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Dream Works

It is said that a great actor or actress can “bring down the house,” but before I saw (and heard) the 25-year-old American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson in the film version of the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, I can’t recall the last time I truly feared for the architectural stability of a movie theater. When Hudson, who is making her film debut, sings the end-of-first-act showstopper “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going,” it’s as if some spiritual force has taken hold of her entire being: Her body trembles with each passing note, her wide brown eyes seem to speak the lyrics before they arrive at her lips, and the voice that erupts out of her hardly
sounds human—it’s the kind of thunderous, soul-stirring bellow that a wronged goddess might make upon learning that she had been betrayed for a mere mortal. And so she has. At that moment in the film, Hudson, who plays one member of a 1960s all-girl r&b trio called the Dreams, is confronting her manager/ex-lover (Jamie Foxx) over his decision to oust her from the group in favor of a less gifted, less temperamental, and less full-figured replacement. But really, she’s singing about her need to be loved—not just by anyone, but by the very man who has callously betrayed her. And so acute is her agony that mere words aren’t enough to express it. Like all of the most joyous and tragic moments in movie musicals, it can only be sung.

With a star turn like that at its center, a movie doesn’t need too much more, but Dreamgirls has plenty to go around. Its sense of showmanship is overflowing, from the opening talent-contest revue in which Detroit teenagers Deena (Beyoncé Knowles), Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose), and Effie (Hudson) are picked to sing backup for the glitter-outfitted James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy, cannily cast as a onetime legend whose best moves have been stolen by younger performers), through to their farewell concert as the Dreams a decade later. The director, Bill Condon, who also adapted Dreamgirls for the screen, has the disposition of a vaudeville entertainer—he wants to give you your money’s worth and then some.

Most, I suspect, will not go home unhappy. Arriving in a renaissance period for the big-budget Hollywood musical, Dreamgirls is by far the best of a crop that includes the Oscar-winning Chicago, which Condon himself penned. Among that picture’s many failings, it seemed vaguely embarrassed to even be a musical in the first place, relegating its production numbers to fantasy sequences set inside its characters’ heads and otherwise making sure to give the audience fair warning: “OK. Don’t be frightened. We’re going to sing now.” Dreamgirls, despite being similarly set in a theatrical milieu, feels no such compunction. Its characters don’t just sing directly to one another, in the real world, but when they do, what they’re singing about actually moves the story forward.

So it pains me to say that, on some crucial level, Dreamgirls falls short of expectations. Largely, the source material is at fault: Written by Tom Eyen (with music by Henry Krieger) and staged by the legendary director-choreographer Michael Bennett, the Broadway version of Dreamgirls drew much attention for its thinly-veiled fictionalization of Berry Gordy Jr.’s Motown Records and the behind-the-scenes drama of Gordy’s girl-group phenom the Supremes. But by now, so much of Dreamgirls‘ real estate has been overdeveloped by the rash of Broadway and big-screen music biographies (Ray, Walk the Line, Jersey Boys) that it’s tough to get too worked up over yet more scenes of naive young vocalists hearing their song on the radio for the first time, encountering the ugly face of racism, and discovering that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And as both play and film, Dreamgirls takes a kid-gloves approach to its most intriguing subject: the way that black music moguls like Gordy systematically watered down grinding soul rhythms with vanilla pop melodies in the name of “crossing over” black artists to the pop charts.

It’s only logical, then, that Dreamgirls should prove more absorbing in its second half, when Effie comes to dominate the story and when the movie itself becomes less about the path to stardom and more about what happens after you’ve made it (or haven’t). That’s also when Condon, who occasionally seems overwhelmed by the sheer bigness of the production, stops trying to wow us with one high-energy production number after another and recaptures in a few key scenes the exquisite intimacy of his two nonmusical biopics, Kinsey and Gods and Monsters. It’s then that Condon grasps what has eluded most of his contemporaries: Anyone can give us the old razzle-dazzle, but what makes a movie musical soar is nothing more or less than the quiet exhilaration of two individuals on the screen, enraptured by song.

