I imagine what it must have been like to sit on the veranda of a giant Georgia plantation while the war was on, being fought so far away. The woman just sweltered there in their giant hoop skirts, drinking their sweet tea brought by maids that would soon be emancipated. They would just sit there with nothing else to do and worry and fret and fan themselves and think about all the balls they were missing. Then they would hear the slow clomping of a cart, the mules ambling down the path and they could hear it before they could really see it — before they could make out that shape. It could be just another merchant coming to sell them some wares or it could be a Union soldier waiting to set the whole house on fire. It could be anything. They couldn't know. They just sat there on that porch immobilized by the weather, waiting to see how it was all going to turn out.
That's how I felt watching the Real Fainting Couches of Vapor Manor last night. It just seemed like so much rehashed drama and so much waiting. I had a hard time caring about any of it, really. First of all we had to deal with Act II of Kernya Moo-ah's freak out about Walter being at Kandi's party which, seriously, was so ridiculous and overblown that I wanted to just find her and punch her square in her head. She's all "Walter is stalking me and I need to leave immediately and I'm going to run over these cars if you don't move them." Oh, come on. Walter is many things – a dog, goofy, poorly-dressed, plenty sad, in need of a new face that doesn't make him look like he's happy he just took a dump in his drawers – but he is not dangerous. He's not going to hurt anyone.
The hero in this story is Don Juan, Kandi's assistant, who was so calm and level-headed during the whole debacle while, as politely as possible, telling Kernya that she needs to calm the heck down and deal with it and take a deep breath and an even deeper gulp of rosé and let the whole thing just blow over. He should have punched her in the head though.
Now onto Portia Stewart, who would be really funny as a sad little ditzy girl in the movie Cars. She would be like a pink sports car with big eyelashes who can never figure out how to put herself in gear because girls don't know how to drive and are dumb. She's just sort of stuck in one place being ordered around by a really mean driver who thinks he knows what's right for her, but really grinds her gears when he drives her. But she is afraid to say anything, because having a shitty driver is better than having no driver at all.
I'm not sure how to segue that comparison into a paragraph about Portia going to therapy, so I'm just going to go there and bring you along with me. She's in therapy and we got to see it. Of all the crappy things that happen on reality TV, I think the worst is stars who bring us into their therapy sessions. First of all, I am skeptical of any psychological professional who would do such a thing. Secondly, how much healing and honesty can there really be when there is a camera in there the whole time? I don't think much. This is why LA Shrinks gives me the dry heaves. I don't want to watch any show about psychologists on TV ever never.
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But Portia has some very real problems. Mostly she is not over the miscarriage she had a few months ago. Also, she's having a hard time with the first year of her marriage — mostly, completely sublimating her will to her husband who is – well, you could say that he likes things a certain way, but let's just say he's controlling. Yes, he's controlling. Also it doesn't seem like he was very sympathetic that she lost her baby, or at least she feels like he was not supportive and that feeling has grown in her heart like a sunflower next to a compost heap and it won't go away. She cries about it to her therapist and she says, "Um, you need to talk to your husband about this." She's going to bring him in next week for the season finale. Yup, this is going to go well.
Speaking of other old news, the producers made it look like Phaedra and Kernya Moo-ah were both taping their respective exercise videos at the same exact time, but one was in L.A. and one was in a crappy sound stage in Atlanta. I'm sure this didn't happen exactly as it was filmed but, well, it was more dramatic.
Also, there was an interesting shift in how these videos were shown. Kernya's video has always been a joke and, even if it is the better video, it should continue to be a joke. Kernya Moo-ah has never had an original thought in her head, so she just stole the idea from Pheadra and then made it look like she had the idea all along on her own. Kernya was too busy thinking about what color highlights to get and how she was going to put too much foundation over her lumpy skin to think up an idea for a video.
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But, during the filming, it was Phaedra who got the brunt of the jokes while she made silly jokes and giggled and jumped around on one leg like she was circling a May Pole of death, and that the little children were circling her with chartreuse ribbons and enmeshed her in her green velvet body suit like she was Gulliver being tied to the ground by a tribe of miniature fitness buffs. It was like she was a hilarious amateur marching along like a soldier to the Battle of the Bulge, stammering and making all sorts of mistakes. Apollo, whose finer attributes were really highlighted in his loose athletic shorts, stumbled too, not knowing his lines and making some serious flubs. But, really, that happens on every video, on every set. That's why they have multiple takes. That's what we do with editing, children.
