Sunday, February 26, 2006

Everyone Plays Dirty

It was bad enough that none of you told me about The Wire and I had to discover it all on my own.

Now I've had a similar delicious experience with Footballers Wive$. (Yes, spelled that way. The dollar sign is silent. Or, for Google's sake, Footballers Wives.)

Why didn't any of you tell me about this wicked Brit soap? Maybe none of y'all get BBC America. But some of you do live in the bloody U.K. -- so there's naught an excuse.

Thankfully, EW TV maven Alynda Wheat got me the hook up with this tantalizing write-up about the new season. For those of you in the U.K. (who shamefully never told me about the Wive$), our new season is the third series (I think you are on something like the fifth over there).

Even more thankfully, our new digital cable service includes not only BBC America, but also BBC America On Demand -- for free! (Well, included in the monthly fee.) So I can watch the shows on On Demand whenever I want. I had loads of fun with Mile High (the show about really slutty flight attendants) that way.

So, over the last few days, I watched the whole second series. At first, I thought I'd only watch a single episode. But, look, mates: you can't just watch a single episode. This show is so outrageous and manages, somehow, to keep upping the ante in terms of sex and scandalousness.

An example (without giving much away): A major plot line from the first series involved team captain Jason Turner having an affair with his younger teammate Kyle's mother Jackie, who got pregnant and told Jason she had an abortion. In fact she snuck off to Florida with her daughter-in-law, the former "glamour" (i.e., topless) model Chardonnay (yes, it's that good). Since Chardonnay and Kyle can't have kids, they are going to adopt Jackie's baby as their own. Not knowing, of course, that in fact it's the progeny of Kyle's egomaniacal team captain.

And that's just in the first episode of the second series. I won't say any more about it, because you really should (in Alynda's words) Turn. It. On. There are so many Oh-Shite, I Can't Believe She Did That moments -- so, so good!

My favorite character, of course, is gold-digging blonde bombshell Tanya, who is the series' devious heart. Her story lines are even more outrageous than what I mentioned above. She and Jason are fused together in their codependency and contempt for each other, which makes for great melodrama. I really shouldn't tell you any more details, I'll just say that my favorite is probably her surprise for him in the second series finale (when they renew their vows), although the bit with the birth control pills is a close second.

If you go to the BBC America home page, you can play an exciting commercial for the new season, including what may be my favorite new line, from new star (and omnisexual hunk) Conrad: "Do you know how to cheer a boy up, Mrs. Laslitt?"

Now there's just one problem: I found the series AFTER the third season's first episode was shown last Sunday. And, it turns out, with our fancy digital cable, we are unable to tape the extra digital channels (like BBC America) on the VCR!

They're replaying last week's episode at midnight, followed by tonight's episode at 1 a.m. I am totally staying up to watch both. I may post something after (i.e., later tomorrow).

For now, I'm going to have to take a disco nap -- fitting, given the show's opening sequence!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Not Exactly Flawless

I broke down and saw Capote over the weekend. I'll say that it was, on the whole, better than I expected, at least from the nasty things some of my friends had said about it. A big part of this, of course, is Catherine Keener, who lifts up any film whose screen she graces.

Generally, I agree with the sentiments expressed here. (And, with his takedown of Munich and cushy Kushner, he's fast becoming a new favorite blogger.)

My favorite moment of Hoffman's miscasting is when he finally goes to meet his roommate Jack in Spain. For the first time, he's wearing a short sleeve shirt and crosses his arms in front of his chest. These arms are not Capote's arms but Hoffman's, incongruously beefed up and hairy.

The filmmakers do their best to play down the burly Hoffman's physical mismatch to the slight Capote. Shot after shot frames him from odd angles, as if he is all head and shoulders and the occasional upraised pinkie. Medium shots are few and far between.

Even having read the critical reviews, I was surprised at what a retrograde film this was. The relationship between Capote and his roommate Jack is entirely sexless. They never kiss and barely even touch except for one moment in the park, as one reaches behind the other just as the camera cuts away. There is a moment where it appears that Capote is heading into a nondescript bar with a red light over the door -- when a man outside the bar makes eye contact with him before going in, all while he talks on the phone with Jack, who wants him to come to Spain. I guess this is all supposed to mean Something but it is all so opaque and indirect that it is undecipherable.

My point is, except for these coupla moments, if you did not know Capote was gay, your only hints would be his strange voice and swishy behavior. In terms of depicting a central gay character, this film could well have been made in the era in which it's set.

I'm going to try and see Brokeback again next weekend, with at least one (and hopefully both) of my parents, and then I'll do my post on that. I'll say now that there is no question in my mind that Heath Ledger should rightly beat Philip Seymour Hoffman for the Best Actor Oscar, on the sole basis of their work in the films for which they're nominated. I'll be depressed if yet another trophy is given for an impression of a famous person (even when they go to actors I like, like Jamie Foxx and especially the glorious Cate Blanchett).

However, I know that that's not how Oscar voting works. Cate should have won for Elizabeth (instead of that scrawny Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love). And Ledger's case isn't helped by schlock like Casanova and the execrable A Knight's Tale (if you stayed through the end credits, you know I mean that literally).

Which brings us back to one of my other favorite film actresses, Catherine Keener. Her Harper Lee was Capote's conscience in the film, which I thought was pitch perfect (whether or not this was the case in real life). We get her before and after the publication of the novel that made her name and defined racism for generations of American schoolchildren. How perfect is it to cast the author of To Kill a Mockingbird as the voice of liberal conscience?

Her great work also turned on a legal case, and she's a moral force in the film, most especially at the end, when she calls up Capote in Kansas after receiving a telegram from the killer he lied to and charmed to get book material but has since dropped because his book needs an ending that can only come with the executions. He's in Kansas, but, apparently racked with guilt (not fully drawn out in the film), he's holed up in his hotel and won't read the telegram or answer the phone. But the killer has telegramed "Miss Nell Harper Lee" along with his friend Truman, and she insists that his agent hold the telephone to Truman's ear to make him listen to her reading the telegram.

It's a calling to account for what Capote has done, as he found a lawyer to file the killers' appeals, dragging out the case for years. When that lawyer quit, Capote tells them he'll find another, only to write them a letter saying he couldn't without having tried. And then, of course, there is the lying about the title of the book, which he comes up with quite early on, but he continues to tell Perry Smith, the killer he's charmed, that he has no idea of the title, and has barely written anything. The killers are hoping his book will help them get off on an insanity defense, while Capote is buying time to get Smith to tell him the whole story.

Clifton Collins Jr. is quite a treat as Perry Smith, with his wounded lost little boy eyes and childish courtroom drawings juxtaposing his beefcake tattoos and alleged misdeeds. I had forgotten the details of the case, and the film did do a nice job of drawing out the false romance (if I can call it that) between Smith and Capote, as one dreams of getting out of prison, and the other dreams of finishing the greatest book ever. Thus it comes as a brutal shock when Smith finally tells Capote the story of What Happened That Night, that he was the one who killed all four of the Clutters.

And Collins also gets the film's darkest moment. Asked on the gallows for his last words, he goes into a few lines about how he doesn't know what to say. Like Capote, we recognize this from Smith's journal as his dreamed-up speech "If Called Upon to Accept an Award."

I suppose there is some uncertainty-principle-like point about artists changing the things they observe by getting too close to them. The filmmakers of Capote, however, have not really drawn this out. Like most else in the film except Hoffman's Method acting and Keener's moral clarity, it remains undecipherable.