29 November 2006

OH, no

The OH in Ohio - dir. Billy Kent - 2006 - USA

Sometimes, you want to slap the face of a second-wave feminist for allowing the world the displeasure of seeing a film like The OH in Ohio. Parker Posey plays Priscilla, an iron-cunted ad exec who has yet to have the big O. Paul Rudd is her doofus husband who's been stripped of his masculinity because of his inability to make his wife come. And Liza Minnelli is a sex therapist who teaches women to worship their vaginas. We've seen the I-can't-have-an-orgasm song and dance plenty of times before (most remarkably with Sook-yin Lee in Shortbus), but this struggle becomes the focal point of The OH in Ohio, one of the stupidest comedies I've seen since I caught the end of Eurotrip on HBO. The worst thing about The OH in Ohio isn't that it's a film built around a woman's farcical attempt to get an orgasm, but that the film thinks it has a heart and soul beneath all of this. Posey learns the same lesson Jennifer Aniston does in the mediocre Friends with Money, not to mention about a hundred other movies, and once she does all hope for redemption (on the audience's behalf) is lost. On second thought, I think I'd rather slap the director for putting the usually spunky, wonderful Posey in one of her limpest, shittiest roles to date (mind you she was also in a number of Hal Hartley films, Josie and the Pussycats, The Sweetest Thing, and You've Got Mail, so this is a crime indeed).

28 November 2006

A few DVD announcements

Criterion will be giving Vittorio de Sica's neo-realist masterpiece Ladri di biciclette the double-disc treatment under its direct translation Bicycle Thieves, instead of the singular The Bicycle Thief as it is commonly known in the United States. If you've seen the film, you'll know why this title change is necessary. If you haven't, here's your chance. The old Image disc kinda sucks. [ 13 Februrary 2007 ]

I mentioned this release before, but it's worth mentioning again. Warner will finally be putting out Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's brilliant Performance, starring Mick Jagger and James Fox, this spring. Think of it as Bergman's Persona only with dudes and with a lot more rock n roll. I had always wondered what would have made Persona a better film, and Roeg answered that: Mick Jagger. [ 13 February 2007 ]

Though sadly missing Kika, What Have I Done to Deserve This?, and Dark Habits (the latter two are available from Wellspring now), Sony will be releasing the Viva Pedro! box-set with
six excellent Pedro flicks (All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Matador, and Law of Desire) and two not-so-great ones (Live Flesh and The Flower of My Secret). The box-set will include a bonus disc. No word yet whether the previously unreleased Matador or Law of Desire will be available separately for those of us who already own the others. Also, no date for Volver as of yet. [ 30 January 2007 ]

You know you wanna see all those sexy people above fucking. Actually, if that's the reason you want to see it, you'll probably be disappointed. Anyway, ThinkFilm will be releasing Shortbus this spring, and as it's likely not to be shelved at Blockbuster, queue it up on Netflix. [ 13 March 2007 ]

I thought there was a bunch more noteworthy releases for early 2007 when I started writing this, but apparently not. You can expect a better release guide once better titles are announced.

Women on the Verge

Volver - dir. Pedro Almodóvar - 2006 - Spain

Though he only made one film with that particular title, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown could easily be the subtitle of most of Pedro Almodóvar films. Even if they’re not on their way to the nervous breakdown, they’re always on the verge of something. Few would argue with the statement that Almodóvar’s female characters are his forte, so who would be upset when he’s crafted a world where men, for better or worse, don’t exist? Returning to the form he used in All About My Mother, Almodóvar places us in a world where men only serve as catalysts for the actions of his women. These are not women that subsist in a world without men, but in a world where their dealings with men are always felt, but never actually seen. Almodóvar’s women are placed in situations where the weight of a patriarchal society (specifically a patriarchal Catholic society) has burnt itself into their lives. In Volver, Almodóvar introduces us to Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), her teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), and her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas), collectively dusting and cleaning off their mother’s grave in a lovely opening sequence, where hardly a man is in sight. “The women here live longer than the men,” one character explains. In this world, the women are left to care for one another as the men have all seemingly passed away, whether by natural causes or, more likely, at the hands of their female counterparts.

