Thursday, February 28, 2008

Have You Met Miss Jones?

Last night was girl's night on Idol, which was fitting, because it kept reminding me of the rock star poster child of single girls. Bridget Jones.

Back before Renee Zellwegger got affixed with her permanent sour lemon face, she stumbled across the screen like a hot mess and charmed most everyone watching her. She suffered through poor fashion choices (Alaina), hair disasters (Amanda), and even had a charming poof of a best friend (Seacrest). Not to mention her poorly executed karaoke session atop her desk (nearly everyone else.) There were two songs performed from the film's soundtrack, and we even had a touch of Brit with Simon's accent. But for all her embarrassments, Bridget did, however, make the very wise choice of simply lip-synching the classic "All By Myself." If only everyone had her smarts.

Carly O'Pimpedone started off the show with Heart's "Crazy On You" and it was really quite alright. Good, in fact. She sounded good, but, as Simon likes to point out, but didn't in this case, not nearly as good as Ann does on the song. But at least she left her maternity robe at home this time and looked less puffy than Ann.

I'm still not comprehending the judges's reactions to Syesha's take on "Me and Misses (MIster) Jones." I loved that she didn't yell and worked the soft and powerful parts of the song and thought she sounded great. But, across the board, the judges told her that what she does well is shout and that she should definitely continue to shout in the future. Bad, bad advice, and I had to wonder if they aren't intentionally punking her with those comments.

Amanda Overmyer murdered a Kansas song while looking like a reject from a Whitesnake video. Alaina did alright with the Grease song, "Hopelessly Devoted To You," but someone really needs to send out a memo that blue satin dresses are never okay. And her package made her look like a flake. If the most interesting thing this girl has going for her is that she likes to keep her food apart, we've just discovered heretofore unfathomable levels of vapidity. And yet, she comes out on stage and does have a personality, so I can't really judge. In stark contrast is Kady, who also chose to sing Heart, and who actually does have a richer and more unique voice than the clover kid, even if she keeps it mostly hidden onstage. She also comes off great in her films, but then does her best Anna Nicole Simpson dumb floozy/stagestruck bit when she's live.

The one bright light of the night was Brooke, who sang the Carly Simon classic "You're so Vain" while glancing over at Simon. She sounded great and I'm not sure Simon was just putting on when he kept saying that he did think the song was about him.

I'm having trouble remembering the other girls, which probably doesn't bode well for them. Oh yeah. Kristy "Crouching Farmgirl, Hidden Talent" Lee Cook sang. She crouched and had a pretty face but was all so much blah. Ramiele can sing very well. But if anyone was in need of a makeover, it's this girl. The sideswiped hair, the belted cami, the pegged pants. She's gonna be a tiny little piece of gorgeous when the stylists get their hands on her, but until then she's a lot more suited for "American Pimp" than "American Idol." And though Alexandrea Lushington has, by a mile, the best name in the competition, she was just so boring.

So that left Asia'h to close the show. She came out dressed like she should've been serving coffee to Miranda Priestley, or maybe dating Patrick Bateman. Appropriate, because she butchered "All By Myself." At least she remembered to use all the consonants at her disposal, but she couldn't find the right notes and it just made me long for Bridget's interpretation.

So that was that, really. But as the hour and a half ended, I realized I could've actually spent that same time watching "Bridget Jones's Diary." And I sorta wished I had.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Full House: Three Queens over Two Jack(asses)

Look. There were more flames popping out on last night's Idol than during a late '80s Motley Crue stadium show when they'd bust out "Home Sweet Home." And, I love it.

Ugly Betty's nephew is all grown up and he's Danny Noriega. Why do I love Danny? Because I barely ever see 30 year-olds as comfortable in their own skins as this kid is in his. And he's already given us the head snap, and this week, when talking to Simon, he gave us "ish". He must stay. Simply, he makes the show more watchable.

Not quite rushing out of the closet, David Hernandez did at least discuss fashion choices in his clip where he talked about being a child gymnast. He then belted the shit out of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" with some energy while still trying to walk the line without being too flamboyant. (You know, not as flamboyant as say, a go-go dancer would be.) I still like him and I still think he's a lot cuter than dimwit Luke Menard. Again, Menard with those vacant, closely-set eyes and that nasally voice. This dude defined irony for the evening because he's definitely NOT in the evening's Queen club, even though he tried to sing "Killer Queen."