Speaking of editing, Kernya was shown as the consummate professional. She knows what to call cameras and how to say "last looks." She play acts that she's a movie star and part of that acting is knowing all the terms. She is just dropping words like "boom" and "best boy" and "grip" and "booty isolation" to make it look like she went to the New York Film Academy and bought herself entré into the world of the cinema. But really, this was just some 99 Cent Store set on some dusty back lot in Atlanta (actually, it was probably in the burbs somewhere). But, no, we're supposed to think that Kernya has the better video, but I will never think that. She will always be a copy cat and an also ran and no matter how many overhead shots she asks for, I'm still going to make her the butt of my jokes about booty videos.
Speaking of the ladies getting to business, Kandi had a meeting with all of the reps who were going to be selling her Bedroom Kandi line at naughty Tupperwear parties across the nation. They all flew in just to hear their motivational speaker give them pointers on how to sell her wares to other women at intimate gatherings open-plan living rooms large and small while the kids are away at the sitter's. She was so moved by all the support that she got up on stage and she cried. She cried right there and told them all they were going to make millions together and I was really moved and inspired and I was so proud of our Kandi for doing something for the good of humanity and to make herself rich rich rich rich rich. Then I remember that it was all about dildos and, well, it just all seemed different.
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Then Kandi lounged in bed with her man Sean and talked about marriage and her mother moving in and pre-nups and it was all nice and sweet and dandy and there is probably going to be a wedding next season. Or maybe there will be a wedding on The Kandi Factory, coming soon to a TV near you.
Speaking of marriage, NeNe Leakes is getting married again. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm having a hard time getting invested in NeNe Leakes this season. Maybe it's because she's just out of the game too much and whenever she is with the other housewives she's talking about herself rather than the drama that surrounds them. Maybe it's because she finally has success and is living a good, full life which is just inherently more boring than falling apart and facing your demons (that's why there is no reality show called Wonderful Happy Times with the Lewis Family). Maybe it's because NeNe has just lost her spark. Whatever it is, I'm just not feeling it.
But last night it was a nice scene when her ex-husband Gregg, always quick with a pun, a rhyme, or a groaner of a joke that is so bad that it makes you smile, tried to get down on one knee to propose and NeNe said yes. "I'd get down on one knee," he told her, "but I'm gonna need someone to help me back up." And NeNe laughed that infections laugh of hers that ends in a guttural stifle.
Yes, NeNe laughed and she thought about the future. She thought about her show being renewed and going on for seasons and seasons and into syndication and living off that money in L.A. forever. She thought about qutting the show she was on with the petty sniping and griping and moving on to her real dreams. She thought about her son Bryson going to a good school and making something of himself, of being something boring and lucrative like a dentist or an accountant. She thought of her granddaughter Brie'Asia who could come to live with her and she would put her through private school in Bel Aire and she would be one of those awful spoiled children or rich people who only wears designer clothes and has one of those sweet 16 parties that you see on MTV and everyone at home thinks, "God, I want to kill that bitch but isn't she lucky." She thinks about it all as she stares into Gregg's eyes over the flowers he bought for just this occassion and she thinks, in that second that it's all going to be great. She thinks that this is the best it's going to get and it's going to stay like this forever. And then, on that abandoned veranda behind an Italian restaurant in L.A., the wind picks up and extinguishes the candles that had been providing just the perfect glow.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Bravo]
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After 2010's CG blowout Alice in Wonderland long-time collaborators Johnny Depp and Tim Burton return to a more realistic realm with their update of the '60s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. It just so happens that realism in the case of Depp and Burton also involves vampires.
We first meet Barnabas Collins (Depp) in 1752 enjoying the aristocratic lifestyle of his successful father and wooing the female staff employed in the Collins' mansion. The romantic lifestyle is without consequence until Barnabas picks up and drops the wrong servant: Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) a witch with a nasty case of jealousy. When Barnabas finally discovers true love Bouchard casts a spell on his favored female causing her to jump off a cliff. In the wake of the incident and with nothing left to live for Barnabas hurls himself off the edge — but Bouchard curses him before he hits the ground. He's become a vampire an immortal and Bouchard has just the everlasting punishment in mind. She buries Barnabas in a coffin never to be seen again.
Jump ahead to 1972 where a construction crew in Collinsport resurface the confined bloodsucker. After a quick bite Barnabas heads home to his manor to discover he's a true bat out of water. His family is gone replaced by a new generation of Collinses: Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) the family matriarch; Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) her angsty niece; David (Gulliver McGrath) highly disturbed by memories of his dead mother; Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) the scheming deadbeat dad; and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) David's constantly intoxicated psychologist; and Victoria (Bella Heathcote) the new recruit hired to school David in his fragile state. Barnabas' learning curve adjusting to his new surroundings is the crux of Dark Shadows' purposefully meandering plot which strikes a few brilliant bits of comedy in between long stretches of lifeless melodrama. Turns out a soap opera adaptation ends up being pretty darn soap opera-y.
