Grace and Frankie and the days when Jane Fonda was a kick-ass hooker

I’ve been watching the show Grace and Frankie on Netflix and have been marveling at how good Jane Fonda looks. I remember reading recently Megyn Kelly was interviewing Jane Fonda and asked her about her plastic surgery. Jane Fonda.

What the fuck?

I’ve tried my best to forgive Megyn’s parents for spelling her name Megan with a ‘y’, but to ask Jane Fonda – Jane Motherfucking Fonda – about her plastic surgery when you have a chance to interview a legit icon – how do these people get jobs? I know how they get jobs. #nocomment

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What amazes me is that no one seems to have the true grasp of who someone like Jane Fonda used to be. She filled movie theaters. She was THE SHIT. Personally, I’m conflicted about her abilities as an actor, but she has been in a handful of  movies that still blow the mind and as such she will always deserve our tremendous respect. I’ve always loved how fragile yet strong she seems to be. Like she’s two seconds away from the panic attack that’ll send her careening into the grave, but at the same time she’s like Cher – she is never gonna fucking die.

The best part of Grace and Frankie is Martin Sheen and Lily Tomlin. They both shine like crazy. Like Fonda, Tomlin has never been a truly gifted “actor” (except, except, except Signs Of Life In The Universe which I saw live and yes, it’s a masterpiece) – she strikes me a performer and comic which I am as well so I’m not dissing – but as she’s gotten older she is gifted with what all great actors later in life are gifted which is less ego, so she allows more soul to show. She’s real, down-to-earth and amazing on camera.

I still can’t get out my mind her rant with director David O’Russell that was leaked. We’ll never, ever know what that was ever about. She was viscous. I wonder if she’s like that in life.  I wonder how many people even know Martin Sheen was in Apocalypse Now.  I used to smoke a ton of weed in the 90’s and watch that fucking movie when it came out on laser disc. The helicopters in the begining used to rattle the windows of my shitty apartment on Broadway and 11th street.

Of course, Tomlin and Fonda are doing Grace and Frankie because they got along on Nine to Five which was written by the great gay writer Colin Higgins who died WAY too young.  He also wrote Foul Play which isn’t a good movie, but a fun, fun movie. It has Goldie Hawn in it and I’ve always loved her. Always. Dumb blondes who are super smart has always been a huge weakness of mine.

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Fonda’s handful of shit kicking movies are famous: They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (barberic and smart as hell), Julia (unreal fucking movie – truly an unreal story that I’ll write about someday), Coming Home (upset a lot of people because the sex is so graphic in it, but it wasn’t the fucking but the fact Jon Voight was in a wheelchair during), California Suite (underrated as hell, and Maggie Smith stole the movie away from everyone) and the surprisingly good 80’s schlock The Morning After (super finale).

The point of this was to discuss Klute, a movie Jane Fonda was in in the early-70’s. The movie is a genuine masterpiece and one of the few times (outside of Coming Home – again, another movie EVERYONE talked out in 1977) where she walked on a tightrope and acted with a command of craft that’s breathtaking.

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Fonda plays a hooker named Bree who is being hunted by a killer. The detective looking for the killer is played by Donald Sutherland who I’ve always loved. Face that could stop a bus, but those eyes are unreal. The real star of the movie is the guy who shot it, Gordon Willis, and the director, the late, great Alan J. Pakula.

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The movie is shot in a way that movies aren’t now. Willis was famously called The Prince of Darkness and you see why. Huge patches of the screen are shrouded in black. New York city then (it was shot in 1970) feels and smells like New York City. Dark, dirty and forbidden. Also sexy, dirty and impossible to turn away from. The movie is tense, hard and truly suspenseful. We’ve lost the art of suspense now. We used to love suspense – now we want it all shoved down our throats.

And the acting? The therapy scenes with Fonda are still strong as fuck and the precursor to Tony Soprano and his therapy scenes in The Sopranos. I laughed when people seemed  amazed about a mobster in therapy. Everything we see now has been done before. Maybe in a different setting, but always the same. Klute proved it.

