I wrote a few reviews

I used to post all of my reviews on here first, but I realized I was stealing, like, 20 readers a week from LGBT Weekly, so now I’m posting them late or just on my Publications page.

But I think from now on I’ll do — or try to remember to do — monthly wrap-ups.

I was did not like American Sniper:

In its first weekend in wide release, American Sniper earned more money than all of the other eight nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. It made $107 million of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, a record for a movie in January. By the time the Oscars are given out, it’s likely that the film will earn more than all of the other eight combined. The film had great marketing and was receiving award nominations, but nothing could have predicted how much the film would draw in audiences, not only in so-called middle America, but on the coasts, too; it was the number one film in California that weekend, too. Something about American Sniper has struck a chord, and it’s not clear what. Pundits are arguing about its politics, whether it’s pro or anti-war, whether it’s racist or just murderous, whether it’s true or not, whether or not it deserved to receive six Oscar nominations. I think the politics are decidedly muddled, and I think it deserved one nomination – for Bradley Cooper’s excellent performance – but the rest are somewhat ridiculous. It’s not a great film. [Read the rest.]

Still Alice was so, so sad:

It’s likely that both the Best Actor and Best Actress winners at this year’s Academy Awards will go to portrayals of people suffering from chronic neurodegenerative diseases. The films couldn’t be more different, however. In The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking, who was struck with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or ALS) more than 50 years ago and is miraculously still alive, if a paraplegic who speaks through a computer. The film is a saccharine triumph-over-adversity tale that ends with adoring fans cheering him on. In Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays a fictional woman who develops early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The story is not about triumph, but about the slow degradation of Alice’s once lively brain and perfect life and, secondarily, how that affects her loving family. It’s as subtle and sad as The Theory of Everything is obvious and uplifting. In fact, Still Alice may be the saddest movie I’ve ever seen. [Read the rest.]

I loved the utter craziness of Jupiter Ascending:

My biggest fear before I saw Jupiter Ascending was that the Wachowskis would take themselves too seriously, yet again, and try to drench the audience with wishy-washy New Age philosophy, a la “everything is a facsimile!” in The Matrix Trilogy and “we’re all connected!” in Cloud Atlas. But they restrained themselves, thematically anyway, and instead produced a ridiculous, often ridiculously fun, space opera that is a wonderful antidote to the over-serious Oscar films dominating movie-going. It’s hard to claim that Jupiter Ascending is “good” but it’s certainly entertaining. It’s the most fun I’ve had in the theater in several months. (But it’s still not “good.”) [Read the rest.]

And the utterly terrible Fifty Shades of Grey:

By now, I cannot imagine how anyone with an internet connection or who has access to a television or know any women who own books could not know about Fifty Shades of Grey, the poorly written soft-core S&M novel by E.L. James that, along with its two sequels, has sold 100 million copies worldwide and translated into more than fifty languages. By the time you read this, the film version which opened Valentine’s Day weekend will have earned $300 million worldwide. It was released to enormous hoopla, with people titillated partly because of the naughty sex and partly because the film’s press tour has been so bizarre, with the stars clearly communicating their dislike for each other and the material and the director barely containing her disdain for James and the studio bosses. So much ink and so many pixels have been devoted to explaining the books’ popularity, whether it’s a good or bad thing for women or men or the culture at large, so I won’t go into explaining the cultural phenomenon, and focus only on the movie. [Read the rest.]

Dude, don’t say, “Dude, you’re a fag.”

22-jump-streetWhen I reviewed 21 Jump Street two years ago, I praised the broad comedy about cops going undercover in high school for being very funny. But I was unnerved by how much of the humor was firmly based in homophobia. Officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are such good friends that they had to mock gay sex to make their friendship not seem too close, or inappropriately gay. I wrote that “an abnormally high – even for a vulgar, hard R comedy – percentage of the jokes in 21 Jump Street involve fear of gay sex. While Schmidt and Jenko state clearly that they don’t dislike gay people, their and the film’s extensive use of gay sexuality as something to mock and fear belies a homophobic subtext that isn’t very funny at all. The film is ultimately about male friendship, and it’s sad that the filmmakers, felt the need to basically scream ‘no homo!’ throughout the movie to make such a theme palatable to their target audience.” The movie was a big enough hit to garner a sequel, and I was worried that 22 Jump Street, in which our heroes go undercover in college, would continue the perpetuation of my sexuality as one big joke.

I was particularly concerned when Jonah Hill – who is one of the film’s stars, producers, and writers – was caught on tape by TMZ calling a paparazzo a “faggot.” However, Hill’s swift and heartfelt apology was, as celebrity apologies go, rather amazing. He seems to understand how homophobic language works: “I said the most hurtful word I could think of at that moment and, you know, I didn’t mean this in the sense of the word…I didn’t mean it in a homophobic way. And I think that doesn’t matter, you know? How you mean things doesn’t matter. Words have weight and meaning and the word I chose was grotesque and no one deserves to say and hear words like that.” It was hard to reconcile this apology with 21 Jump Street’s gay panic, and it made me wonder whether the criticism of the film had gotten to him. Maybe 22 Jump Street would be different.

