And with that – the curdling of some digestive juices, the sluiced skin cells of an old man, the hollow thrum of ping pong pandemonium, the plastic creak of a fake leg, the cinching strain of elastic girdles, the ding of a toaster oven, the pop of a champagne cork as it travels into oblivion – it is all over. Oh, let's not forget the shouting. As the Grinch would say all the noise noise noise noise noise noise noise, the senseless bursts of air hurling forth from the Real Harridans of Gallows Cove. It is enough to make you wish you were deaf, or at least enough to sell your hearing for a comfortable life, which is something that Ramona thinks you can do.
I don't really know what to say about this final episode because, like the second season of forgotten Mexican soap opera ¡Que Viva!, this has basically been the permutation on the same plot line for weeks now. It's sort of like different threads of the same pink cable knit sweater that your sister bought at Joyce Leslie in 1997. As soon as you find a new one, it goes right back to the same nasty garment. This week's new thread is that ¡Que Viva! is pissed at Ramona that Ramona kicked her 80-year-old father George, a sac of scrotum meat, out of a party. Ramona contests that George assaulted her, which is such a misstatement of truth it's like saying that Sonja has slept with a only 10 guys in her life (which is kind of true, because she has slept with 10 to the 10th power guys in her life, so it's both kinda right and not right at all).
Ugh, I'm so sick of everyone being wrong all the time. Yes, everyone is wrong. They should all just go home, lock the door, close the blinds, put a "Gone Fishing" sign in the front door, fall head first into the sofa and just lie there with their asses in the air and think about what they've done for awhile. There are so many things I'm sick of: ¡Que Viva! and Ramona fighting about St. Barts, the way the Countess turns her head to watch two women fight, Jacques' nose hair, Mario's jocular condescension, typing option+1 every time I want to write "¡Que Viva!," jackets, white wine, fake parties for stupid occasions, product lines, pretending like there is a career outside of reality television, boring husbands, pretending like Kelly Bensimon was never an adult mammal that wandered this earth, Heather and Sonja fighting about toaster ovens, gay stylists, overly stuffed couches, fundraisers for children with things wrong with them, fundraisers for diseases I've never heard of, tea, the sleeves on Ramona's red dress that make it look like she's carrying around the bar of her own crucifixion, fashion shows, open bars, liking Heather, cocktail weenies, I'm sick of it. Sick of it all. It's like having the same sandwich every day for lunch. I mean I love sandwiches like strippers love a clean pole, but I don't want to eat the same one every damn day.
That was the one good thing about Carole's ping-pong party. At least it was different, at least it seemed fun, at least Ramona's daughter Avery (who is quite fetching, mature, and well-rounded considering she was raised in the wild by jungle cats which explains why she showed up dressed as Cheetara) came, at least Heather's husband Jonathan (who is tied with ¡Que Viva!'s husband Taco for being the blandest dish at this all-you-can-eat vomitorium) had something to say. At least we had all that. But still I was unfulfilled because ¡Que Viva!, even after a warning from Carole to be on her best behavior, couldn't keep her trap shut about how awful Ramona is, especially after the incident with her father. I'm sorry, ¡QV!, but your father got what he deserved and you got what you deserved too. You don't put your toddler in the deep end if you don't want him to drown and when he does, you can't blame the water, you have to blame yourself.
Anyway, ¡Que Viva! goes for a fitting at Yumzers Tumzers™ for her big gig walking in Heather's charity fashion show (I am sick of every word in that sentence). She wants to wear tights to cover he leg, Heather says no. She wants to wear her hair down, Heather says no, and so does Alyn Topper, the gay stylist whose name I never could have made up even if I was writing a parody of gay stereotypes. Heather basically tells her, "You're a model, you have no say in this." This is what I love about Heather, she is nice and normal, but she is not afraid to stand up for herself or what she believes in with the utmost respect and honesty. We could all learn a thing or two from Heather, like how to engage with shrieking monkeys, how to run a business, and how not to butcher the English language.
The best interaction between these two though was not at the fitting but later when Heather was trying to show ¡Que Viva! how to walk and pose in the show. Because she is Heather Thomas, and this is exactly what she would do, she tells ¡Que Viva! "I'm trying to get the black girl out of you." Yeah, good luck Heather. You have a better shot of finding a drop of water inside a box of chalk as you do of finding a little bit of soul in ¡Que Viva!
