Media junkie that I am, I naturally checked out a lot of stuff while
I was in L.A. In the interest of passing on useful information, here are
brief reviews of movies, music, and zines that came my way during my vacation.
If you’re one of those people who reads reviews to be up-to-the-minute,
move along. These will all be hopelessly out of date by the time you read
Directed by Steve Miner, 1991
I came into this movie late, since it was on television when I was trapped
in a Minneapolis motel room, but I think I got a pretty good sense of it.
This is the movie where Mel Gibson is a test pilot who was frozen back in
the thirties and then defrosted by two kooky kids in the nineties. Basically,
this is entertainment-lite. Not a fantastic flick, but soothingly bland.
There are vast gaps in logic and plot scattered throughout, but Mel looks
good, Jamie Lee Curtis gets to look concerned a lot, the young Elijah Wood
gets to show that he’s a pretty good actor for a little kid (I don’t think
that little kids have to prove their acting talent by faking cancer or anything
melodramatic; I’m won over by believability), and the job is utterly mild
overall. Beware, though: if you can’t stand saccharine, heartwarming endings,
stay away! You’ll blow all over the screen.
The Good Son
Directed by Joseph Rubin, 1993
Elijah Wood pops up again, if just to prove that Macauley Culkin is a gimmick,
not an actor. This cinematic atrocity was forced upon me during a five-hour
airplane flight, so I won’t take responsibility for choosing it.
This is a turkey. It uses every goofy cinematic gimmick to build predictable
suspense and dull, anticlimactic action sequences. The only shining moment
is watching Mac plunge to his death, dropped from a high, rocky ledge by
his mother, who realizes that Elijah Wood would be a lot less hassle to
have around the house.
Directed by Michael Apted, 1994
I caught this at a cast-and-crew screening, so there was a lot of excitement
in the audience, since everyone there had their messy little hands all over
it at one point or another. These people were applauding during the credits,
if that puts it in perspective.
This flick is worth seeing, though. The lovely Madeleine Stowe plays a violinist
in an Irish rock band, blinded as a child by her loopy mother. After getting
a cornea transplant to restore her vision, she sees a serial killer leaving
the scene of a murder upstairs from her, but doesn’t realize it, since her
eyes are still adapting to being able to see again.
The thing is, she has a rare condition where her brain processes information
long after her eyes see things, so she keeps seeing this killer, and other
wacky things, at totally random times. She’s the only eyewitness, though,
which forces misogynist, abrasive detective Aidan Quinn (looking a little
puffy and over-the-hill, but still okay), who once mooned her in a bar when
she was still blind, to stick around her until they catch the guy.
I know this sounds like a hokey premise, and I guess it is, but it works.
The optical effects are really nice, and the suspense is nicely crafted,
with a few good twists near the end. All in all, my only complaint is that
once again, a blind woman in the movies has impeccable taste in trendy clothes,
skillfully applied makeup, and a fabulous apartment.
Directed by Jonathan Demme, 1993
This is not the definitive AIDS movie, nor do I think it’s trying to be,
despite the assumptions of its detractors. This strikes me as more of a
portrait of the way different people react to AIDS, whether they are understanding
and supportive of PWAs, terrified of the threat of the disease, or well-meaning
but thoroughly homophobic.
The cinematography in this one deserves a note, since it seems a little
affected and overdone at first, but eventually it drives the point home
with incredible impact. This is an actor’s movie all the way, relying on
clear, direct performances with more emotion and reaction captured by the
camera, rather than on witty or powerful dialogue. Two thumbs up for Tom
and Denzel, and almost all members of the stellar cast, except for David
Drake, who just couldn’t grasp the need to underplay his minor role for
maximum effect. He makes Doug Savant, the master of the sympathetic reaction
shot on Melrose Place, look like a stoneface.
This movie really shook me up, largely because it doesn’t provide pat plot
resolutions. Instead it forces the viewer to grapple with the issues it
leaves open. My initial reaction to the movie was to bawl my eyes out as
it reached its conclusion, but later, feeling a little clearer as my pal
Ed and I picked apart what the movie seemed to say, I was able to articulate
why it had affected me so much. Even though the battle lines and allegiances
are very clearly presented from the outset of the film, everyone in it makes
a case that someone could probably understand. As a workaholic gay man with
a straight HIV+ brother, I definitely was pissed off by the attitudes of
Jason Robards’ paranoid old-boys’ legal club, but I have to admit that they
might not have been truly guilty of the crime with which they are charged.
Denzel Washington’s unresolved homophobia seemed terribly small-minded,
but you can see where it makes sense in the context of the film. Ed’s politics
pretty much agreed with mine, though homophobic persecution and AIDS panic
don’t hit as close to home for him, and he also saw the ambiguity that ran
rampant through the film. This could play in Peoria and get reactions drastically
different from ours.
Any and all politics aside, this is a fine film, riveting and emotional
without being too manipulative.
Spencer the Gardener
At Club Lingerie
Spencer the Gardener is a band from Santa Barbara who do a nutty mix of
pop, country, and Latin music for the sake of fun, fun, fun. Every song
they performed was pretty jumpy and accessible, either lyrically or at least
musically, depending on whether it was an English funk/pop tune or a salsa
two-step. Ed claimed they were a lot like Chucklehead since they had a horn
section, but aside from their devotion to fun, Spencer’s sound is definitely
their own. My only criticism would be for Nate, their moody trumpet player:
get a little spunk, man!
Ben Is Dead
Summer 1993, "Modern Transmission & Sensory Overload."
