I’ve been thinking a lot about Sean Penn’s Into the Wild lately, though not because of any haunting quality about the film (my full review will be posted next week here and on Playback's website), but that it has all the makings of one of those over-appreciated films that first-year undergrads cream over. A friend of a friend made a comment about Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, stating, “it appeals to the undergrad in all of us.” I’ve been thinking lately how that has changed for the worse. I can see where he’s coming from, though I have a guiltless, yet hardly impassioned, liking for the film. I think as time goes by, a film like Wings of Desire has gone over the head of the peons of the pre-graduate collegiate study. Instead, something a bit more manageable and whimsical (a word I hate) like Amèlie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have replaced the likes of Eraserhead as standards for these individuals. Alas, I digress. What’s truly unfortunate about Into the Wild is that it pains of the staleness of self-importance. Penn has been running around promoting his ambitiously middling meditation of the existence of man (God, too bad Antonioni had to die before seeing the shallowness of Penn’s perspective), even garnering the attention of Miss Oprah Winfrey, whose taste in literature looks scholarly in comparison to her appreciation of film (shoot me if I’m wrong, but I thought I overheard someone say that she compared Paul Haggis’ abortion-to-turn-Roe-v-Wade Crash to Citizen Kane). Penn is not a filmmaker, and if you need an example of such, notice his pedestrian motif to show the passing of time, which he’s so proud of that he uses at least ten or so times throughout the film. Penn couldn’t even find an actor capable of selling whatever it is that he’s throwing out there, let alone lift the film above its mediocrity. In Emile Hirsch, he finds an actor of a certain sheepish capacity, who apparently performs all of his own stunts, none of which the least bit marvelous. I guess it should say something that Hirsch was outshined by Justin Timberlake in Alpha Dog. Thankfully, Penn enlisted some fine supporting talent, particularly from Catherine Keener, who, even in tripe like Lovely & Amazing, always floats my boat. As Hirsch’s parents, William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden effectively ham it up, and even the usually painstaking Jena Malone makes for a fine occasional narrator (Penn can’t commit to anything here). I’m sure a bunch of young folks (not to mention the members of Oprah’s cult) whose intelligence is exceedingly surpassed by their own egoism will jump all over this, and, I ask, isn’t this upsetting?
On television, at three-in-the-morning last night, some subsidiary of HBO or Cinemax played the finest double-feature in cable television history: The Wiz, not followed by but playing during, Less than Zero. I say finest, because one who lost their remote and bound similar to that scene in A Clockwork Orange wouldn’t have to suffer through both. Plenty of people cite Robert Altman’s Popeye as one of the worst missteps of an acclaimed director, especially in relation to the musical genre, but have they not seen Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz? Oh, it has black people in it, so we can’t be too harsh, right? Dead wrong. The Wiz is… fucking… terrible. My friend commented on this, “how could a film go so wrong with so many good people involved?“ I responded, “you mean so many good people… and Diana Ross.” I’ve always hated Diana Ross, but if you need a solid example of why you should too, see her arm-flailing performance here, fully equipped with a rat’s nest weave to boot. She has the charisma of a worn-down nickel, and I’m just glad Judy Garland was dead by the time this piece of shit came around (there seems to be an unintended theme of: thank-God-they-were-dead-before-seeing-this running through this blog). The only good song in the whole film, “Ease on Down the Road,” occurs way too late in the film to sustain any interest, and also way too far from the end to allow for one to seal the deal. At the very least, one could make plenty of nasty comments about “easing on down the road,” as my friend Mike did when realizing he hadn’t rated the film on Netflix, “ease on down the road to the fucking river and throw in this abortion.” There’s something refreshing about referring to films as abortions.
Now for Less than Zero… what a crock of dead babies (this blog has multi-layered thematic elements). Y’know, say all you want about Bret Easton Ellis, but as a high school nihilist, his books enthralled me to no end (at least Less than Zero, American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction, certainly not his awful collection of short stories entitled The Informers). He certainly captured a sect of society and youth like no one else had, likely because most of the disgustingly rich and emotionally vacant elite didn’t dare speak poorly on their legacies, bank accounts, or filthy secrets (or, they just couldn’t write). But in the film adaptation of Less than Zero, these youths are strikingly similar to those of St. Elmo’s Fire or The Breakfast Club, only with fancier abodes. I really couldn’t bring myself to watch much, as I’d seen and blocked out the film in its entirety previously, and plus, it’s not as fun making fun of Jami Gertz as it is Diana Ross.
Car Wash was also playing, and being the superior of the three aforementioned films, I opted not to watch it, though it’s worth noting that the screenplay was written by Joel Schummacher, who also wrote The Wiz. The film was directed by Michael Schultz, who also directed everyone’s other favorite musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.
In conclusion (I’ve decided not to go on about how much of an… abortion the film The Apple is for now), I now understand the appeal of gay-bashing. With the combination of Schummacher and fifteen-minutes-of-fame-whore/Britney-loony Chrissy Crocker, I caught an episode or two of here! television’s The Lair, apparently a spin-off of one of their more popular gay soaps Dante’s Cove. The show stars a bunch of gay porn stars and the only major cast member of Shortbus not to shuck off his clothes, Peter Stickles, in what I firmly believe to be the biggest horseshit excuse for “entertainment” I’ve seen in… maybe forever. I really doubt gay television stations like here! or Logo are looking for a crossover audience, but I highly doubt their intention was to fuel hatred for the homosexual community. I could go on about gay cinema and its reputation, but that would take forever. In summation though, most queer cinema is dreck, starring chiseled male bodies in place of actors, or on the occasion that a film of said community is of quality (Shortbus, The Raspberry Reich, Poison, The Doom Generation, Presque rien), its anger, sexual explicitness, or “perversion” keeps its larger audience at bay. I digress, again… The Lair follows a self-proclaimed “small-town journalist trying to make it big,” who somehow manages to have a fantastic apartment in wherever the series is supposed to take place. The journalist, who has a seedy shower body-worship sequence early in the series, is aided by an informant to a string of hot-man-murders in town because, as the informant states, he seems like “a decent guy” (read: has a hot body). The show is shockingly free of mood, tension, intrigue -- and most shocking of all -- genuine eroticism. When your program makes David DeCoteau films look like high-art, you should just stop. You should see what the fags who make this bullshit look like, because maybe that would explain why someone would put up money for them to explore their sparkless sexual fantasies on film (or video as it likely is). Oh, well, no one is really holding their breath for true queer cineastes to destroy the stereotype anytime soon.
Save your time with all that’s been mentioned above and rent Tony Richardson’s French melodrama Mademoiselle, starring the incomparable Jeanne Moreau in a script by Jean Genet and Marguerite Duras, featuring sexual repression, arson, animals in peril, and -- best of all -- fishnet gloves.