By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Hooray for movie trailers! They provide an invaluable service! As each one clogs up the screen before the main feature, they invariably prompt thoughts like, "Gotta avoid that one like Wachovia!" and "They made a sequel to that piece of shit? Note to self: Stay home all fall."
And yet, occasionally a trailer will make a film look worth leaving the house for—i.e., they'll actually do their job. I just saw the one for Milk, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the murdered "Mayor of Castro Street," and I gotta say I got Milk. From the snippets, it looks like they nailed the period and the pathos, and Penn appears to be giving the kind of crisp impersonation that can't be ignored come nomination time. Awards-wise, it helps that director Gus Van Sant is gay. (That kind of touch always gives an edgy movie more sexual credence in buzzy circles.) It helps even more that Sean isn't gay; the Academy loves the "bravery" of straight actors crossing to the other side, especially when they play real-life heroic victims of the kind of homophobes who, ironically enough, run Hollywood.
Competing against Sean, if the trailer is any indication, will be another extrovert playing a doomed politician—namely Frank Langella in the Ron Howard–directed Frost/Nixon, which has the Tony winner once again defrosting Nixon and almost making him palatable. (Then again, a trailer is designed to sell a film the way Nixon tried to sell his innocence. Don't trust a word of this column.)
A guy with a tricky dick, Mickey Rourke, is a shoo-in for The Wrestler, for which he gained lotsa weight and allegedly managed to get all kinds of emotions to register on his mattress-like face. I haven't caught the trailer for that yet, but I've seen the one for Doubt—a verbal wrestling match between a possibly pervy priest and a definitely nervy nun—and I must say Philip Seymour Hoffman looks all spruced up and pulled together. (I guess because you have to look good to play a suspected pedophile.) The trailer looks a little dreary, but it's not supposed to be a Dane Cook comedy—in which case it would be very dreary.
Moving on to actual feature films, how interested are people in Filth and Wisdom, the sex-worker romp directed by Sean Penn's ex, Madonna? I don't know, but at a screening I went to last week, there was only one other person in the entire room! I was tempted to look back and murmur, "Madge?"
Even more filth and wisdom come via the Sex and the City movie's "extended-cut DVD," which had a life-imitates-art party at the 42nd Street Library last week, especially when Kim "Cougar" Cattrall arrived with her Jason Lewis–lookalike boyfriend. Willie Garson (who plays Stanford) came, too, showing off his nifty brown suit and crowing, "It's thrift! Eighteen American dollars!" Garson also gave me his two American cents on whether he and Mario Cantone, who drunkenly kiss in the flick, will end up married in the inevitable sequel, Sex and the City: Dead Man's Chest. "I doubt it," he said. "I think we ended the movie as good friends. I don't know if we're heading toward the altar!" But apparently the entire gay community's having a big love affair with Garson anyway. The reaction to his portrayal "has been pretty great," he told me. "No one's ever said, 'You're disgusting' or 'No one would wear that pink sweater with those heels!' " Even if it's thrift.
Sex and two cities (and a suspected pedophile) pop up on Broadway, where A Tale of Two Cities almost didn't become a tale of two acts for me. But nobly enough, I stayed to the guillotine number and beyond, finding it professionally enough done, yet so middling in quality that sometimes it seemed the big banner onstage should say "Fraternity! Liberty! Banality!" At least this is the rare show where a cell phone doesn't go off in the audience, but I think it's because they don't have any.
By the way, the current Playbill has an ad for Ambien that includes two long pages of potential side effects, including waking up unconscious in the middle of the night and doing all kinds of horrible shit, like sex acts and driving. Why do I feel "the Ambien defense" will be the new "Twinkie defense" (see Milk to catch that reference)?—though this one actually sounds like a potentially valid alibi. In fact, I might just pop some and kill a few people tonight!
The downtown set must have been sleepwalking into their living room walls because L Magazine's Nightlife Awards at Touch only brought out about 40 people including the presenters, making it the Filth and Wisdom of awards shows. But what winners! Sophia Lamar won Nightlife Icon and told the crowd, "You don't know who the fuck I am!" Someone else bagged a major prize and announced, "I hate you all!" And, more constructively, a presenter—advice-giver Robbyne Kaamil—said there should be a category for best drug dealer next year. "New York nightlife ain't shit if you can't get an eight ball in 15 minutes," she told the assembled, who nodded in approval. "I nominate 'Ray-Ray' on 128th Street, and Lennox and the Dominicans at 170th and the Grand Concourse." No mention of Sean Penn or Frank Langella.
Some heavy drugs—or at least Ambien—would have been helpful for watching that larger-scale honorfest, the Emmy Awards telecast, which was only jolted out of its ennui by the weird moments like Hillary Clinton poetically popping up in the montage of dead people and Josh Groban belting the theme from The Jeffersons. By that point, my eyes were rolling so fast in their sockets that I almost missed the woman who did the movie about how votes aren't counted strangely urging us to vote!
For the most part, though, political statements allowed on-screen were as rare as real noses and wrinkled foreheads and generally had to be disguised as bits about "eight more years of prunes." A winner who was starting to rail against inarticulate leaders became very inarticulate when he was suddenly cut off, and when Laura Linney noted that she's grateful for community organizers—a coded reference to Obama's background, as trashed by Sarah Palin—I could have sworn I heard a trapdoor open that led right back to Off-Broadway.
Speaking of all that, I've now had time to consider Palin's candidacy with some thoughtfulness, and I still come up with two thumbs way down my throat. I mean, Obama's ex-reverend is supposed to be the problem in this campaign, but her church believes in praying away the gays? She still thinks the war in Iraq has something to do with 9/11? (Even Dubya got the memo that it doesn't.) What's more, Palin thinks it's almighty God who's sent us to war? (I guess she never got the fax about separation between church and state either.) She detests abortion yet will gleefully hunt animals from a helicopter? And she looks like a LensCrafters commercial? Plus she never heard of the Bush Doctrine; Cindy McCain doesn't seem to grasp Roe v. Wade; and her hubby is fuzzy about Spain? Oy. This ticket has been basically giving us a free trailer of a sequel that must be avoided at all costs, even at a senior-citizens' discount!