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Friday, March 30, 2012

Double Feature Friday: Marathon Edition

We've all been there: you sit down to watch an episode of a TV show, and then you promise yourself, "Just one more episode." Before you know it, you're covered in empty pizza boxes, and you've reached the very end of the entire series. It's so ubiquitous that there's a Portlandia sketch about it (and I should know, since I did this very thing with Portlandia). This week's Double Feature Friday highlights a TV show that can easily be made into a triple or quadruple feature before you remember to service your bodily functions. Enjoy, and remember to stretch your legs every few episodes.

Harper's Island is perfect for binging: the modern whodunnit storyline keeps you wanting more, and the entire series is only 13 episodes. That's less than 10 hours, so you can easily make a day of it without your disappearance alarming anyone! The premise is simple: young couple Henry (Christopher Gorham) and Trish (Katie Cassidy) return to the namesake island for the wedding of their dreams. There's just one tiny problem: a serial killer murdered a handful of people a few years back, and he might just be on the prowl again. The show's entertainment goes beyond merely guessing who is picking off the characters one by one. There's a certain humor in the increasingly elaborate ways in which the the murders are executed, from hanging to harpooning. If that's not enough, each episode's name cleverly references a character's mode of death: Bang, Crackle, Snap, etc.

Now, it's important to have a realistic expectation of Harper's Island. An intelligent, cerebral horror series it is not. However, it does meet 3 key requirements for me: fun, campy, and available to stream in full on Netflix. While you're watching, you can cross off each murder victim on the image below. Think of it as a deadlier version of Bingo! (Click on the image to zoom.)

And with that, I wish you a happy weekend. Remember to go outside once in a while -- Vitamin D is important!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Double Feature Friday: Drag Queen Edition

Double Feature Friday is a weekly post curating two films based on a given theme.

Drag queens may be experiencing a heyday thanks to RuPaul's Drag Race, but their art is still notably absent from the silver screen. Sure, there are lots of movies with cross-dressing -- Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mrs. Doubtfire, etc. -- but drag queens are not just wearing women's clothing. Instead, they are performing entertainment while in costume. Now that we've got our vocabulary cleared up, let's talk drag films!

Perhaps the most accessible and easily enjoyable dragalicious movie is To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995, Beeban Kidron). The film follows three New York drag queens as they road trip across the country to enter a national drag competition. Sounds like this appeals to a limited audience, right? Brilliant casting elevates the film from niche market to wider appeal. The queens are portrayed by well-known actors Wesley Snipes (Noxeema Jackson), John Leguizamo (Chi-Chi Rodriguez), and Mr. Romantic Lead himself, Patrick Swayze (Vida Boheme). All three men have careers built on hetero-masculine roles, so it's impressive to see them adapt to drag so fluidly. It certainly doesn't hurt that the film boasts an impressive lineup of actual drag queens, too: RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Miss Understood, and Candis Cayne are just a few of the performers with cameos.

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

The most important aspect of the film is its message of empowerment. As the more seasoned queens, Noxeema and Vida help Chi-Chi improve her performance. When their car breaks down, the queens are stranded in a small town with cliché small town attitudes about women. The queens teach the ladies to empower themselves and stand up against masculine oppression. When they win their battles, we as viewers also win and can celebrate their victories. Given the current American political hostility against women, it's so critical to take this film's message to heart: stand up for yourself, celebrate your victories, and support your community.

The Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994, Stephan Elliot) has a beautiful symmetry with To Wong Foo due to its similar plot: a trifecta of drag queens travel through the desert to perform at a hotel. But there's a darkness to Priscilla that's far more extreme than its American counterpart. The queens are verbally and physically abused by the men they encounter. The mutilation of the film's namesake with the words, "AIDS fuckers go home" really emphasizes the potential dangers that drag queens, gay men, and transgender women face every day. Indeed, the film is more about the everyday lives and motivations of its characters than it is about the extravagant, gorgeous, glittery, feathered drag performances (which are thrilling nonetheless).

