NY Mirror

DAME JUDI DENCH and her timeless bone structure star in Mrs. Henderson Presents, about the socialite who founded the Windmill Theatre, the vaudeville venue that successfully served tits and ass rather than tea and crumpets in 1930s England. The movie may not be more biting than yesterday's scones, but Judi's always a pip—and very adept at charming an interviewer while stepping over potential icky bits. "Do you get asked to play salty but lovable women a lot?" I wondered in a pert phoner the other week. "No," the Dame chirped. "I'm asked to play parts. I think, 'How lovely to play them.' A lot of people say they're very autocratic and bossy, but I don't think they're all like that." How salty but lovable.

Daring to get a little more familiar, I asked my pal Judi if today's sanitized Times Square could use its own Windmill Theatre to ratchet up the old raunch-o-meter. "I don't know whether that applies anymore," she intoned, with dignity. "But at the time, because of the Lord Chamberlain, the Windmill was very daring indeed. The Lord Chamberlain was still censoring scripts when I came into the theater. We couldn't have nudity!" (Lord GIULIANI probably would have approved.) Fortunately, she also did a lot of Shakespeare, which Chamberlain tended to leave alone, assuming all's well that doesn't rear end well. "I guess he didn't know about that bare-assed Caliban creature in The Tempest," I remarked, and we giggled like giddy schoolgirls.

It was for Shakespeare in Love, of course, that Judi nabbed her naked statuette, but she also just pilfered Pride & Prejudice in another salty quickie. "I blew in in a big dress and big wig and came out again!" she told me, laughing. Soon she'll blow in for longer, returning as M in Casino Royale, with DANIEL CRAIG as the new Bondsman. I told her the original Casino drew snake eyes from critics, but I tend to enjoy it as a colorfully irrational romp. "Good," she said, sensibly. "Then it's worth doing again!"


SLY GUY AND THE FAMILY STONE

It's always worth leaving a top-level job in order to direct a movie, as long as you've got the talent to back up the cliché (and the spin of the roulette wheel). THOMAS BEZUCHA did it, abandoning a creative directing position at Ralph Lauren to write and direct movies like The Big Eden and his new one, The Family Stone, and now millions are demanding to know, "How?" "You write a script," Bezucha blithely told me in another prized phoner. Really? Well, more info, please. "I've always loved movies," he explained. "My idea of a vacation was Sundance. I got an idea for a script and thought, 'How hard can it be?' It's a really easy transition." OK, I'll do it—but first I have to get a creative directing position at Ralph Lauren.

Anyway, The Family Stone isn't the story of Sharon's folks raising her to be the queen of the B-plus movie starlets. It's about a dysfunctional-family Christmas, complete with cancer, a possible homophobe, and other issues to resolve before the fat man squeezes down the chute. SARAH JESSICA PARKER's character gets scarlet-lettered A for anti-gay—she's really not all bad, though—but the homosexual couple is so completely faygeleh-flawless that they're biracial—one's black, the other isn't—and even hearing discordant—i.e., one of them is deaf, the other isn't. "Why not?" said Bezucha, chortling. "We lost the club foot, though. We felt like it was gilding the lily. Those crutches got in the way."


RANCH UNDRESSING

The most perfect faygeleh couple of all sleeps with the sheep in ANG LEE's Brokeback Mountain, a/k/a Bareback Mounting, a/k/a Crouching Cowboy Hidden Penis(Mandarin title: Wo Hu Hang Long), a/k/a Eat Drink Man Man, a/k/a . . . all right, I'll stop. Anyway, the film has a couple of hot Wyoming ranch hands—one wears black, the other doesn't—going through all the same mating rituals modern New York gays do. They fuck first, then kiss later (though most of the kissing in the movie looks more like professional head-butting). They pretend to go fishing to throw off the spouses, but actually have no interest in fish whatsoever. And though they think about moving in together, one has a meltdown freaking about the repercussions of intimacy. (They're not lesbians, after all.) These two could be regulars at Rawhide! At the premiere, when the film tried too hard to tug at our faygeleh-loving heartstrings, I thought, "At last we have a gay romance as banal as the straight ones. We've finally arrived!" But mostly, it's gentle, well observed, and so doomy even homophobes can sit back and enjoy.

In King Kong, a really controversial duo—an ape and a bottle blonde—provides the most heartwarming love story since JACKOmet Bubbles. The remake, alas, is wildly overblown, taking the tight original story and adding more exposition, effects, slo-mo, sociology, and tonsil shots, if way less dialogue. It's 70 minutes before the big guy even appears, and then there are long, wordless stretches of humans and creatures taunting, attacking, or running from each other as you insanely get nostalgic for the coherence of The Lord of the Rings. Fortunately, the last third kicks in big-time, with Kong bounding through old Times Square (even before the porn) and going apeshit for NAOMI WATTS. "It's bestiality!" an observer cracked, but I don't think Naomi's that funny looking.

