featurepic5-americangigoloI finally saw American Gigolo. Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton’s chemistry is functional. I was hoping for something more from Hutton. I can imagine Farah Fawcett playing Hutton’s part as a senator’s wife looking for something deeper in a husband; but then she would’ve overwhelmed the screen with bouncy hair.

According to Wikipedia, Christopher Reeves and John Travolta were on the line-up to play Julian Kaye. Sorry, but it’s hard to picture Reeves playing a gigolo. Superman is not quite Eros, in my neck of the woods.

Travolta would’ve been the ideal one, with all his New York, Italian-American charm that loves to overdose on street cool. But I don’t feel L.A. in Travolta. Gere looks L.A. in this film, laid back, even the side-view nude shot of Julian beside a window appears laid back, just hangin, as though daylight gives him a serious case of erectile dysfunction. Anyway, I think Gere handled whorish charm on Rodeo Drive just fine, without announcing he is one. That’s so L.A.: so flat, but so not flat as well.

The story is not bad. I could sit through it again. Where I have a problem is the reason Julian Kaye – Gere’s character – is framed for someone’s murder. This part of the story is not convincing enough for me. Julian’s pimp – played by Bill Duke – says Julian is framed because he is easy to frame, and that he doesn’t particularly like Julian. I’m not sure about that argument, which appears to lock the story in a dead-end.

I was hoping for a bigger or deadlier drama before Gere’s Julian is framed, something very personal to the pimp that would drive him to the edge, and device a heinous plot against one of his priced employees.  But then perhaps Paul Schrader was trying to tell something I just didn’t get.


featurepic4-lineofbeautyI love this novel. And I don’t mind that Nick Guest, the protagonist, is someone I might not like in real life, although I’d love to read his books, because I know he would write like Alan Hollinghurst, to say the least.

The part where Nick dances with the Prime Minister felt unrealistic. But I don’t have a choice. I have to trust Hollinghurst’s perceptions of Margaret Thatcher’s inner circle. I can say this, because of his prose, which is elegant and beautiful, filled with lines you want to read over and over again.

The bit on Henry James, which speculates on the Master’s sexual orientation is not bad at all; it feels gossipy, but not overdone. Hollinghurst also applies this kind of hush-hush kind of speculation on matters of race. But he doesn’t ingratiate himself with op-ed sounding analyses on that subject, which is there, intertwined with class.

Nick’s first lover is West Indian (Leo) and his second lover is of Lebanese descent (Wani Ouradi). Leo is poor, while Wani’s father donates pots of money to the Tories and becomes a Lord. Hollinghurst gives both lovers the most talked about disease of the eighties, the one that rhymes with deadly and incurable, but could’ve been avoided by using rubber.

What I wanted more from the novel is the story between gay Nick and straight-as-can be Toby Fedden, the one who invited Nick to lodge in his family’s residence at Kensington Park Gardens, where Nick ended up staying for at least four years.

Thus, Toby’s function in the story is somewhat thin. Hollinghurst’s only use for him is to usher a gay character to the intimate world of a Tory MP (Gerald Fedden) and his family, a conservative family that is quite accepting of Nick as openly gay. This set up delivers a paradise for ironies, indeed, which, I assume, is way up there on Hollinghurst’s plans when he was writing this novel.

To further complicate things, Hollinghurst brings in The Cat, or Catherine, Gerald’s rebellious daughter. She is unstable and pretty, but is not blind on how the world works. She assumes she is the voice of truth. She is Hollinghurst’s wild cat, the one who’d give the story its inevitable tragedies.


featurepic3-iguana2aI had seen this movie more than ten years ago, and couldn’t remember anything about it before seeing it the second time. Chances are, I was distracted when I was watching it then, or that the story itself failed to attract my attention the way Streetcar Name Desire did. Vivien Leigh’s Blanch Dubois and Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski are not easy to forget. They filled the film with muscular, passionate emotions; very Tennessee Williams: drunk in memories of his raging, alcoholic father.

In Night of the Iguana, those memories are no doubt calculated in the character of Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon, a defrocked Episcopalian clergyman, played by Richard Burton, who feels hopeful he’d be delivering Sunday sermons again, after a year of delivering tourists around Puerto Vallarta, Mexico as a tour guide.

featurepic3-iguana1aHowever, this interval in secular employment takes an unexpected turn, when a flirtatious nineteen-year-old girl from Texas makes advances on Shannon. And while he plays the shy object of desire, the girl’s hyper-possessive aunt thinks Shannon is just playacting.  She is ready to burn him at the stake for leading on a minor, and threatens to report him to his supervisors in Texas. Nobody in the all-female tour group disagrees with her.

To protect his reputation, the Reverend strikes back. He stalls the threat, takes the distributor from their tour bus, and leads the group to a hotel he thought was still managed by his friend, now ran by his widow Maxine Faulk, played by Ava Gardner. Maxine’s personality is just as hysterical as the possessive aunt; she reminded me of Anna Magnani; Tennessee Williams wrote Rose Tattoo with her in mind.

