog.'

Ramis: -- yeah, ' the monkey woman.' I had him for six days. I'd already shot this speech that people know as "The Dalai Lama Speech" --

Cusack: -- which is weird because things in there. You had to [have written] that!?

Ramis: No...I'd shot it with another actor, my first day of shooting ever on a feature film, this actor was as bad as an actor could be. And I thought 'oh, my career's over. They're going to see this at the studios -- the dailies -- and I'm done. Anyways, they forgave me, we went on and when Bill came to do his week on the film, I said 'well, let's reshoot the Dalai Lama scene with Carl (Murray's character in Caddyshack, yo) What I added to it, I said 'take this pitchfork and keep the kid there with the pitchfork. You know, not menacing, just tapping him with it occasionally on the throat.' And Bill started riffing on the Dalai Lama stuff and added all these little grace notes to it. But everything else we did together Second City style...

The Ice Harvest opens nation wide on November 23...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Girl On Bus, Lady On Train...and Biker Chicks, yo!

...What up, yo? It's been a wild 'n woolly couple of weeks and a minute since I've posted any shorts on here -- been busy livin' and trying to keep my powder dry. While I haven't had much time to type, I have, however, continued to write my thoughts down here and there. Below's a little something-something that's a compilation of scribings on little sheets of note paper, post-its and soggy napkins that reach back to the through line I started posting with back in February. The tale began to assert itself one morning -- midway through my daily commute to work -- as I boarded a bus at Union Station on my way to my "day joy" over in Culver City during which I had one of my fabled "microphanies" (what I call a tiny epiphany)...

...A teenaged girl boarded the #33 at a stop near the intersection of Alvarado & Venice -- an area where during the day there's a grip of pedestrian foot traffic but at night, it's definitely not the type of neighborhood that many would lazily stroll through for a windy walk after the sun goes down. In the mornings I start the second leg of my trip to work at the Patasauraus Circle in Union Station. When I board the bus that takes me to my gig over on the West Side of town, I typically shoot for the back benches straightaway because seated there I can stretch out ( the average L.A. MTA backseat is not configured for a cornfed 6' tall man in the least). On this particular day my train arrived downtown about five minutes later than usual, so when I got up to the bus kiosks I found myself at the end of a long line of people whose trains HAD gotten to the station on time and when I finally got on, I had to choose between two aisle-facing benches directly behind the driver or the first row of two-seaters (which face the front) -- I plopped down onto the first two I saw of the latter situated on the drivers-hand side...

When the girl boarded she took a seat on the aisle-facing bench that was behind the driver and directly in front of me -- forcing me to avert my line of vision toward the 1:00 position or risk appearing to be a 30-something lech who's taken to slobbering over some teeny-bopper on the cross-town bus -- it soon became apparent that the grubby-looking oldster sitting across the aisle from me didn't have any of my reservations in the least, however, but that was another story altogether...Later on my trek toward Santa Monica, this other guy got on the bus around Vermont and Venice and despite the fact that I was checking pulse-soothing sounds of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Take Five LP on my iPod at the time -- the intense; immediacy of the stare he threw my way got my dander up. "That's life in the big city, just let that go," I thought to my self as "Three to Get Ready" oozed out of my headphones and that's when Pancho Villa strolled through the sliding doors...

This guy looked mean, yo. He was sporting two arm's worth of Tribal Aztec tatts which he offset with a long bushy crumb-catcher (mustache). For all the said "hardness" dude's aura projected he was a short guy -- I think they're called chaparros in the barrio, but don't quote me on that; I don't hablo the 'spanyole as well as I used to -- but that didn't diminish what I thought was an intrusive-as-hell mad-dog in my direction (what they tend to say out here when one man stares stone-faced at another as an act of asserting one's dominance until somebody blinks), being from back East that shite doesn't mean anything to me, so I just let it too pass and looked out at all the traffic that snarls up on Venice when crossing La Brea going West toward Fairfax in the mornings...about the time I got to Fairfax, all of these coincidental pissing-contests jogged my memory about a late-night ride on the subway and like a bolt from Thor's thunder-mallet, I got the zap on my dome...

...A few weeks ago I went carousing down in Hollywood (on a "school night" during the work-week, no less) when I realized I had one Red Line train left going in my direction (L.A. subways stop running for a few hours every night for some dumb reason) or I'd have to catch one of those night owl buses that go all over the place and take years off your life, so I sucked down my drink (not to would've been a party foul) and my bike and I just barely made that last train going downtown -- Union station I hauled ass to make it the last sparsely peopled light rail train going towards my neck of the woods (I lucked-out twice in one night).

