A Fugue of Sex and Love Addiction: Shame

I waited, as I read some of the reviews of Shame. I watched all of the major reviewers sort of dance around trying to figure out if they got what was going on, what this movie was really about. Watched for the two words: Sex addiction.

Sadly, I saw them nowhere.


But this movie is to Sex Addiction what Days of Wine and Roses is to alcoholism. Ever wanted to know the sordid details behind a sex addict’s mind? Here you go. The lies, the hidden pornography, the near-constant masturbation. The near destruction of one’s own life, while being in complete denial about it. All here.

What (also) isn’t talked about is how his (Michael Fassbender, as our protagonist) sister (Carey Mulligan) suffers from a concurrent love addiction. She bounds into his life from who knows where, and opens up a door on his behavior. Make no mistake, they are cut from the same cloth.

They are both from New Jersey. Brother dear now lives in NY. When sister arrives, she has somehow booked a singing gig at a club. She does a gut-wrenching version of “New York, New York” that also makes her otherwise unfeeling brother tear up.

It’s also interesting to me that the first time you see both of them completely naked, it’s not in a sexual way. He, because he’s taking a piss. She, because she’s in the shower.

Also, to director Steve McQueen’s immense credit (which also other reviewers seem to have missed), it’s incredibly hard to show all the sordidness of a sex addict’s life, and not make it seem sexy. He does this partly through the script, and partly through excellent camera work and editing.

Sex addiction, for those not savvy to it, makes every person a potential sex object. The sex addict is skilled, like a sexual viper, always able to conquer their prey. But it’s a nameless faceless game. Know as little about someone as possible. Give away as little of yourself as possible.

So when the phone starts ringing early on, I was puzzled. Not like a sex addict to give out their phone number. Of course, it turns out to be his sister.

Later, he meets someone and goes on an actual date. She asks him how long his longest relationship was, “Four months,” he says.

Being present is also a very difficult thing for any addict, but especially a sex addict. So when he asks his date what time period, past or future, she’d like to live in, she responds: “Right now.” He’s completely perplexed. But she is, indeed, very connected, very present, very in touch with her emotions.

You see this in another way. You’ve seen his addictive sex in many ways. But when he beds this gorgeous emotionally connected black woman, she touches his face, lovingly. He can’t go on. He knows nothing of this kind of sex.

But, his sex addiction fuse having been lit, it has to be finished. You see him, moments later, with someone that he picked up from somewhere. Doesn’t matter. It’s another drug, and he’s scored.

The purging that he does after that experience is equivalent to what anyone has to do when they get sober. Alcoholics pour their drink down the sink, drug addicts destroy their paraphernalia, sex addicts throw away all the morass of their secret stashes. Yes, even their computers.

He has his emotions opened up now. He has a big blowout fight with his sister. It’s quite compellingly shot from behind as they sit on a couch. Sex addict vs. love addict, mano a mano. It’s brutal, and painful.

He caps his words with a night of sex bingeing that gets quite ugly.

And, in the morning, he is sobbing on the beach. Someone on Twitter said, “Oh big deal, so he cries on the beach.” They missed the whole point. It IS a big deal that he was sobbing on the beach. The way for a sex addict to heal (or any addict) is to actually feel their feelings. And yes, that usually does initially involve a lot of crying.

I was hoping that it would all end with Brandon getting into recovery. But that’s probably too pat and predictable an ending.

The way it actually ended was with one of his sex toys on the train, a married woman who constantly flirts with him. Once he ran out of the train, following her and lost her. This time, she starts flirting, and he remains seated, not taking the bait.

I looked behind his head. In the shot, is a poster for a place called “The River NYC.” Not exactly a recovery place, but its website said this: “Our goal is to create a warm and welcoming space where we can develop a genuine spirituality.” Yep. Sounds like recovery to me. All you have to do is look around, and find it.

A much better ending.

ADDENDUM: Roger Ebert mentions it in his review.


Young Adult Is Infinitely Missable

The central problem for why “Young Adult” is so terrible is that its protagonist is loathesome.

I dunno. Maybe it’s just me, but I no longer find someone drinking too much, acting out when drunk, or acting out when seriously love-addicted, to be a funny thing. I cannot root for this person, other than to root that they seriously find rehab soon.