Conspicuous overexpenditure hits the screen again with Memoirs of a Geisha, a/k/a Farewell My Crouching Concubine, a florid melodrama that has all the wacky spontaneity of taxidermied butterflies. The characters talk in near-haiku ("Every once in a while a man's eel likes to visit a woman's cave") or showbiz clichés ("You are the most celebrated geisha in all Myaku!") in between bowing, scraping, and spitting out verbal flying daggers. Every frame seems to come from Nippon by way of N. Highland Avenue, and what's more, the character named Nobu made me really hungry. If a tree has no leaves or branches, can you still call it a tree? I don't know, but thanks to all these lunatic excesses, the movie made my eel hard, and I perversely enjoyed it as much as Casino Royale. I might even go to Sephora and get me some "Memoirs of a Geisha eau de parfum—inspired by the film."

Moving on to the memoirs of a Gatien, a recent, fragrant item of mine mentioned that deported club kingpin PETER GATIEN might be able to come back to the states because he's part Native American. Well, Gatien (who's opening a nightclub in Toronto) told Page Six that he isn't trying to return at all, and no one's working on his behalf to get him here. Funny, his daughter JENNIFER—an up-and-coming writer—has been e-mailing people that her dad just got into his grandmother's tribe, Mohawk Nation, "meaning he can come on back to the U.S. of A. Natives are not deportable. I made that discovery a while ago and so my dad will be coming here soon—like next week." That week has already passed, so maybe nextweek? Unless Gatien somehow didn't get the memo. (I refuse to believe he'd flat-out lie.) Or maybe he's just playing parts.


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Pod People
photo: Craig Hayes
Litter Box
THE FASCINATING GASTINEAUS

I did a guest appearance on E!'s Gastineau Girls, brag brag, being filmed as I was interviewed by the mother-daughter duo for a perky podcast. When I turned the tables by asking them questions, the Gastineaus were open and fascinating, with young Brittny projecting a sort of mother-hen quality and mama Lisa seeming more like a feisty coming-of-ager. Things got especially interesting when I asked why they're celebs and how Lisa deals with sexual dry spells.

I've also been guest-appearing in audiences, like the opening-night one for the Zipper Theater's effective revival of the queer-murderer drama Bareback Pouncing, I mean Rope. In the crowd, AMY SACCO (not with Vanzetti) told me they're starting to develop the pilot for the HBO show about HER CLUB DIVADOM, AND THOUGH CASTING HASN'T BEEN DONE YET, SHE'D LOVE KRISTEN JOHNSTON to play her because "she has the voice and she's so funny." And like Sacco, she's so very tall.

On Broadway, A Touch of the Poetis rarely seen O'Neill in a potent production that's for serious theatergoers only. In tackling the tale of dampened aspirations, there are no gimmicks, pop stars, or video projections—just lots of strong, straightforward work. Can you deal with it? (I know Icouldn't.)

But Broadway-to-movie transfers are more iffy. Some people are walking out of screenings of The New World looking more glazed than donuts (but that's just somepeople). And a friend of mine is undergoing chemotherapy, but said in all seriousness, "It's better than Rent!"


Web Extra

The kids on the Broadway boards are buzzing that the stage musical version of the Full Monty might be on the verge of being made into a film musical, much the way The Producers and Hairspray have ping-ponged from movie to stage show to movie again. The proposed star of the strip-and-sing film epic? Hugh Jackman! Book my ticket now!

More immediately, stage legend Chita Rivera is back on Broadway where she belongs in Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, her loving tribute to herself and the people who helped. The show starts dramatically, with a girl playing little Chita dancing onstage in synchronicity with big Chita, who's high-kicking in silhouette behind a scrim. Then big Chita comes center stage and entertains and informs us—I had no idea she started out dancing on tabletops like Paris Hilton!—whirling her 72-year-old ass around to some great old songs and bland new ones. Some of the script is too cutesy and cliched ("The part fit me like a glove") and alas, there's no mention of Chita not being all hetero, which she told me on the record last year. (Here, she does a gender-specific tribute to the men in her life.) But it's still a solid enough showcase for the gloriously graceful star, and that's good, isn't it, grand, isn't it?—though for the movie verison, they'll probably get Hugh Jackman. (For backup dancer Deidre Goodwin, they should definitely get Kevin Aviance. The resemblance is astounding.)


musto@villagevoice.com

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