7.31.2008

david lynch thursdays!



Often, in a scene, the room and the light together signify a mood. So even if the room isn't perfect, you can work with the light and get it to feel correct, so that it has the mood that came with the original idea.

The light can make all the difference in a film, even in a character.

I love seeing people come out of darkness.



--- "Catching the Big Fish."

7.30.2008

was the hollywood blacklist cool?

Snark ahoy with Roy!

Ten recent reviews

Lilith -
Robert Rossen really had a way in his later films with portraying people with mental and emotional problems. Between this and The Hustler, there's a real interest in and affinity for women in serious distress, and he's got a stark visual aspect that corresponds to it. I don't know what the mental health care system was like at the time, but early on in the film it feels just out of wack that Beatty's character could just walk into the job like he does when it's clear that despite being a nice guy, he doesn't have the skills to really do the job. That's probably the chief failing of the film, but in telling his story it's a disbelief I just suspend to see how the story plays out, which is of course tragically and emotionally right on the money, if not 100% accurate in adhering to how things might work in reality (then again, maybe it was a case like his that brought about background checks). Anyway, a really interesting portrayal of people with deep-rooted problems and worth seeing again. Also makes me interested in checking out Rossen's ouevre as it develops from All the President's Men to this, despite the bad reviews abounding on IMDB.

Jamaica Inn -
Hitchcock not exactly in top form though I wouldn't place the blame on him for the film not quite working. In fact, I wouldn't even say the film doesn't work, just that it's not great and that it's not a typical Hitch film. Problems begin and end with the script, I think. We're not given a heroine (or hero) that we can really latch on to - you only like her because she stays strong in the face of some very effective and strongly played villains, from the brutish uncle Joss to the sinister gang leader Thomas to (especially) the utterly repuslive Sir Humphrey Pengallan (played with slavering relish by Charles Laughton). In this, it's not unlike a ton of films where our lead is stiff and wooden and the villains have all the color and remain the center of interest in the films. But it does tend to undercut the plight of our central characters - and thus our interest as viewers - when we don't care as much what happens to them as we care what dastardly things our villains might be up to. Enjoyable in spite of its flaws, I'm glad I wasn't scared off by the bad rep the film has because of it being sandwiched between two far more brilliant works.

Electra Glide in Blue -
A really captivating vision of the fallout of the 1960's and the conflict between the underground youth movement and the establishment, here represented by a few motorcycle cops and detectives caught up investigating the murder of a loner. Robert Blake plays the ambitious cop who comes across the body and wants to use it to springboard his career into homicide but he's checked at every side by his naivety, by an establishment that's far more rigid than he imagined, and by an underground that doesn't want him, no matter how sympathetic he may be to their ideals. It's like the film takes "the Man" and draws him from the point of view of the underground, while not really taking either side. Only Blake is a truly sympathetic character - his associates range from arrogant to mean-spirited to engaging in real abuses of power while the hippies and other normal folks he comes into contact with lie, steal, and murder or are simply crazy. Filmmaking is really stylistically dynamic, with one of the greatest closing sequences I've ever seen - major props to cinematographer Conrad Hall for his work here. It's a shame that James William Guercio never made another film - this is a remarkably strong and assured directorial debut, but I guess that managing the group Chicago just as they were taking off commercially (singer Peter Cetera is great here in a small role as a drug-dealing hippie) had to swallow up a lot of time and probably didn't allow for the rigors of filmmaking. Anyway, really interesting, especially in its immediately post-Woodstock (and more importantly, post-Altamont) look at the counter culture. Helps give a possible (and plausible) explanation to Peter Fonda's enigmatic "We blew it" from Easy Rider.

Memories of Murder -
What I enjoyed most about The Host is that it took a genre pic and took off from it in its own unique way, and this earlier (and better) film from director Joon-ho Bong does the same, upending conventions of the serial killer/police procedural film until it becomes something entirely different. As I've heard Zodiac does and as Spike Lee's Summer of Sam tangentially does, this concentrates not on suspenseful rendering of fact-based, scary murders but rather on how those murders affect those involved in the killings and a recreation of the atmosphere in which those killings happened. As that it's a masterpiece, showing us two provincial cops and their boss stymied by a puzzling rape/murder. They're later joined by a big city investigator in from Seoul who's more used to this type of crime but proves equally unable to solve the increasing number of murders. Things begin to unravel for the investigators as their efforts and those by the government (at the time a military dictatorship) fail to produce proof of an individual responsible for the crimes or to stop more from occurring. Really good stuff all around with tension, humor and drama taking about an equal amount of time in the spotlight.

Fort Apache -
One of the best of the Ford westerns I've seen and possibly the clearest view in his films of the tension stemming from the conflict between the "civilizing" frontiermen and the "savage" natives; or if you prefer, between the call of order and the call of chaos. Those who think that westerns are intrinsically racist would do well to start seeing the error of their ways here - at no point does the film (as opposed to certain characters within it) see Cochise as anything less than a leader worthy of great respect and at no point does it offer a full endorsement of Fonda's tactics - he's mainly portrayed as an arrogant and rigid interloper from the East who has no understanding of the subtleties of cultural interaction necessary for survival on the frontier. I've always liked the way that some directors of the classic Hollywood period use mainstream films to portray and undercut these sorts of social and cultural conflicts, and Ford (along with Hitchcock and Sirk) is one of the best at offering up a situation not to celebrate it, but to analyze and sometimes critique it. Lastly, the entire ensemble is brilliant, with Fonda's rigidly militaristic Lt. Thursday and John Wayne's Capt. York taking the top honors as complex people, but even the small side players giving their all and providing the realistic and illuminating details that make the characters feel real and giving you reason to sympathize with every one (even Fonda). A masterful work.

