he's busy revvin' up the powerful blog 5: speed racer, lynch, mister foe

Christina Ricci's on the lookout for Dex's new reviews.

Speed Racer (2008) - With the massive success of the (possibly ripped-off) spacey-sci-fi-martial-arts trilogy of The Matrix and producing a super-slick but essentially slight adaptation of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta (2006) (which gave us all the opportunity to hear Natalie Portman ask for tea and toast in an English accent...okay, gave me the opportunity to hear Natalie Portman ask for tea and toast in an English accent), one would think the Wachowski Brothers made an apparent turn away from attempting their previous serio-cinematic poses with this year's Speed Racer.

At least, one would think so: relentlessly grim and curiously uncinematic, Speed Racer is miles away from the kind of light-hearted fun that characterized the cartoon, and Emile Hirsch's brooding, boring Speed (closer to Keanu Reeves' channeling of the One than anything like a wide-eyed manga hero) is hardly the kind of main character kids (who I have to assume to be the film's intended audience) could possibly glom onto. Indeed, Speed Racer - with the obligatory, FX-amped kung-fu fight, jibber jabber about all-powerful corporate conglermates controlling the racing public's perception of reality, and pseudo-philosophical claptrap about breaking on through to the other side - is little more than a hodge podge of Matrix themes, sans the sleek Carrie Ann Moss' cat suits. Aside from the flash and bang of the races - which, to be fair, weren't really represented all that well on my tiny little Daewoo teevee - there isn't anything to recommend Speed Racer to anyone except die-hard Wachowski-heads who still mull over the restaurant scenes in Reloaded, and people (like me) who dig staring at Christina Ricci.

Lynch (2007) - A delicious slice of cherry pie from a member of David Lynch's production team offered to his boss, one of America's most important and cherished directorial talents, the eponymous doc tracks him through the preproduction and filming of the demon-to-some-angel-to-others Inland Empire (2006). Despite his willingness to discuss his artistic process in print and the overall openness of his smiling, shucky-darns-Montana-boy-made-good-persona, David Lynch - and to a much larger degree, his work, especially the aforementioned film - remain impenetrable to easy analysis, no doubt part of his appeal. Lynch takes some steps to rectifying that, or at least, how we might think of David-Lynch-the-director, who comes across (surprisingly) as salty and intense, but possessing a (not-so-surprisingly) sensitivity to and rapport with his actors and actresses like Laura Dern (who he cusses at, banters with, and lovingly calls "Bit").

Mister Foe ("Hallam Foe") (2008) - David McKenzie's latest is an often entertaining piece of twisted sex and Oedipal yearning wrapped around a coming-of-age tale in the tradition of British kitchen sink dramas, following a charmingly deranged Hallam Foe (Jamie Foster) who alternately lusts after and mourns his recently departed mother, peeping in on his stepmother or flirting heavily with his sister to stave off his morbid obsessions. Young Foe, after somehow managing to lose his virginity in his childhood treehouse (whoop! whoop! Freud alert!) to his father's slinky, ice-queen wife (Claire Forlani), flees his country home for Glasgow where - surprise surprise - he meets and falls for his mom's doppelganger, the too-sexy-by-a-mile (and former girlfriend to the 10th Doctor Who) Sophia Myles. Soon Young Hallam spends his days washing dishes in the hotel his not-mom works at and nights scampering up the side of her apartment building to look in on her fuck a married co-worker or cut her toenails. When Hallam manages to bed his fantasy girl/mom, he realizes there's a choice to be made - negotiate the urges attending real love and real life or continue (literally) hiding in the folds of his dead mom's dress and the sensual comforts of a childhood he won't let go of.

Somewhat like the culty Ewan MacGregor vehicle Young Adam Mckenzie helmed back in '03, (which, like Foe, also featured a couple of uniquely attractive English actresses - Emily Mortimer and Tilda Swinton - in various stages of brutal intimacy with the leading man), much of what Mister Foe has to say about relationshps isn't very nice (or realistic, depending on your own POV), and it doesn't nail the dark, closing-time-thoughtfulness of the MacGregor-Mortimer-Swinton flick (though that's probably the point). At any rate, Mister Foe's so skillfully rendered by MacKenzie and Co. that you not only find yourself in league with Hallam, despite the fact that he's almost completely out of his mind, but even when, at some point, you realize that so much of the movie could be interpreted as a series of episodes of post-adolescent wish fulfillment strung together. But it's got a great soundtrack, so fuck it (no pun intended).

