Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hot Dog ... the Movie

"I had Sunny side opp, Sunny side down, and Sunny side all zee vay around!"
Great dialogue and more in this low-rent ski bum sex romp, with a Matterhorn of mammaries.

On a sick day I happened to find this On Demand, and a 20 year old wish was realized. I never managed to see this on HBO as a horny 13 year old, so I sat back, turned off my brain and tried to enjoy it as I would have in 1984. That's the best way to enjoy Hot Dog ... The Movie, ellipses and all.

Sunny and Harkin learn how wild things get on the slopes

Basic story- innocent hick kid named Harkin (Patrick Houser) heads to Squaw Valley, the rudely named ski resort town where the Hot Dog competition is being held. That's freestyle skiing to those not in the know. Along the way he picks up hottie musician Sunny, after she's kicked out of a guy's car for not giving a blowjob for the ride. She waits two days before thanking Harkin for the ride, so maybe the other guy should have just waited. The movie wants to be the Caddyshack of skiing, with Harkin in the Danny role. David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London) plays the washed-up pro, and he's pretty entertaining. There's a Spicoli clone called Squirrel, the stoner ski bum who sort of stumbles through every scene, making you wonder whether he's high or retarded.
David Naughton shows off his bartending skills

Rudy Garminsch (Minnesota news anchor John Reger) is the snobbish, Eurotrash champion who won't give Harkin the time of day, and blows him off when he approaches him to say how much he admires him. Rudy just sneers, "Schtupid Amerikaner!" and Sunny, the tactful one, uses her favorite retort: "Rotate on this, Adolf!" So the drama is set- can Harkin defeat the Austrian asshole? Before the battle is over they'll swap girlfriends, fight, prank each other, and pirouette in the snow.
Rudy tooty fresh 'n douchey

"I had Sunny side opp, Sunny side down, and Sunny side all zee vay around!" Rudy Garminsch is played by none other than John Reger, last seen as a local news anchor in Minneapolis. I don't know why his film career didn't go anywhere, as he was a great douchebag here. He emotes at least as well as that dude in Gymkata. His delivery of that classic line, bragging about banging Harkin's girl, is the perfect '80s bad guy. I hope he used the same gravitas when he announced who won the meat raffle or how the snow wasn't as bad as Halloween back in '91.

Every once in a while, you tilt your head during a viewing and ask yourself, "Am I really seeing what I am seeing?" and Hot Dog was one of those times. The very sport of Hot Doggin' was unfathomable to me. Dancing on skis? Ski stunts and jumps are one thing, but am I really watching guys pirouette on skis? Thankfully this is just one part of hot-doggin', as freestyle skiing was known in the early '80s. The good part is the crazy jumps and stuff, and that part is a lot less tedious to sit through.

The filmmakers realized how sissified it looks, so they put a snow field hockey game in the middle. The skiers use brooms to try and knock a ball into goals, and smack each other in a manly fashion, throw punches with abandon. Even the girls get into the fights. It must have been reassuring for the 13 year old boys watching it in '84. At last, we find out that the dancey stuff is just one part of the competition, and the rest is crazy ski jumps. After some research I found out that the "ski ballet" portion was called acroski, and was struck from the freestyle skiing book of life after the '88 Winter Games, thank goodness.
It's not the '80s without goofy Asian guys!

The Japanese skier, Kendo Yamamoto, does some silly racist stuff like dance karate style, but he does speak Japanese- he calls his jump the "sugoi tabada" which means "awesome tabada" or something. I got a lot worse in the '80s! He's played by James Saito, better known as The Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

This is one of those '80s movies where I stopped taking screenshots of the boobs, because I was concerned I'd burn out my camera. They arrive at the ski resort and the receptionist is too busy getting head in a hot tub to help them, and finally serves them in the nude. There's a wet t-shirt contest in a bar full of rowdies; then Sunny decides to take off her sweater and hop in the sack with Harkin, and then Sylvia roofies him at a hot tub party. Sunny sees, and hops in a sauna with Rudy to get some revenge with his knockwurst. The dopey stoner named Squirrel gets a hummer in a ski lift. I checked to see if this was a Cinemax After Dark feature.
Wet t-shirt contestant shows the classy way to drink beer

The finale is a ski battle on the "Chinese downhill," full of ski stunts, ski pranks, and hilarious accidents. But overall, this movie is for the boobies. Sure there are some ski jumps like a twist triple dog dare Lindy, and if you're a ski bum this is probably a classic in the way North Shore is for surfers. It's no Big Wednesday but it's probably fun to watch with a few beers. If you wondered what Better Off Dead and South Park were spoofing with '80s ski movies, this is it.