And it is. In a way. 22 Jump Street is, lucky for the gays, not a two-hour mockery of gay sex. At one point, Jenko even rages at one of the bad guys for calling him what Hill called the paparazzo: “In 2014, you can’t say the word ‘faggot’!” However, 22 Jump Street is unfortunately a two-hour mockery of gay love. There are long bits focused on how Jenko and Schmidt’s fights seem like those of lovers; one is about how Jenko’s desire to investigate another man is like asking to be able to see other people and another is done in the office of a therapist who thinks they’re lovers. This mockery is not particularly cruel, and the film, like its predecessor, is a celebration of male friendship, even if that friendship seems a bit gay. It’s fumbling towards an enlightened view of masculinity, but in 2014, “even if” is unnecessary and retrograde.

All of that said, the 22 Jump Street is funny. In addition to a bunch of silly but laugh-worthy lines about sequels having bloated budgets and a dearth of ideas, both Hill and Tatum get to show off their ever-increasing movie starshine. Hill, who has now been nominated for two Oscars, bases much of his comedy on the humiliation of the needy nerd, and Schmidt is a nice encapsulation of a Hill character. (His parotic take on slam poetry is the best scene in the film.) When I saw 21 Jump Street, I thought casting Tatum as dumb jock Jenko perfect for his limited skills, but since then, I’ve come to realize he does dumb and pretty as Marilyn Monroe did – with great and underappreciated skill. Tatum is as good at being mentally clueless and physically flawless as Hill is at being schlubby and smart. They are perfect foils for each other. Maybe 23 Jump Street will jettison the homophobia and their comic pairing will become less cynical and daring. Or better, it will focus on how Schmidt and Jenko have been in love with each other the whole time. That would make all of this worthwhile.

22 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Written by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman
Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Ice Cube

Rated R

One of the Side Effects is sleepwalking

628x471The fake Ablixa causes sleepwalking. Which seems to be what Soderbergh was doing while directing the movie.

Steven Soderbergh has announced that Side Effects will be his last Hollywood film. At 50, he’s done; he’s said that he’s going to turn to painting and, maybe, directing television. But after directing Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Out of Sight, The Limey, Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Oceans 11, Che, The Informant, and Magic Mike, I would want to go out with a bang. Side Effects is a whimper. It’s basically a long, relatively well-acted Law & Order episode, complete with discussions of double jeopardy and a “shocking” but offensively retrograde ending. Continue…

Could it be magic?

How much did I love Magic Mike? So much.

When I told a couple of friends that I was taking my boyfriend to see Channing Tatum dance in a strip club in Magic Mike, there was an exultant, “Oh, that looks sooo bad!” They had the so-bad-it’s-good bloodlust; they were hoping for Showgirls crossed with Coyote Ugly crossed with Staying Alive. “It’s a Steven Soderbergh movie,” I said, and I was met with a few blank looks. “As in Traffic and Erin Brockovich and Oceans 11?” Silence. I decided not to mention Sex, Lies and Videotape.

Whoever was behind the marketing for Magic Mike decided that they were not going to even mention Soderbergh, let alone promote him. They were going to focus the ads on a shirtless, occasionally pantsless Tatum and, in various stages of undress, his costars Alex Pettyfer (I am Number Four), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matt Bomer (White Collar), and Matthew McConaughey, all looking like Men’s Fitness models. The only clue that the movie might be more than hot guys stripping to Top 40 music for an hour and half came with how stunning some of the visuals were – washes of sunlight, almost iridescent bleeds of color. We also saw a few seconds of what appears to be some snappy acting.

The marketing worked, because when we saw the movie on opening night, the showing was packed, and it was packed with very excited young women, some of whom were very drunk. (There also appeared to be seven or eight gay guys in the audience.) The first sight of Tatum was met with screams from the audience, and the screaming continued throughout the film whenever a man took off his shirt or showed his ass. There was a lot of screaming. I haven’t been to a movie with this much audience participation since I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show 20 years ago.

As fun as it was to watch all of these gorgeous men show off their perfect abs and how nicely they fit into thongs, the rest of the movie is also deserving of a good scream, too. Soderbergh’s visuals are, as usual, full of unexpected colors and inventive points of view; his edits are quick in places, naturalistic in others, but always propel the story perfectly. And Soderbergh’s direction of Reid Carolin’s very funny and very smart script made it seem as if the entire movie was improvised; everyone seemed totally at ease, their emotions always believable. There’s an actual plot, even if it is cribbed from All About Eve: Mike (Tatum) is the star dancer of Xquisite, a male revue in Tampa run by Dallas (McConaughey), who has the ego the size of the state of Florida and delusions of grandeur to match. Mike is a professional, makes good money, and has dreams of becoming a furniture designer. He meets 19-year-old Adam (Pettyfer), who is stunning and directionless, and helps him get into the show. Adam’s uptight sister Brooke (Horn) disapproves, and she becomes an excellent target for Mike’s endless charm. But as Adam turns into a star, he also turns into a jerk, and the ramifications of Adam’s bad behavior and Dallas’s lack of integrity make Mike question is path.