(Okay, yes, I totally did intend that pun. Sorry.)


Jack White. Jack Nasty!

I'm a huge James Bond fan (in case you were wondering). I may not be swapping action figures at 007 conventions, but I'd say I can hold my own in a game of Bond trivia at the local watering hole. I own all 21 movies in the franchise and watch the dvds regularly. Octopussy is my favorite Bond movie. It's the first Bond movie I ever saw, and the title still gives this grown-up the giggles. And even though it's unanimous that Sean Connery is the best Bond, James Bond...my affections lie with Roger Moore, the on-screen Bond that I grew up with.

The Broccoli's have done an incredibly smart thing by making the Bond franchise an event. Like the Olympics or Haley's Comet, Bond movies only make an appearance once every couple years. Okay, so there's a big difference between 2 years in between movies and a once-in-a-lifetime viewing of a celestial wonder, but the point is it's long enough to build wild anticipation and feel like it's about damned time!

I bring this up because the new Bond film already has 2 major strikes against it going into the final days until it's premiere.

1. Quantum of Solace. Without a doubt the worst title of a James Bond movie in it's 22-title history. The name isn't random to the material. It was lifted from an Ian Fleming short story. But as a standalone film title it's bland and doesn't make much sense...(Octopussy didn't make much sense either, but you gotta admit that's one helluva catchy title!). Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, The Man With the Golden Gun, Die Another Day, and...Quantum of Solace. See? Like the fat kid chosen last for kickball, it's never going to fit in with the rest of 'em. Fortunately the title was released early, so it had some time to sink in with the fans, unlike....

2. Another Way to Die. As I stated before James Bond movies are an event from top to bottom: the 2 year wait, the title, who will play the villian, who will play Bond this time, the theme song, and the trippy title sequence. Another Way to Die is the theme song to Quantum of Solace. Written and performed by Jack White of The White Stripes and joined by Alicia Keys, this first duet ever for a Bond theme was released to the public just last week and is, in my opinion, quite ghastly. Have a listen:

Another Way to Die was originally to be written and performed by Amy Winehouse before her troubled ways led producers to reconsider. I would have liked to have heard Amy's version. From what I understand her recording exists somewhere, but will probably never be made available to the public. Her 60's R&B throwback style would have been a perfect fit for a James Bond theme. I find the White/Keys version to be unoriginal, narcissistic, and embarassing (He solos on guitar -- she echoes back in scat?!!). There have been a number of bad Bond themes, but even the worst of them have a certain campiness about them. Another Way to Die just sounds wrong in all ways.

But I won't let it get me down. The early trailers have all but promised that Quantum of Solace will be every bit as great as Casino Royale. I'm excited to see Daniel Craig continue this new direction for James Bond, and director Marc Forster is a solid talent. I know where I'll be November 14th. What say you?


One Book, Many Films Series

Brick. Written & directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Zora Zehetner & Lukas Haas.

FREE! Special 35mm Screening ONE NIGHT ONLY this Tuesday, September 30th @ 7PM at the Starz Filmcenter.

Click here for more info about the One Book, Many Films Series showing every Tuesday through October 28th.

paul newman


tent city vice

I can feel more financial instituion failures/coming in the air tonight/Oh Lawd!

Via the indispensible GreenCine Daily, the Guardian UK looks ahead to the film that looks back to a time that could well be staring us in the face now (...whew), Michael Mann's Public Enemies, as well as sorting out some films that took on the Great Depression.

friday classic film blogging

A Face in the Crowd. (1957.) Directed by Elia Kazan. Written by Budd Schulberg. Starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick.


david lynch thursday!

The end credits of Inland Empire - best anywhere ever?


One Book, Many Films Series

Out of the Past. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Written by Daniel Mainwaring. Starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas & Jane Greer.

FREE! Special 35mm screenng ONE NIGHT ONLY this Tuesday, September 23rd @ 7PM at Starz Filmcenter.

