Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Like the name implies, there are two films trapped inside director Bryan Poyser's latest effort: "Love" being one half, and "Air Sex" being the other. One film is a sometimes charming, sweet, and funny meditation on love between twenty-somethings, while the other is an aggressively unfunny aside that almost derails the entire film (take a guess at which one is which).
Aspiring filmmaker Stan (Michael Stahl-David) and pre-med student Cathy (Ashley Bell) find love in balmy Austin, but life drives the two to opposite coasts; Stan seeks his dreams under the bright lights of Hollywood, while Cathy heads to the wintery Northeast to attend a prestigious medical school in New York. Six months later, Sean's Hollywood aspirations have landed him in a pizza joint, while Cathy feels disconnected from her med school peers. When Stan catches wind that Cathy is flying home to Austin for the weekend, he can't help but "accidentally" fly home on the same weekend as his ex. The obviousness of Stan's gambit isn't lost on their friends Jeff and Kara, who are in the middle of a breakup of their own. The two ex-lovers try to avoid each other during the weekend, but as one of the characters comments, Austin is a small city, and the pair do threaten to bump into each other, whether by coincidence or by design.
When focusing on the relationships among the four leads, Love and Air Sex works well enough. All four come close to becoming fully rounded characters, and the dialogue is witty enough to entertain. The characters send spiked sexual jabs at each other, while hiding the simmering frustration over lost relationships. Throughout the film, our heroes try some new relationships on for size, and while some of them blossom with probability, others are a halted by old yearnings. Poyser shows a intimate understanding of the awkwardness and comedy of damaged romances, and how admitting one's true feelings can sometimes feel like a herculean labor.
The other half of the title, the "Air Sex," is unfortunately, where the film falls apart. First, let's back up and explain what "Air Sex" actually is: a very real competition where participants are tasked with creating explicit and racy sexual scenarios with a disembodied partner (think air guitar, but with more pelvic thrusts). These sessions of sexual "air-tercourse" get as obscene and vulgar as all get out. But the worst thing about these routines isn't that they're too perverse (and they are pretty perverse), but that they're hardly ever funny or entertaining, and that's a huge fault considering the idea takes up half the title. Jeff uses Air Sex as a scheme to get free beer (the winner of the local Air Sex competition gets to drink free for a year), but it's really an emotional pick-me-up after his break up from Kara. These epic sexual pantomimes go on for minutes at a time and quickly grow annoying. What might have been chuckle worthy sight-gag is ballooned into half of the film's focus, and the Air Sex side plot becomes completely obnoxious as the film grinds into its final act. The biggest crime is that all the time focusing on the Air Sex competition robs the film of time it could have used to put the main characters into better focus. Unless you enjoy sexual wordplay like "Hugh G. Rection" or "F**kasaurus Sex," and a lot of air humping, you might spend much of these sequences rolling your eyes.
Love and Air Sex is a deeply confused film. It wants to be a raunchy comedy and a heartfelt indie romance, but it's constantly weighed down by trying to serve both masters. What's left is a Frankenstein-like mess of a creature that resembles a pleasant romantic comedy sloppily sewed into a terrible raunchy bore. The results are sometimes charming, sometimes groan-inducing, and full of wasted promise.
It's really easy to talk about the issues that plague women in Hollywood. Why? Because there are so many steps that need to be taken before women and men have equal footing in the industry (or pretty much, you know, anywhere in life). But there may be instances in which Hollywood's obsession with female beauty benefits them: The Oscars. It's no industry secret that if a woman (especially a beautiful one) drastically changes her image for a dramatic role, she's almost assured to be in the running for Best Actress.
What happens, though, when men held in similar esteem downgrade their looks for a leading role? Crickets, mostly. In fact, men who are often considered beautiful by society (read: women and gay men) have a mighty hard time getting their names on the winner's envelope when the Best Actor announcement comes around. So the question begs: does the Academy have a double standard on its hands? It sure seems that way.
Or perhaps it goes back to the perception of women. "Women are supposed to be admired for what they look like," Linda Mizejewski, a professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University, says. "But if a man is admired for what he looks like, it's suspicious."
