28 August 2008

Noir et Blanc

Married Life – dir. Ira Sachs – 2007 – USA/Canada

I don’t remember Married Life coming out in March. I know it did, as I remember it starred one of my old faithfuls, Patricia Clarkson, and that actress who looks like a number of other actresses donning hideous white blonde hair (Rachel McAdams). But I don’t even remembered whether Sony Pictures Classics released it wide or limited, and whatever they did, they sure didn’t get my attention sparked. Fortunately, on a whim, I watched it and was pleasantly surprised. Unlike the all-too-familiar relationship foursome melodrama (Closer, We Don’t Live Here Any More, Carnal Knowledge, you know them well), it turned out to be a quiet little film noir.

What separates Married Life from your neo-noirs and noir throwbacks like Bound or L.A. Confidential, respectively, is that it isn’t concerned with the stylistic notions of the genre. Certainly, it takes place during the 1940s, the heyday of the noir, but it’s shot in blistering, shadowless color. In fact, it takes about twenty or so minutes into the film for you to forgive Pierce Brosnan’s narration and realize, “oh, that’s why he’s doing a voice over.” Once bored businessman Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) decides that he’s going to kill his loving wife Pat (Clarkson) to spare her the grief of leaving her for a younger woman (McAdams), Married Life really picks up.

Ira Sachs, whose previous Forty Shades of Blue was a snooze, really keeps things interesting in making Cooper, Brosnan and Clarkson just a little bit naughty. They’re not cunning or particularly clever in their murder attempts or affairs; only McAdams is salvaged of the gray morals as the angelical naïve girl thrown into the mix. In fact, Cooper is probably one of the lousiest attempted murderers I’ve ever seen onscreen. However, the three seem to all be decent individuals in extraordinary circumstances, a major component of the film noir genre.

Married Life is probably more akin to Sachs’ first film, The Delta, a slowburn menace of a film about a teenage boy of questionable sexuality and his run-in with a Vietnamese boy on the Mississippi Delta. The strange thing about Married Life, which works beautifully and which Roger Ebert noticed as well, is that no one shouts at one another; there is nary a moment of explosion, and this is what makes Married Life so lovely. Ultimately, Sachs doesn’t fill all his glasses to the top, but it’s still a rich surprise of a film, separate from both the intimate relationship melodramas and neo-noirs we’re all-too-used to.

26 August 2008

Plus One

I forgot to also mention New Yorker's pending release of Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, starring the lovely Sonia Braga. It should be out on 25 November, even though I'm being a little skeptical of New Yorker's DVD releases at the moment.

25 August 2008

More of the Same for Jarman 08

The Year of Derek Jarman continues in November, with Kino's repackaging of their Jarman related films. Nothing new, but nice to have the titles condensed into a more affordable box. The titles are his first film, along with co-director Paul Humfress, Sebastiane, The Tempest, War Requiem and Isaac Julien's documentary Derek, written by Tilda Swinton, on 18 November. Now if only we can get someone to put out The Garden by New Year's, I'll be a happy boy.

Additionally, blaq out, through Facets, will release Jean-Claude Brisseau's made-for-TV film Life the Way It is [La vie comme ça], along with a documentary about the controversial filmmaker, hopefully covering his bout in prison for sexual harassment which came about during the filming of his film Secret Things [Choses secrètes]; available 25 November. Magnolia will release James Marsh's documentary Man on Wire about Philippe Petit on 9 December.

Sony will also be releasing María Lidón, aka Luna's, Moscow Zero, starring Vincent Gallo, Joaquim de Almeida, Rade Serbedzija, Val Kilmer and Oksana Akinshina (Lilya 4-ever), on 4 November. Also, just to keep you updated, Music Box's Tell No One has been pushed to January.

19 August 2008

Flaubert, Huppert, Chabrol, and Friends

Koch Lorber will release a two-disc version of Claude Chabrol's adaptation of Flaubert's Madame Bovary from 1991, starring the incomparable Isabelle Huppert in the lead role, on 11 November. The MGM disc of the film has been out of print for a while and this version will feature a documentary entitled Isabelle Huppert: A Life of Acting. Additionally, Koch Lorber will release János Szás' Opium: Diary of a Madwoman, starring Ulrich Thomsen (The Celebration) on the same date.

Kimstim is releasing Yoichi Sai's 2004 crime drama Blood and Bones, which stars Takeshi Kitano, on 11 November. I'm sure you've heard about the November Criterions, but they will be Bottle Rocket (yawn), Chungking Express (yay!), Fanfan la tulipe and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Fanfan will be the only R1 debut for the month.

Synkronized USA (read: expect delays) has 11 November set as the date for their release of Liria Bégéja's Change My Life (Change moi ma vie), which stars Fanny Ardant, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila. Industrial Entertainment will also be releasing Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith on 18 November. Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World will be available from ThinkFilm on 18 November. And finally, New Yorker is releasing Marco Bellocchio's The Wedding Director (Il regista di matrimoni) on 18 November.

14 August 2008

Previous 10: Olympic Edition

In order to keep you all, and myself as well, informed as to what I'm watching, I'm going to post a little blurb like this for every ten films I watch, whether I've had the chance to write about them, felt the desire to write about them or can't post my words due to copyright. I've already designated a three-tier hierarchy for the 2008 films, and I think I'll revise that for when I get around to posting films released prior to then as three seems rather shallow. I don't want to reduce these films to a thumbs up or down, but for the films released theatrically in the US during 2008, it makes it easier for me to sort them all out by the time I get to December and have to make my best of the year list. So here are the most recent ten with an unintentional nod to the Beijing Olympics, as three of them are set partially or wholly in the Olympic village.

La Crème

The Band's Visit [Bikur Ha-Tizmoret] - dir. Eran Kolirin - Israel/France/USA - Sony Pictures Classics - with Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour

Boy A - dir. John Crowley - UK - Weinstein Company - with Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Siobhan Finneran, Shaun Evans, James Young

The Houseboy - dir. Spencer Schilly - USA - TLA Releasing - with Nick May, Blake Young-Fountain, Damián Fuentes, Tom Merlino, Brian Patacca, Michael Hill

Transsiberian - dir. Brad Anderson - Spain/UK/Germany/Lithuania - First Look - with Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson, Ben Kingsley, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, Thomas Kretschmann

Les Autres

The Babysitters - dir. David Ross - USA - Peace Arch - with Katherine Waterston, John Leguizamo, Andy Comeau, Lauren Birkell, Cynthia Nixon

Baghead - dir. Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass - USA - Sony Pictures Classics - with Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, Elise Muller, Jett Garner

My Brother Is an Only Child [Mio fratello è figlio unico] - dir. Daniele Luchetti - Italy/France - ThinkFilm - with Elio Germano, Riccardo Scamarcio, Diane Fleri

Summer Palace - dir. Lou Ye - China/France - Palm Pictures - with Bai Xueyun, Cui Lin, Duan Long, Guo Xiaodong, Hao Lei

The Bad


Lost in Beijing - dir. Li Yu - China - New Yorker - with Tony Leung Ka Fai, Fan Bingbing, Tong Dawei, Elaine Jin

Teeth - dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein - USA - Roadside Attractions/Dimension - with Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Hale Appleman, Lenny von Dohlen

06 August 2008

Love Has Torn Us Apart... Again

The Houseboy - dir. Spencer Schilly – 2007 – USA

I speak so negatively and harshly against what is considered queer cinema today that you’d think it was a total barren wasteland. Thankfully, it’s not all true, but most of the decent films come from overseas (naturally). Spencer Schilly’s The Houseboy is one of the few shining counterexamples of what’s become of queer cinema. The film, which follows a suicidal twenty-one-year old boy named Ricky (Nick May) who embarks upon a series of sexual encounters while his two older lovers are away on holiday, becomes remarkable in that it prefers introspection to exploitation; its crafted world is unmistakably gay, but doesn’t exist in the fabricated, glitter-lined vacuum of a heteronormative society.

In fact, The Houseboy is closer in relation to a film like Sébastien Lifschitz’s radiant Come Undone (Presque rien) than any of its American counter-parts. The Houseboy examines the pangs of love in ways not over-simplistic or reduced to farcical miscommunication. Ricky’s journey becomes set off by overhearing a comment from one of his lovers to the other that he wanted “a new toy” for Christmas. Ricky doesn’t respond directly to this statement and holds the flickering desire that maybe, when they return, the personable Simon (Tom Merlino) might come to a realization that the jaded DJ (Brian Patacca) is a terrible fit for him. However, the desire it outweighed by the inclination to kill himself on Christmas and leave his body as his final, desperate gift to them.

The surmised world of The Houseboy reflects the idea that a gay lifestyle cannot adapt to heterosexual norms of being. The film doesn’t hold a condemning attitude toward sexual promiscuity or casual drug usage, yet also doesn’t imply that these things equate to something altogether meaningful or even manageable for any of its characters. Simon and DJ’s leaving of Ricky at home while they visit their parents in Los Angeles isn’t a result of not caring (though it may be on DJ’s part), but in that explaining a three-way relationship, which isn’t seen as uncommon, to their parents, who exist outside of this world, would be better left untouched.

Though The Houseboy ends up exactly where you’d imagine it would, it’s hard to take fault in a film that is both perceptive and thoughtful in the journey to that point. The film was, according to TLA who distributed the film, shot entirely in the director’s apartment due to budgetary constraints, yet none of these constraints really hinder the film aside from a few flat performances from some of the supporting cast. In setting the film almost entirely in the apartment, one gets a certain Repulsion feel to the film, even if the results aren’t nearly as daunting. The film does, however, wonderfully depict the struggles of isolation. It’s really not often that a film like The Houseboy comes around to give a small light of hope for the future of queer cinema, so when it does, I’d think it worth mentioning, particularly as most of my writing about “New New Queer Cinema” is pretty damning. If anyone would be interested, I can compile a list of fine counterexamples to the Another Gay Movie/Eating Out plague.

