Monday, March 20, 2006

Eric and Levi: An Evening of Gay Acoustica

So tonight my buddy Kevin and I went down to the Mint on Pico Blvd. to check out two very talented singer-songwriters, Eric Himan and Levi Kreis, both of whom I've written stories about. I've seen Levi perform before, but have never seen Eric play live. What an experience. Himan (a fellow Pennsylvanian who currently lives in Pittsburgh) is one helluva talent, with an expressive voice and extremely competent guitar playing. His songs are at once emotionally resonant and unforgettable. He's such a softie, which I love. The irony is that on the outside, he looks like that sh#t-kicking bad-ass you always wanted to get it on with. (Talk about the perfect combination, right?)

Eric started the evening, performing a great set of some of his best tunes. At one point, he invited Levi up onstage with him for a cover of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" that was way cool. Eric's voice even carried a bit of that Collins weight in it, and Levi's forboding piano work provided a haunting backbone to the song. Seeing these two extremely talented men sharing the stage together was quite the experience, and it's obvious the sold-out crowd thought so as well, as they clapped and whistled like crazy when the song was over.

Then Levi took the stage, and let me tell you: WHOA! I've seen Levi play before, but never like this. There was just something, um, "in the air tonight" with him. He came to life in a way he hadn't at the Zephyr Theatre earlier this winter. This time, when he performed tunes like "I Should Go," "With You" and especially "Lonely Sunday Morning," his words -- and especially his gorgeous voice -- reached right into my chest and twisted my heart around. I had to wipe my eyes a few times during his set. Afterwards, Kev and I hung about and chatted with both Eric and Levi, as well as my buddy, Misadventures in the (213) author Dennis Hensley, who was also there to see the show. Eric was such a stone-cold fox with his tattoos and all, but it's that boy's smile that just lights up the room when he's onstage. Not to mention his music. It's a good thing that boy lives in Pittsburgh, 'cuz I gotta tell ya... I'd probably be stalking him if he lived here in L.A. God knows if Levi was ever in town long enough for the two of us to hang out, he might never get away from me. :)

Anyway, it was a dang good night. And for those who haven't yet discovered what amazing singer-songwriters these two openly gay hotties create, make sure you check out their MySpace pages (links above).

Hollywood Ken

Friday, March 17, 2006

The GAYVNS: The Oscars of Gay Porn

Just four days after the Oscar Awards, I was off to yet another awards ceremony. But the awards in this event were not being handed out for excellence in Hollywood filmmaking, but for excellence in something entirely different.

The GAYVN Awards are held annually at RAGE nightclub in West Hollywood. Honoring the best in gay porn, they are the year's biggest, most fabulous event, often irking those who cannot get in (the guest list is notoriously limited to nominees, press and AVN/GAYVN staff). As exclusive and "prestigious" as the event is, though, it's really not much more than an excuse for folks to get sloshed at the free bar and ogle at the (fully dressed!) porn stars who mingle about. The award "show" itself is a joke. Host Chi Chi LaRue (God love her) plows through the awards so fast that there's barely time for her to catch her breath, and there are none of the fun and games in the form of comedic sketches that populate the Oscars (and even the AVN Awards, which are held annually every January in Vegas). Not that I should complain. As one of the GAYVN judges, I get to attend the event and even flirt with some of my favorite porn stars. Though it sucked that I had to wait in line for 35 frickin' minutes to get my food, I really can't say that I had a bad time.

For the most part, I spent the evening hanging out with my good buddy Kelly, otherwise known in the porn world as Tag Adams. Being from the same hometown, Kelly and I (who, for the record, did not meet until just two years ago, 3,000 miles away from Gettysburg, PA) have a rather humorous outlook on the "glamour" of the gay porn world. It's easy to get caught up in, but we recognize it for what it is and we enjoy ourselves accordingly. (Read: We sit in the corner and whisper about how tragic everyone else is... KIDDING! We love you all!) This year, Kelly wasn't even going to show up. But, since he had just signed an exclusive contract with Raging Stallion Studios, RSS decided to fly him down to get a headstart on promoting their hot new stable boy. As it turns out, it was a good move: Kelly was there to accept his award for Best Oral Scene for his work in Falcon's Bang Bang. (Yup, he was essentially deemed the year's best c*cksucker. Gotta love the gay porn awards.)