Low-budget Spicoli clone getting a sunscreen handjob. Classy!

Beers Required to Enjoy: six-pack and some Jergen's lotion
Could it be remade today? It would be PG-13 and about snow dancing.
Quotability Rating: low
Cheese Factor: alpine swiss
High Points: gobs of nudity, David Naughton, goofy pranks
Low Point: Spicoli clone sucks
Gratuitous Boobies: a Matterhorn of Mammaries

more Watchmen footage

Watchmen Exclusive

Zack Snyder discusses the film, we're introduced to the characters, and most importantly, more footage

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gran Torino

There are great stories, and great characters; the rare times they converge, and you have a classic. Gran Torino has a great character, and a good story; but it just may be a classic. Because Clint has crafted a character we instantly dislike, yet want to spend more and more time with. A character this good can make a minor classic all on his own.

We meet Walt at the funeral of his wife, where he's smoldering as his grandchildren show up, in football jerseys and bare midriffs. His sons mutter to each other about whose kids will disappoint him more. The stage is set- an irascible old man who no one is good enough for, living alone in "the old neighborhood" where he's a final holdout who hasn't sold his house to immigrants. His craggy face is sculpted in a constant sneer; he doesn't like what he sees. The repast is at his home, where his sons mumble with their wives about whether it's time for him to sell it, and his pierced granddaughter is eyeing the classic car that gives the film its title, as she sneaks a smoke in the garage.

Naming a movie after a car when it's not a road movie is an odd choice, but it makes sense. The 1972 Gran Torino is rough, unforgiving relic from a bygone era. Walt treasures his- he helped build it on the Ford assembly line, and keeps it looking brand new in his garage or driveway. We never even see him drive it, or take enjoyment from it. He just sits on his porch with his Lab, Daisy, drinking PBR's and sneering at the sorry state of disrepair his Asian neighbors keep their homes in. He's the kind of man who feels great pain at the sight of a patchy lawn. Next door, the family is celebrating the birth of a child. There are two teenagers in the family, a shy, hunched over boy named Thao and a smart and independent girl named Sue.
They are Hmong- the original "boat people" who sided with us in the Vietnam war, and fled here when we retreated. It's to the film's credit that they cast unknowns in the parts, let the actors ad-lib in their own language, and portray their customs. Like Walt, we feel like we're in a foreign country surrounded by them. the infamous "Get off my lawn!" scene, where he aims the M1 Garand he fought with in Korea at some Asian gangbangers ensues when Thao's cousins begin hassling him to join up with them. They stumble onto his lawn, and he goes outside. When Thao's family try to thank him for his help, he tells them to get off his lawn too.

The next day they shower him with gifts- flowers and food. He shuns them, but Sue persists. He may call her names, but they seem to connect because she is a polite and courteous person who is sure of herself. She's not offended or afraid of him. He can't scare her off. Eventually he makes an unlikely bond with her brother Thao, without giving away too much of the plot. Thao and his family, the upright side, keep banging heads with his criminal cousins. But Walt's a fixer. He fixes things. Eventually he's worn down by Sue's hospitality, and goes to a family party. Good food, free beer, and good company get the better of him. He may call them zips or gooks to their faces, but he doesn't hate them. It's apparent that he hates the shabby state of the neighborhood more than anything else.

