27 February 2007

Sing me to sleep

Hope you had fun falling asleep at the Oscars this year... again. At least we can now fix that Shadowboxer trailer that states Academy Award Winner Cuba Gooding Jr. and Academy Award Nominee Helen Mirren... it's been a long time coming. I will post a link to my interview with winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of the best foreign film The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), within the week. Until then, just enjoy Faye Dunaway.

20 February 2007

Whatta Jackass.

Ron Howard, a man who may have only made one decent film in his entire career and a director responsible for such shitfests as The Da Vinci Code, Far and Away, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, is reportedly interested in remaking Michael Haneke's Caché, which would make for the second Haneke remake in the works (Haneke himself is currently directing an English-language Funny Games with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). In the article I read he really wants to up the suspense and consequences of the film, which sounds positively nauseating. The Razzies website described The Da Vinci Code as a thriller that thrilled no one but its financiers, so we know what Howard can do with suspense. Let's hope this falls off the radar, as Tom Cruise's remake of the Pang brothers' The Eye has not (Jessica Alba, groan, is set to star). Didn't anyone see the extreme failures of Pulse and The Grudge 2, two other Hollywood remakes? Forget Caché, Howard, and work on that Arrested Development film, for fuck's sake.

13 February 2007


I’ve always been opposed to the grading of films on any scale you can throw at me, whether it be on a star- or academic-scale. My mind changes too often, and frequently my grade/rating changes within the day or so. I can’t do the A/B/C/D/F scale, because technically an F is 69 out of 100 or lower, and most films fall under that category for me. I was only half-impressed with Breathless, so does it deserve the same rating as The Hills Have Eyes remake? I’d say no. With this said, I do rate films on my Netflix account, more to allow my friends to see what I’ve seen and whether it was shit or not. Often there, ratings are changed like crazy. Is The Departed a four- or three-star film? Can’t I have halves? However, since I rate the films I see on a five-star scale, I have begun to wonder about what is it that makes a five-star film for me? As my friend Tom has said, there are certain films that cannot fall between the 1 or 5 star, citing The Devil’s Rejects as one example. You could probably add Showgirls and Pink Flamingos to that list, though I may have rated Pink Flamingos three (whoops). So what is a five-star film and what does it mean for me?

My friend Mike rated the French Hitchcockian thriller La moustache, starring Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos, five stars the other day, which got me pumped to watch it. I did, and I was rather impressed… but was I five-star impressed? It’s thoroughly uncompromising and satisfyingly unsatisfying as only the French can do, yet I wonder. Will La moustache be sitting in my mind a year from now when the subject of Hitchcock comes up? Will I feel like I need to revisit the film in a year’s time? The answers are “probably not.” Does that make La moustache a shitty movie? Of course not, I rated it four out of five stars, but its significance to me appears, a day after viewing, to be fleeting. I encounter films like this all the time: exquisitely constructed, intellectually stimulating motion pictures that fade from memory like an aged Polaroid.

Take for instance The Science of Sleep (La science des rêves), Michel Gondry’s first credit as both writer and director. I found myself charmed, inspired, and beautifully frustrated with the film in all the right ways. After Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, I’ve gotten over my snobbish Gondry-hating, even finding a decent, if detached, appreciation for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, much of my appreciation for The Science of Sleep came from the exact time I viewed the film. My doctor has prescribed new medication, which has produced some of the most lucid dreams I’ve ever had, often blurring the lines of my own reality. I quickly snap out of these dream hallucinations, but that the main character of the film, Gael García Bernal, also has trouble with this distinction made me that more smitten with the film itself. Of course, it helps that Gondry has beautifully weaved his music video experimentation into a cinematic realm. It also helps that my romantic cynicism was perfectly matched with The Science of Sleep’s cryptic ending. So the question remains: will The Science of Sleep become for me what Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has for slews of hip college kids? I want to say no; I want to say that my considerable appreciation for the film was because of the timing of its arrival in my life, not because it was of five-star quality.

With all this said, what qualifies as a five-star film for me? There’s the typical ones that everyone should rate five stars, like L’avventura, Double Indemnity, La dolce vita, Manhattan, Chinatown, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and that heap of garbage Citizen Kane (I kid). Then there’s the ones that, if you know me, are essential Joe Bowman classics: Showgirls, 3 Women, Blue Velvet, The Naked Kiss, Fat Girl, Freeway, and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Then falls the tricky ones, the ones that I will never forget, even if they’ve already been forgotten by everyone else. Those would include Morvern Callar, My Summer of Love, Exotica, The Passion of Anna, Come Undone, Safe, and Before Sunset. For better or worse, these films also arrived at the opportune time in my life and have always stayed there. Some are hard to defend to others--I don’t even remember why I loved Exotica so much, but I still think about it a lot. I’m well-aware that these films in the third category are quality pictures, but they’ve become more than just films to me. Perhaps they serve as preserved memories of mine, or maybe I find something new every time I watch them. And maybe The Science of Sleep will fool me, as Morvern Callar once did. I dismissed Morvern’s hidden power over me just as I may be doing with The Science of Sleep. Only time will tell; the only thing you can be sure of is change… at least the change in my Netflix ratings.

And, by the way, if you want to be my Netflix friend to see what I’ve been watching and not writing about, or what Walerian Borowcyzk smut film I currently have at home, click this link to befriend me.

11 February 2007

Short Cuts 11 february 2007

The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu (Moartea domnului Lăzărescu) - dir. Cristi Puiu - 2005 - Romania

If you ask Cristi Puiu, The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu isn’t a comedy, or at least it wasn’t intended to be so. On the DVD, which boasts the statement “The most acclaimed comedy of the year,” Puiu explains that his film came from his own anxiety disorder, hypochondria, and a true story of a paramedic jailed for leaving her patient on the street to die after being rejected from over five hospitals. But, really, does a director need to intend to make a comedy to have one on his hands? Of course not, and I’m not referring to something like Glitter or Showgirls. The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu is the perfect example of tragedy as comedy. It’s set in real time, as a paramedic (Luminiţa Gheorghiu) attempts to drop off dying Lăzărescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) at overcrowded hospitals on the night of a huge bus accident. The results are squirm-inducing as nearly every hospital rejects him, all while acknowledging the severity of his condition. The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu is an enormously frustrating film, and all the more better for a comedy as savage and painful as this one.

Fratricide (Brudermord) - dir. Yilmaz Arslan - 2005 - Germany/Luxembourg/France

Turks and Kurds hate one another, and the only way to express their hate is violence. That’s the general summary of Yilmaz Arslan’s morality tale of a young Kurd (Erdal Celik) sent to Germany by his family to find a better life. The conflict reaches its climax when a Turk is gutted and then mauled by a dog on the street in a sequence out of a George A. Romero film. There’s grittiness and then there’s absurdity, and Arslan can’t figure out the difference. The brother of our protagonist, a pimp, knifes the Turk, spilling out entrails of his intestines across the sidewalk in an unintentionally humorous and ineffective scene. A dog, much like the one in Happiness, laps up the lower intestines as the Kurds flee. Violence is funny and silly, and we all know racial, nationality conflicts are just fucking idiotic. Fratricide exposes this idiocracy in ways Arslan probably didn’t intend, depicting the harsh realism of violence among immigrants as something as inconsequential as zombies invading Germany.

Hostage (Omiros) - dir. Constantine Giannaris - 2005 - Greece/Turkey

Koch Lorber decided to release two minor political films from Europe on DVD on the same day, both of them exceptionally undercooked. Hostage is probably worse than Fratricide, but because it takes itself so seriously. Its political nature is distancing and hardly provocative, and its suspense is United 93-lite. Senia (Stathis Papadopoulos), a young Albanian man, takes a Greek bus hostage, demanding that the world find out about the cruel realities of immigrants in Greece. The conflict is enlightening for western viewers, mainly because, well, I had no idea of this withstanding hatred, but in a film as dull and self-righteous as Hostage, I find myself more concerned with cutting my fingernails than any preexisting cultural struggle.

Half Nelson - dir. Ryan Fleck - 2006 - USA

The premise is nauseating. A fucked-up teacher forms an unlikely (but, by now, cinema would lead us to find it very likely) bond with a young student. The execution is fantastic. Its coarse camerawork and hip Broken Social Scene score don’t end up mattering in the end when a film is as finely-played as this one. I’m not really the sort of person to focus on acting, but Ryan Gosling is in a league of his own here. His Dan, a drug-addicted history professor and basketball coach, is a marvel, a jarring mix of emotions and sentiments. The film isn’t a portrait of a drug addict at all, but a portrait of a broken man, left by his girlfriend, unable to finish his book, assuming a level of respectability with his profession while escaping into the dark shadows of the evening with drugs and alcohol. For proof of Gosling’s impeccable ability as an actor, watch the scene where he confronts a drug dealer (Anthony Mackie), who’s been cavorting with his favorite student (Shareeka Epps). In the scene, Gosling’s drug-fueled confusion and internal hypocrisy jumble with his ethical responsibility and emotions in a way so few actors could convey as beautifully. Here’s to my dark horse for best actor at this year’s Academy Awards.

10 February 2007

Let her choke on cake...

Marie Antoinette - dir. Sofia Coppola - 2006 - USA/Japan/France

Though reportedly booed at its Cannes premiere, Marie Antoinette found a safer home in its homeland of the United States where it was welcomed much more positively than the country where it was set. It’s questionable whether its warmer response in the United States had to do with less vicious critics, low expectations, or that the necessity of Sofia Coppola’s voice outweighed the mess that was her film. The world of cinema has long been a realm of big dicks, a patriarchy where women belonged in front of the camera as opposed to behind it. Historically there have been few female filmmakers to make any impact; Agnès Varda was the sole female director of the Nouvelle Vague, and Lina Wertmüller was the first female director to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. Only within the past twenty or so years has a strikingly feminine voice emerged with the likes of Jane Campion, Allison Anders, Claire Denis, Mira Nair, Susanne Bier, Mary Harron, Deepa Mehta, and Catherine Breillat. Certain female directors, like Breillat, are focused on femininity and the differences between men and women, but few would call her films humanistic. However fascinating, humanism appears replaced by analytical gender theory in the works of Breillat. Coppola, who became famous with her Oscar win for Lost in Translation, supplied a much needed voice of not only femininity, but of feminine youth. Though she cites inspiration from Antonioni and Godard, her voice comes from a different perspective: the questioning young woman. In theory, Marie Antoinette should have been her perfect subject for this perspective, but in theory, Marie Antoinette should have also been a good movie. Instead, it’s a royal mess, a gaudy head-scratcher so painfully uneven and misconceived that you wonder how Coppola rounded out such an impressive cast.

As Marie, Kirsten Dunst, the dreamy-looking star of Coppola’s first feature The Virgin Suicides, approaches her subject appropriately, like a wide-eyed, confused young woman thrown into power at an unacceptable age. Two nations’ alliance sits atop her shoulders as her mother (Marianne Faithfull) frequently mentions in letters. Yet Coppola, on the surface, isn’t so much concerned with historical accuracies of the young queen of France as she has so often stated in interviews. Marie Antoinette was conceived as a human portrait of a girl thrown into power, attempting to mix her sexual and personal blossoming with the weight of her reign. In moments, Coppola does a blissful job. Masquerade balls, champagne-soaked birthday parties, and the trying on of dresses and shoes, to a modern soundtrack of course, all work as intended, as whimsical, frivolous depictions of affluent girlhood. However, when countered with seemingly unnecessary historical events that timidly cut these sequences apart, Coppola’s perspective becomes murky. She’s wholly unaware of what Marie Antoinette, as a film, is, which is much more grave an offense than her and Dunst not really knowing who Marie is as a woman. The dizziness of youth and displacement arrive in varying forms, both repetitiously structured and Virgin Suicides-esque dreamlike sequences. Historical events, such as the death of the king, the birth of Marie’s babies, and the revolution of America, serve simply as a time line, none of which ever having that great of an effect on the film itself and come in an array of bizarre announcements. It’s as lousy and unnecessary a biopic as Ray or Walk the Line, but is it a biopic? Coppola is as unsure as we are. The film is based solely on one person’s writings about Marie, which depicts her as more of a human being than the other writings Coppola found. However, we know Marie about as well as we know the film; that is to say, not very well.

One could probably make a check-list of all the things that Coppola does wrong here. Her use of contemporary punk and electronic music sound good on paper if she didn’t just use most of them as filler. Only The Cure’s “All Cats Are Grey” and Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not In,” which is reminiscent of her usage of Heart’s “Crazy on You” in The Virgin Suicides, are properly used. Her bizarre casting also sounds fun on paper, if only she didn’t use her cast like set pieces. From Rip Torn as the King of France to Asia Argento as his mistress and Faithfull as Marie’s mother, not a single member of the cast live up to their potential, especially as characters begin to disappear throughout the film as if Coppola forgot them on the cutting room floor. In scope, Marie Antoinette is Coppola’s most ambitious project, so it’s no surprise that she falls on her face with it. After viewing the film, it’s hard not to ponder why she made this film, and most importantly, why she needed it be about Marie Antoinette. Coppola’s voice is a viable one, and perhaps the success of Lost in Translation placed too high a burden on her expectations. Either way, I think the guillotine is in order somewhere.

08 February 2007

Golden Hair

Today has brought us the tragic news of Anna Nicole Smith's untimely death, and though her contributions to the world of cinema were not abundant, what boy around my age didn't sneak into their basement to watch Skyscraper on Cinemax when their parents went to sleep? I expect Valentino-esque frenzy at her upcoming funeral... so if you're nearby, let's throw out our thumbs and hitch on down to Texas and pour one out for our dead homie, Anna Nicole Smith.

06 February 2007

To avoid writing anything of substance...

In descending order of release:

David Lynch's digital epic, Inland Empire (which still hasn't come to Saint Louis, or perhaps, never will), will hit the shelves from Rhino Entertainment on the 8th of June. Rumor has it that it will be the first Lynch DVD to feature a commentary, but no specifics have been mentioned officially yet. The film stars Lynch regulars Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Diane Ladd, as well as Jeremy Irons, Julia Ormond, and Nastassja Kinski.

On the 15th of May, New Line will release Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, which has become the highest grossing Spanish-language film in the United States as of last week, in a Platinum Edition will plenty of dorked-out features.

As I mentioned prior, the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky will be released by Anchor Bay on the 1st of May. It looks as if Anchor Bay will be releasing the three titles (El topo, The Holy Mountain, and Fando & Lis) separately, as well as in a box, but this, too, has yet to be confirmed. Also on this day comes Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, a surely unnecessary documentary about Matthew Barney, and the ho-hum Dreamgirls.

Criterion's sub-studio, Eclipse, will have seven documentaries by Louis Malle out on the 24th of March. Lionsgate, just after their acquisition of a large sum of Studio Canal titles, will have three early films of Jean Renoir out the same day. Also on the 24th: Little Children, Volver, Panic in Needle Park, and Tears of the Black Tiger (a Thai pulp film which one of my professors described as a 'pad thai western.' I don't recommend the film, by the way).

As stated before, Criterion will release Mathieu Kassovitz's La haine on the 17th of April. Also out that day: Screen Door Jesus and Bye Bye Brazil.

On the 8th of April, Koch Lorber will release two contemporary French films that never made it to the theatre stateside. Le petit lieutenant is a crime thriller from actor/director Xavier Beauvois, starring Jalil Lespert, Roschdy Zem, and Nathalie Baye who won a César, the French equivalent of an Oscar, for her role. Philippe Grandrieux's Sombre, literally Dark, is another nasty, bleak French film starring Elina Lowensohn (Nadja). Robert Altman's A Wedding will also be released, outside of the Altman box, on this date.

Wolfe Video will be releasing Thom Fitzgerald's 3 Needles on the 3rd of April. The film, which sounds like an HIV-positive Babel from the director of The Hanging Garden, stars Lucy Liu, Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Olympia Dukakis, Sandra Oh, Sook Yin-Lee, Stockard Channing, and Chloë Sevigny as a nun in South Africa. Also bowing on this date: Alfonso Cuarón's apocalyptic masterpiece Children of Men, Manoel de Oliveira's The Convent (with Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich), a new, feature-less edition of Freeway, The Last King of Scotland, and the second season of Twin Peaks (without the first season or pilot).

On the 27th of March, several smaller titles will become available, including Kim Ki-duk's (3-Iron, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, The Isle) latest, The Bow, Claude Chabrol's The Bridesmaid (La demoiselle d'honneur) with Benoit Magimel, Candy with Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower with Gong Li, El Cortez with Lou Diamond Phillips, Joe D'Amato's Emanuelle Around the World, Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd, the Russ Meyer homage, Pervert!, with Mary Carey, Béla Tarr's eight-hour Sátántangó, and Eclipse's first box-set: The Early Films of Ingmar Bergman.

On the 20th of March, Wellspring will bring us Joey Lauren Adams' directorial debut, Come Early Morning, starring Ashley Judd, who's apparently wonderful in the film, recalling her finest work in Victor Nunez's Ruby in Paradise. Also on that day, a limited edition of Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator, Jules Dassin's The Naked City, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, and Blood Diamond.

The 13th of March will have the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, from Sony, on your shelves. Alain Resnais' Muriel will also be released from Koch Lorber on the same day, as well as John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus.

The cult classic Night of the Comet will be arriving on the 6th of March from MGM, as well as Sacha Baron Cohen's box office smash Borat: Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Also bowing on that day, Charles Jarrott's notoriously awful The Other Side of Midnight, starring Susan Sarandon, the German possession drama Requiem, and Hong Sang-soo's Woman Is the Future of Man.

As for the rest of February, here's a list of DVDs you should at least consider renting.

13 February: Géla Bubluani's 13 (Tzameti), The Apprentice with Susan Sarandon, the Criterion reissue Bicycle Thieves, Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy, Martin Scorsese's The Departed, Yilmaz Arslan's Fratricide, Federico Fellini's Ginger & Fred, Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson, Constantine Giannaris' Hostage, Infamous, Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Andre Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation, Nicolas Roeg's Performance, Mikio Naruse's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, and Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri's Wild Camp.

20 February: Martin Donovan's Apartment Zero, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel, Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y., Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration (if you want to kick yourself afterward), Jan Svankmajer's Lunacy, Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, and Michael J. Bassett's (Deathwatch) Wilderness.

27 February: The final cut of Oliver Stone's Alexander, an Early Hitchcock boxset, Henry Jaglom's Going Shopping, Lucio Fulci's Perversion Story, Terry Gilliam's Tideland, and Jean Genet's Un chant d'amour.

04 February 2007

Of course you do.

Not that he's saying anything we didn't already know, but I was quite amused by Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star's article on why he loathes the Oscars. He thanks the Oscars, for if not for them "it would not be possible that Ron Howard would be more esteemed than Orson Welles." So, here's to the Academy!

01 February 2007

Las chicas de Almodóvar

In celebration of the Viva Pedro box-set released this Tuesday by Sony, I will be posting a photo appreciation of the women of his films. Today: Matador and Law of Desire.

Law of Desire (La ley del deseo)
Manuela Velasco

Bibí Andersen

Rossy de Palma

Carmen Maura

Assumpta Serna

Carmen Maura

Eva Cobo

Julieta Serrano

Chus Lampreave

Verónica Forqué

Bibí Andersen