As for the Jackass section last night, I actually thought Chikezie sang pretty well and his joking with Simon about rewearing of clothing was kinda funny, not jackassy. He still needs help with that damn neckfurter, though. But Robbie Karaoke was jackass incarnate. You know, I'd wondered last week why he always had the damn bandana on. Then, last night, when it came off, I knew why. But, it then leapt a step higher this morning when I learned that it's not just ugly-ass ratnest Brett Michaels hair. TMZ has provided the full dirt that really makes sense. And this rug fucker dares wonder why he has "authenticity" problems? He even broke out the wallet chain, but he still can't hide his boy band hand movements onstage and then he prances around with a bad attitude and mediocre voice and gets owned by the much uglier but much better singer David Cook.

Speaking of Cook, I disagree with Simon about his intro package. A word nerd. Okay, I can go with that. Then he did alright on "All Right Now." And then he couldn't keep his Mr. Peanut-head mouth shut and spouted off a little petulantly to Simon. Seriously. Give this dude a monocle, cane and top hat and he could have a career in famous legume impersonation. He's got a voice that really is suitable for the radio. But so's his face. And unlike Robbie who can blame the wig maker, he's got no excuse for that hair. So he ends up as jackass number two of the night.

How quickly did the koala love disappear last night? Johns sang "Go Your Own Way" and I couldn't believe it that Randy didn't even break out "pitchy" on his ass. But he couldn't go so far as to overpraise him, either, because this was one of the worst performances from the guys this season. Excellent. Excellent stuff.

Poor Jason Castro also suffered a let down. I have to say, I really liked his promo package, though, because he essentially refused to say a single thing about himself but did in a cute and sly way so that he didn't come off as a prima donna. Then he sang an Andy Gibb song, which Simon rightly criticized as being schmaltzy. But, I do also think they kicked him a little too hard. If I'm being honest, I don't think his voice is all that good. But he's chill and he kind of has a Jack Johnson-Ben Harper thing working for him musically that could actually be successful outside this show.

So that leaves us with little David Archuleta. He did "Imagine" and I imagine that Nigel nearly creamed himself just thinking about the profits he's going to pocket from this kid. I admitted before that despite it all, I like him, and I still do. And yet my nasty side is now salivating to see how he's going to react when he eventually has a less-than-stellar performance and Simon tells him so. He's all bashful appreciation right now, but his opening clip didn't do him any favors by making it abundantly apparent to us that everyone around this show has been aware of -- and waiting for -- this kid to be on the show since season one. Somewhere, behind the curtain, there's a stage mother pulling the marionette strings and she'd probably rival Joan Crawford. And over the long weeks, David A will eventually stumble slightly, and it'll be frame-by-frame inspection/dissection of his every single reaction to it that'll give his haters much glee. In the meantime, though, even those who like him, like me, can take glee in how positively spastic-denial bonkers his hardcore fans get when someone mentions his, uh, proclivities. (shades of Claymates already.) You think they hate that? Just wait until someone points out that he also bears a passing resemblance to Chris Kattan's Mr. Peepers. Or, Kattan's Mango. (Kind of a double-whammy with that one, huh?)

And, I realize I've forgotten someone. I guess that says it all, then. So, until next week, flame on, triple Ds. Flame on.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Forever My Girl

Some of the chum got consumed on last night's Idol. No really big surprises on who went. But the show did have an outlandish highlight as they debuted the new video for Paula Abdul's comeback song, "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow."

YAY!! Pauler! I haven't been this excited since Keanu rush rushed into that James Dean jacket for one of her vids. You probably saw her "live" performance of the song for the Super Bowl, but here's the video.

All in all, not too terribly embarrassing. And as trainwrecks come and go, dear sweet Pauler's already had her share. Remember the egg suit? I don't really think this comeback song is going to be on par with Cher's "Believe," and the song is a throwaway piece of shit, but it's a piece of shit I can easily see myself getting trashed and dancing to while hanging out at some grossly overpriced and trendy club like Tryst.

But she does have all the earmarks for a mild comeback here. The flagrantly synthesized voice, the wind, and great lighting to make her look, well, good. Please note how Randy insists on inserting himself into the video to pluck on an irrelevant bass when there's no bass to be heard. Also please note that for the Liza-esque pantsless tuxedo costume, she went so far as to stick a napkin in her hair to pay homage to the madcap '80s style that spawned her. (It makes me yearn for her to reconcile with Emilio, you know?) To bring things up to date, she actually has a wallet chain on another costume. (no, not the red gown one, keep looking.)