As I type this, Chris Rock is on my TV telling me when white people can say the word nigger. I think that's just about the only slur not used in this movie. Spook, mick, zip, dago, slope, dragon lady, eggroll, zipperhead, gook, guinea, chink, wop, polack, dogeater. I was just in a forum discussion about whether Walt is racist or not, which I find ridiculous. He's a misanthrope; he says it plainly that he wants to be left alone, and slurs are an easy way to make that so. As the story unfolds, we don't get any obvious revelations of why he is the way he is. It's left to us to piece together. He's a child of the Depression and a veteran of the forgotten war, the Korean conflict. They didn't get parades, or monuments, and our troops retreated in shame. The battle was a slaughter, with stacks of Chinese and Korean soldiers used as sandbags.
The local priest sniffs around too- Walt's wife made him promise to get Walt to give confession, as if she knew the burden he carried. The film eschews the predictable; it is not a revenge tale, and while it is one of redemption, it knows that sometimes we are beyond it. Walt spars verbally with the young pastor, badgers Thao into becoming a man, and faces his own shortcomings- that he never got to know his own sons. The ending is satisfying, but not the one we wanted. Sure, we want to see Dirty Old Man Harry drive around town in his beat-up truck, being a bad-ass and facing down thugs forever. We know he'll fix the problem with the thugs- but we just don't know how.

The movie lives and dies on Eastwood's performance, easily his best in years. Walt is a brick wall; he never blinks, never winks at you. Even his sense of humor is brash. We see him with his barber (Marge's husband from Fargo) trading insults and ethnic slurs, and telling awful jokes with his drinking buddies. Some have said that the Hmong actors are too amateur, but they felt natural to me. It was a great choice, just as shooting on location in Michigan was. We haven't seen the gritty streets of Detroit since Four Brothers and 8 Mile. And the story may not be great, but Eastwood knows just what to tell and what to leave us to figure out. He takes a simple story and makes it gripping, and as much as I like his output, I think this is his most enjoyable movie since Unforgiven.

4.5 out of 5 30-06 rounds.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The King of Kong - A Fistful of Quarters and Chasing Ghosts - Beyond the Arcade

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was the sleeper documentary of 2007, and it remains a hilarious and engaging story about who holds the championship score in Donkey Kong. While some of accused the director of chicanery to make a better story, it remains as entertaining as hell. I watched it again with Milky the other day, and now we're planing a pilgrimage to The Funspot, up in New Hampshire.

Steve Wiebe, the challenger.

Listening to the old champs talk about the golden age of arcade games in the '80s made me wax nostalgic. I always liked the vector games- the line drawn ones- such as Tempest, the classic Star Wars, Asteroids, and so on. Dig Dug, a ridiculous game with a guy in a spacesuit digging in gardens and fighting dragons and pookas- who looked like tomatoes with Velma glasses on- using an air pump to explode them, was another favorite. I was too impatient for Frogger and Donkey Kong, which take a bit of strategy- you can't just charge forward.
It's on like Donkey Kong, in this excellent documentary.

The basic story involves Billy Mitchell- the mullet-sporting record holder of Donkey Kong since the '80s, and Steve Weibe, a challenger who bought a Donkey Kong cabinet and practiced in his garage. He submits a tape of breaking 1 million points to Twin Galaxies, the home of the 1982 Video Game Championship and the recognized repository of authenticated high scores, and causes enormous controversy due to what I like to call fandom drama. The score is validated by Robert Mruczek, a guy who watches high score videos for much of his life, and the battle begins. Billy Mitchell is no longer the King of Kong.
Immediately he begins damage control. 3 guys go to Steve Wiebe's house when he's not home, and ask to see the arcade game, to verify it. Steve's wife says they have to wait for him to come home, and she goes to work- so they ask her mother, and get to see the machine without Steve present. For sabotage? Who knows? They find a box linked to a man called Mr. Awesome, and the drama explodes. See, Steve's Donkey Kong board died and he got a new one from Roy Schildt- a guy who likes to be called Mr. Awesome - a Missile Command top player who has a rivalry with Billy Mitchell, and apparently a restraining order against him. This taints Steve's score, and brings his honesty into question.

Not doctored.

So Steve travels to a neutral zone- The Fun Spot in New Hampshire, and publicly beats Billy Mitchell's score, though not topping one million. Billy's fanboys are present, most notably the annoying as hell Brian Kuh- and they try to psych him out. But he still succeeds, getting a kill screen and a record score in front of witnesses. The glove has been thrown.
Brian Kuh, who comes off as Billy's lackey.

