30 September 2006

Clean Up

District B13 (Banlieue 13) - dir. Pierre Morel - 2004 - France

It may not be as wonderful as The Transporter 2 (I haven't seen the first Transporter, but I'm told the second is far superior), but District B13, for mindless, stylish French action, certainly does its job. While it's silly preachiness wears thin in the final twenty minutes, District B13 does so many things right that I can allow myself to speak postively on it. First off, we only have one female character in the film, and she's the main guy's sister, so we, the audience, are spared of nauseating, unnecessary love interest. Woman as warriors is fine (such as the naughty, short-haired blonde vixen in Transporter 2), but to be spared of the expected romance is a mighty fresh relief. This may make the film a little bit homoerotic -- our two heroes, with no woman in sight, must relief their sexual tension by fighting one another in one of the last fight scenes -- but aren't action films homoerotic to begin with? Doesn't the female love interest merely serve as our "hey, this shit ain't gay! I wasn't getting off watching Jason Statham flex his muscles and beat up other dudes!" Secondly, our opening sequence is marvelous. David Belle, a stunt guy who co-invented a sport known as Parkour, shows off his wall-climbing, building jumping skills to astonishing degree. Sure, the scene is flashy, but Belle's power isn't expressed through editing. It's like watching a live video game, where gravity and laws of nature are obsolete. Turn the film off around the hour mark, and you'll have yourself a really good time.

28 September 2006

Three Months till 2007

I haven’t done a “coming soon to your theatre” post in a while, and I’m still pissed that Abel Ferrara’s Mary hasn’t found distribution yet. C’mon, it could so easily ride on the coattail of The DaVinci Code, and I wouldn’t mind.

First off, how can you resist a bunch of cute kids taking back America for Jesus? In Jesus Camp, these kids apparently want to be Billy Graham and attend a fun-filled Jesus Summer Camp. I always love patronizing Christians, so you’ll see me in line dressed as the Savior himself. I might also recommend Hell House for jaw-dropping, are-Christians-for-fucking-real laughs and squirms.

You can always count on Helen Mirren to give us a fine performance in The Queen; she did win the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival (but then again, so has Robin Tunney). More so, you can always count on Miramax to release an unnecessary biopic for Oscar season, even without the Weinsteins. Sure, Stephen Frears is sort-of respectable, but I’ll wait for video to see the ravishing Mirren play her second Queen Elizabeth of the year.

Gus Van Sant has yet again produced a young gay boy’s coping with sexuality à la Tarnation. This one’s called Wild Tigers I Have Known and is the first feature by Cam Archer, who’s made several shorts prior. I think I’ll skip this one too.

One film I certainly will not skip is John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, which looks to be stellar. ThinkFilm knew what they were doing to get me in the seat when they used the quote, “Like Woody Allen’s Manhattan, only with money shots.” The film stars Sook-Yin Lee, whom you might remember as Kwahng-Yi from Hedwig. She’s also a Canadian television personality who almost lost her job because of the film. Thankfully, Yoko Ono, Michael Stipe, and Francis Ford Coppola (surprise) came to her aid and defended her artistic expression. You can see the uncensored trailer, finally, at www.shortbusthemovie.com.

Certainly one of the big Oscar baiters, Todd Field’s follow-up to his critically-acclaimed In the Bedroom (I really only liked the film for Sissy, but whatever), Little Children, comes out in October. The film stars Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, and Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy) and, as long as it doesn’t turn out to be as horrible as Winslet’s other film this year, All the King’s Men, will likely run off with several nominations.

Ryan Murphy, creator of such deliciously appealing television shows as Popular and Nip/Tuck, will take his first time directing in an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors. The poster blows, and I hate Annette Bening, but with support from the always-reliable Brian Cox, I may be able to stomach her.

I’ve said enough about Sofia and the sure-to-be-failure of Marie Antoinette, so just take note it comes out on the 20th of October.

As someone who strongly disliked 21 Grams and was passively unimpressed with Amores perros, you can bet I’m not really looking forward to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, which won him the Best Director prize at Cannes. It sounds nauseatingly a lot like Crash, so beware.

After a several month delay, Pedro’s Volver is opening on the 3rd of November in New York and L.A. I’ve said plenty about this one, too, so just expect a full review once it comes to Saint Louis. Pedro apparently tried to make Ms. Cruz look as much like Sofia Loren as possible.