To call Almodóvar a feminist filmmaker feels strange. As both a male and a homosexual, he regards these women in his own particular way. Though almost always the protagonists, the women do not frequently play the active roles in his films. The active roles are most often portrayed by offscreen characters or entities. In Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the women are governed by the mostly unseen womanizer Iván. In both Women and Volver, Almodóvar is not concerned with showing us what happened as he is with showing us how these women react to what has happened. That nearly all of his women are fashion-savvy, beautiful, and extremely feminine isn’t a sexist view in Almodóvar’s hands, but precisely the opposite. He’s not trying to change gender roles or stereotypes but to show his women in these elements and adore them in their various states of extremities. And, no one, in my mind, does it better.

After dying in a fire, Irene (Carmen Maura), mother of Raimunda and Sole, seemingly returns from the dead to right the wrongs she could not settle while alive. She first returns to care for her aging sister (Chus Lampreave, a favorite of Almodóvar) and then shacks up with Sole, keeping hidden from Raimunda, with whom she holds the strongest need to rectify her wrongs. Volver marks the first collaboration between Maura and Almodóvar since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and while this is a welcome reunion, it’s Cruz who dazzles under his eye. Cursed with bad English-language film roles and a well-touted relationship with Tom Cruise, Cruz is finally given the opportunity to shine in the lead role (she’d prior acted in supporting roles with Almodóvar in Live Flesh and All About My Mother). Almodóvar’s camera adores Cruz, styled like a young Sophia Loren and fully equipped with butt implants, in every respect, making her look glamorous even as she’s cleaning up the dead body of her husband. If the eyes truly are the window to the soul, Cruz’s performance as the outwardly detached Raimunda would be one of the finer examples of this. Cruz hides the despair that becomes more clear in the last act of the film within her glassy eyes. Some might pick up the reason for her distant relationship with her mother early on through plot cues, but for me, it was through Cruz’s eyes. An actress that can convey all we need to know about her within her face and eyes is a remarkable feat.

Volver may not be as layered with wonderful surprise as films like Talk to Her or Bad Education were, but we’re not the worse for it. Though certainly vivacious throughout, Volver is perhaps his most transparent picture out of the past four. The plot follows a rather steady current that may be offsetting to the more ecstatic Almodóvar fans, but this isn’t to say that he doesn’t make each shift in plot feel as effervescent and fresh as his other works. The emotions provoked in Volver are not new ones, but because Almodóvar is such a wonderful storyteller, you feel like you’re seeing this story for the first time. Though it took about thirty minutes into the film to work for me, Almodóvar swallowed me whole with Volver, turning my staunch cynicism into the blissful ignorance of a boy who has just discovered cinema. It’s not often that something like this happens, and I can’t make a guarantee that you’ll feel the same way, but it’s always nice to step away from the clinical, academic study of film to simply fall into the screen.

25 November 2006

She said "Fuckabees"

I Heart Huckabees - dir. David O. Russell - 2004 - USA

I Heart Huckabees has always been one of the stranger failures of the past few years. When the film came out, writer-director David O. Russell somehow was given the title of “American auteur” along the likes of other less-than-five-film showponies like Paul Thomas Anderson and Darren Aronofsky. I mean, what did he direct prior? Three Kings and Flirting with Disaster? Sure, those two were decent films, but hardly worthy of throwing such a title upon Russell. He assembled a noteworthy cast (aside from Schwartzman) for what was dubbed an “existential comedy,” or a slapstick farce for intellectuals. Somehow, the film ended up being as deep as a plastic kiddy pool, but this was of no fault to the cast, as they end up being uniformly excellent. Putting notable dramatic actors like Isabelle Huppert, Naomi Watts, Jude Law, and Mark Wahlberg in a comedy as silly as this one sounded like a bad idea, but all four held their own against comic veterans like Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman (with Wahlberg being the real stand-out). Russell claimed to have made this film because he found Buddhism, so are we to interpret that Buddhism (at least for him) is as shallow and farcical as the film he made about his transformation? Or could I be wrong about Russell and his intentions?