I was starting to get concerned about her this year. There haven't been any excuses tossed out for her behavior, and, worse, her behavior has slipped. Much like a drunk winding down to pass out. For a few years she'd been the bubbly, exuberant and sillytipsy girl. Then, the slurring got more pronounced and her moves more erratic. This year, it seemed as though she was in the final stages before blackout, with the heavy-lidded eyes and listless demeanor, only sparking to life to pick fights with Simon before unleashing an incoherent mess of babble about colors. I feared she'd be sleeping it off for the entire top six. But I think this video may just inject some more life into her, like drinking your next vodka with Red Bull, you know?

Dance, Paula darling, dance like there's no tomorrow! Because for drunks like us, susceptible to two-day long blackouts and week-long hangovers, sometimes there is no tomorrow.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sham-Rock Divas

The most interesting thing about girls' night on Idol last night was watching the boys' reactions. I haven't yet started with the screencapping, but I really should to get evidence. Maybe later tonight I'll do it and put it up here. But you had to see it. You had to notice David Cook and his ugly mug sitting there, not even pretending to be enjoying the majority of the performances. He sat there, slouched in his seat with his arms crossed most of the time. It may not have been classy, but it was definitely an "authentic" reaction to the evening.

The battle of the blondes began, and the much hyped Kristy Lee Cook babbled about selling her favorite horse. As though that would somehow upstage Asia'h's dead dad sob story. Bitch, please. This is the modelicious blonde who can sing "Amazing Grace" and apparently nothing else. She sang it for her audition and then after she bombed in Hollywood, she sang it again and got through. Last night, she didn't sing it and again she bombed out. I'm not shocked. I'm of the opinion that most people have that one song that they can actually sing, even if they can't carry a tune on anything else. Some people just never find that one song. (I, for instance, can't sing worth a damn. But for some reason I can sing "One for the Road".)

Beyond that, most of the other girls all smushed together into a boring-to-bad compilation of trite '60s covers. That one blonde who looks like Carrie did alright, though. Best, drunken Pauler actually said that they had Diana Ross sing the same song on the show last year and it was "dreadful." You can bet your ass she's gonna get strongly-worded letters from Miz Ross's people about that one!

And the one non-blonde, the rock chick Amanda, I enjoyed her performance a little because at the end of it, Randy commented on her "trousers." Randy, the one who has the smallest vocabulary and least relevant remarks actually said "trousers." I liked that. As for Amanda's performance? I'm having a hard time swallowing that she's twenty-three. Anthony Bourdain would have a hard time swallowing that shit, okay? I thought she was fucking horrendous, but I really hope she sticks around, because she is different, and it'll be a laugh riot to see her be forced to perform some dreary-ass Barry Manilow shit if she advances. I'd love to see a rocker chick do well, and I don't really think she's a sham, but I also don't think she's so hot. Her voice is distinctive, but not really great. Kind of like Rockstar's Dilana but without the chops.

Little Ramiele can sing, and so can Syesha, and I still like Asia'h's smoky voice, but I got sick of her shit enunciation as she sang "Piece o' my 'art."

So that leaves the one they're cramming down our throats. Let me be clear. I don't hate Carly because she's a ringer and a plant. Pete's sake, this year, the competition has more plants than FTD central offices. Full on, I don't even hate Carly. Yet. But I also really don't like her. I got sick of seeing her bug-eyed shock on that promo that they aired over and over from her audition when Cowell told her that she wasn't as good as two years ago. I don't like her nibbly little rat face and I despise her pointy rat-teeth. And her? I do think she's a sham. After Nigel got confronted by the press about her, they wrote her a nice little script for her intro last night to explain that she's had a record deal. Even that was embellished, though, as she made it sound like the company went kablooey and that's why she failed.

Wrong. They spend millions of bucks to promote the broguey bitch and she sold 500 records. And yeah, Randy was involved. So of course he's going to give her a big old silver-tongue bath that'd make Gene Simmons' oral apparatus seem average in comparison. But again, I don't hold the record contract against her.

What I hold against her is that she's a consistent under-achiever, and she did it again last night. Like Luke Menard, who thinks that passable good looks can substitute for substance, Carly thinks that her natural voice should be enough. She says she's not there to be a diva, but that bug-eyed reaction told it all. Her voice is good, I won't lie about that. But she has abso-fucking-lutely nothing else going on. There's no actual talent, and that's not something that can be taught. She's polished and groomed, but she's destined to keep failing because she lacks the ability to sing, which is different from having a voice. I think you could lock her in a room with Sinatra records until there's peace in the mid-east and she still wouldn't get it, either. She's a fucking sham.