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Rack Focus

Jarhead
(Universal)
Sam Mendes’s adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s Desert Storm memoir is loaded with commentary tracks featuring Mendes, Swofford, screenwriter William Broyles Jr., and editor Walter Murch.


Occupation: Dreamland
(Rumur)
This terrific documentary from co-directors Garrett Scott and Ian Olds offers a fair-minded (but hardly apolitical) grunt’s-eye view of the war in Iraq. The filmmakers lived with the army’s 82nd Airborne Division near Falluja mere months before the 2004 siege that led to the partial destruction of the city. We get to know several members of the unit and hear them sound off on the war (pro and con), the tedium of occupation, and their alienation from a self-absorbed civilian population back home.


Walk the Line
(Fox)
Arriving a scant year after Ray vaulted Jamie Foxx into the Oscar stratosphere, this Johnny Cash biopic inevitably feels like a retread of a retread. The root problem is in the script: Simply put, nothing interesting happens in the second half of the movie, where Cash’s struggles with drug addiction and his romance with June both progress in the expected connect-the-dots fashion. Joaquin Phoenix does a passable impersonation of Cash during the occasionally rousing musical scenes but looks unsure of himself elsewhere. The two-disc collectors’ edition includes commentary by director James Mangold, deleted scenes, featurettes, and music videos.

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The New King

Fluck Howard Stern and let’s make it official—Jamie Foxx is the new king of all media. From Keenan to Cruise to Ray, from Oprah to Oscar to Kanye—it’s his time, he da man. They say all clowns long to do tragedy, but having aced that category with Ray, Foxx reveals across the breadth of Unpredictable that his real dream is to do Marvin Gaye. Sometimes he sounds like he’d settle for K-Ci and JoJo, but no harm in that when you’ve got Hollywood pimp juice. Foxx likes his soul with syrup and vinegar, so that even his lust songs come drenched with quirky emoting, placing him in the tradition of our favorite soul eccentrics—the original Parliament, Sylvester.

Unpredictable‘s guest list—Ludacris, Mary J., Snoop, The Game, Kanye, Common—assures us that Unpredictable is pure product, buffed-and-shined modern r&b. It will be cross-marketed like hell and sell sell sell; all kind of suckas will slow dance. But Foxx has also created a work geared toward sexual pleasure that will work its way into many a late-night floating-world session, not to mention points in between like the strip club (see “Get This Money”). The frigging beats alone—on “Do What It Do,” a greasier flavor of Mint Condition; on the Twista joint “DJ Play a Love Song,” Timba- land vs. the Dramatics vs. Bernie Worrell; on “VIP,” with its nifty Headhunters sample—are the kind of butter ‘n’ erotic chocolate designed to get one’s neck and shoulders turning, rolling, and cascading till ya feel like your goosing head’s gonna slide off. The Mary J. duet “Love Changes” bridges choice bits and pieces of the Emotions, the Isley Brothers, and Chaka, defying you to deny there’s a classic in the house. Go ahead, call it trope-adelic, call it machine poetics, but dammit sometimes the machine works. And if this duo puts you more in mind of Marilyn and Billy (McCoo and Davis) than Marvin and Tammi, hey, we’re not in the business of promising miracles, just listenables.

The funniest moment comes on “With You,” where Foxx manages with way too much sincerity and gravitas to deliver a perfectly overwrought gem of Black male confession: “Every time I tried to walk away/You put that ass on me and made me stay.” It’s like a “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” for cats so with it they can’t even get out of the bed.

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All This Useless Beauty

This Is Spinal Tap is the greatest of all rock movies because Spinal Tap are dorks. Dorks are easy, whereas actual rock stars are nearly impossible. One reason it’s dumb to dismiss Ray as mere biopic is that Jamie Foxx does the impossible—radiates something approaching the charisma of the artist he’s portraying. So far, with all respect to Gary Busey’s Buddy Holly and all the best to Pink’s forthcoming Janis Joplin (Bette Midler’s in your corner, girl), that’s the only time an actor has ever brought a pop icon fully to life on-screen. The authenticity myth even chameleons like Bowie must work from ensures that rock stars’ fundamental genius is their ability to project themselves. In film, presences as huge as Wayne and Eastwood nevertheless play parts. That’s just as difficult. But it’s different.