I Heart Huckabees takes a bold stand, putting the philosophical and ethical quandaries that often serve as subtext in the foreground. “It’s like that story about the cave,” Watts exclaims during one scene. While this method works on certain levels, it certainly doesn’t on any grand scheme. Someone who hasn’t taken their undergraduate initiation course in philosophy might decipher that such schools of theory (as represented in opposition by Tomlin and Hoffman versus Huppert) are as simple as black and white. Seeing Schwartzman’s real mother, Talia Shire, call Huppert a bitch and then be chastised for her cruelty may inspire some tongue-in-cheek laughs, but Russell presents Huppert’s nihilism as the direct converse of Tomlin and Hoffman’s mere existentialism. One of the beauties of philosophy, even philosophy as taken from a novice level as Russell appears to be assuming, is the ambiguity and gray area that is absent here. I don’t consider myself any real authority on philosophy, but it doesn’t take a masters degree to spot the errors in Russell’s theories.

There are moments of true hilarity that occur within the film, especially during a dinner table scene where Mark Wahlberg challenges Republican/Christian beliefs with Jean Smart, but all this proves is Russell’s comic abilities. He can push amazing performances out of his cast (even if the always-lovely Huppert is underused) and mold comical situations skillfully, but with such lofty ambitions in a film like I Heart Huckabees, these feel like minor accolades. There’s little question as to why the cast was drawn to this film, but to have them acting in a superficial farce such as this is a grave waste. While watching the film, you almost question whether Russell is trying to criticize and parody these ideas. It might almost work, if he had a greater grasp on what they truly meant. Don’t let Russell fool you; the world isn’t black and white, and philosophy isn’t as digestible and frivolous as he might lead you to believe.


For Your Consideration - dir. Christopher Guest - 2006 - USA

As someone who watches a plethora of films like myself, it’s not a terrible crime to forget that you’ve seen a film. The other day, I was surprised to remember that I had actually seen the Drew Barrymore debacle, Home Fries, not to mention a few films I even moderately enjoyed upon initial viewing. However, to almost forget you just watched a film while exiting the theatre is a sizable offense. Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration is so forgettably awful that such a thing did happen to me. As promised, Guest uncomfortably steps away from the mockumentary tradition that made him famous with Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and (less so) A Mighty Wind, for a film about the making of a ridiculous southern melodrama and the attention Hollywood puts upon it. The usual suspects are all present, with Catherine O’Hara taking the lead as Marilyn Hack (get it?), a “veteran” actress making her comeback with the silly Home for Purim and Parker Posey as the actress playing her daughter. In addition, Guest enlists a few others, including a go-to-the-bathroom-and-you’ll-miss-her Sandra Oh and Ricky Gervais (BBC’s The Office) as a lazy variation on his David Brent character. Word spreads on the set that a Hollywood Internet gossip page has mentioned Hack as a possible candidate for an Academy Award, greatly shifting the mood of the production. The send-up of Hollywood feels about as fresh as last year’s Thanksgiving leftovers. From films like Robert Altman’s The Player to even Guest’s The Big Picture, another not-so-subversive satire of the absurdity of Hollywood feels terribly unwelcome. Sure, in a business that would award a film as shockingly inane as Crash as the best film of any year, perhaps a widespread reminder might seem appropriate, if it were remotely inspired or even slightly biting. Instead, For Your Consideration is a steaming mess, a headstratching train wreck that makes you question the sanity of all those respectable folk involved.