There weren't really any "upsets" like at the Oscars. Everyone had pretty much predicted that either Chi Chi's Wrong Side of the Tracks or Michael Lucas' triple-X remake of Dangerous Liaisons would walk off with Best Picture. As it happens, both movies won the award in a tie. What's funny is that Chi Chi and Michael can't stand each other. Michael is always saying horrible things about Chi Chi (and basically everyone else) in his notoriously addictive blog, and Chi Chi does her best to hold her tongue and take the high road. But when these two stood onstage next to each other while accepting the award they had both won, it was priceless. You could cut the tension with a butter knife; it was that palpable. When Lucas accepted his award, he thanked all the judges who'd voted for him and then told all those who hadn't to "f*ck off." Oh my! And then, as if that wasn't hysterical enough, an obviously inebriated J.D. Slater (porn legend-turned-Raging Stallion-partner) took it upon himself to stage a one-man revolt and started throwing ice at Lucas. (He later apologized to Lucas, and this week sent out an email to everyone in the industry apologizing for his obvious lapse in judgment.)

I was a bit disappointed in some of the winning titles. Personally, I thought Best Sex Scene (Duo) should have gone to the brilliant seduction sequence between Spencer Quest and Luke Pearson in Joe Gage's amazing 110° in Tucson, while (allegiance to Kelly aside), I thought that the sizzling chemistry between Ken Mack and Damon DeMarco (my new porn crush) in Gage's Alabama Takedown should have taken the top honors in the Best Oral Scene. but what can I do? I can only vote. Hell, if I had my way, Joe Gage would have won in every category he was nominated in. As much as I love Chi Chi, Michael Lucas, Steven Scarborough and all the others, nobody in this business understands the true nature of sexuality like Gage does. He is the master at staging realistic seduction scenes that make me feel like I'm reliving my first time all over again. The man is simply the best porn director who's ever lived. But, even though not all of my picks got picked, I was all to happy to stand around checking out all the eye candy. And when you've got dirty-boy studs like Tim Rusty and Jacob Slader making out on the RAGE patio with their shirts off (that's them, pictured above left), it simply doesn't get much better than that.

After the awards, we made our way over to the Abbey for Chi Chi's after-party. We had to wait in lines for what seemed like HOURS (in fact, it was at least 30-45 mins) to get in (yes, even someone as "powerful" as myself had to wait in line, but so did Steven Scarborough), but once we were inside, it was more free liquor (oh, how I love free liquor!) and even more hot men to look at. (Colton Ford was there! Colton Ford was there! Yup, that's him above on the left with Kelly and daddy of my wet dreams Parker Williams.) Chi Chi was spinning some pretty good music (in addition to her usual selection of Pat Benatar and Joan Jett, she even played E.G. Daily's remake of Donna Summer's "Sunset People"), and everyone -- even those who didn't win awards -- seemed to be in jovial spirits. Then again, when you've got an open bar and some of the world's hottest men crammed into a tight space together, it's kinda hard not to crack a smile.

Though I hear that lots of people ended up at Chi Chi's condo for an after-after-party that lasted until sunrise, Kelly and I decided to ditch the festivities after about an hour and a half and go for a bite over at Canter's Deli. Which suited me just fine. After all, there really is just so much that a red-blooded gay man can take in before his head threatens to explode from overload. An evening of sex and debauchery with a bunch of award-winning porno studs might seem like every gay man's fantasy, but a late-night snack of a turkey burger and fries (with ranch, of course) with one of my favorite people in the world was just what this former dirty puppy needed to bring the night to a close. After all, there's always next year for sex and debauchery. True friendship doesn't come so easily.

Hollywood Ken

A Belated Oscar Night Post

So, it's been a couple weeks since the Oscar Awards came and went. Now that the smoke has cleared and the dust settled, though, I think that many are still left wondering: What the hell happened? Of course, I'm speaking of the night's major upset, the out-of-nowhere win for Best Picture usurped by Crash that should have gone -- by almost all accounts -- to Brokeback Mountain.

Almost as soon as the event was over, pundits began speculating over the reasons for the upset: Since most Oscar voters live in and around Los Angeles, a movie that specifically addressed the "L.A. experience" like Crash spoke to them more than one that dealt with rural life. Or perhaps people felt that Brokeback's widespread critical acclaim and the momentum it had gained in mainstream society was getting out of hand, and they rebelled against conventional widsom. Or maybe the movie just turned off too man older male voters who were not yet ready to see two cowboys getting it on at their local movie house. (Of course, an aggressive Oscar campaign that included DVD copies of the film being sent to every single voter didn't hurt.)

