In the Land of Milk and Money

I've not posted here in some time, save me the discord, but I dare to share with you the terribly good debut of my first B-Movie appearance. It's true, one of the Projection Booth's own, found himself as an extra some years ago in a film written and directed by Susan Emshwiller who co-wrote Pollock.

Those who know me will see it's clear I have little acting talent, but then holstering a rubber gun and detaining old ladies seems like second nature to me. I'll promise to return with a more profound critique of a film in the near future.

Until then, enjoy my glorious 15 seconds as a B-Movie extra, and keep blogging on...


let me ride

Tell hearts Finch.

Variety, via GreenCine Daily, previews the Telluride Film Fest line-up, where local-boy-made-good David Fincher will be honored with a live moose and a 17-year-old girl, or whatever they give away at Telluride Film Festival.

friday classic film blogging (special convention edition)

Medium Cool. (1969.) Directed by Haskell Wexler. Written by Wexler. Starring Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, Marianna Hill. Cameo by Peter Boyle.


david lynch thursday!

"It’s like watching a schoolgirl crush unfold, through a glass darkly."

-- Manhola Dargis on the David Lynch doc, Lynch.

Get yr Lynch-on with "Blackandwhite" - Lynch's director - at his blog.


coens on fire

The Guardian Yoo-Kay previews the new Coen Bros., Burn After Reading.

i can haz portman now?

Midnight Matt makes our world a bit brighter this Friday and Saturday at the stroke of 12 with screenings of the Wachowski-produced V for Vendetta, starring Hugh Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry, and a certain actress whose hair I imagine smells something like a Saturday afternoon in May and a fine French shampoo that was not tested on animals.

Be at the Esquire, 6th and Downing, or be sucking, sucking suckheads.


fred crane


all of yr conventions are belong to us

Convention security is tight at the Projection Booth this week.

Hey! Did you hear that there's a political convention in town? Totally! And I'm sure you haven't already turned blue suffocating on the many millions of convention-week stories and gossip that you can't escape, right? Totally! So here's some more, a little Tinseltown, a little of that film thing, via GreenCine Daily.


one day, we will all eat his tossed salad and scrambled eggs

Above: because I just can't post this picture enough.

Via some special Friends of the Booth (a brainy, roguish pair with some strong movie opinions, living deep in the recesses of Capitol Hill): more on how difficult it is for supporters of an ultra-rich political movement that not only funds it's own mass media but also administers two of the three main branches of government in the world's richest and most powerful nation to make themselves heard.


friday classic film blogging

The Limey. (1999.) Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Lem Dobbs. Starring Terrence Stamp, Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Peter Fonda, Barry Newman, Joe Dallesandro, Nicky Katt.



W.hat a W.onderful W.orld

Trailer for O. Stone's W., via Deep Focus blog. Click through the imdb links and check out that cast, yo.

Color me intrigued. Verily. Und du?


we can't stop here - this is blog country! : bruiser, inside, gonzo: the life and work of hunter s. thompson

Do not fuck with Beatrice Dalle, yo. No, don't, dude. Don't.

Bruiser (2000.) - Originally touted as a comeback film of sorts for George Romero, who at the time hadn't directed a film since 1993's The Dark Half, a middling adaptation of an even worse Stephen King story, Bruiser would turn out to be considerably less (indeed, America's Best Horror Filmmaker wouldn't get his sea legs back until the prescient, po-mo Land of the Dead in 2005): in essence, the flick's a "Tales From the Darkside" script stretched thin over an hour and a half, with little of the entertainment value and a surprisingly garbled mish mash of politics and comment, which is generally where Romero excels. Jason Flemyng plays Henry Creedlow, a put-upon ad exec at a skin mag called Bruiser, lorded over by perverted tyrant Henry Styles (Peter Stomare, who plays Styles like Larry Flynt meets Bugs Bunny). After one particularly humiliating night, Creedlow wakes up the following morning with a disturbing, ghostly white visage instead of a face, finding himself suddenly far more aware of his true circumstances, and completely liberated from the norms he'd gripped so tightly to before.