Luckily for Michael Pitt, whose band experience is a leg up he shares with an estimated 14 percent of all Americans aged 15 to 25, Last Days doesn’t require him to replicate Kurt Cobain’s onstage intensity. What’s less lucky—what is in fact perverse, as if one expects anything else from Gus Van Sant—is that Pitt also isn’t required to replicate Cobain’s offstage intensity or charisma or charm or whatever he had. Instead, Pitt’s Cobain character, Blake, spends his last days wandering in putative introspection around a decaying mansion in the woods. All that remains of the magnetism that induces bandmates and business associates to treat Blake like gold till the moment he’s found dead is his personal beauty, which Van Sant, typically, exaggerates. Where the Pitt of Murder by Numbers is one weird-looking if potentially handsome dude, in Last Days he’s Mr. Gorgeous, preening unassumingly behind a blond wig that fails to compensate for the unduplicatability of Cobain’s fathomless blue eyes. Maybe Van Sant has such a thing for hypersensitive pretty boys that he believes the tragedy of his withdrawn, undrawn protagonist speaks for itself. Maybe he’s banking on the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of Cobain, explicitly acknowledged to have “inspired” this vague meditation on beleaguered genius. Or maybe he’d just as soon denigrate what he’s ostensibly contemplating or celebrating.

To give Art its due, the film is visually sumptuous—especially the nature shots, Van Sant’s forte—and while the dramatic function of audio that muffles dialogue and front-mixes arbitrary environmental sounds is barefaced obscurantism, it’s OK as musique concrète. Moreover, Cobain was a sucker for this kind of project and probably would have dug it. But not counting a few lyrics, in his own art he took a more conventional path, and that conventionality was an essential component of the charisma Van Sant refuses to engage. Cobain was an arty, hypersensitive pretty boy, absolutely. But he wouldn’t have been Elliott Smith if he hadn’t rocked dynamite hooks like a motherfucker. The self he seemed to inhabit was animated by a populist passion Van Sant has no gift or taste for.

In Elephant, Van Sant reached out to feel the integrity of the shallow, troubled teen lives ended by teen murderers he’s moral enough to depict as the evil creeps they were. Last Days‘ bandmates and business associates are creeps every one, and in substance so is Blake himself. Supposedly they’re persons without qualities so each viewer can read into them what he or she chooses. But their blankness could just as well be a filmmaker’s revenge on heroes of an art he has no access to. More than the yellow-pages salesman, the two Mormons, or even Ricky Jay, all playing themselves if Jay’s investigative sideline makes him a detective, the film’s one great rush of life comes from Kim Gordon’s record executive. Not that you could ID her role without a scorecard. But her rock star presence is a tremendous relief.

One of the film’s signal failures is the lugubrious song Pitt-as-Blake demos on acoustic guitar. It’s Pitt’s own, and although I should know better than to trust a demo, it left me expecting nothing from the gig Pitt’s band, Pagoda, played June 22 at Piano’s. But actually they rocked, and Pitt’s yowl proved remarkably Cobain-worthy at times. This was more distanced music than Nirvana’s—more satiric than lyrical, more enacted than expressed—and I very much doubt Pitt could have replicated Cobain’s onstage intensity. He had a shot, though. I have no intention of giving Last Days another chance. But Pagoda I’ll try to see again.

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Inside Academy Awards Buzz!

As the Oscar race heats up, alliances are shifting and feelings are
changing to the point where Ray‘s Jamie Foxx—who’s had the award in the
gift bag for months—may reportedly get edged out by Clint Eastwood, who
could be riding a Million Dollar Baby sweep. As you’ve heard, Jamie may
be the victim of having peaked too soon; people have heard he’s a
shoo-in for so long that they feel he’s already won and may want to
throw their votes to old-timer Clint. But screw it—I’m still betting on
Foxx by a (Nicole Kidman) nose.