Personally, I think that there is something to be said for all of these reasons, and I think all of them had a hand in the Oscar upset. And I'm pretty pissed off about it, too. To me, it feels like a rather blatant slap in the face, especially since Brokeback had won the top honor at virtually every other awards ceremony leading up to the Oscars. And to give the film major Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, then deny it the big award just seemed like a big, fat, resounding kick in the nuts. What angers me most of all is that if you look at the critical response to Brokeback and Crash, Ang Lee's film had the advantage. It was, in fact, the best-reviewed film of 2005. By contrast, Crash, with its ridiculously convenient coincidences and obvious superiority complex ("Look how enlightened we are for talking about racism! Oh, by the way, you should all be ashamed of yourselves, you bunch of racists!"), was received tepidly by critics, with mixed reviews keeping it from winning all the adulation that went to Brokeback.

Look, I liked Crash. When I first saw it, in fact, I loved it. It made me feel. It made me think. I saw the world differently when I left the theater. I felt as if I, too, had been in a crash of some kind. I usually dig that kind of experience. But the more I thought about the movie, the more its many flaws began to reveal themselves to me. I realized that I had mistaken spectacle for depth, and it was then that I figured out that I had been manipulated into feeling an emotion that the film didn't earn on its own merits. It didn't tell a story; it forced one upon us. True, the acting in the film is nearly flawless on all accounts (it's a crime that Thandie Newton was not nominated for Best Supporting Actress), and that scene where Matt Dillon pulls Newton out of the overturned car is one of the most riveting I've ever sat through. But what bothers me about the movie now are all the little coincidences that populate it. Everything was too easy. Everything worked out just right at just the right time. "Oh, look how all these characters are interconnected and how they come into each other's lives at just the right moment. Amazing, huh? It really is a small world, isn't it?" (Actually, not so much.)

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Brokeback, a film of such serene gentleness that its profound impact got lost on viewers bowled over by Crash's heavy-handed histrionics. "Brokeback was too slow," people keep saying. "The middle section of it was dull." As a screenwriter, it saddens me to see that people can be so restless, so enslaved by the ADD that Hollywood has inflicted upon them with too many action films. Apparently movies have to have high-speed car chases, things blowing up and bank robberies in order to be judged entertaining. Simple films, eloquent films, true-to-life films about everyday ordinariness are deemed to be "boring" and "pretentious." (I can't tell you how many otherwise intelligent people dismiss Sofia Coppola's brilliant Lost in Translation as nothing more than arthouse dreck, or the legions of Sideways-haters who couldn't connect to that film's many radiant charms.) Brokeback, with its understated performanes and languid pacing, delivered a message just as profound as that featured in Crash, but it did it without the heavy-handed ironies and the chest-thumping..

The Golden Globes got it right when they snubbed Crash, failing to give it even a nomination. And yet it still snuck up on Brokeback and stole the Best Picture Oscar right out from under it. And I'm mad. I'm mad that Oscar voters thumbed their noses at the chance to make what could honestly have been a move for change. Brokeback, being the "big fat chick flick" that many are dismissing it as, may not be the most original movie ever made (yes, we've all seen the tragic love story before), but what it has going for it was its willingness to tell an authentic story of societal oppression's squelching of true love. Forget all the criticsm that the movie's tragic ending perpetuates the notion that gay love leads to unhappiness (such ridiculously reductive sentiments are usually only made by those who are all too happy playing the victim, it must be said); Brokeback showed those open enough to listen that love is something to be seized and celebrated, and it did it without being obvious about it. Its subtlety (like its simple, "boring" narrative) was its most powerful asset.

So what's next for gay and lesbian films? Well, we've got a surprisingly poignant German coming-out story (Summer Storm) hitting theaters March 24, and March 31 brings Craig Chester's amusing romantic comedy Adam & Steve. Sadly, both of these films will probably be relegated to quick arthouse releases, and it could be years before another film of Brokeback's magnitude is able to "break through" to the mainstream again. If the Oscars taught us anything, thought, it's that perhaps the world is simply not ready for such subject matter to be displayed on movie screens all over the country. And, far more than Brokeback's ending, that is a profoundly sad statement about society to be made.

Hollywood Ken

P.S: Don't forget to check out my brand new TV blog by clicking here!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Oscar This!: My 2006 Academy Award Predictions!

Hello again. Dang, it's been so long since my last post. What a bad, bad blogger I've been lately, huh? I'll post another update soon (promise), but for now, I want to get on to something very important... Oscar Predictions! Yep, folks, since it's just about that time again. Time when film fanatics get antsy, offices hold Oscar pools and Hollywood pats itself on the back for all the good work they've done (and hey, why not?). This year's Oscars promise to be one of the more interesting races in recent years, especially with the depth of talent that is nominated. Indie films seem to be the most represented of the nominees, with nods to Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features), Capote (Sony Pictures Classics), Crash (Lion's Gate) and Good Night, and Good Luck (Warner Independent Films). And with gay or gay-themed films represented in all the top categories, the 2006 Oscars could be a major victory for the gay community. I'm placing my bets on the following nominees to walk off the winners. See if any of these match your picks, and post your comments. Looking forward to seeing what you have to say.