Click here for more info about the One Book, Many Films Series every Tuesday through October 28th.


friday classic film blogging

Safe. (1995.) Written and directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Julianne Moore, Peter Friedman, Xander Berkley.


the blogpost about the prattle about the battle of seattle

This is what a movie trailer looks like! (this is what a movie trailer looks like)

The mighty mighty Democracy Now! hosted an all-too-brief discussion between The Battle in Seattle director Stuart Townsend and WTO-1999 vet David Solnit, who's started a "People's History of Seattle" online project as a sort of counterpoint to Townsend's flick.

There's apparently some concern among activists that Townsend's movie will become the last word about the massive surprise protests that shut down World Trade Org talks in those halcyon days of the end of Clinton time, and with good reason I think, especially since 1) Townsend's flick may not be that good, and b) a much more effective film with a much more powerful message might play the sound and fury of the protests on the sidelines and push the terrible damage so-called free-trade agreements wreaks on the Two-Thirds World front and center.

david lynch thursday!

"Today, I'm going to put these panties in mouth!"


Seeing Double Film Series

Romancing the Stone. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Written by Diane Thomas & Lem Dobbs. Starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner & Danny DeVito.

Outrageous Fortune. Directed by Arthur Hiller. Written by Leslie Dixon. Starring Bette Midler & Shelley Long.

DOUBLE FEATURE! Special 35mm screenings this Thursday, September 18th @ 7PM and this Saturday, September 20th @ 230PM at Starz Filmcenter.

Click here for more info about the Seeing Double Series.


One Book, Many Films Series

Manhattan Murder Mystery. Directed by Woody Allen. Written by Allen & Marshall Brickman. Starring Allen, Diane Keaton, Angelica Huston & Alan Alda. 1993.

FREE! Special 35mm screening ONE NIGHT ONLY Tuesday, September 16th @ 7PM at Starz Filmcenter. Click here for more info about the One Book, Many Films Series running every Tuesday evening through October 28th.


Ten recent reviews

The Old Dark House (dir. James Whale, 1932) -

James Whale finds a nice balance of creepy and comic here, with breezy dialogue and jovial mood underscoring a nice, eerie performance by Lon Chaney. Problem for me is that it's too breezy - does it want to be a scary "old dark house" movie or an eccentric comedy of errors? Whale does find the line to keep it on so that it remains both right up until the disturbing final movement. Still... a movie called The Old Dark House really does deserve to feature more menace than simply odd behavior until its final act if you ask me, and I was left a little wanting by this, breezy script, good performances and all. My problem, not his.

Chop Shop (dir. Ramin Bahrani, 2007) -

Almost documentary in its shooting style and thematic content, but instead it's another film along the lines of Los Olvidados or Pixote about kids living a tough, gritty life on the streets. What it shares with them is an unflinching view at some hard decisions these kids have to make merely to survive, but where it differs is the sense of hope in the film, more or less non-existent in the earlier films and more in common in that with City of God, for example. Violence is all but absent from the picture, though it's still a dramatic enough story that the tension that could lead to it is always hovering around the edges of the frame. Remarkable performances from Alejandro Polanco and Isamar Gonzales as the brother and sister with naive aspirations to get out of their situation. I'll leave the rest up to you to see. It's pretty damn brilliant though.

Top Hat (dir. Mark Sandrich, 1935) -

An absolute delight, beginning to end. Songs don't stop the movie cold to have people suddenly start a number, they actually grow out of the dialogue, and having Astaire play a dancer is a great stroke, gives him a good reason to be dancing whenever he feels like it. And the songs are excellent, dancing is excellent - as might be expected. What is not necessarily expected is that the script and the acting - comedic acting, I mean - are also excellent. They're not just funny for a musical, they're just funny, period. Great plot movement around misunderstandings and bad communication - a comic staple - and sharp, snappy dialogue help make it. My only regret is that most accounts place this at the top of the Rogers/Astaire pile, so it feels like I have nowhere to go but down. Except for maybe the highly regarded Swing Time.

