Saturday, October 2, 2010

Adults Behaving Badly

The past two weeks have been filled with stories about adults behaving badly:
  • Down in Atlanta, the obscenely wealthy senior pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist ChurchBishop Eddie Long faced accusations that he had molested several African American male teenagers who were members of his congregation. Proving once more that "all that glitters is not gold," the glow of a prosperity doctrine could not erase the stench of Long's predatory behavior and hyperreligious homophobic hypocrisy. Jamal Parris (one of Long's accusers who was a former "spiritual son") told reporters that “I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head. I cannot forget the smell of his cologne. And I cannot forget the way that he made me cry many nights when I drove in his car on the way home, not able to take enough showers to wipe the smell of him off of my body.”
  • Following Gloria Allred's controversial press conference alleging that Meg Whitman had employed an illegal immigrant as domestic help for most of the past decade, the former CEO of eBay did everything within her power except take responsibility for what happened in her home. Even before Whitman used her debate appearance in Fresno on Saturday to tell Attorney General Jerry Brown that "You put it out there and you should be ashamed of sacrificing Nicky Diaz on the altar of your political ambitions," John Wildermuth had posted a brilliant essay entitled Meg Whitman's Spaghetti Strategy Or Let's See What Sticks.
  • Two freshman at Rutgers University thought it would be great fun to record and broadcast footage of one of their roommates having sex with another man. Tyler Clementi's tragic suicide has belatedly helped to shine a spotlight on why LGBT teens are three times more likely to commit suicide.
  • Aspiring filmmaker and uber-creep cum conservative activist, James O'Keefe, landed in hot water again (possibly even violating the terms of his parole) when he attempted to embarrass and humiliate CNN's investigative reporter, Abbie Boudreau.
  • Television anchor Rick Sanchez got the boot from CNN after calling Jon Stewart a bigot and suggesting that CNN and all other television networks are run by Jews.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to Andrew Shirvell, the socially retarded Assistant Attorney General for the State of Michigan who achieved a rare level of infamy by stalking and cyber-bullying the President of the student body at the University of Michigan, Chris Armstrong. Armstrong finally took out a restraining order against Shirvell who, in addition to accusing the young gay man of being Satan's representative, posted a picture of Armstrong on his blog with a swastika layered over the young man's face. With the kind of self-righteous stupidity that often blossoms in religious zealots,  Shirvell proudly told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he was only doing his Christian duty by trying to stop Armstrong's supposed campaign to recruit young students over to homosexuality.

As embarrassing and uncomfortable as the footage of Shirvell's interview is to watch, his priggishly fatuous performance sent out two very clear and disturbing messages:
  • This is a deeply closeted, raging homophobe whose biggest fear and best fantasy is probably to feel Christopher Armstrong's rock hard dick thrusting deep into the tightly-clenched opening between Shirvell's pathetic, hungry, and hypocritical butt cheeks.
  • If there is the slightest possibility that Shirvell is not wrestling with his own sexual orientation, his interview is rife with subliminal signals that he might very well be a potential child molester who is desperately trying to deflect attention away from himself and toward an innocent person whose behavior might be considered (at least by other Christian wingnuts) to be even worse than his own.
Of course, that's just my opinion, which my First Amendment right to free speech allows me to publish on my blog (just as Shirvell published his opinions about Christopher Armstrong on his blog).

What's the difference? The difference is that I am not a government official whose sworn responsibility is to protect (rather than attack) the residents of the state that employs him. Three new films that deal with adults behaving badly showcase the narcissism, selfishness, and abject stupidity that fosters certain types of dysfunctional behavior. The results are often less than pretty.

