'Wig in a Box: Songs From and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch' (2003)

Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell's gender-bending Hedwig and the Angry Inch has gathered a cult following among film- and theater-goers. As evidenced by this collection, the music has quickly become greatly beloved by musicians as diverse as Yoko Ono, Imperial Teen, and Fred Schneider. The passion for these songs espoused by the artists is readily apparent in all of the tracks, but unfortunately their love of the material does not always produce the greatest results.

The album's highlights:
  • Sleater-Kinney & Fred Schneider's "Angry Inch" — Sleater-Kinney's intense guitar and drum work, Corin Tucker's half-singing/half-bellowing vocals, and Fred Schneider's snide delivery perfectly capture Hedwig's angry yet tongue-in-cheek narrative of his botched sex-change operation.
  • Frank Black's "Sugar Daddy" — One of the albums most energetic moments, Frank Black truly embraces Hedwig's spirit of challenging notions of both sex and gender with his gravelly-almost-snarling delivery of lines like, "I'll be more woman than a man like you can stand."
  • The Breeders' "Wicked Little Town" — The subtle guitar work and Kim Deal's quiet, raspy vocals make this song a very beautiful, intimate encounter with The Breeders.
  • The Polyphonic Spree's "Wig in a Box" — This track is probably the best match of material to artist. The theatrics and ostentation of the lyrics perfectly complement The Spree's grandiose musical arrangements.
Honorable mentions include Rufus Wainwright's "The Origin of Love," Spoon's "Tear Me Down," Yoko Ono & Yo La Tengo's "Hedwig's Lament/Exquisite Corpse," Ben Kweller & Ben Folds' "Wicked Little Town (Tommy Gnosis version)," and Cyndi Lauper & The Minus 5's "Midnight Radio."

The new material by Robyn Hitchcock and John Cameron Mitchell is probably the biggest disappointment. And while Bob Mould's clubby, dance take on "Nailed" is a fun enough cover, it completely strips the song of its eroticism.

More of this album works than doesn't, and it's a must-buy for Hedwig fans and indie-music lovers alike.

Clint Eastwood’s ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ (1997)

Despite this film’s somewhat bloated running length, I did rather enjoy this movie. Though Clint Eastwood was rather trying my patience by perpetrating one of my greatest cinematic pet peeves: the underdeveloped and unnecessary romance. Had Eastwood been wise enough to hack off the uninteresting relationship between John and Mandy, the film would have been a more reasonable length and had better pacing. Not only did John Cusack and Alison Eastwood lack chemistry (Cusack had more of a spark with The Lady Chablis), but Alison Eastwood did not present herself as a very good actor.

When I finished watching the film, I began mentally preparing my attack on Eastwood for his stereotype-fueled portrayal of southerners. But as I began to really think about it, I realized that the characters in the film are only slightly over-the-top. And they are embellished only for cinematic and entertainment purposes. The film does not attempt to be a gritty, realistic documentary, therefore the embellishment is not inappropriate. Nice touches of southern culture were Joe Odum handing out refreshments to spectators of Jim’s arrest, the fey hairdresser wondering if John attends his church, and Chablis’ dismay at John coming to her “house of mourning” without flowers and condolences.

The acting in this film is quite good, aside from Ms. Eastwood. John Cusack is solid as usual and gives his great Cusackian delivery of lines like, “This place is fantastic; it’s like Gone With The Wind on mescaline. They walk imaginary pets here, Garland, on a fucking leash. And they’re all heavily armed and drunk. New York is boring!” Kevin Spacey’s rather inscrutable facial expressions serve him well in this role and Jude Law makes the most of a small part. Of particular note is Irma P. Hall, a very underrated character actor (in my opinion).

One part of the story that I felt was underexplored was Savannahian society’s rejection of Jim once his sexuality came to light in such a dastardly context. His friends’ desertion of him is suggested in one scene, but not played out to its fullest extent. Eastwood did fail to include the legion of Southern Baptists that would have protested en masse outside of the courthouse, had Jim’s sexuality been made public in the newspapers.

Woody Allen's 'Melinda and Melinda' (2004)

As any film enthusiast will tell you, Woody Allen’s track record as a writer/director has been steadily flagging since the 1990s. Most Allen fans and film snobs point to 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors as the last great Allen film. I enjoyed several of his ’90s efforts, such as Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bullets Over Broadway and Deconstructing Harry, and Mighty Aphrodite and Everyone Says I Love You have also been touted by critics. But his twenty-first-century efforts have been decidedly lacking in both the quality and humor that one expects from Woody Allen. While Melinda and Melinda is not Allen’s spectacular return to form, the movie is substantially better than many of his most recent efforts, including Anything Else, Hollywood Ending, Small Time Crooks and Celebrity.

Unfortunately, I think that only half of the movie works really well. Basic plot overview: someone tells a story at a dinner party and two playwrights spin their respective versions of the tale, one in the genre of tragedy and the other of comedy. The only character who overlaps both stories is Melinda, ably played by Radha Mitchell. The comedy storyline succeeds very well, mainly thanks to Will Ferrell, but the tragedy drags. The viewer begins to long for those scenes to pass quickly so that the plot returns to Ferrell and Mitchell’s comedic counterpart.