Jarhead (dir. Sam Mendes, 2005) -

You can have your war film checklist handy when watching this as they tick off references to Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, to MASH - it's basically an amalgam of a lot of war films. I wonder how much of Anthony Swofford's memories and detail of the film were influenced by his familiarity with those films. Or maybe the screenwriter adapted his writing as he'd seen in other films. Or maybe director Sam Mendes - not my favorite guy in Hollywood, I have to say - decided that the visual and dialogue references would help bring this otherwise very odd "war" film home to its audiences more readily. I don't know, but they were distracting for me. The crux of the film is about the mental and emotional pressures these kids in an elite group of snipers are put under in a war where the skill is more or less obsolete. Build the tension, go through the basic army training, but then have these guys mostly sit around with nothing to do except masturbate or talk about masturbating and basically be on alert to pop off at a moment's notice - but that moment never comes. It's an interesting idea for a film that I don't feel is explored fully in the film which relies too hard, as noted, on now-cliched scenes of training, on banal dialogue, on the skill of its actors to convey the sense of tension that script and direction only momentarily give up. I guess it provides a convincing enough picture, but I felt like it was lacking the full depth of psychological drama that the subject material deserved.

Withnail & I (dir. Bruce Robinson, 1987) -
The script is a perfect autobiographical labor of love from writer/director Bruce Robinson - maybe too perfect. Felt like I had to listen intently for every single perfectly crafted word. The movie's funny as hell - touching, even - but it requires some dedication from the viewer to catch everything. Not in the plot, of course, which involves a lot of drinking, but in the dialogue, which fires out quip after quip that's worth quoting - no surprise that the film has quote-happy cult following like This Is Spinal Tap or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And of course that's what makes a cult film, the sort of perfect little lines that you want to come back to again and again. Which I'm sure I will, since like any really great cult comedy it's also well made and totally serious in its intention to make you laugh. It's also a film I ended up reflecting on a lot while reading a William Kotzwinkle book a friend loaned me - The Fan Man - featuring another sort of comic-pathetic wastoid as our "hero." I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I need to watch again with sound up louder and distractions (like a summer fan, or someone snoring in the room) at an absolute minimum.

A Story of Floating Weeds (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1934) -

Silent-era Ozu in which - guess what - two generations of a family have their differences. But here things are a bit different indeed. Instead of the typical Ozu nuclear family falling apart, these floating weeds are a traveling acting troupe, the leader of which has been to the rural town setting of the film nearly 20 years before and left a local woman with a surprise. Now he's rolling through with his troupe, suffering financial hardships and visiting (and accepting patronage from) the woman he didn't marry because his lifestyle could neither be bound to a rural town nor support a wife. He's also visiting and offering anonymous support to the young man who doesn't know who his father is, or rather, has been raised to believe that his father died years ago. It all makes for a familial drama with situations and dialogue so universal, or at least understandable, that the film could've been made yesterday, not the 74 years ago (!) that it actually was made. I feel almost embarrassed gushing yet again over the stunning compositions and absolutely true-to-life drama as I have with a half-dozen other Ozus in the last few months, but the guy really was a genius. Great stuff, again.

Why Does Herr R Run Amok? (dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1970) -

One of the best early Fassbinders, maybe the best. It's funny in a way because instead of signifying via his character's behavior or dialogue that Herr R. is living a boring life, he shows you just how boring it is, in more or less real time. Trite dialogue about nothing and stretched out (though realistically rendered) scenes show Raab at work, sitting quietly and passively at a gathering of relatives, drunk and foolish at a company holiday party - the mundanity of his life is almost too much to handle at times. And then, abruptly and with no warning signs whatsoever, he runs amok, causing you to reflect on what's happened, to search your mind for triggers, for conflicts that could've provoked the brutal ending of the film. And the answers are not forthcoming - there's no easy answer here of "embarrassing situation with the boss caused this" or "friction with the wife caused this" or anything so readily pat to explain things. I loved it, and the pain and boredom of watching the non-events leading up to the ending is all part of the package, albeit not even remotely entertaining or infused with the melodramatic Sirkian or overtly Brechtian overtones of much of Fassbinder's catalog.