Encounters at the End of the World -
A friend I saw this with had complaints that this went for poetic moods rather than scientific analysis, but I have to wonder what he was expecting. After all, it is a film by Werner Herzog, very possibly the most quixotic romantic in film history. And here rather than seeking out scientific data about Antarctica he's looking for the "encounters" of the title, finding the kindred spirits who choose to live or work there and talk to them about what drew them there, what makes them tick. If there's a problem with the film for me, it's that he doesn't give them the space to let us meet them fully - cutting off one interview with a rudely abrupt "Her story goes on forever," for example. But it still paints a portrait of the type of person who - like Herzog himself - is drawn to Antarctica not to see cuddly penguins, but to find a way out of the perceived constraints of "normal" society. He also shows enough of Antarctica itself to give the viewer an understanding of why some of them choose to come to "the end of the world." Like most Herzog documentaries it's gorgeously made, it's impressionistic rather than building a strict argument, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Broken Blossoms -
Having only seen Griffith's massive spectacles, this came as something of a surprise with its intimate tenderness and sensitivity. Lillian Gish is fantastic, as is Richard Barthelmess. Story is a fine little tragic love story, and seeing this on the heels of The Bitter Tea of General Yen offers a nice comparison for an Asian/Caucasian love story and the slightly differing attitudes that 13 years makes in the way it can be portrayed (more openly in the latter, though no less tragically). More than anything this shows me the diversity that Griffith can bring to the table and brings his talent alive more than the historical lens I've always watched his other stuff through. Now it's time for me to start exploring his catalog more fully.

Sons of the Desert -
Something light and silly to take my mind off a shitty day at work. Laurel & Hardy are in good form here, with their slapstick working better for me than Laurel's perpetual misunderstanding of words but the situational comedy working perhaps best of all. As soon as the conventioneer they've grown chummy with gets on the phone I knew there was gonna be trouble and I love the way it played out. For that matter, as soon as they started planning out their trip to the convention I knew trouble would ensue and it came through about as humorously as I would hope. Good stuff.

Series 7 -
I wanted so much more from this than the promising idea ended up actually giving me that I was pretty disappointed. But when I take a step back I realize that it did offer up its premise and follow through with it, just that instead of watching some meta-narrative about a reality TV show as expected, I was watching a reality TV show. And I like Survivor a lot better. If this is a comment on anything in particular I must have missed it, but I think that it's more likely writer/director Daniel Minahan missed the part about putting it in the film, allowing the audience to simply extrapolate their own feelings about reality TV onto the film. Disappointing for a film that uses such a potentially rich premise.

La Notte -
Much ado about nothing, like most Antonioni I've seen. Two people who've been married for years find that they don't love each other anymore and Antonioni uses some expert camerawork, a great cast, and 122 minutes to express that (supposedly) shattering revelation. There is a way to express ennui and boredom in a film without making your audience bored and restless themselves. Maybe that's why the camerawork and cinematography are so good, because he knows that at the core, his film isn't saying very much? Lovely to look at, less so to listen to, and probably a tedious bore to discuss later.

7.27.2008

put. that laptop. down.


"You know what second prize is in the dipshit political-economy-of-The-Dark-Knight posts is? Setta steak knives."

Because Handsome Andrew's fave summer movie has achieved a wild and insane popularity reserved for pop bands, new Popes, and...ah, well, insanely popular summer movies, it of course falls on obscure political and cultural writers to reflect upon the deep-seated politics and/or neurosis that girds said film.

Getting a lot of play elsewheres - even Glenn Beck's repugnant show - is thisWSJ piece.

A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That’s not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a “W.”

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.
[emphasis Dex's] Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

"No question," indeed. I wonder how Bats' poll numbers are.

Or, whatever. This other one is a little more bothersome, courtesy Dissident Voice, which is generally only read by angry lefties like myself. While the WSJ thingy is way more profane because of the wide distribution and seriousness an establishment news outlet buys, it's straight gibberish, propaganda fresh n' hot from a college Republican listserv: this piece merits some mention not only for the sheer number of lefty-grad-student-essay cliches ("That is, a text like this film presents a menu of choices from which it then invites the viewer to select, and we can locate the trace of pernicious ideology not in the choices themselves but rather in what the authors choose to leave off the menu."), but mostly for the fact that he fails to tap decent primary sources for the piece. I'm always down for some po-mo deconstruction, but where's the Robin Wood? You know - the left-leaning film critics whose writing might help you build the foundation for a solid critique?

The critics are evidently bowled over by the film’s “ambivalent” portrayals of high-tech adumbrations of warrantless wiretapping (when Batman rigs up a super spying system based on sonar readings from Gotham citizens’ cell phones to stop the Joker), superheroic enhanced interrogations (when Batman threatens to beat the life out of the hostage-holding Joker) and debates about the advisability of democracy itself when the barbarians are at the gates, to quote a speech from Dent recalling the Romans’ dictatorial practices. And indeed, as a tribute to the film’s supposed complexity, some critics believe the film to be advocating the suspension of democracy in a time of terror, while others see it as endorsing a liberal skepticism about leaders’ claims to free reign during a “state of emergency” which is often those very leaders’ own creation.