Published and edited by Darby Romeo. Letters to: Ben Is Dead, P.O. Box 3166,
Hollywood, CA 90028.
I’ve been hearing a lot about Ben Is Dead as I’ve gotten deeper into
the zine world, but I’d never stopped to pick up a copy until I grabbed
this issue from a sleazy newsstand somewhere in L.A.
Unfortunately, the people behind BID are more famous for their I
Hate Brenda Newsletter. The tragedy of this is that BID is a
fantastic effort in its own right. The writing is both extremely intelligent
and laid-back witty. Darby and her assistant editors Kerin Morataya and
Michael Carr (aka Kitty Lu Kemia) have a lot of fierce attitude about what
they think and what they like, yet are still willing to explore and to flesh
out new ideas.
This particular issue features scientific explanations of the human senses,
a bawdy interview with Duran Duran, an exposé of The Jane Pratt Show,
a discussion of the limits of copyright law, and interviews with the publishers
of bOING!, bOING!, Future Sex, and Mondo 2000, among lots
of other goodies.
BID has a very slick four-color printed cover and decent web printing,
although the design and layout is a little Mac-happy. Luckily, they have
the budget for actual photographs and some neat computer graphics, so the
overall look is pretty good. Even if you’re a design snob like me, though,
you should get this publication. These people really kick some serious butt!
Vol. 2, No. 1, "Birthday/Holiday Issue."
Published and edited by NB. Letters to: TeenMom, 2211 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
#306, Los Angeles, CA 90068.
This is one nutty zine. Factsheet Five places TeenMom in its
queer section, but I don’t know if that’s really appropriate. Granted, the
editorial tone vacillates between gay camp and fun-loving feminist satire,
but even if it is a covert fag rag, it’s very limiting to look at this as
a queer zine.
TeenMom is a very wacky parody of teen heartthrob magazines, with
a lot of black humor, pop culture awareness, and photos of beefy guys. The
hook is that it’s supposedly written from the point of view of giddy adolescent
moms. This particular issue features tips on grooming your offspring for
teen stardom, choosing the genetically right TeenDad, a suspicious "interview"
with Juliette Lewis, and TeenMom’s Turkey Baster Award to Antonio Sabato,
Jr., for being the year’s biggest stud with the most promising sperm.
I am also quite fond of their clip/found art illustrations and their color
laser copy cover. It’s a low-budget job that uses the means at its disposal
Vol. 1, No. 1
Published and edited by Matt Patterson,
Ed Schmidt, and Joe Wagner. Letters
to: Ooze, 1553A Baxter St., Los Angeles, CA 90026.
Ooze is a smart, subversive humor mag put out by three lunatics I know in
L.A. This is an outgrowth of similar publications the guys made at Vassar,
and in high school before that. The jokes in Ooze are rife with pop culture
sensibility and a disdain for the editors’ mainstream suburban upbringing.
It’s a little bit April Fool’s Day and a little bit "Kids in the Hall."
It’s a little bit country, and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.
The first issue features a games page, suggestions for alternative prom
themes, medical advice for the lovelorn, and a treatise on the merits of
The design right now is fun, with lots of clip art and Photoshop experiments.
They also do an electronic version with sound available via Internet (at
firstname.lastname@example.org). These guys are
hoping their alma mater will give them a grant which will allow them to
do a slicker job with Ooze. But even without the extra dough, it’s
definitely worth a peek.
Published and edited by Geoff F.
Letters to: No Duh, P.O. Box 921, Allston, MA 02134
It figures that I would have to travel all the way to California to discover
this nifty little zine published right here in Boston, more specifically
in my old neighborhood, Allston — the B.U. student ghetto and the zip of
The editorial content of No Duh is fairly standard alterna-teen personal
experience and travelogue with articles about Providence, cheap beer, Seattle,
and historical zines. Don’t get me wrong — I really like the writing in this.
It’s pretty smart, very honest and anecdotal, and definitely entertaining.
The real kicker, though, is the look of No Duh. I bought it for its
packaging alone, a plain gray paper cover with a scooter illustration, all
sealed in a clear plastic bag with a tiny sticker describing the contents.
Very minimal and stylish. I was glad to see that the insides didn’t let
me down. Although the design isn’t really sophisticated, Geoff draws from
an apparently encyclopedic collection of mod-era advertising art, thirties
clip art, and old sundry ads and visuals for a really witty, fun-lovin’
package. Even handwritten pieces, of which I am usually very wary, are used
to good effect here. Kudos!
While tooling around, I also got lots of old records and whatnot, which
I’ll just list for the sake of brevity:
Brazilian Festival by Miguelito Valdes Banda da Lua Boys
Hawaii Calls: Greatest Hits by Webley Edwards with Al Kealoha
Hooked on Rock Classics by the London Symphony Orchestra with
the Royal Choral Society
Hooked on Swing by Larry Elgart and his Manhattan Swing Orchestra
Mecca for Moderns by the Manhattan Transfer
More Italian Favorites by Connie Francis
Pop Goes the Movies by Meco
Rei Momo by David Byrne
See the Money in My Smile by the Jack Rubies
Skatetown U.S.A. soundtrack
Bootlegs of the impossible-to-find soundtracks for Beyond the Valley
of the Dolls and Valley Girl (very fitting during the time of
the quake, eh?)
A Guinan/Whoopi Goldberg action figure
A transcript of the complete dialogue from Female Trouble
A promo t-shirt from 8 Seconds to Glory, the Luke Perry rodeo
Dr. Killemoff from the Toxic Crusaders series