Shorties: The Future, The Guard, and The Menstruation Machine

1) The Future

Los Angeleans Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (Miranda July) are the perfectly matched couple: both being good natured, slightly disheveled, almost attractive, and 35. The two, with their failed dreams and lack of future prospects, do have their love and their commitment to that affection to get them by. At least that's what's gotten them stumbling along smoothly now for four years. Their non-storybook-like romance, however, is about to change.

Jason, who works from home as a customer service aide for a computer company, and Sophie, who's a dance teacher for tiny tots, have agreed to adopt Paw Paw, a rather sickly stray cat on its last legs. This metaphysically bent feline that ruminates aloud throughout the film on life, death, and loneliness is scheduled to move in with the couple in 30 days, once the cast on his front left limb is removed.

This commitment, which might seem minor to many, causes these lovers to reexamine their lives as if they were marching towards parenthood.

Jason: I always thought I'd be smarter.

Realizing they both have only a month before they have to start changing cat litter and administering 24-hour care to Paw Paw, Jason and Samantha quit their jobs and disconnect from the Internet to experience life as they have never done before: straight on.  The problem is that the freedom they desire seems to be overrated or at least unwieldy.

Within hours, Jason winds up selling trees door-to-door for a flakey conservation group, while Sophie starts videotaping herself.  Her goal is to choreograph 30 dances in 30 days and upstream the results to YouTube.

Immediately, both fail in their separate ventures, all the time fronting a veneer of success to each other. Jason, unable to convince his fellow Californians about the need to plant saplings, winds up befriending an old man selling a $4.00 hairdryer, whom he visits daily. Sophie, meanwhile, begins an affair with Marshall, a 50-year-old whose phone number she finds on the back of a drawing on her wall.

Can true love survive? And what about Jason's power to stop time in its tracks?

Ms. July, who not only acts in her own films, but directs and writes them, here reclaims the glory she first garnered for her prize-winning feature debut Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005). Also a performance artist and a short story writer, she is very much the ovaries' answer to Woody Allen. If only July produced films as frequently.

But unlike Allen, whose dialogue is consistently quotable and whose witticisms can bear being divorced from their settings, July's tête-à-têtes gain much of their hilarity from the situations they are tied to.

For example, in the opening scene, Jason and Sophie are both lying on couches, with their heels touching, each working on their own computers, when Jason suddenly readjusts himself. 

Sophie: Get me some water.

Jason: I'm not getting up. I'm just shifting.

July's genius is how, with the interplay between this simplest of exchanges and the close-ups of each actor's face, she and her editor, Andrew Bird, capture both the Everyman aspects of this moth-eaten Romeo and Juliet and their oddball uniqueness.

Accordingly, The Future is a must-see for addicts of the quirky. If you love being in love, and don't mind the woebegone aftermath, this little indie will be pure bliss for you.

2) The Guard

After the screening of The Guard, a retired British schoolmarm from Leicestershire, who stays with me annually whether I desire it or not, noted, "What a joy! How refreshing! Do you think it will be a success?"

I replied, with an inner sadness spreading outwards, that there was not a chance in hell. My reasoning was simple: no matter how good this Irish actioner was -- and it is -- I could not remember the last time anyone said to me while sipping on a Cosmopolitan, "I can't wait for the next Brendan Gleeson feature."

This is a darn shame, because Gleeson is seldom less than grand in any role he takes on, whether it's Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody in the Harry Potter series, Winston Churchill in Into the Storm, or Martin Cahill in John Boorman's The General.

Here, once again, Gleeson creates a memorable hero, Sgt. Gerry Boyle, an Irish policeman who thinks nothing of ingesting a tab of acid he's just removed from a newly deceased teen who's died in a car crash. Boyle's reasoning: he wants to save the victim's mother the distress of knowing her son was a druggie.

Standing by the remnants of the auto and the remnants of bodies, he says with glee, "What a beautiful fucking day!"

The roguish officer of the law also enjoys his beer in spades, is an aficionado of Chet Baker, calls parapalegics "spastics," is a former Olympic swimmer (he came in fourth), and has a disparaging word for most Russian writers with the exception, I recall, of Gogol.

Well, to get the story moving, in Boyle's small town, several murders suddenly occur at the same time a representative of the FBI arrives on the scene, Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). It appears a drug trafficking ring will be utilizing the Irish coastline for smuggling in a half billion dollars worth of cocaine. Just where, though, is the mystery...and the comedy? Imagine a droll version of In the Heat of the Night with a few bullets in the head for the baddies and several in the back for the goodies. Much of the humor stems from the two leads' black-vs.-white banter, and how they move from a dismissal of each other's talents to an eventual jovial respect.

This, though, is Gleeson's picture from beginning to end. Whether frolicking with a pair of prostitutes dressed as coppers, spouting amiable racisms ("I only thought black lads were drug dealers," or vulnerably caring for his cancer-ridden mom (the superb Finnula Flanagan), this actor's actor never for a second allows you to think Boyle is just a cartoon. He's a full-blooded, endearing entity you'll definitely want to encounter again in a sequel.

3) "Menstruation Machine"/"Takashi's Take"

One of the conversation-producing highlights of the Museum of Modern Art's new exhibition Talk to Me (July 24-Nov.7, 2011) is Sputniko!'s "Menstruation Machine," which is composed of a beautifully shaped aluminum contraption, an acrylic rendering of a man dressed as a woman wearing the invention, and a music video entitled "Menstruation – Takashi's Take."

In the short music video of sorts, a young transvestite, Takashi, transforms himself into a beautiful young trendette with an orange wig and then straps on the machine to totally experience what it is like to be a female, cramps and all.

Walking about the streets of Tokyo with Sputniko! at his side, Takashi glories in his newfound loveliness until he starts bleeding and wants to know if it shows.

The lyrics state, "It hurts.... Well, it’s going to hurt more."

Sputniko!, apparently, is the Annie Sprinkle/Karen Finley of this decade, employing art in a funnish yet feminist manner. She avows with glee to be anti-menstruation, anti-birthing, and pro-mechanical penises.

In fact, if you watch her video "Child Production Machine," you'll hear the lyrics, "When I pulled my Tampon out/ It flew off/Now my toilet looks like a massacre scene" and "Darwinism doesn't decide everything/Biology doesn’t mean justice."

As for Sputniko!'s stance on menstruation, she writes, "It’s 2011, so why are humans still menstruating?

"As a female artist I had one intriguing question I wanted to solve.

When the contraceptive pill first became commercially available in the 1960s, it was deliberately designed to have a pill-free, menstruating week every month. This was because the doctors felt that users would find having no periods too worrying and unacceptable. 50 years have passed since then, and modern technology has accomplished even more -- space travel, mobile phones, Internet, cloning, and genetically modified foods -- but women are still bleeding. New pills such as Anya and Seasonique, which reduce the frequency of menstruation to none or four times a year, have recently been developed, but they are not yet widely used."

Well, if Sputniko! has her way, it's bye-bye to Kotex.

Don't worry! There are many more bloodless videos and exhibits to interact with at Talk to Me, which was curated by MoMA design department curator Paola Antonelli. Please note this is a very loud -- in both color and sound -- event. And it's kid friendly. - Brandon Judell

brandon.jpgMr. Judell is currently teaching "Queer Theater" and "Intro to Mass Communications" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).

Sierra Club

The Future

Thanks for the recommendation, sounds like Bliss indeed. Plus, I love Hamish Linklater!

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