Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story


Glamour was Kevyn Aucoin’s business.

(2017) Documentary (The Orchard) Kevyn Aucoin, Isaac Mizrahi, Christy Turlington Burns, Jeremy Antunes, Brooke Shields, Carol Alt, Cindy Crawford, Cher, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Paula Porizkova, Amy Sidaris, Isabella Rossellini, Tori Amos, Carla Aucoin Hoffkins, Eddie Greene, Garren, Scottie, Sandy Lintner, Keith Aucoin, Todd Oldham, Paul Cavaco, Linda Wells. Directed by Tiffany Bartok

 

Women have worn make-up for largely thousands of years but it is only relatively recently that it has evolved into being an art form. One of the people responsible for that evolution is Kevyn Aucoin (the last name pronounced AH-Kwan).

Kevyn, one of four adopted children, grew up in the less-than-accepting burg of Shreveport, Louisiana. From an early age he had a thing about fashion magazines like Vogue and the musical styling of Barbra Streisand. It was not surprising that he became openly gay which was not exactly looked favorably upon by the citizens and youth of Shreveport. Kevyn was bullied, sometimes brutally, scars which stayed with him all through the rest of his life.

Aucoin went on to New York and through sheer force of will hooked on at Vogue. The rest, as they say, was history. He would grow to be the first celebrity make-up artist, penning books sharing his beauty secrets. He was one of the pioneers of contour make-up – essentially using colors to shape a face – and he revolutionized how women apply make-up in the process.

He was an outspoken activist for LBGTQ+ causes and worked tirelessly for gay rights. Sadly though, he developed a glandular tumor which led to an addiction to opioids and an early grave at the age of 40. Still, while his candle didn’t burn quite as long, it burned much more brightly than perhaps even he had hoped for.

This doc on his life features a plethora of testimonials from family, clients and friends and some of the interviews are absolutely delightful. His sister talks about him using her as a canvas to practice his techniques on when they were in high school, while some of his early models talk about his drive and his absolute fearlessness. He had a vision for what he was going to become and he pursued it as relentlessly as he could.

Aucoin was also an obsessive record keeper; he filled journals with notes and diagrams while he utilized video cameras to document all the fabulous aspects of his life – and let’s face it, he did define fabulous for an entire generation of gay men and women of all persuasions. He was the king of make-up artists during the 1980s, arguably the most make-up heavy era in American history. Because he did so much work on music videos, Aucoin was a heavy influence on how people looked whether they were going out to dance at the clubs or headed out for school.

The perceptions of what beauty was did change over time and Kevyn did change with the times even if he was no longer quite as influential as he was at the height of his career. While the documentary stops just shy of being hagiographic – it does cover his drug addiction and resulting personality change fairly clinically – it does approach fawning territory upon occasion. Perhaps though that makes it more heartbreaking as we see him becoming less easy to work with, less fun to be around. The pain from his cancer and from late growth spurts took its toll and led to his untimely death as the pills he took that basically allowed him to function took over his life.

It bears mentioning that Kevyn was fairly promiscuous but he did find his one true love – Jeremy Antunes whom he married and spent the last years of his life with despite Kevyn’s often difficult behavior. It also bears mentioning – since the film didn’t do it – that after Kevyn passed Jeremy was locked out of the home he shared with his husband by Kevyn’s family. Yeah, it might be water under the bridge and the parties involved might be reluctant to reopen old wounds but it should have been at least mentioned. It was the kind of thing ironically that Kevyn was fighting against.

Still, Aucoin isn’t the household name he perhaps deserves to be. He was a giant in his industry, comparable to Michael Jordan or Meryl Streep. On a strictly human level, this is a story of an outsider who fought his way to the very inside; it’s a story anyone can relate to. This documentary, while unremarkable, does at least a solid job of presenting his life and why he is deserving of a feature film. Bartok could have used a little more editing – it feels like some of the interviews regurgitate the same platitudes – but all in all this is a lot more satisfying a film than I expected it to be.