Also on the 3rd, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan will be released nationwide. Borat, one of Cohen’s three characters from Da Ali G Show, is a Jew-hating, sex-obsessed television star with poor English skills. The film apparently features some wonderful tea-bagging, so prepare to have a good ol’ time at the movies.

Yeah, I’m not happy Nicole Kidman is playing Diane Arbus either, and I may be even less happy that Steven Sheinberg (Secretary) is directing the dreadful-looking biopic Fur: An Imaginay Portrait of Diane Arbus. The film also stars Ty Burrell (Dawn of the Dead, Friends with Money) and Robert Downey, Jr.

ThinkFilm will be releasing the documentary Fuck (or, F*ck) on the 10th. The documentary, about the origins and offensiveness of the word, features Kevin Smith, Ron Jeremy, Alanis Morrissette, Janeane Garofalo, Billy Connolly, and Bill Mahr, to name a few. Let’s hope this film is a bit more enlightening than that dud, The Aristocrats.

Also from ThinkFilm, the sudsy, druggy romance Candy will be out in New York on the 17th of November. The Australian film stars Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish (Somersault), and Geoffrey Rush.

Count me out, despite my love for Hugh Jackman, on Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream follow-up, The Fountain. Critics hated it at Toronto, and chances are: I’ll hate it too. The film also stars Aronofsky’s wife, Rachel Weisz.

Christopher Guest returns with his usual crew (Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, etc), in addition to The Office’s Ricky Gervais, with For Your Consideration, another mockumentary about a group of actors putting on a play.

Naomi Watts will star in the Greta Garbo role in We Don’t Live Here Anymore director John Curran’s remake of The Painted Veil. I’m expecting plenty of crying from Watts, who’s slowly taking the crying trophy away from Julianne Moore. The film also stars Liev Schrieber and Edward Norton.

And speaking of Julianne Moore, she will star in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, a science fiction film about a woman who becomes pregnant despite procreation being a thing of the past. Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Peter Mullan also star.

And, what better way to spend Christmas than with Beyoncé playing herself… I mean, Diana Ross… I mean “Deena Jones,” the lead singer of a three girl pop group, in Dreamgirls. So far, it looks to be the only musical this Christmas season, and with Idlewild doing poorly, I doubt we’ll see a whole lot more coming our way.

Finally, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del Fauno) will have a limited release before the new year, possibly in hopes for Oscar consideration, though I doubt a fantasy horror film will have a good chance. From the looks of the other releases this year, who knows? It’s supposed to be his best film since Cronos.

Ehhhh... joyeux anniversaire?

Iconic, beautiful, tragic. Yes, today is Brigitte Bardot's birthday, and I would like to wish her a happy birthday if she weren't such an asshole. Sure, she only made one film that's even worth mentioning (that being Godard's Contempt [Le Mépris], though she does have a small cameo in Godard's lesser Masculin féminin), she certainly had her place in the minds of men all over the world. And, I, for one, will always adore "Bonnie and Clyde" with Serge Gainsbourg. Currently (if you didn't know), she is married to an extreme-right French politician, supports animal rights, hates Muslims, thinks homosexuals are carnival freak-shows, and runs her mouth whenever possible, after retiring from film after Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman. So, thanks, Brigitte, but no thanks. Sometimes icons really should have faded away.

26 September 2006

Like the title says...

Clueless - dir. Amy Heckerling - 1995 - USA

It's a strange thing revisiting a film that sort of defined parts of your youth. It's a stranger thing to find that it still holds up. And even stranger that it's far more subversive than you could have even mildly understood ten years ago. Clueless, director Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High for the 90s (her attempt at a 2000s flick, Loser, tanked), became the blueprint for numerous, inferior teen flicks (worse, teen flicks based on famous literature) to this day. While high in character count, Clueless is essentially all about Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), a chic, materialistic wannabe-do-gooder from Beverly Hills. The films that followed Clueless, from She’s All That to 10 Things I Hate About You, took a broader approach, trying to get just about every stereotype of a teenager to relate. Here, especially in retrospect, you relate with no one. Cher is shamelessly in her own head, with delusions of selfish philanthropy. Silverstone is absolutely perfect in the role, as you never really think that she’s any different from the character. While there’s your usual supporting roles from other social groupings--a skateboarding stoner (Breckin Meyer), a smarmy crooner who replaces penis size with status (Jeremy Sisto), and a “clueless” girl from Jersey (Brittany Murphy)--this is not their film. Cher is our model teen and, with her narration, we’re given entrance to the mind of the cluelessly hip.

