31 January 2006

Oh, the Coming-of-Age Subgenre

Thumbsucker - dir. Mike Mills - 2005 - USA

Big surprise, I watched Thumbsucker. Bigger surprise, I included a photo of Tilda Swinton in this review (pictured above with director Mills and costar Pucci... I chose not to include a photo of the director with Miranda July for obvious reasons). But probably the biggest surprise comes from the fact that the film really isn't nearly as bad as it might have been. Now, I haven't read the book, nor do I really plan to. As I told a friend of mine the other day, the book belongs in a sort of subgenre of books, which include Prozac Nation and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, all of which appeal to a certain just-into-college mentality that I do not hold. Not that either of the books listed above are bad per se; they work for what they mean to work for, and there's something to be said for that. Thumbsucker, as a film, works differently though. It's a part of the American independent film onslaught that we get, ripped from Sundance every year. I guess it's a good thing the whole Tarantino phenomenon has blown over, but, never fail, the world of young, hip American filmmakers has chosen another god in Wes Anderson.

My feelings on Wes Anderson are not simple. I think Rushmore is rather brilliant, though it appears as if Anderson, only on his fourth film, has already started making parodies of his own work. Thumbsucker interrupts the narrative flow with pastel pink backgrounds of its hero Justin (Lou Taylor Pucci, the cut up hitchhiker in the Fairuza Balk segment of Personal Velocity) sucking his thumb and opening magical boxes. The soundtrack is shamelessly hip, featuring The Polyphonic Spree and Elliott Smith covering Cat Stevens. Smith crooning to Stevens' "Trouble" may call to mind Harold & Maude and our lead character may remind us a bit of Bud Cort, but really the similarities go no further. (Probably because Tilda's the only one in the cast who can command the screen as well as Ruth Gordon did.) All the uber-hipness aside, Thumbsucker actually succeeds for several other, important reasons.

Let's just get my Tilda drooling over with first. Though she emerges as the best thing in a number of the films she's in (Young Adam, Constantine), she happens to be oddly complacent in this film to its fullest effect. It's as if she spotted something in Thumbsucker that she didn't in the other films, and decided to let the film go as it pleases, instead of taking control of the ship. And she does subtlty well! Her Audrey actually feels of this earth, grounded and (believe it or not) boring. All of this may sound like criticisms, but as you know, I hold Tilda in the highest regard... and she does what she's supposed to... well. Vince Vaughn (another shocker) doesn't ham it up as you might expect, and Keanu Reeves' bad acting feels perfectly suited to his ridiculous orthodontist, the only character in the film that feels farcical. And while Tilda is enough for me to like a film, Thumbsucker works because, despite its elements of unabashed hipness, of its earnestness. Usually this is poison in my book, but when you're used to filmmakers who've turned irony some sort of sub-art form, sincerity can emerge as a breath of fresh air. It should be said as well that the film wouldn't have worked without Lou Taylor Pucci's central performance. He works within the spectrum of this film as well as Jason Schwartzman does in the irony and sadness of Rushmore. Without his sincerity, Thumbsucker would have gotten sucked into the "indie flick" abyss... and though it probably won't be remembered in a few years, Thumbsucker shows us (or maybe just me) that earnestness doesn't have to be the arsenic your wife slips in your coffee.

Oh, HELL NO. The Oscar nominations came out this morning, and guess what, fucking Crash was nominated not only for Best Original Screenplay, but best-fucking-picture. Best-fucking-picture!!! I wish the Razzies weren't so painfully obvious, or they might have done the honors of having Crash as the first film to be nominated for both best and worst film in the same year. Paul Haggis must have paid off or fucked the right people in Hollywood, because this is just ludicrous (no fucking pun intended). Ludicrous isn't even the right word for it -- there isn't one. And who chose William Hurt to get the supporting actor nomination instead of Ed Harris in A History of Violence? And while Crash's nominations may be the biggest sham of the Academy this year, their exclusion of Grizzly Man in this year's best documentary category is unforgivable. Read this. Hey, maybe if Crash wins some shit, I can actually do something other than roll my eyes at Nicole Kidman this year.

In Your Stores 31 jan 06

I got some positive feedback on my list of DVDs coming to your stores this week when I did it last time, so here it is again.

Amos Gitai: Territories - dir. Amos Gitai - 1980-2001 - Israel - Facets

Though more famous in France than in the States, Israeli director Gitai has had his share of admirers. Here we have a box-set that includes six documentaries on a variety of subjects. The set includes: Field Diary (Yoman Sadeh) and Arena of Murder (Zirat Ha'Rezach), House (Bayit) and A House in Jersusalem, Wadi 1981-1991 and Wadi Grand Canyon 2001.

For more information click the links.

La bataille du rail (The Battle of the Rails) - dir. René Clément - 1946 - France - Facets

WWII, French neo-realism, railroads. If you're a fan of such, you might want to check this out. NOTE: Facets is releasing a number of other boring foreign films (and Philip Kaufman's first film Goldstein, apparently a student film pre-film school era) that no one asked for, this and Gitai are the only ones I'm including.