[snip]

What’s on the menu in The Dark Knight? The same thing that’s on the two-party American political menu, year in and year out.

First we have Batman and Dent representing opposite poles of so-called democratic politics. Batman, operating outside the law to protect the defenseless people, represents a kind of Bush/Cheney figure, doing what he has to do for the good of the homeland. Dent, on the other hand, along with Rachel Dawes, who chooses to be with Dent in the end, is an idealistic but by-the-book type who is nevertheless pragmatic enough to collaborate with a vigilante like Batman if it’s necessary to get the bad guys. In other words, a post-political Barack star.


But what of the Joker himself, with his advocacy of terrorism and chaos, his speeches lifted from the adolescent repertoire of might-is-right conservative anarchism à la Sade, Nietzsche, Marinetti et al.? As liberal-hawk ideologue Paul Berman showed in his 2002 Terror and Liberalism, a figure such as this can very easily stand in propagandistically for “America’s enemies,” hence Berman’s insistence, for example, that Palestinians constitute not an oppressed and exploited, diverse and divided group trying to resist its enemies in various ways, some more defensible or ethical than others, but rather that they are a fundamentally irrational, chaotic and lawless cult of death. Thus, the Joker offers only the wild, amoral, killing life beyond the protective (and expansionist) borders of “democracy,” aka corporatist imperialism.

The moral is as old, and as conservative, as Hobbes: we can live in a wild, murderous wasteland or a lawless, authoritarian police state. It doesn’t matter which of these options the film presents as more appealing or fun; all that matters is that no other options—e.g., left-wing anarchism, participatory democracy, decentralized communism, democratic socialism etc.—present themselves.


The writer allows that he may be just a "left-wing critic [who] is rigidly ideological and tone-deaf to the visionary powers of art," and spends a couple of sentences examining the pure anarchist heart beating at the center of Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II. The choices for good lefties become clear, then: avoid Batman and the two-party system, vote McKinney, and go see the new Hellboy (and you should probably check The Shock Doctrine out from the library again if you go see that Clone Wars thing).

Let it not be said that people don't work through August.

I remember similar turds being dropped when Raimi's first Spidey movie came out; alas, Tobey Maguire failed to inspire the military to catch Osama bin Laden (though they may have been thinking forward to Spiderman 3 when they invaded Iraq), and though it may not have been the patriarchy's gyno-phobia made manifest in Peter Parker that made things hard between him and Mary Jane, Hilliary Clinton's hardcore supporters may wish to revisit that argument for their own purposes.

Films always say a lot, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to how loudly, and the truthfulness of what's being said, a sense of perspective helps, especially when it comes to really popular media, which, because of all the things that go into making summertime entertainment, tends to have a narrower range of ideas to express. And some audiences, even ones who don't show up to work at the Wall Street Journal, are pretty good about rendering unto the Justice League what is the Justice League's; sometimes a guy in a batsuit is just a guy in a batsuit.

Go see Roy for more.

7.25.2008

friday classic film blogging



Trainspotting. (1996.) Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay by John Hodge, from the novel by Irving Welsh. Starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald.

7.24.2008

david lynch thursday!




Like fishing!

happiness is...

...waking up to 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' on Turner Classic.


"Why do I always get hooked up with these spook details? Monsters! Graves! Bodies!"

7.23.2008

indie channel


Do I hear Nicky Katt for the movie-Nader? Or Casey Affleck?

Saint Ralph keeps hope alive for the future of reality teevee by harkening back to the neo-realists:

Some of you may remember that Hollywood had a formula for popular films. Celebrities, romances of the rich and powerful, extravaganzas or thrillers, but above all don’t show the common folk for they live in Dullsville.

But, then after World War II, different films began to come to the screens. Out of war-torn Italy came “The Bicycle Thief” and “Bitter Rice” about ordinary people negotiating the travails of life. Presto, the movie screens became wider in more ways than one and a larger panorama of life entered the cinemas.

7.22.2008

the blog knight: war inc, poultrygeist, encounters at the end of the world


Democracy, whiskey, Marisa!

War, Inc. (2008) So-charming-it-hurts leading man John Cusack takes a stab at writing with this minor comedy about major issues - namely war, but ultimately about the bottom line and how corporations and keep it growing: Cusack - think that Say Anything guy, but one who excelled in foreign languages as well as kickboxing - is a killer-for-hire who's asked personally by a cheefully-disgraced former vice-president and corporate CEO (a cheeky Dick Cheney impersonation via Dan Ackyrod) to jet into a newly "liberated" Middle Eastern country to assure that its now-reticient president is offed, as this particular nation was invaded and occupied entirely by private companies, the first ever such effort in modern history, and it needs Cusack's expert touch to make it all work worthwhile for the powers that be. Going undercover as a trade show producer - to celebrate the nation's new and total embrace of the free market - Cusack falls for Marisa Tomei, a sexy, Naomi Klein-ish world-hopping journo who writes for The Nation, and of course it follows that the anti-hero begins to have the kind of doubts his company-provided therapist (who he communicates with through a speaker and blinking blue light) can't mitigate.