Heckerling doesn’t make Cher the teen queen she thinks herself as. While she gets the boy in the end and wipes clean her conscience, the title of the film most directly points to her, not Tai, her selfish “project,” or Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Murray (Donald Faison), who’ve “watched that Ike and Tina Turner movie one too many times,” Amber (Elisa Donovan), the bitchy poser, or even Josh (Paul Rudd), the textbook college student, ex-step-brother of Cher. It’s Cher that’s clueless. During the pivotal scene where Cher comes to terms with falling for a gay guy and realizing she’s deeply in love with Josh, her interior speech is interrupted by a fashionable dress in the window. “I wonder if they have that in my size,” she cheers. Before this, she very meticulously creates acceptance for her fuck-ups with her friends, never believably. Or at least not believably outside of Cher’s mind. The film’s resolutions find Cher catching the bouquet at her teachers’ wedding, whom she set up for her own selfish, grade-grubbing purposes, and kissing Josh, her true love. This is the way the film had to end, but this doesn’t make the ending a happy one. Cher has found interior acceptance of her missteps, even if they only make agreement subjectively. Cher is, above all, a materialistic, selfish, self-absorbed bitch, completely unaware that her good doings only happen to make herself look and feel better. As we can notice the naiveté of the young idealistic lovers in Richard Linklater’s quintessential 90s Before Sunrise in retrospect, we can see the same thing in Clueless. Though I think it’d be a long-shot to ever get made, a Clueless 11-Years-Later sequel could maturely illuminate these youthful pretensions of happiness and acceptance, just like Before Sunset marvelously did. Plus, what's Alicia Silverstone doing now anyway?

All this aside, Clueless still stands as one of the wittiest, quotable films of the 90s. From lines like Cher’s response of “I love him” to her gay boyfriend’s question of whether or not she likes Billie Holiday to “Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as finding meaning in a Pauly Shore movie,” Clueless was what smarter (or more fashionably-savvy) kids quoted instead of Clerks. I could quote further, but that’d ruin the fun in revisiting the film. Sure, certain forms of teenage, 90s colloquialisms really fall flat: “Isn’t my mom a total Betty?” or “I totally paused” are examples. But, now, we can look at those terms (though they may have been simply created for the film) as we might look at a man calling a girl a “dame.” They’re certainly of their time. And, of it’s time, Clueless certainly was. It’s strange to find that the film works as far more than simply a cultural landmark in film and subverts its own glossy, colorful, happy exterior.


I forgot to mention, as I didn't have the Internet set up at my new place yet, the passing of master cinematographer Sven Nykvist, pictured above with Ingmar Bergman. He began his lucrative collaboration with Bergman with The Virgin Spring in 1960, which continued until Autumn Sonata. Nykvist shot some of Bergman's finest films (the Silence of God trilogy, Persona, Cries and Whispers, The Passion of Anna), in addition to working with Woody Allen on some of his later works like Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen's segment in New York Stories, and Celebrity. His other notable credits include Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice, Norman Jewison's Agnes of God, Volker Schlöndorff's Un Amour de Swann, Louis Malle's Pretty Baby and Black Moon, and Roman Polanski's The Tenant. He directed a film himself called The Ox (Oxen) with Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, and Stellan Skarsgård in 1991. His son, Carl-Gustaf, directed a documentary about Nykvist called Light Keeps Me Company in 2000. He won two Oscars for Fanny & Alexander and Cries and Whispers, as well as a special prize for Best Artistic Contribution for The Sacrifice. His influence on the world of cinema will never be forgotten.

25 September 2006

Here it is...

After a long delay, Paramount will finally be releasing two classic Bertolucci films, The Conformist (Il conformista) and 1900, on the 5th of December. The discs will be packed and reasonably priced (the 2-disc 1900 runs $19.99, while The Conformist is $14.99). Best of all, 1900 will be in its uncut 318-minute version. You can expect Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution sometime next year from Criterion.

Strand will be releasing François Ozon’s latest, Time to Leave (Le temps qui reste) on November 21st. The melodrama stars Jeanne Moreau, Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi, and Melvil Poupaud as a fashion photographer who finds out he has brain cancer. The film got much stronger raves than Ozon’s last film, 5x2, also with Bruni-Tedeschi.

If you’re in the mood for more melodrama, Criterion is releasing G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora) on the same day, starring the iconic Louise Brooks. The disc will include two docs on Brooks, and I strongly suggest also picking up Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Véronique (La double-vie de Véronique), also from Criterion, on the same day.

