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Will & Grace (1998)
"Straight Eye" for the Queer Guy -- ultimately disappointing
I've been a casual viewer of Will & Grace for years, on and off, and have enjoyed it in small doses. The show does have some genuinely funny moments (such as the infamous water bra episode), but the show's ultimately unevenly written and acted (with so much overacting and scenery chewing by Messing and Hayes, in particular, that you can actually see the wood chips flying).
I'm a straight (not narrow) woman with several friends of all persuasions -- gay, straight, and bi -- but I honestly feel that Jack's the best thing the right wing's ever seen. He's an embarrassment, the best testimonial anywhere that gay men can't possibly be taken seriously. Jack's supremely self-centered, the blissfully oblivious butt of every prank, the poster boy for every gay joke ever told. And while Hayes can be a talented -- if one-note -- comic actor in small doses, I loathe the way this character spends all his time cruelly putting Will down for physical flaws that don't even exist (weirder yet is the fact that "dowdy" Will is the hottie, while full-of-himself Jack is merely average). And if Jack's not putting down Will, he and Karen are busy vilely putting down just about anyone else who crosses their paths -- there's no stereotype or racial slur the two won't embrace. (I love Megan Mullaly's performances as much as I love McCormick's -- but a little Karen does go a long way.)
The fact is, 'Will & Grace' plays the ultimate dirty trick on its audiences, and on the character of Will, by keeping him perpetually unattached as Grace's "pseudo-boyfriend." The show has its cake and eats it too, by making Will gay -- but never letting him act on it in a meaningful way (even the "on-air kiss" episode was ironic, since Will kissed Jack not out of emotion but as a TV stunt). The one love interest last year who had potential for Will (as played by Dan Futterman in a four-episode arc of some of the show's best episodes) was built up as "true love" -- then the guy was quickly disposed of in the last 60 seconds as wanting to "play the field," just when it might have gotten serious.
Take a look at the show's major storylines for the past few years: For Grace, the show has addressed her flings, several serious romances, her desire to have a baby (with Will!), her (inexplicable) chemistryless marriage. But what's changed for Will? Nothing. (Because he's Grace's pseudo-guy. He's not allowed.)
It's bothersome. The late-night ad campaign perpetuates all this by showing a series of fun, fast moments from the show that all seem to involve Will and Grace in `straight' situations. They show Grace pushing Will off a bed, yelling `I want to have sex with you,' they show Will covering Grace's breasts with his hands (from the infamous episode in which her 'water bra' springs a few leaks), and show several cuts of Will and Grace in intimate and tender embraces.
The show's opening credits themselves end with Grace in Will's arms, clad in leather pants, her legs straddling him, his hands on her hips.
In a perfect world, it could be argued that this depiction is simply one of a warm and rich friendship with a lot of easy physicality.
But the fact that Will's social life takes place almost exclusively offscreen (and is much more pallid and dissatisfying than that of any of the other characters) belies that, and leads me to think that, underneath it all, Will & Grace isn't about a gay man and his best friend. It's about the pseudo-sexual attachment of a man and a woman in a pretty damn good representation of a straight relationship (even down to the genuinely nasty fights the two had when Grace decided not to have a baby with him). Will is "pseudo-straight" -- alone, dateless, not allowed to have any other interests but Grace. They've even kissed several times in a romantic way.
This bugs the heck out of me and is insulting ultimately to audiences no matter what their preferences. There's no way a guy as good-looking, smart, well-off, and cultured as Will would be single and dateless for years at a time -- unless he wanted to be. To show Will pining night after night while actively seeking a social life -- I just don't buy it.
Then there's Eric McCormack's recent upsetting quote of just last week about upcoming guest star Dylan McDermott as a new love interest for Will (paraphrased): "Middle America isn't ready for Will to be in a long-term relationship yet."
Oh, really? Then what's this show ABOUT, anyway? It's an insult to the whole concept of this supposedly open show and exposes it as the cardboard cutout it is.
In the end, the show has some funny moments despite the consistently cruel humor, but remove the candy coating and it's ultimately pretty disturbing -- and disappointing.
Just my 2 cents... ultimately, it's just a TV show. But the fact that this show is constantly patting itself on the back for being so "groundbreaking" while it's actually just perpetuating the same old myths and stereotypes is more than a little sad.
A smart, quiet thriller
Wow, I was really surprised to see so many negative comments for this film. [Although, I guess I understand the angry folks -- I felt the same way after "Signs" (loved the movie until the final five minutes, walked out completely furious at the smug silly "twist").]