War, Inc. is too clever by far, almost like it was made by doctoral students who went to Prague for a summer to research comedy. There are some priceless exchanges - a flashback sequence to Cusack's CIA days with Ben Kingsley midway through the flick and a reoccurring joke about a group of jhiadis who crib shots for their beheading videos from fave European directors easily manages some of the laughs the movie had been earnestly reaching for throughout - but the script could've used a good debugging, and the direction just isn't cinematic. It's not that the film's agenda defeats the comedy, but with the kinds of big ideas that it's toying with, the stuff that's supposed to resemble satire's just too true, and it needed to go whole hog in the other direction, ala Blazing Saddles (1974).

It's still worth a gander, and I still had a good time: see, sometimes the secret to really enjoying a movie is how you watch it - Lynch's Inland Empire (2007) or Herzog's Fata Morgana (1969), for example, requires an act of surrender by an audience, to set aside the need to dominate and own the images they're seeing and just watch themseselves watch them. To be sure, War, Inc. is nowhere near as heavy (or rewarding) a moviegoing experience, but if you arrive expecting Dr. Strangelove, good money is that you'll probably be bored and disappointed; however, if you sit down to watch another summer superhero movie, you may enjoy yourself: with handsome Cusack's brooding eyes, white forelock, all-black wardrobe, and martial arts repertoire, it could be The Left-Wing Knight, or Batman by way of The President's Analyst (1967) (with a wink and a nod at Bananas(1971), shot and edited by the Lone Gunmen and scripted the kids who work at AK Press.

Poultrygeist (2006) - In fact, the kind of dopey, dirty, filthy comedy Poultrygeist revels in is what could've made War, Inc. a helluva lot more interesting: what's weirder is that a movie that's this smart and this funny came out of Tromaville, a mostly bleak little suburb of American horror that's more well-known for cool movie titles (Surf Nazis Must Die (1987), Class of Nuke'em High (1986), and The Toxic Avenger (1985) then anything resembling watchable movies.

While no one - and that's nobody, man, no ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or political leaning - comes out of this movie without an Indian burn or wedgie, Poultrygeist is clearly taking aim at the religion of the Fat American, and I simply can't think of another recent flick that's been as funny, or as smart, or as subversive, or had as savage an argument against our patterns of consumption than Poultrygeist - at least one that's got so many unwashed ass-cracks in it. After The Dark Knight (which, to be fair, I have not seen yet) and Encounters at the End of the World (see below), there may not be a better movie in theaters this summer.

Encounters at the End of the World (2007) - Werner Herzog's latest glorious documentary - maybe his best movie since Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) - defies whatever sort of analysis I can provide in this format: what words I can reach for just won't suffice here...the best I can do is to say that it's simply incredible. Incredible. One can only hope the end of civilization will be as sublime and poetic as Herzog allows in this movie.

The Real World--with Batman!

Dark Knight

Director Christopher Nolan accomplishes two things with The Dark Knight that no other director of a comic book movie has: He sets his characters in an identifiably real world, without a trace of cartoonery, and he offers an incredibly gripping--and bleak--tale that targets adults, not kids. I cannot recall one moment in The Dark Knight that would be appropriate for a five-year-old. The film is morally complex and, at times, uncomfortable. It takes us to new places in the canon of comic book movies, and for a longtime fan of the books, it is an absolute wonder.

7.18.2008

friday classic film blogging



The Apartment. (1960.) Directed by Billy Wilder. Written by Wilder and I.A.L Diamond. Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston.

7.11.2008

friday classic film blogging



Prick Up Your Ears. (1987.) Directed by Stephen Frears. Screenplay by Alan Bennett, based on "Prick Up Your Ears," by John Lahr. Starring Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, Vanessa Redgrave, Wallace Shawn.

7.10.2008

7.09.2008

Ten Recent Reviews

I Was Born, But... -
Ozu in a comic mode often reminiscent of the Little Rascals, but serious stuff is never far away. The brilliant cross cutting scene between the kids bored in class and the grinding routine of the adult work world tells the kids exactly what is in store for them once they become an adult like their father. Which, even though they don't know it yet, is at the heart of why the kids are so disappointed in their father as he sucks up to his boss. Cinematography is stellar, absolutely gorgeous, with a common trait of Ozu's - contrasting domestic life with the industrialized wires, posts and towers that surround us. This could be from a relatively rural area of today, both in look and in theme. Absolutely brilliant. (And as a side note, the score took a little getting used to, but once I did I think it fit perfectly.)




Stuck -
Stuart Gordon has been better, but this one's still pretty good - if you share his cynicism and sense of humor about humankind, anyway. I kind of do and so I kind of liked it. I expected some garish, over-the-top stuff, but he actually reigned in the excesses that might have sent it up into Grand Guignol territory and kept focus on the story. Which is great, because the (fact-based) story is worth it; an implausible situation made believable by both script and acting. Of course, it does delve into the sort of pessimism that's a mainstay of Gordon's films from Re-Animator onward. Rea and Suvari in particular are good and (along with Gordon's understated direction) bring some weight and emotion to what in other hands might have been a trashy spectacle. Good stuff.




