Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Things I Am Thankful For

Well, folks, it's that time of year again. Time for turkeys and tofurkey, cranberries and stuffing, pumpkin pie and cinammon-flavored desserts--not to mention time to count your blessings and figure out all the things that one has to be happy for. Every year, I try to make a list of all the things that I am thankful for, just so I can remind myself, "Hey, idiot, things are never as bad as you think they are." So, in the time- and Oprah-honored tradition of being thankful, I present my list of things that I am happy for.

1. I'm thankful that I am living out my dreams of being a professional writer and working in the industry that I love the most: the entertainment industry. It's great that I get to go to red carpet galas and snap pics of celebrities and sometimes even get to meet and talk with them. It makes me happy to know that I'm connected to an industry that helps to lift people out of the sorrows of their daily lives and helps them relate to one another through the sharing of our experiences and stories through movies, music, books and stage. To be part of this "pop culture consciousness" is something that I have always aspired to, and I'm very grateful to be part of it--and get paid to do it.

2. I'm thankful that my family is relatively healthy and all making it through life and seem to be happy in and of their own lives. I'm thankful that my parents are both still alive so that I can continue to get to know them and hopefully build solid adult relationships with so that I don't go through the rest of my life wondering who the hell they were.

3. I'm thankful for my job at AVN Online (where this pic was taken just today by a co-worker), where I get paid to do the thing I love the most: write. It's essential to my well-being that I am employed in my field, and since getting this job earlier this year, my life has been in an upswing and I have been happier than I've been in quite some time. I'm also thankful for the various magazines that I do freelance work for, guaranteeing that every bit of my income comes from some kind of writing. The day that I actually realized, "Hey, I am fully supporting myself off of my art," I can't tell you how happy that made me. That I am still doing this gives me hope for the future, and I just know that bigger things are around the corner for me.

4. I'm thankful for my cat Masha, truly one of the greatest soul mates that I've ever had in my life. Ever since my Uncle Joe found her--emaciated and covered in dirt and sh#t--in the parking lot of the church next door and brought her over to my parents' house that fateful day back in 1997, Masha has been one of the sweetest, most affectionate pets that I've ever had, and I am convinced that we have bonded in a very profound way. When I wake up in the mornings to find her lying on top of my back or when she snuggles up to me on the couch while I'm watching TV, I feel that there is a reciprocal exchange of energy that transcends human-animal lines of separation. She is truly one of my best friends, and has been for such a long time now. She is the best. :)

5. I'm thankful for all my friends all over the country, and I'm especially thankful that two of my best friends from various points in my life have relocated to Los Angeles. Having two of my greatest friends (Mike from college, Trent from my days at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick) in this big, unforgiving city with me makes every day easier to deal with.

6. And, yes, goddamnit, I know this makes me sound totally "gay," but damn it, I'm thankful for Madonna. LOL!

Anyway, those are just a few of the things that I am thankful for right now. I'm sure there are more, but suddenly I'm bored being thankful!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE! You're in my thoughts!

Hollywood Ken

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Good, the Bad, the Gay, and the F'Ugly; The Week in Pop Music

So, what the hell is up in pop music these days? I'm thinking there must be something in the pop star water, as several of today's young musical celebs have recently been behaving rather badly and bizarrely, making public statements the likes of which seem to me to be career killers.

Personally, I don't have a problem with celebrities bragging to the press about their sexual exploits, but I don't know: Did Ricky Martin really need to go on record about his love of golden showers? That's right, folks: Ricky Martin likes to pee on people. In an upcoming issue of Blender magazine, the Latino (former) sensation acknowledges that when he's in the shower, he likes it warm. Really warm. "I love giving the golden shower," he says. "I've done it before in the shower. It's like so sexy, you know, the temperature of your body and the shower water is very different." Hmmmm, now isn't that just a bit too kinky for most of Middle America to hear about? I mean, isn't this boy trying to make a comeback here? Sounds to me like Martin is livin' la vida loco.

What's more, Ricky still isn't coming clean about his sexuality, choosing instead to use gender-neutral terminology when making statements like, "I'm open to everything. There are moments for soft, gentle sex. And there are moments for a good spank in the butt, the kind of sex where you pull the hair and grab the ears. I'm pretty open to whatever flows." (Obviously, based on his prior statements about piss play, it's obviously he's into whatever flows.) Now I don't know about you people, but I think when you make statements like that in the press when there are tons of gay rumors swirling about you, you're basically admitting to folks that you're at least a switch-hitter. Far be it for me to tell someone they need to come out, but I do think Martin's song-and-dance routine is getting a bit old at this point. It's not like the guy is Tom Cruise, for pete's sake! :)

In other music news, Enrique Iglesias has made a few rather surprising statements of his own in regard to his evidently unimpressive penis size. The studly Spanish singer has said that he plans to endorse a line of extra-small condoms, hoping to help eliminate the shame and stigma associated with having a small endowment. "The next product I'm gonna put my name on is extra-small condoms," Iglesias told the Houston Press. "I can never find extra-small condoms, and I know it's really embarrassing for people--you know, from experience. Hopefully people won't be ashamed when I step forward."