If drugs-and-crime flicks are your thing (they certainly aren’t mine), Magnolia will be putting out the Danish Pusher trilogy on November 7th, each directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The set will include the original Pusher from 1996, Pusher 2: With Blood on My Hands from 2004, and the conclusion, Pusher 3: I’m the Angel of Death from 2005. The discs are also available separately.

Nauseatingly, the Weinsteins will be releasing two special-er editions of their much beloved Cinema Paradiso, easily one of my least favorite films of all time, in November. The special-est edition will include the soundtrack. If you’re up for a disgustingly manipulative and “feel-good” time, have fun. And, yes, the discs will include both the U.S. theatrical version and the original director’s cut, which gives you over a half hour more shit to make you queasy.

Ryko Distribution will re-release two out-of-print video-nasties on Halloween, Cannibal Ferox (also known as Make Them Die Slowly) and Jörg Buttgereit’s Schramm. The discs look to be identical to the previous releases. Unfortunately, Cinema Paradiso comes out a week later, or you could have had a stomach-churning Halloween marathon.

Just in time for Christmas, Criterion will re-release Grey Gardens in a 2-disc set, likely to cash in on the Broadway play and upcoming narrative remake, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore (scary, eh?). The second disc will feature the Maysles brothers’ The Beales of Grey Gardens, which puts together additional footage they took of Big and Little Edie.

IFC Films will release Brothers of the Head, which I strongly recommend on November 14th. The film uses fake archival footage of a fictitious pair of conjoined twins who become punk rock stars. You can read my review here.

IFC will also be releasing Patrice Chéreau’s Gabrielle on the 19th of December. The film stars Isabelle Huppert in the title role, and while the film didn’t get a whole lot of critical praise, I hear both Huppert and the cinematography are exquisite.

Touted as one of the year’s biggest critical failures, Shadowboxer will be out on November 7th. How can you resist the sexual pairings of Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who’s really trying to get his Oscar revoked), not to mention Mysterious Skin’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mo’nique? Sounds like a winner to me. For additional fun, a cracked-out Macy Gray plays an alcoholic and a cracked-out Stephen Dorff shows his condom-sheathed penis. Read my friend Brad’s review of it here. I don’t know how you’ll be able to resist after that.

Oh, boy! Also in time for Halloween is Frankenhooker, which Unearthed Films will be releasing on the 17th of October. The tagline says something about “sluts and bolts.” Please pick it up and let me know if it’s worth my time. The title alone makes me wanna pre-order it, but I made a similar mistake with a film called Let Me Die a Woman!

Fantoma will finally be releasing the first volume of their Kenneth Anger box set. Despite the photo I’m using above, the set will not include his most famous, Scorpio Rising. So buy this set and convince Fantoma that it’s worth their time to release the rest. Plus, Fireworks is great.

Other Cinema is releasing video-artist Craig Baldwin’s Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, a film solely comprised of found-footage worked into a science fiction tale. My asshole film professor should be kicking himself right now, as he said the film would never be readily available to the public, and felt like fucking Jonas Mekas for having it.

For the first time on DVD anywhere (I think), New Yorker is releasing Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary (Je vous salue, Marie) next Tuesday. The film, which reportedly caused an outrage in the then-super Catholic France during the 1980s, reinterprets the virgin birth of Jesus in modern-day setting. A young Juliette Binoche has a supporting role as well.

And finally, Kino will be re-releasing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker in a more affordable, more aesthetically-appealing disc on November 7th. Pick it up.

And I’m spent…

23 September 2006

Fucking Shoot Me

I just created a long, detailed post about the upcoming DVDs for the rest of the year, and as I was finishing up with Tarkovsky's Stalker, Firefox decided to close on me. So, fuck. Fuck. Anyway, expect the list to appear on here within the next coming days. And if it isn't as detailed as you would want it to be, thank my computer, not me. So, for now, just enjoy the photo of Ms Dalle.

