29 October 2009

Of interest: Interviewed for Film in Focus' Behind the Blog

For those of you interested in "the man behind the curtain," an interview I did for Film in Focus' blog went up yesterday. All of the questions related to this here blog as part of their Behind the Blog series, which they started little over two years ago with our ol' pal Andrew Grant. Let me know what you think. The goal for the day is to get some more of the Decade List's entries written up, but I've had a cold that's been annoying and wishy-washy (it can't decide whether it wants to turn into a full one or go away) for the past couple of weeks. With just over two months left in the year, I'm trying to wind things down, but I'm still taking suggestions if you think of some films I must see before even attempting to embark on a Best of the Decade list.

Also, I just noticed that the Butt Magazine Blog put up some great photos of Rossy de Palma, one of my favorite of Almodóvar's muses. de Palma, who has an all-too-brief appearance in Broken Embraces [Los abrazos rotos], was interviewed in a recent "straight" issue from Butt.

28 October 2009

It's Official; Inset Bad Pun About Finding a Home

I had heard a while back that Lorber Films were looking to, or had already, acquired Ursula Meier's Home, which stars Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet as bohemian parents of three children whose happy existence is threatened by the opening of a new highway about twenty feet in front of their once secluded abode. Home was selected as Switzerland's official submission for next year's foreign language Academy Award, and according to Variety, Lorber Films will release it in New York on 27 November. I'll be writing about the film soon. Think of a warmer The Seventh Continent. Or... maybe not.

The Decade List: Albums/Singles (2007)

I falsely assumed that the closer I got to the present, the bigger the music posts would get... and while 2007 has 120 individual songs singled out, I couldn't find much more than ten, or eleven, albums worth listing as my favorite. Naturally, PJ Harvey's finest offering this decade, the piano-based, moody, stripped-down White Chalk, topped the list. It's perfect timing, seeing as it's been close to two years and a month since White Chalk was released, and I can think of no better autumn album (though the weather here has been more nasty than mild this year).

By limiting his second full-length album to close to half the self-titled's songs, a single disc and a lot less "Daft Punk Is Coming to My House" obnoxiousness, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy crafted an amazing, layered electronica album in Sound of Silver. The sole pop album, Kylie Minogue's X, felt disappointing upon its release, but, at least for me, has managed to hold up two years later, certainly better than M.I.A.'s Kala, a step up from her debut (aside from the grudgingly overplayed "Paper Planes") but an album whose delights reveal themselves too quickly. No Age's Weirdo Rippers filled in at the eleventh spot as it technically isn't an album as much as it is a compilation of their previous EPs. The rest of the albums below are listed in vague order of preference.

PJ Harvey - White Chalk
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Blonde Redhead - 23
Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
Benjamin Biolay - Trash yéyé
Justice - (Cross)
Studio - Yearbook 1
Kylie Minogue - X
Montag - Going Places
M.I.A. - Kala
No Age - Weirdo Rippers*

Assorted Jams for the Year 2007

Again, I've singled out the best songs, in my not-so-humble, extremely-biased opinion. Below you'll find the Top 35, an arbitrary round-ish number, in descending order of preference. Below that you'll find 85 more songs, not organized in any way. Strangely, I have little to say this year.

I will, however, point you to some of the more impressive music videos (some of which weren't released until 2008 with the actual single). Naturally, Feist's lovely "1234" [d. Patrick Daughters], Kanye West's "Flashing Lights" [d. Spike Jonze], Justice's "D.A.N.C.E." [d. Jonas & François] (which was nominated for MTV's Video Music Award for Best Video, only to lose to Rihanna's "Umbrella." Similar to the year the Academy nominated David Lynch for Mulholland Drive, MTV should have just not nominated the video if they weren't going to give it to them), Björk's "Dull Flame of Desire" featuring Antony Hegarty [d. Christoph Jantos, Masahiro Mogari, Marçal Cuberta Juncà] (a collaborative video combining three fan-submitted ideas that works rather seamlessly) and M.I.A.'s "Jimmy" [d. Nezar Khammal].

Special mention for two live-recorded Beirut videos, for "Nantes" and "Cliquout" (with Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear lending his vocals instead of Zach). And for the person who got Beyoncé and Shakira to look like the same damn person!