REASONS TO GO: The film looks at make-up as an art form.
REASONS TO STAY: The run time is way too long and the appeal mainly to a niche audience.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and plenty of drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Among the clients that Aucoin worked with who weren’t interviewed for the film were Oprah Winfrey, Janet Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Halle Berry and Madonna, to name just a few.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Amazon,  iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/31/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Devil Wears Prada
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Okja

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Presenting Princess Shaw


A pop Princess in the making.

A pop Princess in the making.

(2015) Documentary (Magnolia) Samantha Montgomery, Ophir Kutiel. Directed by Ido Haar

The American Experience

Dreams come in all shapes and sizes. Some are ephemeral things, ideas that we vaguely like but really don’t do anything about so they remain formless. Others are those we work actively towards and put our hearts and souls into. Those are the ones more likely to come true.

Samantha Montgomery, whose stage name is Princess Shaw, has a dream of being a singer. And not for nothing; she has a legitimate voice, beautiful and evocative. She’s also a crackerjack songwriter, her songs filled with longing and emotion so much so that they reach out and grab the listener, take hold of them by the scruff of the neck and don’t let go until they feel the same thing Princess is feeling.

Samantha works by day in a New Orleans elderly care facility. She is upbeat and cheerful and seems to love working with her patients and caring for them. Some nights, she goes to Open Mike shows at local bars, and once in awhile sings at nightclubs and parties. She uploads a capella versions of her songs onto YouTube where she has a channel that several hundred subscribers check out from time to time. She labors in obscurity but still hopes that one day, she’ll be discovered.

What she doesn’t know is that she already has been. Ophir Kutiel, who goes by the name of Kutiman, has made some Internet fame for himself as a remixer, taking elements from YouTube music videos, cutting and pasting them together to make a cohesive song – all without the knowledge of the participants until the new video is posted. He has, against all odds, discovered the work of Princess Shaw and has been captivated by it. He takes one of her songs, “Give It Up,” and layers percussion, guitars, brass and piano – and creates a song that has a timeless urban pop feel to it, taking elements of hip-hop, jazz, R&B and a little bit of rock and roll to make something really tasty. You can see the results of his efforts here.

&Israeli documentary filmmaker Ido Haar originally was going to look at all of the various components of the video but once he met Princess Shaw he knew he didn’t need any of the other musicians. Her story is compelling, with a background of being sexually abused as a young girl and continuing on into adulthood into an abusive romantic relationship, she has weathered some tough times. We find out most of this later on in the film; she’s really a blank slate as the film begins, which is a wise move. We only know the longing and loneliness she feels through her music.

We never find out what Samantha/Princess thinks is the reason she’s being followed by a camera crew. She was unaware of what Kutiman was up to although Haar was certainly in the know. I think that knowing what she thought was going on would have been beneficial to the film, but that’s really nit-picking. Then again, it would make some of what’s going on feel a little less staged.

Princess Shaw has an amazing voice but it is her heart that is at the center of this film. Not only is she upbeat despite the obstacles and difficulties she’s had to face, but she shows tenderness and appreciation for her patients, her family and those musicians she encounters around town (midway through the film, she moves to Atlanta to try and make her dream happen). One of the most special moments in the film is when Montgomery hears the Kutiman music video for the first time…and watches in absolute astonishment as the video approaches a million views.

The movie ends with Princess being flown to Tel Aviv to perform at a Kutiman concert there. She is absolutely delightful, hugging every musician like a long lost friend, taking delight in being somewhere she never thought she’d be. The concert is a bit anticlimactic, but it’s clear she’s a performer with a capital P. I don’t know what happened with her career after filming ended, but I’d like to think she’s getting representation and getting ready to record with musicians…and maybe touring. I’d pay to see her, and I don’t go to any concerts anymore.

It is stupid difficult making it in the music industry. People long to be stars but few are willing to put in the work to make it happen and fewer still have the talent to make it happen. Even if you have both of those qualities, that’s no guarantee you’ll make it in a business that’s as cutthroat and as insular as the music industry. As anyone who’s seen any episodes of shows like American Idol or The Voice can attest, the world is full of people with the dreams of pop stardom. It’s nice to see a movie about someone who actually deserves it.

