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Judge Brett Cullum's Blog

Judge Brett Cullum • Location: Houston, TX
• Member since: July 2004
• 402 full reviews
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50 Ways of Saying Fabulous - A Blog Review
June 11th, 2006 2:16PM

It's rare DVD Verdict will get a movie before it even hits theatres in most parts of the country, but 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous was sent to us as a screener before it has made it's way theatrically across the country. The film debuted at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival where it was an official selection, and is in limited release at the time of this writing. It just wrapped up a limited run at The Quad Cinemas in New York City. Hopefully it will either slowly unfurl around the country in art houses and GLBT film festivals, or be released on DVD. When I read the plot of the film I feared I was in for yet another cloying story about someone coming to terms with his sexuality, but the unique thing about Fifty Ways of Saying Fabulous is it's a "coming out" story told in a wholly unique voice.

Billy (Andrew Peterson) is an overweight twelve year old living on a farm in New Zealand. He doesn't fit in at school, and dreams of becoming a glamorous space explorer he sees on television. Problem is the space explorer is a girl, and Billy is struggling with the fact he's gay. His best friend Lou (Harriet Beattie) is a tough tomboy who can play sports well, and is a headstrong young woman who takes care of Billy who is also her cousin. Billy's little sister Babe (Georgia McNeil) also tags along most of the time. Two strangers enter the story, and Billy's world is changed forever. One is a strange laconic "freaky" new kid at school Roy (Jay Collins) who has just moved from the city, and seems more aware about sexuality than Billy. The other is a strikingly handsome farm hand named Jamie (Michael Dorman). Both of these characters force Billy to come to terms about why he's different.

The New Zealand countryside of Otago and Billy's daydreams of being a science fiction glamazon render 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous a strange cousin to Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. Both the landscape and the imagined sequences in space seem so surreal we're taken aback by the painfully familiar story that unfolds before us about a boy who never fits in. The movie has a unique take on coming out that feels far more realistic than what usually gets slapped up on American screens. Perhaps it's because the hero isn't one of the "pretty people", Fifty Ways of Saying Fabulous seems more honest and brutally real even if the settings and dream sequences feel like science fiction.

Billy isn't a wholly likable character. The story allows him to treat his friends badly, and make the wrong decisions at almost every turn as he begins to discover himself. Particularly painful are his exchanges with Roy who for some reason truly likes him more than Billy will allow. Fifty Ways of Saying Fabulous shows kids for what they are - petty and often illogically cruel creatures, instead of mini adults. Although the sexual subject material is adult in nature, this is a film that lets the child actors play real kids.

If you get a chance to check the movie out at a festival or Landmark Cinema it's definitely worth a look. Fifty Ways of Saying Fabulous is an entertaining gem of a movie with stunning landscapes and painfully real kids. You couldn't ask for much more from a simple coming out story.

Brokeback Mountain - The review goes live
April 16th, 2006 8:57PM

Admist a flurry of back room activity the Verdict finally is set to take on the movie of the year that has everyone talking. You can't mention BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN without offending somebody around here, and I am so proud to be sharing the review with Jennifer Malkowski who brings a unique voice to the site. She's well educated in gay and lesbian cinema, and really takes me to task for calling BROKEBACK a universal experience. Interestingly enough when I posted my initial review of the film on the site in this blog I got a lot of the same reaction from some readers. Here is part of an e-mail I wrote directly to Jennifer to open up a dialogue on a very interesting topic. What does this movie mean as a cultural event?

Jennifer -

Hey there! I just read our review, and I am very glad you included your dissenting opinion. It will definitely balance out the piece quite well, and should spark some interesting debate (hopefully) on the boards or at least elsewhere. I posted a review in my blog of the movie, and immeadiately got hate e-mails from a politically active gay man. I called it universal. So that's why I am so glad you got to say what you did in it. Hopefully I won't be bombarded again.

