QUEEN LATIFAH & TERENCE HOWARD WOULD RATHER BE TRAPPED IN THE PHANTOM ZONE THAN TRAPPED IN ‘THE PERFECT HOLIDAY’

My neighborhood is (for the time being) largely African-American, which means a few things. First, I’m very scared of its teenagers. Second, I was able to purchase a copy of American Gangster several weeks before it was released in theaters. Third, I was able to purchase that American Gangster bootleg DVD at my local supermarket. And, finally, my local subway platform and storefronts have been completely blitzed by this holiday movie poster:

It was easy to ignore the posters for Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? because it just looked like an advertisement for mustache trimmers, but the Perfect Holiday poster fascinates me. It’s like a study in managed expectations. The group portrait inside the snow globe tells me a few things, moving from left to right:

Katt Williams and Charlie Murphy are outrageously dressed (comedy!) and in the background (appearing only in a few scenes!), a combination that also tells me they’ve been “Witherspooned” into the film. Witherspooning, a reference to character actor John Witherspoon, is when a character or characters who are disproportionately (and inconceivably) more eccentric, loud and colorful than the principals are written into the script at several key moments throughout the film, to say (scream) or do something outrageous (get bit in the nuts by a pitbull; have a long, loud bowel movement; show up at dinner with a horny asian wife/horny she-male wife/horny obese wife) for purely comedic effect, and to offset the otherwise bland and saccharine proceedings. Their roles in the film will be totally peripheral, but their few brief scenes will nonetheless dominate the film’s theatrical trailer and TV spots. See: Boomerang, the Rosetta Stone of Witherspooning.

After writing this, I went to the movie’s IMDB page to find out the names of the characters in this film. Here is a multiple choice quiz. From these actual character names, can guess the name of the characters played by Katt Williams & Charlie Murphy in The Perfect Holiday. Is it:

A) Narrator & Benjamin
B) Robin & Security Guard
C) Mikey & “Father At The Mall”
D) Delicious & J-Jizzy

Please note there is a small child lying on the ground, signaling that we all keep a secret. He has clearly been molested. Either that, or he is the sassiest kid in this film. Probably molested, though.

Front and center we see black Santa, a little girl who needs a daddy, Gabrielle Union, and a little boy who also needs a daddy but is much more shy about finding one than the little girl. If I could guess what the little girl is whispering in Santa’s ear, I would say it’s probably something like, “Black Santa, will you help me find a new daddy, and a new man for my mommy, who is desperately single and is also one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood?” I think I could also safely guess that black Santa may not know it now but, if Christmas spirit has anything to do with it, by the film’s end black Santa and Gabrielle Union will definitely [insert sex joke with chimney-as-vagina-or-penis metaphor here, although I'm sure "Delicious" will take care of that for you].

On the far right, also relegated to the background, is a fat elf whose fatness will surely not be overlooked, in just about every scene in which he appears. This is known as The Dignity Turn, and is part of a long tradition in mainstream black cinema. All the greats have played this turn: Anthony Anderson, Mo’Nique, Cedric the Entertainer, Martin Lawrence (in fat suit), that kid in The Nutty Professor who farts a lot, etc. Of course, The Dignity Turn is not exclusive to black cinema; it’s a universal joy. (See: Kevin James, Dom Deluise, Jack Black, Chris Farley, Wayne Knight, Matthew Perry, etc.)

But the true highlight of this poster isn’t even front and center. I’m sure you didn’t miss that Christmas ornament in the bottom left corner of the poster. You know, the one in which Academy Award winner Queen Latifah and Academy Award nominee Terence Howard are imprisoned? But why? Easy. These two actors of a slightly higher pedigree and marketability (no offense, Morris Chestnut) were providing a favor. In exchange for partying with the cast and crew for a few days, they agreed to put down their glasses of wine and walk on set to appear in this film. Those roles were very small but, due to their aforementioned pedigree/audience awareness, the studio’s marketing department has found a way to magnify their perceived importance while still remaining “true” to their actual importance. If they could have, they would have made this poster just a giant close-up of Queen Latifah and Terence Howard with their hands outstretched, and all the other cast members sitting in their open palms like tiny little bugs. But, because that would mean never receiving another favor from Queen Latifah and Terence Howard again (and because it looks like they weren’t able to get those two actors to appear in a photo shoot for this poster), they’ve been exiled to this icy, ornamental prison, where they can only gaze meaningfully at the main cast but are powerless to intercede.