Well, I don't really know about all that, but I do know that the singer has previously gone on record as saying that he doesn't see himself as a sex symbol. And one might venture to say that which this recent career step, others might not be seeing him as much of one either. Not that size really matters in the long run. Trust me, there are many, many benefits to having average (or less than average) equipment, but isn't that something you keep personal? Is it really smart for a celebrity whose chief selling point is his masculine virility to tell the world that he's got a small willy? Then again, I'd like to see the world get away from their obsession with things like size, so maybe Enrique is making a very bold move toward a future in which we judge someone's attractiveness based on, oh, I don't know, their personality?

And let's not forget Mariah Carey and her crazy, bitter ass. Now, I must be honest and say that I've never been a fan of hers (What's to love about a dolphin singing pop songs? Her constant shrieking and vocal acrobatics grate on my nerves), but when little Ms. Scarey decided to go on record bashing Madonna, she really drove a nail of hatred into that coffin of animosity I've been fashioning for her. In a recent TV interview, Mariah dismissed Madonna, saying, "I haven't paid attention to Madonna since I was in [high school], back when she was popular."

Back when she was popular?!? To a Madonna fan like me, them's fightin' words if there ever were any. And I'm half-inclined to go off on a rant about how Mariah has fashioned a career on riding the coat tails of far too many important men and how the last few belleaguered years of her own career ups and downs could make a case for her irrelevance in pop culture (come on, Mariah, I seem to remember Virgin paying you millions so they could get out of their contract with you after the career-stalling travesty that was Glitter, so who the f#ck are you to be pointing fingers at other artists for not always staying on top of the popularity mountain. Oh, and do something about those floppy tits of yours), but well, I'm just far too, um, gentlemanly for that. ;)

Speaking of my dearly beloved, Madonna herself was in the news last week, and not just because her new record Confessions On a Dance Floor is currently riding high at No. 1 on charts all over the world. (Take that, Bitch Carey!) No, it seems that Madge has lost a plagiarism suit that alleged that she lifted four bars of music from a song by Belgian songwriter Salvatore Acquaviva for her tune "Frozen." Without hearing the song (called "Ma Vie Fout L'camp," which roughly translates as "My Life's Getting Nowhere"), I can't really say one way or the other if I agree that she stole the music, but the case does seem a little fishy to me. Acquaviva (Aqua-Velva, anyone?) alleges that he met Madonna in 1979, and says that she must have heard his song then. But my question is, Why did this guy wait so long--nearly 10 years after "Frozen" was a huge international hit--to come forward with this case? Why didn't he sue her back in 1998?

Oh well. I'm still waiting on a press release from Madonna's camp, because, obviously, the news that my favorite pop icon may have stolen someone else's material for her own gain is not the kind of news that I like to hear. Will she still be my favorite pop icon if she comes clean and admits that she did it? I don't know. But I do want to see her as more than just a "material girl."

At any rate, that's the news this week. Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, and we'll be in touch soon.

Hollywood Ken

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Today Is Madonna Day!

In celebration of today's release of Madonna's Confessions On a Dance Floor record, I offer this:


By Ken Knox

Madonna is dead-set on re-establishing herself as the queen of pop, and to prove it, she’s unveiled one of the most consistently pleasing records of her career. Released Tuesday, Confessions On a Dance Floor is a true Madonna fan’s (not to mention a DJ’s) wet dream—a non-stop, high-energy dance record that represents somewhat of a “return to form” for the former Material Girl. Gone are the musings on Kabbalistic life that marred 2003’s under-selling American Life; in their place are life-affirmative statements about the power of love and maturity, with a little of the old Madonna sass tossed in for good measure. The result is Madge’s best work since 1998’s Grammy winning Ray of Light, an irresistibly good pop confection for the troubled soul that encourages you to forget about your woes and worries and just get the hell up and dance.

To promote the record, Madonna has kicked into overdrive, doing the usual array of print and TV interviews (Yes, that was her literally getting back on the proverbial horse on David Letterman), as well as playing favorites to her fans; members of her long-running Icon fan club were treated via e-mail to one of the new album’s castoffs, a sprightly ditty called “Super-Pop,” as part of their membership. And then there was the promo concert at Koko’s in London.

Looking divine in relaxed designer attire and sporting the Farrah flip, Madge danced up a storm for an adoring crowd at the former Camden Palace (which, Madonna noted, was the site of her very first show in London 23 years earlier). She opened the five-song show with a lively rendition of Confessions’ first single, the Abba-sampling “Hung Up,” which was pretty much a live replay of her recent Euro MTV Video Awards appearance. After telling audiences that it was “so fucking good to be back” in London, she then charged into a note-perfect “Get Together,” the second track from Confessions. She followed it up with the somewhat controversial “I Love New York,” telling the crowd that even though she disses London in the song, she’s still a major fan of the city. “New York is where I learned to be an artist,” she explained to the audience. “It’s about a New York state of mind—being free.”