I think that Allen’s big mistake was not making clear to the audience from the beginning that the tragedy half of the script is also supposed to be funny. I watched the film with a friend and finally, three-fourths of the way through, we both realized that it was OK for us to laugh at tragic Melinda. The tragedy is, in fact, a melodrama with all of the preposterous language and lines present in abundance for comedic effect.

The talent of Allen’s actors seemingly was his undoing. ChloĆ« Sevigny and Chiwetel Ejiofor are both very talented dramatic actors who make the schmaltzy, melodramatic script down-to-earth and truly tragic. While Mitchell doesn’t ham it up, she strikes a balance between tragic and comic that reveals Allen’s intended tongue-in-cheek portrayal of this pathetic woman. Had Sevigny and Ejiofor offered similar performances, the audience would have realized that Allen purposefully wrote a “bad” script for that section of the film.

But I must include my recommendation of Melinda and Melinda. As I said, this film is Allen’s best in years and it is an enjoyable experience, especially if one remembers to laugh.

Keith Gordon's 'Waking the Dead' (2000)

I kind of liked the premise of this film — a young man’s idealism of the ’70s comes back to haunt him during the ’80s in the form of hallucinations of a dead lover — but I found Keith Gordon’s execution lacking.

The film’s offenses:

  1. Underdeveloped romance. The connection between Fielding and Sarah is central to the plot. Without a strong connection, Fielding’s questioning of his actions and his sanity would seem contrived, which unfortunately is the case. I never buy a love at first fuck — Er, I mean sight kind of romance and the script did not give much evidence of what drew these very different people together besides, perhaps, a mutual appreciation of the other’s physical appearance. (Though I have to say that Jennifer Connelly was not looking her best in this movie. I usually find her attractive, but she looked downright plain at times.) The attraction was even more difficult to believe because of....
  2. Lack of chemistry. Billy Crudup and Connelly generated about as much heat as a block of ice. Seemingly to compensate for the lack of sexual tension, director Keith Gordon included a lot of sex and a lot of nudity in the film. Well, “nudity.” Though, of course, Jennifer Connelly’s breasts made an appearance. (They really should get an agent so that they can have their own deserved credit.) Anyway, the sex and the nudity — they ain’t workin’. That montage with Sarah saying in a totally not Louisvillian accent, “And then you were inside me” while she masturbates wearing Fielding’s t-shirt — it ain’t workin’ either.
  3. Book-y dialogue. A novel by Scott Spencer is the source material for the screenplay, and sometimes the awkwardness of the dialogue betrays that fact. These bits probably read fine but falter coming from actors’ mouths. My favorite example: “I am in this fucking room alone. And I’m choking on the collective sense of superiority.”

The film’s assets:

  1. Billy Crudup. I think that he makes the most of a badly drawn character. Even though the screenplay seemed to try to alienate me at times, he kept me involved, interested, and questioning Fielding’s sanity.

While I cannot give this film a strong recommendation, I did enjoy a majority of the running length. I found the scene between Sarah and Fielding in his office touching and I was satisfied with the ending. Though I would have chopped off that last scene — too sappy for my taste.

"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid (1978)

How is this a short story?

I do not ask this question out of criticism but rather curiosity. The story consists of only one sentence — a sentence rivaled only by the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities — which is a series of instructions given to a girl by her mother. The reader knows only of the girl from the two interjections, set off in italics, that the girl makes.

So where is the narrative? With this story, Kincaid seems to trump even the simplest of plots of novels such as Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway, which basically involve the main characters walking around a city for a day. But somehow with one fabulous run-on sentence Kincaid does manage to create a narrative of sorts, one somewhat dependent upon the reader’s interpretation.

The mother’s speech begins with descriptions of what chores to do on Mondays and Tuesdays before the lecture becomes a tangential slew of instruction and scolding. The mention of Monday then Tuesday teases the reader with the suggestion of a sequence to the story, which Kincaid then quickly discards. A more traditional concept of narrative — as in, this event happened followed by this event and the characters reacted — does not exist within this story. The story consists entirely of dialogue with no descriptive sentences to service furthering the plot — there isn’t one — or describing the characters. Because Kincaid chooses to neither name nor describe the girl and mother, I am inclined to believe that the story intends to provide a picture of a particular culture or subculture, most likely Antiguan culture, rather than two specific people. The lack of descriptive sentences also suspends the story outside of a specific time period. These bits of “advice” could have been delivered at one time, over the span of several hours or even years. Thus, the lack of sentences outside of the dialogue gives the story more universality. The lack of usual punctuation also distinguishes this story from the average piece of fiction, and, again, suggests timelessness and an otherness of the culture in which this conversation occurs.

Though this story provides only a brief insight into the culture of Antigua, the insight manages to be rather complete in its illustration of women’s place within society. The mother’s instructions, in fact, provide an outline of female gender roles. The list describes the more public actions of being a woman — such as what to clean on Monday, what to wash on Tuesday, and how to act properly and not like a “slut” — and the more subversive knowledge, such as how to abort an unwanted fetus. The relationship between the mother and daughter is also revealed as somewhat complicated. While the mother does not seem to display much affection to her child, she does aim to arm her daughter with the knowledge that the girl needs to survive.