I am a very big fan of this kind of movie marketing. The very first example I can remember (though I’m sure there were many that preceded this) was in 1984, for a film called Best Defense. The film starred Dudley Moore who, at 50-something years old and incomprehensibly British to most, was not a huge draw. However, another actor in the film, Eddie Murphy, was pretty popular in 1984 which is why, though Murphy only appeared in the movie for a couple of minutes, and never shared any screen time with Dudley Moore, the movie poster looked like this:

At least Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise had the good taste to leave Anthony Edwards off their poster, instead of exploiting his tiny “strategic guest star” role. (appearing as a ghostly vision?)

The Best Defense marketing tactic has a reflexive corollary as well, when a movie’s main star is significantly more marketable than his or her co-stars. Remember the Jamie Foxx movie, Breakin’ All the Rules? Me neither, but I’ll bet Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut remember the movie poster, in which (though they were equally billed with Foxx) they only appear as reflections in Jamie Foxx’s sunglass lenses. Jamie Foxx’s mini-dreads have more poster real estate than either of his co-stars. I wonder how many managers were fired after this poster was printed?

All of this reminds me of something kind of unrelated, except in that it’s another movie that was probably heavily advertised in my neighborhood. If all of these PG romantic comedies marketed to black audiences could be distilled down to one perfect and defining moment, I would choose the final scene from Deliver Us from Eva. Not because it’s the most earnest or the most true moment, but because it has LL Cool J riding a white horse down the middle of the street in downtown Chicago. I actually tried to find that scene on YouTube but couldn’t. I suspect that’s only because if that scene were unleashed onto the Web there would be no need to see anything else on the Internet, ever. It would be the online community equivalent of Wim Wender’s warning in his film, Until the End of the World, that if we could see our own dreams, we might never need or want to see anything else again.

CONSERVATIVES FOR CONSERVATION

While driving around West Virigina over Thanksgiving, looking for some ‘strange’, I saw this bumper sticker on the back of a Prius*:

NUKE THE BASTARDS

I spent about two seconds wondering for which bastards this message was intended–the Iraqis, Iranians, North Koreans, gays, activist judges, Michael Moore, the Dixie Chicks, flowers, out-of-wedlock children–before realizing the answer was “all of the above.” It was a catch-all kind of message. Maybe he was browsing his Wireless catalog and, with all the specific “NUKE The…” messages available for purchase, he became overwhelmed and thought to himself, “Good Lord, I only have one rear bumper, and part of that real estate is already occupied by my ‘I HEART MY SPOILED ROTTEN CAT’ bumper sticker. How can I be expected to make a choice like this? Who am I, Sophie?” Perhaps he even said all of this out loud, and then his wife walked into their home office, fresh from praying next to a pyre made of Harry Potter books, and said, “Who in H-E-double hockey sticks is Sophie, you no-good snake!” and the husband opened a new browser window with Netflix and, together, they added Sophie’s Choice to their Netflix queue, right beneath Judgment at Nuremburg and Grandma’s Boy, and had a good laugh about the misunderstanding. Finally, when the laughter gave way to deep, satisfying sighs, he just decided rather than play favorites (like Sophie did, that cunt) he would just order up one “NUKE THE BASTARDS” bumper sticker and call it a day.

Then it occurred to me that, perhaps unwittingly, the owner of that bumper sticker is something of a closet environmentalist. By purchasing a bumper sticker with a single, sweeping all-inclusive imperative to nuke unnamed bastards, he’s avoiding a lot of squandered energy and raw materials. What if he’d gone with “NUKE the Iranian Bastards?” Then, after we do nuke them (we will), what then? Or what happens when there’s someone new that is in dire need of nuking, as there almost always is? Scrape away this sticker, and kill some more trees just so he can slap on a new one, with a fresh nuking sentiment? Kind of wasteful, wouldn’t you say? Especially when you can cover all your bases with one wonderfully succinct message for any armageddon-ish occasion. Finally, in the fight against global warming, here’s something everyone in America can do together without much of a fuss about “conspiracy this” and “liberal latte-licking agenda” that. I’ll tolerate your hateful jingoism if you’ll continue to choose your words as carefully and as thoughtfully as this West Virginian.

*Kidding. Of course it was a pick-up truck. Didn’t mean to make you do a Pinot Grigio spit take.

THE FUNNIEST YEAR THERE EVER WAS

My eight year-old nephew insisted on sharing his elementary school yearbook with me, mostly to point out cool dudes, his girlfriends, and the kid who no one likes because he sometimes hits other kids due to he can’t control himself and his many emotional problems.