A hard-rock rendition of “Let It Will Be” followed, with Madge jumping all over the stage while bass guitars blared all around her. But for longtime fans, the show’s best moment was its surprise finale, as Madonna trotted out a highly souped-up version of her very first single, 1983’s “Everybody.” Dancing around the stage in a whirlwind of confetti, Madge and her team of talented dancers (some of who performed amazing krump moves) brought the house down on a jubilant show.

Madonna was in an especially jovial mood throughout the show as well. “I feel like I’m really out of shape right now,” she told the fans after finishing her fourth number, then quipped, “I don’t like falling off of horses.” Yet watching Madge dance around the stage while doing all of her singing live (take that, Elton John!), it was impossible not to marvel at the woman’s non-stop energy. If she was out of shape, it certainly didn’t show. In fact, the moderately choreographed show (one got the sense that choreographer Jamie King kept things on the simple side due to the stage’s rather limited space) was, if not one of Madge’s most elaborate outings, certainly a high-energy crowd-pleaser, reminding fans of why they fell in love with her in the first place. Indeed, when it comes to being able to carry fans along with her on carefree adventures, nobody does it better than Madonna.

The live show was followed by a nearly-40-minute-long documentary called Confessions On a Promo Tour, which, much like her recent docu-film I'm Going to Tell You a Secret, showed how Madonna and her team of producers, creative visionaries and dancers puts one of her shows together. The short film revealed a kindler, gentler Madonna, one who affectionately kids with her staff instead of berating them (as she did in the now-classic Truth or Dare: In Bed with Madonna), and who--more than 20 years into her long-running career--is still at the top of her game.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Press Junkets and Celebrity Benefits

So, now that I've detoured a little with reviews of Brokeback Mountain and the new Madonna CD, I guess I should get back to a more traditional blog format, huh?

OK, so, I guess the first thing I should tell you about is the Brokeback Mountain press junket. If you've been following my blog, then you know that this was my very first trip to an actual junket, so I was a little nervous going into it. I'd heard that it's impossible to get your questions in because everyone else is clammoring to get theirs in, and well, I am such a fan of the movie, I didn't want to come off like a starstruck fan fawning over the stars. But it wasn't like that.

The junket (aka "the roundtables") were held at the legendary Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. I arrived at 9:30 a.m. and was directed to go up to room 1218, where journalists were to sign in and enjoy a complimentary breakfast buffet. (Damn, it was good, too. Waffles, eggs, bacon, potatoes... a virtual smorgasbord of goodies.) I sat around and talked to a couple other journalists who offered me some advice, and then I headed down to room 219, where I took a seat at one of the round tables (hence the name). I was kind of quiet at first as the other reporters talked and joked amongst themselves. Indeed, some of them seemed like old friends, as they'd rn into each other on numerous times at other junkets. They started telling horror stories about celebs like Joaquin Phoenix and John Cusack being really bad interview subjects, and finally--after what seemed like an eternity--Jake Gyllenhaal came into the room and took the empty chair at the table--and the questions began.

I was very surprised that the other reporters were very relaxed and gracious with each other. There was no stepping on toes. Everyone who wanted to ask a question got to do so. I even got two in. Jake was extremely well-spoken (not to mention fucking adorable as hell), and talked at length about the movie and how filming it affected him (my question), among other topics. Then, after 15 minutes, he was ushered out of the room to go to the next roundtable session in one of the other three rooms where reporters waited for him to answer many of the same questions, I'm sure. So the reporters in my room got to talking again for a long while as we waited for Ang Lee to come in and talk to us.

Finally, after about 45 minutes, Lee came in and again, we started in. This time I got three questions in, and Lee was absolutely awesome to listen to. I'm a HUGE fan of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as well as The Wedding Banquet (another of Lee's films with a central gay theme), and after seeing Brokeback Mountain the previous night, I was in heaven being able to pick his brains on the movie-making process. What an experience. After Lee took his leave of us, I grabbed a cookie from the food table and headed on home, passing Jake in the hallway and sharing an elevator with Lee. I had half a mind to ask them if they would pose for pictures with me, but I didn't want to be "that guy." So I demured. Plus, when someone as hot as Jake Gyllenhaal is standing right next to you waiting for an elevator, you kind of clam up. LOL!

Anyway, I had a great time at the junket, and look forward to doing many more of them. I've been put on the MRPM publicity list for future screenings and junkets, so it looks like that will be happening here soon.

Now, last night I did get to have my pic taken with some bonafide celebrities, including--as you see to your right--pop singer Pink at the "star-studded" Wedrock benefit for gay marriage at the Avalon in Hollywood. I'm a huge fan of Pink's Mizzunderstood record, especially the song "Don't Let Me Get Me," and she was pretty cool to chat with briefly, though she seemed far more enamoured with actor Justin Kirk (Angels in America, Showtime's Weeds). Of course, Pink's a major stoner, so that would make sense. Haha. Others in attendance at the show included host Alan Cumming (X2), punk rock grandmother Nina Hagen, the lovely Margaret Cho, Kellie Osbourne, Bitch (of Bitch & Animal), and Erasure's Andy Bell. John Cameron Mitchell (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch), who was a co-producer of the event, was a no-show, which was a bummer, as I was very much looking forward to meeting him and seeing him perform. And Yoko Ono, who was scheduled to make an appearance, also didn't make it, though she did send a video she made for the occasion. I was backstage taking pics, though, so I missed the video.