Accattone (dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1961) -
Pasolini's debut feature film is a remarkably assured outing outlining pretty much everything he was to embark on in his later filmmaking career. I watched this in anticipation of the re-release of Salo and I have to say that while he developed as a filmmaker, I haven't seen a better film from him than this one, in which he follows the life of a self-assured and proud pimp (the title character), taken only halfway seriously by the other pimps and criminals he consorts with and taken not at all seriously by his main whore. It's also quite brutal and grim in a sort of neo-realistic way; a nasty beating is delivered to a naive prostitute, Accattone seemingly thinks nothing of stealing a gold necklace from a child, of unceremoniously dumping one whore when she refuses to give him respect. It's a tragedy in the classical sense, not surprising given his affinity for classical literature and his constant affinity for people of the lower class and the outsider world of criminals. A great debut signaling a great career.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (dir. Sam Peckinpah, 1973) -

Elegaic and enjoyable Peckinpah about the dying breed of "real men" in the Old West - men who value honor and a quick gun over just about anything else, including the law, which is seemingly only an arbitrary divider between men of principle. Garrett and Billy are both clinging to a dying way of life, most famously when Kris Kristofferson (as Billy) responds to Garrett's observation that times are changing with "Times maybe. Not me." A perfect summation in four words of what Peckinpah is all about. This film doesn't break any new ground for Sam, but it'll please anyone who's a fan, and perhaps also interest those who aren't.

Brand Upon the Brain! (dir. Guy Maddin, 2006) -

A weird one. I don't know why I suddenly got excited to watch this, but I did and was glad to have attended to it, even if I didn't love it. A heavy David Lynch influence in addition to the obvious love (and understanding) of silent film conventions plus Guy Maddin's own strange blend of sexuality, familial issues, and gender ambiguity all add up to an intriguing story that like a lot of avant-garde art may live more readily in the artist's head than on the screen (or whatever medium). That Maddin does make it intriguing is an accomplishment worth seeing. I don't know how this stacks up with the rest of his catalog, but I'm interested enough to find out.

"white line's in the middle of the road. that's the worst place to drive."

Before there was Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, there was They Live.

Here's a great short piece passed on by a friend O' teh Booth previewing the BAM retrospective of sci-fi horror great, John Carpenter, with special attention paid to what should be required viewing for all anti-globalization activists, 1988's They Live.

friday classic movie blogging

Ed Wood. (1994.) Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski. Based on "Nightmare of Ecstasy," by Rudolph Grey. Starring Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Vincent D'Onofrio, J.D. Spradlin, Lisa Marie, Juliette Landau.


Woody goes on vacation to see a famous opera singer, who's contemplating an abortion, in a French Mediterranean village... or just four recent views

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen | USA/Spain | 2008 | 97min
Getting out of Manhattan has done Woody a whole world of good. Matchpoint, set across the pond in a very unmerry old England, was a surprisingly focused, dismal work reaffirming that Allen still had his chops. His latest film, set in the eternally spry, golden hue of Barcelona, is even more of a cobweb-clearing sweep of the mausoleum Woody was rapidly sealing himself in. It’s amazing what a simple change of scenery can do.

This is precisely what Vicky Cristina Barcelona is all about: two credulous American girls, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlet Johannson), taking a holiday abroad in hopes of finding something, anything that can inspire them. What finds them is a sultry Catalan painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), and his tempestuous ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), who fascinate and repulse our heroines along with us as an audience. They embody everything our American culture is not and will never be, with their gutturally instinctive, art-loving bohemian way of life, free of the moral hang-ups that paralyze Allen’s characters. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Bardem and Cruz like Vicky and Cristina do, especially when situated in a Woody Allen movie. They’re everything his characters ever wanted to be, yet couldn’t due to a lack of courage. Simply put, the screen presence of Spain’s two most current and yes, talented, actors is what makes Vicky Cristina Barcelona so damn good.

But don’t get me wrong. Everything that makes a Woody Allen movie a Woody Allen movie is still here, namely pretentious socialites nowhere near the worth of their own useless knowledge, who do the exact opposite of their self-assured and frequently proclaimed morale (this goes for our Spaniards, too). And of course, Allen’s own signature neuroses still serve as the backbone of the story. Where his recent films depart (the murder mystery/comedy Scoop and the somber Cassandra’s Dream included) is with their inclusion of the Foreigner in the Allen canon, from a decidedly American viewpoint that proves both insightful and stereotypical in that double-edged sword sorta way so characteristic of Allen’s films. With Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one gets the sense Woody finally let out a sigh and took a European vacation, yet couldn’t keep from making a movie in between his seaside piña coladas. This filmgoer hopes he has every intention of extending his holiday. 4/5

