Jennifer Lopez, actually, really can act. Lila & Eve (2015)

I was watching Netflix with my wife, she turned to a film that seemed like an interesting contemporary Urban Film Noir type about revenge and grief. It co-starred Jennifer Lopez. Here is my take. Lila & Eve (2015).  A+E Studios, ChickFlicks ProductionsI’m not trying to be snarky here, Jennifer Lopez typically hasn’t been known for her acting skills, although by now she is certainly a Hollywood veteran. She has come a very, very, long way from her days as an In Living Color ‘fly-girl’ go-go dancing in a Fox channel comedy variety show. In addition to a music career, Jennifer Lopez has appeared in an extremely wide variety of movies and TV shows over the last two decades.

The question is, however, ‘Can she really act?’ Why ask the question? Well, we know Viola Davis can act, but society usually doesn’t take Jennifer Lopez seriously as an actor, she’s more of a celebrity in the public mind than a thespian. So I’m asking the question here, and I think the answer gets interesting.

Here is something that women are aware of far more than men; beauty and physical attractiveness can sometimes be a curse, or at least a hindrance. Because when everyone judges you by your looks and looks alone they won’t bother to look underneath the surface.Women are ruthlessly judged first and foremost for their physical appearances in our culture. This is a fact, and it has its consequences.

This is particularly true for celebrities, and most particularly celebrities in the movie industry. Their entire lives and work, and indeed worth, are usually  judged by the makeup-mask they put on in the morning, or the $7000 dress they squeeze themselves into, before going out on the town, more to be seen than to actually have an enjoyable time.

Ms. Lopez is no exception. Many of the roles she has been cast in, over more than two decades, have been more of a factor of her pretty face. Now, it is true that the older actresses get the more serious roles that can sometimes get, if those actresses were “movie stars” or if they had the function more of being human images. It is at those times in which is celebrities acting skills are most tested. Because early in their career sometimes there are simply not given, or do not take, material that would seriously test their acting skills.

In Charles Stone III’s film, Lila & Eve (2015), we face this dilemma. Jennifer Lopez plays an extremely dark character. A murderous, and a wrath filled , vengeful one at that. And, with a rather surprising twist, one who ends up actually being more of a phantasm or phantom. Does it work?

Here’s the thing, she pulls off her role extremely well. Convincingly well.

Playing alongside the talented Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez effectively plays as Davis’s counter-part, friend, revenge buddy, and in a certain sense a bit of an alter ego.

Now, Viola Davis’s character obviously has real depth. But I expected that. What is refreshing is that Jennifer Lopez also bring some depth to her role. She is not acting as a pretty face, go-go dancing, mannequin posing for her looks. Which is what some of her career has required. She’s actually digging into herself and displaying human emotion in a way that I found convincing. Basically I think the actresses like Jennifer Lopez, given more serious roles, can bring out increasingly impressive performances.

Something that happens as we age (and why is it insulting to bring up the very real biological fact of someone’s aging), is that we ourselves acquire more depths and nuances to our characters. Sometimes the older we get, something happens to us. We become really interesting people, sometimes anyway. If we already were interesting people we sometimes become even more interesting.

The problem is that in a culture obsessed with youth, almost criminally obsessed with youth to the point of absolute stupidity, the gifts of aging are sometimes ignored or scored. In particular when these gifts are bestowed upon women. Because in a youth culture obsessively and hyper- focused not just on physical beauty but physically youthful beauty, aging itself is like a sin. And that is just a shame. It means that younger actresses who may be extremely talented at certain roles might be channeled into other less challenging roles simply because of their looks.

To be sure, attractive male actors do face a similar problem, of being typecast due to their looks, but not to the same degree. Brad Pitt, for example, apart from Interview with the Vampire and Seven, and I have to admit Fight Club, was largely typecast in certain roles all through his 20s, 30s, and 40s. It is only now, practically as a geezer his 50s, the he can increasingly break out of the roles these been typecast in.

Actually that was unfair of me. There are actually several examples of Brad Pitt trying to break out of his normal typecasting, but most of them were unconvincing. I always had the feeling that he was just being hired as a pretty boy slapped on an otherwise serious movie. Twelve Monkeys was a serious exception to that rule, I have to admit. And maybe I’ll just have to re-examine that whole example to begin with.

Okay, if Brad Pitt is a crappy example of the principle I’m trying to illustrate I trust that you at least get the bloody point.

The point is that physical attractiveness and beauty can be hindrances to deep acting in some kinds of performances. An old friend of mine once argued that Dustin Hoffman was one of Hollywood’s best actors mainly because he was ugly.