The most famous scene in the movie is also the perfect example of great screenwriting.

Fonda is a hooker and is being fucked by this john in bed. She’s moaning and groaning and since Fonda has always had a great body (again, wouldn’t be remotely surprised if no one remembers she was – again – THE SHIT when it came to the aerobics movement in the 80’s so she’s had a slammin’ body since she was in her 30’s) – she’s getting fucked for all she’s worth and she’s sounding like she’s really loving it, when she raises her hand and looks over her shoulder at her watch on her arm – stop moaning a bit – then resumes moaning again like a true pro.

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Pro. Pure pro. And I should know.

I used to be a hooker when I was a kid. Started when I was 13. And it’s just like that. Give ’em what they want, then make sure you make a quick exit. Which is essentially why the musical Chicago is so amazing.

The rest of the movie proves why every movie freak like me loves movies from the 70’s. They were just so good, so rich and so real. Gritty and made by rebels but within the studio system.  The structure of the movie is great. From the opening credits with the tape recorder to the final image to the payoff of Sutherland and Fonda in the end.

As for the director – well, I can’t even if people don’t know who he was. IMDB the guy. He was The Man. One of the great American film directors of all times. Heard he died being impaled by some sort of construction site mishap. I hope that isn’t true. I can’t bear to check.

As good as good movies about smart hookers who are played by women who never seem to age and are still making movies and for that fact alone she deserves our respect is the masterpiece that is Klute.

Are you listening Megyn with a motherfucking ‘y’?

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Welcome to the movies (an intro). Now turn off your fucking phone.

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For  many years I worked in video stores. I started in the late-80’s in Seattle and it spilled over when I moved eventually moved to Boston and then settled into my home where I’ve been for over 26 years, New York City. All told I worked for almost 10 years during the time when videos became laserdiscs became DVD’s became blu-rays and then became obsolete.

In that time I watched thousands of movies. Too many to count. My former husband (well, not technically – we we’re just two gay guys living together for a very, very long time) knew I was obsessed with the movies but he didn’t know why. I was obsessed with them because they were my salvation. Some kids had loving parents who told them about sex and love and about the true nature of life. I had a bipolar mother who liked to verbally abuse me and throw things at me and a father who was always gone traveling so my babysitter, my mentor and my ultimate guide was the movies.

To be fair, my crazy, dead mother did love to take me to the movies. And so did my father. I’m old enough to say I saw Star Wars in the theater and Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark when they first came out in the theater. Yes, theater. But this blog isn’t about my life spent learning how to behave, think and act in the movies.

This blog is about my sheer obsessional love of the movies and how they saved my life working as I did for years and years making $10 an hour and watching more movies than most movie critics should ever have to.

I love the movies. Nothing gives me a chubby more than credits on the screen. I literally get emotionally erect when I see credits. When I was a boy growing up in a house powered by a mentally ill wombat of a mother, I found answers by going to see Ordinary People and Sophie’s Choice. Fun flicks, those.

I lived in the castle that was, in my mind, my future home in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I realize since I make my living writing and working in TV and the movies how many years people kill themselves to make a movie, so I say this with respect due to all who made the remake of Willy Wonka but it fucking sucked. The social commentary, the deeper elements of Ronald Dahl’s book were lost in the remake and that’s a pity since the best part of the original is the unrelentingly snarky remarks to the parents of the brat kids in the original. 

I’ve had countless friends who work in schools tell me the kids are amazing, it’s the parents that are fucking nut jobs. Of course, they’re right.

As I was saying, my husband of many years knew of my former life working in video stores and my obsession with movies and particularly DVD’s and so he bought me a machine that allowed me to duplicate movies and keep them in my own private collection. Since I worked in video stores that were, um, less than honest about how they acquired certain bootleg movies I ended up, after many years, with a shit ton of fucking DVD’s that I’ve been schlepping from home to home.

