By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The September movies may not be the December movies, but at least they're not the August movies. The flicks that come out around now generally have a few welcome literary aspirations, though good intentions don't always pave the road to the ticket booth. First off, The Jane Austen Book Club is based on the novel about how the Austen boxed set becomes an aphrodisiac for a bunch of heartbroken heteros and lesbians who are big on parallels. ("She's such an Emma, isn't she?"). It's a big soft marshmallow of a thing, even if Girl With Dog Collar is intriguingly played by someone named Messy Stench.
But with her name in two movie titles this year, might Austen become the new Capote? "Maybe," said Bob Balaban at a power luncheon for the flick at Brasserie Ruhlmann. "But she was taller." Hunched over, I asked Book Club's director/adapter Robin Swicord the same question and she said, "What an interesting comment! I loved Capote. We've been in an Austen moment for 17 years. You feel it surge, then it subsides, then it surges again . . ." Well, before it subsides again, tell me, Ms. Swicord: Do you consider this one of them there chick flicks? "That term," she said, "is something women have begun to embrace and make our own. But it's strange that George Cukor used to make women's films and they're never called chick flicks." "Yeah," I said, "and he was even gay!" "But he wasn't a girl," replied Swicord, laughing. "You didn't know him," I deadpanned, totally winning.
At another table, I got Court TV's tall, female Lisa Bloom to pontificate on the messy stench of the Phil Spector trial. "I think the prosecution presented a very compelling case," she told me. "Their closing arguments were very moving, whereas the defense's were flat." And they never really proved that Lana was an Isabella Blow/ Owen Wilson type who zanily offed herself, right? "They proved she was depressed," said Bloom, "but not that she took Spector's gun in his mansion and took her own life. Common sense favors the prosecution." Hopefully they'll win anyway.
Another aspiring blockbuster, The Valley of Elah, has Oscar pedigree all over itthere are three statuette-holders in the Iraq Wardemystifying saga by Paul "Crash beat Brokeback Mountain" Haggisbut despite the majesty of its insistent gravitas, it tends to fall flatter than Spector's defense case. Tommy Lee Jones broods effectively as the disgruntled dad of an erased soldier, but Charlize Theron is absurd as the burgeoning detective (even if one character explains that she fucked her way to the job), and poor Susan Sarandon mostly has to scrunch her forehead and cry about her dead kids on the phone. But be sure to look for the inevitable Rhianna song, "The Valley of Elah Elah Elah."
On the bright side, the film takes serious aim at the war and the horrible things it can do to "heroes." At a dinner for the movie at Osteria del Circo, I seized Haggis to ask if perchance he'll next do a screwball comedy. "I hope so!" he said. "I've got to get these men out of my head. For research, I talked to many active-duty servicemen and vets. None of us want to hear what they want to say. Certainly the armed services don't want to listen. But we should have to face the horrors they face. If they have to see it, we should see it. Then we can decide if this is a just war."
I stuttered around trying to crack a joke but couldn't think of anyand besides, Haggis was still talking. "Look," he went on, pupils ablaze, "I've been in TV all my life. You show a picture of a baby with no head, and who's gonna buy deodorant after that? But we have a duty, even if it causes our ratings to drop!" "You've totally depressed me," I said, preparing to crawl back to my plate of wartime food. "That's my job!" he exclaimed. He's so not an Emma.
My own job involved going to only one show during Fashion Week, and naturally it was the 2(x)ist one for underwear that turns you gay the second you even think of purchasing it (though the designer told me the brand is now for everyone, except for a few extra-colorful pieces aimed strictly at the queers. Bring 'em on!). As stunningly put-together male modelsand a few female onesstrutted down the runway in clingy undies, I can only say the clothes were absolutely . . . I have no idea. Do you honestly think anyone looked at the clothes when you could be gazing at the sprightly body parts they hugged so tenderly? The other hot topic on everyone's minds was who the big celebrity guest would turn out to be, especially since we were all made to sign now-legendary waivers saying that if we were caught photographing or videotaping said person, we'd be fined $25,000 per shot. (I usually charge people that much when they don't photograph me.) It was absurd, but I gladly signed it, fully willing to give away my basic human rights to see a star of that magnitudethough deep down I sensed this might be a spoof of the PR game that would amusingly lead maybe to a dog jumping through a hoop (and not even Leona Helmsley's dog). That would have been fine with me, too.