For Your Consideration might not have been as terrible, had the crew spent any slim amount of time on production values. Watching For Your Consideration felt like seeing a rough cut of a film that the director hadn’t yet approved. From grave, noticeable continuity errors to unbelievable poster art that looked like an eighth-grader’s Paintbrush artwork for a junior high film festival, almost everything about the film felt sloppy. Even small moments like a woman’s Oscar nomination for a French film called Le Cheval obscurité fall painfully flat for savvy viewers; “cheval” and “obscurité” are nouns that translate as “horse” and “darkness,” respectively, therefore the title would directly translate as The Horse Darkness, instead of The Dark Horse (ya get that part as well?). Guest feels unsure of himself throughout the film, unable to fully break away from his roots in mockumentary. Most of the film transpires in a series of ludicrous television interviews, from an insipid send-up of Entertainment Tonight with Fred Willard and Jane Lynch to a brief and unfunny Charlie Rose segment. A lot of the humor in Guest’s previous works comes from the documentary-style, allowing for scenes to go on uncomfortably, hilariously too long, allowing the audience to feel these emotions tight in their gut. Here, Guest edits the hell out of this “comedy,” pointing the camera directly toward what‘s supposed to be funny. All of the lovely awkward silences from Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show appear to have hit the cutting room floor, and what we’re left with is jokes about characters who’ve never heard of the Internet (“that’s the one with e-mail, right?”).

I would say very few involved in this film left the film unscathed, but as I stated before, For Your Consideration is such a moot failure that in six months you won’t even remember that Catherine O’Hara or Parker Posey were even involved. The only actor to not make a fool of themselves is Jennifer Coolidge, as clueless producer Whitney Taylor Brown. Perhaps because she has less screen time, which equals less time interpreting the lousy script, Coolidge’s scenes add some of the film’s few laughs, delivering pouty-lipped lines like “I don’t like to have the back of me filmed, so can you turn the camera off before I exit?” like only she can. O’Hara’s transformation from make-up free aging actress to a plastic surgery nightmare on the scale of Jocelyn Wildenstein or Melanie Griffith allows for an initial laugh, but this seems to be the formula for the entire film, a series of amusing ideas poorly delivered to an audience who’s grown too tired to care.

21 November 2006

Zombie Robert Altman

Famed American director Robert Altman died yesterday, and, along with Sven Nykvist, he's probably the most important cinematic figure to pass while I've been writing (I had nothing to say about Jack Palance, as he was the drunk responsible for Marisa Tomei's Oscar). He's the man we could have slapped for making the multi-character "we're-all-connected" sub(crap)genre (see Magnolia, Playing by Heart, Crash, and a bunch of other shitty movies for more examples). His films were wildly varied in quality, but no one's denying the man sure wasn't prolific. He made a few masterpieces (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, 3 Women), some overrated junk (Gosford Park, Short Cuts, The Player), some plain ol' junk (Popeye, Ready to Wear, Dr. T & the Women), and some underrated gems (The Company, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean). He won an honorary Oscar last year, because the Academy had goofed, realized he was old, and not awarded him a best director trophy. It's always sad when cinema greats die after making a lousy film like Prairie Home Companion. The same thing happened to Walter Matthau (Hanging Up), Jack Lemmon (The Legend of Bagger Vance), Raul Julia (Street Fighter), Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut), Federico Fellini (The Voice of the Moon), and many many others (expect this to happen to Antonioni and Bergman if they don't throw out another picture to wipe clear Eros and Saraband, respectively). Plus, how can you not honor the man who discovered Shelley Duvall?

Notable Filmography:
MASH (1970)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Images (1972)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Nashville (1975)
3 Women (1977)
A Wedding (1978)
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
Secret Honor (1984)
Aria ("Les Boréades") (1987)
Tanner '88 (1988)
The Player (1992)
Short Cuts (1993)
Kansas City (1996)
The Gingerbread Man (1998)
Cookie's Fortune (1999)
Gosford Park (2001)
The Company (2003)

11 November 2006

For my own benefit

I've been thinking about that end of the year "best of" that I feel obliged to do every year and how scarce the list is so far (when X-Men: The Last Stand is sitting in your top ten for the year, you know something is the matter). So, for my own benefit, I'm going to make a list of notable 2006 releases that might (or might not) affect the list this year (this year's "best of" list will mark one year that I have been blogging on here, so it feels kind of special). So, without further adieu (and in no particular order)...

