HBO’s Looking is in a strategic position to present a fresh perspective on gay men. It joins a roster of water-cooler behemoths like Game of Thrones, True Blood and Girls. It may bring a new view of gay men to the mainstream but it seems to unintentionally (or intentionally) bash other minority groups in the process. It exposes an underbelly of class, race, and sexual discrimination inherent in our culture. But the most offensive part is that it’s not bothering to make a point.
Looking follows the lives of three gay men in San Francisco. Jonathan Groff plays Paddy, the anti-Casanova, a dating-obsessed video game designer with verbal diarrhea. His friends are Dom, a slightly over-the-hill waiter and Agustín, an artist in a new relationship. Compared to its lead-in Girls, it’s notable that the cast has people of color. Agustín is played by Cuban-American actor, Frankie J. Álvarez. His boyfriend, Frank, is played by English bi-racial actor O.T. Fagbenle. Paddy’s co-worker Owen, played by Andrew Law, is Asian-American. Paddy even gets a love interest, Richie (Raúl Castillo), who is Mexican. Great, a show set in San Francisco actually acknowledges the racial make-up of the city’s residents. However, with great minorities come great responsibilities.
The series may be diverse on paper but it doesn’t present people of color as full-fledged characters. Instead, it panders to stereotypes. Owen, the Asian character calls Paddy a “Japanese schoolgirl” for using an emoticon and then offers, “I have some Pokemon cards if you want to borrow them.” Then he rolls back to his desk. Yes, the choice of the video game designer being Asian is a little trite but must he constantly reference his race? Is his character the Asian guy who Asians a lot? When Richie meets Paddy on the bus, Paddy first responds with fear and timidity because Richie’s a working class Latino. Why is he scared? Up to this point, he’s had two failed attempts at romance, what’s wrong with a guy flirting with him on the bus? He later describes Richie as not his “type.” Is it because he’s Latino? When he describes Richie to his friends he whispers the word “Mexican.” The show is trying to make gay people seem like everyone else but it seems to take time out of the show to reference race but not make a statement.
The Richie/Paddy relationship quickly degrades into unabashed sexual fetishization. Paddy is so love-starved that he tries to get into a deep conversation with an anonymous white sex partner that he later reveals he isn’t even attracted to. And yet, Richie is never considered a viable romantic candidate and instantly designated a prospective “f**kbuddy.” Paddy spends the entire episode fixated on the prospect of seeing his uncircumcised penis. Because we’re meant to believe that 99.9% of Latin men are uncircumcised. But, since Agustin says it, it’s not racist. A guy obsessed with seeing an uncircumcised penis is the making of a hilarious plotline. But why does it have to be an uncircumcised Latin penis? If you had any doubts about the racial connotations, Paddy does a Latin-specific Google search.
The wanton sexuality assigned to men of color seems like a throughline throughout the first three episodes. Despite the somewhat tame nature of the show, Agustín and Frank have sex twice in the premiere episode. #firstimpression Agustin starts to entertain the idea of becoming an escort. It's great if the show wants to take a sex-positive approach and/or explore the lives of sex workers. However, given the treatment of the Richie character, it seems like the series creators think Latinos are only good as sexual playthings. Why not have the Asian game designer moonlight as a gigolo? In a later scene set in a bathhouse, Dom is able to have a civilized conversation with another gay gentleman, Lynn (Scott Bakula), until he’s summoned by a masturbating Latino man.
The show continues into murkier waters. In “Looking at Your Browser History,” Agustín gets painted as a delinquent. When asked where he got their placemats he says he stole them from Target. (read: Latinos are thieves). Later, angry for no reason (read: Latinos are feisty), he unabashedly tells his boss how much he dislikes her work. Then, obviously, he gets fired. Is the implication that Latinos can’t keep jobs? Granted, that might seem like a huge leap, if a few minutes later Owen didn’t say “I’m Asian, alright. Our DNA rends itself apart when we lose our jobs.” The implication is, as an Asian person, he is less likely to take risks with his employment. So, via the transitive property, are we supposed to see Agustín as irresponsible with his job? Isn’t the definition of racism that certain value judgments or prejudices are assigned to different races?