The General and Others

Kino is releasing a fancy 2 disc set of Buster Keaton's The General with a new, cleaned-up transfer on 11 November. IFC will have Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely on 18 November. The Weinstein Company is releasing River Queen with Samantha Morton and Kiefer Sutherland on 11 November. Sony has Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure set for 14 October. And, finally, The Weinstein Company is releasing Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona on 25 November. That's all for now.

I Kissed a Girl, but...

This is intended to be a branching off of a longer piece (of which I haven’t published on this blog) about New Queer Cinema and its unfortunate offspring.

There are two unspoken rules in the worldview of what the Advocate described as the “New New Queer Cinema,” shamefully attributing an updated (and not terribly clever, at that) moniker to pedestrian gay genre films like Eating Out, Another Gay Movie and HellBent. At least in the case of Eating Out and Another Gay Movie, these films are distinguished by their gayness (not queerness, mind you) in disposition; the films exist in a world where gay is the substitute for straight, in which gay no longer represents anything close to defiance or, even, difference. In fact, this gayness thus adapts to heteronormative ideals, in a blind rejection of queer theory and what united artfulness in the New Queer Cinema films.

The first rule pertains to the idea that sexuality in flux doesn’t really exist, and worse, is worthy of ridicule from the individuals who populate these films. In Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds, we’re treated with a different variation on the film’s predecessor. Here, a gay man (Jim Verranos) pretends to be straight in order to sleep with the naked art class model (Marco Dapper), whose sexuality is the topic of choice among the film’s central characters. Critically speaking, the sequel falls into the same detractions of the first in its proclivity toward the display of male flesh and syrupy, easy resolutions for its otherwise selfishly gay characters (this includes the fag hags). However, amid its preposterous plotting, Eating Out 2 places the art model as the subject of mockery. His sexuality, which each of the characters has concocted their own labeling toward, is a joke. Though much of this could be chalked up to the fact that no one in this film genuinely cares about anyone other than themselves, it displays a rejection of the queer idea that sexuality, and really everything else, doesn’t warrant restrictive labels. We’re meant to laugh when the group, in sync, remarks, “There’s no such thing!” to the model’s declaration of his bisexuality, but instead I found myself hypercritical of close-mindedness of their remark. Had any of the characters allowed themselves to offer understanding in model’s quest to understand his own feelings, as opposed to simply trying to sleep with him, the criticism may not have been as harsh.

Similarly, on the nearly deplorable television program The L-Word, a sexuality in flux became quickly stifled for a gay restriction. Arguably the most interesting character of the show’s first season was in Mia Kirshner’s Jenny, the small town girl whose eyes are (of course) opened by a move to Los Angeles to live with her boyfriend. She begins an exploration of her own sexuality as her new setting provides the grounds for what she saw as infinite possibilities. However, when she finds herself having feelings for a man near the end of the season, the show quickly squashed those sentiments in the first episode of the wretched second season, brushing both her male lovers off the show and officially turning Jenny into “just one of the lesbians.” I can’t comment on the show as a whole, as the second season was so dreadful that I stopped watching, but through her, The L-Word rigorously adheres to queer rejection, even in its strife to be “different.”

The L-Word leads me into the second rule of the “New New Queer Cinema.” When dealing with questioning sexualities, it appears that women are more prone to exploration. This idea becomes an extension of the heteronormative world in which songs like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” is a hit single and films like Kissing Jessica Stein become popular. With the prevalence of hot-girl-on-hot-girl sexuality as a staple of 70s erotica and porn, its continuing appearance in both popular media and in “New New Queer Cinema” might suggest some unstudied fact that either female sexuality is more prone to shifting or that women are more willing to explore. However, neither Eating Out 2 nor The L-Word allows as much. In these “New New Queer” films, gay men repulsed by pussy is a constant source of humor, and perhaps even lesbian disgust at cock as well. And yet, female characters defined as heterosexual are always the first to take the leap to the other side. Is this to appease a straight male audience, whose viewing would trigger arousal? It usually doesn’t help that the women are, more often than not, physically attractive.

This “observance” simply perpetuates the idea that males examining their sexuality is best done behind closed doors, while women should exhibit this for an audience. When it’s displayed in these films, it becomes fantasy instead of reality and usually a tool for gratuitous sex and nudity. Rebuffing these films’ and shows’ ramifications toward an understanding of sexuality under queer theory as a result of being either fluff (Eating Out) or soap (The L-Word) doesn’t account for the fact that they have replaced the gay/queer image of New Queer Cinema. In this replacement, gayness has become straightness, restrictive and, as a result, condemning of the wealth of human possibility.