But to me, the film doesn't have a particularly strong queer voice and does feel a little diluted in several aspects. Here are some things I noted that I wouldn't put in the review:

1) The willingly gay partner ends up duly punished for his behavior before the final reel of the film (shades of the production code still CHILDREN'S HOURing its way - that's an exaggeration, but an interesting parallel).

2) Ang Lee, Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana, Heath Ledger, and Gylenhaal aren't remotely gay. I find it a little disappointing. Had it been Harvey Fierstein, Gregg Araki, or a queer filmmaker it would have seemed more revolutionary to me. I'm interested which Araki film you were citing in the review? I thought MYSTERIOUS SKIN is actually the better queer voiced film of the year, opposed to BROKEBACK because it came from a man who lived it (even though Araki is notoriously bisexual).

3) I do find your whole section on how lesbians can be shown graphically more often than gay male sex interesting. We do see more girls together in the bedroom, yet I see the "evil" lesbian popping up - Catherine Deneuve played a lesbian vampire in THE HUNGER out to recruit straight girl Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone was an ice pick wielding bisexual vamp who seemed to fall for the guy who killed her lesbian lover, Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly play sapphic criminals in BOUND, and Gina Gershon again played a lesbian showgirl who's sexuality condemned her to actually breaking a leg backstage. How far have we really come? Even David Lynch rather ruthlessly made his two girls in MULHOLLAND DRIVE rather sinister when you consider what is really supposed to be happening.

4) Cable seems to be more primed in the fight for acceptance and even radical programing. QUEER AS FOLK was critically appalling, but yet you couldn't get much more graphic. That series seemed like soft porn every week. And then came the equally ballsy L WORD to pick up the torch with the girls there. Yikes!

Ang Lee seemed to want BROKEBACK to be universal. Controversial as that may be, I still see his point.

Thank you again though. I admire your work, and can't wait for the debate to begin. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN truly is a cultural force this year. I'll be interested to see what happens next. Rumor has it Brad Pitt is going to accept a role in a major studio release gay themed film. We'll see if it happens. My biggest fear is Hollywood may be sending out a contradictory message though - it's okay to play gay because that will get you awards and attention, just as long as you thank your wife or husband in the acceptance speech. Where's the real gay Hollywood epic?

Why I liked the WORST movie of the year...
April 3rd, 2006 10:07PM

Just got back from a Monday night showing of Basic Instinct 2. We had maybe twelve people in the theatre, all couples. I was with my single mom friend Jennifer who has somewhat provincial tastes (she loves chick flicks!). The plot was silly, and the lines were some real groaners. But what else is new? Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone had horrible lines too, and the plot was ludicrous in the first installment. The sequel was bad enough to chase off two rather offended looking couples who scurried for the door halfway through the screening. Yes, the film is bad. But what did anyone expect? It's chock full of sex, murder, and double entendres. Sharon Stone is past her "sell-by" date to play a seductress nobody can resist, and she seems like Joan Crawford in one of those B-pictures the flailing diva did late in her career (Strait-Jacket or Trog anyone?).

But for some damn reason I can't totally dismiss the film. As unimaginative as it was, I still had an absolute blast. Sharon Stone may be 48, but her boobs are probably only sixteen years old at best. I'm sorry, but I admire the hell out of her for having the balls to try and pull this one off. And guess what? She kind of does. Her voice is lower, she has to wear a lot of make-up, but Catherine Tramell is still in there begging to come out. She's still hotter than half the stars in Hollywood half her age, and reigns as the "Queen of Mean" (maybe even moreso after hearing what all she's done after being famous).

I had a hard time buying a shrink would fall for her. But then again in the first installment, why would a homicide detective? David Morrisey looks great, and does all he can to make sure his character is more subtle than the cocksure Michael Douglas San Francisco detective from the original. It's a more restrained journey, but he's English and a psychologist. In a way it's a nice contrast to the first. And how in the hell did they get Charlotte Rampling and David Thewlis? They both turn in their usual fine performances providing exactly what the script demands of them (not much, but they make the most of it).