Bruiser is a good idea, but it's simply never fleshed out in any satisfying way, and Romero doesn't take any of the opportunities the story presents to surprise us or really make it interesting. Ostensibly, Bruiser's part of the serio-horrific tradition that Romero has toyed with to some success in Monkey Shines (1988), but with heavy reliance on the suspension of disbelief, shitty heavy metal soundtrack, and party scenes which are supposed to look decadent but come across like "Melrose Place," it's a turn away from big ideas and real people. This plastic, soft-core-cable-phoniness permeates the film to the point of distraction - it just doesn't have the raw edginess that generally marks Romero's work. Bruiser's no Springsteen, all Mellencamp.

Inside ("À l'intérieur") (2007.) - Atmospheric, relentless, and grim from the very start, Inside could easily be mistaken by many viewers outside of Europe as merely an effective, hyper-violent thriller that utilizes primal fears of motherhood and vulnerability - a young, widowed pregnant woman, alone on Christmas Eve (when another, rather important child was born some time ago), stalked by a mysterious, merciless stranger, another woman (Betty Blue's Beatrice Dalle dressed to kill in black corset, long Victorian skirt, and combat boots) who plainly wants the widow's still-unborn child - as its working base. However, the heart of the film contains so much more, and it's this ambition and clarity of vision which elevates the film to the status of a minor horror classic: the real story Inside is telling is about pull and tug of racial oppression and violence that have unfortunately characterized the "inside" of the country of liberty, fraternity, and equality over the last decade or so, culminating in the riots that burned up in the Paris suburbs in 2005. As Inside slowly, bloodily unwinds, the ethnically vague Dalle goes from Freudian monster to a Foucaltian one, a political-metaphor-in-Pinhead-drag whose ugly, brutal actions scream out that the personal dishonesty and disinterest of the Parisian power structure (crucially, the young widow is a photojournalist, her friend and guardian a bored magazine editor) simply don't deserve France's future - in her own mad and broken way, she cares enough to do violence on its behalf.

I have no idea if the Dimension Extreme disc carries any background on the Franco-Arab situation, though producers of future releases may be wise to include some theory or commentary tracks with a solid background to give the movie more context - Inside's big flaw is that the film's subtle politics are drowned in all that Grand Guignol. It battered this hardy viewer, overwhelming me to the point that the person I was watching the movie with had to point out the passionate plea that forms the subtext.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson. (2008.) - Documentary director Alex Gibney's latest offering represents an odd choice. Gibney had managed to wring a powerful and symbolic story of what happens when standards and communities yield to rapacious, wounded egos, politics, and greed in a personal fave, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), and walk back the tale of one man's murder at the hands of soldiers in Afghanistan into an indictment of the emerging paradigm of a "global war on terror" in the Oscar-winning Taxi to The Dark Side (2007); HST, who seems to live in most people's heads these days as a drug-addled Johnny Depp, doesn't seem like much of a story in this respect. But if there was any director who could uncover the real Hunter, it would have to be Gibney, yes?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. While Gibney correctly, entertainingly identifies the defining role eating, breathing, and writing politics had for Hunter, and we may have a bigger sense of the work of Hunter Thompson, we come away with very little of his life at the end of the flick. One gets the idea Gibney was trying to redefine Hunter away from what HST called "the drug book," but then why lean so much on footage from the movie about the drug book? What about the formative experiences - the Free Speech movement in Berkley, friendships with Allen Ginsberg, the peak highs and terrible lows - which had to have contrasted so well with HST's appetites for motorcycles, drugs, and music - of freelancing, "in the middle 60s?" What about a fuller, more real sense of Sandy Thompson, who had been Hunter's rock? What's this "American Dream" people in the movie keep yammering on about - if it existed for the Doc, what was that for him? What about his own political ambitions after the fateful McGovern campaign of 1972? And finally, what about Hunter's own goals for himself - alternately loathing and promoting the persona of the Gonzo journalist, while always, always, brooding over his desire to be a "real" writer, a "man of letters," like his hero F. Scott Fitzgerald?