At least the story brought in a more delicate character named Hannah Jelkes, finessed with aristocratic grace by Deborah Kerr. Hannah is civility herself, an artist, the calm amidst a storm of high-strung personalities in the hotel. In many ways, Hannah is Blanch Dubois on a good day, but more ascetic, and guards herself from the flesh and its temptations. Kerr and Burton create sparks here for the film, though not as big as I had expected. But recognizable enough.

[ Images are snapshots of DVD cover. ]

featurepic2-inhaleI saw a movie last Sunday on DVD, which didn’t grab me immediately, because I wanted the film’s momentum to slow down a bit.

The film is about a couple in New Mexico, desperate to find a pair of lungs for their daughter, who is on a database for lung donor transplant.  But even her father’s position as district attorney in Santa Fe couldn’t bump her up that list. So what are the options? Panicked outrage.

Now when her father discovers that one of his associates have had an illegal heart transplant, Dermot Mulroney’s Paul Stanton sees opportunity, approaches that associate, and couldn’t care less if he was disrupting his private life or not.

In the end, the associate gives in. He is nervous, but hands Paul some information anyway, however vague: Mexico, and the key person he was involved with was someone named Dr. Navarro. Armed with this information, Paul travels south, beyond the US-Mexico border, to Juarez, of all places.

Hurdles pile up in his search for that doctor across the border. Along the way, Paul befriends Miguel, a street-urchin who acts like he owns Juarez and can show the gringo around, for a price, of course.  Miguel, in fact, is partly instrumental in leading Paul to the real Dr. Navarro who runs a clinic.

What is scary about this doctor is his connection with the town’s police department, headed by the wiles of Sgt. Aguilar. Paul meets him through a drag queen. Jordi Molla’s Aguilar, indeed, is eons away from his role as Jose Luis in Bigas Luna’s comic-erotic Jamon, Jamon (1992), where he played opposite Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Aguilar is the key negotiator in procuring new lungs for Paul’s daughter, which involves a six-figure amount.

Mulroney is definitely convincing in this film. I can use his iciness to power my freezer. But the ending surprised me. The last scene made me wonder about the moral foundation of Paul’s resolve and desperations. No doubt, Baltasar Kormákur – the director – was looking for a way to tweak Paul’s moral convictions, to reveal something much larger about him, he hopes, we can inhale.

featurepic2adichieChimamanda Ngozie Adichie visited Los Angeles recently.  She was promoting her third novel, Americanah.  I got a signed copy of that book, and downloaded a podcast of her conversation with Buddist nun Faith Adiele, also a writer.

Adichie’s story is set in Nigeria, the UK, and the US. I think it’s a brilliant novel, the kind grad students would drool on for future dissertation topics. It made distinctions between African-American and American-African, including perceptions about race in the US and the UK.

I didn’t read this book in one sitting though, since it forced me to pause and read certain passages more than twice.

The novel’s main character, Ifemelu, is actually a blogger.  And the title of her blog is: Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.

It’s a loaded title, bound to attract visitors and numerous hits a day. The blog becomes a source of income for the protagonist. Hot political and social issues are lucrative commodities, indeed.

One of the most touching parts of the novel is when Ifemelu and Obinze meet again in Nigeria, after years of being apart, he a returnee from the UK, and she from the US. In many ways, the tension in their love story holds the novel together.

This novel made me want to read Adichie’s earlier novels.  One of them, Half of a Yellow Sun, will be made into a movie soon.  Asked about the movie, Adichie sounded partial about the movie version of any novel, and said that “books are better than film.”

Americanah has many memorable moments.  One of those is on page-475 when Ifemelu, now back in Nigeria, is on a long-distance call with her friend Blaine, the Yale professor. When he asked her if she is still blogging about race, Ifemelu said: “No just about life. Race doesn’t really work here. I feel like I got off the plane in Lagos and stopped being black.”

post2plantThe last time I visited a thrift store was probably two months ago.  That’s not a long time, and probably normal for me these days.  Gone were the days when I’d visit one or two thrift shops on a weekend. Last Saturday, I drove to one of my favorite thrift stores on Sunset Boulevard, ready for weekend, bargain hunters. The parking lot was already half-full when I arrived.

My first stop was the men’s shoe rack.  I had three competitors, heading to that section.  I focused, spotted a pair of black sneakers, and grabbed it. I felt lucky.  Not a bad pair of Adidas Samba, although it had something on its sole I didn’t like. Then, I walked to the t-shirts section with the pair in my shopping basket.  I found one with my size.  At the furniture section, I couldn’t decide on a small shelf for my books.  There were framed posters nearby, and they interrupted my train of thought if I should buy the bookshelf or not.

At the books section, there were plenty to browse, but nothing to take for lasting indulgence.  I had an English author in mind.  After reading some paragraphs in one of Jonathan Franzen’s earlier novels, I walked back to the shoe rack.  Nobody was there. I was glad.  There were some Pumas, Nikes, and Skechers, all in good condition, but not my size.  Then one of the employees displayed more shoes on that section.  They looked too big for me, probably owned by someone who just passed away.

