Friday, April 24, 2015

Is this the movie that will finally win Johnny Depp an Oscar?

I love a good comeback. It's right up there with the underdog on the list of things I can't help but root for. I especially loves it when one (the underdog) pulls off the other (a good comeback).

Which brings us to Johnny Depp, a recent underdog who could use a good old-fashioned comeback.

Considering Johnny's current string of critical and commercial misfires, one would be forgiven for forgetting that it wasn't too long ago (a decade or so, to be not so exact) that he was considered the actor most overdue for an Oscar. Flashback, for a moment, to 2011, when Eddie Redmayne was drooling over Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn. Who would have thought that kid would end up beating Johnny to the podium to accept the Best Actor grand prize?

During Johnny's lost years, his What's Eating Gilbert Grape co-star Leonardo DiCaprio has assumed the title of Actor Most Overdue for an Oscar. The tide might not be about to change for Leo (not yet), but I'm expecting a turnaround for 51-year-old Johnny. A career boost would be most welcome, considering all the reports of trouble on the Australian set of the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (from which Johnny went missing last week) and in his marriage to the much-younger model-turned-actress Amber Heard, 29.

The source of my optimism: The trailer for Johnny's upcoming film Black Mass (due September 18), which was released today. It's two minutes and 10 seconds of scary, and that's not because it's a horror film. It's a gangster movie with Johnny apparently playing a very bad guy. I'm not a big fan of the mobster genre (I get my fill five days a week with General Hospital anyway), but this one has piqued my curiosity in a way that no Johnny Depp film has since before he became a 2003-to-2007 Oscar darling.

I've long said that Johnny would finally win an Oscar when he stops playing cartoons and assumes the role of a real person. I meant a normal person, like the one Julianne Moore played to perfection (and Oscar glory -- at last!) in Still Alice. Whitey Bulger, described by Wikipedia as "the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston," is hardly normal, but I'll take real as in a real person who actually lived, rather than a cartoonish character. Oscar loves stars playing real-life people.

The only thing Oscar loves more than that is a stunning transformation, and Johnny is unrecognizable in the trailer. I'm not talking Johnny-under-a-pound-of-make-up-Willy-Wonka-Mad-Hatter unrecognizable, but Johnny as a balding middle-aged old blue eyes. He doesn't look like Johnny Depp playing dress-up (again) but like a different actor entirely. He could almost pass for Ed Harris's creepy kid brother.

As for Johnny's performance, it's the main reason I want to see the film. He does most of the talking in the trailer, and his delivery is steady and even throughout, yet it's loaded with nuance. He's menacing without raising his voice or getting up from the dinner table and, dare I say it, dangerous-sexy. I'm truly terrified for what he's going to do to Julianne Nicholson!

Then there's the movie's Oscar pedigree. Like the 2006 Best Picture The Departed, it's set in Boston, which has long been a city favored by the Academy. (Get it, Black Mass as in Massachusetts?) It spans a period of 30 years, which increases its Oscar friendliness, and the trailer includes a very brief apparent Civil Rights-era sequence with a bunch of black kids on a school bus, which would cover the Oscar-bait racial-strife angle.

As for the talent behind Black Mass, it was directed by Scott Cooper, the guy who helped Jeff Bridges finally win the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart. Meanwhile, Johnny's co-stars include 2014 Best Actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch as well Joel Edgarton, a key player in the recent Best Picture contender Zero Dark Thirty. Peter Sarsgaard, Oscar winner Cate Blanchett's love interest in Blue Jasmine, puts in an appearance, too.

Black Mass is not all testosterone, which might help it appeal to women in the Academy. Among the female cast list is the aforementioned Julianne Nicholson, new It Girl Dakota Johnson and 2014 Oscar MVP Sienna Miller, who costarred with three 2014 male acting nominees (American Sniper's Bradley Cooper and Foxcatcher's Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo). The only thing missing is Eddie Redmayne!

He's busy prepping to be Johnny's main Best Actor competition. Eddie poses a serious threat to take the gold a second consecutive time for playing a transgender woman in The Danish Girl, a film which, incidentally, costars Johnny's wife. If Johnny, Eddie and their movies all end up being next-Oscar-season favorites, there'll be some awkward red-carpet nights ahead for Amber, even if her marriage to Johnny doesn't last that long.