The Honeymoon Killers -
Grim little film touched with trashiness that's surely a huge influence on John Waters - I can't watch Shirley Stoler's performance and not think that Divine aped her move for move in the early Dreamland films. Between low budget and sound, gritty script and documentary-influenced shooting, it packs a real punch and again makes me think of Waters throughout. Starts out like it could get all campy on you and by the time the pair have become seasoned killers and knock off an old lady who's been natteringly annoying up until the moment of her doom when you really feel for her, you're inexorably drawn in to the world they've made here. A shame that director Leonard Kastle never made another film, because he's got the skills for sure.










Duel in the Sun -
Listen, I'm a sucker for a good Shakespeare adaptation, especially when the source is King Lear, so I was pretty much destined to like this from the beginning. But what's all this crap I read about it being some sort of overheated, cheap romance? Where's the real dramatic tension in the film? Sure, the plotline about Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones is central but the competition of the brothers for not just Jones, but for their father's affection and attention takes an equal part on the stage they've set, and that's Lear to the core. Peck is great as the scumbag Lewt and Jones fine as the "overheated" mixed-race Pearl, but for me the real deal lies in the familial relations and especially in Lionel Barrymore's Senator McCanles, an arrogant, racist windbag right up until the moment that everything falls apart for him and you find that you actually have some sympathy. If this didn't have the Lear connection and was only about Jennifer Jones choosing between the good and bad brothers, I'd probably agree more with the review on IMDB that calls it a "bawdy, overacted sexual western." But it does have the Lear connection. And I don't think it's "overacted" (whatever that means).





Fast Cheap and Out of Control -
Philosophy 101. Maybe Philosophy 201. Instead of wacko theories flying around like in Waking Life this tells how four people in wildly disparate professions find that their work ultimately boils down to their desire to understand the purpose of man, man's social organizations, and/or man's place in the world and relation to nature. Of course it's not laid out as schematically as all that, which is a big part of the charm of the film. Just a few guys telling their stories that somehow connect across to each other and create a slowly increasing web of ideas about the aformentioned topics. Lots of food for thought and if none of these guys call themselves philosphers within the film, they're treading the same ground as philosophers - and Morris knows it. I still don't think I've seen quite how deep this film goes on two viewings.




Ninotchka -
Writing, acting and direction all top notch - presumably the famous "Lubitsch touch" that I've read about but not really experienced enough yet to understand it. But I'm enamored enough of this sparklingly enjoyable film to want to find out fully what it means. Garbo in particular is great as deadpan Russian investigator and also great as she turns into the comic-romantic lead. This is exactly the kind of film people are talking about when the talk about the Golden Age of Hollywood.






Mother of Tears -
It's tough for me to say much about this film without starting an endless tirade of picking apart every sad detail - it's a total non-entity in my mind. Unlike Argento's best films which have the non-sensical, illogical qualities of a nightmare, this one spells out a story that makes perfect sense (within its own parameters, of course) but has no drive, no build, no set piece that holds you, no anything to recommend it. If this didn't have Argento's name plastered across the film, it would be utterly dismissed as the work of some lazy amateur who'd probably be likely to carve out a career of tired, straight-to-video sequels of moderate box-office successes like the Leprechaun franchise. While he assembles a number of ideas that could've been worked into a plausibly scary or affecting film, he just never does anything to develop them and we're left with lazy scene after scene of half-baked ideas that a couple rewrites, a little more time spent in pre-production - just anything - might have helped. It's sad that the great Suspiria, already suspect for being tied to the disastrous Inferno, will now be sullied further by yet another lame partner.



Wall-E -
A love story set in a mildly anti-corporate eco-disaster, not anything more political than that, so don't believe the hype about its message, which is really that adorable little robots can fall in love too. That said, I loved it - absolutely loved it. Imagery is gorgeous throughout - brilliant work again by the Pixar folks. And it's funny, sad, ultimately a totally poignant work of art told mostly through the visuals and not through dialogue, just like the best of Chaplin, Keaton, Tati - all of whom have been name-dropped in interviews and rightfully so. It also occupies a place in my head right near the fantastic Babe: Pig in the City, which I also absolutely loved. I've recommended it to everyone I know so far, even if they've expressed distaste for animated "children's" films and I'm dying to go see it again in the theater. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it - that's a really good sign.


Across 110th Street -
Interesting - where I expected either a gritty on-the-streets take on sticking it to the man via crime or a cop-buddy-Blaxploitation pic, I got neither and ended up with something more class-conscious than I expected. Starts out as the first thing - three guys rob some Mob cats working in tandem with Harlem gangsters, kill the roomful of thugs and hide out with 300K. A hardened white cop (Anthony Quinn) and a young, local, black cop (Yaphet Kotto) are assigned find the killers/thieves, as is a Mob underling (Antony Franciosa) and the staff of the Harlem boss (Richard Ward) on whose watch the crime took place (though obviously for different reasons). So as the gangsters work through the underworld and the streets to find who ripped them off, the cops work their way through a public that refuses to aid them, thereby checking off the on-the-streets crime pic and the hateful-slowly-turning-to-respectful partnership cop film I expected. What I didn't expect was the film's third act, when our sympathies switch to the plight of the three robbers - what got them to the desperate point of choosing to rip off gangsters and how they individually try to get away. It's strange the way the film plays with expectations and moves our sympathies around without making a big deal of it. Like many films in the style it's mostly a blunt, straightforward telling of events with no artsy pretense of something as lofty as "class-consciousness" or anything like it. Which for me makes it all the more appealing. It's not great, but it's way better than a lot of the cheap cop and spy thriller knockoffs that populate the genre.