I was such a dork and arrived "late" at 8pm, when the show was scheduled to start, but I totally missed the red carpet meet-n-greet that took place at 7:30pm. I was bummed about that. Oh well. But I did get to see most of the show, which was pretty fun. Alan Cumming started things off with some words about the importance of the "freedom to marry," then did a tongue-in-cheek number called "Don't Do It" (about a failing marriage. How's that for ironic?), then introduced Nina Hagen, who slayed with a four-song set that had the punk rock diva performing some kind of weird cabaret/opera mix that sent shivers down my spine. She was amazing. She closed her set with a rendition of "Ave Maria" that she got a little choked up on. (Literally, her voice failed her a few times toward the end.) Then she took a bow and left.

The rest of the show was OK. Margaret Cho's standup--culled from her most recent film Assassin--was on the mark ("If you're against gay marriage but laugh your ass off watching Will & Grace, fuck youuuuuuuu," she deadpanned), though Kellie Osbourne was pretty shaking as she attempted to read from a "serious" speech she had written. She stumbled through it so much that she eventually just tossed it down and spoke to the audience from her heart, at which point she seemed to relax. Pink only delivered a very short speech (no songs at all!?), Bitch did a few of her kookie songs, some cute little folksinger boy did a number (I was backstage getting pics during all this), and then Andy Bell came out and did two solo tunes followed by Erasure's "Respect" and "Oh L'amour." He was the closing act, and he was pretty damn good if you like Erasure.

Afterward, my friend Brian and I hung out for a little bit and listened to the music (courtesy of Dragstrip 66 DJ Paul V.), and I flirted with this handsome marketing dude from Dreamworks Pictures, and there were some cute guys around to look at. All in all, it was a pretty fun night, though my pics didn't turn out as well as I hoped. My digicam is a nice 6-megapixel one from Kodak, but without the proper flash, it didn't really pick up much of anything. And the ones that my friends took of me with the celebrities are out of focus or way too close up (like this one to the left of me with Nina Hagen and Andy Bell that was taken backstage). Oh well. I guess that's what you get when you have other people do your work for you, right? Haha

Anyway, I guess that's it for me this time around. Now that I've updated you on my two recent "star sightings," I guess I don't have much else to say right now. I'm still waiting to hear back from some of the magazines I sent portfolios to, and I can't stop playing the new Madonna and Kate Bush CDs, I've got a few stories I have to turn in, and tonight I'm going to see Jarhead with my buddy Mike. I'm looking forward to that one, especially now that I'm on this Jake Gyllenaal kick. Hehe. I guess this week won't be as exciting as press junkets and celebrity benefits, but oh well. I guess that's just the other side of my La-La life, right? ;)

Later for now.

Hollywood Ken

Monday, November 07, 2005

Savory 'Confessions'

So, over the weekend, I happened to luck upon an advance copy of Madonna's highly anticipated (and extremely well-guarded) new CD, Confessions on a Dance Floor. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I was to come by this, and I'll have to fill you in on my experience at the Brokeback Mountain press junket later (it was awesome!), but for now, I just want to post my review of the CD here. So here you go:

Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor

I've often been of the mindset that, for an artist to retrace his or her steps and revert to their old ways is a bit of a waste of their talent. I mean, isn't it better for them to mature and grow as an artist, instead of just rehashing "the good ol' days" over and over to make a quick buck? Is an artist really an artist if he or she is just pulling from their old hits and updating them for lazy audiences? It's kind of hard to say. After all, some bands and artists have made a career out of this. While Britney Spears continues to churn out forgettably inane pop ditties that rarely build upon anything she's done before, Christina Aguilera at least managed to snag Linda Perry to write some more mature-sounding tracks to balance out most of the fluff on her last record. Kylie Minogue is another one who is guilty of this, as nearly everything she puts out sounds like pure dance drivel to this reviewers' ears.

Madonna, however, has made a career out of building upon her past, of propelling herself into the future--indeed, of reinventing herself, as so many are apt to say. Just when audiences had her pegged as a lace-ridden pop tart, she ditched the bras and dime store clothing for a more mature sexpot look and defied our definition of her. Ever since unveiling the highly dramatic "Live to Tell" video in 1986, she's continued to confound our expectations by using her body as a canvass for her artistic expression. Her music has been part of this revolution, too: No two Madonna records sound the same. On each one, she has ditched past collaborators to take up with new ones who would help to reshape and redefine her "sound," hoping to stay one step ahead of her listeners. And, for the most part, it worked. Not until 2003's sorely underrated American Life--surely one of her boldest and most daring risks in her career because of its sheer simplicity, its incredibly personal intimacy--did audiences revolt. They wanted "the old Madge," the one who wasn't afraid to titillate and whip up some controversy. Who was this woman singing about love and the emptiness of fame and fortune?