It's insane to expect to distill a man or woman's life into two hours, or even two and a half, and Gibney must be given credit for the fine job he does identifying the major political events of Hunter's life, and just how much of an impact they had for him personally and as a writer. But I kept thinking of another recent doc on another complex and controversial writer, John Dullagan's 2003 film, Bukowski: Born into This, which managed to connect audiences to a bigger picture - that, like every single one of us, Hank was a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people, and that the writer's life, especially one so scrutinized, is never an easy one to track; Dullagan, aware of all of these competing personages, gave viewers a sense of that complexity, that Buk "wasn't just."

Hunter Thompson wasn't just the drug book guy or the political guy or the anti-social gun guy. He was all of those things, and because of this he was a whole lot more. Gibney's Thompson is certainly smarter, more passionately involved than what a lot of people may assume today, but the guy we see in this film isn't any more real.


Ten recent reviews

Chichi Ariki (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1942)

A father and son (mother deceased from before the movie starts) move around over a period of 20 years, with father trying to make a good life for his son but limiting their personal relationship in the process by making choices that keep them apart and unable to form familial bonds. It's really that simple, but as always with Ozu the beauty is in the details - the stunning framing and cinematography choices, the superb acting (Chishu Ryu especially, but also Shûji Sano as the older son), the dialogue that cuts right through the melodrama that drenches 98% of films and gets to the heart of human interaction. Really a beautiful thing by someone I'm starting to think may end up as my all-time favorite director. Well, top 3 anyway.

Hulk (dir. Ang Lee, 2003)

Another Ang Lee exploration of a love that's not just unrequited, but can never happen. He's all about tragic romance like that. But also like most Lee films, there's a conflict between parents and children - a disconnect really, that keeps them apart, ultimately resulting in conflicts when they're forced by circumstance to confront each other. Do I like it as much as Crouching Tiger? As much as The Ice Storm? Brokeback Mountain? No, not quite, but it's right in there with his basic thematic material and a solidly made film to boot (especially love those very comic-y transitions between scenes contained in comic book frames, better even than Lucas's use of classic adventure serial wipes in Star Wars). Those going in because their favorite catchphrase from their comic book days was "Hulk Smash!" are sure to be disappointed. Those looking for a way for an artist like Ang Lee to insert his ideas into the Marvel Universe will find a lot worth seeing.

The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008)

And speaking of adult adaptations of comic book material... Like Hulk this one also takes comic book situations that can be read as absurd or totally unreal and then invests the intelligence in saying "OK, but what if this really happened to you?" and showing the results on screen. What would a flashy comic villain like the Joker be like in the real world? What happens when people get menaced by costumed villains? - they die. They get shot, blown up, etc. And Nolan, like a lot of people making comic movies these days, wants to know how that would impact on real people in the real world. This may be the best comic book movie yet in terms of placing things in a real-world situation, even while retaining a comic-booky feel - how, for example, could The Joker possibly have planted all the bombs in the hospital? But those questions don't come into play when you're watching because it's not the point of the film - once that does happen, what are the choices people will be forced to make as a consequence? And ultimately that's what the film is about from beginning to end. In the first scene there are fake Batmen all around, trying to thwart a drug deal. It's the first step in suggesting that until average citizens feel empowered to take on crime on their own, there will be a need for vigilante justice like The Batman represents. That's the central thrust of the film and Bruce Wayne's dilemma throughout - can the person whose genesis as Batman in Batman Begins find it in himself to give it up? The movie doesn't really make him answer it - it lets him off the hook, I think - but it's the point of the final scenes that could've been edited out for brevity's sake, but would have disrupted the logic of the central idea running through the film. I think it's the right length myself, and right on the money. For what it's worth, I think the political allegory people are drawing from the film right now doesn't hold a lot of water, except that like any film it reflects its time and thus the idea of terrorist action and public response to it are in the air.