Most of all, I just had a really good time. It's not a brilliant film by any means, but I was never bored. The movie, Sharon Stone, and David Morrisey all look good. I liked Catherine's new fixation with auto-erotic asphyxiation (belts around the neck right before orgasm). It's simply a vanity project for Stone, but she still has some sex appeal left even at nearly half a decade. Sure it's all like some kinky car crash, but you can't take your eyes off it. I'm trashy for saying it, but I liked it. It very well may be a hoot to call it "the worst film of the year" or "top pick for a Razzie", but in the final analysis it entertained me. Don't believe the hype, it's still a fun adult erotic thriller. And I for one can't wait for the inevitable "unrated" DVD. It'll sit happily nestled between my copy of the original and Catwoman. Somehow it seems to fit right in - not as great as the first, but not nearly as bad as Stone's turn in the Halle Berry flick. Because at least here she looks good, and happy to be back.

Television and the 2nd Year Slump
March 22nd, 2006 7:19AM

I saw a topic over at the Jury Room, and it was talking about how the current season of The Sopranos just wasn't nearly as good as previous seasons. Funny that, because I was thinking about my television shows and how they seem less spectacular this year. First off, know that I limit my television viewing to 3 shows a week. I can't stand the thought of surrendering more than 3 hours of my life every week to broadcast or cable programming, so I limit myself harshly. So I really only have insight in to the following shows:

Desperate Housewives - While watching this second season I noticed it wasn't up to the same level as the first year. At first I thought it was just me, but then I went back and rewatched Season One on DVD. Sure enough the mystery in the first season was tight and always overshadowing every event in the show. This year we have Alfre Woodard as Mrs. Applewhite, and her secret is barely given two minutes of any single episode. The problem was the show wrapped up its single greatest mystery, and now I have little reason to watch other than to catch the great acting. The cast is up for anything, but the writers seem to be flailing to find the drama. Most all of the themes were touched on in the last year, and there's nothing new that has the same hook. I'm hoping they will find a way to revitalize the series, and inject a delicious mystery to accompany the daily dramas of the housewives on Wisteria Lane.

Lost - Another show centered around a mystery, but it has the opposite problems of its sisters in suburbia. While Desperate Housewives shot themselves in the foot by answering all our questions, Lost refuses to even give us a single resolution. I recently watched the pilot with a friend who has not seen the series, and she began asking me - "What's up with the polar bear? Do you know what that monster is? Where are they?". Brilliant first season for the show, but the current one seems too cast heavy with the addition of the tail section survivors. And we still don't know any answers to any questions! They just keep piling up, and I wonder what the master plan is. Does anyone have one?

My third show I watch America's Next Top Model is as silly as ever. Tyra Banks is now overly confident with her new role as talk show host, and she tries too hard sometimes to come off as a mother/shrink to all the girls on this reality show. And where is Janice Dickinson? She made a cameo on the premiere, but Twiggy is a poor substitute in the judging room. Janice made that show what it is by being the "Simon Cowell" of the fashion world. She's missed... BADLY!

So is it just me or has the creative juices that made television of 2004-5 so striking seeming to dry up? Thank goodness for DVD where I can relive the finest moments when Lost and Desperate Housewives took the world by storm. And also I can revisit the days when Top Model had the bitchy Janice and the inept Tyra who made mystifyingly silly statements. I wonder when the next wave of cool smart new shows will hit us again. Perhaps it's like movie years, one good alternating with one bad. Whatever the case may be, I miss the inventiveness of last year.

Ever heard of a mash-up? Where they take two songs and mix them together almost on top of each other? Maybe they could do that with my three shows. A planeful of housewives goes down on to a mysterious island where a model search is under way. Hmmmm! Maybe that could help all three. We could call it Lost Housewive's Top Model. It could keep me down to one hour of television a week, and about a third of the frustration.

