July 18, 2012
The Church of Scientology has awarded just 80 people their coveted Freedom Medal, which recognizes “exemplary courage and determination…for bringinggreater freedom to mankind.” But only one person in the Church’s 60-year existence has ever won their Freedom Medal of Valor award: Tom Cruise, the Church’s Golden Boy, who was recruited in the eighties and groomed to be Scientology’s best advertisement. And so it proves ironic that the religion, which has historically been so adept at squashing bad press through lawsuits and intimidation, now finds itself under an onslaught of negative scrutiny — and it’s largely thanks to Cruise. Once the Church’s most treasured member, he may now prove to be its greatest liability.
Tom Cruise joined Scientology under the tutelage of his then-wife, actress Mimi Rogers, herself raised in the Church. (Rogers is rumored to have left the Churchafter her divorce from Cruise.) Then, in his mid-twenties, Cruise was enjoying the most successful period of his career, as he transitioned from teen heartthrob to Serious Dramatic Actor with roles in The Color of Money andRain Man. According to Janet Reitman’s acclaimed book Inside Scientology, Cruise initially attended the Church’s auditing sessions (the process through which Church members push through their layers of emotional baggage and become “clear”) quietly and secretly, under his birth name Thomas Mapother. As he warmed to the procedures, he was turned over to the Church’s Celebrity Center and eventually formed a deep bond with David Miscavige, the Church’s controversial leader who took over following the 1986 death of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Miscavige, according to Reitman, told staff members that Cruise’s recruitment could “change the face of Scientology forever.” The actor was escorted out to the Church’s secret desert oasis in Gilman Springs, California, a place where he could immerse himself in the Church away from prying eyes.
Read the rest at Vulture
April 21, 2012
Director Duncan Roy casts a courtly image of a baronial figure as he sits in his home atop Las Flores Canyon, a modernist, Bohemian hideaway with a jaw-dropping view of the Pacific. His surroundings project an image of California’s creative lifestyle at its most alluring. But in February, Roy found himself standing alone outside Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, released after three months of harrowing and wrongful incarceration.
During his ordeal, he learned to dodge angry Los Angeles County Sheriff’s jailers and to trade with fellow prisoners for dried ramen toppings. He was helplessly trapped in a Kafka-esque corner of America’s immigration war, where he disappeared into the bowels of the system without explanation or apparent legal recourse.
In 2006, Roy was an up-and-coming star of the British independent-film community. His first picture, AKA, had received notice and awards around the world, and he followed the well-worn path to Hollywood in search of a bigger canvas — in particular, a film adaptation of The Picture ofDorian Gray, to which he was attached to direct. He purchased the Las Flores house with the help of his then-boyfriend, a Malibu real estate agent who later would be featured on Bravo‘s Million Dollar Listing.
Five years later, the dream had fizzled. The relationship with his partner had ended. TheDorian Gray film hadn’t materialized. Roy even sought counsel from Dr. Drew on his show Sex Rehab, where the director’s outspoken manner made him a reality-TV cause célèbre. A bout with cancer led to the removal of one of Roy’s testicles. With his visa due to expire in December 2011, he prepared a move to his apartment in Berlin.
But in Los Angeles, the most tangled dramas ultimately come back to real estate. Selling the house was proving thorny. Once it was on the market, geological issues arose, dramatically lowering its value. Then, Roy says, he received a middle-of-the-night phone call from someone claiming to be the geologist who had worked on the house’s assessment. He told Roy that he had been pressured to cover up problems in the foundation but, having become a born-again Christian, felt obliged to come clean.
December 15, 2011
Of all the wacky stories in this year’s Oscar race, perhaps none is more unlikely than the fact that America’s bard of nerddom, comedian Patton Oswalt, finds himself a very serious contender to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor—one of this year’s most competitive categories—for his role in Young Adult, the new film from the Juno duo, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. But after years of mocking Hollywood’s foibles as a stand-up, and leading a band of ill-shapen misfits from the sidelines, Oswalt, the cherub-faced comic, may very well have earned himself a seat at the Oscars ceremony against other possible contenders no less notable than Christopher Plummer, Max Von Sydow, Nick Nolte, Ben Kingsley, and Kenneth Branagh.
Before an audience of his friends, fellow comedians, and family in a screening room on the Paramount lot for a first peek at Young Adult, a humbled Oswalt stood in front of the assembled to introduce this major leap into the world of Serious Acting. Addressing the crowd, he said, “Young Adult will open nationwide on Dec. 9. Tonight sit back and enjoy Human Centipede.” Pause. “I need you to see the film the way I saw it.”