She has her kohl-lined eyes and stringy hair and tattoo sleeve and then she sings sappy pop songs. I'm not saying that a book can't have a different cover, but what exactly does she like? You'd think she'd be a rocker chick, but instead she goes for the songs to showcase her big tone. Does she really enjoy singing that crappy shit? If not, she's twice the sham. If she does enjoy it, why does it always come across like she's doing it for acceptance instead of enjoyment? Other than her wanting success and her second chance, I have no clue what this girl is on about. That's why she's a diva. She wants her second chance. But what she obviously just doesn't get is that to have it, she has to entertain US.

It was a recurring theme among the guys last night. They thought they were hot shit because they were going to "show themselves on TV." That's the epitome of vapid, self-loving fame-whoring, to think that simply showing yourself is what makes a star. No, fuckheads. If you're hoping to be in the ENTERTAINMENT business, it's not all about you. It's about the AUDIENCE. You show yourself, and your talent, and do it in a way that connects with the audience. Otherwise, you're just more of the cannon fodder that keeps this show running extra weeks for more commercial time.

Carly at least understands that she has to show off her voice to entertain the audience. The problem is, she's just so shallow about it that I doubt she'll ever connect. She doesn't want to entertain, she wants acceptance. Well, good luck, hon. I hope she makes it far. But I have a feeling she's never going to rise above being flat. The girl with all the potential who just can't fabricate an actual personality.

Maybe she will as the season goes on. Maybe if she'd step up and be the diva instead of worrying about playing nice to gain widespread acceptance, something honest and moving and diva-esque would come out in her performance which would actually be interesting. Until then? She can kiss my blarney-stone, cause I'm not buying it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kids, Kangaroo Fuckers, and Kinky Attractions

Last night Idol gave the top 12 guys their first chance to perform. Last night, I realized that I'm an old lady. I'm an old lady because I can't help it, I think David Archuleta is adorable. There. I said it. I'm out with it, and unless he really fucks up, I'll probably be sticking to that for quite a long portion of the season because I imagine he's going to sweep the grandma vote.

There won't be much suspense from the boys as we move into the top 12, because, barring some unforeseen calamity/curiosity such as stigmatic bleeding onstage, I think it's safe to say that Michael Johns, David A, Robbie Carrico and Jason Castro will be moving on.

As for the other two slots, I'd like to see Danny Noriega squish his hot little, head wagging self through. He will absolutely infuriate Simon. Though I did feel a little bad for him having to stand there and take the "grotesque" comment repeatedly. He seemed to hold his comportment when Simon slammed him with that critique. He seemed shocked, as was I, when Seacrest just kept on fucking repeating the word. Ryan was like one of Skinner's pigeons, pressing the food pellet lever, unable to stop himself with his nearly tourettish repetion. "Grotesque. Grotesque! How do you feel about being called grotesque?" The fuck?

And I know I'd previously mentioned David Hernandez, but I've come to realize I had an instant affinity for him because somewhere in my own lustful lizard-brain I was primarily happy to be taking another trip to Oz and was thrilled to see Alvarez out of solitary.

Anyhow, Hernandez may squeak through, because I really don't think that Luke Menard will. Speaking of Oz and lookalikes, is this guy the lovechild of Luke Perry and Orlando Bloom or what? He's cute and he seems to not be flaunty about it, but he knows he is. He was stunned to find out that he's boring. And it was that dimwitted, milquetoasty-pretty reaction, too. Like he wasn't defiant about it. Just in his worldview, he's unable to compute the idea that attractive doesn't automatically equate to interesting. But, boring he is. (Funny thing though, as boring as he was, at least I recall enough about him to write this. Boring leapt to somnifacient lows with everyone I'm not talking about.) And poor Luke, he's also not really pretty enough to bother propelling him forward.

Pretty with personality is Jason Castro. What can I say? He works the dreads. There's a bit of a Shannon Hoon vibe about him, and I've run across about 500 guys just like him fifteen years back at Dead shows. But, you know, I enjoyed my youth and those were good times and I like to reminisce, so that actually makes me like his neo-stoner vibe. The familiarity, for him, is working for me. Maybe for disco night he'll bust out some vintage Dead and do "Shakedown Street" and get himself a whole slew of patchouli-scented votes.

Robbie C will get through, though I don't really have any comment on him yet. Simon isn't sold on his "authenticity." In other words, Simon doesn't want him to really steal any thunder from the man from down under. So let's talk about that guy.