Notes from Lost Vegas
March 12th, 2006 2:03PM

Well, this weekend I am in Las Vegas - the city of neon buffets where you can smoke anywhere. Vegas has always had a magical Rat Pack appeal for me, and I packed my best "player" outfits so I could feel all suave at the poker table of the CASINO ROYALE. But two things have conspired against my illusive Sinatra visions of the desert oasis: NASCAR and Spring Break. Huge NASCAR race going on here, and every Bubba from the Bible Belt is here outfitted in their Jeff Gordon jackets. I can handle cigars on the betting floor, but now CAESARS PALACE has had to place spitoons around the table for all the Skoal. Then there are all the high school students. Now I get heading down to Florida to get your freak on, but Vegas? Entire squads of cheerleaders are running down the strip knocking over any adult that gets in their way. Jeesh! I pine for the old days back before everything got so Disney-fied over here in Vegas. The Rat Pack glamour has been replaced by arcade rooms for kids, and Hawaiian shirts and flip flops now part of the dress code. George Clooney and I just have to imagine now that Vegas used to have class and style. What happens here stays here, but ugh... I think I'm looking forward to heading home where I can dress for dinner if I want, and swarms of kids won't knock me down.

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO - Surprisingly not a Disney Softcore Entry!
January 18th, 2006 7:40AM

I went last night to check out Breakfast on Pluto. Cillian Murphy did deserve his Golden Globe nod, though I still say Heath Ledger is the best performance this year. Kitten is a transsexual, but never undergoes any surgery to make things more "official". So basically Murphy has to play a woman trapped in a man's body without much help other than late in the game long hair and dresses that show up near the finale. Not an easy thing to pull off, but he does quite well. The man has a lot of range given his body of work so far. And he's always luminous and engaging in any role he takes on.

The film itself sounds deeply depressing - a series of misadventures that always lead to heartache, and the Neil Jordan trademark of bringing the IRA in to the picture at odd moments to rock the world. But Kitten's unbreakable spirit and the buoyant force of the pop songs keep this one afloat and bouncy like good hair. It's surprisingly fun! Sort of light and cuddly in all the right ways. It's certainly not Jordan's best film, but worth the time to check out if only for the brilliant lead and the perky songs. And I was shocked to see Bryan Ferry (lead singer of Roxy Music, and solo artist best known for "Avalon" and "Slave to Love" from the '80s) in a cameo. And any movie that can get away with seriously delivering a line like "If I wasn't a transvestite terrorist, would you marry me?" has to win some kind of award in my book! Support your art house and go.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room at the Globes... and no, it's not KONG!
January 17th, 2006 10:23AM

Today I was getting ready and watching Good Morning America, and Joel Segal came on with his usual trivial observations on the Golden Globes ceremony. He said "You know I've noticed a trend..." My ears perked up because I thought I just knew what he was going to say. "Anyone that plays a character based on a real life person who's last name ends with the letter C wins a Globe!" Hunnh? Okay, that's not what I was thinking Joel. The obvious trend I noticed this year that all you pussy PC media types are NOT talking about... anyone that played a GLBT character this year walked home with a nomination or a Globe.

Let's face it... surest way to critical acclaim and "you're so brave" comments from your peers is to go "gay for pay". Phillip Seymour Hoffman could burst in to flames on-screen from sheer acting force, but the Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press wouldn't even pee on him to put him out untill he started lisping and doing his dead on Truman schtick in Capote. I thought it was ironic given last year Jamie Foxx lead the crowd in a sing a long of a Ray Charles number, and I half expected old Phil to swish up onstage, do some cocaine from a silver spoon, and start a sing a long of "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" in Truman's best Studio 54 voice. But no, he butchly accepted the award in his manliest voice and sported the lumberjack beard so that everyone would know he was just acting!

And then there was Felicity Huffman who is such a doll. She won for Best Actress, and let's face it folks... she was playing a man technically. To me 2006 is THE YEAR OF THE TRANSSEXUAL. Felicity made sure to say in her speech "The real heroes are the people who face being ostracized to become who they really are." Or something like that. She wanted to make sure everybody knew she was ACTING, and that she was in no way affilliated with these people who struggle with their sexual identity.

