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.

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.