But I personally was blown away by "Unbreakable" -- although I'm not a huge Shamalayan fan (thought "Sixth Sense" was good, but that it doesn't hold up well under repeated viewings IMHO). However this film is intelligently written, beautifully acted, and offers a lovely, melancholy glimpse at a hero's own self-recognition. The characters are all so wonderfully drawn, and feel very real. Jackson is a revelation as always in his role, and Willis is genuinely moving as a hero who moves through the world in almost constant, quiet pain. The cinematography is beautiful, the direction quietly assured (notice that Glass is almost always viewed first through a reflection of sorts), and the score is gorgeous as well.
I'd recommend it to those who love a good thriller, or who are seeking something intelligent and grown-up, off the beaten path.
Mary Reilly (1996)
Surprisingly good... stays with you.
I keep coming across this film, and every time am surprised by how good it is, and how rich are its characterizations. The film begins with a lovely metaphor -- Mary's warm hands bringing a stunned eel back to life (an eel that is then mercilessly chopped up and served for breakfast), and this metaphor is a wonderful analogy for Mary's effect on the doomed Dr. Jekyll. She brings him back to life, but only after a terrible decision has already been made. It's too late.
I especially loved several aspects to this film -- not just the performances, but the literate and subtle script by Hampton, that really gives a sense of the war for good and evil within all the lead characters -- especially illuminating both sides of the coin that is Mary herself (because the film has no easy answers), and that she truly fears and loves equally -- as does Dr. Jekyll himself.
The film shows compassion toward both lead characters as the subtle victims of early abuse -- but where Jekyll seeks to become "the knife as well as the blade," Mary's situation is both simpler and more complex. She doesn't seek retribution but instead finds a kind of fascination in herself with the undeniably attractive Hyde, who apologizes to no one, who neatly sidesteps the Victorian niceties of the times. She may want to screw Hyde, but she loves Jekyll. In some ways, it's the perfect match -- even if it is an impossible threesome.
The performances are lovely -- Roberts' accent is uneven (she did a much more authentic brogue in "Michael Collins"), but she is really striking visually, has never been more beautiful, and makes some very brave choices as an actress nonetheless, so the accent inconsistencies didn't bother me too much. Malkovich is wonderful and equally subtle (even if Hyde does seem to simply be channeling his Vicomte from "Dangerous Liaisons). The script by Hampton is literate and sometimes troubling (there are no easy Freudian answers here), and the direction is gorgeous, as is the cinematography -- Roberts and Malkovich seem to emerge as pale haunted visages in the darkness.
Overall, flaws and all, I'd recommend this film as worth a second look.
Stylish but Empty (And such a disappointing third chapter)
I know I'm in the minority on this, but I hated this chapter with the fire of a thousand suns. This was just such a disappointing direction for the series to go in -- I'm a huge fan of Alien and Aliens, and I walked out of Alien3 halfway through the first time I saw this, when I saw what they'd done to the lovely ending of Aliens. James Cameron made a fantastic, thrilling, pulse-pounding film with the second one, gave Ripley a well-deserved happy ending (complete with a new family) -- and this film goes and takes a dump all over it. It just seemed like a pointless and cruel choice for the series to go in.
Fincher may be a prodigiously talented director -- no argument, I'm a huge fan of his other work -- but in this case it's all overblown, overdone -- it feels more to me like a "look what I can do" film exercise than a Scifi film. I just wish the film had paid half as much attention to the script as Fincher does in setting up his shots. Fancy, too-long shots of blood spattering in slo-mo, predictable artsy shadows for the alien to lurk in, etc -- even upon rewatching this (it's taken me three times simply to make it to the end), I just didn't care, and it's obvious the filmmakers don't either. It's very cold, characters are dispatched on schedule, and oh, look at the pretty slomo.
On the good side, the acting is uniformly fine, with Weaver fantastic as always in a totally thankless role, and the cinematography is really gorgeous. People get slaughtered right and left but at least it's by candlelight.
Ultimately, what bothered me most (and still does) was Alien3's underlying humiliation of Ripley -- it was like they went out of their way to rob her of all previous happiness, then further degrade, debase, and humiliate the character until she dies a gruesome, painful and unhappy death. Um, OK. Nice ending.