The show does deserve some credit for diversity. In a post-Sofia Vergara media world, the main Latino character doesn’t have an accent. However, in an interview Álvarez reveals that his character was originally meant to have an accent, be Venezuelan, and have green card issues. Despite this somewhat progressive take on one character, Richie, the other Latino character, is flummoxed by the word “oncology.” Are we meant to laugh because Latinos mispronouncing words is funny (see: every episode of Modern Family)? Richie has had no problem eloquently flirting up to this point so why do they need to insert a Dangerous Minds moment with Paddy correcting his English?
It’s not Utopia. It’s HBO. Looking shouldn’t have to be crushed under the weight of political correctness. However, you can’t ignore the irony. The show tries to give voice and authenticity to gay men not normally represented in media. And yet, it implicitly subjugates people of color with the same stereotypes we see everywhere else. It would be fine if these borderline racist moments were germane to the plot or made a statement. It would be great if Paddy’s racism taught him a lesson as to why he’s so unsuccessful with men. But he may have been speaking for the writers when he flatly said, “I think I may be racist.”
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Fans devastated by the loss of Mexican-American singer and reality television star Jenni Rivera, who tragically died in a plane crash on Sunday, will still get to appreciate the body of work she left behind. In the week following Rivera's tragic death, Spanish-language network mun2 is running a marathon of Rivera's reality series I Love Jenni on their channel, continuing Tuesday night and Wednesday night, as well as the show which she executive produced, Jenni Rivera Presents: Chiquis 'n Control, airing on Thursday and Friday.
Like other stars who passed before their time, Rivera had a yet-to-be-released project. The 42-year-old had her debut film role in the indie drama Filly Brown, which screened at 2012's Sundance Film Festival. In the film about an aspiring poet/rapper (Gina Rodriguez), Rivera plays Maria, the incarcerated mother of the rising star who tries to maintain a relationship with her daughter. Rivera, pictured here in a scene from the film, had just a few scenes, but they were standout, emotional ones, nonetheless.
The movie is slated for a limited April 2013 release (starting in approximately 100 theaters) and those who worked with Rivera on the project are coming to terms with the loss of their co-star, who many said had a generous nature on set.
In a statement released to E!, Rivera's Filly Brown cast mate Edward James Olmos said, "The world lost an extraordinary talent in the realm of Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, and Frank Sinatra, who took their singing artistry and became dramatic artists in film and television. Jenni Rivera was destined to surpass any artist that we have ever seen coming from the Mexican American culture. She was just starting. My love to her family, especially her children and her mother and father."
During an interview with the Los Angeles Times, one of the film's directors Youssef Delara (who said that Filly Brown would have marked "just the beginning of Jenni's acting career") recalled that Rivera anonymously gave her payment for the movie to a photographer on the production who seemed to need the money. Rodriguez noted her generous spirit as well, telling the LA Times, "On set, she found out the second assistant director's mom loved her and then brought her a signed picture, perfume and CD ... She empowered all and still will."
Michael Olmos, the film's other director, put it simply: "She was so honest and open with her life. There was never a wall between her in a professional level and her in a personal level."
[Photo credit: John Castillo]
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Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Officials at Unicus Performance Training (UPT) filed a lawsuit this week (beg22Feb10), alleging they were never paid for developing an exercise scheme for the media mogul's company.
UPT bosses claim they were hired by executives at Winfrey's firm to put together a corporate fitness regime, the O Fitness Challenge, specifically for Harpo employees between August 2008 and March 2009.
According to the legal documents, UPT chiefs invoiced Harpo for $63,000 (£39,375) but were told their contract had been terminated after they allegedly violated a confidentiality agreement by sending out a mass email promoting an upcoming appearance on Winfrey's radio show, according to TMZ.com.
UPT owners Dina Castillo and Frank Nunez claim Harpo's General Counsel and Vice President William L. Becker later told them their services had been "voluntary."
Castillo and Nunez are seeking unspecified damages "to compensate Unicus for the fair value of the services performed."
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.