Billy Mitchell- the former kid video game star- now runs a couple of chicken wing joints in Florida. Immaculately styled hair, full beard, black jeans and a dress shirt with an American flag tie- make him hard to miss. He's the kind of guy you immediately peg as douche, full of childlike bravado and self-promotion. The film does play a little fast and loose to make Steve an underdog and Billy a has-been who won't defend his title in public, but certain things are undeniable- Billy's tape has suspicious "tracking problems" that got overlooked by the judges. In fact, the judge retired after the debacle.

If you watch the documentary Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, you get some more insight into these bizarre characters. It's not that entertaining by itself, but if The King of Kong leaves you wondering about these guys, this has a lot more footage. For example, in KoK, we see some images
of Mr. Awesome's bodybuilding days and his "how to pick up girls" videos. In Chasing Ghosts, you get a lot more detail, so much you'll be averting your eyes. Trust me. It verges on "things you can't unsee." King of Kong may be a bit creative but all documentaries have agendas, and it makes for an incredibly entertaining look at an obsessive subculture.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

work safe

Due to popular demand the boobies portion of this blog will now be "behind the cut" so the front page will always be work safe. I'm pretty sure this doesn't work in RSS readers unfortunately. So if you want to see Eartha Kitty Titty you'll have to click the "read more" link.

R.I.P. Eartha Kitt - Emperor's New Groove review, too

Jill of all trades Eartha Kitt passed away yesterday at 81; calling her a singer pigeonholes an artist of many talents, and robs a brave performer of her accomplishments. Probably best known as the singer of "Santa Baby" and as the second Catwoman in the Batman TV series, she performed alongside Sidney Poitier in film, under the direction of Orson Welles onstage, and in several Broadway shows, including Shinbone Alley and Timbuktu. She and Welles had a torrid affair, after which he called her "the most exciting woman in the world," this from a man who knew plenty of exciting women.
In 1968 she was outspoken against the Vietnam war, and it was claimed she made Lady Bird Johnson cry when she spoke her mind at a White House luncheon; this led to a professional exile in the States, but at least she kept her principles. Details are here; being 'uppity' in front of a Texan first lady had her blackballed within hours. Sources vary, but one quote is that she said "We're marching them off to die, no wonder they're smoking pot," and Lady Bird considered this "uncivilized." Eartha would return to Broadway, disco hits, and movies in the '80s after working in Europe. So Catwoman led 9 lives.

"The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth — in a country that says you're entitled to tell the truth — you get your face slapped and you get put out of work," -Eartha Kitt
My favorite role of hers of recent memory is as the evil witch Yzma in The Emperor's New Groove, one of the most underappreciated of Disney efforts. The whole film was nearly torpedoed by boss idiot Michael Eisner, and it remains one of the best of Disney's final attempts at traditional animation, despite his meddling. She was to have a big music number in the film, but Eisner had it cut. This is detailed in a documentary called The Sweatbox, which Disney has unfortunately kept from wide release.

