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Relax... It's Just Sex (1998)
QAF Wishes It Was This Good
RELAX. . . deals with real people in real and extraordinary circumstances. You see people of all colors, men and women, straight and queer dealing with love, life, hopes, dreams, disillusionments, brutality, and ultimately friendship. The dialog is witty and the people are very 3-D.
It's hard to summarize this movie without giving too much away. Highlights include a dinner party where the meaning of AIDS is debated -- after one in the group announces his HIV+ status; a breakfast with a lesbian, her new boyfriend and her parents, where the parents are aghast that she's dating men now, after breaking up with her lover of 9 years whom they adored; a meeting between one of the main characters and Aunt Mahalia, played wonderfully by Paul Winfield; and a rape scene which leaves the viewer to answer very uncomfortable questions about violence and retribution. Wisely, the film does not answer any of the weighty questions it presents. It only presents them in a sometimes funny, often poignant way.
If the folks at Queer as Folk had any sense, they would hurry up and hire writer/director PJ Castellaneta as one of their principle writers, to bring some life and meaning back to that show. In lieu of that, just rent this and sit back and relax for a fun ride.
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
Diana Ross put in a very fine performance playing a very difficult role. Sadly, that role was not Billie Holiday and this is my big problem with this film. Any film with a musician as its subject should have loads of that musician's art. Diana Ross does sing some songs, but the MUSIC is not the focus of the film. The unhistoric life of Lady Day is: her experiences as a prostitute, her first gig, getting discovered, touring with a white band, Strange Fruit, etc. They are all thrown together into a hapless hodge-podge lacking continuity or even a semblance of a timeline. An even greater sin is that Lady Day did not develop in a vacuum as this film would have you believe. She was a vital part of the larger jazz scene of the 30s and 40s, a scene she shared on an equal footing with such giants as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Lester Young, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, and most importantly John Hammond, the famous producer and talent scout who discovered Lady Day in a small Harlem club. None of these people appear in the film in any way, shape, or fashion. That's not just ridiculous, it's criminal. I don't know if there was a permissions problem in portraying them on film (some of them were still alive when the film was made), but their absence is sorely felt.
Amadeus is also criticized as unhistoric, which it is, but it made the best of Mozart's life by putting his music at center stage. (It also helps that the events it portrayed were in chronological order.) The same could have maybe rescued LADY SINGS THE BLUES, but the opportunity was missed. Other than Diana Ross's harrowing portrayal of a heroin addicted singer (who could have been anyone but Billie Holiday), there is nothing to recommend this movie. Go watch Ken Burns' JAZZ series instead.
Galaxies Are Colliding (1992)
Eh. . .
This is one of those strange, self-important, self-indulgent movies which tries too hard to be profound. It isn't. Instead, it spouts cliches that try to pass for Profundity. Typical is the scene where Peter (Kelsey Grammer) explains to protagonist and best friend Adam (Dwier Brown) how man starts life breast feeding, then moves on to sucking the breast of his girlfriend, and finally his wife, thus concluding ultimately that life sucks. So deep. We are treated to a variety of characters who offer their perspective of life, the universe, etc. during Adam's travels through the Mojave Desert on foot. (He abruptly leaves L.A. the day of his wedding and his family, friends, and fiance assume he's dead when his car was found in a military test range smashed by a rocket.) Some characters are more entertaining than others. The best by far is an escapee from a mental hospital who only speaks through the voices of others. The actor, James Kevin Ward, does some great impressions, including Nicholson, Popeye, and several characters from the original Star Trek. But once the interesting characters leave the screen, we're stuck with Adam again and his pursuit of the profound. It's a long trip, which drags in many places. In fact, it's the longest hour and a half movie I've ever seen. And the finale hardly makes it seem worth while, at all.
I discovered this movie playing on HBO one day by waking up too early and clicking on the TV. That'll learn me. Next time I'll try harder to sleep in.
I saw it when it first came out, I suppose, in 89 or 90. It gave me an upset stomach and a headache for about 2 weeks afterwards. And even now, 10 years later, just thinking about it really makes my stomach upset.
This is without a doubt the grossest film I've ever seen. Juvenile sadism masquerades as "art." It's very difficult to me to attach myself to a film which features nothing but repugnant characters; to do so, the characters have to be really, really interesting. These aren't. They are brutish and nasty to the very end, yet terribly 2-dimensional. You don't care what happens to them after a while. But the shear grossness of the film compels you to watch, the same way one is drawn to watch an accident. I actually almost walked out of this film, but stayed for some unknown reason. Not the wisest decision I've ever made.
I'd give it a "zero" if it were possible, but the "1" will have to do. I better stop now. My headache is returning.
Queer as Folk (2000)
Though it is a treat to see gay drama on American television, this show sadly misses the mark. The characters are horribly two-dimensional. None of them evoked any sympathy from me, with the possible exception of Justin Taylor, the 17-year old "run-away." In fact, the scene between him and ad-exec. Brian Kinney where Justin admits it was his first time having sex, and Brian relived his first time at age 14, was the most tender and engaging scene in the whole episode. But such moments were few and far between. Probably, the biggest problem with the first episode was that the narrator, Michael Novotny (Hal Sparks), really got on my nerves in a bad way. After a while, I just didn't care what he had to say about anything. It's the kiss of death when your narrator turns you off. You disengage. Which is exactly what I did about halfway through the story. I won't give up on QAF just yet. Hopefully it will improve with time and the characters will gain some badly needed depth. Otherwise, perhaps I should just search for the British original on DVD.
Kings and Desperate Men (1981)
Overly long and often aimless hostage story with lots of funky camera angles that try to convey confusion -- though one need not look much farther than the plot for that. Good performances by McGoohan & Kanner (who worked together on McGoohan's THE PRISONER), but overall, the poor plot drags it down.
Common Ground (2000)
COMMON GROUND sports excellent acting and generally very strong writing as it tackles different shadings of the gay experience in a small town setting. Small towns can be most unforgiving about differences, especially differences that are hated and feared, like homosexuality. This was brought across quite well in COMMON GROUND which traces gay/lesbian life in three different time settings: 50s, 70s, and the present day. By far the strongest segments were the first two. The last, written by Harvey Feirstein, was lighter in nature, which isn't a bad thing, but the characters were not as fleshed out as in the prior segments. Overall, though, it is an excellent show and a must see for everyone to get a glimpse of the gay experience in America.