Powaqqatsi (dir. Godfrey Reggio, 1988)

A little more pointed than its predecessor and much more focused on people rather than spaces, buildings, and whatnot - though not so much that it actually endorses a strict point of view or course of action, mind you. But it's probably the equal of the first film overall. And musically Philip Glass steps it up a notch, warming up a little from the austerity of Koyaanisqatsi. Altogether it's a worthy sequel, if that's even the right word, taking the ideas of the first film and running with them, showing a real warmth and feel for the people it's portraying on screen, never losing touch with the beauty of either the filmmaking or the subjects in front of the camera. A great one.

Time of the Wolf (dir. Michael Haneke, 2003)

Haneke is quickly moving up the ranks of contemporary filmmakers whose work I love. This one's probably his least harsh film that I've seen, despite some very brutal moments (like the startling first scene of the film), mainly because the severity is undercut by the humanism on display here. In a post-apocalyptic world, what kind of society would emerge? In this particular unspecified post-apocalpyse, we first find something almost exactly like our current world - the people with the weapons and the supplies control the fate of everyone around them, until a different group of people with different ideas of how to do things move in. It's pretty basic as a film idea, but pretty powerful in how it plays out. Onward to Code: Unknown.

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (dir. John Ford, 1949)

My least favorite of the cavalry trilogy. I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Mr. John Wayne that the film should've ended before its final coda, with him checking his watch and saying he'd been a civilian for two minutes. Much more ambiguous about his future, much more intriguing if you ask me. But it is Hollywood, and wrapping things in bows is the specialty of the studio system, and Ford knew how to navigate the studios to get what he wanted. So the ending could've been less mushy, but overall the film provides a really great look at a man about to retire and what to do with his life after giving up what he's invested decades doing. I don't find the story as compelling as Fort Apache or the interpersonal relations as interesting as Rio Grande, but it's still a fine film in the Ford catalog, well worth seeing.
Now, Voyager (dir. Irving Rapper, 1942)

Bette Davis turns in a great performance, yes, but my main memory of the film is how absolutely horrid Gladys Cooper is as her mother (I mean, she's great, not horrid, but the character is horrid). I love the basic trajectory of the Davis character, though the transformation from ugly duckling into Cinderella is awfully quick and complete. But still you're rooting for her, want her to not fall back into old patterns, to fall under her mother's thumb once again. The pivotal scene where she finally stands up to mom is pretty much the best thing here, certainly more affecting for me than the perfunctory romances - one of which is (amusingly) severed with a "thank you" and a handshake, the other more profound but doomed from the start. Anyway, a fine model of a strong woman's drama from the classic Hollywood period.

Once (dir. John Carney, 2006)

I'll say this - it's charming. It's hard not to like these two musicians and hard also not to see that the music they end up making together is so much the focus of this story that hardly anything else matters. Romantic angle is underplayed and good - it's not what makes the film go, though chemistry between the two is necessary to make things work. I'm glad that when they went for the montage of things coming together in the studio I didn't feel like fast-forwarding. A movie about making music that's worth seeing, unlike... well, most of them. Is it great? No, but again, it's charming.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism (dir. Dusan Makavejev, 1971)
Wacko stuff, drawing explicit lines between Freud's sexuality studies and Marx's political studies via Wilhelm Reich, about whom I know nothing aside from the perfunctory "documentary" this film offers in its first portion. But overall, the film seems to be saying (over and over) that the sexual revolution equals a political revolution, which apparently upset Reich's admirers enough to have them denounce the film. Still - interesting viewing if not exactly the revolutionary critique I had hoped, with the recurring thread of the revolutionary rhetoric interspersed with real and simulated sex, Stalin, the pseudo-documentary and other stuff to make sure it's not too linear, too programmatic. The overall effect is exhilarating, but still I found myself looking for a little more cohesion.

