31 July 2007

Bad Timing

It's unfortunate that French actor Michel Serrault had to die around the same time two of the most famous filmmakers of our time passed, as mention and coverage of the veteran actor's death has been minimal in comparison. Serrault got his big break in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique, going on to star in numerous esteemed French films, like Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (Préparez vos mouchoirs), La cage aux folles (and its two sequels), Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud, Assassin(s), The Swindle (Rien ne va plus), Artemisia, The Girl from Paris (Une hirondelle a fait le printemps), and Joyeux Noël. He was 79.

The Eclipse of a Man

A dark cloud appears to be hovering above the world of cinema as two of the grand artistes of the medium have passed on within twenty-four hours of one another. First, Ingmar Bergman, and now, Michelangelo Antonioni. Would it seem fitting that the two were rivals and disliked one another's work? They both questioned human existence through interpersonal relationships, yet their worlds and their visions were not the same. Antonioni isn't mimicked as much as Bergman, but his signature and effect on cinema is equally great. Then again, why would anyone think they could do Antonioni better than the man himself? His passion was intense, and his films were always controversial from the near-riot at the Cannes screening of L'avventura to the boundary-pushing sexuality of Blow-Up. When The Passenger was rereleased a few years ago, one critic lamented that at one point in history, the films of Antonioni were part of the mainstream. Now, you'll be lucky to get a pompous film student undergrad to sit through his work. The world may have changed, but Antonioni's work stayed the same... and it's still as poignant and arresting as it was over forty years ago.

Notable Filmography:
Eros (2004) - with Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar-wai
Beyond the Clouds (1995) - with Wim Wenders
Identification of a Woman (1982)
The Passenger (1975)
Zabriskie Point (1970)
Blow-Up (1966)
The Red Desert (1964)
L'eclisse (1962)
La notte (1961)
L'avventura (1960)
Il grido (1957)

Other Assorted Filmography:
The Mystery of Oberwald (1981)
China (1972)
La amiche (1955)
Love in the City (1953)
Youth and Perversion/The Vanquished (1953)
Story of a Love Affair (1950)

Blow Out (1981) - Brian de Palma's ode to Blow-Up
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) - Don't tell me you don't see the influence
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004) - Documentary about the famous Z Channel, which aired L'avventura unedited during its short run
Vive l'amour (1994) - Antonioni's influence struck a chord with Asian filmmakers, especially in Tsai Ming-liang's debut film
Performance (1970) - Though closer in relation to Bergman, the film contains plenty of characteristics of Blow-Up
Phoenix (2006) - A gay remake of L'avventura
Under the Sand (2000) - François Ozon does his best L'avventura with Charlotte Rampling as a woman whose husband disappears mysteriously
Climates (2006) - Antonioni was a big influence on Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan for this film
Paris, Texas (1984) - Wim Wenders' classic, for which he took serious inspiration from Antonioni
Twentynine Palms (2003) - Hello, Zabriskie Point!

30 July 2007


It's easy to throw out referential comments about Ingmar Bergman's death today: "he finally lost the chess game with Death" or, as my friend Chris put it, "he's finally going to meet that giant spider in the sky." Bergman's films frequently dealt with death, whether it be the fear of the afterlife or the question of God's existence; in a way, his films were his own eulogy. From Harriet Andersson in Cries and Whispers, Ingrid Thulin in The Silence, and Max von Sydow in Winter Light, death was inescapable in Bergman's world. To call Bergman one of the finest filmmakers of all time seems redundant, as this is fairly widely recognized, but it's no overstatement. He was consistent and prolific, churning out some of the most wrenching and memorable films ever committed to the screen in quick succession. He became known internationally with his romantic comedy, Smiles of a Summer Night, but truly executed his signature later with The Virgin Spring, his Silence of God trilogy, and meta nightmares like Persona. He won three Academy Awards, for The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, and his final opus Fanny and Alexander (he announced that to be his final film, but followed it with small made-for-Swedish-television dramas and Saraband, a sequel to his famed Scenes from a Marriage). Women were always the subject of fascination and intrigue from Liv Ullmann, Andersson, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, and Gunnel Lindblom; Bergman's obsession proved unforgettable and influential to filmmakers from Woody Allen even to Pedro Almodóvar. His death came as no surprise this morning, but it offered a fine time for reflection on his work... He was 89.