Michael Johns. Since everyone looks like someone else to me today, this guy is Tim Daly with Guy Pearce's mouth. Fitting, because in Guy's second-best role in Memento (his best being, of course, Ed Exley) he kept repeating the same shit over and over. Michael Johns is here on AI, vying for a recording contract. He's been there before, when he went by the name of Michael Lee, and he landed the contract with Maverick and then apparently crapped out.

It's a whole sordid story, but I don't even hold those allegations against him, as it seems his former band doesn't, and I completely understand how with youth and the offer of fame and fortune, it's easy to make a few moves that can come across as douchey to an outsider if you don't cut some slack. Nevertheless, you know when he starts to truly irritate me, I'll be bringing up that spotty past and crucifying him with it, so that even if we don't have stigmatic bleeding onstage, I can draw blood on my blog.

I know. Truly, I know. Right now, everyone's in love with him. He's hot. He can sing. He doesn't have "authenticity" problems. There's nothing obvious right now to peg him as an asshole. There's the slightly affected Morrison-esque slither to him. The thing that always cracks me up about that act is this. Jim Morrison, whom I do adore, moved the way he moved because he was fucked up, man. He wasn't being sexy. He was stone-ass wasted and staggering as he was trying to be sexy. And I'm reasonably certain that Mr. Johns wasn't dropping five hits of windowpane while polishing off a fifth of Bushmills before he took the stage for American Idol. If anyone has the capacity to go that route, I'd put my money on Jason Castro, not Johns. (Or, perhaps, if his fanbase goes all fantard Claymatish, after about five more years and some rollicking success followed by chart-bottoming crass Christmas CDs, David Archuleta may have some mild-to-severe prescription dependencies.) And, of course, last night already had Pauler on display in this wasted mode, to the point that when things got too heavy, she had to rest her head on the table and even Simon slapping her leg couldn't revive her. Now that's a pop-star, baby.

But I digress. My point is this. Michael's assholery is not yet blatantly evident. But I think I see glimmers of it. Between his toothy smile and carefully messed hair and douchey hipster scarf and calculated hip shimmies, it's there. Dormant, but festering. And for fuck's sake, they already gave him the pimp spot and the Burger King flames.

It's written all over this show. They're hoping he'll be their lucky number seven, the male winner they've always wanted to crown. Most likely, like Daughtry, he'll crap out at number two or three, because as Guy taught us, history has a way of repeating if we aren't paying close enough attention.

But I also have a feeling that no matter what, as long as he's around, I'll be loving this season. Luke Menard, meet "not boring," and his name is Michael Johns. Michael Johns, welcome to AI 7. I wish you a long and lusty run.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nic Doubles Down

I love Nicolas Cage. Don't try to give me shit about it, either. He had my heart with Valley Girl, and then he cemented the deal with Moonstruck. But leave it to him, my ultimate movie star boyfriend, to stake his claim as The King of the Strip with his one-two knockout punch Vegas movies.

In 1992's Honeymoon in Vegas, as loveable lug Jack Singer, Nic goes against his mother's dying wish and hesitantly decides to whisk his girlfriend Betsy off to Vegas to get hitched. Betsy, played by the gorgeous Sarah Jessica Parker, however, becomes the ultimate chip in a poker game gone bad when Jack loses, while holding a straight flush, to gangster Tommy Corman, played by James Caan.

In his sharkskin suits, Caan once again capitalizes on his Sonny Corleone legend as the tough guy mobster who negotiates payment of Jack's debt by having Jack lend him Betsy for the weekend. What the fuck more do you want from a Vegas movie? Bad beats, pimping out of girlfriends, mobsters, a side-trip to Hawaii, SJP in showgirl getup, and desperate, zany Nic as a skydiving Elvis.

Cage is at his best when he's in desperate-manic mode. (see also Vampire's Kiss) And this movie keeps the momentum going from start to finish. It's set in Bally's, which is a rather middle-of-the-road joint, but there are shots of Sarah poolside (back when she had a banging bod before getting too skinny) and Caan with orange hair and a still-young Nic racing around the joint to reclaim his bride-to-be to up the eye-candy quotient.

I can't say this is the funniest movie. In fact, it strikes me as though it should be funnier with the gags writer/director Andrew Bergman sets up. Most of them don't exactly fall flat, but they aren't hit with the right buttons to make them pop for full effect, either. And yet, it's still an enjoyable film with enough comedy capers to highlight the whirlwind and jubilant side of a Vegas love affair.