Rio Grande (dir. John Ford, 1950)
Ford's final Calvary trilogy film might actually run the deepest, even if I prefer Fort Apache. I love the sharply drawn family relationships here and action is kept pretty minimal in favor of the personal stuff - which I'm also usually in favor of. Ensemble is great yet again, and if more time is spent on manly camaraderie than on heavy plotting, I'm down with it - the film gives a great sense of what it at least could have been like in the situation given. Only a conflict between the son and the father who hadn't seen him in 15 years feels like it's missing from the film to me.


and here's to you, lindsay anderson

Number One Droogie Malcolm McDowell in If... (1968).

Jesus loves you more than you will know.

friday classic film blogging

Akira. (1988.) Directed by Katushiro Otomo. Screenplay by Izo Hashimoto and Otomo, from the manga by Otomo. Starring Mitsuo Iwata, Nozumo Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Tessho Kenda, Hiroshi Otake.


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!

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 subject, however, I just wonder why "art" has to be this uninteresting.

david lynch thursday!

Why an "Inland Empire"?


a dex divided against himself, cannot stand

Err..gahh..must..look away from possible remake of splatterpunk classic..but..I can't! I can't do it! Oh, God, why?

Click here to see the rumor that if proven true, may break my heart. Break it in two.

george furth



don't cry for me, leni riefenstahl

Just following up to an earlier post, via Edge of Sports' Dave Zirin (who conincidentally is kicking much ass this Olympic week), juggling truth, splendor, and a few film directors' legacies in Beijing:

On this morning, the day after the spectacular, pyrotechnic launch of the Olympic games, lets take a second to recall who was excluded from the party. No not George W. Bush or Vladamir Putin. Both men took time away from bombing other countries to attend the dazzling opening ceremonies in Beijing. Not Henry Kissinger, who probably attended because China is one of the few places he can fly without risking arrest. As the jaw dropping exhibition displayed, what Tom Shales of the Washington Post called, "enough fireworks for 100 fourth of Julys", it was Steven Spielberg who was left at home, crying with his Oscars. Spielberg had agreed to direct these opening ceremonies, which may turn out to have been the most watched television event in the history of the world. And it was Spielberg who was shamed into breaking his contract when Mia Farrow called him "the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games" this past March.

Riefenstahl was of course the visionary Nazi filmmaker who on the behest of Joseph Geobbels directed Olympia the documentary of the 1936 games. It was a rather unfair charge. Riefenstahl, who lived until 2003, was despised for her role as a Nazi propagandist. But Olympia was visionary, changing the way sports would forever be filmed. Every opening ceremony since has owed something to the 1936 games. All their wildly praised grandeur owes a great deal to Nazi Germany. Before those 1936 games, there were no grand opening ceremonies and no running of the torch. As Jeremy Schaap wrote in his book Triumph, "The Nazis had taken what had always been a rather clubbish, overgrown track-and-field meet and turned it into the spectacle that even now we recognized as the modern Olympics."

Last night's opening ceremonies were a continuance of what Schaap calls "the pagan pomp" which have been the hallmark of these opening ceremonies since those Berlin games of yesteryear. This has been true of all the opening ceremonies--taking the bombastic nationalism of 1936 and leaving the straight-armed salutes at the doors. What made China's different though was the extraordinary money and space technology they devoted to making sure the spectacle could be all it was supposed to be.

As Zhou Fengguang, head of the Engineering Design and Research Institute of the People's Liberation Army General Armament Department said to the newspaper Xinhua, "The engineering design at the opening ceremony borrowed many of the latest space technologies. They ensured the stable operation of thousands of devices." Yes, just as these Olympic games are ushering in unprecedented surveillance technology to the world, they are also allowing us to witness the latest in military hardware while the war mongers of the moment Bush and Putin, watch in awe, and maybe sign some military contracts on the side. No wonder Kissinger wanted a front row seat.

bernie mac / isaac hayes




friday classic film blogging

Once Upon a Time in the West. (1968.) Directed by Sergio Leone. Story by Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, Leone. Screenplay by Leone and Sergio Donati. Starring Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson.


a queue of one's own

What? What was that Natalie? You find the Projection Booth's "what's in your movie queue" posts too sexy for words? And you find it especially hot when Dex posts them? Well - we can't let a girl down then, can we?