Bubble - dir. Steven Soderbergh - 2006 - USA - Magnolia Pictures

Man, Bubble's been all the rage, what with Soderbergh releasing the film and DVD (almost) simultaneously. This might have made for an interesting experiment if it were for a film someone actually wanted to see. Not that I detest Soderbergh -- after all, this is supposed to be a lot better than Full Frontal, not that it was a difficult feat.

Corpse Bride - dir. Tim Burton, Mike Johnson - 2005 - USA - Warner

I've had enough of everyone's fascination with Burton and Johnny Depp. And here they are again. Though I haven't (and won't) see this sort-of followup to A Nightmare Before Christmas, I hear it's better than Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, AND Big Fish combined. That adds up to about a good Vivica A. Fox movie in my book, but whatever.

Dune (Extended Edition) - dir. David Lynch - 1984 - USA - Universal Studios

I think the two-disc release of Dune is the official signal that this week's releases suck. After Alejandro Jodorowsky was fired from the project (though his cast did sound interesting: Gloria Swanson, Orson Welles, David Carradine, Salvador Dalí), Lynch became attatched and has publicly denounced this notorious flop. This version runs forty-minutes longer and is probably still despised by Lynch. At least you got Max von Sydow accepting his paycheck along with a score by Brian Eno.

The Early Works of Atom Egoyan Boxset - dir. Atom Egoyan - 1984-1993 - Canada - Zeitgeist

One source says it's the "Essential Atom Egoyan" box-set while another says it's just the "Early Works of..." The latter is probably more fitting, as the set doesn't include two of the Canadian director's finest achievements, Exotica, The Adjuster and The Sweet Hereafter. It does, however, contain some of his fascinating, lesser-known gems such as Family Viewing and Speaking Parts. Both films deal with with the technological intrusion of the self, and both are quite wonderful. The set also includes some lesser works of his, Calendar and Next of Kin, both not without their merits, and three lame short films.

Let Me Die a Woman - dir. Doris Wishman - 1978 - USA - Synapse

As the trash pick of the week, Let Me Die a Woman, a fusion of mockumentary and exploitation, sounds decidedly wicked and filthy. Since I haven't seen it, I'll just link a review from TLAVideo.com that gives it four stars (!), in which they compare it to the disgusting, vile, wonderful Cannibal Holocaust! On the IMDb, someone claims it to make La Bête look upstanding! Starring Harry Reems of Deep Throat.

Live Freaky! Die Freaky! - dir. John Roecker - 2003 - USA - Wellspring

Whoa! A punk rock musical about a puppet in the year 3029 who discovers Helter Skelter and believes it to be the book of the Messiah. With this and Team America, puppet animation appears to only exist in the form of political musical satires. Asia Argento, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, and Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Gos provide voices, but the real downfall of this project is that any wicked or pertinent stabs the film makes at the right wing will all be brought down by the fact that members of Good Charlotte and Blink 182 are also featured within.

Virgins from Hell - 1987 - Indonesia - Mondo Macabro

I couldn't find a lot of technical information about this one, except that it's about a trio of biker chicks in this Indonesian women-in-prison exploitation flick. Check out the website for Mondo Macabro for even more sleaze.

The War Within - dir. Joseph Castelo - 2005 - USA - Magnolia Pictures

For such a "hot" topic as suicide bombing and racism post-9/11, I didn't hear much about this one, about a man torn between the American dream and religious extremism.

NOTE: There are a number of other "notable" DVD releases that I didn't feel like putting on the list this week... like a Pink Panther Box-Set and a bunch of boring Hollywood "classics" from Warner. I figured this list was already populated by enough yawns that it wasn't necessary.

30 January 2006

Grrrls on Film

Rant of the Day: Foxfire - dir. Annette Haywood-Carter - 1996 - USA

A friend of mine told me that posting nudity would probably get more people to read my blog. So I seeked out a nice topless photo of Angelina Jolie for my rant of the day, Foxfire. While you may roll your eyes at her now, there was a point where Angelina held a captivating ferocity onscreen, a sexuality uncommon for your average leading-lady (though Foxfire was her first starring role). And while all of that appeal may be gone now, you can't ignore that her early persona was the only thing worth watching in this, Hackers, or Gia. Since you know what has become of Ms Jolie, now you can look at Foxfire for the burning bag of shit it truly is. Based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates (I can't get a visual of her sitting down and actually watching this), a gang of high school girls gather together to form some sort of sect after fucking with their perv science teacher. The group's lead by Legs (Jolie), a mysterious drifter who's ludicrously mistaken for a boy (no one would mistake Angelina Jolie for a boy). Her role is rather similar to Terence Stamp's in Pasolini's Teorema; her mysterious facade serves as the catalyst for the actions of the girls around her. When we find out her true origins, not only does the film lose any intellectual curiosity about her character but also allows for her to prove that her strong feminism is just that of a sociopath. I guess we were always right: girls can only stand up for themselves if they're crazy.

If you really care, the cast also includes Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, Jolie's ex-girlfriend Jenny Shimzu, Twin Peaks' Richard Beymer, and Kathleen Turner's doppelganger, Cathy Moriarity.