Without further ado, here we go...



Having seen all the picture nominees, and having liked all of them to
some degree, I have to go with Brokeback Mountain, not only b/cuz it is, at the moment, possibly the most culturally significant of the bunch (after that landslide defeat of gay marriage initiatives in those 2004 elections, an old-fashioned Hollywood love story about two men whose love for each other is devastated by homophobia is a subtle but powerful way to give the finger to bigots across the country), but b/cuz it is the most understated, eloquent and simply beautiful of the bunch. Good Night, And Good Luck was, to me, too sparse, too simple, too small. Capote was more of an actor's movie than it was a story movie. Munich was good, but just didn't hit all the right notes. And Crash, as much as I loved it and its message, was just a tad bit overwrought for my tastes in its well-intended but often manipulative depiction of race relations in the big city, and I think that might work against its chances. Brokeback, on the other hand, with its simple, elegiac narrative and uniformly understated performances, was the most haunting--and also the most profound--of the nominees. Add to that the wealth of critical accolades being tossed at the movie, and I think it's a safe bet to say that, this year, Hollywood is "going gay." (And really, it's about f#cking time. Haha)


Though I thought Steven Spielberg did a superb job with Munich (I love the very 1970s feel the movie had, not only in the costumes and settings, but in the film's relatively languid pacing, which reminded me of The China Syndrome and All the President's Men), I don't think Munich is showy enough for him to win the Oscar. That leaves Paul Haggis, Bennett Miller, George Clooney and Ang Lee. Good Night, And Good Luck will most likely be shut out of all the categories it is nominated in (i's just too small a film by Academy-standards to win an Oscar for anything major), and Capote isn't as lofty as most Oscar-winning films usually are. In another year, Paul Haggis might have walked off for managing several interweaving storylines in Crash, but there is simply no beating Ang Lee, who not only delivered the year's most genuinely heartbreaking love story, but he wrestled the finest performances of the year out of his cast.


My personal favorite is Heath Ledger, not only b/cuz his portrayal of a straight cowboy (truly, I don't think his character is really "gay") in love with another man is a show-stopping marvel of explosive longing, but also b/cuz he's one of only 2 men nominated in this category that created a role out of scratch. But the Academy loves anything showy, which means that Philip Seymour Hoffman's tour de force as Truman Capote will walk away the winner. Which means that Terrence Howard (a wonder in the brilliant Hustle & Flow), Joaquin Phoenix (damn good, but the movie was just so-so) and David Strathairn (exceptionally good, but Good Night's smallness is working against him) will have to be content just clapping along with Ledger as Hoffman makes another acceptance speech. On the bright side, this means that 3 out of 4 of the awards in the top categories will go to a gay-themed project.


OK, let's talk the losers. Keira Knightley is luminescent in Pride & Prejudice, but at 20, she will have plenty of chances ahead of her. Apart from that, she's up against some powerhouse talent, namely Judi Dench (who, many have said, simply "phoned it in" for Mrs. Henderson Presents), Charlize Theron (who already won for her other ugly-woman role in Monster), and front-runners Felicity Huffman and Reese Witherspoon. Though Huffman deserves the award for not only her woman-as-a-man-becoming-a-woman tour de force in Transamerica but also for all the years this brilliant actress has been overlooked by TV and movies, I think that Witherspoon will be the lone major win for Walk the Line. Let's face it: she's American's Sweetheart (aka box office gold) right now, and the Academy just may feel compelled to make sure they hand out a statuette to at least one movie nominated in the major categories that was a bona-fide hit.


I have to say, I was very glad to see Jake Gyllenhaal recognized in this category. Though much of the acting praise for Brokeback has been heaped upon Heath Ledger, Gyllenhaal is really the glue that holds the movie together. His puppy-dog-in-love performance simply wreaks of vulnerability and ruffian charm, but I think he will be dismissed as just playing "second fiddle" to his co-star. That leaves Matt Dillon, Paul Giamatti, William Hurt and George Clooney. Though Dillon deserves major kudos for once again playing against type as the sadistic cop in Crash, he's not the type of actor that usually finds himself up for Oscar awards. And as unfair as this might be to say, I think that will work against him. He's Matt Dillon, the guy from Little Darlings and The Outsiders. Teen hunk getting older. I don't know that people take him that seriously. William Hurt, on the other hand, is an Oscar vet, having won for Kiss of the Spider Woman and been nominated two other times. But his work in A History of Violence amounts to just 10 minutes of screen time. Paul Giamatti has finally been recognized by the Academy, after having been shut out the last two years in a row. But this year, he'll just have to be happy that they thought of him at all. Which means that George Clooney, who actually put on lots of weight and got himself admitted to the hospital for his role in Syriana, will hopefully be keeping us in stitches with another hilarious acceptance speech. If he can top the one he gave at the Globes, I'd be all too happy.