For Best Actress, Baby‘s Hilary Swank seems to be the favorite to
once again clobber poor Annette Bening. (The deserved winner, Vera
Drake
‘s Imelda Staunton—is considered too obscure, though I’d love it
if she pulled a Glenda Jackson/Emma Thompson and creamed the glamour
gals.)

Best Supporting Actor seems to belong to Baby‘s Morgan Freeman, who
gives a wry performance, and even if he didn’t, it’d be a lifetime
achievement sort of thing that’d make everyone feel good, except the
other four nominees.

Best Supporting Actress is more complicated. Natalie Portman has a
strong chance because the Academy loves a starlet (Mira Sorvino,
Juliette Binoche, Kim Basinger) who turns out to actually have
something. And Cate Blanchett can’t be ruled out; she’s universally
admired for her willingness to do almost anything for a role. But I’m
still counting on Virginia Madsen because she was transcendant and they
have to give SOMETHING to Sideways!

Finally, it looks like Baby will sideswipe The Aviator for Best
Picture, but in a reversal of the Golden Globes, Scorsese might cop Best
Director as a way for the academy to say, “Thank you for Taxi Driver,
Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, if not Bringing Out The Dead.” Of course
there’s a chance Clint might nab that one out of the poor old guy’s
hands too, especially since the Oscar hasn’t dabbled much in sentiment
for about a decade now. (Lauren Bacall, Burt Reynolds, and the Titanic
lady all got kicked to the curb. Hey wait a minute, maybe my Morgan
Freeman prediction is way off base. Nah, I’m sticking with it.)

Anyway, who will we never listen to again? The pundits who swore
that Johnny Depp couldn’t possibly be nominated because he didn’t
campaign for it, and the freaks who similarly insisted Bening and
Staunton were out of the running because their movies weren’t big enough
moneymakers. Pshaw! And what WILL we be watching? The Oscars on February
27! See you onstage!

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Not about to bring down the New York Film Critics Circle Awards winners with questions about the devastating breakup of Brennifer, I instead raised higher-plane subjects like whether the fact that pinot noir was found in MICHAEL JACKSON‘s bathroom diminishes Sideways‘s cachet in any way. “It’s to the man’s credit!” Best Actor PAUL GIAMATTI told me, grinning. “But I’m surprised. I’d have expected bottles of something much more sinister.” Like pinot blanc? The nervous publicist tried to pull Giamatti away, so I moved on to his co-star, Best Supporting Actress VIRGINIA MADSEN, and posed the same insightful query. “Jackson knew pinot noir was Jesus juice and that’s why our film is blessed!” she exulted, laughing. “Actually, I don’t think he did anything with that kid. Take another look at that documentary and that kid and that mother! All the speculation is so smutty and disgusting. Everyone should shut up until the trial is over.” I looked hurt, so she nicely said, “I didn’t mean you!”

Rather than completely wrap my yapper, I asked Madsen what motivates her character, the warm yet skeptical wait-server Maya. “She’s not gonna stand for less than total honesty,” Madsen said. “She’s not gonna say, ‘OK, just don’t do that next time.’ She won’t take it once.” Thoughtful pause. “That’s why I don’t have a boyfriend!” she blurted, cracking up.

I demanded total honesty from Maria Full of Grace star CATALINA SANDINO MORENO when I wittily asked if she really swallowed heroin pellets in the film. “They were made of marshmallow,” she said, mischievously adding, “Don’t tell anyone!”

But it was easy to swallow what PEDRO ALMODOVAR (the Best Foreign Language Film winner for Bad Education) told me about why the gay content in his movie is so special: “In a year like this, where there are many movies with characters that are at least bisexual, you don’t see that on the screen!” Pedro mentioned The Aviator, but he probably could have also meant Finding Neverland, Alexander, or even The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie!

And cartoon sexuality kept my fertile mind stoked when The Incredibles creator BRAD BIRD told me that, despite one review, the film’s flamboyant German-Japanese designer character, Edna “E” Mode, isn’t a transsexual at all (though Bird himself did the voice). Is the role based on Edith Head? KARL LAGERFELD? “Everyone has their different version of who it is,” he said, evasively. “I’m up to 25 people. Everyone feels they know her, which I take as a compliment.” OK, LINDA HUNT!