The Top 35

PJ Harvey - "Dear Darkness" [White Chalk]
LCD Soundsystem - "All My Friends" [Sound of Silver]
Beirut - "Nantes" [The Flying Club Cup]
Björk featuring Antony Hegarty - "Dull Flame of Desire" [Volta]
of Montreal - "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal" [Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?] (note that the link is not the full 12-minute track]
Blonde Redhead - "23" [23]
Architecture in Helsinki - "Heart It Races" [Places Like This]
Jens Lekman - "A Postcard to Nina" [Night Falls Over Kortedala]
Yelle - "Ce jeu" [Pop up]
Dizzee Rascal - "Pussyole (Oldskool)" [Maths + English]
Róisín Murphy - "Overpowered" [Overpowered]
Kanye West - "Flashing Lights" [Graduation]
Feist - "I Feel It All" [The Reminder]
Studio - "No Comply" [Yearbook 1]
Animal Collective - "Fireworks" [Strawberry Jam]
PJ Harvey - "The Mountain" [White Chalk]
Beirut - "Cliquot" [The Flying Club Cup]
Shellac - "End of Radio" [Excellent Italian Greyhound]
Justice - "Genesis" []
M.I.A. - "Bamboo Banga" [Kala]
Electrelane - "To the East" [No Shouts No Calls]
No Age - "Every Artist Needs a Tragedy" [Weirdo Rippers]
Benjamin Biolay - "Dans la Merco Benz" [Trash yéyé]
Kylie Minogue - "Stars" [X]
!!! - "Heart of Hearts" [Myth Takes]
Chromatic - "In the City" [After Dark, compilation] (the video is an abridged version)
Escort - "All Through the Night" [All Through the Night EP]
Montag - ">(Plus grand que)" [Going Places]
Simian Mobile Disco - "I Believe" [Attack Decay Sustain Release]
Kevin Drew - "TBTF" [Spirit If...]
Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse (though not in the video) - "Valerie" [Version]
Aesop Rock - "None Shall Pass" [None Shall Pass]
Timbaland featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake - "Give It to Me" [Shock Value]
Air Formation - "Adrift" [Daylight Storms]
Rihanna featuring Jay-Z - "Umbrella" [Good Girl Gone Bad] (also worth listening to: the Umbrella/Cinderella Remix featuring Jay-Z, Chris Brown, Young Platinum & Lil' Mama; I don't know from where it originates, likely an online mash-up of the various remixes)

Les autres 85

Dr. Dog - "Heart It Races" [Architecture in Helsinki - Heart It Races single]
PJ Harvey - "Liverpool Tide" [The Devil single]
Spoon - "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb" [Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga]
LCD Soundsystem - "Get Innocuous!" [Sound of Silver]
Feist - "1234" [The Reminder]
Rekid - "Next Stop Chicago" [Next Stop Chicago]
King Khan & The Shrines - "Le fils de Jacques Dutronc" [What Is?!]
Jens Lekman - "The Opposite of Hallelujah" [Night Falls Over Kortedala]
Beyoncé & Shakira - "Beautiful Liar" [Beautiful Liar single]
Timbaland featuring Keri Hilson & D.O.E. - "The Way I Are" [Shock Value]
Le loup - "We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!" [The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly]

Kylie Minogue - "Wow" [X]
Pieter Nooten - "Head Circles About the Body" [Ourspace]
Deerhunter - "Wash Off" [Fluorescent Grey EP]
Lil' Mama - "Lip Gloss" [Lip Gloss single]
Radiohead - "Reckoner" [In Rainbows]
Blonde Redhead - "Spring and by Summer Fall" [23]
Montag - "No One Else" [Going Places]
No Age - "Neck Escaper" [Weirdo Rippers]
Efterklang - "Mirador" [Parades]
Rich Boy featuring Polow Da Don - "Throw Some D's" [Rich Boy]
PJ Harvey - "Silence" [White Chalk]

Ra Ra Riot - "Dying Is Fine" [Ra Ra Riot EP]
Justice - "D.A.N.C.E." []
Deerhunter - "Cryptograms" [Cryptograms]
Matthew Dear - "Deserter" [Asa Breed]
Carla Bruni - "Those Dancing Days Are Gone" [No Promises]
Caribou - "Melody Day" [Andorra]
Rihanna - "Please Don't Stop the Music" [Good Girl Gone Bad]
Benjamin Biolay - "Dans ta bouche" [Trash yéyé]
Beirut - "Cherbourg" [The Flying Club Cup]
Mark Ronson featuring Daniel Merriweather - "Stop Me" [Version]
The National - "Fake Empire" [Boxer]

BARR - "The Song Is the Single" [Summary]
Kylie Minogue - "2 Hearts" [X]
Apostle of Hustle - "My Sword Hand's Anger" [National Anthem of Nowhere]
The Clientele - "Bookshop Casanova" [God Save The Clientele]
Étienne Daho - "L'invitation" [L'invitation]
Eve featuring Sean Paul - "Give It to You" [Give It to You single]
Yeasayer - "Wait for Summer" [All Hour Symbols]
Tracey Thorn - "It's All True" [Out of the Woods]
Tegan and Sara - "Back in Your Head" [The Con]
The Honeydrips - "Fall from a Height" [Here Comes the Future]

