Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Interview: Gay Panic vs. Nuclear Annihilation

 First off, let me just say how affirming it was to sit in a movie theater with my fellow New Yorkers to watch The Interview. Normally, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see an adolescent comedy about a plot to kill the leader of North Korea, but I was so pissed off at the idea of a foreign dictator telling me what I can or can’t see that I was like, “You know something? Fuck you, North Korea! I’m going to see this!”
And, no, that police command station assembled one block from the movie theater did not make me nervous at all.
Now, to the movie itself.
Much has been made over the fact that The Interview may be the first movie to depict the death (albeit humorously rendered) of a sitting head of state. (And a psychotic head of state with nuclear weapons, to boot.) Less has been made over the fact that The Interview is, essentially, a 90-minute riff on what I call “gay panic.” That is, the discomfort many heterosexual men feel at the idea that they may be (or be perceived), in the slightest way, homosexual, and the fact that, for many heterosexual men, this is the worst thing you could possibly be.
As a gay man, sitting in a movie theater with (I would assume), mostly heterosexual men laughing at one of my defining traits as a human being, could make one, how shall I say, uncomfortable.
The oddity of this spectacle is further compounded by the fact that it is being portrayed by an actor, James Franco, who has made something of a career lately out of playing gay men (Allen Ginsberg, Hart Crane, a fake documentary about the movie Cruising). And, of course, need it be said? James Franco is ridiculously handsome.
So, imagine a movie in which James Franco and his polar opposite in the looks department, Seth Rogen, do everything but have intercourse onscreen (and do, in fact, kiss each other, say they love each other, drink fancy cocktails with umbrellas in them and—horrors—listen to Katy Perry music).
Indeed, the amount of phony homosexuality on display is ratcheted up so high that you have to laugh—and that, I suppose, is the point.
There’s also a cameo at the beginning of the movie by Eminem where he “admits” to being gay during an interview on a tabloid TV show. So is Eminem making fun of gays or poking fun at his image as a homophobic rapper? Truth be told, I can’t even remember why he is allegedly homophobic (I don’t really listen to rap music) and, besides, didn’t he already silence those complaints when he performed with Elton John on the Grammy Awards?
Then again, I suppose if we’re going to go down that road, an equal if not larger grievance could be voiced by Asians (or at least North Koreans), for being portrayed as the world’s laughing stock. Or women, for being portrayed as sex objects whose only reason for existence is to please men.
The fact is, that if one can suspend one’s inner PC police, the movie is actually quite funny. And, by employing more Asian actors than pretty much every other Hollywood movie put together and showing them poking fun at themselves, it has the ironic effect of humanizing them.
Now if only Seth Rogen and James Franco would just fuck each other and get it over with.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Love-Hate Relationship: Homeland vs. The Affair

