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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Marie Antoinette (**1/2)


The Girlie Show

Ever been trapped following your girlfriend and her girlfriends around the mall all day while they shopped and giggled and gossiped, leaving you to carry the bags? Marie Antoinette is a lot like that for the heterosexual male moviegoer. This is Sofia Coppola's Girlie World, circa 1770's France, an age where girls acted like girls and men were also girls. I like girls and I liked the movie, but only up to a point. By the end I started fantasizing about Arnold or Stallone or Bruce Willis bursting into the palace at Versailles and shooting everyone dead with the loudest, bloodyingest machine guns imaginable. Even Tom Cruise rappelling into the palace in one of his latex masks would have been sweet. Some violence - any violence - anything at all resembling machismo would have been pleasant. I was even looking forward to the famous "off with their heads!" moment that never actually came.

No one gets their asses kicked in Girlie World France, but there wasn't a single person there who didn't deserve at least a low blow or a bitch slap. Am I glad I wasn't alive back then! I'd have killed as many people as I could and then myself, in that order, just to get the hell out of there. But I should also point out for the fellas who get dragged to see this by their girls, it's not all bad. Kirsten Dunst gets repeatedly undressed by her courtesans. Nice.

Sofia Coppola has gentle, elegant directing style, and she has really good taste in 1980's New Wave music. Unfortunately, she felt no great urgency in telling the story of Marie Antoinette, a young Austrian princess arranged to marry the Dauphin Louis XVI and become Queen of France, as a narrative. The key events of Marie Antoinette's life are depicted in fitful, almost after-the-fact moments. The focus of the movie is the audience being immersed in the decadent world of French royalty in Versailles as Marie Antoinette herself is. Coppola is much, much more interested in the over-the-top opulence of the food, the clothes, the art, furnishings, and mind-boggling wealth of the time. Marie Antoinette almost feels like a Terrence Malick picture, with long, loving beauty shots of food and the grounds of Versailles, only lacking Malick's lyricism.

Coppola eschews the Hollywood Fish Out Of Water formula of storytelling; Marie Antoinette only fleetingly rebels against the stifiling protocol and endless boredom of her world (the best moment is when she leads applause at an opera, which we're told is frowned upon). Coppola and Kirsten Dunst's Marie is no rebel or radical out to change the system; she's just a rich girl who wanted to have some fun once in a while. Coppola is extremely effective in depicting the wasteful lives of the wealthy rulers of France: A whoring King Louis XV, his fey son Louis XVI, and all the chattering, gossiping, insufferable members of the royal court. Coppola is at her best when staging and blocking shots of the movement and elegance of the characters set to her unique musical choices. But there are no strong performances; when the actors would speak, they mostly sounded like actors from a Laguna Beach school play as directed by Paris Hilton.

Gradually, the decadence of the movie becomes deadening. Midway though, I'd had enough of food, clothes, and beauty shots of the palace. The characters in the movie hadn't; it was all they knew and they didn't much care what was going on beyond the manicured palace grounds. There was no one interesting, no one to root for. The primary conflict in the movie is whether or not Marie can get Louis to sleep with her, after years of angelic patience and failed attempts, so that she can produce an heir and solidify both her position as queen and the Franco-Austrian alliance. Despite looking, sounding, and acting gay, we're pointedly told Louis XVI is not in fact gay, he just somehow can't get it up for Marie. I see... Eventually Louis fathers three children by her, though we never see Marie Antoinette pregnant. For that matter, Kirsten Dunst remains perfectly thin for the entire movie despite consuming thousands of calories a day. I ate a donut and drank coffee every morning this week and felt like my ass was expanding. Somehow, Marie Antoinette can burn all those calories by flitting about her palace and laying about her luxurious satin sheets.

It's clear what Sofia Coppola was trying to say: these were rich, spoiled kids who had no business and no interest in running the country. They were the Laguna Beach castmembers of their day and their conversations were about as deep, interesting and informed. Girls are gonna always just want to have fun. The "men" in the movie are all dandy fops.

Marie Antoinette is genuinely baffled why she's loathed by the people of France. Neither she nor Louie had any real compehension of or interest in the bloody and violent Revolution happening in their midst until the angry mob marched right up to their palace doors and literally demanded their heads. The final shot of the movie is not the famous beheading of the king and queen but of a room of the palace completely trashed. The message is clear: The party's over.