Of course, many artists have been victim to this way of thinking. Liz Phair, in particular, has experienced major backlash after abandoning her indie roots for a more mainstream pop sound. Audiences equate certain artists with a particular time in their lives, and they don't want those artists to grow and change. I think it has to do with audiences feeling the loss of youth, and it makes them sad to realize that they, too, are getting older. And nobody likes to admit that they are getting older. Except Madonna.

Yet, here she is taking to the dance floor like a brazen hussy in heat once again, gyrating at the Euro MTV VMAs with a scantily clad cast of attractive dancers and achieving seemingly impossible yoga moves in the video for her latest single "Hung Up." Here's Madge once again telling us to forget about our woes and cares (like she did way back when on "Holiday") and just celebrate life and love. Here's pop music's queen of reinvention taking a step back for the first time in her career to "re-invent" herself as... um, a dancing queen.

So what gives? Has Esther taken into consideration all the criticism she got for American Life and decided to give audiences what they want? Perhaps. It's no secret that her album sales are not what they used to be (though it warrants mention that her Re-Invetion Tour was 2004's most successful tour and that recent appearances at Live-8 and those VMAs have gotten audiences off their feet and screaming out for more). But, here's the thing: while any other artist might make such a brazen attempt at recapturing their glory days look like a calculated move to "cash in," Madonna actually makes it look not just genuine, but like a step AHEAD in her career. In fact, as she did on that amazing Re-Invention Tour, she snags bits and pieces from her 20+ years in the business and tosses them into her new stuff, bringing her career full circle while also launching it into its next phase.

Madge's latest disc, the thrilling Confessions On a Dance Floor, is truly one of her strongest records to date, buoyed by Stuart Price's (aka Jacques lu Cont) magnificent production and some of Madonna's tightest songwriting in years. While I was a major fan of 2001's Music and of American Life, Confessions... is by far her strongest album since 1998's Ray of Light. In fact, it's not exaggeration to say that this album has the potential to relaunch Madonna's career into the cultural zeitgest in the same manner that Ray of Light did for her. That record helped her to gain her first Grammy Awards and garnered her solid critical praise, not to mention a brand new generation of fans. Confessions could very well do the same thing; it's that good.

From the solid opener, "Hung Up," an addictively retro "disco" tune that borrows a bit of melody from Abba's "Gimme Gimme Gimme," all the way through the disc's final mantra of self-love, "Like It or Not," Confessions is an exercise in pop wizardry and sorcery. With Price (her musical director for both the Drowned World and Re-Invention tours) as her cohort and chief partner in crime, Madge boogie-woogies her way back into our hearts through her sheer tenacity, not to mention some of the most hummable pop confections in ages.

"Hung Up," of course, has already threatened to become ubiquitous with everything from cell phones to clocks, as demonstrated by those cheeky Motorolla ads. And the video--a sly homage to the sweaty antics of Bob Fosse-inspired choreography (not to mention yoga)--is a wonderful portrait of Madonna as she celebrates middle life. The song is gimmicky in the best sense of the word, with those soaring strings punctuating the throbbing insistence of the melody, by far one of her most infectious to date. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Track 2, the lovely "Get Together," incorporates the bass line from the old Stardust tune "Music Sounds Better with You," and sounds like something Madge might have cooked up with Everything but the Girl's Ben Watt (now wouldn't THAT be an inspired pairing? Here's my bid for that partnership to happen in the future). On it, Madonna revisits her ongoing dismissal of the Material World in favor of the all-healing power of love, singing, "I've searched my whole life to find the secret/But all I did was open my eyes/Baby, we can do it, we can do it all night" before asking "Do you believe we can change the future?" The melody is a bit more relaxed than that of "Hung Up," with nary the exhaustive production. This one is more simple and straight-forward, but Madonna's soaring vocals are entrancing, drawing us into her cry for uniting in the name of love. This one gets a 10.

The third track, the stunning "Sorry," is truly one of the album's masterpieces. It begins with Madonna saying she is sorry in a few different languages before the thumping melody builds and builds into a first chorus. She snatches a bit of the melody from The Jackson's "Can You Feel It" and incorporates it into this dismissal of a lover's plea for forgiveness. "I don't wanna hear/I don't wanna know/Please don't say you're sorry/I've heard it all before/And I can take care of myself," she proclaims. It's a magnificent statement of independence, and also a truly spellbinding tune. Another solid 10.

Some may be a bit baffled by the challenging "Future Lovers," a track which begins with Madonna telling us, "I'm going to tell you about love" before launching into one of her most ambitiously daring tracks since Music's "Impressive Instant." (This is no coincidence, as Music collaborator Mirwais Adhmadzi was her co-author on this one.) It's impossible not to recognize the Giorgio Moroder influence here as Madonna chants "Give me evidence of its brilliance" as she speaks of love. When I first heard it, I wasn't sure what to think of it, but it's growing on me now. It's a busy song, but that's not a bad thing. Just takes a bit to get into. I give it an 8.