ABORTION, EUTHANASIA, AND A BIG ‘BAGINA

While we’re playing the name game, let me swallow a big marshmallow pellet and announce my indispensable predictions for the Oscar nominations (but bear in mind, I liked Swept Away). For Best Picture, I brilliantly foresee nods for The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Sideways, and Finding Neverland. (A healthy mix of biopics, social issues, and whimsy, with a touch of caca.)

Best Actor: This one’s harder than my pecker during the Ice Capades, but I’ll go with our friend Giamatti (terrific, but still eligible); JAMIE FOXX for Ray (his old In Living Color co-star Jim Carrey will be thrilled, I’m sure); JAVIER BARDEM, The Sea Inside (a nice movie about euthanasia); LEONARDO DICAPRIO, The Aviator (“I’m the king of the ex-bisexuals!”); and DON CHEADLE, Hotel Rwanda (could you have played Paul Rusesabagina any better?).

Best Actress: IMELDA STAUNTON, Vera Drake (plodding movie, fab abortionist); HILARY SWANK, Baby (this time she’ll thank her husband); ANNETTE BENING, Being Julia (she tamed Warren Beatty, for chrissake); that fab Maria Full of Grace chick (drug smugglers, maids—another banner year for Latinas); and KATE WINSLET, Eternal Sunshine (by now Jim Carrey is killing himself).

Supporting Actor: MORGAN FREEMAN, Baby (they’ll forgive him all that narration); FREDDIE HIGHMORE, Neverland (if he doesn’t get it, he’ll go “Waa!”); THOMAS HADEN CHURCH, Sideways (playing a washed-up actor revived his career); CLIVE OWEN, Closer (what did you think—for King Arthur?); and ALAN ALDA, The Aviator (well, I have to put someone).

Supporting Actress: CATE BLANCHETT, The Aviator (but who was that scrawny Ava Gardner?); LAURA LINNEY, Kinsey (could she maybe even winsey?); NATALIE PORTMAN, Closer (cut snatch scene equals added Oscar nom); SOPHIE OKONEDO, Hotel Rwanda (Sophie is choice); and my best friend Virginia Madsen (she deserves a boyfriend—named Oscar).

Where is The Phantom of the Opera, you ask? Well, voters may be confused by the latest commercials, which strangely don’t include any singing at all, just dialogue! Have they decided to try to cover up the fact that it’s a big, old, lumbering musical? Don’t let this conspiracy happen—tell all your friends!


BRIDGE OF CY’S

A proud creator of Broadway musicals, Tony winner Cy Coleman was so tireless that when he died, he was working on a show about Princess Grace, a tuner based on a WENDY WASSERSTEIN children’s book, and a song-fest about ELAINE KAUFMAN. (And yes, those are three separate things.) For Coleman’s memorial celebration at the Majestic last week, I hear they tried to get three other separate things—LIZA MINNELLI, CHITA RIVERA, and SHIRLEY MACLAINE—to do “Hey, Big Spender,” but because of scheduling conflicts and that head-banging incident, they ended up with just Chita (and ANN REINKING and dancers) and it popped everyone’s cork anyway —in fact, it was the hoochie-coochie highlight.

On the penile-noir scene, it was fun to run into the Dell dude, BEN CURTIS, at the gay bar Therapy. (Ancient observation: He was hired to act stoned on commercials, then was fired when he was caught with pot. Pathetic!) Meanwhile, TV viewers have been ingesting strange stuff by watching the dreck-fest The Bachelorette. Though the French guy babbles on about dating women, it must be a joke—or le plot device—because fans of fine literature seem to remember he had a profile on bigmuscle.com. Of course maybe he’s bi and The Bachelorette is secretly directed by SCORSESE! (ABC operators and even the Bachelorette hotline were clueless as to how to help me get an official comment.)

Ex-bachelor RANDY JONES, the openly gay original cowboy from the Village People, has agreed to perform at BUSH‘s inaugural gala (along with other vets like LESLIE GORE). His reasoning? “I’m doing it for the office, not the man; my mother will be thrilled; and it’ll be good for gay visibility.” Judges?