Here's mine: Day Night Day Night (2006) (STILL, I know); Phase IV, (1974) Saul Bass' movie about killer bugs; Thriller! A Cruel Picture,(1974) even though it ain't so great; and The Ballad of Narayama, (1983) by the great Shohei Imamura. And I wanna go see the new 'X-Files' flick, so that's kind of in the queue.

Do it to it, Boothers!

dang, zhang

Those Boothers among you who may be familiar with the trajectory of Zhang Yimou's career - from the kitchen-sinky dramatist who gave the world Gong Li to director of sumptuous melo-actioners like Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004) - may be interested to see what his current big project is.

david lynch thursday!

[ You have been accused by the media of being weird for weird's sake... ]

Well, how do you spell, "Baloney!" It's just something that people say. It's an easy thing to say. It doesn't mean it's true. To me, it's completely wrong to do something strange for strange's sake. It has to be an honest thing and it has to come from way inside. If you get an idea that you are in love with and you stay true to that, you can't go wrong. But some of these ideas are strange, just like there are a lot things down the block that are happening that are strange. There's no law against strangeness, it's just the context. If you have contrast and interesting things based on true human behavior, then you're okay.

--- "Is David Just a Little Weird?," Film Threat, 2000.


Your assignment, should you choose to accept it...

So, Mr. A-train assigned me a choice of three films - Thriller! A Cruel Picture, Series 7: The Contenders and Ang Lee's Hulk. I mention Ang Lee and not the other directors for a reason, but I'll get to that. I decided to watch all three and decide which one I wanted to review and decided the best thing is to do them all together in ascending order of interest (and quality).

Let's start with Thriller! A Cruel Picture. This film is cheap and exploitative but it's just not as good or enjoyable as I want from my cheap exploitation. I saw the "rated" cut without the notorious penetrative sex scenes but I don't think they would've added anything to the film but some titillation. It's a fairly standard issue revenge picture, with the trauma our heroine endures quite extreme - rape at a young age rendering her mute, then she's kidnapped, forcibly addicted to drugs, forced into prostitution, and ties with her family are severed without her knowledge. And if any cinematic heft were given to the proceedings I might have thought more of the film, might have cared one way or the other about whether she killed off her tormentors. But over and over the implausibility of the film, the concern for making sure you get to see gunfire, cars racing, and Scandinavian kung fu action without bothering with things like character development all get in the way of simply letting the plot progress. And sordid penetration scenes would only have hindered the telling, if you ask me. Anyway, it never builds a head of steam. "One Eye"'s muteness - not just her inability to speak, but her downright refusal to communicate in any form whatsoever with either characters or audience - puts a barrier between the viewer and the character in a way that the similarly brutal and nasty I Spit On your Grave, for example, does not. A shame, because as exploitative fare, this has all the earmarks of a winner.