Cillian Murphy didn't win, but after a year when he was stunning in everything... the nomination he got was for... a transsexual. He was THE smartest most elegant Batman villain ever, the creepiest reason to see Red Eye, but his seal of approval involved donning a wig and a dress for a role. You got to play gay to get noticed this year.

That brings us to the real snub of the night... Mr. Heath Ledger. Brokeback Mountain walked away with a pile of Globes, but nothing for him or his true love Michelle Williams. Both of them MADE that movie what it is. Don't believe me? Try imagining Jake and Anne getting the awards and see if you don't kind of cringe. It's not that they weren't good (they were sublime), but standing next to Heath Ledger who was consumed in his role was too much. Heath did give the best performance of the year. He wasn't impersonating a famous figure, and he didn't have to wear a dress or pretend he had a penis, but he was shockingly so real it hurts in his role. And Michelle was the one you walked away caring about. They both deserved the recognition and didn't get it. Instead Ang Lee, the writers, and producers all got statues for being "brave" enough to make a gay romance.

Much was made of how ugly Charlize Theron was in Monster, but didn't she win because she was gay in that film? I find it funny that an industry that is supposedly run by gay people slaps the "brave" moniker on anyone who dares to lock lips with the same sex on screen or play gender confusion. It used to be playing the handicapped was the surest bet to awards, but I think now in an era where the GLBT community is once again the political underdog the most shocking role you can play is one that asks you to speak the love that dare not mention its name.

Don't think I'm offended or anything. I think it's great, but I do find it disturbing that in Hollywood the most brazen move you can make boils down to this. Casting directors could just scour West Hollywood and find hundreds of thousands of real gay cowboys or real transsexuals, but they hardly get any respect when they try and break in to the industry. Because somehow it's okay to be gay for pay, but you better bring your opposite gender escort to the awards show. Unless you're Ian McKellan, and just too cool and old enough not to care about the double standard of working in the gayest profession on Earth that still doesn't let its stars really be who they are. And not that any of the above people are actually gay or hiding anything, I'm not inferring that. I just find it ironic their careers are made suddenly by playing it on screen. They are playing humans who just happen to love people they can't marry. What's so brave about that?

At any rate when the broadcast ended last night I turned to a friend and said "Gayest Golden Globes ever!" And anyone else notice Sandra Oh thanked a girl as her "rock" last night? Is she going against the grain and playing straight like Portia DiRossi? Now that would be brave.

Brokeback Mountain
January 1st, 2006 10:16PM

I just got back from a sold out art house screening of Brokeback Mountain. All I can say is it is definitely the bravest film of the year, and it succeeds in doing what it sets out to do. When I read the short story a few months back I thought it was an impossible project to turn in to a film. But somehow they do a great job with it, and the film is something to be admired. It deserves the hype!

The performances are flawless. Heath Ledger as the laconic cowboy who half mumbles his darkest emotions is like an exposed nerve. He's never been this multilayered or lost himself so well in a character. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a wide eyed innocent this time around, a 180 turn from his darker role as Donnie in that movie with the apocalyptic bunny. Both Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway surprised the hell out of me by turning in performances they both have barely hinted at being able to deliver in their previous works.

Ang Lee is still one hell of a visualist. He photographs this one for all its worth, and makes everything real and contained in a way we've never seen him do before with all his mythic wire work and green eyed monsters before. He gives the entire film a melancholy lens that fits it to a tee.

It's by no means a perfect film. There are moments that seem a little lacking, and I felt some reserve in trying to tell a love story. The cast and director keep claiming that is what this is, but they let it slip in to something a little more disturbing. It's about yearning for a world you can never have. One that you think can never exsist. It's about how never being able to say "I love you" can tear your soul apart more effectively than any heartache ever could. Get over it, it is not a gay movie. These cowboys aren't marching out in a Pride parade with their shirts off, or foresaking the rodeo circuit for The White Party in Palm Springs. No, this film is about never being able to express your feelings. Never being able to identify an ache. It's about the loss of dreams and hope. I don't think you have to be gay to get that.