But my favorite part of the yearbook (besides laughing at kids with jug ears) was a poll published where members of the third grade class were each asked to nominate the “Funniest Thing That Happened This School Year.” As you can imagine, the answers were edgy. For example, Rachel submitted the following funny-because-it’s-true moment: “When we were in Miss Stern’s class and a phone rang and everyone cracked up like crazy.” Ethan disagreed, remembering his own classroom crack-up like it was yesterday: “This one time, when my friend Liam threw his pencil.” That does sound pretty funny, but can anyone concur, I wondered. Then, about eight more positions down the list, I found this nomination from known funnyman Liam:

“This one time, when I threw my pencil.”

It must have been an excellent day for the third grade. Either that, or Liam and Ethan were sitting side-by-side, eating Lunchables best-friends-forever style, when they were approached by the yearbook editor with that poll question.

HELP THE AGED

A few weeks ago I attended an art opening for the painter Mark Greenwold. Mark is the father of my oldest childhood friend and, in my opinion, a tremendously gifted painter. Not just “that’s so cool your dad makes paintings and stuff” gifted, either. More like “these should be seen alongside John Currin and, fuck it, Paul Cadmus and David Hockney and any other sorta contemporary figurative painter you might get excited about.” His paintings are small—they take him a very long time to complete but, judging by the show, he’s working faster than he did when he was a young man—and they’re obsessively detailed and difficult to take your eyes off. There’s a lot happening on the canvases. A lot that someone with a degree in Art History or Psychology could tell you more about than I can.

The opening was held at the DC Moore Gallery on Fifth Avenue, near Central Park South. That gallery is nowhere near Deitch Projects or any of the white-box modern art joke shops along West 24th and 25th Streets. There was not a line around the block for the opening, teeming with teen and post-teens wearing plastic novelty versions of Mark’s eyeglasses, and everyone kept their breasts in their bras, and their bras in their shirts. Cobrasnake didn’t make it out for the show. It was not sponsored by a triple-distilled vodka infused with guarana.

If there seems to be a note of anger or bitterness in my tone, it’s because I sort of felt it on Mark’s behalf. (Although, speaking with Mark at the show, I suspect he feels some of it as well.) It’s just so frustrating to see truly great art seen by so few, when everyone lines up for miles to ogle Terry Richardson’s disposable camera photos of “strange” with post-coital sweat oiling their necks and naked chests, or Ryan McGinley’s out-of-focus pics of his friends hanging brain on their sleeping bag-snuggled buddies, or pissing off warehouse rooftops in the first after-after-party streams of sunlight. At the show, which I really loved for both personal and fairly objective reasons, I couldn’t help but be struck by this natural imbalance.

Which makes it that much sweeter that the New York Times crystallized (and better articulated) these very same thoughts in an incredibly positive review of the show. Of course, it stinks that the review is colored by the same feelings of iinjustice, placing Mark in the role of the written-off and overlooked missed opportunity in the art world. (Which he isn’t, of course; I think he actually sold a great number of the paintings in his retrospective before this review, and before the show’s opening.) It’s just nice that a few more people might get to see some pretty powerful work, although I guess it probably won’t attract the thousands of people who prefer to attend art shows where the most common comment about the work are “You see that shadow? That’s where the photographer was masturbating out of frame,” and “oh, snaps–there’s Courtney Love!”

TIMETABLE

Yesterday was a very long and runaround day, so I’ve decided to timestamp it. This will, of course, is interesting only to me and to others it will probably feel somewhere between confusing/distracting and self-absorbed/braggy, depending on how predisposed you already are to disliking me, or to reading people’s websites just to reinforce negative opinions of them/manufacture higher opinions of yourself. OK, go!

After Halloweening it up like crazy the night before, I woke myself up at 7:30 am. (something that most of you squares do each and every day, i realize, but it’s hell on bohemian types like myself who usually roll out of bed at 5:45pm, swab the genitals with a damp washcloth, pull on some pants, hit the stage and just dazzle for 7-12 minutes and then go back to sleep like some kind of housecat with a drinking problem) I used that unreasonably early wake-up call to finish writing an editorial for Fair Game, a public radio show I enjoy very much. Finished it too late to make a dentist’s appointment (11am–sorry, teeth!) but just in time (11:15) to make it to a meeting (12:30), then to a client’s office, where I received editorial feedback (13:12) and had to send back re-writes by 15:00. At 16:00 I received the final script, hopped in a cab, gave the script a once-over, and made it to the studio (16:25), made water in the VIP bathroom at WNYC (16:28), and recorded the piece on the radio, live. (16:34 – 16:40) You can here it by clicking on this word.*