20 September 2006

Alright, students, hand in your assignments

Hard Candy - dir. Brian Slade - 2006 - USA

Every once in a while, a film comes along that doesn't allow me to forget the craft of filmmaking. In nearly every single way, Hard Candy, music video director Brian Slade's first feature, reminds us its a film, and not only just a film, but the collective work of several individuals to complete a final project. Try your best to find a single frame where something actually feels genuine; you won't succeed. Hayley (Ellen Page, aka Kitty Pride of X-Men 3) isn't your average fourteen-year-old girl. She reeds Zadie Smith, listens to Goldfrapp, and speaks wiser than her age as she tries to stifle her teenybopper quirks (or is this your average fourteen-year-old girl? I have no idea). She meets up with Jeff (Patrick Wilson, Angels in America), a thirty-two year old fashion photographer in a coffee-shop after weeks of Internet chatting (her screenname is thonggirl, a name that seems a bit strange and suggestive for such a headstrong, thoughtful young girl). She invites herself over to his apartment, only to drug and tie him, confronting him about the possible murder of a local teen girl and his previous underage girl shenanigans. The game of inverse cat and mouse ensues.

As nail-biting as the film wants itself to be, the constant recognition of its falsehood kept me from being interested, let alone shaken by the film. I couldn't help but think about how everyone involved was simply "doing their job." The camera-work screams of Slade's music video background and of so many horror films as of lately (Haute tension comes to mind), as he uses the shoot every-other-frame technique to speed up the glossy images. The performances by Page and Wilson are both fine, I suppose, in the same way Felicity Huffman's performance in Transamerica was fine if you see acting as merely a job of doing what you're told. Every one of Page's teenage quirks seem distractingly calculated; she speaks like a girl twice her age, but still gets held back by her own naïveté and youth. Her interests, too, seem like they were pulled out of a "how to be a cooler teenager than your friends" article from Seventeen Magazine. Even Sandra Oh, often a superior actress, feels false in her two scenes. But where the biggest trouble lies is within the screenplay. The torture and interrogation proceeds as expected, with nauseating moments where they want you to believe that Jeff has actually gotten to the troubled psyche of Hayley, only to be thwarted by her menacing laugh. She follows all the rules of a good kidnapper, such as making sure the neighbors were away as to not hear Jeff's screams for help. You can almost see the words, "cue giant gulp in audience's throat," appear onscreen in moments like these. As any regular filmgoer knows, she doesn't fuck up because she's a human being, but because the film wouldn't be nearly as interesting if she didn't give our "hero" a chance to fight back.

Though "socially viable," Hard Candy ultimately just leaves the viewer feeling sorry for the pedophile, something I don't think was the intention. While wholly calculated and contrived, what the makers of Hard Candy didn't realize is that we're meant to sympathize with the captive. Hayley's act of retribution puts her in the villain role, especially as she's inhuman and, essentially, a bitch. Perhaps the filmmaker wanted her to stand for some sort of Angel of Death or as karma personified (there's some moments in the final scenes that'll lead you to believe this), but it doesn't work. Or does it? Perhaps that bit of trickery is the only thing that really meshes with this cinematic razzle-dazzle. Or, it's just an easy way out of explanation, which Hard Candy does plenty of by the end. Hard Candy is one of those films you could see someone handing into their teacher as a genre assignment. Everything is "fine" about the film, if you consider "fine" to be hitting all the points of a job or assignment. Or if "fine" simply means passionless.

19 September 2006

Dinner for Three

Lower City (Cidade Baixa) - dir. Sérgio Machado - 2005 - Brazil

Two best friends, played by two best friends in real life, meet a seductive woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown and invite her along on their trip, only for both to fall madly in love with this mysterious woman. Sound familiar? Lower City replaces the classism of Y tu mamá también with race: Deco (Lázaro Ramos) is black, Naldinho (Wagner Moura) is white, Karinna (Alice Braga) appears to be somewhere in between. Throwing references to The Motorcycle Diaries and City of God all over its poster, you begin to realize that Lower City is merely a collection of reminders of better films (not that I'm particularly fond of Diaries, but it's certainly better than this). Director Macahado throws us unglamorous close-ups of the three central performers, places them in violently sudsy sex scenes, and expects us to play along as we go through seemingly endless cycles of pairings and torn feelings. At points, you think Machado is going to take us somewhere else, especially as all three actors are phenomenal, but he ultimately steers you right back to where you were before. Running a little over an hour and a half, you begin to lose count as to who Karinna is interested in at any given point and start to recognize Lower City for what it is: a seedy, unoriginal snooze.

18 September 2006

An Appendix of The Black Dahlia

Though De Palma's latest, The Black Dahlia, didn't appear to fare so well at the box office (it lost the top spot to some inspirational football movie starring The Rock), it seems just about everyone I know went to see it anyway. I compiled a list of quotes from people who did go out and see it, and though they're paraphrased, you get the point.