...At the first rail platform after Union (Chinatown) the train eased to a stop and just as the doors slid home this woman got on board. In this instance I was sitting in one of the aisle-facing single seat by the doors while holding my bike as I sat so she blew past me in a flurry of stale perfume and cold air as the dub poet Mutabaruka told me to "Check it" -- you know I had the iPod pumpin', son -- and as soon as the new passenger sat down, her hunched up body language broadcast an overall discomfiture (at least to me) like she was sporting a neon sandwich board that read: "I've got mace!" As I stared out the window observing the shadows of the cornfield art project on the other side of the train yard, I noted how she stuck out like a sore thumb...

...all of this brings me to said weeks of wild-wooliness wherein I've been out on jaunts of repose with the fair sex in settings varied and sundry. There were the two hardened biker chicks I'd met at a neighborhood bar on one sunny Saturday afternoon while writing articles for publication in longhand and slowly sipping J&B on the rocks --very relaxing -- and then there was the nurse that a homepiece's fiancee set me up with which went nowhere fast -- I wasn't feeling her and I'm certain that the vibe was more than mutual -- although I don't think that's possible. I'm no quitter by any stretch so I forged ahead and got up with this dominatrix at one point...wait, let me expound on that...

...About a year ago, as of this writing, I caved and signed up for one of those trial memberships to one of those internet dating services (a contradiction of terms, if ever there was one) and posted this grandiloquent profile (hey, as one who writes, if you can't sell yourself with words, why bother with the other stuff?) That said, I'd long forgotten about that wordy profile I'd penned so many moons ago, so imagine my surprise when I got an email from a potential suitor with the subject line: "Hey Sexy" -- she had a profile of her own with pictures, no less. She wasn't a bad looking girl, if I may be so shallow, so, despite disturbing past incidents and my better judgment, I acquiesced. Long story short, we went out a couple of times and each meeting, I couldn't ignore the dark "something" that seemed to float just beneath her gaze. Long story short: one night on the way to a bar she snapped out and started talkin' some serious shite but not the kind that turned you on. It was crazy, forceful fare that causes your left hand to involuntarily reach for the door as the right reaches for the buckle of your seatbelt while your body braces for the forthcoming Louganis onto the asphalt. Which brings us up to speed and the last and latest "contestant" of my love connection -- this bird I'd started rapping to over in Culver City...

...Things were shaky initially, as they tend to be when you start getting to know someone but eventually, after a string of email chats and phone conversations, I canoodled a meeting of the minds with her over on Venice Beach. I was stoked because, evidenced by our rapport and in addition to being easy on the eyes, this chick seemed like an overall "keeper" in every way -- the Four-F club (find 'em, feed 'em, fugg 'em and forget 'em) was the furthest from my mind. I wanted to get my weekly long distance ride in so I arranged to hook with girlfriend over in Santa Monica. It was great to see the ocean and the girl; to sip drinks and laugh with her at the Saturday passersby on the Venice Beach Strip -- especially this one nutter whose sole purpose in life seemed to be juggling a silver ball between the palm of his hand and all over the contures of his body. Did I mention that his "costume" consisted a leopard-print speedo and a wrist watch? Nothing else, son. You can't contrive some of the hilarious things you'll see on a balmy day at the corner of Pacific Ave. and 17th Street -- you just go with it which we did. Things went well, I thought. Our mid-day rendezvous segued into dusk but the conversation was lively so we kept on going, well into the evening and into the early morn. After going to a couple of bars it was time to part ways so, again, we went with it and she offered to let me crash at her pad since she lived a shite's sight nearer to where we were than I -- cool, noh? Everything that's occurred since the night I spent with that last woman makes me circle back to those two females on the MTA...

...In that moment of the aforementioned "synaptic zap" while sitting on the bus, I eureka'd on the fact that the punters staring me down weren't (giving me the stink eye) -- they were, however, still a bunch of tools, though. Why? I'll tell you why: it dawned on me that they were ogling the tight-stomached Teen Beat cover model ( I know about the flatness of her belly because she wore a parka with a Heavy Metal T-Shirt that was cut off at the mid-riff that bore a picture of Gun's n Roses on it and Axl and Slash never looked happier -- I might be getting older but I'm not blind). Still, she handled herself. Because she had no choice? Probably but she still gets all the dap. In that moment, I thought "Dayum!" -- just like on the train a few nights beforehand -- "it must really suck to be a woman sometimes." All those greasy eyeballs everywhere -- I never would've noticed if I hadn't been indirectly sitting in the line of fire, so to speak. It made me momentarily see red and want to shatter chairs over frontal lobes because I felt my space being invaded upon...that's gotta be a pain in the ass to deal with all the a man, I know I've been guilty of doing it too -- I won't even front. But on the real side, I never really, really entertained what all that objectification does to normally, sane people...back in NYC I've stumbled home many a night with a brick in my hat without a fear of being put upon but maybe that's just my obtuse bull-headed side...testosterone's a motherfucker...sometimes it's easy for men to forget that their mothers were women too -- don't get me wrong, I'm not waxing Oedipal, I'm just saying...