On the way out of Marie Antoinette, I overheard a father explain to his young daughter why the people of France were mad at Marie Antoinette: "She was a bad queen. She didn't care about France." That seems to be accurate, but as a bad queen she was a product of a bad court. The people of France did the right thing. All those worthless people had to go.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Shinning


No TV And No Beer Make Homer Something Something 

This weekend at the Red Bank International Film Festival, we got to watch (a DVD of) The Shining on the big screen.  I don't remember when the last time I saw The Shining was - it'd been over a decade at least - but damn if I don't remember The Simpsons parody of it ("The Shinning") way more.

Probably the most disappointing part of The Shining was the ending, where there was no mention of "television's warm glowing warming glow."  Another instance where "The Shinning" is superior is in the motivation of why Homer went insane and tried to kill his family: Mr. Burns made sure there was no TV and no beer in the hotel.  You can't help but be a little confused as to why Jack Nicholson went insane.  Was it the ghosts?  His alcoholism?  Was he reincarnated from a murderer in 1921?  With Homer, it's very clear.

Homer:  "No TV and no beer make Homer something something"
Marge:  "Go crazy?"
Homer:  "Don't mind if I do!"

Hell, if I was stuck for five months with no TV and no beer, I'd make friends with an ax collection too.  I'd kill you.  I'd kill all of you!  (Did I say five months?  Five minutes might break me.)

A couple of observations from The Shining: 

Jack was really quite a fuck up.  The ghosts really bet on the wrong horse there.  All he had to do was shove an ax into his mousey wife and his spaced out son.  That's it.  Just kill two people.  He could have just gone up to them and said, "Can I ax you something?" and then axed them.  He lived in the same apartment with them.  He could have easily parted their skulls with the ax as they slept.  They wouldn't have seen it coming.  But no, he totally, completely blew it.  His incompetence reflected badly on the ghosts, all of whom killed their families without any trouble.

The poor black guy.  He's sitting in bed in Miami safe and sound with his nudie paintings of black women with huge 'fros hanging over his bed, not a care in the world, then he gets the Shining from the kid.  He puts on a dapper zoot suit, flies all the way out to Colorado, drives five hours in a blizzard, a few more hours on a snow truck to the hotel, and for what?  An ax in the chest.  Him, Jack can kill.  But if the black guy'd never shown up at all, Jack would have been the only casualty of his attempted killing spree.

When Shelley Duvall finds Jack's manuscript, hundreds of pages with only "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," and he sneaks up on her and asks her what she thinks, there's really only one response:

"Jack, you're a really shitty writer."

Can't imagine why anyone would stay at the Overlook Hotel after all the killings that go on there.  But you know, I'd still rather stay there than at a Hilton

Monday, October 9, 2006



A few weeks ago, Jeff asked if I wanted to come check out the SuicideGirls live burlesque show. I'm down for burlesque. Never been to a live burlesque show except for the striptease Dita Von Teese did at the Playboy Club a couple of years ago. (I still have the stocking she wrapped around my head somewhere. I'm sentimental.) Otherwise, I know The Pussycat Dolls used to do burlesque in LA but my familiarity with burlesque came mainly from The Simpsons episode with "Le Maison Derriere."

I'd only tangentially heard of the SuicideGirls before. They're pretty hot.  Tattooed girls with piercings usually aren't really my thing, for better or worse. The 'pretty hot' part won out after a consultation with my penis. He agreed with Jeff and seemed to think the SuicideGirls live burlesque show was worth a look-see. Both of them together know better than me, plus it was only $15, so yeah, I'm in.

The SuicideGirls put on a terrific fucking show. I didn't really have a solid idea of what we were in for on the outset, but the girls totally delivered. First, yes, they are naked, but no, not entirely. They always wear bottoms and electrical tape covers their nipples (they kept asking us if we wanted to see their nipples and then called us perverts. Hey, lady, I resemble that remark.) Besides that, they're as God made them, except for the ink. The SuicideGirls are not Playboy models; they don't resemble the stripper-next-door that Hef became infatuated with as he's grown ancient. They don't have implants and their bodies are all natural. And holy shit, are they hot. They are much, much hotter in person than even their photographs on the SuicideGirls website.