Sorcerer -
Again we're cast adrift in a world of desperate criminals on the lam in this fine remake of Clouzout's classic Wages of Fear, but this time out we're actively aware almost from the get-go that we'll be watching their trials and tribulations and probably rooting for them. It doesn't vary much from the original story, but adds enough of its own touches to mark it out as something different (most notably the trip over the rotting bridge) and the brutal, often shocking physicality common to Friedkin's films is all over this one, beginning to end - its PG rating is surprising to me; I doubt it'd get even a PG-13 today. Scheider is great, as usual, while the other men fleshing out the doomed crew are equally strong. Some of the understated ideas of Clouzout's film are brought to the surface - there's little doubt as to whether Nilo killed someone to get the job - and the same grim pessimism about what men will do for money (especially if they're desperate) overrides this film. I liked it quite a bit -doesn't exactly replace Wages of Fear, but it's a strong addition to Friedkin's ouevre.





it puts the red dawn remake in the theaters, it does this whenever it's told


Oh, man is it gonna be good! I can't wait!

Guardian Yoo-Kay:

The forthcoming remake of paranoiac Soviet invasion tale Red Dawn now has a director after Dan Bradley, who took charge of the second units on Spider-Man 3 and The Bourne Ultimatum, landed his first headline gig. The original centred on a group of high schoolers who fight back against perfidious Russian troops, and included a young(ish) Patrick Swayze in the cast. No word yet over whether the Russkies will still be the bad-guys, but the following quote from screenwriter Carl Ellsworth suggests otherwise. "The tone is going to be very intense, very much keeping in mind the post-9/11 world that we're in," he said. "As 'Red Dawn' scared the heck out of people in 1984, we feel that the world is kind of already filled with a lot of paranoia and unease, so why not scare the hell out of people again?" Probably the Iranians then ...

Oh yeah, the original Red Dawn scared a whole lot of people. Me, for example. Because when I saw it, I WAS TEN YEARS OLD.

Since we're obviously talking about outright fantasy here, why not go balls to the wall? Maybe, like the whole third and fourth acts could be the Wolverines teaming up with Iron Man, Optimus Prime, and the re-incarnated Spartans from 300 to fight Mexican Al Qaeda, the Iranians, Hugo Chavez, a cyborg Fidel Castro, the Code Pink protestors who show up at Senate hearings, and Cobra.

7.07.2008

blogger of tears: stuck, standard operating procedure, machine gun mccain, the apple, mother of tears


Ah, to be stuck someplace with you, Ms. Suvari.

Stuck (2007)/ Standard Operating Procedure (2008) – Has it been almost a decade, already?

If Danny Boyle, Eli Roth, and George Romero squired the first post-9/11 and post-Iraq horror flicks into theaters, Stuart Gordon and Errol Morris may have given us the first post-Bush genre pics: apparently very loosely based on a macabre car accident, Stuck's story hones in one celebratory Friday night with Mena Suvari that suddenly turns stupid and brutal, and nothing Suvari - an otherwise patient and well-meaning young nursing home attendent - does after helps herself or the hapless victim of her neglience, played by Stephen Rea, who skillfully manages to elevate the odd circumstances of his role to one commanding considerable empathy.

An entropy - a state of stuckness - permeates every corner of the wintry, despondent landscape Suvari inhabits: the elderly stuck at the nursing home she works at, the Latino immigrants in her neighborhood, stuck in a paranoid limbo of semi-citizenship, to Rea, stuck on the streets, stuck in unemployment, and Suvari somehow stuck with all of the above.

It would've be easy for Gordon (who I've more or less ignored since the mid-1980s, and after this I think I'll do some backtracking to see what else I've missed) to ride the metaphors and imagery of Stuck into the ground, but the film's brisk pacing and exceptionally clever script never droops into that kind of obviousness: it's depressingly easy enough for us to see ourselves in Suvari, stuck with our myriad momentary lapses - political, environmental, and otherwise - that've lead from one bad decision to a bigger one, and no one to blame but one another.

"Stuck" could be the explanatory title to Erol Morris' documentary, Standard Operating Procedure, the story behind the torture photos at Abu Ghraib. Morris sits down with a number of the soldiers who were tasked with "softening up" detainees herded into prisons after Iraqis began to buck the slew of draconian economic policies forced onto the populace by CPA chieftan L. Paul Bremer (otherwise known as the beginning of the insurgency). Of course, the guards at Abu Ghraib, in the wretched leftover from Saddam-time, weren't running the country: in many ways, they were only stuck there too. They tortured those prisoners, of course, even if on reflection the guards aren't entirely sure - it becomes clear, however, when the refrain of "we were just following orders" finally sinks in. Preparing people - people who were for the most part only there because they were of fighting age - for a more formalized, more "regulated" physical and pyschological torture is merely a part of the torture process.

