Misc. Reviews

SHOWTIME’S IMPRESSIVE DEBUTS

By • May 20th, 2003 •

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(Showtime)

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Ever since Olivier Martinez threw Diane Lane against a stairway, I’ve been following his career. A former boxer, Martinez was principally known as Mira Sorvino’s gorgeous boyfriend. Sorvino complained to Movieline Magazine that everybody is angry because she isn’t beautiful enough to be living with him. Now he’s in a very public love affair with an Australian pop star. Shunted aside completely when the “Unfaithful” PR juggernaut hit Oscar time (was Lane acting alone?), Martinez has the masculine beauty and depth of personality that makes Ben Affleck’s superstardom a confounding, enduring mystery right alongside “P versus NAP,” “The Hodge Conjecture,” and the “Yang-Mills Existence and Mass Gap.” (If you have an answer to any of these mathematical conundrums, The Clay Mathematics Institute in Paris wants to hear from you. The Institute’s international number is +1 617 868-8277.)

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was first published in book form in 1950 and the material, thankfully, has not been updated. However, haven’t rich old ladies always had young men as sexual escorts if they wanted them? (Ivana Trump’s new boyfriend is 27 years old). Big money (best acquired through inheritance or divorce) bestows social aristocracy, blind acceptance of foibles, and cheery good will, especially if one is generous. In Williams’ story, rich women are preyed upon by degenerate gigolos. It’s shameful to have a paid-for young lover.

I wonder if Williams collected field research on this subject.

When Karen Stone (Helen Mirren), a wealthy, respected Broadway star, loses her adoring, but impotent husband, she decides to settle in Rome. Her stardom doesn’t cross over and her only friend is Contessa (Anne Bancroft), an old woman who pimps out young studs to wealthy widows for a percentage of the bounty. The Contessa’s prized bull is Count Paolo di Leo (Martinez). After an introduction, Karen and Paolo begin a passionate affair. Paolo properly ridicules Karen’s fear that she is too old. Meanwhile, a beautiful, but homeless, young man (Rodrigo Santoro) stalks Karen.

But Paolo is temperamental and inconsiderate. He asks for money to help a destitute friend and stupidly flirts with young women. Karen gets jealous. They have a volatile breakup. You know what happens. It’s creepy, but delicious. Mirren brings a wry, deep understanding of Karen’s sexual needs and her complicated relationship with Paolo. She is fearless, sexy, and bold in this performance. Her clothes come flying off. Wearing her age regally, she lounges around naked. The sexual chemistry between her and Martinez is explosive. And, since Mirren disrobes, Bancroft, no competitive slouch, chews up the scenery every chance she gets. Damn! She wants to be naked and seduced by Paolo! Brancoft leaves no room for subtlety in her characterization as an avarice-seeking parasite. It’s an unfretted, bewigged hoot!
And, because I am a big Martinez fan, I’m looking forward to his scenes with Colin Farrell in the upcoming “S.W.A.T.” Could this be the hot sizzling cinematic coupling of the year, or are we still panting for Jen and Ben’s movie?

Soldier’s Girl
Jane Fonda’s son Troy Garity has found his star-making vehicle. “Soldier’s Girl” is based on the true story of Barry Winchell (Garity), a 21-year-old Private First Class soldier stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in 1999. Winchell fell in love with Calpernia Addams (Lee Pace) a Nashville transgendered nightclub performer. Their affair was well known among Barry’s fellow soldiers, some of them also frequenting the gay nightclub. Eventually, on Fourth of July weekend, as Calpernia was winning Miss Tennessee Entertainer of the Year, Barry’s roommate Justin Fisher (Shawn Hatosy) goaded a young soldier into brutally murdering Barry with a baseball bat.

Soldier’s Girl is fascinating because it’s honest, confrontational, and psychologically compelling. All the characters’ emotional flaws are carefully and richly drawn. No one gets off easy and there is not much left to one’s imagination regarding the sexual intimacy Winchell and Calpernia shared. The frank depiction of their relationship and the actors’ understanding of these characters elevates “Soldier’s Girl” to first-rate entertainment.

The genesis for the movie was the trial that centered on the military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue.” Apparently, the soldiers were frequent visitors to the gay nightclub. However, the press material notes that Winchell was not gay. He just fell in love with a pre-operative transsexual – a transgendered-gendered woman. Okay, but…

Fisher is the most complicated character because of the obvious homoerotic subtext. Held legally responsible for provoking the murder of Winchell, he is a fully realized, gravely complicated character. Hatosy allows all the sexual doubts and anger to openly seethe throughout his performance. Garity is totally engaging and believable in this very difficult role and Lee Pace, who wears false breasts, buttocks and hips, shows various dimensions. After all, Calpernia spent four years in the Navy in Desert Storm. The ending, with the characters talking to the camera about the aftermath of the murder, is riveting.

Dead Like Me
If the pilot is any indication of what “Dead Like Me” will be on a weekly basis, this is a jewel of a clever series.

Bored and totally sullen eighteen year-old Georgia (George) Lass (Ellen Muth) just quit college and returned home. One day, during her lunch break from her job as a file clerk, a hurling bit of space debris from MIR’s toilet seat suddenly kills her. Instead of going to Heaven or Hell, Georgia finds out that things are not that simple. Unfortunately, there is still work to be done in the Afterlife and her job title is now “grim reaper.” Her “boss” is Rube (Mandy Patinkin). Grim Reapers are assigned to pluck the soul of the living immediately upon sudden death (George’s specialty will be accident, murder and suicide) and escort them to their eternal reward – whatever it might be. It’s not their business to know that, just the name, date, and time of death of subject.

George joins Rube’s “undead” group: Mason (Callum Blue), Roxy (Jasmine Guy) and Betty (Rebecca Gayheart). Compounding the laws of this Afterlife, there are beings known as “gravelings” – shadowy figures who actually deliver the accidental death. Each grim reaper has an “unknown” quota of souls to collect before his or her own soul can move on. George was someone’s last soul, so now she must take his place. And one more thing, George will be completely “human” but will appear as another person. No one who knew her will recognize her and, unlike her previous life, she has to do her own laundry, find a place to live, and make her own money. There is no pay for “Grim Reapers” or understanding parents.

In the pilot, George, after learning all the rules, is given the task of taking her first soul. It happens to be that of a five year-old girl sitting alone on a train.

Muth’s face is divinely suited for George. She burns with fey contempt and complete and absolute disinterest. Which means she’s perfectly suited to play eighteen years old. Jasmine Guy has aged, but casting her here is brilliant. Her angular face and steely gaze gives her character such a commanding presence that just sitting in a scene keeps your attention focused on her. She’s got no-nonsense down pat and is delightful here. Perhaps Gayheart is still trying to figure out if she’s the hot star of “Dead Like Me” or an ensemble comedic player. The pilot, written by Bryan Fuller, offers so much irony and cleverness that it is destined to be one of Showtime’s most talked-about new shows.

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