Notable Filmography:
Saraband (2003)
Fanny & Alexander (1982)
Autumn Sonata (1978)
The Magic Flute (1975)
Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
Cries and Whispers (1972)
The Passion of Anna (1969)
Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Persona (1966)
The Silence (1963)
Winter Light (1962)
Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
The Virgin Spring (1960)
The Magician (1958)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Summer with Monika (1953)

Other Assorted Filmography:
After the Rehearsal (1984)
From the Life of the Marionettes (1980)
The Serpent's Egg (1977)
Shame (1968)
All These Women (1964)
Brink of Life (1958)
Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)
To Joy (1950)
Thirst (1949)
Port of Call (1948)
Crisis (1946)

Deconstructing Harry (1997) - Woody Allen's version of Wild Strawberries
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) - Allen's loose adaptation of Cries and Whispers
Interiors (1978) - Another Allen rendition of Cries and Whispers/Persona
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) - Allen's Smiles of a Summer Night
Manhattan (1979) - Contains the wonderful argument between Allen and Diane Keaton over Bergman
Husbands and Wives (1992) - Allen's Scenes from a Marriage
Scenes from a Mall (1991) - Paul Mazursky comedy with Bette Midler and Allen, sort of influenced by Marriage
Torremolinos 73 (2003) - Spanish comedy where a man decides to direct a porn film in Bergman-style
Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1963) - Vilgot Sjöman's (I Am Curious: Yellow) documentary
Light Keeps Me Company (2000) - Documentary about Bergman's cinematographer, Sven Nykvist
Torment (1944) - Bergman's first screenplay
Faithless (2000) - Liv Ullmann's film from a Bergman screenplay
Performance (1970) - Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's male equivalent of Persona
3 Women (1977) - Robert Altman's pseudo-remake of Persona with Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall
Mulholland Drive (2001) - David Lynch's homage to Persona
Un chien andalou (1929) - Notice Bergman's reference to this film in the opening montage of Persona
Me Without You (2001) - There's a humorous moment in the film where Kyle Maclachlan blasts a young girl vying for his affection for responding Wild Strawberries, the typical response, for what her favorite Bergman film is.

Bergman's mark on cinema is far more expansive than this list (especially Scenes from a Marriage and Persona), but there's a starting point if you want to investigate further.

28 July 2007

Iced nipples

So, it's taken me about a week to post this, but better late than never. Ulrich Mühe, one of Germany's finest actors, passed away from stomach cancer this past weekend. Mühe starred in The Lives of Others as well as three Michael Haneke films (Funny Games, Benny's Video, and The Castle). He was truly be missed.

On a happier note, the day has come again... Nomi Malone's birthday! I will be spending the finer part of the evening with her and a bottle of the finest champagne I can find at the 24 hour grocery store. Do a couple of lines and ice them nipples up for what's sure to be a good time tonight.

24 July 2007

Papa, don't preach

Joshua - dir. George Ratliff - 2007 - USA

The truth is scarier than fiction, as they say, and director George Ratliff truly exemplified that with his first film, Hell House, a documentary about a sect of Christians who, infamously, design a haunted house with real-life terrors (abortion! homosexuality! the horror!) as the spooky attraction. Though told with a surprisingly unbiased eye, his subject is the sort of sick shit than not even John Waters would have thought up. With Joshua, Ratliff directs his first narrative feature, a pseudo-horror film that fronts as an all-too-familiar tale of a possibly demonic child. Creepy kids have been a staple in horror films for decades, and in the post-Sixth Sense arena of horror, a whispery child who sees ghosts really feels tired. Joshua, however, revels in preconceived horror notions to dissect the fears of parenting as seen through Brad (Sam Rockwell) and Abby (Vera Farmiga) Cairn, the not-so-proud parents of a new baby girl.