27 January 2006

Filmmakers Are Your Friends

The Virgin Spring [ Jungfrukällan ] - dir. Ingmar Bergman - 1960 - Sweden

With the amount of time I dedicate to locking myself in my room drowned in cinema, it’s only natural that I have found personal bonds with filmmakers, none of which I’ve ever met in the flesh. These bonds I form with filmmakers I can simply equate with the relationships normal people develop with each other. I know Wong Kar-wai like you know a close friend. We’ve been friends for a while… probably six or seven years, and I’ve gotten to know him quite well. We’ve shared some wonderful, beautiful time together (Days of Being Wild), and I’ve been there for the not-so-good times too (Fallen Angels). I think we get along so well because we understand one another. Wong never insults me, and even when I may have gotten a little to used to his antics, I’ve stuck it out with him. That’s what friends are for, no? He’s not my only friend, of course. What? Do you think I’m a loser or something? I’ve got some other really close friends too. They go by the names of Federico, Catherine, Akira, Woody, Michelangelo, David, Ken, Werner, Pedro, Roman, Alfred, and, yes, I even have a friend named Ingmar.

As strange as it may sound, there’s a certain warmth about Ingmar Bergman’s icy worldview. Maybe it’s that delusion of heat that comes from the extreme cold. But maybe it’s just that I know my Swedish friend so well that being around him gets me all cozy inside. The Virgin Spring is by no means a warm and cuddly little film, unless rape, murder and questioning the existence of God sounds like a lazy Sunday afternoon for you. And if it does, you too might understand my sentiments toward the film. Though relatively early in his career, The Virgin Spring is probably the last of Bergman’s “greats” for me to see. I’m too technologically advanced to even conceive of owning a VCR, so I had to wait for Criterion’s release of the disc to give it a look. It was not only worth the wait, but thanks to my long acquaintanceship with Bergman, I got to enjoy it as a person might enjoy hearing a familiar tale from a close friend. Since, you know, I’m not a loser, I’ve had parallel experiences recently with other friends. While watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger a few months ago for the first time, I erupted in vicious laughter as the quintessential Antonioni “leave ‘em hangin’”/"ohhhhh, existentialism!" conclusion unfolded. Though just as striking an ending as anything he’s done, it’s as if I were hearing Antonioni tell the same joke again, just with a new exposition. I also rolled my eyes lovingly while watching Last Days when Gus Van Sant insisted on including a completely unnecessary gay sex scene in the middle of the film. “Go right ahead, Gus, and get that little boy from Witness to make out with another guy.” Gus, Michelangelo, Ingmar, and I are good friends, so we can joke with one another like that.

The Virgin Spring opens beautifully. As it’s one of the early Bergman’s, his theatre background presents itself immediately. He brings us to a shadowy barn, where Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), a woman equally as sexy as she is frightening, stars a fire and opens the roof, quite literally lighting the scene. She calls upon her god Odin, begging for “today to be the day.” We don’t really know what she’s praying for -- but by the looks of things, it’s not something good. If you believe the Internet Movie Database, Wes Craven’s dismal exploitation flick Last House on the Left is apparently a remake of this film. Now, you know it’s not something good. Yet, as grim as The Virgin Spring may be, it’s rather thoughtful and aesthetically gorgeous (something Last House on the Left is not). Not that you or I would expect any less from Ingmar.

My kinship with cinema and its masters does not always prove as serene as it does with Ingmar and me. Maybe someday, I’ll tell the story of how that wretched cunt Amélie clouded my nihilism and filled me with a destructive sense of idealism and romance. But, that’s for another day.

26 January 2006

The Heart Isn't the Only Thing Deceitful

Since I've gotten some messages about The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things from my list of DVDs of the week, I thought I might post some more information about the whole hoax.

Check this article

I can't figure out if Palm was waiting for all the shit to hit the fan to release Asia Argento's adaptation, or whether this just happens to be oddly-timed. Will it help the film? Perhaps it might draw people to see it. But perhaps it also might make a mockery of the subject-matter itself. While I was never particularly fond of the book, the subject of child molestation never makes for a good time. Though maybe a film about the hoax itself is on its way. After all, "JT" did fool a lot of people -- including Dennis Cooper -- but the article never mentions Ms. Argento, whom I have a shameless obsession with, so maybe she's in on the whole sham.

25 January 2006

Black Me Out

Rant of the Day: The Blackout - dir. Abel Ferrara - 1997 - USA/France

Yuck. I really hate it when I find myself liking a film as shamelessly awful as The Blackout. Yeah, it's true, I am a sucker for eccentricities of Dennis Hopper and Béatrice Dalle. And I do think Ferrara's The Addiction is kind of wonderful. But, The Blackout sucks. And... I like it. Matthew Modine plays a cod actor, purposefully unlikable -- and he's got a secret; he just doesn't know what it is. We, the audience, figure it out long before he does. There's a real seediness about the whole production: Dalle was arrested for cocaine charges while filming, which later resulted in the French government denying her a visa for a role in The Sixth Sense; Hopper looks just as fucked up as he did in Apocalypse Now. It leads you to wonder if there might be some authenticity to the characters' obsession with coke. All of this translates well on the screen; after all, this is an Abel Ferrara movie. I really wish I could properly defend my liking of this trash, and since I can't (and since just about everyone I know who's seen it, hates it), I can't really suggest this outside the Dalle, Hopper, or Ferrara fanatics (of which, I'm sure, there are few).