Finally the night of the big show arrives and Heather invites all the girls so that she can raise money for liver transplants for little kids. I'm sorry but Samonja has no business attending a charity that is about liver health, none at all. That's like having Jeremy Lin host a celebrity basketball tournament for the Worldwide Rickets Foundation. Also, Sonja left the house in her flapper costume from two Halloweens ago and was wearing this ridiculous headband which proves that she was already drunk when she arrived at the big Kid's Liver Fundraiser.
Backstage ¡Que Viva! is totally trying to mess with Heather's show. She wants to change her outfit, she wants to change her makeup, she wants to take off her pants and jacket (say "take off her pants and jacket" out loud and then laugh and laugh and laugh). Heather tells her no, again. She gives ¡Que Viva! no quarter and no control over how she is going to walk down the runway and it is freaking her out. That's when it dawned on me, ¡Que Viva! is a control freak. She's not just like your normal micromanager she is certifiably insane about control. Think about all her phobias: she doesn't like to fly, she doesn't like elevators, she doesn't like being somewhere where she is not the one who is controlling everything. Even after Heather tells her that she has to wear the look picked out for her, at the last minute ¡Que Viva! takes off the jacket and leaves it backstage. She pathologically can not be out of control for even one minute. She needed to show Heather that she is the one who will determine who own destiny. That control problem, right there, is why she hates Ramona. Ramona isn't a control freak, necessarily, but she is always the center of attention and by dint of that seizes the reigns of whatever cart she's careen through life in, passengers be damned. She and Sonja also like to get completely wasted beyond the point of control. ¡Que Viva! hates that, because the one time she was being controlled by a machine as a young child was the time she lost her leg, now whenever she isn't in the driver's seat, she thinks she is going to die. She hates being out of control. You are welcome for the diagnosis. I should be writing for WebMD.
Speaking of out of control, out front, in the middle of the presentation, Somonja confronts the photographer who took pictures of Sonja, the cook, her toaster oven, and the man she wishes would be her lover. Earlier she had gone to Heather's office and actually was kissed by James, the world's most patient homosexual who designed Sonja's box. He was just so glad to be done with this project and mocked up a package for her and it looked nice and clean and sexy and professional. It was everything Sonja was not, and it is everything what would sell a toaster oven. Sonja was very happy. Then she giggled when someone said "box" and "package," as we all did. But at the benefit, she and Ramona attacked the photographer because he didn't get even more pictures of her alone, of the toaster oven alone, and all the food and stuff. They just talked and cackled through the whole runway show, visible to everyone right in the front row like Anna Wintour on a PCP bender.
The worst part though is that Heather comes from her big presentation and raising a ton of cash and Somonja is like, "Where are the pictures Sonja was promised? She wants them. Make the photographer give them to her." Heather said, "Listen, you can get out of my face with that. Really? This is what you have to say to me?" which was the perfect response. However, if I was writing this shit, she would have said to them, "This is not about you, this is about the CHILDREN. MISSING. LIVERS," just like ¡Que Viva! did when they played hookie from her charity event. But still, her reaction was good. And then she walked away.
