On Sunday night, the Screen Actors Guild gathered its members at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium for its annual celebration of their shared craft, a delightful ceremony free of the annoying focus-pulling that plagues awards shows that insist on handing out statuettes to the unwashed masses who scratch out a living on the wrong side of the camera. Unfortunately, not every SAG Awards nominee gets to take home the coveted Actor, the highest honor thespians can receive from their brothers- and sisters-in-arms; for every five stars receiving the validation of a nomination, four will find themselves confronted with the challenge of making gritted teeth seem like a smile, and white-hot jealousy like warm magnanimity as the cameras mercilessly probe their reactions for any sign of disappointment. And so here we are, the morning after the Saggies (they don't call them the Saggies, but they should), to relive last night's victories through the faces of the defeated. When you're this good at your job, you can make misery look a lot like triumph. Well, most of the time.
Lindsay Lohan Is a High-Paid Escort: According to her father, Michael Lohan, Lindsay "is getting paid to date rich men. Dina is pimpin her out. It's disgusting." A second source confirms the story. "The dates last for days, and the guys pay for everything — hotel, travel costs, food, whatever — as well as jewelry and other gifts." While she might just be receiving a fee to act as "arm candy for wealthy men who like to be seen with beautiful and famous women." Clients include Prince Haji Abdul Azim, third in line to the throne of Brunei, and Spanish-American painter Domingo Zapata.
"Domingo let Lindsay live in his penthouse at the Bowery Hotel in NYC for free and at his L.A. pad at Chateau Marmont." Zapata rescinded his kindness after Lohan's hit-and-run incident in September. "He said that Lindsay kept taking, taking, taking and asking for more — cars, dinners, clothes, everything." Lohan is now hanging out with "Vikram Chatwal a.k.a. The Turban Cowboy, who owns a chain of luxury hotels." Is that a self-appointed nickname? Michael Lohan says "Dina is exploiting Lindsay because she's broke too and gets 20 percent of everything Lindsay makes." Michael Lohan is not the most reputable source, though. A friend of Lindsay's says her escort work is "no big deal" because Lohan is "totally broke and in serious debt, and no one will hire her." Plus Lindsay thinks of it as a kind of method research for some future role. "Being an escort is just an easy way for her to stay above water. [Lindsay] says she's an actress and won't turn down getting paid good money to act a certain way!"
On Jodie Foster's Not-Quite-Coming-Out Party
Cecil B. DeMille was an absurdly prolific showman-producer. He oversaw flamboyant biblical and pseudo-biblical pageants like The Ten Commandments, Samson and Delilah, and The Greatest Show on Earth. They were epics of delirium and decadence that lavished the upside of sin, then sent you home relieved that the sinner isn't you. He manufactured dual celebrations of vice and virtue, vulgarity and purity.
There isn't much about DeMille that has to do with Jodie Foster. But the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the people responsible for the Golden Globes, named their lifetime achievement award in DeMille's name, and as the recipient at last night's ceremony Foster was less her famously reserved public self and more someone DeMille might have enjoyed: a contradiction.
We think we have already established, at least beyond the Internet-accepted standard of "a supercut-supported reasonable doubt," that Claire Danes is the finest crier of her generation. But does bestowing such a specific and limiting title give short shrift to her entire body of incredibly expressive face-acting work? Last night's Homeland finale was a master class in owning every close-up by conveying complex emotions with dancing eyes, a quivering brow, and yes, the full chin-to-hairline "cryface" that we all know and love. And so we've collected the six best face-moments from last night; the harrowing facial journey Carrie Mathison traveled is one worth reliving, especially when you consider that her romantic screen partner's own repertoire is limited to the pursing and unpursing of a tiny, tiny mouth. Enjoy. We have a long and miserable wait ahead of us for Season 3.
"The agency is a funny place, very insular. It's like middle-schoolers with clearances."
— A former CIA official, as quoted in the Washington Post, 12/10/12
"What is all this squishy bullshit?!?"
— A formerly living CIA official, as quoted last night on Homeland.
Other than Storage Wars, no current television program has received as much scrutiny for blurring the lines between reality and fiction as Homeland. In its schizoid second season, the reigning Best Drama Series — according to a plurality of Emmy voters and U.S. presidents, at least — has walked a wobbly tightrope in its attempts to balance plausibility and imagination, head and heart. After a breathless return that saw the show binging on plot like Carrie Mathison left alone with a box of Chardonnay, recent episodes have ranged far from the reservation, alienating wavering viewers with an abundance of action and a sudsy indulgence in doomy romanticism. But "The Choice" — last night's deeply satisfying, deeply moving season finale — was a reminder that this fundamental imbalance is Homeland’s greatest achievement.