This is one of the times where the phrase "Yeah, but she won the Golden Globe" comes in handy. I would love to see Michelle Williams awarded for her stunning, implosive performance as a wife wronged in Brokeback Mountain, but people may still hold Dawson's Creek against her. Amy Adams was a surprise nomination, and she gave a delightful performance, but Junebug was a difficult and loopy movie that not many people saw. Catherine Keener, I felt was just a little dull as Harper Lee in Capote, which brushed her aside far too often in favor of Hoffman. Frances McDormand was great (as always) in North Country, but I think that the role was actually too small, not to mention the fact that she was, um, mining familiar territory (a la Fargo), and I doubt she'll be awarded for doing so this time around. Which means that Rachel Weisz, who won the Globe for her turn as a daring activist in The Constant Gardener (and whose character's death ignited that film with much of its suspsene) will probably have another speech to deliver come Oscar night.


Quickly, b/cuz I'm starting to get tired of typing and I've got things to do: While The Constant Gardener and A History of Violence both broke free of the page-to-screen stereotypes that often plague adaptations of books, I don't see them as being weighty enough to snag this award. Munich was, in my opinion, simply too old-fashioned for today's times, and Capote was more of a character study than it was a truly great story. Which leaves Brokeback. And let's face it: Turning a 53-page novella into a powerhouse love story that clocks in at over 2 hours is the very definition of adaptation.


The Squid and the Whale: brilliant movie (I loved it), but far too small by Oscar standards. Good Night, And Good Luck: Apart from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, how often do actors (in this case, George Clooney) win Oscar awards for writing? Match Point: Woody Allen's best in years, but the story is more like a BBC mystery than the feature film it was turned into (and, to me, it shows in the finished product). Syriana: Perhaps a bit too bogged down in politics. Which means that Paul Haggis' Crash, which works several storylines into one mammoth whole, should be the winner among this lot.


Please, did you see how beautiful this movie looked?

Geisha is too easy a win. Besides, it's all costumes and art
direction for that one. Brokeback is the most luminously beautiful
of the bunch.

Sorry, gotta go with the one with the most storylines tied together.
I never once got lost during the film.

Sure, I love the music in Brokeback, but John Williams is an Oscar
giant. With two nods this year, I think he'll score (har! har!) for
the authentic Geisha score.

I want Dolly Parton to win, and I loved "It's Hard Out Here for a
Pimp," but Eminem's win for "Lose It" from 8 Mile may have been a fluke for rap songs, and Parton's tune might be a bit too simplistic for the academy. In the Deep is the kind of emotionally rousing show-stopper of the bunch.

As if there were any other choice.


Though Ray won in this category last year, I'm sticking with Kong
in a two-for-two win in the sound categories.

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory was a joy to look at, but Colleen
Atwood is already a winner (for Chicago), and Hollywood is a sucker
for Asian design, so I'm going with Geisha to, er, wear the pants in
this family of nominees.

Cinderella Man doesn't stand a chance in this one. So it's
between Star Wars Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith and The
Chronicles of Narnia
. Though some are predicting that Narnia will
be the winner in this category, I'm going to go with Sith to win
the Lord of the Rings/"end of the trilogy" award.

It's the only one I know anything about. :)

With 3 prior wins for their W&G shorts, expect Nick Park to snag a
fourth for their feature film debut. Besides, it was a true treat for

Some might think that Pixar will again dominate (for One Man Band),
but I'm thiking that 9 might take it for being the most interesting
of the bunch. A suspense yarn as a kids' tale? I'm down with that!

When all else fails, go with the Box Office winner! :)

Some have predicted The Death of Kevin Carter to be the winner
here, but I must admit: I love the title of God Sleeps in Rwanda. I
mean, it just sounds like an Oscar winner, doesn't it? :)

It's German, it's pretty out there, and it's about a creepy kid. It's
got my vote.


OK, folks, there you have it. My votes for this year's Oscar wins.
Coincidentally, they are very much in line with the predictions
in Entertainment Weekly this year. Hey, I think I might just be on
to something! :)

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