Does this mean, then, that a looks-based value system creates such a double standard? Gasp! Impossible! Only it's completely logical when you break it down: our society places an incredibly high value on female beauty, but peg a veritable smörgåsbord of "weak" traits as distinctly feminine. As Mizejewski says, we can value women for their looks, but a man is "feminized" as soon as we consider his beauty a valuable asset. In the less-than-immortal-but-still-terribly-apt words of "What It Feels Like For A Girl" by Madonna, "Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short / Wear shirts and boots / 'Cause it's okay to be a boy / But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading / 'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading."
If you look at the past 10 years, the Best Actress category is rife with women who have altered (sometimes quite drastically) their sexy image in the name of nailing the character: Charlize Theron in Monster. Nicole Kidman in The Hours. Kate Winslet in The Reader. Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose. Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby AND Boys Don't Cry. Heck even Meryl Streep did it for The Iron Lady. And that doesn't even include the bevy of women that underwent major transformations who were simply nominated (Hello, Albert Nobbs).
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While it is safe to say that the majority of these performances were worthy of their accolades and awards, the fact that these women undermined traditional beauty on the big screen is no doubt a large reason why they get so much acclaim. "For women in movies, their main job is to look good. That's the standard expectation." says Mizejewski. The professor suggests that when these women go against the grain and are willing to drop the glamor, "we pay a lot more attention to that as 'serious acting.'"
But how many men have been given the same treatment in the Best Actor category? Look at those leading men who haven't won a Best Actor Oscar but are widely considered to be incredibly nice to look at in their face and body regions: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, and Ryan Gosling. Similarly to the women mentioned above, every single one of these men have gone to extensive lengths to either downplay or cover-up their pretty boy looks in the name of methodical acting. Yet they've all been left out of the nomination pool when the big dance comes to town.
The men listed are not just attractive — many of them are straight-up locker fodder. They're not just handsome (like recent Oscar winners Colin Firth and Jean Dujardin), they're beautiful. They're pretty boys who have been pinned onto the walls of screaming and hysterical fans (often of the teen girl variety) for at least part of their careers. With that level of fandom fueling your career, it's often difficult to be considered a contender. "People always tend to take you less seriously if you're really, really good looking," says Professor Will Akers, film department chair at Belmont University and author of Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways To Make It Great. Especially in a world as superficial as Hollywood, "because people will assume you got your success just because you're handsome."
The stigma lies between whether or not the audience considers these men "actors’ actors" or "movie stars," a differentiation that seems quite defined by looks itself. "Being a 'movie star' means being handsome and interesting on screen," Akers says. An actors’ actor, on the other hand, is someone who provides less box office bang, and more artful storytelling unconcerned with the masses' bucks.
It's a problem that plagued Pitt following his Oscar-nominated turn in 12 Monkeys. A perma-topper on many a person's Sexiest Man Ever list, Pitt has always been better suited for character work rather than the mushy leading man territory he frequently falls into. Many laud Pitt's performance in 12 Monkeys as one of his best, and felt he was snubbed in his loss to Kevin Spacey that year. But it seems as though the stigma attached to Pitt's pretty boy good looks is almost subconsciously ingrained. "As soon as you say Brad Pitt, you think 'well he’s just the most handsome man on the planet. He's definitely a movie star [as opposed to an actors' actor],'" says Akers. "But that's a stupid thing to say, because he's such a gifted actor." It's important to look at his body of work rather than, say, his body.
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But perhaps the most snubbed actor of all is DiCaprio, who has tried in vain to scrub away his image as teen dream pretty boy. He's the Susan Lucci of the Oscars. Thanks to Titanic, we'll probably never let go (to make up for the fact that Rose did) of 90s-era DiCaprio. And maybe Oscar voters can't either. DiCaprio is widely regarded as one of the best actors in the industry. His work in The Aviator and Blood Diamond earned him nominations, but he was shut out of a nod on The Departed (perhaps the most shocking snub of all), Revolutionary Road, Gangs Of New York, and Catch Me If You Can. Losses all around. No wonder he packed on the play-doh for J. Edgar. It's almost as if the way in which women (and some men, too) objectified him sexually as he came up in the business has left a permanent mark on his back.