Jessica Brody has just spent nearly a week trapped in a luxurious CIA penthouse making do with semi-decent wine, making time with her extramarital action figure, seeing her daughter freak out over spilled milk, and watching her husband choke back tears over the death of the man who tortured him for close to a decade. Rather than pique her curiosity, all of this has, in fact, shut it down entirely. "For the longest time, all I wanted was for you to tell me the truth," she tells Brody in the parked car that is their relationship. "I don't have to know anymore. I just don't want to."
It seems both convenient and counterproductive for Jess to take comfort in ignorance, especially to those of us impatiently waiting for next week's finale and its promise of either redemption or ruin for a sophomore season that's flirting with the edge. But if the episode briefly known as "The Motherfucker With a Turban" was about anything — and, let's be clear, at times it was hard to tell if it was — it was about Homeland’s particularly cynical view of truth: that, contra the black and white dogma of the Nazirs and Waldens of the world (RIP x2!) truth is entirely subjective, just another weapon to be used and abused, depending on who's doing the asking. Saul fights off the polygraph for the second time in a year — not because he's a mole, but because he knows the score: No matter his noble intentions, anything he says can and will be used against him by an even more dangerous motherfucker, this one in a slick suit. "The test is a goddamn farce," he barks. Sometimes it's better to keep the answers to yourself or, like Jess, just not know anything at all.
Kate Middleton Is Pregnant: "Royal-watchers all around the globe had been on tenterhooks for months." THAT SOUNDS UNCOMFORTABLE. "At long last, Will and Kate are expecting a little prince or princess!" While they were hoping to keep the story under wraps until Kate was 12 weeks along, and release the news on Christmas Day, it came out early when Middleton was admitted to a hospital for morning sickness. Nevertheless, "William and Kate are elated." They started trying in September, "once their Malaria medication has run its course" after their "royal tour of Southeast Asia." The holy "VIP baby leapfrogs Harry to become third in line for the throne behind William and his father." A nursery "is in the early stages" as the couple continue with their move into Kensington Palace. Get ready to hear all about the future royal baby for months from weirdo superfans.
A month or so back I paid a visit to the Homeland set in Charlotte, North Carolina. I'll be writing more about my time there later this week, but I thought it was worth mentioning now since the scenes I watched being filmed all aired last night. Due to the choppy nature of TV shooting schedules, I had no idea just where the puzzle pieces I observed fit — I watched Claire Danes talk on her cell phone and get in her pre-crashed car over and over again for about an hour, leading me to assume the dramatic kidnapping was the episode's cliffhanger, not the inciting incident. I spent time with a mopey Dana and Finn on the roof and a frantic Saul and Virgil on the street, yet had absolutely no sense of what the hour was about or where it was heading.
Right up there with buzzkill spouses and eager-to-cuckold best friends, the overstuffed tack board has become one of the premier television clichés of our time. From the steady nobility of Lester Freamon to the neon inanity of Beauty & the Beast, committed characters on all ends of the dial use pushpins, twine, and intuition to puzzle out their show's greatest mysteries. (Just last week on Twitter The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum suggested a show wholly devoted to the Pinterests of just such a manic protagonist.) The reigning queen of both mania and office supplies is Carrie Mathison, whose color-coded meltdown last season made for great television and a spike in Magic Marker sales.
There's a tack board in the CIA's special off-site surveillance dungeon this year, too. It's a staid and forlorn affair, unencumbered by bipolar rainbows or much of anything, really. For awhile there were photos of the immigrant cab drivers and car-wash attendants unlucky enough to cross Brody's path, but they were taken down soon enough. As we head into the final quarter of Homeland's rollicking second season, I'd wager the only things remaining on the board are photos of Abu Nazir, Roya Hamad, and perhaps one of Carrie's "Buy 9, Get 3 Free" coupons from the local Wine Depot.
Homeland is rightly lauded for many things, but humor is rarely among them. To be fair, topics like terrorism, mental health, and the unhygienic, lonely smearing of peanut butter onto crackers are not the stuff great comedies are made of. But was I wrong to see a few tendrils of winking good cheer peeking out from the cracks of what was otherwise a desperately tense hour? The first giveaway was the title: Last night's episode was called "I'll Fly Away," which, yes, helicopters. But "I'll Fly Away" was also the name of a critically adored NBC drama that aired two decades ago and gave Homeland writer Henry Bromell his start. (I'll Fly Away starred Regina Taylor as an African American maid and Sam Waterston as a liberal-ish Southern gentleman at the dawning of the civil rights era; forget the golden age of cable, you couldn't get such a high-minded series on the air today if Waterston also sold meth and Taylor moonlighted as the mother of dragons.)
And then there was the year-in-the-making moment in the motel with Carrie and Brody, during which the secret agent once again tapped that asset.
