Sep 102014
 
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When Woody Harrelson first joined the TV series “Cheers” as the ditzy bartender Woody, no one could have foreseen the talent lurking under his male version of the dumb blond. But Harrelson, who stars as a dirty cop in his latest release, “Rampart,” is far from a one-trick-pony. He’s proved himself not only one of the most talented actors of his generation, but one of the most versatile.

A Little Too Natural

To be honest, Harrelson can be one of the most disturbing actors of his generation at times, too, namely in his portrayal of serial killer Mickey Knox in Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.” Let’s just say he’s perhaps a little too natural in the role.
Harrelson blindsided fans with the chilling portrait of an icy sociopath on a cross-country murder rampage with Juliette Lewis. Fans who watched the DVD extras of the original release had an even bigger surprise when Harrelson revealed that Stone hadn’t been trying to cast against type, but had seen something “violent” in him that no on else had. And Stone was absolutely right — few people knew that Harrelson’s father had been an infamous mob hit man.

Few could deny that not only did Woody break the “Cheers” typecast that could have sunk his career, but smashed it into smithereens. When you’ve played a serial killer, you probably want to try to find characters a little more socially and morally acceptable for some of your upcoming roles. Like, say, a legendary “pornographer” who became an unwitting soldier in the fight for freedom of speech.

Do the Hustler

Harrelson made news again for playing the notorious publisher of Hustler magazine in “The People vs. Larry Flynt” opposite Edward Norton and Courtney Love. Not only did he get the chance to play another deranged character, but one with a twisted sense of humor and a healthy disrespect for government and society. On top of that, the role also gave him the holy grail of “please take me seriously as an actor” scenarios — the man who tragically ends up in a wheelchair (think Tom Cruise in Stone’s “Fourth of July“).

Where “Natural Born Killers” stirred up a lot of negative publicity for its ultra-violence and prophetically dead-on portrayal of where our tabloid culture was headed, “The People vs. Larry Flynt” garnered Harrelson some serious respect in the film community. He earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his wickedly funny portrayal of Flynt, hailed by the real Flynt himself, who had a cameo as a judge in one of many courtroom scenes.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

After a wildly eclectic mix of roles, from a war photojournalist in “Welcome to Sarajevo” to a singer on “A Prairie Home Companion,” Harrelson waited a long 15 years to get that recognition again as soldier Tony Stone in “The Messenger.” Along with the grievously underrated Ben Foster — who is also in “Rampart,” both directed again by Oren Moverman — Harrelson plays a man who delivers the worst news that any soldier’s loved one can possibly get.

With years of larger-than-life characters under his belt, Harrelson proved he could do something a bit more subtle. Well, except a little drunken debauchery thrown in for fun, or it wouldn’t be a real Harrelson performance, would it? He chalked up his second Oscar nomination, this time as supporting actor. Harrelson may not have won, but it was clear his previous nomination was no fluke.

Land of 1000 Zombies

Of course, being Harrelson, what do you do when you start getting all the uptight critics lauding you? Why, you make a zombie movie, of course. And better yet, a silly zombie movie like “Zombieland.” No big awards for this one, but it’s fair to say the guy probably didn’t care with all the fun he must have had with that one — especially getting to play around with Bill Murray in a cameo that is the highlight of the film.

And here we are again, back to a serious movie with the release of the action drama “Rampart.” And here we are again with Oscar buzz. Will Harrelson finally get his gold statue on this one? It’s a long haul to the 2013 Oscars, as the film was too late for this year’s awards, but Harrelson has already been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead for his portrayal of a very bad cop.

“Rampart” opens Feb. 10 in limited release, with a cast including Ned Beatty, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi, and Foster, who also co-produced. It’s a fair bet any movie with Harrelson in it is bound to be, if nothing else, entertaining. And never, ever boring.

Sep 102014
 
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Ask any child of the ’80s how they feel when they hear the song “I Melt With You” and they’ll tell you what joyful nostalgia the song bears for them as one of the greatest anthems of the era. Based on that, you might expect a film of the same name to be a happy, John Hughes-style trip down memory lane. Or the VH1 version of “The Hangover.” Or even an ’80s version of “The Big Chill.”But you’d be off on all counts. Way off.This isn’t another dialogue-heavy, cerebral exercise about midlife crisis, but a gut punch of the reality that goes way beyond the movie cliches. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is about that pain of realizing that not only is your life half over — at best — but just how far you’ve strayed from everything you wanted to become. But unlike so many other films that explore the same subject, these guys take action. With brutal and tragic results.

Director Mark Pellington took actors known more for comedy and cast them in one of the most unflinching films you will see this year. Perhaps it’s because of lower expectations based on his pretty-boy past, but former Brat-Packer Rob Lowe is not only brilliantly cast in a sly nod to the era but gives hands-down the performance of his career. Divorcee and father Lowe swings between quiet desperation to desperately out of control as he self-prescribes his narcotic indulgences for himself and his friends as much as his patients: the core of what his doctor’s practice has become.