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What better place to start a discussion on dysfunctional behavior than with a new film by Woody Allen? Set in London, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is filled with selfish people doing stupid things. Among the miserable characters populating this film are:
  • Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), a wealthy senior who, after being confronted with his own mortality, decides to leave his dowdy wife, join a gym, tone his body, set himself up in a flashy bachelor's pad, and embark on a new lifestyle. Convinced that money can buy anything, Alfie is the stereotype of a vain, foolish and rich, old man who is scared of dying.
  • Helena (Gemma Jones), Alfie's dreary wife, who never hesitates to barge into her daughter's apartment without calling in advance. Hoping that someone new could lift her spirits, Helena has followed up on her daughter's suggestion that she visit a psychic.
  • Charmaine (Lucy Punch), the call girl who becomes Alfie's mistress. Far from sophisticated, Charmaine has the kind of selfish street smarts that allow her to spend Roy's money without hesitation.

Lucy Punch as Charmaine
  • Cristal (Pauline Collins), the seer who becomes the light of Helena's life. Soon, everything Cristal says becomes gospel to Helena (who is willing to suspend her sense of disbelief in order to keep living).
  • Jonathan (Roger-Allen Griffiths), a lonely bookstore owner with a deep fascination for the supernatural. Although hardly tall, dark, or handsome (and having  recently lost his wife), Jonathan eagerly embarks on a new romance with Helena.
  • Sally (Naomi Watts), Alfie & Helena's daughter whose nerves are constantly on edge. In addition to a do-nothing husband who is a failed author (and can't seem to hold onto a job), Sally has to deal with her mother's constant babbling and frequent (and often unwelcome) visits.
  • Greg Clemente (Antonio Banderas), Sally's wealthy, dashingly handsome boss who owns an upscale art gallery.
  • Roy (Josh Brolin), Sally's hunky but useless husband who develops an itch for the pretty young woman in a neighboring building. When one of Roy's fellow writers is in a terrible automobile accident, Roy steals the supposedly dead man's manuscript and tries to publish it as his own.
  • Dia (Freida Pinto), the pretty young Indian woman who has captured Roy's eye. What she hasn't told him is that she is engaged to be married.
  • Ray (Theo James), a hot young stud who sees Charmaine at the gym and, at the prodding of his buddies, decides to zero in for the kill.
The most important thing to understand about You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is that, without Woody Allen's name attached to the project, this screenplay would probably never have been purchased and made into a film. There is no faulting the cast (who all turn in excellent, layered performances). Mention should also be made of Zak Orth's performance as the unseen narrator Perhaps the biggest problem with Woody Allen's latest film is that it's so difficult to care about any of his characters. Here's the trailer:

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You won't have any problems caring about the totally dysfunctional family featured in Fanny, Annie & Danny. This family nightmare (which will be screened at the 2010 Mill Valley Film well as the San Francisco Film Society's upcoming Cinema By The Bay Minifestival) is an indie masterpiece filled with tension, loathing, hysteria, and laughter.

Written, directed, edited, and with cinematography by Chris Brown, Fanny, Annie & Danny was shot in the Bay area and features a cast of memorable characters:
  • Ronnie (George Killingsworth) is the sweet but severely emasculated d father of Fanny, Annie and Danny who often hangs out in the shed to avoid his ball-busting wife. A veteran of the war in Vietnam, he still cherishes some items he has kept in a metal box.
  • Edie (Colette Keen) is Ronnie's verbally abusive wife. The kind of rabid control freak who could make Joan Crawford seem sloppy and inattentive to detail, Edie has had a longstanding toxic effect on everyone in her family. Not only does she look shrewish, Edie may be one of the most hateful mothers to hit the screen in years. 
Colette Keen as Edie
  • Danny (Jonathan Leveck) is the apple of his mother's eye. Unfortunately, he's just blown his chance at signing a young garage band to a contract and must now start all over again. He's desperate for money.
  • Fanny (Jill Pixley) is Danny's oldest sister. Developmentally disabled, and prone to frequent episodes of obsessive/compulsive behavior, Fanny has been living in a group home whose residents don't enjoy her attempts to practice on her recorder. When the candy factory that has employed her for several years is forced to close, the owner's wife generously gives Fanny a check for $9,000 (Fanny's first thought is to buy herself a puppy).
  • Annie (Carlye Pollack) is Fanny's younger, egomaniacal sister. A borderline hysteric who epitomizes the "ME" generation, all she can think about is planning her wedding in Tuscany. Unfortunately, Annie and her boyfriend can barely afford their rent.
  • Dr. Bob (Don Schwartz) is Annie's employer. A mild-mannered dentist who is seeking to expand his business, he is visibly uncomfortable with Annie's attempts to show some affection during the holiday season.
  • Todd (Nick Frangione) is Annie's unemployed stoner boyfriend. Not being a blood relative, he is the sanest person in the Keller family.
Nick Frangione as Todd