Yoko Ono - "Walking on Thin Ice (Pet Shop Boys Electro Remix)" [on both Ono's Open Your Box and Pet Shop Boys' Disco Four]
José González - "How Low" [In Our Nature]
Studio - "West Side" [from Yearbook 1]
Jay-Z featuring Beanie Sigel - "Ignorant Shit" [American Gangster]
Interpol - "The Scale" [Our Love to Admire]
The Shins - "Sleeping Lessons" [Wincing the Night Away] (I hate the lyrics to this song, but it's undeniably pretty hard to resist otherwise)
Glass Candy - "Beatific" [B/E/A/T/B/O/X]
Arcade Fire - "Black Mirror" [Neon Bible]
Queens of the Stone Age - "Sick, Sick, Sick" [Era Vulgaris]
M.I.A. - "20 Dollar" [Kala]

Vera November - "Our Last Night Together" [Four Songs by Arthur Russell compilation]
Mark Ronson featuring Tiggers & Ol' Dirty Bastard - "Toxic" [Version]
Yeasayer - "Sunrise" [All Hour Symbols]
Kylie Minogue - "Like a Drug" [X]
Jens Lekman - "A Little Lost" [Four Songs by Arthur Russell compilation]
Bon Iver - "Flume" [For Emma, Forever Ago]
Pieter Nooten - "Stop Time" [Ourspace]
Mika - "Grace Kelly" [Life in Cartoon Motion]
Kanye West - "Stronger" [Graduation]
Montag - "Softness, I Forgot Your Name" [Going Places]

Sophie Ellis-Bextor - "Me and My Imagination" [Trip the Light Fantastic]
Benjamin Biolay - "Bien avant" [Trash yéyé]
Kevin Drew - "Back Out on the..." [Spirit If...]
Pinback - "Kylie" [Autumn of the Seraphs, bonus track]
Electrelane - "The Greater Times" [No Shouts No Calls]
José González - "Teardrop" [In Our Nature]
Alicia Keys - "No One" [As I Am]
Björk - "Wanderlust" [Volta]
LCD Soundsystem - "Someone Great" [Sound of Silver]
Justin Currie - "Still in Love" [What Is Love]
Yelle - "Je veux te voir" [Pop up]

Pantha du Prince - "Saturn Strobe" [This Bliss]
Shannon Wright - "Everybody's Got Their Own Part to Play" [Let in the Light]
The Field - "A Paw in My Face" [From Here We Go Sublime]
Hilary Duff - "With Love" [Dignity] (Obviously I have none)
Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - "La Costa Brava" [Living with the Living]
Band of Horses - "Is There a Ghost" [Cease to Begin]
Burial - "Archangel" [Untrue]
Dirty Projectors - "Rise Above" [Rise Above]
Kylie Minogue - "Sensitized" [X]
Glass Candy - "Candy Castle" [B/E/A/T/B/O/X]
Soulja Boy Tell 'Em featuring Arab - "Yahh!" [souljaboytellem.com] (Super fucking annoying)

27 October 2009

Lots of new IFC titles on DVD for 2010, DVD Update 27 October

Though MPI, IFC Films has announced several more DVD releases for the first part of 2010, most notably Philippe Garrel's Frontier of the Dawn [La frontière de l'aube] for 26 January. The only worthwhile Blu-ray I saw announced was a 20th anniversary edition of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas from Warner, slated for 16 February. Lionsgate also announced a Joel Schumacher film that I (predictably) haven't heard of, changing the title (predictably) to sound more horrific, from Town Creek to Blood Creek. The film (predictably) stars a trio of British heartthrobs: Dominic Purcell, Henry Cavill and Michael Fassbender. The DVDs below are listed in descending order of release.