"I Love New York" is probably the best/worst song on the CD. It begins with Madonna rhyming New York with dork, and further dips into the well of inanely simplistic rhymes when she arrogantly declares "If you don't like my attitude, then you can F. off/Just go to Texas/Isn't that where they golf?/New York is not for little pussies who scream/If you can't stand the heat then get off my street." I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it's the closest thing to a rock song that Confessions has going for it, but on the other, Madonna's unnecessarily combative lyrics seem to defy her pledges of love and unity? Why the need to come off like such a bitch? Then again, I kinda dig the melody, and well, I like an artist who's not afraid to tick me off. Besides, Madonna owns the New York City dance circuit, so she has earned the right to be a little bitchy when it comes to her favored city. So let's give it a 7.5 then.

The oddly-named "Let It Will Be" starts with a nod toward Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" with its use of strings, then moves into a heavily vocoder'd tune with Madge singing "Now I can tell you about success, about fame." Of course, she acknowledges that those things aren't all that important in the long run. "Now I can tell you about the place that I belong/It won't last long/The lights they will turn down," she offers, casting off her anxiety (and apparently any worries over her career) as she begs us to "let it be." Not exactly the Beatles, but still pretty damn good. I throw it an 8.

"Let It Will Be" moves effortlessly into "Forbidden Love," which finds Madge questioning such an affair. One can't help but wonder just who the hell she is singing about (Certainly not Guy, right? What's forbidden about their marriage anyway?), but I suppose we can't read too much into her lyrics. Best to just sit back and enjoy the Kraftwerk-inspired track, which is a dreamy one from start to finish. There's a nod to Daft Punk in there somewhere, though hey, didn't Madge already have a song called "Forbidden Love"? Regardless, this one is definitely worthy of an 8.

I hear a little bit of the Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" on the next tune, "Jump," on which Madonna champions the need for taking a risk and finding a place of one's own while simultaneously singing of the need for familial support. The song has a wonderfully evocative mood, and it feels shorter than it is, clocking in a 3:44, but it packs a lot into that small space. It's one of the record's true standouts. And who can't take an example from Madonna's ability to take a jump into the risky unknown? I give it an 9.5.

One of my favorite tunes on the album is the wonderful "How High," which again finds Madonna deconstructing her need for attention over the years. "It's funny," she sings, "I spent my whole life wanting to be talked about/I did just about everything to see my name in lights/Was it all worth it?/And how did I earn it?/Nobody's perfect/I guess I deserved it." On the chorus, she questions her own significance in the grand scheme of things, and even takes her critics to task for their mean-spirited slings and arrows. "It's funny how everybody mentions my name/But they're never very nice," she says. "I took it, just about everything/Except my own advice." Throughout the sumptuous chorus, she keeps wondering if any of her efforts will matter when she's gone. It's a bold yet humble track, demonstrating Madonna's increasing willingness to criticize herself. I like it. It gets a solid 9.

Things slow down a little bit at first for the opening of "Isaac," which features Jewish chanting, lots of strings and guitars and a riff borrowed from "Die Another Die" (and a few of those "mmmm-mmmms" from "Frozen") as Madonna tells the inspirational tale of Kabbalistic forces and a Kabbalah figurehead who braved the world even when his spirit was crushed. One's fondness for the track may depend on one's fondness for swirling strings and Jewish mysticism, but the song's trance-like energy and Madonna's sensual vocals carry it along to its climax. And I like that Madge isn't afraid to borrow from her own canon of work with samples from old songs. I kinda dig this one, so I'm giving it a 9.

Another personal favorite is the daring "Push," which is unlike anything else on the record. Here, Madonna seems to be singing to her hot Irish hubby, telling him "Every move I make/Every step I take/Everything I do/It's all because you push me." There's an interesting Middle Eastern vibe that runs through this one (which works, considering it comes right after "Isasc"), and every time I hear it, I just want to sing along. I'm a sucker for love song, though, and here Madonna doesn't disappoint me. I'm giving it a 9.5.

I have to admit, I find the disc's closer "Like It Or Not," to be a bit baffling. Not because it's not a good song (it sure as heck is), but because it seems to end the record on an odd note. It's a little darker and dreamier than the previous songs, and a bit slower as well, and just kind of fades out at the end. I would have expected a bit more of a definitive ending, but this is definitely a fabulous Madonna song. Here, she brushes aside those who dismiss her, telling them "This is who I am/You can like it or not/You can love me or leave me/'Cause I'm never going to stop." After the ambiguity of "How High" (on which she wondered if she should stick around), it's great to see her telling us that she's not going anywhere anytime soon. To this Madonna fan, such an assurance is the best thing about the whole disc. I give it a 9.