REASONS TO GO: Truly this is cinema of the heart. Montgomery has an amazing effervescent personality and a tremendous talent.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally feels a bit staged.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult themes and a little bit of mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Haar’s 2007 documentary 9 Star Hotel previously appeared on the acclaimed PBS documentary series P.O.V. in 2008.
BEYOND THE THEATER:  Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, FandangoNow
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/2/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: American Idol
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The American Experience continues!

The Infidel


The Infidel

Omed Djalili spontaneously breaks out into a rendition of "If I Were a Rich Man."

(2010) Comedy (Tribeca) Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Archie Panjabi, Igal Naor, Mina Anwar, Amit Shah, Soraya Radford, Miranda Hart, Matt Lucas, James Floyd, Leah Fatania, Ravin Ganatra, Bhasker Patel, Michele Austin, Rod Silvers. Directed by Josh Appignanesi

The variety and scope of cultural diversity among humans is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it gives us so many different viewpoints about the human condition; a curse in that it divides us more than unites us, causes suspicion and violence. Nowhere is that more true than in the middle east.

In that case, it is religion that divides – Muslim and Jew. Each suspicious of the other, each determined to protect themselves in the name of their religion, meaning that if the other one dies, so be it.

Mahmud Nasir (Djalili) is a Muslim living in London. He’s not one of the fundamentalist sorts, but more of a loose, moderate sort – he doesn’t always follow the ways of the Koran to the letter in other words. His son Rashid (Shah) is in love with Uzma (Radford) whose mother has just married Arshad El-Masri (Naor), a fundamentalist fireball whose politics Mahmud doesn’t particularly agree with. He’d much rather watch old videos of the deceased ’80s pop legend Gary Page (Floyd) but since his son needs him to be an ultra-Muslim to impress his prospective father-in-law, Mahmud is willing to do it.

Then, while cleaning out his late mother’s house, he finds some disturbing news. It turns out his mother wasn’t his birth mother – he was adopted. Some digging results in further distress – it turns out that Mahmud was born to a Jewish family and his real name is Solly Shimshillewitz.  I think finding out your name is Solly Shimshillewitz might be distressing to anyone.

A little bit ashamed and scared of what it would mean if his family found out, Mahmud at first hides his newfound background but curious about his heritage, he seeks a neighbor, an American Jewish cabdriver named Lenny (Schiff) to find out more about his Jewishness. Lenny teaches him a few things, like how to say “Oy vay!” and how to dance like Topol. I’m sure the JDL didn’t have any objections to any of those stereotypes.

In the meantime he gets caught up in trying to hide his new identity from his family and friends and to hide his old identity from his new friends. When he gets caught out as you know he has to, he stands to lose everything – including his identity.

This British film has gotten a fair amount of praise in both critical and film festival circles, although it got only a cursory release here in the States. One has to give the filmmakers props for tackling such a sensitive, hot-button issue in the way that they did.

However, good intentions aside, not everything works here. Some of the jokes are simply put, not that funny. The ending, which is a bit out of left field, weakens the movie overall and was a bit of a disappointment. However, the movie works a very good percentage of the time.

Djalili is best known to American audiences as the prison warden in The Mummy (who meets a pretty nasty end) but is better known in Britain as a stand-up comic (he performed for “Comic Relief” in 2004) and his act often contains bits about his life as an Anglo-Iranian, growing up in a Persian household in Britain. He is certainly well-suited for the role and is thoroughly likable in it.

It’s not a bad movie, but it isn’t as good as it might have been either. It’s got enough laughs to make it worth your while, but not enough to inspire a more than cursory search for it. It’s one of those in-between movies that has merit enough to recommend it, but not enough to really praise it. If you have the opportunity to see it, by all means do. I just wouldn’t make a lot of effort to seek it out.