Unlike most summer blockbusters Dark Shadows sparingly uses action and large-scale set pieces to tell its story. Burton chooses a lower-key approach in the vein of his earlier films like Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands. But the movie differs in its lack of emotional throughline — all the colorful misadventures would be a lot more effective if there was something to care about. Barnabas strikes up a romance with Victoria but it's hamfisted. He becomes a fatherly figure to David but only late in the film. By the third montage set to a classic rock tune it's clear Burton and Depp seem far more interested in the bizarre collision of vampire tropes and '70s decor. A scene in which Barnabas converses with a group of pot-smoking hippies on the ins and outs of youth culture works as a sketch comedy vignette but in the grand scheme of the story is fluffy funny and pointless.
Depp's dedication to keeping things weird helps Dark Shadows stay alive. He loves the theatrics biting into every moment with epic speak lifted from the British thee-aaaay-ter. Green joins in on the fun full force her wicked seductress both playful and unabashedly evil. The rest of the cast makes little splash Pfeiffer playing the straight woman while the rest of the ensemble go toe to toe with the larger than life Depp. They don't seem in on the same joke as Depp and the many dialogue scenes just. Come. Off. As. Slooooow. And. Painful. Deliberate soap opera acting is a tightrope walk — only Depp and Green really make it across without faltering.
Dark Shadows is a mixed bag that feels indebted to a source material. Whether you're familiar with the style or not may will be a deciding factor. Burton's washy aesthetics and plodding pacing don't do the material any favors with Danny Elfman's standard issued score failing to elevate the atmosphere. Kitsch and horrors abound but the witch's brew of elements won't be everyone's cup of tea. Er cup of blood?
On the surface Hugo looks like your run-of-the-mill Harry Potter knock-off full of whimsy spectacle life lessons and faux-imagination. But the young adult fiction adaptation is anything but factory-processed. Filled with more passion emotion and drama than most "Oscar contenders" of 2011 Hugo transcends its fantastical predecessors. Some call Hugo director Martin Scorsese's foray into kids movies but the film speaks to "kids" young and old. Every scene every moment every frame gushes with creativity and artistry and it's one of the best movies of the year.
Hugo doesn't sugarcoat the plights faced by the film's titular hero. When we pick up with Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) the savvy lad is living in the walls of a 1930's Parisian train station taking over the clock winding duties of his missing uncle (a drunk who took him in after his clockmaker father's unfortunate demise). Aside from his day to day duties Hugo faces greater challenges: evading capture from the station's resident orphan wrangler (Sacha Baron Cohen) and swiping parts from a toy store owner (Ben Kingsley) to rebuild his father's automaton a early 20th century robot designed for entertainment. Hugo's thievery is eventually discovered by the weary toyman who takes the child under his wing to make use of his tinkering skills. The professional relationship introduces Hugo to the toyman's goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) who helps Hugo unravel the greater mystery behind his father's robot and "Papa Georges " as well as better understand himself.
As Hugo and Isabelle dig deeper into Papa Georges' history they unearth a history that's simultaneously magical and true—they aren't going to a far away land through an otherworldly portal but instead examining an aspect of history cinematic history in fact that feels foreign to them (and the audience). With a their innocent perspective the young duo marvel at stories of the early days of film and glimpses of long lost silents. This is Scorsese's playground. His love for the early days of film is infused into the design and story of Hugo giving the movie a timeless feel that sweeps the viewer up.
But Hugo isn't just a souped-up Film 101 course. The historical revelations are only part of Hugo's emotional journey which is equally enhanced by stunning 3D detailed production design and a supporting cast woven into the film's fabric to further expand the world. Cohen's Station Inspector is like a Buster Keaton character complete with pratfalls and heart. Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man Boardwalk Empire appears as Scorsese's proxy relishing the world of film while caring for Hugo and Isabelle. Even Christopher Lee's (Lord of the Rings) brief turn as a book store owner succeeds in evoking a smile. All the parts come together under the intricate train station set a beautifully realized period piece brought to life by Scorsese's dimensional 3D. Never before has a stereoscopic film worked so hard to bring you into the picture or enhance the storytelling (on sequence shows a cowering crowd experiencing film for the first time a train hurtling towards camera—an effect paralleled in today's 3D effects!). If the story doesn't suck you in the artistry on display in Hugo surely will.
We praised the film in an unfinished form when we caught it at New York Film Festival and the finalized version packs an even greater punch. Hugo is the perfect film to hypnotize young people with the magic of film or to revisit the heart-pounding experience of a person's first time at a movie theater. This isn't nostalgic baiting but rather expert filmmaking.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.