Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Kids, Kinsey, Gods, Monsters, Love, Death, Long Island

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT - Finally I got around to Lisa Cholodenko's 2010 film which attracted a lot of attention, and one can see why. It is another of those oddball screwy comedy-dramas like CRAZY STUPID LOVE or FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, but its oddly engaging and keeps one involved, I liked it a lot but with reservations. 

Annette Bening is perfect as the controlling Nic - she deserved the Oscar for that Joni Mitchell song at the dinner table and then she finds out what is really going on, just as she is warming to Paul ... Julianne Moore though seems to be channelling Diane Keaton a lot here, its as if Keaton was playing the role of Jules who is a bit of a flake trying different businesses, currently she is trying landscape gardening, as Nic supports her. Some questions though: do lesbians really get off watching vintage gay male porn ? 

It is all set in motion by the two kids Joni (yes she is named after Ms Mitchell) and Laser - Mia Wasikowska and Josh  Hutcherson - decide to track down their sperm donor father (the girls must have used him twice then?). Mark Ruffalo is ideal here as the initially bemused Paul who finds himself attracted to the two kids he helped create and then to Jules, but she casts him  aside at the end as does Nic at the front door when he comes to make an apology. We end therefore with Nic and Jules together again with Laser, as they see daughter Joni off to college. Cholodenko though seems to have nothing to say about her characters or their lifestyle,  the plot is just propelled by absurd turns of events as absurdity piles upon absurdity, is it a comedy-drama or just a farce about different lifestyles. Paul though is left with the command to go and create his own family. Is Jules really attracted to him or just experimenting having sex with an attractive man ... ? and is Paul so hot that even the middle-aged lesbian just has to have him ?

I like Bill Condon's 2004 film KINSEY about the creation of those Kinsey Reports back in the repressive '40s and '50s. Liam Neeson has one of his key roles, like in SCHINDLER'S LIST, ably supported by Laura Linney as his wife. Peter Sarsgaard is amazing too, particularly in that scene where he strips and comes on to the Professor in their hotel room, it is so full-on without any coyness. Lynn Redgrave (the aunt of Neeson's wife Natasha Richardson) contributes a terrific little cameo too. The large cast includes Chris O'Donnell, Timothy Hutton, Tim Rice and John Lithgow, and the period detail is nicely conveyed without being trowelled on. Condon also scripted.

Though the film tries to depict Kinsey as a social pioneer, it doesn't shy away from (nor does it condemn) his dubious breaches of ethical standards, such as encouraging sexual activities among his staff and their wives. At one point, Kinsey interviews a creepy subject played by William Sadler who has maintained a detailed record of all of the thousands of people he has had sex with (including children) and the implication is clear that he and Kinsey are two sides of the same coin. (Neeson was a terrific Oscar Wilde too on stage in THE JUDAS KISS, a late '90s play by David Hare - Tom Hollander label).

Condon's GODS & MONSTERS, 1998, is another vastly enjoyable foray, this time into the final days of director James Whale (director of the original SHOWBOAT as well as those '30s  FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN classics) marooned in '50s Hollywood, with just his disapproving German housekeeper Hanna (another splendid turn by Lynn Redgrave) for company, until he takes on that hunky gardender played by Brendan Fraser. Ian McKellen has one of his best roles (before Gandalf came along) as Whale - there is a hilarious interlude at George Cukor's residence at one of his famous parties where Princess Margaret is in attendance.

Whale has had a stroke and is slowly dying. He is a lonely man in need of companionship and inner peace. He tries to find this solace in Clay Boone (Brendan Fraser, in a rare serious role). The blossoming relationship between the two is the plot focus of the film - but how true is it really, did Whale die in the swimming pool ? Was there really a Boone for Whale to project his fantasies onto? the film is more than just an homage to old Hollywood and echoes some of the themes of SUNSET BOULEVARD in its portrayal of a Hollywood veteran, who has been forgotten by the industry of the early '50s and has retreated into a private world of his own making where he still directs the scenes.
I had a pleasant conversation about it with Ian McKellan one evening (early morning actually) out in clubland, a decade or so ago, when everyone wanted to talk to him about the LOTR films, but I was able to tell him I had bought GODS & MONSTERS that week and how much I liked it. Condon has since done the so-so DREAMGIRLS and the TWILIGHT saga ...

Another nice comedy drama with an amusing gay angle is the film of Gilbert Adair's novel LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND from 1999. Cirtic Adair died last year (RIP label) and the movie is a faithful visualisation of his novel, itself a hommage to DEATH IN VENICE (Thomas Mann's book and Visconti's film).  Giles De'Ath (John Hurt) is a widower and lofty intellectual who doesn't like anything modern. He goes to the cinema to see the latest E.M. Forster heritage movie but goes into the wrong cinema at the multiplex and falls in love with its teen star, Ronnie Bostock. He then investigates everything about the movie and Ronnie, and gets a machine to play Ronnie's movies; then he decides to track Ronnie down, so he travels to Long Island city where Ronnie lives and gets meets him, pretending that Ronnie is a great actor and that's why Giles admires him. Ronnie's girl friend (Fiona Loewi) though begins to see through Giles after she has brought him and Ronnie together ... this is delightfully orchestrated by director Richard Kwietnioswski, who does not seem to have done anything of note since.

The character of Giles could so easily have been a caricature, a bumbling old fogey; Hurt shows that, while he is indeed out of touch, he is also highly intelligent and unapologetic about his fusty ways. It is one of this very individual (and busy) actors best roles. Jason Priestley is rather good too as the slightly dim Ronnie, and Sheila Hancock is as splendid as ever even if she has nothing much to do as Giles' housekeeper.
There is a touch of Nabokov too as European high culture brushes with American teen culture. Hurt's performance is dignified, perplexed and slightly tragic; he makes Giles one of the most touching "stalkers" in film history. Much like James Mason's Humbert in LOLITA (or Dirk's Aschenbach in DEATH IN VENICE) Giles is a man of culture finding beauty in callow youth and being changed by it. McKellen and Hurt though have done some of their best work here as these older men obsessed with younger beauties ...

Before too long: another look at that BBC series THE LINE OF BEAUTY from Alan Hollinghurst's novel (an adaptation of his THE SPELL would be nice), along with those newies like SHAME, TINKER TAILOR..., TREE OF LIFE, that new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE which looks fun,  THE SKIN I LIVE IN and some other Almodovars. 

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