Look at Albert Finney or Cary Grant — even a Peter O'Toole — all widely-regarded actors who never took home the gold, despite their attempts. And when you look at someone like Jeff Bridges — a veritable force in the industry over the past 40 years — it seems absurd that it took him until 2010 to nab an Oscar of his very own. It wasn't until his face caught up to the slightly grizzled characters he was born to play that the Academy finally took notice. It's as if shiny pretty things blind them, and they can only see the talent after the glow has dulled. For men, it's get old and prosper (compared to women, where the goal is to stay young forever).
When examining the Best Actor winners from the past 10 years — Adrien Brody, Sean Penn, Jamie Foxx, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn (again!), Jeff Bridges, Firth, and Dujardin — all are certainly handsome in their own right, but are hardly pretty boy heartthrobs (even if Firth will always be Mr. Darcy to us). Some have described their looks as classic, Romanesque, hard-worn, or even ugly. Nary a pretty boy in the bunch.
But what makes a pretty boy? "Someone with somewhat effeminate features: hairless [body] but with good hair, dimples but with chiseled cheekbones, nice eyes with full eyelashes, and slender but with strapping shoulders," says James Ramey, director of the Fusion Fashion Show competition in New York City. And there's the buzz word, folks: effeminate. The word is widely characterized as a being derogatory in nature (just check any dictionary), which is not only offensive to women (what's wrong with being like a lady?), but also gives the Sean Penns and Jeff Bridges and Forest Whitakers of the world a bit of an advantage — at least in perception. "It’s OK for [a woman] to just have value for her looks, but for a man to have value for his looks, it sounds like he's feminized ... and to be pretty is to be feminine, which is a lower status," says Mizejewski. And if the past Best Actor and Best Actress winners prove anything, it's that the Oscars love a face with character and distinct qualities that carry emotional weight differently than their pretty counterparts.
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It is probably safe to say that Ben Affleck wasn’t snubbed in the Oscar’s Best Director category because of his six-pack abs — no matter how much Fox News might try to tell you otherwise. But it's interesting to think that an industry so integral in fostering society’s obsession with beauty and perfection — and one that all but demands idolatry from its fans — would then shun those that possess both talent and looks. Sure it’s easy to demand a separation of the two in the name of awarding the most worthy, but is it possible? Especially when there's so much stacked up against those that fall on the other side of the 'attractive' line.
It’s a superficial problem that befalls incredibly successful, attractive men for a seemingly superficial thing (awards). So should anyone care? Well, if we're not constantly trying to hold ourselves to a higher and fairer standard in all aspects of life, how are we supposed to find fairness across the board? Maybe when we stop associating 'pretty' with 'femininity' and in turn that with 'weakness,' society will have made a step in the right direction overall. More equality is never a bad thing.
Do you think there's a double standard? Let us know in the comments.
[Photo Credit: Hunting Lane Films; Miramax; Warner Bros]
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There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Herbert Ross, a choreographer and the director of many Oscar-caliber films including The Goodbye Girl and The Turning Point, died Tuesday. He was 74.
The cause of death is not known, but he had been hospitalized for the past three months, Barbara Wrede, media relations manager for Lenox Hill Hospital told the Associated Press.
Ross began his career as a choreographer on Broadway but got into film when he choreographed the musical sequences in the 1954 Carmen Jones with Dorothy Dandridge. His first major film as a director was Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1969 with Peter O'Toole.
Ross' virtuosity as a director became clear in the 1970s, when he began a longtime collaboration with playwright Neil Simon, directing Simon's The Sunshine Boys, California Suite and the The Goodbye Girl, which won Richard Dreyfuss the Academy Award for Best Actor. He also directed Woody Allen's hilarious Play It Again Sam and Barbra Streisand's The Owl and the Pussycat.
In 1977, Ross put on his dancing shoes once again and directed his classic The Turning Point, a study of the ballet world, starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft, and received his only Academy Award nominations--for Best Director and Best Picture.
In the 1980s and 90s, he turned out critical and box office success such as The Secret of My Success with Michael J. Fox, Footloose with Kevin Bacon and Steel Magnolias with Sally Field and Julia Roberts.
Ross' first wife, prima ballerina Nora Kaye, died of cancer in 1987. In 1989, he married Lee Radziwill, the sister of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. They divorced in 1999.