The character in question may go down as the most nuanced and heartbreaking portrayal of the nerd dilemma ever committed to film. Oswalt plays Matt Freehauf, a man festering in the literal and psychic wounds of high school, an experience that ended with his being beaten by a group of jocks, leaving him permanently disabled. Wallowing in his resentments while living within sight of his tragedy, Oswalt slams into Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), his high school’s former prom queen and doyen of his tormentors. As obsessed by her youth, in her way, as Matt is, Mavis has returned home to reclaim her now happily married high school boyfriend.
December 15, 2011
ext month, a new sitcom called “Work It,” about two out-of-work salesmen who dress up as women to get jobs, will make its debut on ABC. There’s nothing new about the premise — Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari covered the same ground on the early-80s sitcom “Bosom Buddies” — and the tone isn’t exactly novel either. The stars of the show, Ben Koldyke and Amaury Nolasco, are operating in the prevailing frat-boy mode perfected by Bradley Cooper and Seann William Scott.
In May, an 84-second trailer of “Work It” hit the Internet, instantly attracting more blogger rage than most shows accumulate over the course of several seasons. Gobsmacked by the very fact that “This got made! And is going to series!”, The Futon Critic lambasted the show’s “limp attempts at misogyny,” “groan worthy madcappery” and “Mrs. Doubtfire hijinx.”
The Best Week Ever blog took special umbrage at the network’s attempt to position the series as “high concept”: “Holy moly, ABC. If you’re going to put a terrible show on the air, the least you could do is not try to make two bumbling fools dressed up like women for cheap laughs a ‘high concept’ in which the guys become moral compasses. It’s not the iconic Louie poker scene, for heavens sake.” The Dallas Transgender Activists Alliance launched a petition to keep “Work It” off the air, and a blogger for the Gay Voices section of The Huffington Post predicted that the series would face summary cancelation, “not because the content is offensive to queers, but because the show itself is just bad.” (ABC did not respond to requests for comment.)
(Read the rest at Huffington Post entertainment)
November 5, 2011
For The X Factor, tonight’s U.S. debut on Fox comes at the end of the longest, rockiest development road perhaps ever faced by a television show. It has been eight years since Simon Cowell, then a judge on the fledging American Idol, dreamed it up as the next iteration of the singing-contest format. He wanted a show with no age limits—young or old—for the contestants, where not only individual singers but groups would be allowed to perform, and where the judges don’t just preside from Mount Olympus but get down into the weeds, actually managing the contestants and battling against each other.
In enacting this vision, Cowell set himself in direct conflict with the show his electrifying presence had helped turn into a colossus. Two lawsuits, a prolonged negotiated peace, and a painful breakup with Idol later, The X Factor finally arrived on American airwaves Wednesday.
The talent-contest marketplace has gotten a lot more crowded, however. Once, Idol stood alone on American networks as the show that had managed to achieve major success. In the interim, the TV schedule has been flooded with musical competitions, from the dance genre—led by Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance—to shows like Cowell’s own America’s Got Talent. Now the launch of X Factor comes not only three months after the mega-finale of Idol’s 10th season, but also after the conclusion of the first singing contest to give Idol a run for its money, Mark Burnett’s The Voice, which attracted very respectable numbers in its debut season on NBC.
Read the rest at The Daily Beast.
September 19, 2011
In the Golden Age, when Hollywood was one vast fraternity, when everyone knew everyone, when the fan magazines printed what they were told and not a letter more, the Friars Club was the frat house of the campus’s more rambunctious element; the enclave where madcap cut-ups liable to set a studio chief’s wastebasket on fire took refuge from the stuffy world of showbiz. And in that cozy little fraternity, the Friars Club Roasts functioned as something akin to wedding banquets: occasions for the brotherhood to show their love to their most celebrated brethren in the only way wiseacres know how, by teasing them within an inch of their lives.
Sixty some years later, a panel of seemingly randomly selected comedians and tabloid fodder convened in a cavernous sound stage to rake over the coals a man known as America’s most horrific open wound with the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen, the latest installment of the network’s salute to the nation’s greatest train wrecks.
The spectacle descends from the Friars Club Roasts of old in the same way Jersey Shore descends from On the Waterfront; the setting may be similar, but all that’s missing from the original is every bit of its humanity. And therein lies the story of much of our culture during the past decades.