24 January 2006


Rant of the Day: Son de mar [ Sound of the Sea ] - dir. J.J. Bigas Luna - 2001 - Spain

I've retitled "pick of the day" to "rant of the day," because I think by the end of the summer I'll probably have run out of good films to talk about. Plus, isn't it more fun to talk about bad ones? With lovely, loning cinematography and a fancy soundtrack by Piano Magic, Son de mar nicely disguises the fact that it blows. Bigas Luna likes sex (Las Edades de Lulú [ The Ages of Lulu ], Jamón, jamón, La Teta y la luna [ The Tit and the Moon ]), and he films it well -- but no one's ever really mistaken him for a good director. Though stars Leonor Watling and Jordi Mollà compliment the images, Son de mar is better suited as dressing for your morning pancakes. Skip the melodrama, listen to the soundtrack.

In Your Stores 24 januray 2006

In case you're wondering... here's the notables of what'll be in your video store (or, more likely, on Netflix or Amazon) this Tuesday the 24th of January.

Address Unknown - dir. Kim Ki-duk - 2001 - South Korea - Tartan Video

Tartan's releasing one of the last of Ki-duk's films stateside. I haven't seen this one yet, but hopefully it falls along the lines of some of his better work -- The Isle, Spring Summer Fall Winter... and Spring, and 3-Iron.

The Aristocrats - dir. Paul Provenza, Penn Jillette - 2005 - USA - ThinkFilm

100 or so comics (only a few of them worth seeing) tell the same joke about a family of performers in their own filthy way. Some of the renditions are inspired: Sarah Silverman, Carrie Fisher, Andy Dick, the crowd from theonion.com. Others are not: Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Lewis, Carrot Top, Robin Williams. Hearing Bob Saget talk about people eating cum and shitting on one another proves to be not nearly as funny or as ironic as you may have hoped.

Can DVD - segments by Brian Eno, Hildegard Schmidt - 2003 - Germany/USA - Mute Corporation

Fans of the Krautrock pioneers can rejoice -- now they can buy the 2-disc DVD set, filled with live performances and a short film dedicated to the band by Brian Eno, for an affordable price. This re-release doesn't include the bonus CD, but runs a reasonable $23 instead of $45.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things - dir. Asia Argento - 2004 - USA/UK/France/Japan - Tartan Video

For those with the all region players, Tartan UK has released Asia Argento's adaptation of the JT LeRoy memoirs on DVD this week. With a strange cast that includes Argento herself, Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder, Marilyn Manson, Lydia Lunch, Ornella Muti, and Michael Pitt, those without a region-free player can wait until Palm releases it stateside in March.

Once and Future Queen - dir. Todd Verow - 2000 - USA - Vanguard Cinema

You may like Todd Verow's second part of his Trilogy of Addiction, which began with Little Shots of Happiness and ended with A Sudden Loss of Gravity. Or you may have remembered how awful his adaptation of Dennis Cooper's Frisk was and choose to avoid this altogether.

Repo Man (Collector's Edition) - dir. Alex Cox - 1984 - USA - Focus Features

Yeah, Emilio Estevez used to be cool. A friend of mine believes that any movie with Harry Dean Stanton can't be bad... and, for the most part, that's true, especially the case in Alex Cox's uber-punk rock sci-fi comedy.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: The Road to God Knows Where / Live at the Paradiso - dir. Uli M. Schüppel - Germany/UK - 1990/92 - Mute Corporation

For the Lydia Lunch fans, here's her second showing this week on DVD. For everyone else, this DVD contains a documentary about Nicky and the Bad Seeds' US tour in 1989 and a separate concert flick filmed in Amsterdam. Also features Anita Lane and Jim Thirwell.

Sin destino - dir. Leopoldo Laborde - 2002 - Mexico - TLA Releasing

TLA brings us an homage to Buñuel's Los Olvidados about a street hustler in contemporary Mexico.

Thumbsucker - dir. Mike Mills - 2005 - USA - Sony Pictures

Based on the novel by Walter Kirn, a teenage boy can't rid himself of his filthy thumbsuckin' habit. Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn sound like a turn-off, but, as you may already know, I'll watch anything with Tilda Swinton.

The Virgin Spring [ Jungfrukällan ] - dir. Ingmar Bergman - 1960 - Sweden - Criterion

And... the DVD pick of the week: Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. Finally out on DVD via Criterion, Bergman's first Oscar winner deals with a provincial Swedish family whose virgin daughter has just been raped. Totally grim and unmistakedly Bergman.