I’ve decided to write this blog and my review of some of those movies out of sheer love of the endless DVD’s crowding my closets. So one after one, I’m watching them again as time permits and I’ll write my thoughts on them here for your enjoyment.

Why should you read my opinion on movies? Well, you should do what you want, but I do have this to add: I am a man whose life as an abused boy was saved by the movies, so when I give you my thoughts not only are they fueled by deep gratitude for my hot ass being saved by the movies, but the reviews I’ll write are based upon years and years of studying, writing, viewing and plain gorging on the movies. So while others, no doubt, know more than I do about movies, I know a lot. Like, more than anyone should about the movies.

So sit back. Grab some popcorn. Settled in. Turn off your fucking phone.

Give your full attention to the movies I’m about to discuss and you’ll be rewarded over and over again in your life. Hey, movies are always better than the books they come from (yes, they are) and at least when you watch them you’re entertained and really, in the end, if a movie doesn’t entertain you in some big way then it’s an epic fail.

I never go to the movies to be taught something or to learn something. How boring. I go to the movies to be inspired and to touch on the divine and feel the sense of wonder we lack today in a big way. The movies are a marvel or pure wonder and enchantment.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

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Lord of the Rings – The Extended Cut

I remember when I first saw this. It was in 2002 and I had absolutely no expectations for it. None. I knew why I pulled my then ex-husband with me to the theater.

It was my father’s fault.

When I was growing up the one constant at Christmas was that my dad would buy me calendars by some dudes called The Brothers Hildebrandt who did etchings of the characterizers from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. 

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I had tried to read the books as a boy and they bored the shit out of me and they still do. They’re not fun books to read. Plodding and dull and too many facts and no thrill.  You have to dig past so much to get to the fun parts and while I know for some that’s heresy to write, I don’t give a crap. They’re boring books. 

Into the theater I stumbled in 2002 and I expected nothing. I knew of Peter Jackson, the director. He directed on our favorites movies to recommend in video stores. It was called “Dead Alive” and it was fucking foul and hysterical. The plot was not a plot but an excuse to playfully butcher people, an art in horror/comedy movies that has nearly vanished. Now everyone is so fucking serious movies that combine horror and comedy are nearly impossible to find. One exception is the mostly amusing “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” on Starz right now. The show is, thanks to executive producer Raimi, just like his “Evil Dead” series. Funny, fast, violent and not interested in making us watch torture porn. Eli Roth needs therapy, that’s all I’ll say.

So into the theater I stumbled and honestly my mouth hung open from beginning to end. Not because of the spectacle of LOTR: Fellowship was so damn big and brassy and lush. No. It was the fact Jackson was pulling of a tone that blew my mind. The camera was up the noses of all the actors and they were talking in hushed and ridiculously dramatic tones and for some fucking reason I bought every-second-of-it. I was amazed at what I was seeing. This was a director in pure, pure command of craft, tone, storytelling and theme. 

Today I watched for the 5th time (but the first time in a few years) the extended cut of LOTR: Fellowship and again I was amazed at how the extra footage felt so right I could barely determine what was new and what was from the theatrical release.

Most extended cuts are useless.  Sure, some like the Donner cut of Superman from 1976 is pretty fucking good, but other than that these bloated exercises in failed artistic vision given expression in the theaters are better than Ambien to sleep by. Not all, of course, but most.

The difference that Jackson somehow achieved with the look of LOTR: Fellowship still amazes me. The special effects have a different texture to them. I write this as a new Star Wars is coming out and I literally cannot drag myself to see it because it’s the same polished, shiny CGI look that studios feel 15 year olds need so everything today looks the same. Even Jackson’s special effects look different and he made those in the late-90’s. There is an artistry, an unpolished/polished look to them as if they were created with a paintbrush, not created so they could be seen on a smartphone.