Would Eddie triumph with Amber in his corner? When I went to bed last night, I thought he was the one to beat, and frankly, after what he pulled with Michael Keaton in February, I wasn't too thrilled about by the prospect of a repeat win. Now I have brand new hope, for the 2015 Oscars and for Johnny.

You read it here first.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cringeworthy relationship cliches, from the start of a romance to its bitter end

"Love is fair...It breaks everybody's heart." Thank you, Miss Barbara Mandrell, for offering some of the truest words ever spoken, or sung, about love on your 1981 country single. (Sorry, Sade, but "Nothing can come between us" is purely wishful thinking.)

It was a unique assessment with a surprise twist -- and considerably more resonant and dead accurate than all those love, romance and relationship cliches that we generally spout. 

Despite my cynicism, I do believe in love...forever love even. What I don't buy is the florid and hackneyed prose it often inspires. For example...

1. "I've never felt this way about anyone." The current cut is always the deepest...until the next one.

2. "He/she knows me better than I know myself." Deeper understanding on one lover's part or just a complete lack of self-awareness on the other's? While I concede that those closest to me might have special insight into why I do the things I do, no one on earth is more of an expert on me than the guy who has been stuck with me 24/7 for my entire life. 

3. "We're like the same person." So falling in love with myself should be a romantic aspiration? Well, I suppose opposites don't always attract and self-love is indeed a good thing, but falling for myself would make for some painfully superfluous conversations. I'd rather share my life with someone different from me because even if it's not as critical as self-love, variety is the spice of life.

4. "I love you more." While it's preferable to the "Thank you" response to "I love you," if love is already a battlefield, must we make it a contest, too? Can one measure something so intangible that most people can't even define it? "I love you, too" will always suffice.

5. "My other half." A person can inspire me, enhance my life and rock my world, but nobody completes me but me.

6. "My better half." Really? Better? What happened to equal partners?

7. "You can tell me anything." Famous last words...spoken right before the devastating ones that rip a couple apart forever.

8. "Relationships are hard." No, love doesn't have to be a battlefield. Sure, if it's worth having, it's worth fighting for, but I wouldn't kick easy loving out of bed.

9. "You can do better." The precursor to "Their loss" post-split. Has such shameless ego massaging ever actually made anyone feel better?

10. There's plenty of other fish in the sea." Yeah, but a crowded and polluted sea of love makes the perfect filet that much harder to find. Vegetarians might be on to something.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Why do people do that?: 20 everyday head scratchers

Today's subject: mind-boggling behaviour. To each his (or her) own, but still, why do people do the darndest things, like...

Press the button at intersections to get the "Walk" signal -- aren't they automatic?

Press the up/down elevator button more than once?

Walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk?

Walk so closely behind you that they step on the back of your Havaianas?

Stand in the middle of escalator steps so that nobody can pass?

Go "aaah" after downing a glass of water?

Drink coffee after dinner?

Smoke at any time of day?

Eat plain yogurt?

Stand on moving walkways?

Not have any idea what they want to order after waiting in line for five minutes or more?

Still use shower curtains?

Still have fax numbers?

Eat pizza with pineapple chunks on it?

Grab the seat in front of them when getting up on airplanes?

Sell bran and chocolate chip muffins when nobody seems to buy them?

Cite the First Amendment (freedom of speech) as defense against criticism for saying stupid things -- hypocritical much?

Call when texting will do?

Drink carbonated water...or non-alcoholic beer?

Build bathrooms without bidets?

"Like" sad posts on Facebook?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Don't say that!: 12 random words and phrases that make me shudder

The things we talk about during downtime at work.

And no, that list doesn't include Game of Thrones, which is still on my to-watch-for-the-first-time list and will likely spend years there before I do. (I never got around to Weeds until a few seasons after it was off the air!) And no, our on-the-clock conversations don't happen around the watercooler. Those are so Melrose Place '90s. Our purified water at work comes from a tap beside the sink, and I've yet to see a crowd there.