Morris' gift isn't for the straight documentary, but giving the participants in his films the opportunity to create and own their stories, and then contrasting this narrative with imagery of his own. Morris deliberately apes a sort of slick, high gothic style for SOP (longtime Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman sits in for longtime Morris collborator Phillip Glass here), and is successful throughout. Nevertheless, Morris has caught a lot of flack for not being more tenacious and wending his way back to the CIA or other contractors responsible for the "proper" torture, or Donald Rumsfeld, or Dick Cheney or then-NSA head Condoleezza Rice, or Bush himself; after spending two hours with the Abu Ghraib crew, some of whom are utterly clueless as to the role they've played in the history of the early 21st century, SOP's shot here remains a tight close-up - not quite just the facts, but pretty much just the torturers. Sure - a few minutes with someone like Naomi Klein or Seymour Hersh or Dahr Jamail would've placed the guards' stories in perspective - but early on, Morris identifies the stories here as the soldiers', and the Standard Operating Procudure they participated in, the one that cost them - not Rummy or Dick or Condi or anyone else - time and infamy. They were just following orders. And maybe that's all that needs to be said.

Machine Gun McCain (1968) / The Apple (1980) – Two offerings by way of Turner Classic’s TCM Underground, a kind of TCM Essentials for the deranged: the first purports to be a hard-boiled, late 60s Italio-thriller, with John Cassavetes as the titular main character and Peter Falk as an ambitious mob boss. The plot – concerning Cassavetes’ release from prison to pull a Vegas casino heist on Falk’s behalf – lopes along without too much energy, perking up only briefly to show off Britt Ekland’s dresses and drop Gena Rolands into a short, emotional scene with longtime companion Cassavetes. McCain is a very particular kind of Italian film, one that appeals to a very particular kind of fan, and TCM should be lauded for presenting such a slice of esoterica. Alas, I am not that particular fan: I felt both Cassavetes and Falk were terribly miscast – the sort of tough guy Machine Gun McCain needed is more than likely found in something like 1967's Point Blank or squinting at the sun in a Peckinpah flick rather than this sensitive and tightly-wound duo.

The Apple was no doubt an attempt to make good on the Rocky Horror Picture Show phenom, and is thus interesting as a kind of cultural artifact, but the music’s bad and the leads forgettable so there’s little else to recommend it, aside from the idea of a corportatist-state-via-American-Idol and God strolling down from heave above to rescue this earthly plane’s folk singers and hippies.

Mother of Tears (2008) – Dario Argento has been coasting on the international community of horror fans’ good faith and generosity for the last 20-odd years, when he fobbed off his goofball horror-in-the-hotel movie Inferno as the second part of the “Three Mothers” trilogy he unofficially began with the legendary Suspiria (1977). The latter was such a high point, not only in Argento’s body of work, but in the history of horror and the thriller genres generally that given so much time, the last Mother movie had to at least come close to the flick that not only helped define horror in the 70s, but also lent splatterpunk its aesthetic, and even continues to influence directors today: and yet, Mother of Tears is such a mess of noise, gibberish, and mad dashes through twisty alleyways and train stations that not even Udo Kier’s eyerolling or the film’s gratuitous nudity could save this here blogger from boredom. There isn’t even an over-the-top set piece to take away, ala Inferno (1982) or Phenomena (1985). Mother of Tears isn’t merely bad, it’s just plain lazy, so I won’t bother recounting the plot here because it hardly seems to matter to Argento himself.

The farther Dario Argento has gotten from under the shadow of his cinematic fathers – Bava, Leone, Hitchcock – the more untethered his films have become from the idea of entertainment. A recent New York Times article generously offered that Argento was more concerned with the thrill of the chase than how he got there or what happened after that, and in this way was a kind of cousin to the stylist's stylist Brian DePalma. Once upon a time, this might have been a fair contrast. DePalma’s work, however, continues to be grounded in ideas, even if they aren’t sometimes fully-realized or maybe as good as they look on paper. Sadly (and I really do mean that) the chase, and whatever thrill that comes with it, lapped Dario Argento a long time ago.

ain't nothin' but a green thing


My carbon off-sets are unfadeable so don't you try to fade me.

I was poking around on Grist the other day and found this list of "15 Green Movies." It's a little old by now (2007), but I thought it might be fun to take a look at. Surprise picks were the supremely silly The Day After Tomorrow (2004), the always excellent Chinatown (1974), and the whaaa? selection, Steven Segal actioner Fire Down Below (1997).

Weirdly, that most 'opian of dystopian movies, Soylent Green (1973) and Todd Haynes' creepy/sad Safe (1996) were relegated to runner-up status. I'm also wondering if room could be made for Host (2006), Long Weekend (1978), and Monkey Shines (1988), and I think there's an argument for Blade Runner (1982), Them! (1954), and The Birds (1963). Super-duper recent picks: Wall-E and Troma's Poultrygeist (2006), and Herzog's clutch of enviro meta-docs.


What say you, Boothers? And hey - here's an awesome bonus question: which director and/or screenwriter would you like to see tackle the enviro crisis? Me, I'd love to see a Guillermo Del Toro global warming flick...

7.04.2008

friday classic film blogging



Jackie Brown. (1997). Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Screenplay Tarantino, from the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch." Starring Pam Grier, Samuel Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert DeNiro, Bridget Fonda.

7.03.2008

and the oscar goes to...

Well, not quite. But it's still nice.


the projection booth at Blogged


Many thanks to the folks at Blogged.com!

david lynch thursday!