Gorgeous Irène (the extraordinary Audrey Tautou) loves her life as the girlfriend of an ultra-wealthy much-older man (Vernon Dobtcheff). The clothes the shoes the food the five-star hotels! But he gets drunk and passes out on the night of her birthday and so late that night she heads to the hotel bar for some company. What she finds is an empty bar--no barman on duty--and an oddly handsome young man (Gad Elmaleh) in a tuxedo asleep on one of the lounge’s couches. We know from earlier sequences that he is the barman but one look at Irène and Jean decides for that night at least to pretend that he is a multimillionaire. That deception leads to a romantic one-night stand and Irène leaves the next morning. Cut to one year later she returns to the hotel now the fiancée of the old man dripping in diamonds and living the life she has always believed is her destiny (despite her humble beginnings). When she and Jean rekindle for another fling all is lost when her fiancé discovers her infidelity. And so the comedy really begins as Jean tries to take his place only to find that her style of living drains his bank account almost immediately. The resulting lengths he goes to in order to win her love creates a series of comedic (and sometimes poignant) moments that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear by the time the credits roll. How can you not adore Audrey Tautou? Forget her foray into Hollywood in The Da Vinci Code where she simply played the sidekick to Tom Hanks’ leading man; think instead of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement in which her full talents have already been showcased. In Priceless writer-director Pierre Salvadori admits he wrote the role of Irène with her in mind and it is a perfect fit. As Irène she is so sexy so adorable so filled with life and yet riddled with the fear of not having money that she will do just about anything to have it that she almost instantly grabs hold of your heart. No matter what she does how badly she treats Jean when she discovers that he is poor you cannot help but be on her side hoping she is able to attain the wealth she so desperately desires. Her ability to show the inner depths of her emotions through just her eyes is extraordinary; this is a performance that deserves numerous accolades. Equal to the task of playing opposite her is Gad Elmaleh an actor whose face is not exactly handsome yet is so appealing that we quickly fall for him as well. He struggles to find a way to keep Irène close despite not having the millions he needs to afford her. The duo creates a winning combination that will make you believe that love can actually win out even in the most seemingly impossible situations. Director Pierre Salvadori readily admits that his deft touch with screwball comedy comes from his love of the films of Hollywood great Ernst Lubitsch the master of the genre (think Ninotchka To Be or Not to Be The Shop Around the Corner Heaven Can Wait). Happily Salvadori has succeeded admirably in creating a film worthy of the comparison. With no sentimentality but plenty of romance he creates a world where his characters change evolve and eventually allow their hearts to lead the way. It is the rare filmmaker who is able to create classics of this genre for often the stories are either too predictable--we always know from the start for example that the leads in any romantic comedy will end up together but it is the journey to get there that makes or breaks a film. Or perhaps the romantic comedy is too sappy and corny for our hearts to really believe in the story. Priceless is neither. Instead it is a rollicking funny and even poignant (for just a moment) comedy that will make you remember the fun you had while watching it. In other words Priceless is a quintessentially great romantic comedy and not to be missed.
Based on Ian McEwan’s equally stirring novel we begin the story in 1935 on the cusp of WWII. Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) a 13-year-old fledgling writer lives with her wealthy family in their enormous English country mansion and on one hot summer day she irrevocably changes the course of three lives including her own. It seems the housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) carries a torch for Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley). And on this warm day it becomes clear she feels the same way; their love ignites. Little Briony who harbors her own secret crush on Robbie witnesses the beginnings of this love affair and not understanding its meaning feels compelled to interfere going so far as accusing Robbie of a crime he did not commit. He is arrested and whisked away eventually forced into the British army but thankfully the two lovers have a moment before he goes to war to reconnect. Cecilia promises to wait for him urging him to “come back” to her once the madness he is about to become immersed in is over. Meanwhile Briony (played in adult years by Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave) has grown up regretting every single moment of that fateful day and in desperately trying to seek forgiveness finally finds a path to understanding the power of enduring love. The performances in Atonement are nothing less than captivating beginning with the young Irish rose Saoirse Ronan (who is also set to play the lead in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones). Since it is primarily Briony’s story Ronan must make the first most indelible impression and set the tone for the rest of the movie--and she succeeds on every level. From the moment you see Ronan’s pale face clear-blue eyes and steadfast gait you immediately recognize Briony’s need and determination to make everything in her life just so. Indeed Briony is a strongly focused child and Ronan so embodies the character an Oscar nomination is almost a certainty. As the 18-year-old Briony Garai (Dirty Dancing 2) does the best she can following such a tough act as Ronan but can never quite match the same intensity. On the other hand Redgrave who comes in at the very end as the much older Briony nails it right away adding her own nuances to a character who has lived a full life. Of course Knightley and McAvoy are no slouches either vividly capturing the passion bubbling up between Cecilia and Robbie then turning around and showing the heartache as their love is ripped apart. McAvoy is particularly effecting as his Robbie must also witness some truly horrific wartime scenes. Actually Oscar nods should come fast and furious for everyone in Atonement. With Pride & Prejudice and now Atonement director Joe Wright may have just established himself as the new James Ivory (of Merchant/Ivory fame). Wright is a real visionary for the romantic period piece expertly delivering truly spectacular vistas. From set design to costumes to cinematography the look of Atonement is at once verdant welcoming and then startlingly grim. The first half of Atonement at the Tallis’ country home is certainly the film’s most defining peppered by an effective musical score which uses the sound of a typewriter like a metronome. Through a soft lens Wright displays the general idleness of summer day at a country home like a sunny floral motif that belies an undercurrent of sweating bodies wilting flowers stagnant pools--and an imminent tragic event. Then once Wright moves with Robbie into WWII he actually paints an even more grim view of war then maybe seen before. The one continuous shot of the historical Dunkirk--a French beach on which thousands of British soldiers were forced by the Germans and then waited to be evacuated--is absolutely stunning and surreal. Atonement does drag ever-so-slightly in the middle especially as Briony trains to be a nurse in London but overall this is a film Academy voters eat up with a silver spoon. Expect to be hearing about it in the months to come.