Exactly one year ago Homeland aired its seventh episode. Titled “The Weekend,” it marked the moment the freshman series went from good to great. It happens that way sometimes, in TV, when the panicked crush of production finally catches up to the promise of the pilot. I’ve heard it described variously as a show finding its voice or, more anthropomorphically, the show revealing how it should be written. Regardless, it’s as if, in an instant, the writers find depth in the material they hadn’t even realized was there. For the audience, the feeling can be delirious and disorienting. It’s like taking a step into the deep end of a pool: Suddenly there is no bottom; suddenly anything is possible.
In the case of “The Weekend,” it was the backwoods tango between Carrie and Brody that got all the ink. And rightly so! It was hypnotizing to watch the two leads dip in and out of honesty — and each other — like bags of Brody’s precious Yorkshire Gold into mugs of hot water. The hour provided the rare opportunity to watch both actors and characters losing themselves in the best roles of their lives. But my favorite part of “The Weekend” was its b-story: Saul’s long, intimate road trip with Aileen Morgan, the bloodthirsty blue blood. In direct contrast to Carrie and Brody’s teetering Jenga tower of lies, these two presented a simple binary: Saul needed the truth, Aileen wasn’t talking. And so they drove on, watching the odometer click in silence, two pawns in a global game sharing a ride but going in very different directions.
In fine-dining restaurants — places that serve the sort of thing that wouldn’t interest Carrie Mathison (i.e., food) — it’s traditional to serve a tart sorbet or granita as a palate cleanser. It’s a way to bridge the gap from one set of rich flavors to the indulgences still to come. It could be that I was merely hungry, but the thought did cross my mind that “A Gettysburg Address” was just that sort of intermezzo. Even a show like Homeland, which, in its riotously paced second season, has been binging on plot like a stoned sumo wrestler, has to ease back now and again. The delicious surprises of the past two weeks would be ruined without proper time to digest them.
Does that mean this was a lesser episode? Not necessarily. There was still much to savor, much of it in the form of the suddenly resurgent spy games. Two weeks ago, before Carrie dropped a bag over Brody’s head, flipping our expectations in the process, I wrote how I was fully prepared to enjoy the more traditional surveillance story that seemed on tap. I liked the return of Virgil and his long lens, the grimy, Wire-esque HQ, and the fun, friction-filled banter with temperamental cheesesteak-eater Peter Quinn. So while the target was no longer Brody, I liked that Homeland’s fallback setting still worked. If you strip away the probing psychodrama and the risky, high-wire script acrobatics, this is still a damn good undercover show, all furrowed brows, cats and mice and microphones that never seem to work when you need them to. Between last season’s bombing and this week’s fatal assignation, I’ll never look at fountains the same way again. (As for the continuing adventures of Encyclopedia Mike and his limping sidekick Lauder, the bearded blunderer, I’m less interested. Corporal Cuckolder may be a better man and a better match for Jessica than Brody is, but he’s certainly not a better character.)
The best thing I've seen in a movie theater so far this year was an intimate conversation. It occurred about a quarter of the way through The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's invigorating and infuriating three-hour tone poem about a guy who thinks with his own torpedo and guzzles oil out of the Navy's. Joaquin Phoenix — as said guy — and Philip Seymour Hoffman trade shots of poisonous moonshine and then lock horns and eyes for what feels like forever. The back-and-forth is part pseudo-religious "processing," part confessional, part testosterone thunder-yawp. Ostensibly, Hoffman is trying to unlock the darkest parts of Phoenix's twisted psyche, but it's as much about performance as power. Ferocious and precise, it's utterly mesmerizing and patently absurd, like watching grizzly bears arm-wrestle.
One of the more eye-catching portions of my friend (and recent podcast guest!) Sean Howe’s new book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, occurs early on when Stan Lee, the mustachioed architect of the Marvel Universe, declares that the secret recipe for four-color success isn’t gamma rays or secret spider bites: It’s “the illusion of change.” Turns out, the trick to keeping the Merry Marvel Marching Society on its toes was creating a feeling of forward momentum while simultaneously guaranteeing that everything stayed exactly the same: No matter how many super-villains they conquered, by next issue the X-Men would always be hated and feared, Spider-Man would always be broke and misunderstood, and the Man-Thing would always be a lousy double entendre brought to swampy life. It was two steps forward, then two steps back; a perfectly calibrated process of pushing and pulling that felt like movement without taking you anywhere at all.
Is Claire Danes the greatest crier of her generation? This isn't a topic to which we've devoted the kind of deep thought necessary to make a definitive statement, but off the top of our heads, and considering the evidence provided in the above supercut we've all just watched, all sad roads to the title go directly through her quivering lips.