Take 5 (reviews)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

How is it possible for one man to completely destroy two of the biggest movie franchises in movie history? I'm talking about George Lucas, of course and here is a movie any filmmaker would be embarassed to have in their filmography. It really is THAT bad, and this coming from someone who hates hyperbole. Skull doesn't even feel like part of the world of Indiana Jones. It's phony like Dr. Pib or Tab. It wants so hard to appease hardcore Raiders fans, but dumbs itself down for those new to these characters. The problem may be that the filmmakers decided to push Indiana up the timeline into the late 1950's. The Nazis are no longer the enemy; Atom bombs, Communists, and UFO mythology have taken their place. The previous films in the trilogy always had a fantastical element about them with their spiritual beings melting faces, and heart-snatching priests, and ghostly knights guarding ancient Biblical relics. But these fictitious plot pieces are tame compared to the over-the-top antics in Skull. Suddenly using a python to rescue Indy from quicksand, or swinging through the jungle like Tarzan with vinefuls of monkeys, or giant man-eating ants aren't fun -- it's just plain dumb. Harrison Ford does a good job doing his usual thing. This is his role afterall. Shia does just fine in a superfluous role (the big reveal surrounding his character isn't anything you couldn't guess from the trailer). And Cate, poor Cate. She does what she can in the role of a poorly written villianess. And writing Karen Allen into this script is a shameless attempt to cash in on Raiders nostalgia. Her Marion is a complete waste in this story. I can't blame Spielberg, though. He and Harrison both wanted to film the original Frank Darabont screenplay that was ultimately rejected by Lucas. Spielberg's a naturally gifted filmmaker and it shows despite the crummy material he had to work with. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has easily worked its way to the top of my Worst of 2008 list.

Cave of the Yellow Dog
What a treat the films of Byambasuren Davaa have turned out to be! Here she trades the desolate Gobi desert of her previous film Story of the Weeping Camel for the beautiful, rolling green hills of her native Western Mongolia. The story is as simple as the lifestyle of the family it observes. Nansal, the oldest child of a nomad family, finds a stray dog in the wilderness and brings it back home to the dismay of her parents. the dog turns out to be a bit of a nuisance, but when it saves the family's youngest child from harm, there's room in the clan for the furry one afterall. Nuggets of wisdom are dished out in earnestness throughout the movie. In one scene, the mother asks Nansal to pull the fingers back on her hand and try and bite her palm. When the child gives up in frustration, the mother says, "Just because you can see it, doesn't mean you can have it." It's simple honesty in a scene like that that makes Yellow Dog a pleasure to watch. If the story seems thin, it's because Davaa is less interested in plot than to capture on film the day-to-day life of a nomad family. Much of the film plays out in detail as the family members collect dung for fire, or milk the goats, or make and bundle cheese, and so on. Those with short attention spans will find their patience tested. Anybody else will be rewarded with this treasure of a movie.

Be Kind, Rewind
I really didn't understand what director Michel Gondry was going for in Be Kind, Rewind. The popularity of the (extremely) low-budget recreations of high-budget Hollywood Blockbusters suggests a skewering of the Studio Tent-Pole Machine. Yet, a community effort to create its own movie as a last-ditch effort to save an old man's obsolete business asks if these very movies can save. I found myself just kind of smiling through a lot of the film. the only big laugh comes from the ignorant Jack Black character as he's done up in Black Face. Mos Def earns my respect as an actor with his natural, effective performance. The biggest misstep is not allowing the audience to actually view the final product of these recreations (called "sweding" in the movie). However, a website after the end credits directs the curious to these mini-parodies. Never has the material been so suited for its director, and played out so flat on the screen.

10,000 B.C.
Understand, I had zero hopes or expectations going into this movie. My interest in seeing 10,000 B.C. stems from watching National Geographic or Jungle movies on TBS with my Dad on Sunday mornings growing up. I knew from the first time I saw the trailer that this was a movie he and I would get a kick out of. 10,000 B.C. is bad. Really bad. The story of the ordinary-boy-who-falls-for-the-hot-girl-who-gets-kidnapped-by-outsiders-so-he-must-rescue-her-and-learn-to-be-a-man-and-warrior has been so overdone through the history of cinema it's easy to call out plot points like a sixth sense. But story is not the reason to watch the movie. Roland Emmerich has made some incredibly trashy, bad films over the years. But he knows how to make trash look good, and spectacle is what his films are all about. I'm not recommending this movie by any means, but at the very least tune in for the Mammoth Stampede about 20-minutes in. Wooly CGI animals have never looked better!

Moloch
Aleksandr Sokurov would probably rate in my Top 5 filmmakers of all time. For my money, you just can't do better than the dream-like beauty and heartbreak of Father & Son and Mother & Son. And Russian Ark is an absolute wonder to watch as a filmmaker's film. In Moloch, It's 1942, and Adolph Hitler, Eva Braun, and friends the Goebbels' and Martin Bormann arrive at a mountainous castle retreat to relax and get away from their political lives. The group wanders, and eat, and drink, and talk, and argue, and wander some more. Moloch is Sokurov's most accessible film, yet my least favorite of his I've seen thus far. The story is told pretty straightforward with very little of his visual tricks which I adored from his other films. The script is disjointed at times, but doesn't seem as cryptic as his later work. Sokurov believes in film as art; something to simply exist, and evoke emotion, and never to pander to audience expectation. Considering the the subject, however, I just wonder why "art" has to be this uninteresting.