Read the rest at The Daily Beast
September 14, 2011
A decade and a half after he burst into public consciousness with one of the most obnoxious debuts of modern times, Matt Damon has quietly, almost underneath the radar, transformed himself into one of the most effective actors of our day. While others of his generation have soaked up the acclaim and the trophies, Damon has turned in a string of flawless performances that have suddenly turned him into the archetype for a new breed of screen masculinity.
Looking back on the Matt Damon who stampeded onto the scene in 1997, there was little evidence to suggest the material of greatness. First appearing as half of a buddy act with fellow Bostonian Ben Affleck, the testosterone-fueled duo personified Hollywood’s cigar-lounge era. The image was capped by the pair’s fist-pumping Oscar-acceptance speech after winning the screenplay award for Good Will Hunting when Damon was the appalling age of 27.
But since that night, Damon has traveled almost in the exact opposite direction from the frat-boy trail, settling down to a series of non-showy, journeymen performances onscreen, and a reticence toward the spotlight offscreen that has, years later, transformed him into something no one could have foreseen: our most admirable of young actors.
Read the rest at The Daily Beast.
June 23, 2011
Has America grown so cynical that it has turned its back on superheroes?
On and off for the past three decades, whatever the nation’s trials, we have been watched over from our multiplexes by a long line of caped champions, and in exchange, America consistently rewarded these crusaders with our allegiance in the form of untold box-office riches.
Since Christopher Reeve arrived as Superman in 1978, superhero films have become the nation’s onscreen superego, reflecting its changing zeitgeist, as they strode like a spandex-clad Goliath atop our blockbuster culture. This summer was to be the year when the genre swallowed the box office whole, with a new superhero mega-adaptation rolled out every third week.
But it’s not working out that way.
Six weeks and three men in tights into Blockbuster Season ‘11, America has met this year’s crop with, at best, muted enthusiasm and, more often, shrugs of indifference. Where the release of a new superhero film not long ago was the grandest (not to mention most grandiose) event on our cultural calendar, the successive releases suddenly feel routine, predictable, and oddly out of tune with the times.
Read the rest at The Daily Beast.
February 21, 2011
All of a sudden, it’s hard to be Lady Gaga.
Since bursting onto the music scene in 2008, the artist born Stefani Germanotta has achieved that rare alchemy of massive commercial success combined with highbrow fascination (albeit grudging fascination.) Standing almost alone amidst an imploding music industry, she has sold over 55 million albums in the past three years and racked up 340 million views on the avant-garde themed video for her song “Bad Romance.” Considerations of the meaning of Gaga littered the landscape, and her eclectic stew of references had many a university cultural studies department working overtime.
And what brought her to the top of this zeitgeist pyramid were her unrivaled skills in the post-modern art of pastiche. She patched together bits of Madonna, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Laurie Anderson with performance art, ’70s avant-garde, Wiemar Berlin—the list goes on and endlessly on. To her fans, such vigorous borrowing is an art form in itself; juxtaposing various found objets was a commentary about the transient nature of artistic reality. The more she took, the more celebrated she became.
Until Sunday, when the train finally hit a wall. If her songs in the past have seemed sprinkled with fairy dust from previous artists, her new single “Born This Way” has been drenched in a Seaworld-sized orca tankful of Madonna; to be precise – about 10 thousand gallons of Madonna’s 1989 hit “Express Yourself,” to which the new Gaga outing bears an almost note-to-note resemblance. And in case anyone missed the point, Gaga debuted the song at last weekend’s Grammy Awards in an outfit that could only be described as a Madonna Halloween costume, complete with head-topping ponytail.
Read the rest at The Daily Beast
January 18, 2011
Picture, if you will, the opening scenes of next year’s blockbuster, The Quagmire—a dramatic account of America’s descent into the war in Vietnam.
The film opens on young Lt. Lyndon Johnson of the U.S. army. He is stationed in Tokyo in the 1950’s. As the opening credits roll, he is sulking away from the base’s fancy officers’ club, his application for membership having been rejected. He realizes that try as he might, with his poor Texas upbringing, he will never be one of them. Stung, he ventures out into the field, across the Asian continent, turning over those stones that the well-to-do ne’er-do-wells back at the club couldn’t be bothered with. While travelling through Indochina, he sees up close the resistance to French rule and, in it, sees opportunity for a young soldier! Meanwhile, while passing through a village, he falls in love with a Vietnamese girl, who ultimately abandons him, because his poor Texas upbringing means that, try as he might, he will never be one of her people.