Jean-Jacques Beineix | France | 1981 | 117min
Think of this film as the cusp to the thematic concerns of Neil Jordan and Luc Besson, but that has its style rooted more firmly in classic French crime cinema. Sparse, economical and dotted with abstract moments sometimes resembling the simplicity of Jean-Pierre Melville, Diva is oddly focused on the ethical implications of audio recordings and their significance as a record of the past. The plot is derived from the chase that ensues once Jules (Frédéric Andréi) illegally records the performance of opera singer Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez) and then has this unauthorized tape confused for the confessional tape of a prostitute, who planted hers into Jules’s moped satchel before being killed. Now Jules is being pursued for both recordings by the corrupt police officer in charge of the prostitution ring and Taiwanese gangsters seeking the only existing LP of Cynthia Hawkins.

In a brief interview on the DVD, Beineix (perhaps the real diva here, at one point claiming to his producers he invented the crane used in crane shots) goes great lengths in pointing out how his first film broke new ground, had a long theatrical run, is timeless, etc etc. My feelings about Diva, however, remain somewhat lukewarm. The biggest problem with the film is its villains, both the thugs of the prostitution ring and the Taiwanese gangsters. They are scarcely menacing and hardly convincing, which of course does not make me worry too much about the well being of our heroes. Their criminal acts and the innocent people implicated in their attempted cover-up matter little when compared to the much more interesting, chaste love between Jules and the diva.

The redeeming qualities of Diva lie in the questions it raises about artistic integrity. An artist as distinctive as Cynthia Hawkins will have to inevitably compromise her pride and record her voice, as her manager points out, in an effort to beat the gangsters to the punch and to capitalize on the illegal LP. The strength of her voice will not live forever, but a recording of it will. The idea of an opera diva’s first consumable album holding as much power as a prostitute’s exposé proves more exciting than the actual hubbub stirred up to obtain each track. Within the context of a mediocre French thriller, here is where Beineix can call Diva groundbreaking and where I find the film to be worth watching. 3/5

Tokyo Twilight
Yasujiro Ozu | Japan | 1957 | 140min
Boy, they weren’t kidding when they called this Ozu’s ‘darkest hour.’ Tokyo Twilight is the story of two sisters, Takako (Setsuko Hara), who is running from her unwanted child’s useless father, and Akiko (Ineko Arima), who is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. They discover the mother their father had always told them was long dead is in fact alive and well, still running the brothel she has tended to her entire life. After aborting her pregnancy and confronting her estranged mother, Akiko kills herself and Takako puts all blame for their troubled lives on their mother before returning home to an uncertain future. Pretty grim stuff, especially for Ozu, and it makes the illicit office romance central to his last film, Early Spring, look like a picnic in the park. Yet as one familiar with Ozu’s work would expect, these topics are executed as subtly as possible. In Tokyo Twilight, his direction is particularly impressive when handling the scene involving Akiko’s abortion. The ‘A’ word is never uttered once between Akiko and the surgeon who presumably will perform the procedure, and Ozu is clever to weigh the scene with enough uncertainty on Akiko’s behalf so as to make her decision unknown until several shots later (insert a succession of Ozu’s signature nature stills to convey change/transcendence), upon which Akiko seems to regret her decision and cries all alone in her bedroom.

Ozu is all about the ebb and flow of familial relations, but in Tokyo Twilight, this ebb and flow feels a little disrupted. So far through my trek of Ozu’s work, I have not yet seen more uninhibited displays of anger and sadness, nor have I encountered such a dysfunctional family in any film previous. Perhaps not surprisingly, these anomalies feel somewhat contrived and a tad melodramatic, especially in comparison to his work as a whole. Ozu is better when focused upon concepts, such as generational conflict, instead of the hard-knock tribulations of two sisters and their withdrawn parents. Tokyo Twilight is not a bad film by any means, but is missing a certain Ozu calm that awakens an introverted conversation with myself about my life and my family.

Next up, it’s Ozu in color. 3/5

La Pointe Courte
Agnès Varda | France | 1956 | 80min
La Pointe Courte has more in common with the intellectual calisthenics required by the likes of her fellow Rive Gauche filmmakers, Alain Resnais and Chris Marker, than it does with, say, the leisurely bicycle jaunts of the other New Wave group, including Truffaut and sometimes Godard. Her second film, Cleo from 5 to 7, has more in common with the latter camp, but her first effort belongs entirely to the former. I’ve been anticipating this film ever since Bruce Kawin, one of my film history instructors at CU, pointed out it is the true first film of the French New Wave. Hmmm. Even before The 400 Blows? Or even Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows? Kawin and other scholars may be right about Varda’s place in history, but La Pointe Courte is nowhere near as coherent and engaging as other early New Wave(esque) films. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what Varda was going for after finishing the film and was left wanting an explanation. An explanation, thankfully, Criterion DVD extras are always willing to provide.