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

If you thought that the actors in To Wong Foo were playing against type, you'll be incredibly impressed by the cast of Priscilla. Stone cold Terrence Stamp, best known for being a British badass, falls brilliantly into place as transgendered female Bernadette Basinger. His supporting cast includes Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce. Admittedly, there is something otherworldly about seeing Agent Smith from The Matrix being so fabulous, but Weaving had not yet become the popular character actor he is today. Pearce, too, was mostly known from his work on Australian soap opera Neighbors; while the film could have been risky to his career (due to Hollywood's rampant insider homophobia), its enormous success really helped him break the international market.

And with that, another Double Feature Friday comes to a close. Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Double Feature Friday: Cannibal Edition

Double Feature Friday is a weekly post curating two films based on a given theme.

I apologize for my recent blogging silence; I moved and didn't have internet access for quite a while.

Anyway, is there any human fear that equals cannibalism? This taboo is truly one of the most terrifying, as it shows that people really are animals. It would be all too easy to suggest Cannibal Holocaust as the be-all, end-all of cannibal flicks. Indeed, it is a particularly gruesome, unflinching, graphic look at the darkest parts of humanity. Although I do enjoy it, I understand that it's not for everyone. Therefore, I'll suggest some films that probably won't make you vomit. (For the record, I'm a vegetarian.)

Some cannibalism has peppered the history of America. During Western expansion, groups like the Donner party became hopelessly lost and unprepared for the cruel winter. The Mexican-American War delayed their rescue, causing survivors to resort to cannibalism. 1999's Ravenous (directed by Antonia Bird) is set during similar circumstances: an American Army Captain (Guy Pearce), traumatized by his experiences in the war, is transferred to a quiet mountain post. Shortly after his arrival, a traveler arrives and describes how his wagon became lost in the mountains, forced to resort to cannibalism for survival.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of any cannibal film is casting the perfect lead. He must be able to act certifiably insane while maintaining authority. The people behind the film certainly struck gold when they cast Robert Carlyle. After all, if the actor can play Hitler, he can probably portray a cannibal pretty convincingly. Carlyle brings a certain succulence to his character, lingering over his taunts and enjoying every morsel of torture. His pleasure is an absolute delight to watch.

Ravenous

So we've established that the film includes cannibalism, but what's even worse than everyday, run-of-the-mill cannibalism? Cannibalism with a curse. When a character tastes human flesh, he is cured of his ailments, but he will forever need to eat humans. Of course, every tale of immortality discloses the harsh, lonely life that it entails. Similarly, even the most amoral of persons would grow weary of endless murder. Is it worse to die or to need to murder forever?

After the darkness of Ravenous, you'll probably need a chuckle. The whimsical French film Delicatessen (1991, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro) is a charming black comedy lovechild of Sweeney Todd and Amelie. The tale is set in post-apocalyptic France, so the idea of cannibalism is not so demonized. Instead, it's the means of procuring human flesh: a landlord/butcher simply murders his tenants. But some people have managed to avoid cannibalism altogether. An underground group of vegetarians live on the fringes of society, showing that there is an alternative to the desperate reliance on the butcher.

Delicatessen

The true beauty of the film lies in its surrealist quirks. Everything is exaggerated to grotesque heights through the use of sharp shots, close ups, and unflattering angles. The picture has a rich yellow tone to it, making everything appear jaundiced and filthy (it is, after all, the apocalypse). While this could be distracting, it instead highlights the repellent nature of the apartment building and its tenants. Add in elements of slapstick humor taken to very dark places, and you have a delightful, humor take on cannibalism. Frankly, it's probably the most you'll laugh at a cannibal movie (at least, I hope so).

And that's it for our trip down Cannibal Lane. I hope you have a festive St. Patrick's Day. Remember to avoid soylent green!