Our lead, Mavis Gary, is hell-bent on her own destruction, chasing down her “true love,” who is happily married and just had a child. She plans to steal him away. This never goes well, nor is it a viable plot premise anymore, I would argue.

(I found Julia Roberts similarly reprehensible in “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” though her guy was not quite married yet in that one. No matter, same conniving horribleness at hand.)

So, beautiful statuesque Charlize Theron (who does give this part the old college try) drinks way too much. In real life, if someone drank as much as she did, she would not be in any semblance of shape, certainly would not have the flawless skin that she has (no matter how many facials she received; the movie shows us no less than three times that she gets manis and pedis and spends a lot of time with her hair and face). No, in fact a woman who drinks like this would be already developing that bulbous red nose thing that many full-blown alcoholics get.

But then, this is a romantic comedy right, with the guy who’s not the guy she’s chasing whom she’s supposed to fall in love with. And SPOILER they don’t. She spends most of her time bending his ear about her totally-in denial love addiction plan. He tells her she’s crazy and needs therapy (true!). After making a complete fool of herself later, she consents to sloppy last-stand sex with him, and leaves him and his sister (“Take me with you!” she demands; Mavis doesn’t, with the cold line, “No, you’re good here.” Here being their vapid small town.)

Just a loathesome person from start to finish, who learns nothing along the way.

Other actors: Patrick Wilson as the “true love” is wonderful. Elizabeth Reaser (what is with her as “the other woman”? Between this and “The Good Wife,” sheesh), but she’s also wonderful as the man’s wife.

Even Patton Oswalt, getting more and more juicy roles in cinema, is quite the charmer.

I loved “Juno.” Normally, I like Diablo Cody. Didn’t like this. Normally, I like Jason Reitman, the director. Didn’t like this.

(Although the nihilistic end of the world Kendra-Kardashian double bill on her TV screens was a wonderful touch.)

This movie is really best avoided. Unlike you like loud mouthy desperate out of control love-addicted alcoholics. Then, you might find this a laugh riot. Me, I like to like my protagonists.

Or, you might wanna really punish yourself. Go see this on a double feature with that sex addiction movie, Shame. Fun times!

Who should be the new Oscar host?

So, who should we have hosting the Oscars this year? Hurry, people, time’s a wasting…
Eddie Murphy’s out (*sob*). Totally joking. I can’t stand Eddie Murphy, and he would’ve made a terrible host. In fact, all ego-maniacs need not apply, so sit down Will Smith.

It really and truly should be a comedian of some flavor, because it needs to be someone who will keep on with the funny when people are staring at him/her blankly.

It should be someone who knows Hollywood and isn’t too fanlike about it (Rosie O’Donnell can sit down). But someone who is also sufficiently deferential to it. (David Letterman can sit WAY down and take both Uma and Oprah with him.)

It should be someone who can sing and dance, so the old standbys come to mind: Hugh Jackman (busy with that Les Miz movie), Neil Patrick Harris (busy with his TV show). Billy Crystal has just done it too much. He also needs to sit down.

Someone who thinks quickly on their feet, preferably someone comfortable with improve or standup, cause stuff happens at the Oscars that you just have to be prepared for, and willing to go off script for. (Steve Martin can sit WAY down.)

While we’re at it, forget the youngsters (especially after the “talking too freely” that got Brett Ratner bounced, we have to have some older dude or dudette who isn’t going to let the wrong thing slip. Who knows the meaning of politically correct, yet is savvy enough to know who to take jabs at (and who NOT TO). Please sit Ricky Gervais down and shut him the hell up. And while you’re at it, take that drink out of his hand.

So, in short, someone who’s polite, savvy about Hollywood, works hard enough to step in to this madness quickly, someone who can sing and dance or at least tell a good joke.
My own personal short list would be this: Craig Ferguson or Jimmy Fallon (though, this being ABC, probably not likely), Dan Finnerman (from “the Dan Band”)—he would rock it!, Marc Maron, Chris Hardwick, Jay Mohr.

Women? There aren’t too many choices there. Kathy Griffin comes to mind, but she has the sassy mouth that got Ratner bounced. You know who would be a fantastic female Oscar host? Loni Love! She would rock that Kodak. And you know she looks great in some gowns.

Or maybe Ricki Lake, after she wins Dancing with the Stars, to promote her new talk show? Nah. Loni Love would be better.