Imagine only being able to communicate through blinking. Now imagine trying to dictate your memoirs in this grueling and time-consuming fashion. That’s how Jean-Dominique Bauby had to put his life and thoughts down on paper. The editor of French Elle suffered a stroke so severe that it rendered him almost entirely paralyzed for the remainder of his short life. He died less than 18 months later just days after the publication of his 1997 memoirs. Making amends for his laughable adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera Ronald Hardwood pays homage to Bauby’s remarkable achievement with an eloquent screenplay that examines the power of the mind over the body. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly begins on the day when Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) wakes up from a coma and is alarmed to find himself in a hospital completely paralyzed and unable to speak. But his mind is sharp as it ever was. Flashbacks reveal Bauby to be a man who lived life to the fullest and relished every challenge that came his way. So being stuck in a body that no longer functions as it once did is clearly pure hell for Bauby--until his therapist Henriette (Marie-Josee Croze) teaches Bauby to communicate by blinking his left eye. Bauby suddenly decides to honor a book contract he had signed before his stroke--and in the process he discovers his raison d’être. Like My Left Foot’s Daniel Day-Lewis before him Amalric indelibly proves that the mind can and will thrive even when the body is broken and beyond repair. Amalric though has less to work with than the wild-eyed Day-Lewis who had the luxury of drawing you into his performance by tapping into Irish author Christy Brown’s abrasive personality and larger-than-life presence. It’s mesmerizing to watch the intrepid Amalric at work even though he’s practically motionless for the entire film bar for a few flashbacks. While the rest of his face remains frozen solid Amalric eloquently expresses Bauby’s innermost hopes and fears through the mere blink of his left eye. There’s never a time when you don’t know how Bauby feels. And his narration is laced with gallows humor which helps keep Diving Bell free from drowning in sentimentality. As Bauby’s therapist Croze personifies patience dedication and resourcefulness we all expect and demand from health-care professionals but don’t always receive. Emmanuelle Seigner maintains a brave face as Bauby’s neglected wife Céline. You wait for Céline to crumble especially as Bauby never stops asking about his mistress but Seigner reveals Céline to be caring and forgiving. The most heartbreaking moments come between Amalric and Max von Sydow who plays Bauby’s father who is much trapped inside his apartment as Bauby is inside his body. There’s great sadness and regret to be found in von Sydow’s every word as he comes to the painful realization that he will outlive his rich and successful son which no father wants to do. Yes Diving Bell is the latest in a long line of inspirational fact-based films about physically and/or mentally challenged people mastering their disabilities. But director Julian Schnabel distinguishes himself and the film by shooting the first act solely from Babuy’s perspective. We see everything Bauby sees through his one good eye from the moment he comes out of his coma. What follows is confusing disorienting and taxing. And darkly humorous as evidenced by Bauby’s admiration of his females nurses. Schnabel’s approach though works to dramatic effect because we receive a greater understanding and appreciation of what Bauby’s experiencing. Stay the course and you will be rewarded for your patience. Once Bauby comes to terms with his fate and refuses to spend the rest of his days wallowing in self pity Schnabel finally turns his camera on Bauby to reveal his post-stroke physical appearance. It’s a quiet but ingenious way for us to accept Bauby as he accepts himself. Schnabel then concentrates on Bauby’s Herculean effort to dictate his autobiography which is occasionally interrupted by poignant flights of fantasy (it’s not hard to guess what the diving bell and the butterfly symbolize). Equal amounts of joy and regret are be found in Bauby’s reminiscing but Schnabel never tries to romanticize his subject or ignore to his past transgressions. Diving Bell doesn’t set to turn a flawed man into a hero but Bauby’s will and determination ultimately reinforces the notion that anything’s possible if you set your mind to it.