28 December 2008

R.I.P Eartha Kitt.

Politically active, sexually charged, distinctive in voice, and one of the most enduring and unique of icons. She will be missed.

22 December 2008

A holiday season thought.

Be more patient.
Use your turn signal.
Slow your roll by a good 15%, and you will find yourself much less angry and tense.

20 December 2008

Why I do not wrap gifts.

There's something dishonest and cruel about wrapping presents. It represents hierarchy and process, which seems to impede the receiver and add tantalization for the giver; this is all well and good if we're talking about a relationship built on power dynamics or some S&M thrills, but it complicates things with friends and those whom you love.

This is especially the case with children. Wrapped gifts are a useful device for keeping the youth in line. They're like brightly-wrapped time-delay explosive devices that turn children into agents of espionage.

Another reason why I don't wrap gifts is because I am terrible at it. Some people have a gift for aesthetics and design and they use it in the presentation of gifts and it's gorgeous and amazing, and I just feel like an oaf in the process.

There are people who derive a great deal of joy from wrapping gifts. There are people who earn a decent seasonal income from doing it. But not me.

So there you go.

"Radio, what's new? Radio, someone still loves you."

If you're one of the three people who regularly read my missives, then please be aware that I will be appearing in my monthly position as media prophet on DJ Ron Slomowicz's radio show on 91.1 FM WRVU here in the Nastyville area. I'll be going on from 3:30 PM until 4 today (Saturday, December 20th) and talking about film, music, politics, and all sorts of things.

If you're not in Middle Tennessee, you can listen at www.wrvu.org online.

19 December 2008

At the movies: A Christmas Tale (Un Conte de Noel).

This year, Christmas finds the Vuillard family in a state of flux; matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve, as radiant and lovely as ever) has been diagnosed with a particularly vicious form of bone cancer, and without a marrow transplant, her days are numbered. It seems, though, that the only suitable donor is her son Henri (Mathieu Amalric, fresh from Quantum of Solace), who was banished from the family six years prior by his elder sister.

So this Christmas at the Vuillard house, with its children, grandchildren, lovers, and friends all brought together by disease and circumstance, scores will be settled, loves rekindled, hearts broken, and everyone will need a drink before midnight Mass.

French director Arnaud Desplechin is known for complex and moving dramas that aren't afraid of getting a little weird around the edges. His and cowriter Emmanuel Boudrieu's characters are like no others, and he creates such a vivid group of characters that you can't help but find a bit of your own family and experiences within the multifaceted individuals of the Vuillard family and their associates. Desplechin isn't that well-known, but he's breaking through to the global big leagues with this effort.

Though its primary concerns are not forgiveness, catharsis, and healing, you can find a lot in A Christmas Tale to compare with Rachel Getting Married; a willingness to get down and dirty with family structure and ties, a warts-and-all approach to getting to know people, and a sense of the otherworldy force that holds people together even when they don't particularly like one another.

Most Christmas movies are empty and built on hollow iconography- this one is a gift that keeps unwrapping itself, never exactly what you thought, but a surprise each time nonetheless.

R.I.P. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry

Be sure and give your Trekkie friends warm and supportive hugs today.

At the movies: Slumdog Millionaire.

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is suspected of having cheated on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and is being tortured by the police to confess having done so. Instead, we discover how each of the questions asked of him pertains to some anecdote or story from his life, springing from consuming poverty through countless picaresque adventures and horrors, only to find himself in the national limelight and on the verge of winning twenty million rupees (around $405,000).

The critical community is losing their mind with praise over this film, racking up countless critics' awards and a lot of Golden Globe nominations. There's talk of major Oscar contention, as well as a perceived increase in relevance following the horrifying terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The time seems to be right for this rags-to-riches-to-torture story, and it seems to be The Little Film That Could.