In his director's note, Chris Brown writes that:
"Fanny, Annie & Danny was a story that more or less grabbed me by the throat and demanded to be told. A couple of years ago, I was working, laboring, on another screenplay, fully intending to shoot it. But a strange thing happened. The very moment I actually finished that script, these other, new characters began talking to me, nagging at me in that weird, semi-schizoid way that characters will speak to a writer.
These characters, these people, were raw and beautiful and funny and mean and difficult, like the people I know and love, people who are hemmed in by circumstances, people who have to fight and claw and scratch every day for survival, for love, for stature, for money, for acceptance, for recognition. I know it sounds totally ridiculous, but these characters literally forced me to tell their story, forced me to shove aside this other script and give them life on the page and ultimately on the screen. A few months later we began shooting." 
Fanny (Jill Pixley) and Danny (Jonathan Leveck)
"Someone recently remarked that he thought the film was about 'invisible people.' I think that this is a perfect phrase. So many movies are about other movies, known genres, wish-fulfillment, dead forms. Characters in movies are much too often two-dimensional ideas and cliches, props for the plot or excuses for fancy camerawork. The characters in Fanny, Annie & Danny are messy and wonderful and devastating and mean and kind and petty and vulnerable -- just like us."
Fanny, Annie & Danny is not the kind of film you watch for its CGI scripting, special effects, or car chases up and down the hills of San Francisco. This film is very much a vehicle for actors who can take a solid script and run with it -- often taking the audience with them to some scary and emotionally dangerous places. Chris Brown's taut drama offers everything that Woody Allen's latest film lacks. I can't recommend it highly enough. Here's the trailer:

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Films about gifted musicians always claim a special place in my heart. However, Luc Dionne's new biopic, The Child Prodigy (which will also be screened at the 2010 Mill Valley Film Festival), is especially fascinating and well worth your time. Once known as "the little Canadian Mozart," André  Mathieu's brilliant childhood lost its aura once he became an adult.

The son of  composer/music teacher Rodolphe Mathieu, André's talent easily eclipsed that of his father. His early displays of virtuoso keyboard technique had people salivating over the kind of career he might have as a concert pianist. The only problem was that Mathieu (who composed his first piece at the age of four) really wanted to be known for his work as a composer, not as a pianist .

Although Mathieu's compositional technique awed established composers like Rachmaninoff, his music did not always appeal to the masses. As his finances worsened, he resorted to performing in "piano derby" events (Pianothons) for prize money. Mathieu's marriage was destroyed by his alcoholism and erratic emotions. He died unexpectedly on June 2, 1968 at the age of 39.

An extremely prolific composer, Mathieu left behind nearly 100 works, many of which show heavy influences of composers like Rachmaninoff and Debussy. In the following video clip, he can be seen performing Laurentian No. 2 (a work he composed at age 17) in Quebec in 1946:

The following piece by Mathieu (performed by pianist Alain Lefevre) clearly shows the influence of Debussy on his work:

Luc Dionne's film features touching performances by Zacari Charles-Jobin as the young André Mathieu, Patrick Drolet as the adult André Mathieu, and Lothaire Bluteau as his Parisian friend, Pipo (a street vendor). There are poignant portrayals of the composer's parents by Marc Labreche and Macha Grenon. Marc Beland appears as Arthur Honneger and Itzhak Finzi as Sergei Rachmaninoff

What ultimately makes this film such a wonderful experience, however, is its ravishing musical score. Here's the trailer:

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