But the week’s most glamorous judging had the Ford agency’s Supermodel of the World contest parading international beauties around a nightclub for cash prizes, though after PETRA NEMCOVA clung to a tree for eight hours, mere runway-strutting didn’t seem quite so impressive anymore. Still, I’ll raise my pinot high in hopes that the winner hits puberty and even learns English.



LITTER BOX


Clint and Hilary bring up Baby.
photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment

THE SPOILS OF WHORE

My favorite pervy thing to do is give away twisty endings of hot movies. In fact, for years I’ve practically orgasmed while running through crowds and screaming, “They drive off a cliff,” “The chick’s got a dick,” and “He’s already dead!” Now I’ve learned to ask or at least warn people first, so I’m asking and warning: Can I please unleash the finales of this year’s cinema chestnuts? No? Well, I’m positively jonesing to dabble in spoilers, so if you mind, can you kindly not read another word?

And so—again, don’t read this because I’m recklessly giving stuff away—here are the big endings of ’04: The Village is set in the present. Clint unplugs Hilary. Maria full of grace stays in New York. The kid ain’t NICOLE‘s dead husband. Most of the Born Into Brothels young ‘uns go back to the brothels. TRAVOLTA is SCARLETT‘s father. Giamatti rings Madsen’s bell. Fat Albert goes back into the tube. The Kranks submit to the tyranny of Christmas and decide it’s wonderful. BILL MURRAY finds the killer shark, but he’s lost his taste for vengeance. The hubby dies after a (different) shark bite and then wifey lets herself drown. Napoleon Dynamite triumphs with his dance routine and Pedro wins for school president. ETHAN and JULIE seem about to rekindle (or maybe just kindle). CAVIEZEL gets nailed. Phew—I feel better now.


musto@villagevoice.com

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Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance! has the “bi-hemispheric” Aussie icon hilariously taunting audience members, deriding our president’s literacy level, and reminding us to “grab life by the shaft.” On opening night, she also encouraged us folks with the good seats to poke wicked fun at the sad paupers who filled the balcony, but karma clobbered me big-time at the after-party at Sardi’s, where I was sent right upstairs with the Z-list!

At least I had already schmoozed the celebs in the audience, like The View‘s JOY BEHAR, who was still smarting from STAR JONES‘s furor after Joy took a photo at Star’s wedding. Did Star yank her camera away? “No!” Behar said. “We wrestled to the ground.” Well, did Swagzilla manage to get the film out anyway? “It’s digital!” explained Behar, triumphantly. (She was especially happy about that because at a DONALD TRUMP event, security did grab Behar’s camera away when she took a photo. Must have been a bad-hair day.)

Pretty as a picture, ex-Edna backup performer CADY HUFFMAN was sitting in my row, exulting,”I love BARRY HUMPHRIES! He’s such a gentleman!” (She swore he’s really straight too.) Well, are the people who are doing the Producers movie gentlemen, or did they simply call Huffman—who won a Tony for flaunting it on Broadway—and say, “We got NICOLE KIDMAN. Fuck off”? “Nicole came to them,” explained Huffman. And no doubt she’ll now be the central character, I cracked. “Yes!” she laughed. “They’ll call the movie Ulla. I’m sure she’ll be wonderful.” I sensed some light eye-rolling going on. “But I’m in good company,” concluded the spunky Huffman, meaning that a lot of fine people didn’t get to re-create their stage hits, from JULIE ANDREWS to Edna herself. (“PATTI LUPONE has agreed to portray me,” says the daffy Dame onstage. “But I don’t know who’ll play me as a young woman.”)


BOYS IN THE SAND

You want another multi-hemispheric drag show? Well, Alexander‘s gotten it from both ends, as it were—the Greeks find it too Judy Garland–loving and the gays don’t think it’s swishy enough (though all critics agree it stinks). Having finally seen the epicene epic, I have to say it’s positively nutty that they don’t show COLIN FARRELL and JARED LETO kissing, and the rationales we got for that from OLIVER STONE and his stars were more absurd than Farrell’s early-period DORIS DAY ‘do. You know, “to sexualize the relationship would cheapen it” and “you’d have to be a moron not to get that they’re lovers.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, but anyway, where’s the freakin’ kissing?