Headed right back to Brooklyn (ETA 17:22), watched the “TiVo” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm on my DVR. (sorry to get all lingo’y on you with the various technologies with which i am intimately familiar — 17:38-18:04) Packed three changes of clothes in a couple bags, two for me and one for Lisa, and headed back into Manhattan. (18:32) Arrived at Lisa’s office (19:03) so she could change clothes, then walked to a friend’s cocktail party. (19:31) We go all the way up to her apartment floor and started to feel guilty that we didn’t bring wine or anything, so we headed right back down in the elevator (19:33) and to a liquor store next door where we deliberated over wine and vodka, a process made more difficult because neither of us knows anything about wine and neither of us wanted to spend $50 on a bottle of nice vodka. Finally, chose a wine, headed back to the party, talked, ate cheese, nuts, chocolate. Then I grabbed my bag filled with two changes of clothes and split (20:43), at which point I raced to a club in the East Village to help provide “background” acting for a friend’s independent film. (21:08) Lisa joined me later (22:30) and I was supposed to stay there until 01:00 but all the scenes were filmed outside the club, on the sidewalk, and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in an instant so, fearing the creeping presence of pneumonia and seeing there were more than enough colorful extras gathered outside the club already, I slipped out early (23:03) and grabbed a slice of pizza (23:10) before finally heading home again. (23:48) Tired and haywired as the day was, I still do prefer being busy to having lots of free time. But it would be nice to sit in a chair and read, or sit in a movie theater chair and stare. Or pick up a chubby-looking gamepad and shoot guys in the face for a little while.

*It is really worth watching this short video clip from the Senate Commerce Subcommittee hearing that inspired this editorial piece, especially if you’re a fan of uncomfortable squirming. C-SPAN really does make the best reality television programming.

SERIOUSLY, YOU ARE RUINING HALLOWEEN

First of all, New York City, thank you for all your beyond-the-call-of-duty weirdness and nudity last night. Halloween is always special here. I got a really late start last night, as I was up against a strict writing deadline on All Hallow’s Eve. (Thanks for that, whatever the Halloween version of Scrooge is!) Still, at 11:15pm the uptown 1 train did not disappoint with its volume of nonchalant insanity. Special props should be awarded to:

  • Puerto Rican Edward Scissorhands (Why are Hispanic teenage boys so moody? And why is their moodiness almost always expressed by dressing like The Crow?)
  • Heavyset teenaged girl smashed into train car, asking her friends, “was that the same guy who tried to put his finger in my butthole?” as if someone trying to put his finger in your butthole is a curious matter, rather than a felonious or emotionally-scarring one. Girl Power!
  • The three nearly naked young ladies–sized small, medium and xtra-large–waiting together on the subway platform at 27th Street. Good luck, ladies. I’ll catch up with you later, when the last few hours of your lives are fictionalized on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Or, if you’re really unlucky, amateurishly re-enacted on FOX-TV’s “Amazingly Dead and Raped Teenagers.”)
  • The crazy not-American couple not wearing costumes at the costume party last night, and who may or may not have been Belgian (as some people insisted) but were more than likely Portugese or maybe even Brazilian. Remember when you came up to me and my girlfriend, grabbed us both, and screamed, “We love it we love it we love it–WHAT ARE YOU?” Man, you were NUTS. The best kind of nuts.
  • The two ladies dressed as female American Gladiators, Ice and Zapp. You were both totally on your game. Nice one.
  • Guy dressed as a vending machine, trying to hail a cab on lower Broadway. Thank you for providing the kind of quiet urban poignancy that people really love to blog about. Tip of the hat!

And, sorry to end on a sour note, but I’d like to call a moratorium on this costume:

Seriously, cut that out. Buying an afro wig, then wearing sunglasses and a fake (or worse, real) gold chain and telling everyone you’re “a 70s porn star,” just doesn’t cut it anymore. You’re not a 70s porn star. You’re a weird fabrication and possibly the most unimaginative person in the room. That’s just not a costume. It’s more of a “douche teaser”–something to let you know the person wearing it is not the best. At all. 70s porn star costume, you are in the PENALTY BOX. Now take a seat next to that guy dressed in a pimp costume that came in a plastic bag and fits nicely over a Banana Republic dress shirt and chinos. YOU ARE RUINING HALLOWEEN.

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