Like Lilo & Stitch, this was an original story with just enough hipness and wit to make it appeal to adults, some beautifully stylized animation, a kickass soundtrack with Tom Jones and Sting, and celeb voice actors who are recognizable but also craft characters instead of playing themselves. It's great stuff. The story? Emperor Cuzco (David Spade) is your typical self-absorbed royal type; after he fires his witchy advisor Yzma and her henchman Kronk (Patrick Warburton), she curses him and turns him into a llama. Hilarity ensues, and Cuzco has to beg for help from the lovable peasant lug Pacha (John Goodman) who he's already humiliated by planning to build a pool on his ancestral village.
The humor varies from deadpan to cute to absurd, and perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that it never felt like a typical Disney movie when I saw it back in 2000. They briefly embraced this kind of humor before diving face first into the pop-culture toilet with dreck like Beverly Hills Chihuahua, but The Emperor's New Groove holds up surprisingly well. Lacking any classic Batman episodes on DVD, I'm watching it now. Eartha's Yzma is one of the funniest Disney villains, a self-effacing role that plays on her status as an aged diva, and she never misses a beat. Playing against the snarky David Spade at the height of his popularity is no easy task, and she nearly steals the show.
The movie isn't perfect, and is kind of short at 77 minutes- Eartha's song (included on the soundtrack CD) would have padded it to only 80 or so. But it's a fine showcase of Eartha's range, humor and talent, and shows she was still sharp well into her seventies. As recently as 2006 she was performing off-Broadway in Mimi le Duck, and her final role looks like a role in an indie film, And Then Came Love. She worked until the end, on her own terms, and what more can an artist want? 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story has skyrocketed in popularity in the past few years, partly due to TNT playing it in a marathon on Christmas Eve; however, it still remains my favorite holiday film, for its warts-and-all look at the "good old days" so deified in these times. Jean Shepherd, the mastermind behind the movie and its narrator, was a late-night talk radio curmudgeon in the '50s, probably most famously on WOR in New York City, but also in Cincinnati and Philly over the years. He had a unique, sardonic perspective on ordinary American life, both sentimental and critical, and this spirit is felt throughout the film.
The perfect director helmed the project- Bob Clark of Black Christmas fame- who had only a year or two before cobbled together a bunch of high school tall tales from the '50s and '60s from his and his friends' lives, and made the colossal Canadian hit Porky's, which not only succeeded due to its titillating low-brow humor, but because it created a warty yet nostalgic past, people with both friendly local cops and legendary strip club magnates. It was more than a story, it was a myth, and A Christmas Story draws on the hard-times childhoods of the pre-WW2 years to create a living world set in the "back when I was your age" era, a time we've all heard stories from. When people walked to school in the snow, uphill, both ways, as Bill Cosby would say.
I will not deeply summarize the now famous story, for if you haven't seen it, tune in to TNT on December 24th at any hour of the day and watch it a few times. It's a movie that bears rewatching, for many of the little jokes take several viewings to notice. It's a simple enough story of young Ralphie pining for a Red Ryder BB gun in the days before Christmas, and his quirky family:

The Old Man, played to perfection by "Night Stalker" Darren McGavin, is his profane and temperamental father. Shepherd paints him in a few masterful strokes- "Some men are Catholics, others Baptists... my father was an Oldsmobile Man." and "My father worked in profanity like other artists worked in oils," say it all. While everyone remembers him raving about his broken Leg Lamp- sorry, Major Award- he's best at the dining room table, looking exasperated, just wanting to relax.
Ralph's Mother, played by Melinda Dillon- a fine character actress who's done everything from parade around naked in Slap Shot to memorable roles in Magnolia- is another force of nature, embodying the childhood super-heroine known as "Mom." The scene that captures her character is after Ralphie cusses, and gets a mouthful of soap- when she sends him to bed, she looks around, and tastes the soap. Sure she flies between strict disciplinarian and nurturing caregiver, but Clark gives us little glimpses into her life beyond the kids here and there, which make the film.
Randy, the little brother. Where they found this perfect little menace I do not know, but he manages to be that despised little tag-along younger brother, spoiled by mom. Even if he can't put his arms down after she bundles him up in a dozen layers of winter coats, and mostly just stares at the screen or cackles his infectious laugh, the movie wouldn't be the same without him.

and of course Ralphie. Peter Billingsley may have mostly ahem, petered out after this movie, he was the perfect kid actor to portray "the kid with glasses," which is who Ralphie is in his little childhood gang. He gives pitch-perfect emoting under Jean Shepherd's narration, whether he's spellbound by the glow of electric sex gleaming in the window, or furiously pounding Scut Farcus and becoming aware of a stream of profanity leaving his mouth like he was speaking in tongues.

Together they make a rather strange little family but actually seem like they lived together. From singing "Jingle Bells" in the car while Dad tries to concentrate on driving, or celebrating Chinese Turkey after the Bumpus's hounds devour their dinner, we take one look and know this family will stick together. Even if Ralphie goes blind from Soap Poisoning. But it's far from idyllic- Dad's driving an ancient Olds, the outside of the house barely looks better than the hillbillies' next door. There's a bully on the way to school who has the kids in terror. Dad curses like a sailor, and while we only get to hear Yosemite-Samisms, that's as far as the sugar-coating goes. Okay, it ain't Boyz N the Hood but it's not the usual Hollywood bullshit family movie crap.

