Hotter with a Beard: David Bowie Edition

A friend of mine recently directed me to this little feature on normally clean-shaven celebrities with beards. I’ve covered some of these people before and others aren’t so hot no matter how much hair they have (but who knew that Phil Collins invented the trucker hat hipster?). Of course, David Bowie looks amazing with a beard. This is a man who somehow gets sexier with every passing year. He can don a spiked, orange mullet and paint a lightening bolt on his face, or even wear a Tina Turner-style wig and a Bea Arthur formal blouse, but he’ll always look like sex personified.

With a beard, he just looks like a normal bloke. Or else a normal, effortlessly hip English Lit professor who everybody has a crush on.

Good one, Bowie.

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SIFF Review: Extraterrestrial

2012 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
90 minutes

***

Whenever an alien species invades Earth, there are people who rise up and band together, showing their true quality in the epic fight for survival. And then there are the other guys. Nacho Vigalondo’s (“Timecrimes”) latest film is about the people without a heroic bone in their body and what they get up to during the downtime between the shit and the fan. It’s a bold and original idea, but it seems to promise a little more than it delivers.

Julio (Julian Villagran) and Julia (Michelle Jenner) awake in her apartment, having blackened out the events that put them in bed together. As Julia shoves Julio toward the door, they happen to notice an enormous spacecraft hovering over their unexpectedly deserted city. Something big went down while they were sobering up and they are the last to know. Cell phones are out of commission and the news broadcast urges everyone to remain in their homes. This is the first time sci-fi audiences have ever met the people who followed that advice. Julia’s stalker neighbor, Angel (“The Last Circus” star Carlos Areces, making a career out of creepy, lovelorn characters) also stays behind, most likely to live out his last-man-on-Earth fantasy with Julia. He’s none too pleased to find that Julio has gotten in the way of this.

The only other character in the film is Julia’s boyfriend, Carlos (Raul Cimas) who has traveled some great distance, risking his own safety, to get to her. Carlos is an expat from a traditional sci-fi action film. He’s so obsessed with the idea of saving the day that he is completely oblivious to the love affair that is blossoming between his girlfriend and another man right under his nose. Angel is eager to spill the beans, but Carlos runs off to be a hero before that can happen. Besides, he doesn’t really seem like he would even care that much. He’s far more concerned with events occurring in the world outside.

The only trouble with “Extraterrestrial” is that you don’t really understand what kind of movie it is until it’s over. The frequent jokes and antics clue you in to the satire, but the title implies more (or at least some) participation from otherworldly beings. Instead, we spend the entire time in a “Three’s Company” episode without even a peep from Mork.

Nearly everything in “Extraterrestrial” takes place in Julia and Carlos’ apartment. In another movie, this would create a claustrophobic tone. But because of the tomfoolery between Julio, Julia and Angel, it actually ends up bringing the whole thing into sitcom territory, complete with a wacky neighbor. Angel is increasingly incensed by the goings on between Julio and Julia and makes it his mission to destroy them. He is a cartoon character who is mortally offended when they undervalue a gift of poached peaches. The actors occasionally seem like they want to shift to a more serious tone, particularly when Carlos reveals that the aliens are rumored to walk among them in human form, but their characters’ primary motivations prevent it. They are far too invested in their little love triangle, which, ironically, doesn’t really involve Julia’s boyfriend.

Julio and Julia are perfect for each other. They are so self-absorbed that they can’t really be bothered with the giant spaceship hovering above their city. Angel shares their dubious priorities. These people would die wordlessly in any other alien invasion movie.

“Extraterrestrial” is the story of alien weapon fodder. They’ll sit and wait for what’s to come because they have no other choice. But while they’re awaiting instructions from their new overlords, they might as well engage in some romantic shenanigans.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

SIFF Review: Paul Williams Still Alive

2012 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
84 minutes

**

If you think about it, “Paul Williams Still Alive” is a somewhat insulting title for a documentary about the diminutive, floppy haired jack of all entertainment trades who served as director Stephen Kessler’s childhood idol. In his new film, Kessler never misses a chance to call Williams a has-been, even while he professes his own undying devotion. This is probably the real reason Kessler didn’t have any friends when he was growing up. That may sound like a cheap shot, but Kessler is the one who invites the audience into his personal life. There are few things more narcissistic than making a documentary about you, which is probably why Stephen Kessler tried to make it seem like his film is actually about Paul Williams. A more accurate title would have been “Stephen Kessler: Please Notice Me”.

It’s possible that Kessler feels a little guilty about this. He leaves in several instances of Williams scolding him for attempting to insinuate drama and discontent where there is none. It’s true that the composer behind some of the most beautiful songs ever written (including several Carpenter’s songs and “The Rainbow Connection”) disappeared for a while to battle drug and alcohol addiction. But he left all that behind almost twenty years ago and has since found an inner peace on the road, playing to small but enthusiastic crowds as he travels all around the world with his wife.

Kessler tries the best he can to drum up Behind the Music-style melodrama, but Williams is having none of it. Kessler has no idea how to gently coax an honest moment out of his subject, opting for a passive-aggressive approach that is clearly messing with Williams’ harmony. So Kessler instead turns the camera on himself, making it the story of how a Paul Williams super fan came to fulfill his childhood dream of professionally pestering his hero. If you go into the film with zero knowledge of the documentarian or subject, you will know more about the filmmaker within the first fifteen minutes than you will about the person you tuned in to see.

To be fair, it is Williams who suggests that Kessler officially join the narrative, but I kind of think it’s because he wanted a break from interviews full of leading questions. Eventually, Williams seems to warm to Kessler, as they bond over a taste for squid and the nervous giddiness of traveling through terrorist-ridden Philippine jungles where Americans aren’t super popular. That’s more of a testament to Williams’ magnanimous personality than it is to misconceived first impressions.

I have to give the editor credit. He seems to sense when Kessler overstays his welcome and distracts with footage from Williams’ heyday. These clips are the real reason to watch the film. He’s had guest spots on a million TV shows (hyperbole) and has been working pretty steadily, even throughout his wet years.

This is a man who was on Johnny Carson fifty times (not hyperbole) and acted in several films including the “Smokey and the Bandit” series and “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.” He also wrote some incredible soundtracks including Brian De Palma’s ahead-of-it’s-time camp classic “Phantom of the Paradise” and the goddamned “Muppet Movie.” Most notably, he was a hit-maker for Three Dog Night, Elvis, Bowie, Sinatra and Barbara Streisand, with whom he also shares an Academy Award for “Evergreen.”

With flamboyant clothes, mop top hair and elfin features, he had a very unusual look, even by seventies standards. With no Channing Tatumness to fall back on, he achieved success with pure talent and charisma. Not many people can say that. A man this accomplished is certainly worthy of cinematic celebration. I hope that someday, a filmmaker comes along who can give that to him.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).