23 January 2006

Un cheval andalou

J'irai comme un cheval fou [ I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse ] - dir. Fernando Arrabal - 1973 - France

Feature-length avant-garde cinema can be problematic. I’ve always held to the notion that the nature of cinema can be best expressed either in a short period of time (Buñuel’s Un chien andalou) or with epic proportions (Warhol/Morrissey’s Chelsea Girls, Brakhage’s Dogstar Man). Though a lot of films that fall under the umbrella may prove my next statement false, something of an avant-garde nature really shouldn’t fall under anyone’s pre-conceived notions of what something should or should not be. This applies to a film’s running time as well. At 100 minutes, Fernando Arrabal’s J’irai comme un cheval fou feels like too much, and yet not enough, all at the same time.

Arrabal comes from the Buñuel school of surrealism. His film is rich with sexual and religious imagery. Both directors often thwart gender roles, notably the Annie Lennox-looking girl in Un chien andalou or the main character Aden Ray’s (George Shannon) liking toward women’s clothing. You will notice other similarities in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first film, Fando & Lis (pictured below), as it is based on one of Arrabal’s plays. As Buñuel progressed in his career, the surrealism became more fluid into his feature films. None of them (that I’ve seen, at least) ever felt like a stretched out version of Un chien andalou or L’Age d’or; rather, he applied his fascination with the surreal smoothly into more narrative films like La Charme discret de la bourgeoisie or Belle de jour. J’irai comme un cheval fou is novelist and playwright Arrabal’s second outing as a filmmaker; his first Viva la muerte is somewhat of a cult classic.

It appears Jodorowsky had a better handle on Arrabal’s material than even the writer himself. Whereas Fando & Lis is rather fascinatingly bizarre and consistently watchable, J’irai comme un cheval fou doesn’t work. Aden Ray is a snotty, bourgeois Frenchman who’s on the run after his mother (Emmanuelle Riva) is found dead. He retreats to the desert where he befriends Marvel (Hachemi Marzouk), an uncivilized man who doesn’t appear to have ever met anyone else, but remarkably speaks fluent French. Go with it, the film isn’t based anywhere near the real world. Aden becomes fascinated by his relationship with nature; animals obey Marvel, and he can make things fall from the sky. In fact, he’s rather Jesus-like, and from the onslaught of Christ imagery, it’s not an unlikely assessment. After spending time exploring his more primal nature, Aden invited Marvel back to the big city and offers him all the money he wants. What follows is something along the lines of a clumsy surrealist Encino Man. Naturally, Marvel doesn’t fit in… and Aden can’t seem to figure out why.

Unfortunately, the images here don’t compel as they should. We see people in gas-masks and white robes doing tribal dances and having sex, naked children being executed, sexual encounters with a woman who turns out to have a penis, women getting ejaculated on as they look ready to receive holy communion, among other things. Some of these images have appeared in other films. The gas-masked sex scene calls to mind a similar one in Derek Jarman’s The Last of England; the woman with the penis plays out like a more comedic Crying Game. And while Jarman and Neil Jordan may or may not have seen this film, the elements work better in their films than they do here. J’irai comme un cheval fou rings painfully obvious. Had the images been less obvious or more striking maybe the film would have worked. But maybe boring, easily-dissected surrealism fits for what’s essentially an uninteresting, simple fish-out-of-water comedy.

Grizzly Woman

Pick of the Day: Haute tension [High Tension] - dir. Alexandre Aja - 2003 - France

A prime example of how popular American cinema (particularly those within the limitations of genre) has plagued the international circuit. High Tension owes a lot to the grizzly American horror-slasher films of the 1970s. For its first two-thirds, it's one of the most suspensful, grueling horror flicks in years. Aja composes each scene with the maximum amount of suspense and (fitting) tension. Unfortunately, High Tension also owes its demise to Hollywood's current horror mold. While it seems at first that High Tension is deservant a place with some of the great slasher flicks, Aja promtly kills it with a twist so painfully awful you almost don't want to say you liked the rest of it. Despite its fierce marketing campaign stateside, High Tension bombed at the box office -- though I might blame some of its failure on the poor word-of-mouth the Internet splatterpunk geeks gave it after Lions Gate chose to cut some of the gorier shots and dub half (!) of it into English. Aja's currently working on a Hollywood remake (surprise) of The Hills Have Eyes... and though his directing talent within the genre shows more than a little promise, he's also cowriting the screenplay with his collaborator from High Tension. Scary.

20 January 2006

Do It for Van Gogh

Pick of the Day: Blue Velvet - dir. David Lynch - 1986 - USA

I think everyone has one. Everyone has that one film (or maybe its multiple ones) that make you laugh maniacally before the jokes even happen, force you to shout out the memorable lines, and allow you to forget there was ever a time when you hadn't seen that film. Blue Velvet is mine. I can throw out some of the worst Isabella Rossellini impersonations you've ever heard... I can retell Laura Dern's dream about the robins verbatim... and I usually end up yelling out Dennis Hopper's lines before he says 'em. This proved rather irritating to the other attendees of a Blue Velvet midnight screening in Chicago one summer. Whatever, fuck 'em! I'm sure they could annoy me just as much during Steal Magnolias. Today is David Lynch's birthday, and I wanted to write about my personal favorite of his work (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me)... Somehow, summarizing my thoughts about that film proved futile. Maybe I'll get to a long essay about Fire Walk With Me another day. C'mon, Roger Ebert -- the receiving end of much of my friend B and my repulsion lately -- hated it... that's gotta say something.