Hoffman is also rather short. So am I, a point that is utterly irrelevant here. In any case, the point’s that Dustin Hoffman is not exactly a sex symbol. Leaving the movie The Graduate out of the equation.

Dustin Hoffman is an exceptionally good actor. So is Forrest Whitaker. So is Philip Seymour Hoffman. None are known as sex symbols. Since people get in a tizzy whenever you call a woman ugly, I will refrain from mentioning any female illustrations of this principle. We males can fall on that sword, it’s chivalry you know. Suffice to say, the three men I mentioned are exceptional actors. Their acting skills are, and in Seymour Hoffman’s case were, at the summit of American acting talent (the British have their own use-cases). It’s likely that such men, and Gene Hackman, early-on had to show amazing ranges as actors because they didn’t have pretty-boy looks to fall back on.

There are examples, of course, of male actors who are both very handsome and exceptionally talented. I don’t think they exhibit a trend. I think they are exceptions.

The gift that aging conveys on female performers is a certain freedom, and ability to step outside of their societally defined roles as simple beauty sex figures, and transcend being a mere sex symbol, and tap into something more universal, a universal humanity.

I argue that society, in some inchoate and diffuse way, typically only really values women if they give us men boners. Everyone knows this, arguing against it only makes one sound guiltier.

I make no value judgment, though. I only observe what seems evident. Society, defined in a sloppy general way, will only let few women fit a category in which they can play roles entirely divorced from their physical attractiveness, either to other women, or to men. In other words, roles divorced from the tendency to evoke viewer boners. Tilda Swinton is an example. She is an outlier. For reasons that should seem obvious. Jodie Foster too, and sits as a bit of an outsider because she never allowed herself, and strenuously resisted throughout her entire career, to be typecast in roles based on her physical beauty. She more or less fought the system the entire way. There are other examples, but they are few and far between, and in each case rather quirky in their own way.

Back to this film, though. In it, both Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez pulled off good performances. Viola Davis’ performance seemed far more compelling, but she was the primary protagonist. Jennifer Lopez, however, was a secondary protagonist, and didn’t do too bad at all, standing by Viola Davis’ side. In fact, she impressed me enough that I would go out of my way to see a similar film with her in it, in the future.

FIN.

Non-Fiction versus fiction in an apocalypse culture, Adam Parfrey, the essay, and the novel.

In the Introduction to the second edition of his anthology, Apocalypse Culture, Adam Parfrey muses as follows;

“..reality has taken on such a dire and phantasmagoric cast that fictionalizing has become superfluous. The essay form has superseded the novel as the vehicle that best suggests the prevailing apocalyptic gestalt, and as the talisman that is most able to repel the onset of paralyzing dread.””
-Adam Parfrey, 1990.

The form of written language best able to convey a sense of, and indeed help make sense of, this age along these lines, would be the non-fiction essay. Some may disagree, it’s a perspective worth considering however. Truly paradigm shattering novels along dystopic lines are rare; 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, the crop of current dystopian narratives seem to simply deepen the mood and spit it back at us while we, un-reflexively, watch and scratch our heads over The Hunger Games.

What the essay has that the novel or fictionalized narrative lacks is it’s ability to not be completely reduced to entertainment, and thus to a soporific, inducing dreams, but not waking us. Film fiction narratives, like The Matrix, being partial and useful exceptions that sort of prove the rule.

Where to find the language to express ideas? Indeed what is language in all of this? “All language is at once the ‘sensualization of the idea’ and the ‘idealization of the sensuous’. Language is, therefore, the most distinguishing characteristic of man..” notes C. Nisbet and D. Lemon in their 1892 Everybody’s Writing-Desk Book. Noting further that man can be defined, in quotations, as the speaking animal. A pity they didn’t note the origin of that quote, being the Classical Arabic definition of al-Insan, The Human, as ‘al-Hayawan al-Natiq‘ or the speaking, articulating, animal.

The theme of the Book of Eli, another fictionalized narrative, is interesting here; what obsessed Garry Oldman’s character was obtaining the word. At all costs. The overly biblical cast of the movie might distract a more skeptical viewer from the vital urgency of its core message, which is that the word, language, is all important in either controlling humanity, or saving humanity, Oldman’s character, though a villain, was in a way a flawed and tragic hero, stuck in a particular paradigm that gave him an edge, but only the sliver of an edge, in a world gone mad. It was an edge that he grasped without justice. And hence his undoing.

Words, language, are vital. And though Parfrey wrote those words something like 25 years ago, I think with the increasing popularity of Creative Nonfiction he was onto something.