I don't usually do track-by-track reviews, but in this case, I felt that the need to. I'm quite pleased with this latest Madonna record. There are moments on it that are among the best of her career. What really strikes me about this record is that, despite reports that Madge was "softening up" on the whole spiritual pursuit thing in favor of good old fashioned disco tunes, the record is filled with references to her Kabbalistic tendencies. Which is fine by me. She seems more grounded, more centered, more focused, than she has in years. This is the sound of a woman who has lived long enough to realize the value in soul-searching, and it's an inspired declaration of her continued artistic integrity and relevance in today's world.
Though she's no longer the bratty femme fatale who masturbated herself into a frenzy onstage and made out with butch dykes in her videos, Madonna is still showing us that she's just as "spirited" as ever. Her energy has just been channeled into a different sort of expression.

Some of you may think her time in the spotlight has come and gone, but if there's one thing that Confessions On a Dance Floor proves, it's that Madonna will always find ways to find her way into our stereos--and even into our hearts. Simply put, you just can't keep a good woman down.

Grade: A

Saturday, November 05, 2005

An Early Review of 'Brokeback Mountain'

OK, so, tonight I got to go to a press screening for Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. I've been looking forward to this movie for quite a while now, ever since I first read that it was going to be made a couple years ago. Last October, I picked up a copy of the novella by Annie Proulx that it based upon and I read it while I was vacationing in San Diego. I remember being instantly struck by the eloquence of the storytelling, the incredibly realistic dialogue, and the depth in the characters and their love for each other. It only took me an hour or so to read the short story, but the experience was epic just the same, as it had such a huge affect on me. Anyone who really knows me knows that I'm a sucker for a love story; I'm a die-hard romantic, and reading Proulx's heartbreaking love story was a revelatory experience for me. On top of that, Hollywood has been trying--and failing--for ages to try and deliver a gay-themed movie that demonstrates with utter honesty the "gay experience," yet without all the sensationalistic trappings that most gay-themed movies usually come with. I've often been disappointed that most gay movies are so damned earnest, so damned heavy-handed, so damned silly. And so when I read Proulx's novella, I prayed that Ang Lee would get it right. And boy, does he.

The thing about Brokeback Mountain the movie--and it's also the thing that the actors and Lee have been saying in the press for it--is that it's just a quintessentially epic, all-American love story. It's emotionally devastating in the same way that, say, Casablanca, The Age of Innocence, The English Patient, and even Titanic, have been, yet it's also an incredibly hopeful story, as in Lee's more-than-capable hands, it becomes a yearning cry for--not tolerance, thank God--but simply understanding. It's the kind of love story that can affect even the most jaded of hearts, the kind that may even break through the resistance of the most prejudiced homophobe.

Like the book, the film's strength is its simplicity. The storytelling is uncluttered and matter-of fact, presenting the story in such intimacy that it's impossible not to understand what the characters are feeling. The pacing is even and even a bit on the "slow" side, but never in a way that drags on. Indeed, some of the best moments are found in those that merely present the characters silently eating or having a drink at a bar. The first five minutes of the film alone--when Jack Twist's battered truck humorously sputters into the parking lot where Ennis Del Mar is waiting to meet his new boss--are utterly silent and awkward in the realest sense. And the first time that Jack and Ennis have sex--an incredibly brutal and primal mating that is startling in its graphic intensity, not to mention its "un-Hollywood" lack of romantic frills--is filmed with no talking at all, just the labored breathing of the actors. In these moments and others, all that is not spoken becomes crystal clear to the audience.

I could go on and on about the movie, but I have to save some of this for my official review of the movie (which will be published in IN Los Angeles magazine). Of course, the acting is extremely authentic and bold. How could it not be with Lee (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger...) involved? Both Heath Ledger (as Ennis) and Jake Gyllenhaal (as Jack) are revelatory in their ability to depict their characters' emotions through stolen glances and tender monologues. Michelle Williams (Dawson's Creek) and Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) bring gravitas to the chief female roles of Alma and Lureen, which have been expanded from the novella into more fleshed-out supporting characters. And Anna Faris (Scary Movie, Lost in Translation), Linda Cardellini (Freaks & Geeks, ER) and Randy Quaid all have memorable turns in their cameos. The screenplay (adapted by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana) is rich and unaffected in its lyrical storytelling, and the cinematography (by Rodrigo Prieto) is stunning. Actually, everything about the movie is simply beautiful. That's probably the best way to describe it; it's just beautiful.

It remains to be seen whether or not Brokeback Mountain will usher in a new era of gay-themed films in the mainstream, but with this gently heartbreaking story of all-American love, the bar has most definitely been set for so-called "gay cinema." It's a film with the power to educate the ignorant in the ways of true love and connection, regardless of how society often perceives them. Will it change the world? Not likely. But it's a start.

My Grade: A

Hollywood Ken

Friday, November 04, 2005

Cowboys, Porn and Rock and Roll!

So, I'm going to try and be better about posting to this thing a little more regularly. One of the main reasons that I haven't been is because I was waiting until my Web site went up before I started directing people to my blog, and well, the good news is that it's finally up! Yep, that's right; my site,, is now up and running, so you folks should head over there and take a look at it if you still haven't done so. There are still a few bugs to work out (there's no sound on the flash intro yet, a few stylistic things to iron out), but for the most part, it's looking good, and I couldn't be happier with it. My Web designer, Roman, is a great artist, so you should totally check out his work too. He has his own site, so take a look at that if you're ever in need of a personalized Web site!