 The last few Sundays, I’ve been having a love-hate relationship with Showtime. I love Homeland. I hate The Affair.
I’ve recently become acquainted with the term “hate-fucking.” Is there such a thing as hate-watching?
Let’s start with Homeland.
I didn’t watch the first few seasons of Homeland, but I decided to give this season a try because I’d heard such good things about it. (A previous attempt at trying to watch last season didn’t work because the plot was already too far along for me to catch up.)
This season started great and got better. And it was also a new story line, so if you missed the first few seasons, like I did, you could start from scratch.
This season’s arc had Carrie (Claire Danes), a bipolar CIA agent, pursuing the Osama Bin Laden-like character Haissam Haqqani in Pakistan. Along the way, she has a make-believe affair with Haqqani’s young nephew, a slowly simmering attraction to her hot fellow agent Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), and has to deal with a bunch of backstabbing coworkers that make your typical office politics look like a walk in the park.
While the season finale was relatively subdued compared to the rest of the season (Carrie returns home to the United States while Quinn, after swearing he wouldn’t, returns to Pakistan), there were some moments that were so suspenseful, it was truly difficult to watch.
And I haven’t even gotten into the sadomasochistic relationship between the U.S. Ambassador Martha Boyd (Laila Robbins) and her traitorous husband or their double-dealing Pakistani counterparts.
Really, a plot summary couldn’t possibly do the series justice.
Let’s just say that by the end of the season, I needed some of Carrie’s bipolar medication!
Now let’s talk about The Affair.
What started for me as a harmless bit of real estate porn turned into…well…just porn!
Holy crap! Dominic West was naked more often on this series than Lena Dunham in Girls! (Not that I’m complaining…)
But the histrionics were ratcheted up so high, it was more like watching a soap opera than the True Detectives-like mystery they were aiming for. (How creepy was that Fiona Apple song at the beginning?)
Noah and Helen Soloway (Mr. West and Maura Tierney), a Brooklyn couple (he’s a teacher and writer, she runs a home furnishings store) are vacationing with their family in Montauk when Noah is drawn to a young waitress (Alison Bailey, played by Ruth Wilson) at a seafood restaurant.
They immediately begin a torrid affair, but this is no ordinary affair. You see, Alison’s young son died several years ago and she and her husband are still in mourning. Meanwhile, Noah has to deal with his rich in-laws who are constantly belittling him.
While the series shows the very real devastation infidelity can wreak on a marriage, Noah and Alison are so self-destructive that after a while you’re like, “Oh, well, I guess they’re gonna fuck again.”
OK, so we know that—in America—sex is a greater taboo than violence and infidelity a more serious crime than murder. But if you’re going to have a morality tale about infidelity, go big or go home. I’m talking Fatal Attraction.
That movie was more believable for being a one-night-stand gone wrong than the long, drawn-out Affair. And Glenn Close (as Alex Forrest) was so deliciously evil, she practically verged on camp. (As much as I loved Cher in Moonstruck, I still think Ms. Close deserved the Oscar that year.)
In the Affair season finale, when Noah is finally arrested for a murder we never saw him commit, all you can do is yawn.
P.S. The Comeback is a bit of a disappointment this season, too. I guess the first season (nine years ago) set the bar so high (and reality TV set the bar for humiliation so low) that it was hard to top. (I also think that the show-within-the-show, Room and Bored, added a much-needed dimension.) This week’s episode, where Valerie wears a wire to the restaurant where she and her husband are trying to repair their relationship, approached some of the cringeworthy-ness that made the first season so good.
Sometimes I think, this isn’t a comedy about show business, it’s a documentary.

Friday, December 12, 2014

White Riot

“White riot  I wanna riot
White riot  a riot of my own.”
—The Clash

When I looked at the front page of today’s New York Times, I was so furious, I felt like I was having a heart attack.
The lead story was about how, in a move that was typical of what’s been happening in this country lately, House Republicans snuck in a last-minute giveaway to banks in next year’s budget before leaving for vacation, and the only member of Congress who spoke out against it was Nancy Pelosi.1 Even Obama caved in to Republicans! (Again! Roll over, Obama!)
Right next to that story was an article about how "the share of prime-age men...who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s...."2
That’s right! The same people who voted to bail out the banks six years ago voted to allow them to continue doing the very same things that necessitated their bailout in the first place! They also threw in a measure increasing by tenfold the amount of money people are allowed to contribute to political parties.
The same people who refused to extend unemployment benefits five times last year, voted to give banks a major loophole, thereby increasing the chances of another financial collapse and another bailout at taxpayer expense.
And, of course, none of the parties responsible for the financial collapse were ever prosecuted. (Why should be we surprised, though, when just the day before the Times reported on the C.I.A.’s involvement in and cover-up of torture. None of the people responsible for that were ever prosecuted, either.)
But I digress.
Meanwhile, the front page of the New York Post was all about Hollywood producer Scott Rudin calling Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat.” (This from a man whose own ego is so huge he goes through 50 assistants a year.3 Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!)
People went to work, as usual. The subway droned on with its Orwellian announcements about giving up your seat to the elderly and “if you see something, say something.” (I mean, really, if you need a subway announcement to lecture adults about manners, you’ve already lost the battle.)
The operating principle in this country (if not the world) today seems to be "How much can we squeeze people before they literally riot?" Not figuratively riot, but burn buildings and cars riot.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen the black community (along with supporters of other races) justifiably angry about the killings of young black men by white police officers.
What I want to know is, Where’s our riot? 
Granted, the financial collapse affected everyone—white and black—but the difference is that so-called “white collar” criminals are rarely punished, while blacks are sometimes killed over minor offenses.
Where’s our outrage?
I think the problem is that people simply don't know how bad things are. Everyone’s working so many hours, they don’t have time to read the newspaper. And the TV news is about as substantive as Entertainment Tonight.
Meanwhile, the moneyed powers that run this country (if not the world) continue to get richer and more powerful.
I’m surprised shows like Real Time with Bill Maher, Moyers & Company, The Daily Show or The Colbert Reportanything that questions the existing power structure--are even allowed to air, considering that six corporations control 90% of the media in America.5
Think I’m being alarmist?
Recently, there was an article in the Times about how Russian oligarchs are scooping up stakes in media companies.6
But we’re special because we’re America.
Yeah, right!