In stark contrast, just three years later in 1995, comes the profoundly depressing tragic love affair of Leaving Las Vegas, where alcoholic Ben meets a hooker who loves him. If Honeymoon was the quintessential "starting a new life" and Vegas wedding pic, Leaving is the death throes of a life gone wrong, where even true, unconditional love can't stop the inexorable decay into doom.

To say that this movie is the underbelly of Vegas is an overwhelming understatement, but Vegas really is just a metaphor here for the overarching loss and despair, despite the hope and opportunity that floats amongst the alcohol-soaked protagonist, of Ben Sanderson.

Written by John O'Brien, who took his own life as filming on this movie began, it's often seen as the pinnacle, tour-de-force performance of Nic's career, and it deservingly won him the Oscar. However, though often difficult to stomach with its intense depressing nature, O'Brien really does deserve credit for creating not just such a riveting love story, but also a carefully nuanced theme within a very simple plot that buoys this movie beyond the sometimes shocking and unsettling subject matter. This is saying a lot, because Julian Sands gets an above the title credit here, and you know that most any movie he stars in is an automatic B-movie. And at it's heart, this is a B-movie, but done well enough, largely thanks to the two leads, that it manages to outshine itself.

The hooker Ben meets, played by Elisabeth Shue in an astonishingly sweet and sorrowful performance, is named Sera, which is very fitting, because she turns out to be his guardian angel. And though she's a hooker, or probably because she is, Sera and Ben never sexually consummate their relationship until the eerie denouement. Instead, their connection is something much more needy, a connection based upon two lost souls finding a home in each other.

As their scenes on the strip together play out, the lights shimmer around them, and it's hard to imagine any couple ever giving off more sparks. Shue, here, is the perfect mix of slinky clothes and aching bravery in a delicate shell. And then there's Cage. Already, he was showing signs of bearing a passing resemblance to Andy Kaufman, and yet his sleepy eyes and crooked smile capture every calibration between cocky and lovesick. When he grabs her suddenly and inappropriately in the Gold Coast casino and backs her into a slot machine to make out with her, there's more passion in that one, brief kiss than in a hundred sex scenes from modern cinema.

Director Mike Figgis follows the stark and spare theme by making the most of what he's got. Not just Shue and Cage, but also the repeating refrains of the haunting soundtrack. Don Henley's version of the Johnny Mercer's "Come Rain or Come Shine" is a song that encapsulates the unconditional love that Sera shovels Ben's way and it repeats appropriately. Meanwhile, Sting enters two other classics, "Angel Eyes" and "My One and Only Love" -- the combination of which, we would hope, would be enough to pull Ben from his quicksand, drinking death trip. But they aren't.

Early in the film, Ben tells Sera that he moved to Vegas because the bars are always open, so much the easier to kill himself that way. And though it's known and loved as a party town, an elopement paradise, and a wild free-for-all, Vegas does have its price. There is a wicked and lonely feel to the city when off the strip and down on your luck, a nearly depraved and debasing indulgence that doesn't just permit, but encourages self-destruction, much like that alcohol that Ben chooses as his suicide weapon.

There is nothing subtle about Nic's performance here, though it is sly and Cagey. Between embarrassing DTs and wobbling black outs, he swings moodily from captivating and soulful to painfully cavalier and sometimes cruel. Even his hands here are hauntingly expressive, his long fingers moving with an almost dreamlike quality.

Vegas is manic. And Nicolas Cage has captured both the absurdly funny and absurdly tragic in the bright lights and dark corners of the city, which makes him my reigning movie star of the Strip. Here's some lights for you, Nic.

Chevy Chases the Dream, Bugsy shoots for the stars

Mmkay. Before I unleash my very top picks for Vegas flicks, I wanna do a round up of the rest out there.

In 1997, the Bellagio was still a year from opening its doors, and that meant that The Mirage was still the crown jewel in the Wynn empire, and Vegas was at the zenith of the family-friendly madness. In other words, it was the perfect setting for the Griswold family and their hijinks.

Vegas Vacation has pretty much every cliche, and that's what makes it so funny. Chevy Chase is the affable dad who gets the fever and goes off the rails and gambles away his family's savings, while his wife canoodles with Wayne Newton and his daughter becomes an exotic dancer and his son experiences the life of a high roller. It's some of the smaller touches that make this movie so funny, like when the family is having a relaxed breakfast and Chevy has to sneak away for a few minutes to secretly gamble, or, best, when he's huddled at the ATM, crazy-eyed, and the money starts pouring out as "All Along the Watchtower" thumps as the soundtrack. This movie captures the Mirage beautifully, the only detail missing is the unmistakable smell of pina colada as you enter the casino. But they even have Siegfried and Roy and their tigers prominently fixed into the plot. Ahh, better days.