Two nights ago, we had a work mixer over at the Marriott motel in Woodland Hills. The staff from AVN, AVN Online and the AVN Novelty mag all got together and carried on for most of the evening. It was pretty fun hanging out with the co-workers. My boss was especially funny. Then last night, I went over to the Abbey in West Hollywood, where Chi Chi LaRue was having her annual birthday bash. This time, however, it was a tie-in to her new book, Warning, which includes some pretty amazing shots of gay porn stars by fashion photographer Greg Thompson, who has elevated adult photography to artistic expression with this book. I am very impressed with it. So if you get a chance, you should totally check it out. There's a pic of my favorite little porn star, Tag Adams, in the book that is just amazing.

When I first got to the party, it was already 8:30, and it had started at 7, but I had to run home from work and change into some WeHo-appropriate clothes (of course!) before I could head over. The party was pretty much in full swing, and once I got my VIP bracelet, I went on inside to salivate over the pretty boys. I have to say, though, there weren't as many porn stars there as I thought there would be. Chi Chi is, like, the biggest porn director there is, and I was kinda shocked that his birthday didn't attract a healthier roster of industry boys. True, there was Rascal Video exclusive Johnny Hazzard to drool over, as well as fellow Rascal boys Eddie Stone and Luca DiCorsa (that's him in the pic with me up above), and there were even appearances by Logan Reed, Michael Knight and Kyle Kennedy (pictured above with Hazzard), among a few others, but come on: where the hell was everyone? At home in the sling? At a sex club? Biting their nails?

Oh well, I guess I really shouldn't complain, right? I mean, after all, the drinks were free (though they reached their $5,000 "open bar" quota only an hour and a half into the party, so I only got one free drink!), the boys were pretty, and the music (courtesy of LaRue herself, who played DJ all night long) was pretty rockin' as well. (I actually broke off a piece of Chi Chi's birthday cookie, and it was delicious!) And really, any opportunity to mingle with hot gay porn stars is one that I'm going to enjoy, even if Tag Adams wasn't there to flirt with me. :)

Aside from my adventures in the skin trade, however, things are going pretty good for me as of late. This weekend, I will be attending my very first Hollywood press junket, this one for the upcoming gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain. I don't know how many of you people have heard about this movie, but I predict it's going to be huge. It might not top the box office, but it's going to be huge in other ways. It's the first gay love story of its kind, really. It features two very big young actors, Heath Ledge and Jake Gyllenhaal, and is directed by the highly revered Ang Lee, whose Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of my favorite movies ever. Not since the groundbreaking Making Love in 1982 has there been such a high-profile dramatic gay love story, so this movie has the potential to really "set the record straight" on male-on-male relationships and societal oppression. As Entertainment Weekly recently touted, "It has the power to change minds." Let's hope so.

Jake and Ang will both be at the junket on Sunday, and I'm a little nervous about it since it's my very first one, but a few of my journalist friends who have been to them in the past tell me they're pretty easy and simple. I'll just have to be assertive if I want to get one of my questions in. Saturday night is the actual screening of the movie, and I'm taking a hot cowboy as my date, so I can't imagine having a better experience than seeing a hot gay love story about cowboys with a hot cowboy. I'll have to let you know how it goes. I've also been booked for the King Kong screening, and I can't even begin to tell you how freakin' excited I am for that one!

Today I sent an email over to Madonna's people at Warner Bros, because I'm dying to interview her about her upcoming record Confessions on a Dancefloor. In the next few days, I'm going to start a 'Countdown to Confessions' series of blog entries, so be on the lookout for that! If you folks haven't heard the new song or seen the video for "Hung Up," then you seriously need to check it out over at I think Madge is gonna be back--bigger than ever!--with this latest release. She sounds great, and it's nice to see her back on the dance floor again. It's just like old times. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big ole fag when it comes to Madonna, and I'm so not ashamed of it. She's provided such inspiration to me over the years, and I never turn on or give up on those who have inspired me. Madonna has remained a creative visionary throughout her career, and in a time of war and destruction and government-sanctioned hatred, her message of love and spirituality and human kindness makes her more relevant than ever. So there!

Oh well, I guess that's pretty much all I have to say for this time around. I have to put some pitches together for Pink mag. They're a new Southern California gay and lesbian magazine, and the editor has expressed interest in having me write for them. So, I'm pitching them an interview with Cyndi Lauper about her new CD, The Body Acosutic, which is a really cool album of her doing "unplugged" renditions of some of her biggest hits as well as two new songs. I think it's a great record, and I can't stop playing it. Love me some Cyndi!

Anyway, I'll leave you with this fun pic that my buddy Chris took of me up in the Hollywood Hills right by the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. It was like 8:30 in the morning, after we'd been up swimming and "stuff" all night, so I think I kinda look pretty tired. What do you think?

Talk with you soon! Stay in touch, and go check out my Web site!

Hollywood Ken

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