"You only think you liked Hilary Swank in it, because everything before she showed up sucked, and when something that didn't suck nearly as hard showed up, you latched onto something."

"I spent the whole car ride home talking about how much I fucking hate Scarlett Johansson."

Chris D.:
"Fuck Brian De Palma."

Chris B.:
"I told you it was in Mia Kirshner's contract that she had to at least make out with a girl in every project she does."

"Who woulda thought that the Black Dahlia would have been a subplot in a film called The Black Dahlia?"

"As much as I disliked the movie, I near came when I heard Scarlett described as a big-titted Dakota cunt."

"Awesomely disturbing and playfully generic."

"Well, at least I liked that snake-skin dildo in the stag film."

The Fucking Woman Behind Me in the Theatre:
No opinion, due to the fact that she answered her fucking phone TWICE during the film.

I'm going to review Femme Fatale again soon, so I can defend that film as delicious De Palma (Tom, back me up on this one) and show why The Black Dahlia surely is not. Oh, and... at least Rose McGowan was amusing in the film. Oh, and if you want me to quote you on here about The Black Dahlia, please send me an e-mail, and I'll be happy to.

More quotes:

"I'm convinced Scarlett Johansson's best performances occur offscreen, while she's being titty-fucked in an elevator."

"It sure made me sick."

15 September 2006

Dying Legends

The Black Dahlia - dir. Brian DePalma - 2006 - USA/Germany

The cinema of Brian DePalma is a curious one. He has made a career out of taking the formulas and motifs of other filmmakers and somehow created an art-form and "auteurism" all his own. DePalma has stepped away from his Hitchcock obsession in the past twenty years and made a string of films most people would largely consider to be failures; The Untouchables in 1987 was a wild success, and only Femme Fatale, in my opinion, has lived up to DePalma's potential since then. With The Black Dahlia, we have DePalma noir, a highly stylized world that never seems to take itself seriously. The background of the film tackles the infamous Black Dahlia murder, in which a young Hollywood starlet was found artfully dismembered in the 1940s, never to be solved. I say "background" because, despite the title of the film, you find yourself wondering at points what the film is really about. Despite the lofty ambition (and the general excitement on my part about a possible return to form for DePalma), The Black Dahlia certainly is not what it should have been. Instead, it's a messy, silly, confused almost-disaster, redeemed by small moments that can never make up for the rest.

Like Match Point, a failed attempt at a return-to-form by a once-great filmmaker, DePalma finds a lot of his problems with the young actors he chooses to try to carry his film. Curiously, Scarlett Johansson is in both Match Point and The Black Dahlia. Here, she's like a malfunctioning set-piece: a girl who certainly looks the part but can't hold her own on the screen to save her life. There's something strikingly "off" about her entire performance, even in the way she holds her cigarette. She's outdone (but not by much) by Josh Harnett, as the lead character, Officer Bucky Bleichert (with a name like that, how could DePalma really be serious here?). Below these two are extremely finer actors, Aaron Eckhart as Bucky's partner and Hilary Swank as the femme fatale. Both do their best, I suppose, though it adds to very little in any grand scheme. Swank really juices it up, and with the credibility Hollywood has given her, you may as well just allow her to have fun... she seems to be the only one here. As her mother, Fiona Shaw gives easily the strangest and most fascinating performance of the bunch, a snobby aristocrat with more than just a few screws loose. And, as the Dahlia herself, Mia Kirshner, though a horrible victim of typecasting, plays the sad-eyed tortured baby doll, a perfect choice for the Laura Palmer-esque role she has in the film.

Like so many directors who've "lost it," DePalma teases us with some amazingly-composed shots. In a pivital scene where the Black Dahlia's body is discovered, DePalma marvelously uses a crane shot to pan the entire block radius, exposing a sense of underlying panic within the seemingly calm exterior. Another important scene calls to mind the scene from The Untouchables, and though there's a moment of Dressed to Kill in there too, it simply can't do justice for the rest of the mess. Some critics stated that The Black Dahlia falls apart in its final half-hour, where all the secrets are revealed, implausibly and uneventfully. I would argue that the film began as a clumsy pile of ideas, so there was nowhere to fall from. Our lousy conclusion is just another bad idea in a scattered collection of bad ideas. There's a lot to be said about neo-noirs, and there's a lot to be said about DePalma's borrowing of style and motif, but none of it needs to be said in regards to The Black Dahlia.