Ratliff opens Joshua with an overload of the familiar: young couple, expecting child, in beautiful Manhattan apartment (Rosemary’s Baby) with a stoic, creepy nine-year-old (The Omen) who vomits all over the floor during one of the early scenes (The Exorcist). The set-up might have been annoying if Ratliff didn’t pack this and subsequent scenes with so much tension and aggravation that you can’t help but squirm in your seat. The unveiling of the new baby to Brad’s parents (Celia Weston, Tom Bloom) and Abby’s brother Ned (Dallas Roberts) proves awkward, to say the least, in a sequence that overshadows the most irritating, overlapped-dialogue moment in Gosford Park. The characters vie for the attention of one another from Brad’s mother’s desire to hold the baby, her suggestion of baptism to the organized-religion-fearing couple, the interruptions of Joshua’s (Jacob Kogan) showboat piano-playing, and Brad and Ned’s desire to keep everyone on level ground. Instead of vying for the camera, Ratliff overlaps each family members’ self-importance, creating a swirling, almost repellent depiction of a family that cannot escape their own selves to relate with anyone else in the room. Like one of the final scenes in Neil Marshall’s The Descent, when Joshua vomits on the ground at the end of the scene, it’s hard not to share in his nausea and exasperation (though this is probably the only moment in the film where Joshua is the sympathetic one). This scene truly lays out the themes of the film in retrospect, painting the fears of each individual succinctly as they all crash into one another.

Joshua is a wholly contemporary horror film unlike any of its recent peers. Instead of bothering us with demons and ghosts, Ratliff attacks the almost palpable fears of modern parenting, raising questions so few people dare to ask, like “what happens if you can’t relate to your child?“ or even “what if you hate your child?” When Brad and Abby look at Joshua, they see a stranger, someone so fundamentally different from them that they almost question whether or not he came from their loins. Every point of dialogue between Joshua and parent resonates with confusion and the fear of not saying “the right thing.” When Abby becomes overwhelmed with the baby and Joshua to the point of psychosis, we see post-partum depression amplified on full volume. When Brad and Abby attend a school recital for Joshua, we see the empty bourgeoisie so alarmingly. And when Brad converses with his boss (Michael McKean), office life is reduced to painful inhumanity. In some ways, Ratliff puts too much on his plate (not to mention Kogan as the title character being quite bad), as the film becomes wearisome near the end, but Joshua never ceases to be unnerving in ways wholly realistic. Shine your shoes and pick a double-feature of this and William Friedkin’s Bug if you want truly unsettling depictions of contemporary fear in cinema.

Note: Some discussion has been brought up via the Internet (though I doubt the Internet Movie Database message boards qualify as worthy examination of cinema) about whether or not Joshua is both homophobic and sexist. Sexuality is never presented directly in the film, and all accusations of a homophobic read of the film are from mere implication (does liking classical music and hating sports make you gay? I really can’t say). As for the sexism, I think the claim is completely unfounded. People often forget that characters in film are seldom meant to be looked at as a paradigms of society as a whole. Even if we are to interpret Brad and Abby’s disconnection with their son as a result of his latent homosexuality, I can hardly accuse them or the filmmaker of any ulterior motives that are barely present in the film itself.

And PS: (spoiler alert!) try to find a more deliciously perverse scene in a film this year than Vera Farmiga's recollection to Joshua of how a pair of knee-high red boots made her feel sexy whilst rubbing blood up her leg.

16 July 2007

Criterion in October

As promised, Criterion will officially be releasing Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless in October. Also bowing that month will be Gus Van Sant's Mala Noche, which is in small rotation from Janus Films theatrically right now, and Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. John Huston's Under the Volcano, with Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset, will round out the titles for the exciting month.

14 July 2007

We had a promise made; we were in love

What is swirling around in the iPod of the film-obsessed? I have no idea, but I did know a guy who listened almost solely to John Williams scores (barf). If it were Ennio Morricone, I might have let it slide, particularly the scores for Red Sonja and Teorema.

Anyway, here are the top plays on my iPod:

The Verve - Make It till Monday
Interpol - The Scale
The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health
Stevie Nicks - Edge of Seventeen (you betcha, asshole)
Televise - If I Told You
Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra - Some Velvet Morning
Grace Jones - Love Is the Drug
Queens of the Stone Age - Sick, Sick, Sick
Ride - Silver
The The - Slow Emotion Replay
Amy Winehouse - Me & Mr. Jones
The Who - A Quick One While He's Away (Rock n Roll Circus version)
I Am Kloot - Loch
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Another Day Full of Dread
Lanterna - Canyons
M83 - In the Cold I'm Standing
Animal Collective - Visiting Friends

07 July 2007

Coming soon...

My computer should be on its way to the shop any day now, so the updates will not be as frequent as they once were (this also explains the near drought of posts in the month of June). What you can expect, however, is a review of Dušan Makavejev’s amazing Sweet Movie, with comparisons to Lukas Moodysson’s A Hole in My Heart and other gluttonous classics. Also, his WR: Mysteries of the Organism with a nod to Bruce LaBruce’s The Raspberry Reich. I have already written a review of Zoe Cassavetes’ Broken English, with the amazing Parker Posey who, with Fay Grim and this, is my pick of actress of the year. A review of Joshua, the first narrative feature from the director of Hell House, starring Vera Farmiga and Sam Rockwell, will be available soon as well. Hopefully, all will be patient with my computer ailments, or perhaps I may trek over to my parents’ house more often to write. We’ll see.

01 July 2007

Béatrice Dalle, Isabelle Huppert, Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, Tilda Swinton, Jean-Luc Godard, and Rose McGowan - what could be better?

Palm Pictures will be releasing Rolf de Heer's critically-acclaimed Ten Canoes on the 25th of September. Jim Jarmusch fans can also get Criterion's releases of Stranger than Paradise and Night on Earth the same day. The Stranger than Paradise release will also include Jarmusch's first film, Permanent Vacation, which has never been available in the United States before.

Lars von Trier's comedy The Boss of It All will be available the week prior, the 18th, from IFC Films, as well as ThinkFilm's horse-fucking doc Zoo. Warner will be releasing the long-overdue trash opus Cruising with Al Pacino and a special 2-disc edition of Deliverance.

New Yorker will officially have Private Property with Isabelle Huppert on the shelves on September 11th; this release seems to be far more official than their announcement of Six in Paris for the end of July (NY has already delayed Peter Watkins' The Freethinker). Sarah Polley's Away from Her and Adrienne Shelley's Waitress will tentatively be available on this date also. Chiming in on the praise she's gotten for La vie en rose, Koch/Synkronized USA will release the 2001 French film, Pretty Things, with Marion Cotillard the same day.

Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barely, the Palme d'Or winner of last year, will be out on the 4th of September after being postponed from July. You can also expect Stephanie Daley, a drama with Tilda Swinton, from some devision of Genius Products this week.

Tartan release Red Road, which I wrote about the other day, on August 28th, in case you missed it when it briefly came to your town. Andrzej Żuławski's On the Silver Globe, a highly controversial, never officially completed sci-fi Jesus tale will be available from Facets. Joe Swanberg's (Kissing on the Mouth) LOL will be the first release from Benten Films, and Docurama will have Air Guitar Nation out the same day.

On August 21st, expect Michael Haneke's The Castle, based on Kafka, from Kino. On the same day, you can pick up the boxset we all were waiting for with Kino's last batch of Haneke discs. The box will include The Piano Teacher, Funny Games, The Castle, Code Unknown, The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, retailing around $100. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Oscar-winning The Lives of Others (also starring Ulrich Muhe of The Castle) and Luis Bunuel's The Milky Way will bow the same day.

The 14th will bring Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres and The Lookout, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as well as Eclipse's Early Films of Samuel Fuller.

On the 7th of August, Lionsgate will rerelease Gregg Araki's The Doom Generation, surely an improvement over Trimark's grainy, full-frame edition.

Unofficially, from the Weinstein Company, Dirty Sanchez: The Movie, in an uncut version, will be available on the 11th of September. They've not officially announced it, but most Internet sources are pointing toward the 19th of September for a two-disc edition of Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino's entry in Grindhouse, with the "missing reel" added back in. It will likely be the Cannes extended version, which wasn't well-received by the French, but no word has surfaced about either Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror or a double-bill. Also on the Weinstein/Tarantino rumor mill is a 4-disc, integrated Kill Bill for November. This is a highly debated release, as most sources claim it to be pure fiction. We'll see if the Weinsteins officially announce it in the coming months or not. According to a few websites, Lionsgate will be throwing out its first Godard box-set after its acquisition of Studio Canal for the North American territory. You can read more about it on Eric's blog.

Sorry for the dry rundown, but I'm working on something larger to occupy my time.