Little Miss Sunshine - dir. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Volver - dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Babel - dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
Changing Times (Le Temps qui changent) - dir. André Téchiné
Marie Antoinette - dir. Sofia Coppola
The Notorious Bettie Page - dir. Mary Harron
The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing - dir. Barbara Kopple, Cecilia Peck (I know this sounds like something I wouldn't normally be interested in, but one of my most trusted film professors sang its praise to me last night, and as long as Kopple isn't making a narrative, I'm game)
Factotum - dir. Bent Hamer

Old Joy - dir. Kelly Reichardt
Heading South (Vers le sud) - dir. Laurent Cantet
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus - dir. Steven Shainberg
Jesus Camp - dir. Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Gabrielle - dir. Patrice Chéreau
Half Nelson - dir. Ryan Fleck
Infamous - dir. Douglas McGrath

Little Children - dir. Todd Field
The Queen - dir. Stephen Frears
Wild Blue Yonder - dir. Werner Herzog
Rescue Dawn - dir. Werner Herzog
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan - dir. Larry Charles
This Film Is Not Yet Rated - dir. Kirby Dick
Tideland - dir. Terry Gilliam

Inland Empire - dir. David Lynch
The Science of Sleep (La Science des rêves) - dir. Michel Gondry
Deliver Us from Evil - dir. Amy Berg
L'Enfant - dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
The Departed - dir. Martin Scorsese
For Your Consideration - dir. Christopher Guest
Candy - dir. Neil Armfield

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - dir. Tom Tykwer
Venus - dir. Roger Michell
Children of Men - dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Dreamgirls - dir. Bill Condon
Pan's Labyrinth (El Labertino del Fauno) - dir. Guillermo del Toro
Factory Girl - dir. George Hickenlooper
3 Needles - dir. Thom Fitzgerald

Time to Leave (Le Temps qui reste) - dir. François Ozon
The King - dir. James Marsh
A Prairie Home Companion - dir. Robert Altman
United 93 - dir. Paul Greengrass
The Host - dir. Joon-ho Bong
The Bridesmaid (La Demoiselle d'honneur) - dir. Claude Chabrol
The Devil Wears Prada - dir. David Frankel

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes - dir. Stephen Quay, Timothy Quay
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints - dir. Dito Montiel
Conversations with Other Women - dir. Hans Canosa
Drawing Restraint 9 - dir. Matthew Barney
Edmond - dir. Stuart Gordon
Idlewild - dir. Brian Barber
Lady Vengeance - dir. Park Chan-wook
Miami Vice - dir. Michael Mann

The Proposition - dir. John Hillcoat
Scoop - dir. Woody Allen
A Scanner Darkly - dir. Richard Linklater
Sorry, Haters - dir. Jeff Stanzler
Three Times - dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien
Wassup Rockers - dir. Larry Clark
Thank You for Smoking - dir. Jason Reitman
Quinceañera - dir. Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

I realize I won't see all of these films, and definitely not before the new year, but I found it helpful to make this list for myself. And, yeah, I know some films have a better shot at making the best of list than others. This is all I could think of though, any suggestions? Send 'em my way. I also focused mainly on fall titles, so if I missed something at the beginning of the year, please let me know.

08 November 2006

Now that the elections are over...

