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October 26, 2011

DC High Heel Drag Queen Race

DC High Heel Drag Queen Race 2011

Last night was the first time I got to attend DC's annual High Heel Drag Queen Race, which happens the Tuesday before Halloween. It might be the only truly unusual experience I've ever had in Washington, a town I associate with smart, conservatively-dressed people who walk around the city wearing their building photo ID badges and, despite their dedication to arriving at their desks on time, wouldn't dream of crossing the street against the light (it's illegal!)

Twenty minutes after the race was over, cops were out in full force, notifying everyone that the fun was over, the brief window in which men are allowed to wear eyeliner and sequins was now closed, please put on some pants. Stern officers on motorcycles rode along the edge of the street, hustling some dawdling Divine-inspired ladies out of the gutter.

But there were loads of spectacular drag queens and thousands of people there to watch, so even if the party was short, it was a good time. The race served as a little preview of what I expect to see at New York's own Village Halloween Parade on Monday. Each year's crop of costumes seems to follow trends, and it's amazing how the same inspiration strikes so many parade-goers every year.

Here's what we can expect to see this year:

October 20, 2011

Women in Cults! double feature

Elizabeth Olsen and Vera Farmiga

I've seen two movies lately that would make a great double feature if you're interested in creepy patriarchal societies and how they squash independent-minded young women: Higher Ground, starring (and directed by) Vera Farmiga, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, starring non-twin Olsen sister Elizabeth Olsen.

I really like both of these movies. Each of the protagonists first conform to the rigid and oppressive rules that other members of their group have accepted as the only way to live, then start to rebel against them, and ultimately look outside their groups for something else.

And it's pretty amazing how much they have in common. Both are about insular communities led by charismatic, charming, authoritarian male leaders. These communities appear to be about cooperation and togetherness and love, but as soon as our quietly rebellious female leads step out of line, all that goes out the window, and suddenly the purpose of the group seems to be the men controlling the women and not a whole lot else.

The two leads even look a lot alike: they both have those luminous, translucent, moon-like faces and big bright eyes. It's easy to be interested in the inner struggles of these women to figure out who they are when they're as expressive and beautiful as Vera Farmiga and Elizabeth Olsen.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (which I keep wanting to call Maggie and Milly and Molly and May) is a lot more extreme. People are talking about it as the Girl Escapes a Cult movie, which is accurate, though no one in the movie ever says the word "cult". Martha doesn't know she's part of a cult, which makes watching her decide to leave it and struggle to get her head together afterwards kind of maddening, because neither she nor anyone else around her realizes how completely fucked in the head she is. I kept wanting to grab her oblivious older sister, whose house she goes to after escaping the cult, and shake her shouting "Your sister was seduced by an evil brainwashing cult and is now extremely obviously displaying every PTSD symptom that exists! Call a shrink NOW!" It's a little frustrating sometimes, but it's still good.

Higher Ground is a lot less culty (and less violent and rapey.) The community Vera Farmiga lives in is like a Christian fundamentalist version of a '70's hippie commune or the Dharma Initiative from "Lost". It's a more subtle movie than MMMM, but it also didn't make me feel like hiding under my bed after watching it. I'm still a little shaken by MMMM.

That's mostly because of the one actor who's in both movies: John Hawkes. This is the year that everybody starts knowing who John Hawkes is. This guy is phenomenal. He plays Vera Farmiga's dad in Higher Ground, who loves his family but blows it as a husband and father, and the suave, manipulative cult leader in MMMM. He said in an interview that he didn't research cult leaders in preparing for the role, but he nails every quality that famous cult leaders possess. He's totally terrifying and great. (coincidence: he also played Lennon, member of the Dharma Initiative!)

Potential Future Oscar Nominee Elizabeth Olsen
is getting a lot of attention, and she's good, but it's hard to see what kind of character is underneath all that clinically diagnosable crazy-girl stuff. I wonder if people would be exclaiming about her so much if she were less beautiful or less naked in front of a very unhurried, lingering camera, but she does OK.

But Vera Farmiga--wow. I could watch her in anything. She's one of the best things about every movie I've seen her in, probably one of the better actresses around now. And a pretty great director, too! Hope she keeps getting good parts in movies without having to direct all of them.