While the whole ensemble cast of friends deserves accolades — Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay — I may be laughed at, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it: Lowe’s performance is nothing short of Oscar-worthy, as well as McKay’s and the director who orchestrated this and brought such performances out of all these actors.

Of course, the problem is, when you have such a great cast (including Carla Gugino as the cop who senses something is amiss but can’t stop the wheels of fate) it splits the voters. These actors will likely be overlooked come Oscar time. Which is sad, because God knows in an era of endless “Twilight” episodes and senseless remakes, we need more original, though-provoking, raw films like this.

“I Melt With You” has so many poignant moments — McKay with the young lovers, Jane getting the bitter truth from the girlfriend of a young aspiring writer like he used to be, Piven begging Jane to help him with the thing he can’t do himself. And when Lowe’s ex-wife chides him about going off with the boys to “pretend you’re grown-ups,” he quietly replies, “I pretend you still love me … Just tell me again how it went from you loving me to not loving me.”

As sappy as it may sound on paper, trust me, it isn’t even remotely so in the performance. It’s quietly devastating.

Throw in some gorgeous scenery, cinematography, and a killer soundtrack, and I have to say this is the best movie I’ve seen all year. It’s sad it probably won’t get the recognition it deserves, but sadder still that Hollywood can’t embrace this kind of quality and make more movies this good.

“I Melt With You” is breathtaking, heartbreaking, and a relentless reminder to choose your life wisely, lest those choices come back to haunt you. Your day of reckoning won’t be at the end, but about halfway through.

“I Melt With You” opens in limited release theaters December 9, 2011, and is available currently on pay per view cable.

Sep 102014
 
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(This is a reprint from the Yahoo! Contributor Site that was recently shut down) 

Melancholia

The only thing more complex than watching Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” is reviewing it. I sat down to write this review with absolutely no idea what to say, or even what I felt after this movie, but this is what I can tell you. “Melancholia” is not the kind of movie you go see for mindless action. Or horror. Or humor. Or suspense.

Honestly, I don’t know what on earth you go to this movie for. In fact, the genres cited seem somewhat trivial to something so multi-layered and weighty. Which, I think, might sort of be its point: the triviality of, well, everything.

Love It or Hate It

I glanced over some reviews before watching this film, noting the divisive “love it or hate it” nature from reviewers. Some negative comments may be related to von Trier’s crazy Cannes comments about Nazism, which I am so not getting into. Some probably just don’t understand it. But for those who do (or think they do), this kind of commentary on the pointlessness of everything we cherish — marriage, family, career, wealth — makes folks mighty uncomfortable. The last time I felt this kind of heaviness was watching “Revolutionary Road,” where Leonardio DiCaprio and Kate Winslet find their own version of domestic hell packaged as the American dream.

After some surreal imagery to open the film, “Melancholia” starts with what should be Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst) fairytale wedding and the happiest day of her life. But slowly and steadily, it all starts spiraling down the drain before our eyes. Many critics have complained about how slow the movie is, and it certainly is. But the snail-paced way von Trier eases us into the relentless destruction of everything in Justine’s life is beautifully subtle and real — which is what makes it heartbreaking.

Dunst Shines in Unconventional Role

Dunst gives an amazing performance, evoking a character who knows that all these great things — a handsome husband (Alexander Skarsgard), a beautiful wedding, a job promotion bestowed on her at the reception, all the wealth and luxury surrounding her — should bring her joy. And she seems to really be happy — at first. But you can see it in Justine’s eyes when she not only realizes none of this will make her happy but, indeed, nothing ever will.

So she proceeds to burn all bridges to any hope of a “normal” life and resigns herself to her hopelessness, to the point where she is unaffected by even the planet heading for Earth that will end mankind. When her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) asks Justine if she doesn’t believe there might be some other life beyond Earth, Justine deadpans her answer, “I know we’re alone.” And her words carry the weight of the true depression Dunst so convincingly portrays — not emo, melodramatic posturing, but that flat, expressionless weight of the real thing.

Or at least that’s what I saw in Dunst’s performance, which earned her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The sad truth is, one probably has to have — or, at least, have had — a little melancholia to understand “Melancholia.” It doesn’t draw tears, or make you laugh, or make you embrace life. It leaves you feeling sort of numb and empty — and alone. Yet it isn’t pure misery. As the characters watch that huge globe creeping up on Earth, it mixes a sense of wonder with the pain. And perhaps a peaceful resignation to the fate that eventually waits for all of us.

And I suspect that’s exactly what von Trier was going for.

The sad truth is, one probably has to have — or, at least, have had — a little melancholia to understand “Melancholia.” It doesn’t draw tears, or make you laugh, or make you embrace life. It leaves you feeling sort of numb and empty — and alone. Yet it isn’t pure misery. As the characters watch that huge globe creeping up on Earth, it mixes a sense of wonder with the pain. And perhaps a peaceful resignation to the fate that eventually waits for all of us.