WHY RENT THIS: Some interesting insights about cultural differences. Very funny when it works.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the humor is a bit broad and the ending is a little bit false.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few F bombs but that’s about it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While BBC Films helped develop the script, they withdrew from further involvement after the Andrew Sachs/Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross scandal made the Beeb somewhat sensitive to any material that might be even a little offensive.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and what the filmmakers call “bonus jokes” which are essentially deleted scenes.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Information unavailable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: New Year’s Eve

Step Brothers


Step Brothers

Cannonballllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(2008) Comedy (Columbia) Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Andrea Savage, Lurie Poston, Elizabeth Yozamp, Logan Manus, Seth Rogen, Rob Riggle, Ken Jeong, Travis Flory. Directed by Adam McKay

 

Blended families are no longer very unusual. The days of the Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours are pretty much behind us. However, it is pretty unusual to see blended families with middle-aged children living at home.

Brennnan Huff (Ferrell) is the self-centered son of Nancy Huff (Steenburgen), living at home, unemployed and screaming at his mother when his snack food isn’t exactly right. Dale Doback (Reilly) is the peevish son of Dr. Robert Doback (Jenkins) and is also unemployed; he berates his father for not leaving him enough money to order pizza AND soda while he’s away at a convention.

It is at that convention that Nancy and Robert meet, fall in love and eventually get married. It is decided that Brennan will move in with Nancy, Robert and Dale. Initially, Dale and Brennan take to each other pretty much like Texans to Oklahomans. The two try to make each other as miserable as possible, much to their parents anguish. An escalating series of pranks finally comes to a head when Robert orders the two grown men to find work, leading to a series of job interviews that are best left uncommented upon.

After awhile, Dale and Brennan find some common ground – quite a lot, frankly – and begin to change their tunes. However, this could be too little too late and with Brennan’s conniving and status-obsessed little brother Derek (Scott) trying to sabotage their efforts (and Derek’s lusty wife Alice (Hahn) putting the moves on Dale) things are taking a turn for the worse for the two slackers.

Judd Apatow is once again at the producer’s reins here and longtime Ferrell collaborator McKay in the director’s chair, which should mean good things, Unfortunately the comedy magic that has resulted in movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is largely absent here. There are some good moments to be sure, but the story is pretty weak – it’s kind of a bad episode of the Brady Bunch.

Ferrell and Reilly aren’t the problem here. They make a tremendous team and play off of each other well. The best sequences in the film are those in which Ferrell and Reilly are front and center. Fortunately, most of the time that’s exactly where they are and at their quirky best. I’m not saying the rest of the cast s awful, they simply don’t get much to work with.

The language is pretty darn foul, and at times I think the movie relies too much on profanity which is usually a bad thing – it’s the sign of a lazy writer who doesn’t have particularly much to say – but there are those who think that kind of thing is hilarious, so they’ll like all of this.

Some critics get huffy about this kind of comedy, but let’s face it; even men with the mentalities of adolescent boys deserve a laugh too. That the movie was somewhat disappointing at the box office is indicative that the general moviegoing public may be getting tired of this kind of humor.

WHY RENT THIS: Ferrell and Reilly are among the best comedy teams there are. Quirky in a good way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is weak and the cast never really lives up to expectations. Some of the gags fall flat.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a lot of bad language and a fair amount of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steenburgen, who plays Ferrell’s mom, played his step-mother in Elf.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a music video, as well as a gag reel and the regular Judd Apatow “Line-o-Rama” feature. There is also a segment in which Apatow gives actress Charlyne Yi permission to live on the set, which causes some problems. There’s also a bit in which Jenkins pursues Steenburgen amorously, incurring the ire of real-life husband Ted Danson (and there’s a fabulous mystery cameo here). There are a series of job interview segments that were cut from the film and some additional therapy scenes as well.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $128.1M on a $65M production budget; the movie essentially broke even.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Virginity Hit

The Cell


The Cell

Jennifer Lopez is terrified of horny men.

(2000) Science Fiction (New Line) Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, Dylan Walsh, James Gammon, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Musetta Vander, Colton James, Jake Weber, Tara Subkoff, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Tarsem Singh

Really, the more I see ex-music video directors (such as The Cell‘s Tarsem Singh) take on feature films, the more I realize how excruciatingly painful to watch a two-hour music video would be.