19 January 2006

Gimme That Baby, You Warthog from Hell!

Pick of the Day: Raising Arizona - dir. Joel Coen - 1987 - USA

I wanted to be the first to quote Raising Arizona after hearing of Holly Hunter's birth to twins this morning. I usually don't bother myself with the personal lives of celebrities, but since I'm rather fond of the Oscar winner, I thought I'd pass the news along. Along with her husband H.I. (Nicolas Cage), Ed (Hunter) steals one of a set of quintuplets in probably the funniest of the Coen brothers' straight comedies.

2005 Forgotten

When making my Best of 2005 list, I meant to post a list of films that I hadn't seen (whether due to my laziness or that they hadn't come to Saint Louis yet) that would have a likely shot of making the cut. They are as follows:

L'Intrus [ The Intruder ] - dir. Claire Denis
Caché - dir. Michael Haneke
Breakfast on Pluto - dir. Neil Jordan
The World - dir. Jia Zhang-ke
Paradise Now - dir. Hany Abu-Assad
Nobody Knows - dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
Transamerica - dir. Duncan Tucker (the chances of me liking this seem slim after my friend B wrote a scathing review of it here)
Café Lumière - dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien
The New World - dir. Terrence Malick
Where the Truth Lies- dir. Atom Egoyan
Buongiorno, notte [ Good Morning, Night ] - dir. Marco Bellocchio
Saraband - dir. Ingmar Bergman
La Meglio gioventù [ The Best of Youth ] - dir. Marco Tullio Giordana
Rois et reine [ Kings and Queen ] - dir. Arnaud Desplechin
The Constant Gardener - dir. Fernando Meirelles
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - dir. Tommy Lee Jones
Comme une image [ Look at Me ] - dir. Agnès Jaoui
The Squid and the Whale - dir. Noah Baumbach
Junebug - dir. Phil Morrison
Keane - dir. Lodge H. Kerrigan
King Kong - dir. Peter Jackson
Eros - dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh
Wallace & Grommit: The Curse of the Wererabbit - dir. Steve Box, Nick Park
The Aristocrats - dir. Paul Provenza
Yes - dir. Sally Potter
The Devil's Rejects - dir. Rob Zombie
The White Diamond - dir. Werner Herzog

These all seem as though they might have some shot at being on the list, though admittedly some more than others, and all seem more likely than a few others (Match Point, Capote, Munich, Good Night and Good Luck, Walk the Line, Cinderella Man) that I haven't seen. Check out this hilarious article from indieWIRE about the 11 Annoyances of 2005 and their rather sophisticated best of 2005, with Rois et reine at the top of the list.

I also forgot to mention some of the runners-up:

Walk on Water - dir. Eytan Fox - Israel/Sweden
A fascinating look into the still raging hatred between Jews and Germans, from the viewpoint of an Israeli hitman (the amazing Lior Ashkenazi, of the wonderful Late Marriage). While thematically intriguing, director Fox nearly kills his tale with leftist propaganda of homosexual tolerance.

Broken Flowers - dir. Jim Jarmusch - USA
As a long time fan of Jarmusch (and a strong hater of Coffee and Cigarettes), I had my excitements and worries about his latest offering. How could Jarmusch really make a film distinctly his with Bill Murray as his lead? Every post-Rushmore flick starring Bill Murray Redux has turned strangely into a Murray film, even under the direction of mini-auteurs Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola. And while Broken Flowers doesn't suffer the same fate, I can't help but wonder what Jarmusch was trying to do. Maybe that's one of its strengths, but I found myself scratching my head.

A History of Violence - dir. David Cronenberg - USA
Unmistakedly Cronenberg, this cold dissection of our society's obsession with violence thrilled me at points, but ultimately never haunted me the way so many of his films have done in the past.

Tony Takitani - dir. Jun Ichikawa - Japan
Really, Ishikawa should get points for making the bold attempt at adapting a Murakami story to the big-screen. And while it works on many levels, the points he gets only add up to applause for the effort.

Land of the Dead - dir. George A. Romero - USA
I wanted this to be my "trashy" top 10 pick, but as it came out in the middle of the year, I've had time for it to escape my memory. A helluva lot better than Day of the Dead, Romero successfully advances his zombies and pulls the best performance out of Dennis Hopper in a long time.

Jesus is Magic - dir. Liam Lynch - USA
We all know Sarah Silverman's funny... and Jesus is Magic is a worthy display of her comic talents and quirks. In the world of comediennes, Silverman stands tallest over the ones who are either too irritating (Kathy Griffin, Sandra Bernhard) or too heart-on-their-sleeve (Margaret Cho).