When it comes to gambling fever, no one got a more fatal case than Julie Hagerty in Albert Brooks' hilarious Lost in America. It's 1985 and after Albert quits/gets fired, he decides to take his wife on the road a la Easy Rider, only in a Winnebago. But they make a hilarious and costly stop at the once brilliant Desert Inn where his wife gambles away all their money. Best? He then asks the casino for it back!

Barry Levinson took his second trip to Vegas in 1991 for the bio pic Bugsy. Unquestionably, Ben "Bugsy" Siegel was one of the most important architects of modern Las Vegas. Contrary to popular belief, he did not build the first hotel or casino in the desert. But what he did do with the Flamingo was bring it to levels previously unheard of which was the blueprint for what would come. He didn't see Vegas as a place for dusty gambling halls. His love for glamour made him want to make Vegas a sort of Hollywood-East, and his Flamingo would be the epicenter of luxury.

So if 40's Hollywood glamour is your game, Bugsy is your picture. Warren Beatty and Annette Bening look like they were created for this wardrobe and movie. And yet, like Vegas, all the glitz was covering some truly ugly aspects. Violent and nasty, both Bugsy and Virginia Hill were an awful lot to take, and this movie doesn't gloss over their despicable traits.

Levinson is a master filmmaker, and this picture is no exception -- character and plot twine together to make this movie riveting, and it's stamped with his classy touches even while the blood flows. And yet, Levinson has always had a touch of romantic and melancholy in his work, which is generally something I really like. But I guess maybe there's a gentleness about his films in general that puts this one at odds and somehow the pieces don't fit exactly right. It's hard to describe, really. But it's kind of like he and Scorsese crossed movies in this period. Scorsese was making the lovingly detailed "Age of Innocence" while Levinson was doing this period piece. And it was refreshing to see both men step outside their box, and the different perspectives brought something different to each film. And yet, it just doesn't feel exactly right. Kind of like fake tits. They're eye catching and you appreciate the effort, but they'll still never be authentic.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Top Twenty-Four

So the top twenty-four have been picked for this year's American Idol. I had to stop watching the audition rounds because the repetition got to me. But I picked it up again for Hollywood week and was surprised at how much I liked it, and how much I liked so many of the people. It already seemed a lot better than last year's crop. Favorites so far? Asia'h! Loved her. Of course Michael Johns is hot, and of course he's a ringer, along with the Irish girl. I think both of them have had record deals already. But we'll see. I loved both the Davids -- Archuletta and Hernandez. And that curly haired blonde girl, Brooke, I think is her name? I liked her a lot. So I'm all in for it next week!

Mammoth Happy

This year's edition of The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica (vol. 7) is now available. Again, it's edited by the great Maxim Jakubowski, and, again, he shows his wonderful taste. I was lucky enough to have one of my stories placed in it this year, along with some wonderful work by the always great Donna George Storey, Tara Alton, Gwen Masters, Susannah Indigo, and MANY stars of the erotica field.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yo Eleven!

Vegas is a town of gambling, and if you're at a rockin' craps table, or even just passing through the casino when a hot roller is on the tables, it's inevitable that you'll hear "Yo Eleven" at least a few times. The Yo! is a one-roll wager that the next toss of the dice will result in an eleven. It pays high, at fourteen-for-one, but that's because it carries a huge house edge of, appropriately, 11%. Yo or, the redundant Yo-eleven, is also what the stickman calls when the eleven is rolled, and, even if no Yo bets are placed, an eleven still wins even money for players on the pass line for come out rolls. So if you happen to hit on a hot table, there's gonna be plenty of YOs being shouted, and plenty of chips flying.

Which is all to say that, in gambling, eleven is a good number. Long odds, but high payouts.

Talk about long odds, the original Ocean's Eleven script was written by a fellow named Jack Golden Russell who was a gas station attendant in Vegas. He managed to hand off the script to Frank Sinatra while he was filling up his tank. From there, the payouts skyrocketed. The quintessential Rat Pack movie, Ocean's Eleven gave Frank, Dean, and Sammy, along with Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, the perfect excuse to cat around Vegas while performing nightly shows and then having the Hollywood studio pay the tab for all the rest.