- 9, 2009, d. Shane Acker, Focus Features, also on Blu-ray, 29 December
- A Perfect Getaway, 2009, d. David Twohy, Rogue/Universal, also on Blu-ray, 29 December
- Fifty Dead Men Walking, 2008, d. Kari Skogland, Phase 4 Films, also on Blu-ray, 5 January
- Ballad in Blue, 1964, d. Paul Henreid, Lionsgate, 12 January
- Blood Creek [aka Town Creek], 2009, d. Joel Schmacher, Lionsgate, 19 January, w. Dominic Purcell, Henry Cavill, Michael Fassbender
- The Escapist, 2008, d. Rupert Wyatt, IFC, 26 January
- Frontier of the Dawn [La frontière de l'aube], 2008, d. Philippe Garrel, IFC, 26 January
- Heaven's Heart [Himlens hjärta], 2008, d. Simon Staho, IFC, 26 January, w. Lena Endre
- In a Day, 2006, d. Evan Richards, IFC, 26 January
- Mermaid, 2007, d. Anna Melikyan, IFC, 26 January
- Pontypool, 2008, d. Bruce McDonald, IFC, 26 January
- Quiet Chaos [Caos calmo], 2008, d. Antonio Luigi Grimaldi, IFC, 26 January, w. Nanni Moretti, Valeria Golino, Alessandro Gassman
- Warszawa, 2003, d. Dariusz Gajeweski, IFC, 26 January
- Worlds Apart [To verdener], 2008, d. Niels Arden Oplev, IFC, 26 January
- Triangle, 2009, d. Christopher Smith, First Look, also on Blu-ray, 2 February, w. Melissa George
- Flame & Citron [Flammen & Citronen], 2008, d. Ole Christian Madsen, IFC, 9 February
- The Pleasure of Being Robbed, 2008, d. Joshua Safdie, IFC, 9 February
- The Trial Begins [L'ora di punta], 2007, d. Vincenzo Marra, IFC, 9 February
- 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope, 2009, d. Tukihiko Tsutsumi, Viz Media, 16 February
- Women in Trouble, 2009, d. Sebastian Gutierrez, Screen Media, also on Blu-ray, 16 February, w. Carla Gugino, Marley Shelton, Elizabeth Berkley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Simon Baker, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Josh Brolin
- Bliss [Mutluluk], 2007, d. Abdullah Oguz, First Run Features, 23 February

26 October 2009

Super Scary

I sort of forgot, until I wasted my time watching the movie Trick 'r Treat, which came highly recommended to me by at least three people, that I co-wrote a Halloween-themed short a couple of years ago, with my friends Stewart Copeland and Chris Drummond. It was called Plastic Skeletons, and you can watch it below if you're so inclined. We made it as part of the 48 Hour Film Project. I don't think I particularly like it, but then again, I don't like most of the stuff I've done, film or otherwise. Ha. A self-deprecating plug. It does have at least three references to Bette Midler; but some of it is, as expected, cringe-worthy.

24 October 2009

More Fernando Arrabal from Cult Epics: DVD Update 24 October

While I'm not a huge fan of Fernando Arrabal, I'll likely check out Cult Epics' Arrabal Collection, Volume 2, which includes some lesser-known works from the director, including Car Cemetery with Juliet Berto and The Emperor of Peru with (um) Mickey Rooney. I normally wouldn't list something like the new Nia Vardalos film, but I guess since I've listed everything else IFC has been releasing, it's only fair. I believe First Look will be unloading Herzog's Bad Lieutenant in theatres sometime late November, with its DVD and Blu-ray release in February 2010. All for now.


- Jennifer's Body, 2009, d. Karyn Kusama, 20th Century Fox, also on Blu-ray, 29 December
- End of Love, 2009, d. Simon Chung, Breaking Glass Pictures, 5 January
- Amreeka, 2009, d. Cherien Dabis, Virgil Films, 12 January
- A Man Called Adam, 1966, d. Leo Penn, Lionsgate, 12 January
- Trucker, 2008, d. James Mottern, Monterey, 12 January, w. Michelle Monaghan, Nathan Fillion, Benjamin Bratt
- According to Greta [Greta], 2009, d. Nancy Bardawil, Anchor Bay, 19 January, w. Hilary Duff
- Chevolution, 2008, d. Luis Lopez, Trisha Ziff, Magnolia, 19 January
- Just Like the Son, 2006, d. Morgan J. Freeman, Breaking Glass Pictures, 26 January, w. Mark Webber, Rosie Perez, Brendan Sexton III
- The Last Stage [Ostatni etap], 1948, d. Wanda Jakubowska, Facets, 26 January
- I Hate Valentine's Day, 2009, d. Nia Vardalos, IFC Films, also on Blu-ray, 9 February
- Anna, the Pleasure, the Torment [Anna, quel particolare piacere], 1973, d. Giuliano Carnimeo, MYA, 23 February
- Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, 2009, d. Werner Herzog, First Look, also on Blu-ray, 23 February
- Car Cemetery [Le cimetière des voitures], 1983, d. Fernando Arrabal, Cult Epics, 23 February, w. Juliet Berto, Alain Bashung
- The Fernando Arrabal Collection, Volume 2 [Car Cemetery / The Emperor of Peru / Farewell, Babylon], 1983, 1982, 1992, d. Fernando Arrabal, Cult Epics, 23 February
- Taxi Hunter, 1993, d. Herman Yau, Eastern Star, 23 February


- Fame, 1980, d. Alan Parker, Warner, 26 January
- The Crazies, 1973, d. George A. Romero, Blue Underground, 23 February
- Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, 2006, d. Lloyd Kaufman, Troma, 23 February
- Fantasia, 1942, d. Various, Disney, 2 March
- Fantasia 2000, 1999, d. Various, Disney, 3 March

23 October 2009

The Decade List: Antichrist (2009)

Antichrist – dir. Lars von Trier

What words could I possibly add to the ones already given to the most notorious film of 2009? Greeted with what those of us not in attendance can only imagine as a fury of loud, mixed reactions at Cannes in May, I begin to wonder if anyone seeing it after that premiere screening could really get the full effect of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. While some people might be better off knowing about the more salacious aspects of the film before seeing it, I don’t count myself among them. Fueled by an unfortunate curiosity, I couldn’t help but read the various reports from Cannes, all of which expressed in detail the “finer” aspects of Antichrist, so when I finally got my chance to see the film, how could I pretend I didn’t know what lied ahead?