At least there are plenty of other gay signifiers on-screen—and they’re plenty campy too. First of all, the L’Oréal-laden kid who plays the young Alexander has a distinct lisp, and dad VAL KILMER—whose one-eyed shtick can’t touch JAMIE FOXX‘s Ray routine—plays right into it, ominously instructing him, “Beware of women!” Our hero obediently does so, and a few years later, mom ANGELINA JOLIE (chewing the digitized scenery with an IVANA TRUMP accent) has to tell the teenage Alex, “The girls already say you don’t like them. You like Hephaistion more!” (“It’s only natural for your age,” she adds as a rationale. Yeah—in the Chelsea section of Macedonia.)

So Farrell and Leto keep hugging—if not kissing—and Leto even gives him a lovely cubic zirconia ring, making wifey ROSARIO DAWSON wildly jealous. (“You luff heem?” she intones, eyes a-bulging, so Farrell explains that away with, “There are many different ways to love, Roxane.” In her case, it’s via total rape. Hey, maybe straight women should protest the flick too!) Alex finally gets a real boyfriend, but since he’s a rouged Persian castrato, it probably doesn’t count. Still, you cheer when Alex snarls at a rebel, “You dog! Questioning your queen!” even if he actually means his mom. And things end up gayer than ever, tra la, with Farrell assuring Leto, “Our sons will play together as we once did.” Hopefully in Vermont or Massachusetts.

By the way, I’m the one who actually loved the first 10 hours or so, but then it all went so over-the-top, I had to second the remark on imdb.com, “Come back, Troy. All is forgiven.”


QUOTH THE RAVEN, ‘NEVER BORE’

Like Alexander himself, I’m a gay man who strangely finds myself watching ladies disrobe, if a comp meal’s attached. So on a recent Saturday, I went to Le Scandal cabaret at the Cutting Room, where if you get drunk, you end up on the Cutting Room floor (like the kiss with Hephaistion). The show—a fast-moving vaudeville revue—is intoxicating enough, with sometime emcee RAVEN SNOOK singing about being a female drag queen before bringing on a procession of naughty, bawdy acts that grab you by the shaft. The novelty stars range from FLAMBEAUX, an amazing fire-eater who defies the no-smoking rule—I luff heem!—to BONNIE DUNN, the show’s producer, who emerges looking preggers and singing “I Should Have Danced All Night.” When she strips, Snook reveals, “Bonnie used to teach at a school for the blind. What a fucking waste!” Right, Val Kilmer?

With both eyes as open as Rosario Dawson’s toga, I graced the Plaza screening of KELSEY GRAMMER‘s A Christmas Carol and five minutes into it, realized it was a filming of that deadening version they dredge up every year at the Garden. It worked much better this time—though I kept thinking, with JASON ALEXANDER as Marley, that I was watching Frasier being lectured by the ghost of George Costanza. At the after-party, Grammer was extremely approachable, but I left him alone since he threatened to sue my old Metro TV show after my co-host made fun of his wife’s irritable bowels. Bah, humbug!

But wait—here’s some holiday jeer: Spies say TARA SUBKOFF is fighting mad at Seventh House PR over a where’s-the-money dispute. She’s not the first one. More disgruntlement: After getting rude door treatment at the safari-themed Cain, nightlife legend JOHNNY DYNELL e-mailed the owner that the club is “everything that is wrong with New York rolled into one.” Dynell may be the lucky one. I got in.


The promotional image for the upcoming BEACH BOYS musical Good Vibrations—with its row of tanned, sunglassed male heads—looks extraordinarily Fire Island–y (or even Alexander-y) to me. I bet now they’ll change it. Over at Macy’s, the Polar Express Christmas windows have the NONA GAYE character looking virtually white in two of the displays. Where’s the Express going—to a Klan meeting?Litter Box

SELLERS MARKET

My own dark side came out when I was asked to be on a committee hosting a Palladium reunion event, then read a rep’s claim in Page Six that the hosts (including myself) booted Rosario Dawson as a guest star because she was too young to be appropriate. Funny, I not only didn’t get the memo about Dawson’s involvement, I also didn’t hear about the cancellation decision and never even got an invite! (But I feel worse for Rosario. No friendship ring and now this!)