It's a solid heist premise, with much of the banter between Sintara's Danny Ocean and the rest of the gang being ad-libbed. Hot Angie Dickinson drifts in and out between the buddy banter, and even Shirley MacLaine gets to steal the spotlight for a moment with her deanish drunken quip. As for Deano, it could be considered a real drawback to the flick that he's the only one who sings, but lucky for us both his numbers are the same one, and it's his highly tolerable "Ain't That a Kick in the Head."

The Vegas captured in this film is now so long gone that this movie still reigns supreme as the hallmark of the Rat Pack halcyon days, and it has plenty of inside jokes. It was 1960 and in the final shot, as you see the would-be thieves walking down the strip at the end of the movie, the grand marquee of the Sands behind them lists Frank, Sammy, Dean, Joey and Peter as the entertainment. The slot machines all pay out in coin, and everyone looked dapper. It's not the best movie ever made, but it is a breezy and boozy throwback bit of fun with the biggest stars to ever shine in Vegas.

If you're a timid gambler, or a sober one, or even a smart one, once you place your Yo! bet, if it actually hits, you're probably going to shout and then take your money and go. Because it takes an awful lot of balls to turn around and place that winning cash back on that same longshot bet. So forty years later, the biggest star in Hollywood decides he's going to press his luck and parlay his stardom with a caper movie. He gathers together a new gang with box-office clout and they throw their chips on the table. And oh man, do they ever come up winners.

In 2000, the Bellagio was truly one of the most beautiful hotel-casinos in the world. Lovingly detailed and crafted by Steve Wynn for his wife as a remembrance of their honeymoon in Bellagio, Italy, it's an embarrassment of riches. With its flowers and fountains and creamy colors and gold lighting, it's a virtual paradise for taking already preternaturally beautiful people and making them look like timeless icons. And that's exactly what happens. Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Garcia and Roberts light up the screen and Vegas with their soft-peddled shenanigans.

The script gets an updated overhaul which truly improves it. Not just the techno-flash of the caper to match our new age, but the better structuring of interlocking romance-heist angle, along with characters who are better defined this go-round, too. They manage to keep the breezy tone, so breezy, in fact, that the plot holes just don't even seem to register until a second or third viewing. Mostly, this is because the original Ocean's was a good time for the cast. But this remake is a good time for the viewers. It's obvious they had a ball making it, and no one brings that across more than the villainous Andy Garcia. Oh yeah, he's the bad guy, but you can see it in his angry, arrogant swagger and calm-yet-festering looks -- he's also having the time of his life.

Of the male leads, Matt Damon is the only one already with an Oscar in his pocket, but he's third banana and yet he manages to create a believable innocent thief. Brad Pitt, never one of my favorites, fills the Deano gap and is also highly tolerable as he eats his way through the movie in loud shirts. Julia looks still-stunning in the Bellagio, wearing that beaded dress with all casual class. The only nitpick is that this is the type of movie that should've cemented her as an elegant vision, and yet, when she walks, she's not. She rolls and lolls, and although she's a skinny girl, she rather looks like a fucking cow, and she's forced to be the Debbie Downer instead of showcasing her showstopping smile.

But all that barely matters, because she is there, and under her character's cold exterior, she's still Julia. But even her beauty gets eclipsed by Clooney's. Before this movie, I thought he'd hit the zenith with his looks back in 1996 in From Dusk Till Dawn. (Seriously Clooney-philes, it's must-see.) But oh holy shit does he manage to sizzle in those tailored suits. And the tux? The DVD is worth it alone for that. I swear, when he and Garcia are onscreen together, it's almost as though handsomeness is about approach critical mass and make the screen (or something) explode. It's pornographic.

It's also one of the best glimpses of the then-remarkable Bellagio. Like movie stars, Vegas properties tend to have a lifespan, and Bellagio has now passed its prime. Steven Soderbergh has always been a director who's acutely attuned to colors in his films, and he knows how to use them to accentuate character and mood. Here, the blue of the lake is almost dreamlike, and the golden tones throughout can make you want to remark, "They just don't make pictures like that anymore."

But they do make them. They made one, and then they remade it. And just like parlaying a Yo bet, or stacking star on top of star, that second one came up an even bigger winner.

The Erotic Woman

The Erotic Woman has posted an excerpt from my book, 24/7. It's a really steamy one, and the picture they found to go with it is perfect. So if you're curious, do check it out, and do surf the rest of their funky site, you might enjoy it. The best? It's so nsfw.

Don & Donna

Donna George Storey has posted a wonderfully thoughtful review of Donald Capone's wonderfully funny debut novel Into the Sunset on her blog.