Those would be my final choices: either Dan Finnerman or Loni Love.

Boy, would those be some fun Oscars. Enough with the overpriced, full of themselves celebs and young people who haven’t got a clue. These two have been around the block a time or two.

Another wacky, but perfect choice? Ross Matthews. You know he respects the Oscars enough. It may even compensate for his youth and inexperience. He’d be a great choice.

What say you?

Made in Dagenham: Let’s hear it for the women!

Sometimes, with all the demonizing hate-filled Republican propaganda that fills our airwaves, sometimes one wonders why it is again that unions are relevant. They have been portrayed as terrible things that are ruining our lives. (Just don’t look at the big corporations that are pulling the strings to make those statements…)

How far have we gotten from the struggles for the 40-hour week? Or the hard-fought-for half hour lunches and ten-minute breaks, legal by law, yet in this new corporate world where everyone is doing five people’s jobs, hardly still maintained. Does anyone even remember that it was the unions that fought for these things? For these rights for us working stiffs?

Or has this bad word “socialism” (since that other trumped-up bad word, “communism” doesn’t really work anymore, appearing hopelessly dated) really colored everything for so many? So many who voted their corporate keepers back into power, though they decried the influence of the big bad banks? Just makes ya sick, sometimes.

Well, here’s an antidote to the corporate-cash big money Tea Party election we just stomached. Here’s a pleasant reminder of exactly what unions can do, and why we need them so, in these crazy times. “Made in Dagenham” takes place in England, in the mid-60s. It’s a true story.

Sallie Hawkins, a sure Oscar contender, is one of the strike leaders. Miranda Richardson has a noble turn herself. (Both were in attendance at the AFI screening.) This film is easily one of my favorites of the year.

Women, working at a Ford plant as machinists, start out the movie wanting to be the same pay grade as men, to be classed as “skilled,” rather than “unskilled.” Simple enough. Fair enough.

They encounter many obstacles along the way, not the least of which is that they aren’t taken seriously because they are “just women,” after all. We won’t even talk about the other shop violations which they don’t even talk about in the movie: the water pouring down on the workplace, the fact that many women work in their bras because it’s too hot in the shop (those rights are things American workers fought for, and are still enforced).

But the big battle for the women ultimately becomes: “Equal pay for equal work.” That is what they fight for. Don’t wanna spoil the movie. I’ll just say that it had a positive ending in Britain, and many other countries because of the women of Dagenham.

It made me uncomfortably squeamish, though, to realize that here in America in 2010, women still make only 74% of what men make for the same job. Oh yeah. That’s why we need those “socialist” unions. I remember now.

If Not Money, then What, Oliver?

Perhaps it started with “Inception.” Or “Toy Story 3.” Or those lonely souls who’ve already viewed “Winter’s Bone.”

But for me, the Oscar derby begins in full swing with Oliver Stone’s latest, and most successful opening, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”


I entered the film with trepidation. I mean, here we are, a depressed people, our country gutted by these slime like Gordon Gekko who played fast and loose with our money. Why on earth would I want to see a movie that glorifies him and makes like he’s the hero?

For me, the answer to that is: it helps us understand. Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street 2” gives us a little morality tale. It turns out that greed isn’t really good, even Gordon Gekko tells us that. But greed “is systemic, in everything.” And by everything, he means, not only the money he and those of his kind played fast and loose with, but also the suburban housewife who bought a nice house beyond her means, or those whose eyes are constantly moving up to the next hot thing.

He’s right about that. And in the end, it’s Gordon Gekko, challenging us. If the system is to change, we all must change.

Sadly, the script doesn’t really bear the conviction of its words. (For a minute, it does really make us think, though.)

There was a scene that really bothered me, which is representative of what I’m talking about. Gordon Gekko’s daughter, played by the Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan (for “An Education”), is the hippie environmentalist. She doesn’t care for this money thing, she shuns it at every turn. Yeah, ok. Doesn’t wanna be like her dad. Get it.

Her fiance, Shia LeBouef, buys her a quite gorgeous diamond engagement ring. It makes her uncomfortable, all that ostentation and money and stuff. So sometimes, she takes it off. And in one of these moments, she grabs a Cracker Jack package. Opens it, BY HERSELF while her fiance is watching TV. Inside is a plastic ring (to say nothing of the reality that Cracker Jack stopped putting rings into prizes before this girl was born). In any case, she puts the plastic ring on her own hand, and proudly wears that one around in front of family and friends.