...it's time to start campaigning for the Oscars, of course! Race is hot this year, after that stellar motion picture Crash beat out that homo Brokeback Mountain. Gay: out. Racism: in. So, I think critics' darling Macy Gray has a great shot at a best supporting actress nod for her scene-stealing performance in what's looking to be the best film of the year, Shadowboxer. Okay, I can only put on my Access Hollywood bullshit for three sentences. As this year's Oscar race seems to be... um... strange, why not start campaigning? Everyone and everything is a dark horse so far. I mean, what's going to be nominated for best picture? Little Miss Sunshine? Cars? The Departed? The Queen? I think those are the only 4 films people have liked this year. Maybe Volver will have a shot, as it's less button-pushing Pedro, and there isn't really much competition. I may as well face the fact that Shortbus or The Descent won't get anything (though why did I even entertain such an idea?). So, I'm going to start my own Oscar campaign for Macy Gray (please don't mind the shitty photoshop job I did, I was in a hurry). If only I knew how to make videos from DVDs, and I'd post the bar scene from Shadowboxer on YouTube in a second. I mean, I need to spread the word, don't I? If anyone can assist me in such an endeavor, it will be greatly appreciated and may result in the filling of your pink mouth with a whole lot of ice cream. How can you resist now? Well, in the meantime, why don't you just go out and celebrate French heartthrob Alain Delon's birthday?

06 November 2006

Get on it

Shortbus - dir. John Cameron Mitchell - 2006 - USA

I recall a moment of my adolescence. As a middle schooler, I had a particularly strong fascination with the “actress” Alyssa Milano, forever known as Tony Danza’s tomboy daughter in Who’s the Boss? and, later, one of a trio of sisters who happen to be witches on Charmed. She emitted such uncommon beauty as she blossomed from girl to woman, yet still with a youthful innocence. I was enthralled to see she would be taking the Drew Barrymore role in the direct-to-video sequel to a film I once held in high regard, Poison Ivy. I ran to my video store on a Tuesday to pick up Poison Ivy II: Lily, only to then have this deep-seeded guilt take over me, as uncommon as I thought her beauty to be. The film played upon her image as the good girl, thrown into a world of aberrant sexuality and deviance. Essentially an exploitation film banking on the pseudo-popularity of the original, Poison Ivy II: Lily left me feeling unclean, showing me that innocence was meant to be preyed upon and that sex was dirty. To some extent, I’ve never really shaken those feelings, though Poison Ivy II and Alyssa Milano are not solely to blame. In so many ways, cinema (and other medias) has taught the youth (especially in the era of home video) how to think, and in terms of sexuality, we see that is a dirty, scornful act. Roger Ebert mentioned in his review for Philip Kaufman’s Henry and June the ridiculousness of it’s NC-17 rating, making a comparison to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Though the sex is more abundant in Henry and June, it’s more explicit in Blue Velvet; Blue Velvet was allotted with an R-rating, he suspects, because in the film sex is bad, sex is dirty. In Henry and June, sex is pleasure. So basically a film where adults enjoy having sex without the bad, naughty consequences is not the image we want to project to our youth.

In many ways, John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus is a revelation. Surely, you’ve heard about the unsimulated sex scenes, and perhaps you know that this was one of the stipulations of the casting of the film. Naturally, Scarlett Johansson and Hayden Christensen did not send in their audition tapes (though Mitchell admits that Joseph Gordon-Levitt of Mysterious Skin and Shadowboxer (!) did audition). Instead of acquiring star power, Mitchell enlisted real people, mostly untrained in acting, ranging from writers to musicians to friends of his. What most critics fail to reveal about the film though is that, not only is the sex a real afterthought of the film, but that in Shortbus, sex is not dirty. When compared to the works of the French (Catherine Breillat, Bruno Dumont, Patrice Chéreau), Mitchell’s take on showing sex without quick editing or strategically placed plotted plants greatly differs from the clinical, theoretical, or shocking nature of films like Romance or Intimacy. In Shortbus, characters have sex, but their sex best reflects both their inner conflicts and exterior ones. In some ways, it’s just something they happen to do, like blowing their nose or going to the bathroom. Before I even saw the film, I had told myself that I would spend as little time possible writing about the sex in Shortbus, but I feel it necessary to state the contrary to the onslaught of critics who have found nothing better to say about the film.