October 19, 2011

David O. Russell being David O. Russell

Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell talk about The Fighter

I just heard about the surprising, but probably inevitable, destruction of the friendship between writer/director and Level 10 Tantrum Thrower David O. Russell and his frequent collaborator Mark Wahlberg. Russell hasn't made a lot of friends in Hollywood, and since his screaming matches with Lily Tomlin got out, many people probably think he's borderline mentally ill.

But Mark Wahlberg has stood by him ever since starring in Three Kings (probably Russell's best movie, looking back on his career.) He was, in my opinion, the only really excellent thing about the confusing and uneven I Heart Huckabees, and it's because Wahlberg wanted him that Russell got to direct his biggest hit, The Fighter, after the original director Darren Aronofsky dropped out.

Now that he's back on top and has lots of movies lined up, David O. Russell decided he would rather not cast Wahlberg in their next project, The Silver Linings Playbook, but would instead go with the cheaper and less talented Bradley Cooper. The story about the ensuing friendship-destroying fight came from Russell's cousin, Matt Muzio, who has appeared briefly in some of his movies and, interestingly, also had a recent fallout with Russell.

This Silver Linings movie is about a guy returning home after years in a mental institution and trying to piece his life back together with his parents and ex-wife. Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver (the evil grandmother from last year's Australian gangster movie Animal Kingdom) play the parents, but get this: Jennifer Lawrence plays the ex-wife. 21 year-old Jennifer Lawrence. She's a full 20 years younger than Mark Wahlberg (15 years younger than Brad Cooper), and her character would have theoretically married him when she was a teenager. Not sure why Russell decided to cast such a broken down old hag for that role--was Elle Fanning not available?

Other projects that Russell and Wahlberg had been planning together are now in question, like Cocaine Cowboys, an adaptation of the 2006 documentary, and what sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, The Fighter 2. I can't believe this movie was actually going to get made, which probably explains why I will never get hired by a movie studio. When a $25 million movie brings in $130 million, you ALWAYS DO A SEQUEL.

I feel bad for poor jilted Mark Wahlberg, but I guess this is what happens when you throw in your lot with a creative partner who drove James Caan from the set of the never-released Nailed because of a fight about whether it's possible to choke on a cookie and cough at the same time.

October 13, 2011

Farmers, Cowboys, and Karen O

Karen O

I thought about using the photo above of Karen O, singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and legendary hellion of live performer, as a Who'dat?™ last week, because I never would have recognized her with that new, New York Times-photo-shoot-appropriate haircut and sensible makeup, and without beer poured all over herself.

But now she's back in the news: she recorded a cover of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson's "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys", a song I really love. Her minimalist version is sort of atmospheric and spooky with that cracking voice of hers, and it's good.

The odd thing is that she recorded it for Chipotle, which uses it in a video connected to its new foundation, Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, that's going to give money to sustainable agriculture and healthy eating organizations and The Nature Conservancy and groups like that. Which is nice enough, I guess.

They released a beautifully shot video to go with the Karen O song, about three kids who break into an old abandoned farm house at night and walk around tearing stuff up and jumping on the beds before it dawns on them that this used to be somebody's home, and family farms are closing, industrial agriculture is bad for America, maybe we should read more of Mark Bittman's columns even when they involve confusing dissections of the Farm Bill, etc. It was made by David Altobelli, who also made some good videos for School of Seven Bells and M83.

Here's the video:

Does anyone else see a problem here? Using a song about cowboys to support farmers? Do the people at Chipotle not possess even a passing familiarity with the Great American Songbook, or at least popular high school musicals? As is clearly described in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends" from Oklahoma!, farmers and cowboys hate each other's guts [video]! During this number in the musical, a huge dance-fight breaks out between farmers and cowboys that stops only when Aunt Eller fires a gun in the air and then forces each warring Oklahoman faction to sing cordially to each other at gunpoint.

Farmers and Cowmen in Oklahoma!

Despite the Oklahoma! indiscretion, the Karen O song is nice, and if you go to Chipotle in costume on Halloween you can get $2 burritos and make a contribution to Farm Aid.

October 10, 2011

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you

Take Shelter

Remember two years ago when Up In the Air came out, and people said it was the perfect movie for our times because it was about layoffs? How simple life was back in 2009. Here in 2011, Take Shelter is the perfect movie for our times, because it takes every paranoid thought you've ever had about our unhealthy, unfair, and dangerous world and how it's going to ruin your life and/or kill you, then shows that those thoughts are 100% correct.