The experience of seeing a film without a single notion of what to expect is an enviable one, especially when considering a film like Antichrist. But, while the real “doozies” hardly even registered, I witnessed something strange and powerful around those elements, a film that certainly was, but never felt like, the film I had read about. With the right spin, the plot specifics of Antichrist could (and did) sound like a two-hour-long fuck-you from von Trier, from its biblical parallels to its dedication to the late Andrei Tarkovsky. But what I saw wasn’t that.

For its first hour, Antichrist unfolds like one, seemingly endless panic attack, made all the more unsettling and human by Charlotte Gainsbourg’s staggering performance. Stricken by the unimaginable guilt that she (or more specifically, her own sexuality) was responsible for the death of her child, Gainsbourg, the “She” to Willem Dafoe’s “He,” suffers a devastating paralysis, leading her husband to aid her in confronting the underlying fears triggering this guilt.

Perhaps the boldest aspect of Antichrist is the way von Trier takes his loudest criticism (misogyny) and magnifies it. Even his detractors should admit one of the director’s finest gifts is his ability to elicit brilliant performances from his actors, even if his methods have raised some eyebrows after his onset spats with Björk, Nicole Kidman and John C. Reilly have been made public. Gainsbourg’s performance, which won the Best Actress prize at Cannes, is what levels the magnification, allowing some of the dubious proceedings to haunt even if they happen to revile at the same time.

I’m not sure how Antichrist brought von Trier out of a serious bout of depression or if pushing the misogynistic claims to their limit succeeds at destabilizing them. I’m not really sure about a lot of things about Antichrist, aside from the fact that it worked for me, with all its idiosyncrasies. Antichrist opens in select theatres in the United States today and bows on IFC On Demand Wednesday, the 28th.

With: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Screenplay: Lars von Trier
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Country of Origin: Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland
US Distributor: IFC Films

Premiere: 18 May 2009 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 25 September 2009 (Austin Fantastic Fest)

Awards: Best Actress – Charlotte Gainsbourg (Cannes Film Festival)

The Decade List: Le temps qui reste (2005)

Le temps qui reste [Time to Leave] – dir. François Ozon

Fans of François Ozon, once dubbed the garçon terrible of French cinema in the late ‘90s, seem to diminish with each passing film. Though few will argue that the year 2000 marked the highest point of his career (with Under the Sand and Water Drops on Burning Rocks both bowing in that year), I haven’t fallen off the bandwagon, despite a number of reservations I have toward his two most widely-seen films, 8 Women [8 femmes] and Swimming Pool, both blissfully entertaining but severely lacking beneath their polished veneer. Ozon’s thematic sequel to Under the Sand, Le temps qui reste (correctly translated as The Time That Remains), shares the same traits that bothered me about 8 Women and Swimming Pool, but they feel like less of a disguise here.

Le temps qui reste, 8 Women and Swimming Pool all follow closely to their own genre allusions; more than its predecessor, Le temps qui reste pays tribute to melodrama, a genre which Ozon has always toiled with in smaller doses. In the film, Ozon gives himself completely over to the idea, dislodging the tongue-in-cheek sensibilities of his previous flirtations with his Sirkian tendencies. While much of the film relies on artifice, I sense a peculiar, refreshing honesty in what Ozon’s trying to do.

While he situates an attractive gay male in central role, a position often held for women in the genre, Ozon doesn’t set his sights on redefining or updating the genre. While spotted with bits of superficiality (Melvil Poupaud seems to get more handsome the closer he gets to death), the moments of beautiful clarity truly resonate. From the point early in the film when Romain (Poupaud) discovers he’s a few months away from death as a result of a spreading tumor, the film follows his grief process through the designed closures Romain concocts for the people closest to him, some successful, others not. For his unhappy, older sister Sophie (Louise-Anne Hippeau) and his younger, German boyfriend (Christian Sengewald), Romain uses his remaining time to sabotage these relationships, while finding a solitary comfort in his grandmother (Jeanne Moreau), the person in the film he finds the closest bond, both in personality and in approximation to death.