Shortbus shows its characters as humans, human beings brought up with the ambush of media, technology, Prozac, religion, and Republicans. Most of the characters here have reached the point in their life where something is supposed to make sense, where they’re supposed to understand themselves completely, and, surprise, none of them have. Like so many films before it, Shortbus is a chronicle of a generation, a generation of unfulfilled expectation and confusion. The central character of the film isn’t a person or a city (though New York City plays as important of a role as it does in Woody Allen’s aptly titled Manhattan); instead, the location of the Shortbus club/commune serves as the point everything seems to come back toward. Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) is a married relationship counselor who’s “pre-orgasmic.” James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy) are in a long-term relationship that they want to open up with other people. Severin (Lindsay Beamish) is a dominatrix, afraid of what will happen to her if she ever has to leave New York. All of the characters are products of our times. Sofia and her husband Rob (Raphael Barker) practice new age methods in dealing with their marital problems. James, always with video camera in hand, and Jamie want to break free from the constraints of heterosexually-created monogamy and, at the same time, not become gay stereotypes. Ceth (Jay Brannan) uses his picture phone as a mirror and carries around a device that finds his closest mate. In certain films, the announcement of its time and place by either cultural or generational colloquialisms creates an irreversible time stamp that can be both distracting and significant of its fleetingness. In Shortbus, these elements are essential. Like the 90s films of Gregg Araki, Mitchell exposes the immediate; Shortbus takes place during a very specific time and place, which, in turn, becomes a broader statement of not just the characters, but the generation itself.

Yet, to call Shortbus merely a chronicle of a generation would be to ignore its emotional depth and strength. Mitchell developed the screenplay and characters with his actors, and this is most apparent. Even the smallest of characters resonate with humanity and multiple facets. Perhaps because she’s given the most screen time, Sook-Yin Lee surfaces as the most remarkable of the unanimously excellent group. In nearly every scene, her Sofia shows us our answers in her face. Dialogue, though frequently poignant, doesn’t truly take us into Sofia as much as Sook-Yin Lee’s face does. There’s a large part of me that wants to reject things very fundamentally emotional or surface-level, but often I can’t bring myself to resist. Labeling Shortbus as surface-level would be an incorrect statement, however, as the film successfully investigates the inner workings of so many varied characters. Perhaps it comes from a direct relationship to the struggles, pursuits, and desires of the characters, but Shortbus made me question, “when a film affects my emotions, is it necessarily a bad thing?” If I find myself sobbing to The Other Sister, I’d say yes, but Shortbus isn’t overtly manipulative and strikes against chords that aren’t normally affected by cinema.

Steven Spielberg made a statement that, in Bush’s second term, filmmakers have become more aggressive and piercing with their work. Sure, he was probably talking about his own Munich and films like Brokeback Mountain, but he’s not off the mark. Shortbus is probably one of the more daring films to have come out of the United States since Bush was reelected, but not for the reasons everyone would make you assume. Shortbus makes the bold statement that sex isn’t dirty, that we aren’t happy, but, refreshingly, that there are glimmers of hope within our own chaotic world. If there’s one thing to “learn” about Shortbus, it’s that we need to find our community and that problems are not solved alone. The film certainly isn’t preachy about this point, but I've found myself wondering that it might not have been so bad if they did. If you leave the theatre with just a bunch of penises and vaginas in your head, just recognize that Shortbus wasn’t made for you.

04 November 2006

The Unbelievable Truth

Actress/director Adrienne Shelly was found dead this past Wednesday of an apparent suicide in her apartment. Shelly starred in a number of quintessential 90s independent films, such as two of Hal Hartley's better films, The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, as well as Grind, with Billy Crudup, and Sleep With Me, with Meg Tilly, Parker Posey, and Eric Stoltz. She also directed a few Woody Allen-esque films, including Sudden Manhattan. Most recently she costarred with Lili Taylor and Matt Dillon in Factotum, about Charles Bukowski. Sad news, indeed.

RETRACTION (7 November): According to sources, a man has been arrested in the murder of Adrienne Shelly, proving that she did not commit suicide. You can read the article here. This story just keeps getting creepier.