Movies: Phillip Morris, Black Swan, and Gay Oscar Hopeful Undertow
Jim Carrey blows Ewan McGregor bubbles.
Jim Carrey adds a little swish to his familiar physical dexterity as con-man Steven Russell in I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS. His rubber face sad-comic mask falls hard for mild-mannered Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), while both are in prison. Their affair prompts much elaborate scheming from Steven about how to bust them out. (If you haven't seen the Towleroad interview, check that out.)
The film's strange and gleefully offensive comic tone comes courtesy of the Bad Santa screenwriters but this time they serve it up with a fey twist. The politically incorrect gay humor is incongruously combined with genuine sincerity and even sweetness. You don't cast the dependably adorable McGregor if you're not willing to spike your booze with a little punch.
These strange twin tones result in a movie that's quite uneven (particularly in the beginning, have patience). The best mix is arguably found in the prison sequences, including one hilarious standout bit where a large inmate provides background music for Steven and Phillip's romantic evening. On occassion the movie's raunchier bits feel like something John Waters might have dreamt up had he ever had mainstream sensibilities, bigger budgets and been less honestly wed to kitsch.
Though the film is based on a true story -- it tells us that early in self-amused titles "This really happened. It really did." -- it plays like schizophrenic fantasy. Early in the film we see a group of kids laying in the grass in flashback (including the young Steven) eyeing a group of clouds. Most kids see animals but Steven spots a penis. The cloud game might be a perfect metaphor for reactions to the film. The success of any comedy, more than any other film genre, is in the eye of the beholder.
Meanwhile, on other screens, dangerously uptight ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) fights for the lead role in a new production of "Swan Lake" in Darren Aronofsky's tricked up, flipped out BLACK SWAN. What does Nina get for all those years of toe shoes, starvation, and pliés? A psychotic (swan) break , that's what.
More, AFTER THE JUMP...
Black Swan drops the fearless director & his actress into the rigid high art of ballet and Lincoln Center. Once settled in, Aronofsky is closer to a mad DJ than a ballet company leader. He tosses out the classical records, preferring to spin and sample from classic films instead. (The Red Shoes, Vertigo, Rosemary's Baby and Carrie all come to mind.) The end result is closer to a rave than a staged ballet, as the DJ encourages his dancers toward abandon. It's all ridiculously over the top, maybe a little thin, mostly insane, nearly camp...and the very definition of a "must see." With a fine quartet of actresses (Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder) serving as each others dark mirrors and tragic echoes, Black Swan is deliciously sapphic but it's not all girlie; Darren Aronofsky has major balls.
ALSO OPENING: Martial arts drama THE WARRIOR'S WAY, the supernatural thriller DEAD AWAKE, the 80s set murder mystery ALL GOOD THINGS starring Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Gosling, and the 70s Black Panther related drama NIGHT CATCHES US starring Kerry Washington & Anthony Mackie (both of whom ought to be much bigger stars by now). Finally, if you're in L.A. and you love movies about the theater, the terrific Danish film APPLAUSE is having a special one week run. The film stars Paprika Steen as an alcoholic actress (she's playing "Martha" in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) who is trying to regain custody of her children.
Finally, if you haven't had a chance to see the gay Peruvian film UNDERTOW (Contracorriente) seek it out. The supernaturally tinged romance is about a married fisherman with a pregnant wife who is having an affair with a male artist. It won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance and opened last weekend in select cities. It's also one of the 65 films screening for Academy voters, hoping to become a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee on January 25th. I had an opportunity to speak with its first-time director Javier Fuentes-León [complete interview].
We talked a lot about Latin American concepts of masculinity and sexual labels.
The reason why I set [Undertow] in a rural town and not in an urban city is because I think we are obsessed with labels where's there's a strong gay community. Gay. Straight. Bisexual. In rural areas those labels are not as important... Miguel is not having a personal crisis like 'am I gay? am I bisexual?' His crisis is 'How do I dignify this love without losing my marriage and the love of my people? And how do I reconcile this with my religion?'
I wanted to liberate the film from those issues. That's why in the sex scenes in one, one is on top of the other and the other is the other way around and they roll. It was my way of saying...I'm not going to be answering to people saying 'Of course the painter is a bottom!'
Despite not wanting to stereotype or label Undertow's lovers, Javier humorously revealed that the script, which he started writing in 1996, was once about a man who loved two women.
It was later in 2001 when I myself came out I thought 'well, f--- it. Let's make it real here.' You know?