While Ozon does strive on some level to avoid overt sentimentality, it’s more accurate to say that he keeps his drama on a low flame. I hope my friend Tom doesn’t mind, but he highlighted one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about Le temps qui reste in an e-mail exchange earlier this year. He said, “Ozon's formal restraint may have suited his subject matter, but… I thought a showier technique wouldn't be so much inappropriate as less bland.” Perhaps it’s in Le temps qui reste’s blandness that I find the “honesty” I think Ozon is producing. In keeping the film on the subtle(r) side, Ozon delivers a number of rich moments, especially when Moreau is onscreen, that the showiness he painted 8 Women and Swimming Pool with would have only clouded. Le temps qui reste isn’t a grand triumph for the director, but it’s one that has always lingered for me, whether I can successfully defend my feelings or not (likely the latter).

With: Melvil Poupaud, Jeanne Moreau, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Daniel Duval, Marie Rivière, Louise-Anne Hippeau, Christian Sengewald, Henri Le Lorme, Walter Pagano, Ugo Soussan Trabelsi
Screenplay: François Ozon
Cinematography: Jeanne Lapoirie
Country of Origin: France
US Distributor: Strand Releasing

Premiere: 16 May 2005 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 14 July 2006

20 October 2009

The Decade List: The Descent (2005)

The Descent – dir. Neil Marshall

Although it has little in the way of competition, The Descent is hands down the decade’s best English-language horror film. More than the “boo” scares or nausea-inducing gore of its peers, Neil Marshall extends The Descent beyond those easy tricks (not to say the film doesn’t have a pair of cheap startles or gross-out effects). A creature feature at heart, The Descent’s real “beauty” is the claustrophobic nightmare Marshall designs around his heroines. Female genitalia analogies aside, the cave, into which the six thrill-seeking gals descend, becomes the malevolent villain, equipped with darkness, daunting cliffs of unknown depth, miniscule crevices of questionable stability and the capacity to destroy its own exits and entrances. That blind, human-looking monsters dwell within it seems like one of its lesser deterrents.

Marshall knows what most horror directors should by now: gore alone won’t disturb your audience. By the time The Descent made its way to the US (with a dumb, but ultimately inoffensive add-on at the end), people were already gearing up for the third installment of the Saw series. The Descent certainly has a bit of disgusting flesh and organ eating, but he recognizes that true horror is made up of more than just an edible spleen. Truly, the most lip-biting, nails-in-the-palms sequences are when the girls have to climb across the ceiling of a pit to get across or when one graphically injures herself after tumbling through one of the cave’s many abysses.

Most of the characters are expendable, except for the Sissy Spacek-looking Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and the excursion organizer Juno (Natalie Mendoza), but this doesn't make the deaths any less disturbing, even if it was easy to predict that the first to perish would be the overzealous lesbian-in-denial. The monsters do provide one or two moments of fear for the audience, specifically the first time the girls see one (which was stupidly shown in the TV spots), but it’s the frenzied action of the girls’ retaliation that’s more ruthless and exciting that the monsters themselves. Marshall knows that fear rests in the unknown, so editor Jon Harris cuts the action sequences rapidly to a point of raucous frenzy. This may not have worked in Batman Begins, but it does here. Keep your benzodiazepines handy, because The Descent is the sort of grueling film experience most of us have only heard tale of.

I’ll probably spend the remaining days of October looking at the some of the decade’s best offerings in the horror genre, which started over the weekend with Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears. If you want to play Decade List horror movie catch-up before Halloween, I’ve already covered Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day and Marina de Van’s In My Skin [Dans ma peau]. Expect the film adorning the header of my site next.

With: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Burning, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll
Screenplay: Neil Marshall
Cinematography: Sam McCurdy
Music: David Julyan
Country of Origin: UK
US Distributor: Lionsgate

Premiere: 11 March 2005 (Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Films)
US Premiere: January 2006 (Sundance Film Festival)

Awards: Best Director, Best Technical Achievement – Jon Harris, editor (British Independent Film Awards)

18 October 2009

The Decade List: La terza madre (2007)

La terza madre [Mother of Tears] – dir. Dario Argento

Nearly 30 years late, Dario Argento, once the maestro of gialli and gothic horror during the 1970s, completed his Three Mothers trilogy, which began with his beloved Suspiria in '77 and Inferno in '80. But is this really what we’ve been waiting for? Bearing little resemblance to either of the previous Mother films and utilizing as little skill as possible in every respect, it’s hard not to wonder what happened to Argento. Where did the beautiful cinematography, lush visuals and vanguard cinema tricks go? In Mother of Tears, they're ousted by something that strangely resembles a made-for-TV movie or, at its worst, a Full Moon direct-to-video release. Did Argento lose it or is he just letting someone else do the "tricks" for him? I could waste my time pondering or even bemoan what happened to such a fine director, but instead, I'll just celebrate the emergence of a new Dario Argento, a man more concerned with hilarious inanity and a vivacious lack of class (not that he ever really exuded much) than effective horror.