Jean Shepherd brought a lot to the table, but Bob Clark did his share. He has a small cameo as their neighbor Swede, who ogles the lamp in the window. Hardly a virtuoso director, he does manage his subtle little jabs and jokes. My favorite cut is when Ralphie is in the bathroom decoding his secret message from Orphan Annie, and Randy has gotta go. When he finally barges in and hops on the toilet, Clark cuts to later that night, when Mom is opening a pot of boiling red cabbage. Toilet lid opens, pot of dinner opens. Yuck! Without a word, we know what Ralphie thinks about red cabbage. Other touches include the antiqued look of Ralphie's dream sequence when he turns in his "theme" on why a BB gun is a great Christmas present, and he imagines his teacher giving him an A+++++; the old-timey silent western look of when he imagines shooting "Black Bart" and his gang of criminals with his Red Ryder; but the best is when they finally meet Santa. Look closely, the guy who tells Ralphie to get to the end of the line is Jean Shepherd himself.

When you're a child, a big man in a red suit with more white hair than a nursing home full of relatives is a scary S.O.B. Of course you want to sit in his lap, because he's supposed to give you presents, but man is he creepy. Why are his cheeks so rosy? Clark films Ralphie's meeting from his own POV, as a disgruntled Elf picks him up and swings him around, dizzyingly into Santa's lap; he slows the soundtrack so Santa seems to growl like a bear, so we understand the kids' terror. And yet he still has the perfect comic timing to let Santa turn and quip "I hate the smell of tapioca." We really take Clark's direction for granted, but he always managed to make things look natural, whether it was kids sticking their tongues to cold metal, or the ridiculous stuff from Porky's.

Tragically, Bob Clark went on to direct Baby Geniuses and its sequels, and was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in 2007. A documentary called ClarkWorld, about his life and times, including interviews with the Christmas Story cast and others he worked with, is coming next year.
Jean Shepherd passed on in 1999, but left a great legacy of recorded radio shows, and books like In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which includes many of the stories that would be crafted into A Christmas Story. Sadly, a poorly executed sequel to the movie, entitled My Summer Story and including none of the original cast, has barely a fraction of the charm that the classic does. It is best avoided; Charles Grodin tries to fill Darren McGavin's shoes, and while I like him a lot, it just isn't the same. But if you want to see the Bumpuses have a hoedown, rent it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Prop 8: The Musical (Jesus content)

This is sort of old news but still good. Prop 8: The Musical by the gang over at Funny or Die. With Jack Black as Jesus (a role he reprises from Mr. Show, where he starred in their Jesus Christ Superstar spoof).

Christmas with the Venture Brothers

Each year, the Venture Brothers team- Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer- do a goofy holiday song in the voices of their characters for Quickstop. This year, it's #21 and 24 singing my least favorite Christmas song- Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" ... and if the nerdy henchman duo cracks you up, this song will have you in stitches.

Previous years include:
The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend singing The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl's "A Fairytale of New York"
(That's my favorite, with the high-pitched Monarch doing Kirsty's part, and gravelly Dr. G doing Shane MacGowan; plus hearing the Monarch call Dr. Girlfriend a "cheap lousy faggot" vindicates Brock's assessment of her as post-op)
The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend singing the David Bowie & Bing Crosby duet of "Little Drummer Boy"
Henchmen 21 & 24 singing Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas"

Best of all may be the epic "Venture Aid 2006" which has so many voice cameos every nerd will be sated.

If the direct mp3 links stop working, they are available via a player on Quickstop's Holiday Havoc page.

Also, according to Jacks in Public's LJ, Patton Oswalt, John Hodgman, and Seth Green all did voice work for the upcoming season, which is awesome.