...The hardened biker chicks and the dominatrix were all the antitheses of the babe in the woods projected by the girl on the bus. The nurse, let's be fair, never really counted for obvious reasons but I must insist that the bruiser of the bunch turned out to be the "straight-laced", Ms. Venice Beach. She's the one I thought would require the least amount of damage control but things don't always go in the directions we want them to, do they -- shows you how much I know about wimmin, yo. Whatever, that's life in the big city. I'm no quitter and considering the alternatives, let's just say you can't teach an old dog new shizzle. Richard Pryor once joked that at one point in your life you just stop caring and you just do your thing; whatever happens happens. I hear you Daddy Rich but none of that is either here or there. I'm no prole tourist on the scene and that's word. My dating foibles aside, I'll still raise a glass to the chicks who deal with we menfolk in stride and don't get all ixnay on the ace-may or freak out like that lady on the train -- nobody was thinking about her ass anyway, we were all too tired to care. Somebody, somewhere, must've lied to her about her passion-inducing good looks -- she could've taken some pointers from that 17-year old...but then maybe decades ago, as a girl, perhaps, she'd ridden the cross town bus herself on the way to highschool...laters...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Brokeback Mountain (Review)

I've never cottoned to Heath Ledger's acting style. So when Mel Gibson began waxing "heaven-sent" about his younger co-star during press/photo ops for the (then) upcoming film The Patriot, I just knew the last remnants of cheese had finally fallen off of Mad Max' cracker -- or he was just telling the laissez faire porkie-pies (lies); doing ye olde Chaucerian "press junket buck dance" in an effort to shill for an upcoming feature he just happened to be starring in back at the turn of the century? Five years is an epoch in this town in any instance. More recently, when I got the word on the showbiz whisper circuit that Ledger was set to star in the film Brokeback Mountain as Ennis Del Mar opposite Jake Gyllenhaal -- another actor I've never felt neither here nor there about -- I wondered: "what tha fugg is Ang Lee thinking?"

The film Brokeback Mountain is culled from a short story written by Annie Proulx which was first published in the New Yorker back in '97 and then republished in a '99 collection of shorts called Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Set during 1963 in the big sky hinterlands the story begins when Del Mar and Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet while waiting to see if they'll be hired by Joe Aguirre (played by a convincingly indolent/bellicose Randy Quaid) to herd his sheep. The camera follows the two strangers as they are thrown together to take care of Aguirre's four-legged property and slowly get to know one another. Niether of them are effusive chatterboxes, they're there to get the job done and it's quickly established that both are as rugged and tough as the landscape that they're riding over on horseback. But man cannot survive on canned pork 'n beans and biscuits alone. The time-worn motto uttered by millions of Nevada tourists -- "whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" -- is given the lie because these two particular cowboys can't hold back. Suffice to say, things "occur" on one cold and rainy night --as it's just the two of them out there and nobody's looking. The bond that that bout of prurience forges ultimately bleeds over into the "straight-as-an-arrow" family man millieu that Ennis and Jack segue into when they part ways at the end of the trail. They don't see each other for many years. It's here that everybody's aforementioned "normalcy" gets called on the carpet and comes to a grinding halt -- when their paths eventually do cross again, thanks to Jack Twist's due dilligence, and the emotional spark, ignited years prior, flares up like an un-extinguishable prairie fire and....what? You want some hot buttered popcorn and a box of ju-ju fruit served up? How about a rigorous shiatsu and a grease-down as well while I tell you everything that happens in the movie you tosser? I don't think so, my son. I am many things but a spoiler isn't one of them. Still, I will say this...