Certainly the thought crossed my mind that this might be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen at the helm of a once-respected auteur, but howling bursts of laughter quickly silenced that thought, and I'm not embellishing. Whether this exuberant hilarity is intentional or not doesn't matter, and whether it successfully closes the long open-ended Three Mothers trilogy becomes a remote argument.

Now, with every great cinematic disaster, there’s always the unfortunate casualty, and in Mother of Tears, it’s the director’s poor daughter Asia, whose emanatory humiliation is matched only by her disorientation. Being terribly miscast in daddy’s The Stendhal Syndrome sort of made sense, but by now, after working with some of contemporary cinema’s finest directors (Catherine Breillat, Gus Van Sant, Abel Ferrara, Bertrand Bonello, Tony Gatlif), the younger Argento has graduated from nepotistic roles in her father’s declining oeuvre. If her gratuitous shower scene wasn’t weird enough, her dead mother is played by her actual mother, Daria Nicolodi. Nicolodi did write Suspiria in addition to providing the voice of Mater Suspiriarum, but she too seems to not really give a fuck how the trilogy concluded. Her spirit’s “second death” while protecting her daughter is one of the film’s big laughs. Even old friend Udo Kier, who could never be accused of “slumming,” shows up for a moment as a priest before reaching a gruesome demise; Kier also had a small role in the trilogy’s first installment.

The optimistic Dario Argento fan might come to the false conclusion that in Mother of Tears he addresses his harshest criticisms, like Lars von Trier does in Antichrist, by pushing them to their limit. Of course, I’m talking about his oft-suspected misogyny, something easily deducted from the trail of (naked) dead (attractive) women he’s left behind. In one particular scene, the robed killer massacres a lesbian couple, whose relation to the story I’ve already forgotten. More memorable than their involvement with the course of action is the giant phallic spear that’s shoved in one of their vaginas only to, naturally, come poking out her mouth. To attempt to gauge whether the dyke murders are any worse than anyone else’s in Mother of Tears would be trying to push one of your own buttons. Dario’s ability to offend his audience is on par with his capacity to derive genuine terror out of his film (which is to say, nil).

While it took him nearly three decades to unleash this Mother, the film he bestowed upon us is not the director’s way of addressing, confronting or examining… anything. Mother of Tears will likely have most fans of Suspiria and Inferno puzzled at what it is they’ve waited so long for. In leaving technical dexterity and innovative vision behind, Mother of Tears isn’t left with a lamentable void; it’s the birth of a new Dario Argento, the incongruous humorist who knows how to make bad so terribly good.

With: Asia Argento, Cristian Solimeno, Adam James, Udo Kier, Daria Nicolodi, Moran Atias, Valeria Cavalli, Jun Ichikawa, Robert Madison, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Paolo Stella
Screenplay: Jace Anderson, Dario Argento, Walter Fasano, Adam Gierasch, Simona Simonetti
Cinematography: Frederic Fasano
Music: Claudio Simonetti
Country of Origin: Italy/USA
US Distributor: Myriad Pictures/Dimension

Premiere: 6 September 2007 (Toronto Film Festival)
US Premiere: 25 April 2008 (San Francisco International Film Festival)

The Decade List: (Some of) The Worst Films (2007)

Since it was established with 2006's Worst that the Austin Butt-Numb-a-Thon, hosted by everyone's favorite troll, is a legitimate place for a film to make its world premiere, technically 300 and Black Snake Moan belong in the previous year. But 300 is such a fucking horribleterriblewretched film that I'll just leave it with the '07s for now. Black Snake Moan, however, doesn't even register on the shit list when compared to that garbage I once heard referred to as "gay porn for soccer moms," but it sucks enough on its own, outside of one nicely edited music sequence.

This list does beg the question: which breed of bad movie is worse? The obvious abortions (I Know Who Killed Me, Norbit, Good Luck Chuck) or the respected-foreign-auteur-remakes-himself-in-some-form-or-another-for-his-English-language-debut (My Blueberry Nights, Funny Games U.S.)? It was a real lousy year for both Wong Kar-wai and Michael Haneke, whose '07 offerings reeked of not just complacency but utter laziness. Neither could be accused of losing artistic control as a result of Hollywood's over-the-shoulder glare as both were multinational productions, receiving quite a bit of funding from the French in addition to their native countries. They had otherwise respectable English-speaking actors on board, who either did their usual schtick (Naomi Watts) or just embarrassed themselves completely (Rachel Weisz).