..sometimes nothing, can be a real cool hand

“sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand…”
“what we have here, is a failure to communicate..”
I was sitting in Sitwell’s Coffeehouse the other day,
Lisa Storie, the owner, installed a TV set a little while ago and permanently tuned it to American Movie Classics. I was initially a bit resistant to its presence, but the thing grew on me after a while. Its effect is subtle. Say, you’re sitting down, talking with a friend, or people watching, or reading; there is a TV set above, silently playing some old arcane movie from decades ago. It is mounted up, above a corner water cooler at a peculiar angle. Always on the peripheral edge of your perception, until you choose to acknowledge it.

In any case, while I was typing up a manuscript I noticed that Cool Hand Luke(1967) was playing. I never saw it before but the film was one of my fathers’ favorites. He was constantly talking about it. You can read about the plot at IMDb, the page for Cool Hand Luke (1967) is pretty interesting. In a way it seemed to sort of serve as a model of masculinity to him. Luke, played by Paul Newman, is a war hero, and inveterate small time crook, a “pretty evil feller”, the type of guy post-war that people begin to look at as scum, can’t find a place in society, turns to crime, a n’er do good type of guy, but not in a vicious way.

HE constantly bucks the authority of the frankly murderous, in a genteel way, good ol boy Warden over Luke’s chain gang. Luke’s insubordination is an expression of a male spirit that refuses to be broken. Luke is a bad guy, like everyone in the gang he’s a bit of a bastard but the viewer is left wondering whose crimes are worse, those of the criminals’, or those of their brutal overseers.

Watching it I quickly realized why the movie was my Dad’s favorite, and why he wanted me to watch the film. Luke was a man who took his cards in life, screwed up the hand he was dealt but it was a meagre hand in any case, he tried, he failed, he accepted it and his lot in life – BUT he refused to be cowed by it. From his standing up to the big syndicate man among the inmates, facing him down in a bare fist boxing match in which he’s beaten almost to death, to taking a dare to eat 50 eggs something “ain’t no many can do” to his daring escapes, his tongue in cheek sending the boys back a photo of him with two hot girls, to his rejection of their idolizing him and his final standdown in an abandoned church, Luke refused to let his spirit be broken. He refused to complain or bitch about his lot, he accepted his mistakes, and refused to ever back down, always wearing a smirk on his face.

Beyond the historical reminder, after all people today have no idea just how brutal chain gangs were. Local legend and talk is full of, in the deep south, accounts of many an unmarked grave, sometimes a mass grave, where a a prisoner or prisoners were more or less extra-judicially executed. Colored prisoners doubtless but also many a white one too. Chain Gang labor really was legal slavery, constitutionally approved. Its’ forgotten that technically the Constitution’s 13th Amendment ended private slavery and slave ownership, penal slavery for convicts technically isn’t unconstitutional… but beyond this Cool Hand Luke is relevant to modern viewers because of its central message; you can be an inveterate fuck-up, a loser, a bastard, a no account man, but you must always, always, be a stand up man. You can make mistakes, but don’t let your spirit get broken.

3 Reasons Not to Watch ‘Pearls Before Swine (1999)’

I finally forced myself to watch Richard Wolstencroft’s ‘Pearls Before Swine’ (1999) – I found it to be an incoherent mess. In a way, it is sort of like a ‘Superfly’ for people with vaguely neo-fascist and white nationalist tendencies. It is the story of an anti-hero as he goes about his days and nights being the dude that he is, taking the idea of various scenes from the life of a criminal anti-hero, “Showing the man in his element,” while building up to a larger plot. Basically, the sympathetic biopic of a bad-guy.

The movie stars fascist shock-jock, Un-pop cultural provocateur, enfant terrible, Industrial Music doyen Boyd Rice (NON). Pearls Before Swine had its moments. Yet on the whole, the movie seems so appallingly bad that watching parts was more of a duty than a pleasure. Where it is not appallingly bad, it is actually a bit funny. I am not certain the director intended humor, however.

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Shot across the bow; Sexing or Skinning Mary-Kate Olsen And Olivier Sarkozy

Mary-Kate Olsen And Olivier Sarkozy, are often in the news these days. In an age of total decline of the industrialized Western nations, the rise of power blocks in the Global South and Far East, increased Public Sector Austerity, near bankruptcy of several governments, genocide in some global flashpoints, wars, rumors of war, the disintergration of Greater Syria possibly a flash point about to ignite the largest conflict in that region – with global implications – seen to date. We must weigh our priorities.

Thus it is that beyond such jejune and inspid trivialities as the collapse of much of what people hold to be their civilization, weighty and important matters must be considered.

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