Aug 142014
 
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(YC!N has closed its program and taken down contributor’s content, so I’ll be posting some of my old writing work here that I don’t have another outlet for, such as this piece.)

danae3

Trends come and go, but one thing that never goes out of style is vintage fashion. And sometimes — like now — it’s extra hot.If you’ve been ogling Katy Perry’s vintage style or the sexy burlesque looks from Christina Aguilera’s movie, here are some tips to get you started. But I warn you now — this is one addictive habit. And it can get mighty pricey depending on where you shop. 

Be the Queen of the Bargain Basement
 
So, where do you shop? If you are a treasure hunter with a limited budget, thrift stores and yard sales are a great start. Now, you will have to wade through a lot of garbage, but you will get the best prices. I own vintage fur wraps in multiple colors for my retro styling closet (the only fur I own or will ever buy, for the record) and nearly had a coronary when I picked up most of them at once at a Goodwill. Seems someone had just donated a collection, and they had priced them at under $20 each. (Not typical pricing even for a Goodwill, just so you know.)Imagine, if you will, a grown woman hyperventilating in the middle of a Phoenix Goodwill on Senior Citizen’s discount day. It wasn’t pretty. It’s a wonder I didn’t get my own complimentary straightjacket.

Get in Touch with Your Inner Fashion Hipster 
Best bets for vintage goodies at your local thrift store: coats, formal dresses, purses and lingerie. Remember ladies, Courtney Love built a career on vintage baby doll nighties as dresses. You’ll also find lots of vintage gloves and scarves, as well. The jewelry cases tend to yield few good finds in thrift stores, but always do a quick scan, and I also scan for anything leopard print anywhere in the store. Rawr.

On the higher end, you have the trendy vintage boutique stores, which mean wading through a lot less junk for your treasures, but paying a lot more. Since I tend to buy and collect for my photo studio styling closet, not for me, I’m less concerned with sizing, so I love eBay, and it’s newer competitor, Etsy.

Etsy can be a bit cheaper, and as it’s dedicated only to vintage finds and hand-crafted items, you can find some very cool customized vintage vendors there. Of course, those custom items can be very pricey, but so cool and unique. I always wish I had taken more home economics classes and learned to sew when I browse there.

The Label and the Damage Done 
Regardless of where you shop, be sure to check your garments thoroughly for damages, staining and funky odors — this is one area where we don’t need the funk. Even in nicer stores where they have sorted through the damaged goods, customers can be careless with these very fragile items, ripping them or leaving makeup stains. If it absolutely must be cleaned post-purchase, let the professionals handle it.

When it comes to style, I’m always more concerned with the look than the era, but if you are looking for true vintage, the best way to verify an authentic vintage piece is if the tag is still intact, and is obviously old. This is one place where we want to see age and yellowing, and unless some designers get smart and start mimicking vintage labels, trust me, you can tell if it’s an oldie but goodie.

Hot tip — care instructions for garments weren’t required till the ’70s, so if they are there, you can bet your item is not true vintage, or is from the ’70s and ’80s if you dig that kind of thing (and if you don’t dig the ’80s, don’t you know they are back in style? I could have made a fortune if I’d hung onto all those bad clothes of my youth.).

Sizing Up the Goods 
Ladies tended to be a bit shorter and more petite back in the day, despite all the too-thin models hype. Sure, we have some super thin types, but overall, women are a little “healthier” these days. You may need to check hems to see if they can be let out or if you find a great sweater you like that’s a bit snug, when it’s damp from your washer, stretch it out and dry flat. If you are shopping on eBay, most vendors are great about posting measurements in inches for garments, but also note how much give is in the fabrics — a little stretch in that wiggle dress may give you just the wiggle room you need.

Someone May Have Worn it Before, But You’re the Only One Wearing it Now 
The best part about buying vintage is you know no one else is going to show up in the same outfit. Plus you can impress your friends with your daring, “buck-the-current-trends” attitude, you fashion daredevil. And if you’re a savvy shopper, you’ll have plenty of moolah left over for all the things that make like worth living — sexy shoes, tiki bar cocktails and hot tattoos. And if you get all that, you just may get the grand poo-bah of accessories — your very own vintage rocker boy.

So get to your local thrift shop or vintage boutique and make Bettie Page proud, girls.

 

Dec 302013
 
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IMG_6743
My latest passion is food photography. This photo was shot in my hotel room at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas. I have two rule for staying in nicer hotels (read: NOT Motel 6): Jump on the bed and order room service. Plus then I can shoot my photos without everyone staring at me.

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Dec 262013
 
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dreamcars019
My first car show and Photoshop was still a new toy to me, so I sort of went a little crazy with it, as I am usually a realist when I edit a photo. But these cars were creamy, especially this sweet pink Cadillac.

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