Wow. Isn’t she making a statement now?

Well, no.

Look, I’m a hippie environmentalist who eschews diamonds too. But here’s the thing. Nobody, even the brokest among us, is going to say or think that a cheap plastic ring from China is going to be better on one’s hand than a solid ring. It just makes you look stupid. Besides, it’s much more likely to break. Isn’t an engagement ring supposed to signify permanence?

Secondly, SHE takes it out of the package and puts it on her own finger. That whole thing just grosses me out. It’s supposed to be a token of a union between TWO people. He put the diamond on her finger, that’s the ring she should keep. That’s the one that signifies the bond between them.

Really, can you imagine the conversation (which never occurred in the movie), “Hey honey, do you mind if I don’t wear this ring you paid hundreds of thousands for? I’m just gonna slum it with this plastic Cracker Jack piece of crap.” Yeah, right. In what universe? Sorry, didn’t buy that at all.

Also, one would think the Michael Douglas character learned something in prison. Perhaps a bit of humility and concern for others. It’s a concept.

When the big reveal happens, it’s a sucker punch. Really? He learned nothing? Same old, same old? Sad.

And then, worse, he turns around and gets repentant, though there’s really no justification for this in the script. He just shows up one day after double-crossing them, and says, “OK, take me back now. I wanna be a dad again.” Really? And it’s that easy?

I hated that part of the movie. I liked the fact that it showed that life is about more than money moving around. I like that it opened up some emotional bonds between father and daughter and son-in-law. But it really didn’t seem to know what to do with those emotions. None of them seemed real.

Along the way, I enjoyed watching Carey Mulligan, Shia LaBouef and Michael Douglas in their machinations. Austin Pendleton was great, as always. Josh Brolin was a great bad guy, the motorcycle scene was awesome to watch. Frank Langella has a stunning cameo turn. He’s almost like if the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life” had grown up and was still running a bank. Sad to see what happens there.

But I would’ve liked this movie better if it took a position and stayed there. Do we hate rich people? Or don’t we? Do we celebrate the money manipulators? Or don’t we? Is family more important than anything? Or isn’t it?

It will get some people talking. Oliver Stone is certainly a master director. But I’m still not sure I liked it.

Don’t be blind to the kindness of The Blind Side.

I have mixed feelings about “The Blind Side.” I know it’s being heavily promoted during televised football games, due to some of its football content. And it’s based on a true story about a real football player. That’s all well and good, except I really don’t care much about football. And to me, the movie lost a lot of its lustre once it veered into football territory. The title is based on some football analogy, which I think boils down to “protect someone (you care about) on their blind side.”

The beauty of the movie lies in just that. As this parade of Oscar hopefuls come trotting by, this is the first one (other than Up, which premiered earlier in the year) which actually has a lot of heart. Our lead is a large black man named Big Mike, later Michael (played by Quinton Aaron), born to a crack-addicted mother and an absent father, who ends up in a private school through the assistance of one person who sticks their neck out for him (due to his potential sports ability).

He is noticed and taken in by rich, white Sandra Bullock and her family. There is no doubt, the way the movie unfolds, that it is a heart to heart connection. But nonetheless, the feeling that is left at the end is along the lines of: well, that’s all well and good for this one particular black man who is saved from his life of crack-hell, but what about the countless others who are not? And that’s really the feeling that I can’t shake about this movie. It so distinctly points out the disparity between the two worlds that it’s very discomforting.

That said, there are many heart-warming and kind moments. Sandra Bullock, being bantered around in Oscar circles for the first time ever with the words, “possible Oscar nominee,” is indeed wonderful and warm as the lead Leigh Anne Touhy. She is quite far from any role I’ve ever seen her in as the high-powered blonde Republican wife.

The movie skirts the issue of race adroitly. Michael is a person who needs Leigh Anne’s help, so she helps him. It is quite wonderful how the story breaks down like that. Simple. Anyone would do this.

So if you need a reminder what it means to show another person love, “The Blind Side” is a great movie to see. Not overly sappy or button-pushing, just sweet and kind. Like Sandra Bullock.