Catherine Deane (Lopez) is a social worker who by some strange pseudo-science can enter the minds of comatose patients. Of course, I’m sure Jennifer Lopez enters the minds of a lot of men, but we won’t go there. Currently, she’s attempting to help a young scion of a billionaire with somewhat unencouraging results.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, serial killer Carl Stargher (D’Onofrio) is happy as can be, having constructed a diabolical device that will automatically drown his young, nubile female victims without Carl even being present (naturally, a bank of video cameras capture every morbid moment of their final struggles). A marvel of modern technology, that.

He doesn’t realize how close the FBI, led by twitchy agent Peter Novak (Vaughn) is to him. When they finally break down his door, Carl is already face-down and – you guessed it – comatose, the victim of a schizoid virus or some other such babble. With a victim locked in Carl’s Infernal Machine at an unknown location, time ticking away, you can guess what happens next. Uh, huh; an excuse for Jennifer Lopez to wear a lot of striking, exotic costumes and more important to Tarsem, a chance for the director to show off his visual style honed in dozens of music videos, notably R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”.

Tarsem suffers from the “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome, a disease especially prevalent among ex-music video directors. “Art for art’s sake” may be MGM’s motto, but, pragmatically, it doesn’t work in movies. A movie isn’t just a series of images strung together; there has to be some sort of story, a reason for watching those images. If the story is mediocre, all the beautiful pictures in the world won’t save the film.

To make matters worse, the movie often violates its own internal logic – for example, as the social worker points out ad infinitum throughout the movie, it often takes a child months to build enough trust to let her in, but the serial killer only takes a single session! As we all know, serial killers are known for their trusting natures.

A trip inside Jennifer Lopez’s brain wouldn’t be as fruitful as the one we take here. Assuming there was enough room for anyone else in there, considering her ego, we’d be assaulted by letters 40 miles high in garish, blinking neon blaring “I’M ALL THAT & A BAG OF CHIPS.” Believe me, honey, you’re not. For his part, Vaughn showed most definitely that he was to become a star of the future. He has for the most part made good on that promise, largely because he’s learned to choose material where he has more to do than just smirk.

To Tarsem’s credit, some of the visuals and special effects are very nice indeed, but for the most part, its eye candy for its own sake. Frankly, Da Queen and I got more of a kick from the two guys in the row behind us discussing the philosophical implications of The Cell and its somewhat overbearing subtext of redemption and absolution when we saw this in a theater back in the day. Guys, you’re watching WAY too much of the Independent Film Channel.

By the way, what is up with film credits? Do we really need to see everyone’s name who is even vaguely connected with the movie? On the credits for The Cell you will see (I’m not making this up) the identities of the salad chef and of Jennifer Lopez’s bodyguard. I imagine the guy who cleaned up after the movie’s canine star will be graced with a poop wrangler credit next.

Roger Ebert, a voice I normally respect, did cartwheels over this movie which mystifies me to this day. The more I think about The Cell, the lower its rating goes, and if I don’t stop here, it’s going to get a zero rating, which really isn’t fair. It’s not completely without merit, but as fantastic as the visuals are, the movie is ultimately unsatisfying. Too many special effects and not enough solid writing, plot and characterization a dull movie makes – eye candy is tasty but doesn’t make for a satisfying meal.

WHY RENT THIS: Some amazing visuals and Jennifer Lopez’ exotic wardrobe.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A story that violates its own internal logic and falls apart over it’s own ponderous weight. A major case of “Look Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is violence, sexuality, bad language, nudity, and bizarre images. Unless your kids are fetishists, you might want to steer them away from this.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Scenes in the movie are inspired by artwork by such artists as Damien Hirst, Odd Nerdrum and H.R. Giger.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The two-disc Platinum Series edition includes an interactive map of the brain that gives more information than you probably want on the subject, as well as an empathy test that allows you to determine how you handle your emotions. Good, free therapy.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $104.2M on a $33M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: The Back-Up Plan