C gets acquitted

Lillo Brancato, best known as "C," the star of Robert De Niro's movie A Bronx Tale, has been acquitted of his role in the murder of a NYC police officer. The stupid little shit was burglarizing a home with an accomplice that he claims he did not know was armed; when an off-duty cop who lived next door investigated, he was shot and killed. Brancato was convicted of attempted burglary.
The murderer is serving life in prison. Brancato claims he was high and trying to "let himself in" to his drug dealer's apartment as he had in the past. So apparently he wouldn't even confess to burglary. I'm not sure how the jury believed him, because he's not that good an actor, either. His last stint was on "The Sopranos," as one of the mooks working at Tony's poker game; he was the guy sweeping the grated cheese from the floor in front of Silvio. Not exactly a great career, after De Niro handed him a choice starring role in his movie.
Maybe Lillo and "A.J." Robert Iler- another idiot who got probation for strongarm robbery- can take a lesson from Tony "Palue Walnuts" Sirico, who did time in the '70s for sticking up after hours clubs- to stay on the straight and narrow, and stick to acting. Then again, maybe for our sake, they should stick to crime.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Gus Van Sant cast the Oscar bait on the waters and Sean Penn took the hook, giving a fantastic performance that never looks like Sean Penn. This is a great leap beyond his performance in Mystic River, and he truly manages to embody the character of Harvey Milk- the crusading gay rights activist and first openly gay politician elected to public office.
Van Sant directs quite well, and seems more on track with his older films like Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho than his bland but name-making Good Will Hunting. His sardonic eye is back, and we first meet Harvey in New York, at a random pick-up on his birthday. The benefit of being made by a gay director is that no punches are pulled and we do not shy away from the infamous '70s lifestyles and indulgent parades that are now frowned upon in an age where gay marriage is possible.
Prop 8 may have passed, but they have come a long way, and they stand on the shoulders of drag queens who got the shit beat out of them at Stonewall, and people like Harvey, who were unapologetic about their sexual orientation. Harvey and Scott- his pickup who becomes a long-time lover- move to San Francisco to escape the closet culture, and start a camera shop on Castro Street, near Haight-Ashbury and its accepting hippie culture. The camera shop becomes a gay activist hangout and eventually Harvey wants to change the system, and make it work for them- so he runs for office. Many, many times, before an act of gerrymandering allows him to become supervisor for his neighborhood.

He pulls together a team- young hustler Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild), lesbian campaign manager Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill, Dan in Real Life), and a motley gang of gay activists, that help drive him to victory with some political maneuvering- like leading a huge crowd of rowdy protesters to the steps of City Hall before quelling them with his natural public speaking skills.
By this time Scott- played to organic perfection by James Franco, another actor who's showing just what he can do if he has the chance- has tired of the political stress, and Harvey is with a flaky guy played by Diego Luna- once again this is not a puff piece, and we see some of Harvey's weaknesses and inability to break things off. Thankfully this is not delved into deeply- we don't get obvious Hollywood mirror monologues that tell us he has a need to make people happy, he can't say no, or whatever. We get a picture of a man with a mission, ahead of his time.
While teaching us a bit of history is one aspect of the film, it is more about character, Harvey as a person and his attitudes. We know the story- Harvey will succeed, only to be shot down by fellow supervisor Dan White. The movie is perhaps wise in its decision not to dwell on the circus trial of Harvey's murderer, and the riots that followed the decision. In fact, the movie lets hero Harvey's tragic flaw- that he was perhaps too kind, or couldn't see a dangerous personality when it stared him in the face- speak for itself.
Josh Brolin plays White as someone who looks dead normal but obviously has something bubbling beneath the surface- someone who should not be crossed. He's come a long way from The Goonies, and this is a big step from No Country for Old Men, as well- less subtle, but more risky. Penn's performance will be the talk of the Oscars, but Brolin, Franco, and Hirsch all do amazing jobs here. In the end, Harvey Milk's refusal to accept the backwardness of the times and his embrace of a more ideal future is the movie's enduring message. Will it make a difference the next time a Prop 8 type referendum comes to a popular vote? It's beyond that. It's a picture of a man without whose tireless work, the very idea of a gay marriage being legal could not be given serious thought. Gus Van Sant has crafted an excellent biopic of Harvey Milk, and doesn't clutter it with messages. Anyone with half a brain can see the message in Harvey's life. That we are all created equal and granted inalienable rights.

My one disappointment: that the Dead Kennedys song "I Fought the Law (And I Won), which excoriated the manslaughter conviction that White received for executing the Mayor and Harvey Milk, was not used in the film, and the riots forgotten. The infamous "twinkie defense" and the ability of an ex-cop to serve a mere 4 years after assassinating two political figures, is something else that must not be forgotten.

3.5 dongs out of 4

disclaimers of legal bull shitte

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