As stated earlier, I never thought Ledger's acting was ever anything to write home about. And while friends of mine (most of them lacking a Y-chromosome in their DNA) prattle on breathlessly in all matters regarding him, in my book Jake Gyllenhaal's Bambi-eyed choices in roles have never really spoken to me, personally, but I will stand up and admit that he was quite likeable in The Day After Tomorrow (a film I've written about on here) but I was more into that film's message, so that's a one off...Having prefaced what I'm about to say with all of that, I'm just going to dive right in and contradict myself, yo...

Heath Ledger's marble-mouthed portrayal of Ennis Del Mar speaks volumes about what Gibson was pointing to years ago when nobody in the states knew who in the hell Ledger was. Turns out, Heath's got thespian karate-chops that some of us didn't know of, son. I've surpassed the point of conjecture and will venture to say that this here Aussie's got the Stanislavskian minerals because he holds the line throughout the film and makes Ennis Del Mar plausible. (I guess Mel was right on the money, cousin). Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, lucked out when he got the tap to play Twist. All of those sugar-sweet, cavity inducing roles (excluding the likeable Donnie Darko) that he'd portrayed in films past made him perfect for the role of Jack Twist -- who'd've thunk it? Twist is so left-field yet recognizably Jake that by the time the two main characters lock lips and the bulls start bucking in the rodeo ring you'll acknowlege a cinematic truth: Ang Lee knows what he's doing. And Jake can act. He's really, really acting! And it's great to see...finally! Good for you, boyo -- as the flick plays out note the color of Twist's stetsons --- they go from black to lighter and then eventually back to ebony -- dude's definitely going to make his bones amongst the congnescenti in critical circles with his turn in this film...and then there's the director...

Ang Lee's connection to his muse crackles like a bull whip on this outing -- you give this guy a juicy premise or a tale that requires adroit and nuanced touch to be explained to people sitting in darkened auditoriums and said inspiration will pulse like an oceanic shockwave -- evidenced by what you'll see on Brokeback Mountain. Lees the master of weaving multi-layered pastiches, rather, he works in fractals -- you have to stand way back and look at the whole picture to the beauty making it requisite to actually think on your feet about what you're seeing. He slowly reels you in with wide-as-hell upshots of open skies scudded with azure cloud formations, texturized with a quick quip about a clue of a side-story mixed in with a metaphor about travelling versus going to get a cup of coffee and then, BAM, the tsunami washes over you as he cuts to somewhere else equally important to the throughline but you just don't know it yet. You don't figure it out until you're turning your car key and sitting in the cineplex parking lot. He fucks with you and you'll love him for it. He's the man and that's word.

I'm recommending this film to everyone I know and also those I don't but come in contact with because, to be blunt, Brokeback Mountain should be seen by everybody...Brokeback Mountain is one of the best films I've ever seen and I type that without one scintilla of sarcasm or snark. Brokeback Mountain will tear your heart out and punt it between the big "H" on the other side of the storytelling playing field because it doesn't coddle. It just says what it has to say and I guaranfuggin' tee you'll hear it and see it -- if your ears and eyes are open. I walked out of that screening room feeling (borderline) chastened for not having thought about the subject matter more deeply than I had. When the credits start to roll your ass will not want to comply with your legs. You will want to talk about what you just saw. To somebody...I know I did...I had to and I did. Dialogue is a beautiful thing...Laters...

Sidenote: As a heterosexual man who's never given a whole lot of deep thought to the issue of same-sex relationships -- I'm not iterating here, I'm just being honest -- when I walked out of that screening room onto Wilshire Boulevard, I had a full understanding of what unequivocal love really means. Same-sex or no. Your mind never decides who you happen to fall in love with -- because your heart does all the heavy lifting. It's that simple. Just before I made it to the street, after the press screening, I chatted with the security guard stationed in the foyer -- which, for some odd reason, I always tend to do -- and he asked me "so how was it? I heard it was about some gay cowboys. That's Fucked!" he chuckled. To that I said, "no, my man, there's a trifle more to it than that. Don't be so provincial -- look at the bigger picture...I think you'd like it if you took that approach; focused on the empirical data -- what true love is and isn't -- if you took your wife or girlfriend, I know she'd think differently of you -- hell, you might even get you some that night" -- and I didn't blink. (I knew I was going out on a limb with this particular guy because he seemed dead-set on the notion of the whole gay thing being evil in that Scarlet Letter, pissing-on-tree-stumps sorta way that many of us breeders fall back on when asked a hard question about homosexual/ lesbian scenarios)...and then, surprisingly, he said "I'll do it. I'll take your word because you seem like a stand-up guy"...that's a good thing but, again I say, this film should be seen by everyone...STAT...double laters...

-- Brokeback Mountain will release nationally on December 9th...--