The store wasn’t as crowded as I expected it to be.  I wasn’t surprised.  The sun was in full force outside.  I bumped into a friend who also likes to visit this particular used store.  We each grabbed a hamburger nearby.  My new sneakers were tapping to the beat of the music the joint was playing.

featurepic1nyc-2Although from California, I bought my first pair of Onitsukas in The Big Apple, and didn’t have to worm my way into its heart looking for that pair, since I went online first. I had been checking out one particular store’s website, before flying east to attend an event, and was glad that store has a branch in Manhattan.

I purchased the pair on a drizzly evening, when the store was about to close. I remember walking blocks, like I was on a mission, in a hurry, along 5th Avenue.  And I kept checking Google Maps on my Android, to make sure I was heading on the right direction.  When I arrived at the store, they didn’t have my size, 10(US).  So the manager offered a slightly bigger size.

And did I complain, with the fury of an Occupy Wall Street protestor? I certainly did, in my own way.  I took the box the manager handed me, opened it and looked at him, then threw it back to him, before pushing him against the wall behind him.  I didn’t say anything, as my fury stormed the place, pushing shoes away from shelves and racks.  The manager was sweating at the phone calling for help.  He was the only one left in the store now, because the other employee had ran out of the store, frantic, to the street, leaving her screams behind.  Then the madman in me pulled out the gun in my backpack a black one, and aimed it to the manager.  He was screaming, screaming at the top of his voice, until I pulled the trigger, and saw water spurt on his face.

Yes, all that happened in my mind, in my imagination.  When the manager handed me the box, I tried the pair on, and they fit just fine.  I didn’t leave the store immediately after getting my receipt.  I gave myself the liberty to check out some great-looking sneakers in the store.  But soon, I didn’t stay long, and left.  Outside, I noticed NYPD cop-cars a block away.  The weather was perfect weather for two detectives to look fashionable in trench coats, like the pair in Law & Order.  I traced my steps, and had a slice of pizza on 5th Avenue, eating time slowly, as though waiting for someone in my car, back in Los Angeles.

Amour-poster-french-2Amour opens with a woman’s dead body.  She is in a bedroom, dressed in black, positioned the way bodies are laid in a coffin.  We don’t know how long she has been left there. Days, perhaps.  The authorities who are walking around her bed are masked. I assumed the scene is part of a murder.

What follows after that prologue is not easy to watch. It’s a story about an elderly couple. As the wife’s health deteriorates, the husband tries hard to cope with the situation. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are very convincing as Georges and Anne; they deserve the accolades they got for this film.

Both actors won the Cesar’s category for Best Actor and Best Actress in 2012. But I’m not surprised Riva got more awards than Trintignant outside France. When Anne’s mental and physical condition further detriorates, I thought Riva was deliriously realistic, sometimes too realistic. You can see the horror on her face, especially when she loses the capacity to talk.

The main horror, of course, is the moment Georges covers Anne’s face with a pillow; it’s the force of love at work. Isabelle Huppert’s role as the couple’s concerned daughter Eva appears too marginal to matter in the story. Still, she had moments of brilliance. But the stage here belongs to Riva. Hands down.

This is probably the second or third film I had seen among Michael Haneke’s work. I think it’s time to watch his other films; I’m curious now. Haneke is quite ruthless in Amour, which depicts a world that cannot be redeemed by fantasy or any hint of light, optimism, the world of love in old-age, in its most desperate, unforgiving moment. There’s a lot there. This film won’t be easy to forget.

[Image Credit: Wikipedia]

palminglafeaturepic-bigpicturePaul Exben has two children, and loves them both to death. They hold Paul’s relationship with his wife Sarah. Director Eric Lartigay shows the lapses of their intimate moments carefully, filled with extended silences, or those gestures that prefer to be somewhere else. Paul is suspicious that Sarah is having an affair, but couldn’t park those thoughts far enough. Soon, these suspicions acquire momentum, when he finds out that other party is someone in their social circle.

The day Paul confronts the man is the day their lives would change. The meeting appears like a pleasant visit, at first, until witty remarks from both parties turns ugly. The height of that verbal clash involves a wine bottle. Paul grabs its neck, and hits his rival’s head so hard the bottle breaks. Now wine bottles are made to be durable, and sturdy. When Paul’s victim falls on grassy ground, his neck lands on the broken neck of the wine bottle.

That detail is important, that Paul isn’t really a murderer. But then who would believe that technicality.  Paul understands this better than anybody.  He is a lawyer himself, after all. The indispensable panic follows, before Paul composes himself, and does something clever: he assumes the dead body’s identity, and painfully leaves his family, away from France, to Eastern Europe.

The details of this escape comment on how film itself tells a story, visually, on what it can get away it.  You either accept its ability to show and suggest or not. Any middle ground to their credibility becomes the content of dissatisfaction, and other forms of criticism.  In the hands of a less talented actor, those suggestions would probably fail.  With Romain Duris, we feel secure of their believability, and, somehow, get the big picture.


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