After watching La Pointe Courte, I discovered Varda’s intention was to mimic the narrative structure of William Faulkner’s long overlooked Wild Palms. That novel has two totally unrelated stories told side by side; one is a love story, taking place in 1938 and the other is about the ordeal of a prisoner in 1927. The two stories only physical link is a prison in Mississippi. La Pointe-Courte, a small Mediterranean village on the coast of France, is the physical setting of the two unrelated stories being told in Varda’s film; one is a love story and the other is about the political ordeal of the village fishermen.

I quickly lost interest in the love story portion of the film; the couple’s pseudo-intellectual voiceover musings on the nature of their affection and relationship comes across as phony, pompous and irrelevant. Their boring story never sits well with vignettes of a destitute village and its crumbling economy threatened by the disintegration of its sole export. Perhaps it’s not supposed to. Like Faulkner’s novel, no aesthetic or narrative device is attempted by Varda to link her stories, literally cutting from one to the other in a completely arbitrary way. The result is frustrating and dull. What might have worked in the realm of literature does not necessarily translate well to the realm of cinema. Sure, I can see why this technique blew everyone’s hats off in 1956 and why La Pointe Courte is considered the precursor to the French New Wave; it is on many levels something fresh and entirely different. Yet despite the boldness of its narrative structure and moments of amazingly journalistic cinematography reminiscent of neorealism, it lacks any real emotion (see photo below). 2/5

david lynch thursday!

Sway, pretty girl, sway...


My Blueberry Blah

My Blueberry Nights
Wong Kar Wai/2008/90min

I don't quite understand the blankets of praise piled upon Wong Kar Wai. To be fair, maybe I haven't given myself in to enough of his films. I've only seen 2 1/2 of them afterall. None have proven to me to be the Second Coming that so many cinephiles rave about. I saw In the Mood for Love several years ago, and the only thing that sticks with me is that bizzare ending with the rock formations. What was THAT about?!! 2046 makes any Tarkovsky look like Run Lola, Run. I turned it off halfway through. And My Blueberry Nights...well, it just kind of meanders. And maybe that's the point. It is a roadtrip picture afterall.

Norah Jones plays the scorned lover Elizabeth who decides to pack it up and head cross-country after learning her boyfriend was cheating on her. But not before striking up a friendship with the owner of a hole-in-the-wall diner. Her travels take her first to Memphis where she learns a lesson in forgiveness thanks to the crazy shenanigans of a local alcoholic sheriff and his freshly divorced wife. Then it's off to Reno where she learns the value of trust in the relationship of a compulsive gambler and her dying father. New lessons in hand, Elizabeth returns to the diner a year later to confess her love for its owner over a plate of blueberry pie and ice cream. The End.

Simplified, I know but let's face it, people watch Wong Kar Wai films for the overall look and aesthetic and here's where I have my biggest bone to pick. I was put off by the cinematography in this movie. Not by the colors or the framing, but by the choice to film certain portions of the movie using a hyper-stylized stuttering slow-motion technique. The idea, I suppose, is to give the movie a dream-like dimension. I found the liberal use of this creative choice distracting, and it pulled me out of the movie every time.

Kar Wai apparently got the idea for My Blueberry Nights after taking 2 different roadtrips across America. Yet, the whole movie plays like a foreigner's phony perception of Americana stereotypes. 50's-style diners tucked underneath overhead railways, convertibles on lonely stretches of desert highway, country bars and fistfights, and so on. It's all been done before, and better. Better acted too.