My colleagues and I recently had a fun chat (at our desks, in front of our computers) about things people say that sound like fingernails on a chalkboard...which, truth be told, has never really bothered me at all. I'd much less prefer to hear the sound of high heels clomping behind me, the banging of pots and pans, and slamming doors. (Incidentally, "truth be told," which I never say but often write, was on someone's list.)

One of my best friends used to cringe at the sound of "package," "supper," "meal" and "moist," the latter of which makes my boss want to scratch someone's eyes out. Another colleague mentioned "at the end of the day," which I secretly love because it sounds like something I would say before making one of my casual pronouncements.

While I completely understand why all of the words and phrases that offend my co-workers offend, I'm far more annoyed by the ones below. The next time you see me, feel free not to utter any of them.

1. "cocktail" It sounds like something that comes in a too-tiny glass that you shake so that the ice makes that infuriating tinkling sound. Let's go out for "drinks" instead.

2. "at this point in time" The time is now to start saying "now."

3. "ya" for "you" So forced casual but really, "you" is not exactly wearing a bowtie.

4. "baby daddy"/"baby mama" It makes parenthood sound like something dirty.

5. "bitch" I feel kind of silly every time I say "witch" in lieu of the B word. But when a guy says "bitch," it always sounds to me like he's smacking a woman around.

6. "party" as a verb Do people even "party" anymore? If they do, I'd like to party with J. Cole (the ridiculously cute rapper in the Beyoncé video below).

7. "make love" I have no problem with the idea behind it (more personal than sex), and I'd rather "make love" than "fuck," but the phrase sounds straight out of the bedroom script of a '70s soap heroine. I love this song, though...

8. "Congrats!" If you're going to take the time to comment on someone's good fortune, can't you take the time to say "Congratulations" while you're at it?

9. "Morning" instead of "Good morning" Ever since an ex suggested hidden meaning behind my "Morning," it's taken on a particularly terse tone for me. If it's not actually a "good" morning, I wouldn't hold it against anyone for giving in to the urge not to say anything at all.

10. "whilst" It must be an Australian/British thing because I don't think anyone in the U.S. has ever used "whilst" if "while" will do. Thankfully, I've yet to have to be tempted to edit it out of anyone's copy at work. Keep it up, colleagues!

11. "copy" The journalism equivalent of calling the music that an artist has spent months, or years, slaving over "product."

12. "brunch" A favorite meal of people who live in condos instead of apartments and flats and drink -- ugh -- cocktails. I'll have a feta, spinach and mushroom omelette and just call it "breakfast" no matter what time of day it is.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why I won't be tossing out this Dolce & Gabbana shirt

"We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed." -- Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana in Italy's Panorama magazine

First of all, a disclaimer is in order…two of them. The statements above were translated (and poorly punctuated) from Italian to English by The UK's The Telegraph. Having seen ideas get mangled in translation from Spanish to English and vice versa, I would consider this more in the spirit of what the Italian designers said than what they actually said. (If any native Italian speakers are reading this, please help me out here.)

Second, since when are quotes attributed to more than one person? Are Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana two simultaneously talking heads?

All that aside, the part of D&G's interpretation of family that I object to most is the part that rejects gay parents. If the only family is the "traditional" one, then they must oppose single mothers, single fathers, single foster parents, single legal guardians, widowed parents and anything else that doesn't reflect the picture-perfect Norman Rockwell version of family.

It's misguided thinking for sure, but it warrants understanding and communication more than knee-jerk moral outrage. When I first came out and my mother was taking a minute to adjust to having not one but two gay sons, my friends cautioned me to be patient with her and consider where she was coming from. She was a woman born in the 1940s in an ultra-religious society. Should I really have expected her to immediately start waving the rainbow flag?

One could make a similar case for Dolce and Gabbana and some of their more antiquated ideas. Dolce said that procreation "must be an act of love…You are born to a mother and a father -- or at least that's how it should be." Gabbana added, "A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from its mother."