Eight girls performed for us, sometimes in groups, but each had at least one spotlight vignette to herself. The vignettes each told a specific story, always with the capper of the girls removing their tops. Some of the best included the girls dancing on a ladder and one of them using a glowing hoola hoop. Some vignettes were dark and violent, like a recreation of the ear cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs or one involving "Paris Hilton" and her like getting their throats slit by Nixon, the most goth Suicide Girl. The funniest by far involved one of The Middle East's burly security guards getting a lapdance and being dominated. He was absolutely intent on staring straight ahead and keeping a poker face, seemingly willing an erection away. The other SuicideGirls watching from the sides were dying from laughter. He was a pretty good sport.

The girls were diverse enough for various tastes, leaning decidedly towards goth, punk and club styles. They were each in their own way totally awesome. One of our favorites was Austin, the redhead with arms so toned Evangeline Lilly would have to do a couple of hundred pushups a day to compete. And Austin's ass shaking could force Shakira home to Columbia and send her back to the drawing board. Jeff was pretty enamored with Austin 's hotness. My personal favorite was Reagan, the tall, lean blonde of the group. (She's the blonde in the picture above the word "Coming." Apt.)  Reagan introduced us to the rules: no cameras and, like George Sr.'s prison in Arrested Development, no touching. Reagan doesn't just have charisma, she has the extra oomph, what Chris Jericho used to refer to as cha-RAZZ-ma. She laughed and smiled, interacted with the crowd, and looked like she was having the most fun out there. Her Napoleon Dynamite dance was another real crowd pleaser. And she was the one who got on the house mic and kept calling us perverts. That always wins me over.

The girls got us pretty dirty in the end, spraying the crowd with beer and silly string. Reagan is so good at drinking a beer and spitting it out in a cloud, Triple H ought to consider a new finish for his monster ring entrance. The burlesque show ran somewhere between an hour and ninety minutes. But even before the SuicideGirls took the stage we'd already more than had our $15 of entertainment.

The opening act was advertised as RedYellow and they were pretty good. They had a really hot bass guitarist and their lead singer made several forays into the crowd, singing to one guy in particular in the front row who left after their set was over. What we never saw coming was the second act: Tsu Shi Ma Mi Rae, three tiny girls from Japan who barely speak English. They put on a set as bizarre as it was surprisingly musically accomplished. They sang entirely in Japanese. Their crazy bassist convulsed around the stage with no regard for her own physical safety. Their drummer broke one of her drums ("Numba one strong drumma!") and while the roadies replaced it, the nigh-incomprehensible lead singer told stories to the crowd, occasionally leading us in chanting Japanese curse words. They were cute, energetic, and so happy to be there, you had to be a churl not to appreciate them. The churl I speak of, a guy named Seth we were crammed up next to in front of the stage, spent their entire set complaining and burying his face in his hands. He was being quite a douche. Tsu Shu Ma Mi Rae was weird and a lot of fun. After the sheer entertainment and money's worth they provided, the SuicideGirls themselves were all gravy.

One of the benefits to being 30+ is that I can get in anywhere. The line stretched all the way around the block of the Middle East in Cambridge, MA and the show was sold out but Jeff had our tickets on him. Being over 21, we didn't have to wait in line. We marched right past the throng of rave kids and strolled right in, making our way to the front of the stage. Unfortunately, there was no way it was going to be a comfortable night. The Middle East downstairs is a dark, relatively cramped space with bad sightlines. By the time the SuicideGirls hit the stage, there were 500+ raver kids wedged in deeply, all trying to get as close to the naked girls as possible. It was a humid, sweaty, odorous three hour endurance test, though the entertainment was well worth it. Unfortunately, there are always going to be some douchebags in the crowd. One particular asshole kept trying to worm his way to the front of the stage, shoving and elbowing me in the back. Jeff turned to yell at him and he fed us some bullshit about how he was trying to get to his girl. What a lying cocksucker. After three hours of standing in the same spot, we know who was with everyone around us. I stonewalled that piece of shit, he never got past me.

By the end of the show, we were all suffering from the heat and exhaustion; the beer the SuicideGirls sprayed on us was sweet relief.   The silly string made us look extra cool. Normally, I feel I'm too old for this shit. I'd put in my time in sweaty mosh pits a decade ago. But you just don't get to see something like that very often. Damn if the SuicideGirls didn't leave me satisfied and invigorated. And feeling, looking, and smelling dirty, in a good way.

**Three days later, I saw the SuicideGirls again with Alex Merkin, director of Across the Hall, in a dingy club in New York.  Just as much fun to watch, just as dirty coming out. (That's what she said.)