Much has been made of the casting of musician Norah Jones. Wai sought her out specifically for this role, and it's easy to tell why. She does have movie star looks. But her acting comes across as speaking meticulously rehearsed lines instead of embodying a character's actions and thoughts. Jude Law proves he's good for just about any role or character. And Natalie Portman, sporting one of those Southern accents that's only found on a movie set, is adquate enough here. The real acting award belongs to David Strathairn. Here's an actor who's always been around, but has lingered in the background like an awkward teen at a Jr. High dance. He never really has been given the praise he deserves even with his Oscar nomination just a few years ago. This is a performance that should've been talked about awards time, and he leaves the rest of his castmates in the dust.

There's more in the Wong Kar Wai filmography that requires exploration, and one of these days I'll get around to it. But from what I've seen so far, I'm just not convinced that should be anytime soon.

get yr hadron on

Black holes? I'm outta here, yo!

To commemrate the activiation of the Large Hadron Collider on the France-Switzerland border - not to mention concerns by some scientists that attempting to duplicate atomic-level events from the big bang could create a black hole that would swallow the earth - I was going to post a list of some of the best black hole movies ever.

Thing of it is, and maybe it's because I haven't had enough coffee yet, I can only think of two: Disney's The Black Hole (1979), a piece of early-1980s cable-TV high weirdness, long lost to us hopeless men-children, at least right now, and the mostly useless Event Horizon (1997). And that's it.

Little help?


world's smallest violin playing for the waitress

How are RNC delegates and that guy up there alike?

the genre ain't nothin but tricks and hoes


Checking in with the Guardian Yoo-Kay film page this morning, I found this sub-header prominently displayed:

The message of today's horror films is still profoundly anti-feminist...

I expected the attached article to be a little meatier than it was - it's the Guardian UK, for crying out loud, but I think it's generous to call it even a bare-bones critique. But is this how the Brits see the state of the genre? Didn't that horror=anti-feminist blah blah go out with the Andrea Dworkin types and the porn crackdown of the 1980s?

I know the genre swings wildly from high point to low right now, but unless it's really informed and takes place within the context of the movie being written about, the horror=anti-woman thing seems to be a cop-out, just really lazy criticism: The Dark Knight, for example, which has been victimized by selfish goofing off all summer long - by now, it's not merely a superhero flick with a solid plot and broad appeal with a little politics thrown in, but a film about everything that's ever happened, ever - has also been accused of anti-feminism by a lefty writer here and there who points to a female character getting offed as hard evidence of the movie's militaristic, anti-woman core and agfadjh dsfdfkad flibberty gibbet....

And really - The Strangers? That's supposed to be emblematic of the entire horror genre as of 2008? Indeed, I think a case could be made that the current crop of frat/loser/geek comedies are far more anti-feminist - there, it's strictly a man's world, filled with overfed, half-educated men's obssessions, and the hotties - and to be sure, they're all hotties - are welcome to give hand-jobs or get pregnant, but that's all they'll be doing.

But take a look. What you think, Boothers?


"peckinpah is an american maverick who makes clint eastwood look like john mccain."

Above: not like John McCain.

Via GreenCine Daily: more from Artforum here, and a look at the Peckinpah retrospective - "Sam Peckinpah: Blood Poet" - at the Harvard Film Archive.

anita page



up the queue

The patronness saint of The Projection Booth's Up the Queue feature, Girl Cut in Two's Ludivine Sangier.

I for one have been remiss, with GRE and thesis panic and picking up extra shifts at the video store during teh DNC, and so I'm hoping to get caught up with some new releases on DVD (Lynch, Forbidden Kingdom, Mad Detective), in the theaters (Read After Burning, Mister Foe, Girl Cut in Two) as well as some older flicks (Broken English, La Vie en Rose, Ride the High Country). Reviews to follow, of course, cos I know you just can't get enough, you just can't get enough.

What about you, Boothers?

friday classic movie blogging

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. (1976.) Written and directed by John Cassavetes. Starring Ben Gazzara, Timothy Carey, Seymour Cassel.


from alphabet city all the way a to z

Vamos vamos muchacho.

The Guardian Yoo-Kay checks in with the Central American triptych of punk film god Alex Cox.

I can only imagine what it would've been like to be in film school when Alex Cox was out front of the film scene - maybe I'm becoming an old fogey (did I just type that word?) but right now it feels like film kids only have phony rebels like this than real iconoclasts like Cox to look up to.

(...Or, maybe not. Maybe they're all watching Takashi Miike and we will be ultimately saved forever and forever, amen).

david lynch thursday!

"Good luck, Chet!"