9 Songs - dir. Michael Winterbottom - UK
Known as the chameleon of British cinema with his strange ouevre of lesbian road flicks (Butterfly Kiss), neo-westerns (The Claim), rock n roll biopics (24 Hour Party People) and documentary-narratives (In This World), Winterbottom garnered his most attention here, where he attempted to fuse unsimulated sex into a nostalgic romance between a glaciologist (Kieran O'Brien) and an American student (Margo Stilley). His attempt is admirable, and there are moments where the 9 Songs is vividly alive. Yet he never gets past the gimmick: the promise of real sex set against nine musical live performances.

The Baxter - dir. Michael Showalter - USA
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I followed this up with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which I hated, that I found this to be a breath of fresh air. Coming from one-third of the Stella guys (though starring all three), The Baxter is probably a lot more subtle than you'd expect and surprisingly sweet. Michelle Williams displays a nice comic talent (and singing voice) and is far more impressive here than in Brokeback Mountain; Justin Theroux is hilarious.

The Ballad of Jack & Rose - dir. Rebecca Miller - USA
Like Walk on Water, director Miller (Personal Velocity) kills The Ballad of Jack & Rose with her leftist propaganda (oh, really, urban sprall is bad?), ruining what could have been a clever, off-the-map depiction of a motherless young girl's coming-of-age on a nearly empty island with her father (Daniel Day-Lewis) who she's sexually attracted to and her new "step mother" (Catherine Keener).

March of the Penguins [ La Marche de l'empereur ] - dir. Luc Jacquet - France
Mad Hot Ballroom - dir. Marilyn Agrelo - USA
Documentaries need be extra special for me to go wild over. I appreciate them on their own level, but I'm all about the magic and illusion of cinema. And while March of the Penguins is richy cinematic, both this and Mad Hot Ballroom recall too soon Winged Migration and Spellbound.

And the rest of the films lie somewhere in a limbo of disinterest and quiet dislike.

Izo - dir. Takashi Miike - Japan
5x2 [ Cinq fois deux ] - François Ozon - France
Lila dit ça [ Lila Says ] - dir. Ziad Doueiri - France/UK
Palindromes - dir. Todd Solondz - USA
Heights - dir. Chris Terrio - USA
Samaritan Girl [ Samaria ] - dir. Kim Ki-duk - South Korea
Primo amore - dir. Matteo Garrone - Italy
Head-On [ Gegen die Wand ] - dir. Fatih Akin - Germany/Turkey
It's All Gone Pete Tong - dir. Michael Dowse - UK/Canada
Hardcore - dir. Dennis Iliadis - Greece
Liberated Zone [ Befreite Zone ] - dir. Norbert Baumgarten - Germany
America Brown - dir. Paul Black - USA
Sin City - dir. Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino - USA
Four Brothers - dir. John Singleton - USA
Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants [ Happily Ever After ] - dir. Yvan Attal - France
The Edukators [ Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei ] - dir. Hans Weingartner - Germany

And.... best of all, I may have found my film of 2005: Grizzly Man.

As I'm taking a class now on Herzog, expect a detailed review of Grizzly Man as well as rants on some of his other works. Oh, and some day I'll remember to include Oldboy in my 2005 rants.

18 January 2006

The Elephant in the Room

Pick of the Day: Heavy - dir. James Mangold - 1995 - USA

There hit a point somewhere in the 90s where American independent films stopped being.. well, independent. Flashy hipness stomped out quiet stillness. Heavy's cast might have suggested the former. You've got Debbie Harry (long after her only memorable film crossover, putting out cigarettes on her breasts, in Videodrome) as a diner waitress, The Lemonheads' Evan Dando as a jerk boyfriend, and Liv Tyler as yet another tortured "beauties." Thankfully Heavy was probably one of the less indulgent of her star vehicle transitions from music videos to film (for a more masturbatory counter-example, see Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty), though she's still the object of non-threatening lust here. And while Heavy hasn't stood the test of time, it's still always nice to see a film that doesn't rely on dialogue to tell its tale. And, of course, Shelley Winters plays the mother of Pruitt Taylor Vince and the owner of the diner.

17 January 2006

Salvation is Last Minute Business

Pick of the Day: Night of the Hunter - dir. Charles Laughton - 1955 - USA

Like a fable from Hell, the incomparable Robert Mitchum, as a twisted preacher with the words "love" and "hate" tattooed on his fingers (pre-Do the Right Thing), leaves prison to con his way into the family of his cellmate, who has confessed to stashing a large sum of cash without revealing the location. Looking for companionship and help with her two children, Shelley Winters reluctantly allows Mitchum into the family, only to have her sexual advances rejected by the preacher ("a woman's body is for begettin' children, not for the lust of men!"). Winters meets her demise, and her two children run off into the woods. What follows is a sort of perverse Hansel and Gretel until the children find themselves into the arms of Lillian Gish, as the religious positive of Mitchum's negative. With expressionistic cinematography that almost makes The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari look subtle (I may be exaggerating a bit), famed British actor Laughton (Night of the Hunter marks his only directing credit) created a film so uniquely bizarre and horrifying that no genre nor description can do the film the justice that it so deserves.