Next up is Series 7: The Contenders, a film that let me down in a similar way. It's smarter filmmaking by far than Thriller! but no more successful at putting across something more than just what you see on screen. The film opens by giving us a recap of a program we're about to watch in which six contestants have to kill each other on the show. Last one alive wins. No prize is mentioned, except the occasional reference to "The prize? Your life!"; no rationale is mentioned as to why anyone except the suicidal central male character would want to participate. Are the contestants forced to play as punishment? Do they win anything except a return to the show? Some explanation is necessary, but none is forthcoming from the actual text of the film - you're left to make up your own mind about the reasons and the consequences of things. The predominant idea in readings of the film seems to be that this is a critique of society's love affair with reality TV. But there's not any contextualization of the show that might lend itself to that. There's no narration explaining how the show came about, who might be on it, anything like that that might give a clue as to why we're watching it - even commercial breaks would've given a welcome context (think Robocop here and how those commercials helped set the tone of the world they existed in). Instead we just watch the show, without even the benefit of having seen previous series to let us root for Dawn. Director Minahan has the look and feel down, but not the point. If he's really trying to offer a critique, an ironic look at these shows, he'd do better to understand what some people get out of them or why people choose to appear on them. Any season of Survivor offers more intereting human interactions than this film. It's a shame, because he does give the viewer enough to suggest that he could've gone into interesting areas: about mass media, about the right-to-die, about homophobia, even about abortion, all of which are brought up (or at least insinuated) within the film and then dropped cold. This film let me down in a way that Thriller! didn't because I expected nothing of the sort from that film. This one hints that it might be saying something but doesn't take it to a point where you actually get to see what it might be saying. Instead you're left watching a reality show, and not a terribly interesting one at that.
Which brings us to Ang Lee's Hulk, by far the best of the films A-Train asked me to peruse. Is it Lee's finest film? No, not by a long shot, but it's still another exploration of some of the themes that interest him. He's drawn over and over to the tragic love story and this one's no exception. Think of how often he sets up a relationship based on unrequited passion that can never be fully embraced: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Lust, Caution - it's even a sideline in The Ice Storm with the swinging couples that aren't happy in their own marriages but won't leave them for the other partners they're interested in. Here Eric Bana's Bruce Banner buries his passions deep for fear that they might turn him into the Hulk. Even before he's actually become the Hulk the fear is there preventing him from any passionate display, and this is the fact that Ang Lee keys in on and explores throughout the film. It's almost like he's showing the flipside of what the surrealists called l'amour fou - where they wanted to explore their unbound desires and passions through their art, Lee has made a career of exploring what happens (always tragic) when you refuse to let that passion out. Coupled with this is the generational conflict (or rather, generational disconnect) that's also common to his films. Father and son clash here (quite literally at the end), with Nick Nolte's nice turn as the father claiming to do what he feels is best for his child at the expense of the child's own thoughts, feelings, and development, a claim shown up as purely selfish from early on in the film. Meanwhile there's the parallel story with Jennifer Connelly and Sam Elliott drawing out a similar parent-child relationship fraught with mistrust and anger rooted in the past, though it's given a possibly heathly outcome. Lee has explored these idea more fruitfully in other films, but I still enjoy Hulk quite a bit. He uses comic book styled transitions masterfully, he's worked from a palette of appropriately comic-booky colors and design (mise-en-scene if you prefer), taken characters with recognizable issues and conflicts and put them into the larger-than life world of the comic book, the same way he planted similarly believable characters into the fantastic world of flying kung-fu or the romantic melodrama of a pair of cowboys. The only real problem with Hulk, I think, is that where Lee can be sublime, this one's louder, brigher, more in-your-face (though hardly as bombastic as it easily could've been, or as some fans might have wanted it to be). The effect might be off-putting to some, but to me it's just another facet of the continuing saga of Lee's tragic romances.

got knight?

Wash Park’s Prophet considers dark knights and Tokyo godfathers.

Don’t mean to piggyback the Atrain – or do I? – but here’s some more Dark Knight reax from around the internets to check out, this time sans lefty hysteria and Bushie propagandizing (read, tons more intelligent): one exceptional piece from one of our fair city’s best bloggers, the WashParkProphet (who loves his superheroes, as he previously weighed in on one of my fave spandex flicks, Superman Returns). While the Proph draws some pretty interesting comparisons of Nolan’s Gotham to Satoichi Kon’s rendering of Tokyo in Tokyo Godfathers (2003), from the other coast is another chin-scratcher on terra and The Batman from the New York Times blog, of all places.

The Dark Mumble

Now that it's an International and Box Office hit, the parodies have hit the web. This is probably my favorite and skewers what seems to be everybody's biggest complaint about The Dark Knight (although I didn't find it terribly distracting. Whatevah!) Watch with confidence -- No spoilers within!


Indie monies

Hello! While this cannot with any confidence be deemed my first "real" post, I notice that some of you are not only film dissectors, but creators. I'm not sure if this would be of any interest to anyone here, but I stumbled upon this today and thought of no better place to re-post.


Hope you all are well.

friday classic film blogging

Manhunter. (1986.) Directed by Michael Mann. Screenplay by Mann, from the novel "Red Dragon" by Thomas Harris. Starring William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan.