Archive for Slate Honey

Serbis review-Slate Honey

Posted in film, Mr Slate Honey, People of Color, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Review by the venerable Slate Honey

Brillante Mendoza takes a porno theater ironically named the Family in the Filipino city of Angeles as the bleak setting for a drama about family dysfunction and sexual dystopia in his film “Serbis.” The Pinedas have a pile of problems to deal with: Mama (grandmother Pineda) has taken her husband to court for abandoning the Pinedas for a new wife and family, a boy taken in by the Pinedas has impregnated his distraught girlfriend, the theatre is physically falling apart and no longer is making a good living, the father is generally despondent and useless, another boy taken in by the family to work as the projectionist is adolescent bait for the mom, and a teenage sister (the first to appear in the film, naked and flirting with her own image in a mirror) seems a nuisance to her mother just for being around.

The frenetic camera work and terribly recorded, barely audible soundtrack are major distractions from the overload of dramatic set-ups in this gritty film. Following the characters who run around frantically from fairly mundane situation to situation, the camera movement often feels nauseating and the suspenseful pace feels forced. Add to that cuts that seem to linger without good reason and a hodgepodge structure. The film’s possible saving grace lies in the performances which are rendered with seriousness and the believability of the dreary setting. The choice of using the truly dilapidated porno theatre offers the possibility of interesting socio-cultural commentary.

Unfortunately, “Serbis” does not take the bait in my opinion, instead relying on thickly-lain shock value, forced suspense and aesthetic realism to carry the film. After the film abruptly ended with a post-production trick (the film disintegrates on screen as if burning before our eyes), I was left with huge questions about Mendoza’s intentions an skepticism about his strong messages about sexuality, queerness and dysfunction.

Mendoza juxtaposes and relates the Pineda family and the queer theatre attendees in different webs of desire. Grandmother Mama and her daughter play-flirt with regulars to keep them coming back. The teenage daughter happily trails a sex worker on the grand staircase, learning hip-swinging moves and ultimately getting slapped on the face by her mother for it. The projectionist unemotionally accepts blowjobs from a sex worker. Mendoza makes a collage of the characters sidling queers and sex workers (the supposed degenerates of society) with the family members seemingly trapped in their poverty and unhappiness. The intimacy between these parallel worlds and the intermingling of the worlds becomes a place of tension.

I wonder what Mendoza’s intentions are in his portrait of the queers, queens and trannies of the Phillipines. Who are they beyond symbolism for hetero dysfunction? Sexuality and queer expression is distinctly different in many parts of Southeast Asia where the transgender sex worker community is in some ways more visible (though undoubtedly equally as oppressed and unsupported in society as in the West). To portray this community, to follow the girls (and also the queens) in their comfort zone, demands, in my opinion, a complex rendering of characters. “Serbis” is so focused on the hetero family losing its mind and means in this broken down theatre, it only offers glimpses of a free-spirited world of queers who come to the theatre to hang out and make their own living. Part of me wonders if I am too skeptical and if Mendoza intends a portrait of hetero dysfunction so caught up in itself and resigned to a dark fate that it dismisses and loses sight of the light-heartedness and contentment of the queer world around it.

The last scene of the film gave me reason to land on a more skeptical view. In it, a boy and a john sit on the verandah of the Family theatre chatting. Suddenly, a hole appears at the center of the image and the film burns and melts away as the soundtrack becomes warped. Mendoza’s last trick seems to imply that queerness is the root of the Pinedas’ sinful disintegration. “Serbis” is playing at the Angelika until February 12th.

Kate Winslet-1-Slate Honey

Posted in film, Mr Slate Honey with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

By Mr Slate Honey

I’ve been squandering money on watching big budget films recently. My stint of Hollywood-mania included going to the movies five nights in a row over the holidays. Last night, I capped the marathon off with a last, belated stint and went to see REVOLUTIONARY ROAD—the last flick on my Holiday list.

I went to the early bird evening show with a pack of Kleenex, hoping for a dose of dysfunction that would provide catharsis. I didn’t have too many expectations but having seen THE READER (also starring Kate Winslet and which I will get to in my Part 2), I was ready for some more blonde-haired drama.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD should be re-titled YOUR HUSBAND IS A JERK BUT YOU CAN’T DIVORCE HIM. The film is a montage of cliché scenarios that take a pre-womyn’s lib setting—the suburbs outside New York in the 1950s—as fodder for a formulaic tragic-comedy. The film begins by intercutting flashbacks of April and Frank falling in love at a party and flashes forward to a roadside fight between the now married couple after April’s embarrassing performance in a small-town play. Hence, our first piece of bait in this 2nd wave feminism feature-length promo: April gave up her acting career to be a housewife to a man with a mindless office job. So the drama unravels— unfotumately not providing catharsis so much as earaches. There is a lot of yelling in this film, Leo and Kate often bearing their teeth and getting red in the face, but it’s not always clear whether it’s worth the exhaustion.

Like a TV drama, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD relies too much on an assumption that the audience is going to be automatically sympathetic to this couple. As a result, the film does not offer enough “getting to know you” time with Frank and April. We know things were different before, (supposedly happier, exciting) but we don’t know the details. We are told that this couple was “different”—a word that gets used a lot in the film to set the duo apart from less attractive looking neighbor couples—but the film left me wondering, how different could they have been? After a slight glimmer of hope, a possible relocation of the distressed family to Europe, we watch April and Frank break down again and further unravel. Frank is a philanderer, pushy and too talkative… and pro-life. April looks gorgeous without lipstick and alternates between nervous breakdown and well-composed housewife before her tragic end.

Sam Mendes’ direction is very palpable, maybe too much so, in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. To create the 1950s “appearance is everything” vibe, Mendes directs everyone to be so stiff the actors seem as starched as their impeccably perfect costumes. The expected musical score cues make everything too obvious and dialogue is cookie-cutter, delivered with perfectly polite intonation. Winslet and DiCaprio carry too much of the perfect language skills into the breakdown scenes, taking away some potential for real-like dysfunction. With a too literal (and frankly weak) script, Mendes’ retro-AMERICAN BEAUTY prologue ends up feeling all around empty. It lacks irony and subtlety. At least in AMERICAN BEAUTY, we had a quirky aesthetic rife in the portrait of a modern day nuclear family gone dysfunctional. There was humour (ah, Kevin Spacey and your monotone delivery) and some heavy quiet moments for seriousness.

Unfortunately, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD draws too ambiguous a line between the characters’ social posturing and their real selves. There is a bit of humour in a minor character, a man fresh out of the looney bin, who becomes a regular dinner guest. He vocalizes inner dialogue at proper sit-down dinners, sparking tense scenes with provocations intended to catch fire. His provocations are funny to watch but he is too obvious a device. His presence seems surreal, and for this film that stays well within block-buster formulas, he is out of place. Well, needless to say, I walked out of the theatre disappointed. (And $12.50 short!) I didn’t even get to use my Kleenex because frankly, I couldn’t connect to this particular sob story.

TOKYO! Review-by Slate Honey

Posted in film, Mr Slate Honey with tags , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

TOKYO! Is a triptych film portrait of the dense, ever-growing Japanese metropolis.  Directors Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-Ho each direct a short within TOKYO! and present vastly different views of the city.

TOKYO! begins with Michel Gondry’s short INTERIOR DESIGN.  The film follows much in suit with Gondry’s past hits ETERNAL SUNSHINE and THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP as a portrait of not-perfect coupledom and the trials of partership and breaking up.  A young couple, Hiroko and Akira, move to Tokyo to discover a cramped city full of characters and a series of urban life obstacles.  INTERIOR DESIGN charts the shift in this couple’s life as Akira gains recognition as an emerging filmmaker and Hiroko becomes increasingly jealous, feeling lost and useless.  Gondry pokes fun at his own art and serves up a hilarious scene when Akira screens his experimental film at a porn theatre.  Filling the theatre with smoke from a smoke-machine as the uber-absurdist black and white film rolls, Akira is the perfect typecast of underground experimental film nerds.  As the audience leaves the theatre coughing and rolling their eyes, Akira is oblivious, emphatically engaged in conversation with a viewer, explaining “I like to have the viewers interact with my cinema.” INTERIOR DESIGN focuses on Hiroko’s struggle and Gondry brings in his trademark cartoonish magical realism in the end, transforming her physically as her sense of security and spirit gradually break down.  INTERIOR DESIGN proposes a view of partnership as a question of utility.  As Hiroko feels increasingly useless in her relationship with Akira, she becomes quite literally physically useful to a relationship with a musician—I won’t spoil the ending.  It’s always a pleasure to delve into Gondry’s magical surrealist mind and try and figure out how he manages those illusionist cinema tricks.

The second short in TOKYO!, Leos Carax’s MERDE is by far the most hilarious but also the most inaccessible of the three films.  It begins with absurdist, dark humor: a grimy demented leprechaun-like creature (played by well-known French actor Denis Lavant) emerges from a man hole and proceeds to powerwalk through Tokyo, grabbing whatever he can from pedestrians: a child’s toy, a half smoked cigarette from a businessman’s hand, chrysanthemum flowers from a bouquet that he stuffs into his mouth.  The repulsive subterranean man-monster starts worse trouble after discovering an arsenal of grenades underground and becomes a media star as Tokyo’s newest terrorist-bomber.  MERDE quickly transitions to a dramatic, philosophical foray into mass-media demonization tactics, nihilism and the ethics of convicting ‘sub-humans’.  Carax’s film successfully weaves humor and satire into an allegorical portrait of post-911morality, but the film begins to drag and becomes convoluted when a new character enters.  A French lawyer who bears resemblance to the terrorist claims to be the sole person in the world who speaks the creature’s gibberish-like language and arrives in Tokyo to represent him in a trial that could put him on death row.  Despite some split screen pizzazz, the courtroom scenes slow down the film considerably, sacrificing some interesting ethical questions of the value of life—that of the creature’s victims and of the creature himself.  MERDE ends with a little magic, proving that not all earth-bound things can be tamed by the law.

Bong Joon-Ho’s SHAKING TOKYO is the final short in this series.  It is the most streamlined of the three.  It’s simplicity makes it poetic and very effective as a short film (every filmmaker’s challenge with working in short format).  It takes as subject a hikikimori, a shut-in, who has not left his apartment in a decade.  The lush cinematography renders the man’s dark, musty apartment an enviable paradise.  Perfectly arranged stacks of pizza boxes make a wall, dust dances in a slender ray of sunlight and a beautiful clock ticks ever so patiently as the hikikimori softly describes a life utterly lonely but safe.  Japanese Academy Award nominated actor Teruyuki Kagawa plays the lead role.  His fragility reads tenderly and beautifully on-screen.  Nearly trembling at the prospect of encountering others at the door to his apartment, the man’s subtle movements foreshadow an earthquake that will shake the city and an explosion of emotion for another hikikimori he meets, an unlikely teenage love object.  Bong Joon-Ho’s ends his story with a wise moral: stray from safety (no matter how gorgeous it looks) and invite some risky passion into your life.

TOKYO! arrives in theatres in March 2009.

Slate greets us from Canada

Posted in Mr Slate Honey, Party, People of Color, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

By Mr Slate Honey:

Brooklyn, I miss you.  I have spent the past ten days making the rounds in Canada’s cultural capitols, Toronto and Montréal.  Oversleeping, eating meals I could never afford and immersing myself in familial catch-up and madness have been my main activities of late.  What work!  Inevitably with any short-term stay outside New York, after more than a week, I start to feel homesick for city chaos and the comforts of my wide bed.  But before quitting this country, I decided to go on a little adventure downtown.  It turned out to be more like a voyeuristic mini-voyage.  After a decadent New Year’s Eve meal of steak and lobster paired with three too many Whiskey sours, I put on my best tie and shiny new jeans and headed out to size up Toronto’s queer scene.  A friend’s recommendation led me to Cherry Bomb’s New Year’s Eve bash at the Raq, billiards hall turned lounge, on Queen Street West.
Let’s begin with a mention of the free public transport in Toronto from midnight to 4 am.  Ah, the well-organized pro-public culture here is always worth a little sigh of envy.  The 501 street car took me down Queen to my destination, a rather big club that had a sign on the door that read in big letters: This is a Gay event! Gay-friendly folks are welcome.  Inside, the dance-floor was crowded and some games were going on a couple of the dozen pool tables.  On a wide screen above the dance floor, projections of lesbian black and white porn from the 1950s intermingled with experimental video montages of Mariah dancing on a pole and Beyoncé biting down on a cigar in a three-piece suit.  The party was a good mix of folks in terms of ages, genders and ethnicities.  In general, I’ve noticed a lot of mixed-race families in Toronto and it’s little surprise since the city is ranked by the UNDP as one of the world’s most multicultural cities and annually becomes home to half of all immigrants coming to Canada.  I always get a little soft-hearted every time I spot Hapa kids and their parents—fueled by my cheeseball Hapa pride—and Toronto’s p.o.c. population being 70% Asian, there are a lot of mixed race Asian families around.
Anyway, back to the queers.  I bought a drink and headed to the DJ area to check out Torontonian cruising.  There were plenty of cuties but I felt a little pang of disappointment about peoples’ game.  I should admit that I am for the most part a shy dork save for some golden moments of flirtation with strangers.  Maybe I got my hopes up too high expecting to stumble into a super-friendly Eden of flirty queers (which my aunt and mom later insisted I would definitely have found if I had went out in Montréal).  I felt like the cruising was a little too lukewarm for my taste and the music a little too 90s club beat for my dancing feet.  So as not to be too visible a voyeur, I found a comfy spot and watched the dancing.  At one point, I could not take my eyes off a gorgeously tall, leggy person in a glittering mini-dress working it out proper with each of her dance partners.  It made me want to devote an essay to the skills of high-femme glamour.
Honestly, it was just a nice relief to be in a queer space crowded with folks grinding, friends being silly and lovers magnetically glued to one another.  As the club emptied out a little, I got up for a little booty-shaking before heading home.  Reality hit me a little too hard in the face on the free tram back to my aunt’s.  I squeezed into a car and got wedged between some obnoxious, loud, righteous drunk white boys and put a sour face on for the ride.  Well you can’t have it all, I suppose.
So, I think come summertime, I am going to have to do another round here and better scope out the Toronto gay life.  Maybe I’ll do a city-comparison and see if my aunt and mom are indeed correct about the abundant fruit in Montréal.  Until then, it’s back to Brooklyn.  I am so ready for it.
Happy New Year!

Slate Gets Milk- Gus Van Sant’s new Film

Posted in film, Guide to What's Good, Mr Slate Honey, People of Color, politics, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

Great review and thoughtful Analysis of Milk by Mr Slate Honey. Van Sant is giving a Q&A tonight at MOMA- hopefully I’ll get tickets and be able to report back tomorrow.-R

It seems everybody and their gay dads saw Gus Van Sant’s Milk as part of the Thanksgiving routine this year.  I was warned to go equipped with tissues and to be ready for problematic portrayals of the few characters of color in the film.  (Thanks lover, for the forewarning by the way.) I went prepared with a dewey heart and my critical lenses on.

I have been a committed Sean Penn fan ever since I saw Dead Man Walking when I was a little mister.  And I got on the Gus Van Sant train a bit late but his recent films Elephant, Last Days, Paranoid Park have served my grungy emo-homo skater-boy obsession very well.

Cinematographer Harris Savides and Van Sant make a great visionary team.  They previously worked together on Elephant, a film with a very precise, clean cinema verité style that transforms violence into real-time horror and renders its viewers innocent witnesses.  In Milk, Savides and Van Sant play with perspective, creating layers of consciousness for Penn’s character.  Switching perspective and cinematic style, and weaving archival footage into the film, Savides and Van Sant reveal a determined, emotional man at the center of a violent socio-political setting.  A particularly lush scene that is classic Van Sant perspective comes early on in the film.  Harvey and Scott (played by James Franco) fall in love in a soft-focus dreamscape of close movement, shot all in extreme close-ups set to the soundtrack of their tender conversation.  Gorgeousness.

Overall, Milk is very historically accurate.  Activist Cleve Jones and friend of Milk’s was on-set during production and connected Van Sant with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who had long been preparing a manuscript. Milk serves as a good personal portrait counterpart to the 1985 documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Rob Epstein.  I had the feeling watching MILK that I could trust the filmmaker team’s attention to detail and the solid sense of collaboration gave the narrative a documentary quality.

So the accuracy and detail of the film bring up a pretty big concern on the race-politics front.  I was charmed by Sean Penn’s old-school New York accent and faggy gestures, seduced by James Franco’s flirty eyes and mini handlebar moustache and increasingly worried as Josh Brolin’s character’s passive aggressive repression began to seep out.  And the constant influx of characters served well as a distraction from the tragic and narrow development of the few characters of color.

A member of Milk’s activist dream team includes an Asian man who is only referred to as Lotus Blossom despite his many appearances.  Random folks of color magically appear in the crowd every time Milk gets a further push forward in the political machine.  During an acceptance speech near the climax of the film, a black woman with a classic 70s look complete with afro smiles enthusiastically behind Harvey.  She promptly disappears behind a shower of balloons as soon as Harvey wraps up his speech.

Leaving the theatre, my mom suggested that the race politics of the film merely mirrored the San Francisco scene in the 1970s.  There just weren’t that many people of color, she argued.  And there were barely any women in the film, she added.  Historical accuracy?  (And, I might add, how much has the San Francisco gay scene departed from a mostly white gay male playground thirty years later?)

The seldom appearance of people of color is one thing.  I suppose you can reason this with some argument about accuracy.  What is more troubling is the passiveness of the characters of color.  Black and Asian extras dot the activist scenes, always with their thumbs in the air and big smiles.  Lotus Blossom doesn’t seem to wince at his nickname.  And finally, Jack, the one Latino character that makes it on-screen for more than thirty seconds is portrayed as an irrational, mentally unstable, co-dependent, infantile wifey.  Jack’s tragedy becomes expected and you can almost hear the characters whispering under their breath “She brought it on herself.” This is fodder for post-colonial theory.

So my warnings were well-heeded.  In the end, I cried like a baby, just as hard as I cried when I watched ‘The Life and Times of Harvey Milk’.  I left the theatre thinking about the fearless work of an older generation of queer activists that laid some ground for young folks to make demands relevant to what it means to be queer and fight for rights today.  I also left thinking about how race politics have systematically been swept under the rug by a white gay and lesbian rights movement in the 70s.  I thought about what work that has left contemporary queer activists of color.  And how truly far-thinking activists never get comfortable and only keep pushing and questioning.  Finally, making my way out of the city back to Brooklyn, I meditated on queer love as freedom, queer survival as civil rights, and a beautiful fearlessness that comes naturally to us.

Slate Honey reviews Recitement, Music/Poetry

Posted in Mr Slate Honey, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

Recitement Review- by Slate Honey

A week ago, I immersed myself in Stephen Emmer’s poetry compilation album Recitement.  Pairing recited poems by a wide variety of writers (from Lou Reed to Jorge Luis Borges) with musical composition, Emmer curates a work that is more akin to a series of short films than an album with a solid identity.  Emmer does a comprehensive job of creating genre-specific music that works hard to set a tone for each spoken piece.  Recitement’s sounds bounce back and forth between dark, spacy down-tempo, bouncy classic rock, cinematic European pop and whispery retro French electro.  The musical style is laid a little too thick and is at times sentimental.  And melody sometimes becomes competitive with poetry.  The weight of the poetry often gets lost in the layered soundtracks.  Emmer does best when he presents pieces that really lend themselves to music.

Two tracks are particularly good. “Invergence of the Twain” is reminiscent of spoken word set to cool-sounding acoustic guitar and light percussion.  The beautiful rhyming and careful pacing of the poetry make for a sexy, relaxed sound that is easy to get into.  “Absolutely Grey” has the kind of melancholy space-age sound of Tricky and matches well to a sparse monologue on absolutes.  Especially good for those days when one is feeling super emo and particularly philosophical.

I’d recommend Recitement if you are tired of albums packaged with a singular look and feel.  It’s worth a listen if you want something really different.  Expect to be taken along several twists and turns and leave yourself open to the multi-media feel.  Recitement is not background music.