16 January 2006

City Life

Pick of the Day: The Tenant - dir. Roman Polanski - 1976 - France/USA

In my first of a handful of films dedicated to Shelley Winters, Shelley plays the creepy concierge of an even creepier French apartment building in the third installment of Polanski's loose trilogy of the horrors of apartment-dwelling (see also Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby). Truly one of Polanski's stranger endeavors, he casts himself as a man renting an apartment whose former tenant killed themselves and can't figure out what's going on with his bizarre neighbors. The wretched Joe Eszterhas borrowed a lot from The Tenant with little success for Sliver, but instead of dealing with any of the fascinating gender issues, replaced the Polanski role with Sharon Stone. If seeing Winters in one of her creepiest roles doesn't thrill you, maybe seeing Roman in drag or the lovely Isabelle Adjani giving HJs in movie theatres might suit your fancy.

15 January 2006


Weekend - dir. Jean-Luc Godard - 1967 - France/Italy

Approaching Weekend can be rather difficult, as it is like no other film I’ve ever seen. Rather… approaching Godard is rather strenuous. As the most notorious of the Nouvelle Vague gents, his films all seem remarkably different, even if you can spot his directorial stamp on each of them. What’s most striking about Godard is that his films, ranging from crime flicks (Le Petit soldat) to bizarre sci-fi noirs (Alphaville), none of his films appear to exist within the same cinematic world. One can notice the similarities between his first big success, À bout de souffle [ Breathless ], and one of his finer films, Pierrot le fou, as they both follow Bonnie & Clyde types in France (even the character of Pierrot is mentioned in Breathless), but it isn’t likely our pairs of lovers would run into one another onscreen (even if the iconic Jean-Paul Belmondo didn’t play both male leads). His style exists throughout his canon -- mostly through a series of interruptions in plot, whether it be text or characters addressing the camera. Breathless came before this. Weekend did not.

All this said, I don’t consider myself any sort of authority on Godard’s work. So much is missing in his DVD catalogue that I can only observe and comment from what I’ve already seen. And from what I’ve seen, Weekend stands as his most impressive feat (though I do hold Pierrot and Le Mépris highly). It’s a film about politics, about race, about class, about cannibalism, about Hell, but make no mistake: this is no Crash (I’ve decided to use every opportunity I can to trash that film so you will never be mistaken of my stance there). Corinne (Mireille Darc) and Roland (Jean Yanne) are married and enjoy tossing death threats at one another. They’re on their way to visit Corinne’s parents, to poison her father and steal his money. Though both are highly materialistic, they don’t appear to need the money for any particular reason, other than to just have it. They’re terribly bourgeois and thoroughly loathsome.

The film’s most famous scene, a nearly ten-minute-long single-camera shot of Corinne and Roland’s exit of the city through a massive traffic jam, occurs early in the film and would suggest their entrance into Hell had we not already felt like we were there. So what is Hell to Godard? In Weekend at least, Hell is a world destined to destroy itself in traffic, a world where poetry is dead, where materialism and misanthropy flourish. Basically, Hell is an exaggeration of Earth, sans conscience. Our antiheroes encounter a series of strange people episodically, including a snotty rich bitch (think Paris Hilton) whose gorgeous and rich boyfriend was just slain by a farmer in a tractor and even Emily Brontë whose fascination with the poetic world (and lack of assistance in the couple’s quest) leads Corinne and Roland to set her on fire.

Though at the height of his career, Godard began to slip shortly after Weekend, somewhere around the time of Tout va bien. Despite his contiuing fascination in the realm of politcs and cinema, is films became less important politically and cinematically as his message got lost in his own style. Seeing Tout va bien beforehand, I found myself bored near the midway point of Weekend. Godard loads Tout va bien with spoken political essays and theories directed at the camera; so much so that the viewer gets lost in the words. Near the end of Corinne and Roland’s journey, they hook up with a pair of garbage men who jump into similar speeches, about the state of imperialism and Africa. This scene is matched at the beginning with a sexual confession by Corrine. Telling who we presume to be her extramarital lover about a Bataille-esque sexual escapade (or is it a dream? Corinne can’t remember) between herself and another married couple. What’s lost in translation is the contrast between music and dialogue. For an English speaker, the scene is completely subtitled, and we receive every, naughty word that comes from her mouth. For a French viewer, this would be difficult, as the score often overpowers her confession. This is the beginning of Godard’s attack on his audience. Without the subtitles, the suppressing score infuriates the viewer, covering up key bits of salacious testimony. The dialogue is not similarly obstructed in the garbage men’s speeches; we can hear every word they say. Sure, you want to hear all about Corinne going down on another woman, but when it comes to the smothering effects of the United States and capitalism, you doze off. And I did. Godard shoves the knife in deepest when he cuts to Corrine and Roland on the garbage truck. The speech continues, but they sit motionless, staring into space, smoking cigarettes, simply as uninterested as you are. Godard does a more than worthy job of making you despise these two heathens, and now he’s comparing you to them! What an asshole. What a brilliant asshole move. Never before have I felt so wonderful being attacked.

Godard’s ambush on the class system and bourgeois assails violently. His attack on you, the passive audience member, arrives quietly and subtly. But it’s that's always blow that hurts the most.