But the best thing about Magic Mike is Tatum himself. Those of us who saw him in Step Up know he can dance. Watching his long, lean muscular body doing acrobatic hip hop will either will take your breath away or make you scream. He has an odd beauty, the blank face of a dumb jock. This makes him both unthreatening and unspecific enough to serve as a blank screen onto which we can project our fantasies. But his face’s lack of actorly expression allows his audience to underestimate his skill. Because he can act. Magic Mike forces him to articulate almost every emotion, from flirtation to grief, and he is convincing at every turn. Tatum is already a star, but contrary to how Magic Mike was marketed, he may actually turn out to be serious one.

Magic Mike
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Reid Carolin
Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and Matthew McConaughey
Rated R
At your local multiplex


So, I laughed my ass off at 21 Jump Street, but the fear-of-gay-sex jokes got under my skin as I started writing the review. I don’t think I would have used the headline that LGBT Weekly ran with the review — “Excessive homophobia dulls this absurd comedy” — but it’s accurate. The version that ran here is a bit truncated, so here’s the unabridged version.

There seems to be two ways to turn a TV series into a movie. One way is to take the original show seriously and try to replicate the good stuff while making it grittier and widening the scope. This worked for The Untouchables and The Fugitive, while it was abject failure for The Mod Squad and The Last Airbender. The other way is to admit that the original show was cheesy or updating it would be impossible, so you make a wacky, preferably filthy comedy doused in enough irony to make John Waters smirk. The few times this was successful was in The Addams Family movies and, to a lesser extent, Starsky & Hutch and Charlie’s Angels. The movie based on the pretty lame 1980s cops-undercover-as-high-school-kids show 21 Jump Street (only remembered for giving Johnny Depp his start) takes the second tact, and – what a relief – it works. Okay, it more than works. It’s really, really funny – as long as you ignore the homophobia.

As in the original show, 21 Jump Street refers to the address of the headquarters of a squad of cops who go undercover as high school students to bust drug rings, chop shops, and so on. A slimmed down Jonah Hill plays Schmidt, a smart, but pudgy and awkward cop, partnered with Jenko (Channing Tatum), a dumb, but absurdly studly cop. In high school, they were nemeses, but in the police academy they realized their strengths and weaknesses were complementary, and they became best friends. After they make a series of ridiculous errors trying to arrest members of a drug gang, they are transferred to 21 Jump Street, which is run by self-proclaimed Angry Black Man Captain Dickson, played with great irony by Ice Cube. He assigns them to root out a drug dealing operation that may or may not have caused the death of a student. In the last seven years since they graduated, what is cool has changed, and suddenly Schmidt makes friends and Jenko is the nerd, and their attempts at fitting in reaches a level of vulgar absurdity that would never be allowed on TV.

As with most broad comedies, the plot is secondary to the jokes. Much of the humor in 21 Jump Street is physical, and Jonah Hill is shameless and expert at using his body as a punching bag, both actual and metaphorical. He also does comically outraged quite well, too. Channing Tatum is playing dumb, which means he was perfectly cast, but he also does a fine job lobbing one-liners and reacting to the ever-increasing absurdity of the case. Hill and Tatum are as mismatched as Laurel and Hardy, and their friendly and sometimes not-so-friendly fights are gleeful fun to watch.

The supporting cast is roundly great. As Schmidt’s love interest Molly, Brie Larson plays the same wise-beyond-her-years character as she did so expertly in The United States of Tara. James Franco’s brother Dave does a great job being beautiful, arrogant, and outmatched as the high school drug dealer. Rob Riggle, as the track coach, is as crass as The Office’s Ellie Kemper, playing the chemistry teacher hot for Jenko, is horny.

But an abnormally high – even for a vulgar, hard R comedy – percentage of the jokes in 21 Jump Street involve fear of gay sex, from anal sex as humiliating punishment to male-on-male oral sex as torture. While Schmidt and Jenko state clearly that they don’t dislike gay people, their and the film’s extensive use of gay sexuality as something to mock and fear belies a homophobic subtext that isn’t very funny at all. The film is ultimately about male friendship, and it’s sad that the filmmakers, including the screenwriter of the wonderful and progressive Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, felt the need to basically scream “no homo!” throughout the movie to make such a theme palatable to their target audience.

21 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Written by Michael Bacall
Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Brie Larson
Rated R
Opens March 16
At your local multiplex