Darker than Kinsey, whiter than Ray, and straighter than Alexander, Brit actor Peter Sellers was a nasty genius whose inevitable biopic—HBO’s The Life and Death of Peter Sellers—is a mixed-bag chronicle of tantrum-throwing and period whimsy with “and then he met” career highlights, though GEOFFREY RUSH is undeniably killer in the lead. At the premiere, Rush told me, “Sellers liked a disturbing element in his humor. It was anarchic, chaotic, and confrontational.” And riotous; I worship him so much I even knew of a Sellers movie (the weird, little Hoffman) Rush hadn’t heard of. Snap, snap, Oscar winner.


Web Extra

WABC radio personality MONICA CROWLEY, who’s an MSNBC regular, told me at PM Lounge that she’s getting her own show on that TV channel starting next year. It already has higher ratings than TINA BROWN‘s.

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It’s a Shame About Ray

For 20 years or more America’s most beloved blues wailer as well as its most thoroughly forgiven celebrity junkie, Ray Charles is a Hollywood biopic grand slam, a walking, talking, grinning triumph over disability and poverty and dope and discrimination. Taylor Hackford’s Ray, for its part, never drops a stitch, methodically working the rise-and-fall-and-rise formula without a single consideration for the viewer’s self-respect or the possibility that even famous lives rarely have the shape of stories. Ray is so reflexive that it often seems to be about the procedural mechanics of biopics. Of course, goodwill is in absurd abundance; owner of the biggest smile and one of the most distinctive voices in 20th-century pop history, Charles is a charmed figure, easy for us to love (Hackford gets ridiculous mileage out of the man’s victorious reaction shots) and easy for the resourceful Jamie Foxx to impersonate.

From Depression-era Georgia to the fame-peak of the 1950s-’60s, Charles’s tale does not want for melodrama—but did Hackford (and co-writer James L. White) have to provide their hero with bad-acid-style hallucinations (water, corpses) to express the man’s childhood guilt over his younger brother’s drowning? Did Charles’s righteous defiance of his first club manager have to be explained via a flashback of his washerwoman mother standing up for her own shortchanged pay? Hackford trusts us to notice very little, least of all the musical performances, which feature original recordings and mostly last for no more than 10 seconds. Instead, we’re fed montages atop montages (“To show it all would take too long!” as the Team America boys sing it), briskly summarizing Charles’s career achievements and challenges instead of dramatizing them.

Once Charles moves his contract from sassy indie Atlantic to corporate ABC-Paramount—a deracinating shift that impacted his music the same way the Marx Brothers defection to Thalberg’s MGM castrated their films—Hackford’s movie falls into a meandering saunter. As the music grows dull, so does the movie, dawdling with Charles’s infidelities (Kerry Washington, as his indignant wife, shines) and inevitably reaching a climax of sorts with his clinic dry-out, shot like a Korn video and peppered with even more flashbacks.

Foxx is such an impeccable Ray Charles mimic that the role feels like a softball easy-pitched to him as reward for the solid job he did showing up the stars of Ali and Collateral. Among the real pleasures of Ray is, predictably, the music, which rip-snorts out of its stock eureka moments even when truncated. (The bogus improv story of how “What’d I Say” came about represents the film’s only patient spell.) The period context is also engrossing; we haven’t been here—the meticulously re-created urban mid-century America—in quite a while, and the stew of lovable retro design and archival establishing shots is comfortable and sweet. A revitalized yen for Charles’s gospel-plus-r&b Atlantic vinyl is a probable outcome of the movie’s experience, but will the biopic, pounding lugubriously along as it does this weary awards season (Guevara, Kinsey, Hughes, Barrie, Darin, Alexander, etc.), ever generate good movies? Or just rote exercises in gearwork?