Italy is devoutly Catholic, so Dolce's archaic view of procreation should surprise no one. And considering the matriarchal bent of the classic Italian family, it makes sense that two staunch Italians would deem a maternal presence necessary to that unit. However, that makes me wonder what they think about lesbian adoption and adoption by straight single men. Note to interviewer: Don't forget to ask the obvious follow-up questions!

I could spend hours poking holes in their views on gay adoption and "traditional" families, but everyone else seems to be focused on their comments about in-vitro fertilization, which are pretty over the top. "I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog," Dolce declared, spurring Sir Elton John to blast him on Instagram for calling his children "synthetic" and vow never to wear their designs again.

Elsewhere people wondered how two gay men could say such things. I asked myself the same question, not because of their stance on gay adoption or IVF but because of the lazy implied link between the two. Who died and made IVF a gay issue? Nicole Kidman, Angela Bassett and Sarah Jessica Parker have had babies via IVF and surrogacy, 51-year-old supermodel Elle Macpherson is expecting thanks to it, and Kim Kardashian's doctor supposedly just told her it's the only way she can have more children. I suspect that half of straight Hollywood uses IVF to become pregnant.

I have several straight female friends who have turned to IVF to become mothers, so I don't see how it's possibly a gay thing. Now that it seems to have become one, however, do I follow Elton John's lead and boycott Dolce & Gabbana? I considered it for a hot second, but what would be the point?

I have gay friends who oppose gay marriage and nobody has ever suggested I boycott them. There are likely plenty of people with whom I do business on a regular basis, gay and straight, who oppose gay marriage, and possibly gay adoption, for whatever reason. It's definitely misguided, but I'm not sure I can automatically equate it with outright homophobia. Do I banish them from my life anyway?

It's interesting that some gay people are quick to defend sexual prejudice within their ranks ("No Asians," "No Blacks," "No whites") as "preference," yet they're unwilling to tolerate ideology that differs from theirs. That's the height of hypocrisy.

As for IVF, I'd be lying if I said I haven't had my issues with it. We take people to task for buying expensive dogs instead of getting a homeless one from the shelter or pound, and one can make a similar case with babies when adoption is an option.

I remember cringing a little when a gay friend of mine described the process he went through to find a suitable egg donor and a surrogate. It sounded a lot like the process of choosing a 15-minute stand on Grindr. But how many people who become parents through traditional means would turn down the option to pre-determine certain baby qualities before conception if it were possible and free of charge? It may not be, for me, the ideal commencement of life, but it's certainly not an invalid one.

So who am I to judge anymore? But just because I've put aside most of my reservations and fully accept pre-natal technology doesn't mean the rest of the world has to do the same.

I considered tossing the one Dolce & Gabbana item in my wardrobe, but I'll be hanging on to it, after all. If I can be friends with Republicans (and I am) and people who'd never date anyone of my color, enjoy entertainment created by artists and performers who embrace different political and religious points of view and live in a country where gay marriage is still illegal (Get with the program, Australia!), I can wear a shirt by designers who are ill-informed enough to call children of IVF "synthetic."

The supposedly "synthetic" ones I've seen look pretty authentic to me. However, looking at them through Dolce and Gabbana's eyes, does being "synthetic" also make one soulless and less than human? That sounds like the basis for future prejudice and discrimination, and two gay men should know better than to stir that particular can of worms. But they're designers, not philosophers.

It's important to call people on their stupidity without dismissing them. As long as they don't express outright racism or homophobia -- the kind that leads to name-calling, rejection and violence, or denying service to gays or certain ethnic groups (Shame on Indiana!) -- I can deal with the unenlightened and any ideas they might be trying to sell.

But one Dolce & Gabbana shirt is probably enough.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The lost art of talking: 11 things I've learned about having a decent conversation

"It's so funny how we don't talk anymore." -- Cliff Richard.

So sang Sir Cliff in his massive 1979 pop hit. I wonder what he'd sing about the state of conversation today.

Talking is such a lost art. Some blame social media and modern technology, which is ironic, since both have improved the expediency of communication exponentially. If they were to add the deterioration of good grammar to the list, I'd say they have a solid argument. But this is not about grammatical shortcomings in a world where the misguided can mistake "conversate" for a heightened command of the English language.