Anyway, all you Fincher fans will probably throw things at me, but count me in as one of the minority who hated this. (I still love the rumor mill that says Joss Whedon's first draft of Alien Resurrection was to simply make all of Alien3 a dream. Works for me!)
Broadcast News (1987)
James L. Brooks Wimped Out...
I feel like a hypocrite, because I love a lot of this movie (and own it) but also hate the last ten minutes every single time I've seen it. And just don't get those who fall to pieces over the character of Aaron, played by Albert Brooks, who's frankly one of the most unlikeable asses I've ever seen onscreen.
Although the performances (lead and supporting) are all superb and worthy of all the praise they got, "Broadcast News" is one of those that sounds better -- and feels better -- than it is. In retrospect, it's one of those whose moments have come up often for me -- the young Jane's "obsessive" speech, Joan Cusack's dash with the videotape, Jane's disastrous public speaking event, etc.
But in reality while the movie's witty and beautifully acted, I always secretly feel James L. Brooks let us viewers down. He is widely publicized as being unable to come up with an ending for his characters -- hence the hideous non-ending which embarrasses the Hunter character unnecessarily and adds further loose ends to a movie already full of them. Brooks should have held true to the spirit of the story -- which was obviously going to be an ending in which Jane chooses style over substance (Hurt) -- or substance over style (Albert Brooks).
Although frankly, Brooks's character is such a petulant, insecure, acid-tongued and (worst of all) verbally abusive ass that I can't imagine any woman going for him. I loathed this character and never found him likeable in any way. Just MHO, but the guy never deserved Jane for a single moment. His behavior throughout the last half of the film is incredibly cruel, without the right to be so, as he has never been Jane's lover (and she has never treated him as one) -- just a friend to whom she's kind because she knows he has feelings for her. And an undeserving one at that.
And then we have William Hurt, who fabulously plays the slightly dim -- yet very perceptive and lovable news anchor who catches Jane's eye. While written to be a laughingstock, Hurt manages to find the humanity in his character, making him attractive, willing to learn and improve, and honest (even when it comes to his own failings). So every time I've seen this, Jane's decision to punish Hurt comes across as false to me, and as having very little ethical merit. And of course -- any news producer worth her salt would've known ages before how that interview was filmed, so the final chapter's drama is poorly manufactured.
And the ending (or non-ending) just flat sucks. It's an embarrassment to Jane's character and Hunter's lovely brave performance -- why is it that the heroine of the film in this footnote scene a few years later is the one person who hasn't seemed to have moved on? Yuck. Brooks wimped out.
Passion in the Desert (1997)
An Unforgettable Journey
Those who distill "Passion in the Desert" down to "a guy falls in love with a leopard" actually miss the point. The interesting thing about this movie is not its unique and stark setting, or the strange match of its two protagonists, but the way the film manages to paint a metaphorical portrait of love and all the slings and arrows that go with it -- and it does so almost wordlessly. The resulting film is curiously pure, strange, and unforgettable.
Even the first act, which is more or less a conventional portrait of two men lost in the desert in Napoleonic times -- has a richness and poignancy (one man, an artist, drinks his paints in thirsty desperation, and the image of his paint-stained lips is haunting).
But ultimately this is a movie about love, a sensitively told fable, gorgeously photographed, about a man who is first mysteriously protected by -- and then drawn to -- a wild she-leopard, and of the way the leopard begins to draw him into her world. The movie isn't so much about men vs. leopards (or "men with leopards!" tabloid-style -- the movie stops short of portraying the affection between the two in the biblical sense, although there is some ambiguity there) as it is about the nature of love itself. The film paints some fresh, unsettling, and sometimes amusing portraits of the things people do when they're in love -- all the way down to the spitefulness and jealousy that come into play when that love is threatened.
By the end of the film, the story has become almost Shakespearean in its depth and richness as the plot plays out to its haunting end. At this point, the roles have almost reversed -- the man has become wild and catlike, and the she-leopard seems strikingly human and thoughtful in her expressions and her actions. The film is the first I've ever seen which actually raises some uncomfortable and ultimately fascinating questions about the possibility of a human falling in love with an animal -- and it explores these questions gracefully and without sensationalism.
All in all, "Passion in the Desert" was an exquisite film that really moved me -- the performances, both human and animal, are breathtaking and frankly amazed me, and the cinematography and music are glorious. (Too bad there aren't animal Oscars -- the she-leopard in this film really gives an incredible performance.) Bottom Line: If you're looking for something off the beaten path (no pun intended), this film's a keeper.