Thankfully, Haneke has recovered from the injury of Funny Games U.S., which was one of the major failures that eventually shut down Warner Independent, with his creepy, elegant Palme d'Or winner The White Ribbon [Das weiße Band]. Wong has yet to truly follow My Blueberry Nights up (Ashes of Time Redux doesn't count), though he has reteamed with Tony Leung for 2010's Bruce Lee/martial arts "biopic" The Grand Master, rumored to also star Gong Li and an out-of-retirement Brigitte Lin.

Some lingering questions/thoughts about a few of the titles below. 1.) Why do my parents insist on watching that manipulative drivel August Rush every time its on television (which can sometimes be thrice daily)? 2.) Aside from Assayas' demonlover (and probably The Wizard, but for altogether different reasons), most films that visually incorporate video games are going to blow (w/r/t Ben X, and possibly its upcoming American remake if that's still in production). 3.) Jodie Foster < style="font-weight: bold;">Diary of the Dead? It retains none of the qualities that made his previous zombie films (even Land of the Dead) so enjoyable. 5.) If Dragon Wars had extended that big Los Angeles destruction scene into its full running time, you might have seen it appear on the actual Decade List (as long as they axed poor Robert Forster in the process).

6.) Lots of nudity apparently does not make a horrible movie that much more tolerable (w/r/t the Uschi Obermaier biopic Eight Miles High). 7.) In the past 10 years, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre received a crappy US remake, a crappier US prequel and a wonderful in-spirit-only French take in Fabrice Du Welz's Calvaire; so why bother with something as lousy as Frontière(s)? 8.) Was anyone else deeply disturbed by Dawn Wiener's death scene in Hostel: Part 2? I've already forgotten the specifics of everything else about the movie, but that scene... I can't get rid of. 9.) I should look up and see what other films were in the running for the Caméra d'Or at the '07 Cannes Film Festival, because there had to be something better than Jellyfish playing that year. 10.) The list has a number of "comedies" that didn't pull a single laugh out of me: Good Luck Chuck, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, Mr. Woodcock, Molière, Kiss the Bride, Starrbooty and The Ten. I'm pretty sure I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry belongs on that list, but I can vouch that the others didn't provoke even a smirk out of me.

- 300 - d. Zack Snyder - USA [also here]
- August Rush - d. Kirsten Sheridan - USA
- Ben X - d. Nic Balthazar - Belgium/Netherlands
- Beowulf - d. Robert Zemeckis - USA
- Black Snake Moan - d. Craig Brewer - USA
- The Brave One - d. Neil Jordan - USA/Australia
- City of Men [Cidade dos Homens] - d. Paulo Morelli - Brazil
- Diary of the Dead - d. George A. Romero - USA
- Dragon Wars [D-War] - d. Shim Hyung-rae - South Korea
- Eight Miles High [Das wilde Leben] - d. Achim Bornhak - Germany
- Elizabeth: The Golden Age - d. Shekhar Kapur - UK/France/Germany
- Frontier(s) [Frontière(s)] - d. Xavier Gens - France/Switzerland
- Funny Games U.S. - d. Michael Haneke - France/UK/Austria/Germany/USA/Italy [also here]
- Good Luck Chuck - d. Mark Helfrich - USA
- Hannah Takes the Stairs - d. Joe Swanberg - USA
- Happily N'Ever After - d. Paul Bolger, Yvette Kaplan - USA/Germany
- Hostel: Part 2 - d. Eli Roth - USA
- I Can't Think Straight - d. Shamim Sarif - UK
- I Know Who Killed Me - d. Chris Sivertson - USA
- I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry - d. Dennis Dugan - USA
- In the Valley of Elah - d. Paul Haggis - USA
- Into the Wild - d. Sean Penn - USA [also here]
- Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer - d. Jon Knautz - Canada
- Jellyfish [Les méduses] - d. Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret - Israel/France
- Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten - d. Julien Temple - UK/Ireland
- Kiss the Bride - d. C. Jay Cox - USA
- Lost in Beijing - d. Li Yu - China
- Molière - d. Laurent Tirard - France
- Mr. Woodcock - d. Craig Gillespie - USA
- My Blueberry Nights - d. Wong Kar-wai - Hong Kong/France/China
- Norbit - d. Brian Robbins - USA
- The Orange Thief - d. Vinnie Angel, Boogie Dean, Arthur Wilinski - USA
- Poor Boy's Game - d. Clément Virgo - Canada
- Schoolboy Crush - d. Kôtarô Terauchi - Japan
- Sex & Breakfast - d. Miles Brandman - USA
- Starrbooty - d. Mike Ruiz - USA
- Sunshine - d. Danny Boyle - UK/USA
- Teeth - d. Mitchell Lichtenstein - USA
- The Ten - d. David Wain - USA
- Then She Found Me - d. Helen Hunt - USA