Now, in all fairness I do like this movie because the men are fabulous and yes, I’ve got some daddy issues clearly going on because my dad was short, I’ve always been attracted to short men and I would so fuck a hobbit in a second. So I do know that’s at play here, but that aside, I cry every time Cate Blanchett comes on screen and every time Gandalf says the theme of the movie which is that we are here to ‘make the best use of the time we have’ I sob like the gay dude I am. That’s some deep shit!  And true.

The moments that I’ll never shake are the ones where the most open hearted and loving characters are tempted by the ring. The scene where Ian Holm’s face turns demonic when he tries to grab the ring from Elijah Wood (who is so hot in this movie although he’s a bit young in this for me – I prefer him today in the extremely underrated TV show “Dirk Gently” where at least he has facial hair and doesn’t look like he’s in the 11th grade) – that scene with Holm is startling and so telling. We all want to have the power to “rule them all” which is, really, what the entire story is about. Our obsession with wanting power and the creative and destructive force of it.

The same moment occurs when Cate Blanchett tries to grab the ring as well when Elijah offers it to her and her eyes get all white and big and she screams about being a hot queen.  Maybe this is me being super gay, but I would so worship at her altar if that is what she looked like as a mad queen. Follow her into the fires of Mordor? Sure, girl. No worries. I got your back.

I’m always amazed thinking that Liv Tyler is Steven Tyler’s daughter. I read his memoir and I wonder if his daughter’s desire to (probably) not check out with drugs and live the life or a rock and roller was born from watching her dad so fucked up all the time. I wrote “probably” because looking at her I don’t get the sense she does/has done drugs and pills and booze. Watching the movie again today I was shocked at what a baby face she has. I had this image in my mind that Steven Tyler must have lost his mind when he saw that he had somehow, out of his wild Aerosmith days, created a person who became a pretty solid and respected actor. Liv Tyler went on to do a lot of movies. I don’t think she’s this gifted vessel or anything, but there a quiet steadiness she possess that’s lovely to watch. I can’t tell if it’s because she’s afraid to lose control on screen, or if that’s really her.

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Of course, I’m deeply inspired the Ian McKellan, that big queen, is the leading moral center of the biggest wound explored in the movie. His ‘death’ is the centerpiece pushing everyone ahead. An openly actor leading the charge to liberation in one of the best fantasy films of all time is so rad to me. I hope to be that kind of old gay dude. I really should dress as Gandalf one of those days and just go and buy some milk. Freak the fuck out of everyone at Key Foods in Queens. Would be worth it.

Maybe my love of this movie, and the fact I just watched it again and still was engaged and crying and marveling at the artistry and the movement of it – maybe this is because as a boy I’d sit and stare at my LOTR calendar and wish I was in those lands where the fire burned golden and magical elves would take me a way to a different place.

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I escaped to the movies to find any sense of hope. I was being tortured at home, tortured in school and was one those suicidal teens you read about. I really didn’t feel much of a need to go on when I was a boy, but when the Friday paper would come out and I’d open it up and see this huge ads (some in color! Fucking ‘A!) my stomach would get into knots and I’d be so excited I could barely wait for opening day.

Never mind some of the money I got for the movies was from having old men suck me off in more theaters when I was 13, x-rated movies I got into with a fake ID and that I was a 13 year old sneaking into movie theaters because my mother was sexually abused so I was sexually abused so I had this thing with being weirdly sexually in a very off way as a child.

Let’s not go there. 

Let’s go back to the movies.

To the movies that saved me, told me all was going to be well and always had a morale at the end I’d follow religiously navigating my confusing and emotionally turbulent life.

My life isn’t so turbulent now, thank God. I’m happier and have a good life and somehow I’m not dead and not addicted to anything (except talking about my dead, crazy mother) so that’s a pretty wonderful thing.

If you haven’t seen the extended edition of the first LOTR movies it’s truly worth your time. I know a good flick when I see one, and this movie, frame for frame, is pitch perfect.  And except for their disgusting feet, some of those hobbits are pretty hot. I should see if there is an OKCupid for gay hobbits. Bet there is. 

— MCB

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