Merry Chris-su-masu! From Japan!
December 24th, 2005 7:44PM

Christmas here in Okinawa is a strange affar yet not THAT different from being in the States. The Japanese do celebrate Christmas, but it's for small kids and lovers. Kids get rewards this time of year for doing well in school. The adults treat it more as Valentine's Day, and the boyfriends and girlfriends exchange presents. Their BIG holiday is the New Year. But several things do make it festive to be here for Christmas:

They love the lights, so many houses are decked out with elaborate displays. The electric company here has a contest for the best home every year - you win free months of service if your house is chosen as a winner.

There is no traditional turkey, but they do make fried chicken. KFC is slammed with people hoping for an Original Recipe Christmas!

All the businesses do Christmas trees. Most of them say MERRY X-MAS, and are really just store displays to sell more gifts... but it's nice to see. The Japanese get a Winter bonus from their companies (usually an extra paycheck), so they encourage spending this time of year.

My mom and I did a few Christmas Eve parties, a church service, and took it easy on Christmas Day. Just enjoying the beach outside her house, and maybe heading to a movie. We've been so busy the last few days, it's nice to just take a break from all the exploring. Especially since she keeps getting lost and expecting me to help figure out where we are. That's near impossible since there are NO street signs (not even ones in Japanese), and none of the maps have complete roads on them (mainly just the highways).

Hope you're having a great one! Merry Christmas!

Japan Part 3
December 22nd, 2005 2:16AM

Another installment from my trip to Japan - land of singing toilets, Angelina Jolie, and now Madonna.

For some reason Okinawa has decided to turn cold... well, at least for Okinawa. It's in the 50s which doesn't sound bad, but the cold wind is strong enough to carry away a large garbage can, small pets, and anything I'm holding in my hand. All the trees are sideways, stray cats drift by like tumbleweeds in the air, and the wind howls over the roofs. So most of the activities have shifted indoors. Been going to a lot of Japanese restaurants and shopping. I'm not the world's best shopper, but the weather makes me appreciate getting out of the wind to look at kimonos and statues of demonic dogs that everyone buys here to protect their homes (shishas is the correct term).

My mom booked us both a Thai yoga massage which was all about pressure points and assisted stretching. The guy who did mine said I was the most flexible white person he's met. I think he said that because my mom was in great pain anytime they bent her legs back towards her spine. I did win "most flexible" in high school though I think they meant versatile instead of bendy. Ah well!

MTV Japan is kind of fun. It's all Oriental types acting like either Marilyn Manson, J Lo, or a gangsta rappers. Madonna shows up occasionally which only convinces me she does indeed rule the world somehow. She's the only white woman allowed in the mix of videos currently on rotation in Asia. By the way the Japanese can make ANYTHING rhyme because all the verbs end in "masu" and usually come at the end of a sentence. No wonder they invented haiku! Poetry based on rhymes here would be endless. Everything rhymes!

Sushi lovers would hit the jackpot here! My mom and I went to one of those rotating sushi restaurants - where hunks of raw fish on plates circle endlessly around a large conveyor belt around the diners. You grab what you want, and they charge you at the end by the color of your plates. We had a shrimp tempura roll, a pork cutlet roll, French shrimp salad roll, tuna roll, cucumber roll, plumb roll, and a salmon roll - the total came to $7. Funny thing is my mother hates raw fish, so I end up with any shasimi or sushi which is actually raw. I'm still boggled by all these Americans that requested to work here and hate raw fish, and the ones who hate seafood. If you are what you eat I'm turning into a raw piece of salmon! Which is a good thing, since I have to fight as if I am going upstream to get through all this wind.

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