This is about a world in which we're "friends" with strangers we'll never meet on Facebook, and our self-worth is determined by our number of "likes" and "followers," the latter of whom we communicate with through narcissistic selfies and in 140 characters or less (#hashtags included). In this strange new world, people aren't really saying much anymore.

Many 21 year olds are hard to talk to but not because they're young and have nothing to say. They're hard to talk to because they've grown up in a modern world where they don't have to do much actual talking. Texting and tweeting don't exactly allow the gift of gab to flourish.

So if you were born in the '90s or later and struggle with face-to-face communication, or if you're old enough to know better but don't, this one's for you.

1. It all begins with "hi," "hey," "hello" or "howdy." A clever opening is optional...and unnecessary. Some jerks on Grindr insist on being impressed and take issue with certain one-word openers. Personally, even if I were up for "Fun?", I'd prefer "Hi" to some of the crude alternatives ("Horny?" "Looking?" "Hung?").

If you want sophisticated opening prose from a stranger, listen to "All I Want," track one on Joni Mitchell's Blue album. Taking issue with "Hi" makes you seem like a douche before the conversation has even begun. How does the line go? "You had me at 'hello.'" Yup, that's good enough for me.

2. Q&As are for interviews. Maybe it's the grumpy old man in me taking over, but nothing will make me want to end a conversation faster than a string of queries. I know, questions are the cornerstone of conversation, but a good conversation should flow naturally, and it shouldn't be all about the person doing the heavy lifting. Answering boring questions is a lot more work than coming up with them. After asking two or three good ones, start making some interesting declarations...about yourself, not the other person.

3. Speaking of lame lines of questioning, "What's up?" and "What's doing?" are not conversation starters. I really never know how to answer those ones. They make me feel like I've got to deliver some vicarious excitement. "How are you doing" never gets old, though -- especially if the person asking really cares.

4. Look at me when I'm talking to you. I was recently chatting in person with a 20 year old who spent most of our conversation messaging his friend on Snapchat. I let it go because he did offer some interesting information about the driver's licensing system in Australia. (There are fewer requirements to run for President of the United States than there are to become a full-fledged Australian driver.) Good thing it wasn't a date, though, for if it had been one, he would have been breaking my cardinal rule of dating, which is...

5. Put your phone away! Answering one's mobile at the dinner table is the No. 1 date killer. Don't do it.

6. Acronyms should be used sparingly in writing and never in oral conversation. I admit "YOLO" might look kind of cool on paper, or onscreen, but "LOL" takes more effort to say than simply laughing, which sounds infinitely more sincere.

7. Don't stand so close to me. If I can smell what you had for your last meal, we have a problem. Lean back!

8. It's OK to ask someone how old he or she is, but if they don't want to divulge a number, let it go. No matter how often people say age is just a number, it's not. It's so much more than that. For better and occasionally for worse, I'm not the man I was at 25, or 30, or...well, we'll just stop right there!

Age matters, and if it didn't, people wouldn't ask. Not everyone is comfortable with big numbers, so take the hint if someone declines to reveal theirs, and just drop it. If it does matter to you and you must know, move on. The world is full of people who have no problem revealing their true age.

9. Just drink up. Toasting, though harmless, is pretty pointless...and it often results in unnecessarily spilled booze. It's extra-annoying when the person insisting on toasting acts like making eye contact when the glasses clink is the height of courtesy. Making eye contact when you're actually talking -- and listening -- is far more important.

10. Don't say a word when the other person is talking...unless it's to interrupt them. Yes, I'm totally fine with people getting passionate and talking over each other from time to time. Raised voices mean people care. I'll take that and the occasional (occasional) interruption over quiet indifference. That said, there's no need to pepper someone else's monologue with "yeah...yeah...yeah." When people do it to me, it makes me think they're in a hurry for me to shut up.

11. Be respectful of conversations of which you're not a part. I've rarely had someone interrupt a conversation of mine for something that couldn't wait. If you have to ask "Am I interrupting?", then you already know that you are, so why even do it?

Now talk, drink and be merry!