Michael Shannon plays a regular Midwestern family man who slowly becomes consumed by paranoid delusions about violent storms, attack dogs, shadowy evil figures and other nightmarish stuff. His delusions create all kinds of problems for his confused family and co-workers who pretty much think he's nuts. He figures he must be nuts, too: his mother is schizophrenic, and he assumes he must be going down the same path.

Except here's what makes this movie so great, and so important to watch if you've ever felt overwhelmed by the terrifying realities of our world and tried to convince yourself that you're just over-reacting. YOU'RE NOT. Look around! If you watch the news, you know the terror is real. Masses of birds really do fall dead from the sky. Tornadoes destroy towns and kill hundreds of innocent people. Tsunamis and earthquakes level cities. Unethical banks have ruined our economy. It's enough to make a sane person become unglued. If this world doesn't sometimes make you feel like you're going crazy, you're probably not paying attention.

Take Shelter might be the greatest vindication for rational paranoia I've ever seen. It's like if Signs and Don DeLillo's "White Noise" both represented logical responses to everyday life. Michael Shannon has made a career out of playing unhinged people, from a wild-eyed, contamination-obsessed maniac in Bug to the truth-speaking institutionalized neighbor in Revolution Road. No one's better at making insanity look both agonizing and like a perfectly reasonable response to being alive. Ebert describes him as "an actor of uncommon force." This guy's gonna to win himself an Oscar some day soon.

October 4, 2011

"Prohibiton" and the Carrie Nations

The Carrie Nations

Are you watching the new Ken Burns documentary "Prohibition"? So far I've seen the first episode, and it's really great. As with all his stuff, the images and film clips he's collected are truly amazing: he's gathered loads of video of ecstatic partiers in the 1920's cavorting in jazz clubs and guzzling bottles of gin and looking like they're having more fun than you've ever experienced in your life, which he intercuts with shots of stern crusaders hacking apart barrels of liquor with axes and gloating as all that devil's brew gushes into the streets. You can watch the full episodes online.

Even though it's titled "Prohibition", he looks at a broad history of alcohol in early America, when we were a nation of immigrants unified by our love of drinking. The Temperance movement was pretty much synonymous with feminism in the 19th century, and there are some great photos of hordes of women kneeling in prayer in their voluminous skirts outside of saloons and marching through city streets to protest the sale of liquor at a time when marching wasn't something women generally did.

But the best story of all was about the violent firebrand anti-alcohol hellraiser, Carrie Nation. She was such a compelling figure at the center of a bizarre episode in our country's history that Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer were inspired to name their busty, gutsy, all-girl rock band in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the Carrie Nations, after her. You can see some truly wonderful stills from the movie and revel in a moment in American cinema when a lurid piece of surrealist sexploitation trash would reference early feminist crusaders. Ah, the 70's.

Ken Burns, sadly, makes no mention of the Russ Meyer film in his documentary. The real-life Ms. Nation had a rough life plagued by alcoholic men, and lived in Kansas, where liquor sales were illegal but bars still flourished. In her 50's, she decided to take justice into her own hands, and with God's alleged support, started going from town to town, attacking saloons with rocks.

From her Wikipedia entry:

Announcing "Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard's fate," she began to destroy the saloon's stock with her cache of rocks. After she similarly destroyed two other saloons in Kiowa, a tornado hit eastern Kansas, which she took as divine approval of her actions.

After she led a raid in Wichita her husband joked that she should use a hatchet next time for maximum damage. Nation replied, "That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you." Alone or accompanied by hymn-singing women she would march into a bar, and sing and pray while smashing bar fixtures and stock with a hatchet.

My favorite Carrie Nation quote from the doc: "I tell you ladies, you don't know how good it feels till you begin to smash, smash, smash!"

Sure, she was probably mentally ill, and claiming you're doing God's work by throwing rocks at bartenders is never OK, but I can't help but love her and her take-no-prisoners style.

Maybe the Occupy Wall Streeters could take some inspiration from Ms. Nation and start carrying hatchets and Bibles and using her slogan, "Good morning, destroyer of men's souls," to greet bankers heading to work.

About October 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in October 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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