Sadly, Slumdog Millionaire is a dire piece of filmmaking. Directors Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan have an exceptional color palette, but they've used it in the service of a film that has no energy or spark. There's a lot of running and violence, but as both love story and social drama, nothing connects. The film fetishizes poverty even as it exploits its visual immediacy for gullible viewers, and its lazy and predictable script leaves no cliché unused even as it aims to be some sort of defining statement on the twenty-first century world.

16 December 2008

This is rumor control; here are the facts.

During the torrential rains last Tuesday, my house (actually, my basement apartment) flooded. For the past few days, I have been sifting through my stuff, figuring out what is still fine, what's trashed beyond repair, and what can be made better with a little bit of dehumidification.

It's a messed-up situation. I will keep you posted.

The big Year End-list is coming soon, as well as a whole bunch of reviews. You can also hear me on the radio this weekend.

13 December 2008

At the movies: The Day The Earth Stood Still 'O8

A new take on Robert Wise's 1951 Sci-Fi classic about extraterrestrial intervention in Earth's burgeoning nuclear arms race, The Day The Earth Stood Still has been reimagined for contemporary audiences and issues, with Keanu Reeves taking over for Michael Rennie as alien spokesbeing Klaatu and Jennifer Connelly in the Jennifer Connelly role of empathetic female presence.

Tackling a beloved classic is always a risky step; video store walls and Netflix queues are filled with the wreckage of contemporary remakes of Hollywood evergreens, most of which serve no real purpose other than cashing in on a well-known name or concept or piece of iconography. Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) has some mighty big shoes to fill, as Wise's career covered everything from space opera (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and ghost stories (The Haunting) to musical stalwarts like The Sound of Music and West Side Story. Granted, today's audiences expect different things from their mopvies than people did in 1951, but it's hard to retain any sincere optimism when one finds out that Fox (a studio who has a rather spotty record with genre material over the last few years- X-Men 3, Babylon A.D., Alien vs Predator 1 and 2, I'm talking to you, specifically) is involved.

But the big surprise is that The Day The Earth Stood Still isn't a big mess. It's got some very effective moments, a great central conceit (Keanu Reeves as alien spokesthing is inherently great), some decent effects, and a complete refutation of the Independence Day school of alien encounters. The most interesting thing that this new version brings to the table is in casting Will Smith's son as the pivotal human who must learn to evolve beyond xenophobic jingoism and become a truly civilized being.

I'm hoping that Derrickson has made a film that will change some minds and shake up some sensibilities, as the 1951 original did. It's certainly a step up from Emily Rose, and it's better as a remake than it has any right to be. Not essential viewing, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's trying...

12 December 2008

At the movies: JCVD.

Eking out a living as a has-been action hero battling his way through custody hearings and a check-to-check life lived on credit and the goodwill of strangers, it's been a trying decade for Jean-Claude Van Damme. Laying low in smalltown Belgium, our hero finds himself in the midst of a Post office hold-up which, unfortunately, the police believe him to be responsible for.

Breaking back out of straight-to-DVD limbo and back onto the big screen, JCVD has been helping its titular star in mounting up accolades from the world of art cinema as well as reestablishing some credentials in the world of global action cinema. Unfolding in desaturated sepiatone, we get a strange hybrid of several different
genres, and the end result is a film that earns its emotional payoffs just as easily as it lands its incapacitating kung fu blows.

You will respect Jean-Claude Van Damme by the time this film reaches its end. Calling JCVD an existential action film isn't quite fair, but there's a point, about sixty-eight minutes in, where he lays everything out; equally biography and philosophy, and heart-wrenching in its sincerity and surrounding artifice. It's the
scene of the year, to be sure, and a sign that Mickey Rourke isn't the only star of Double Team having an amazing comeback this year.

At the movies: Milk.

Dealing with the life and death of one of America's first openly gay public officials, Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, who helped to organize San Francisco's gay and lesbian community politically in the mid-seventies in a protracted battle against a Proposition which would make gays and lesbians into second class citizens (sound familiar?). Until his death at the hands of a former co-worker, he was the face of gay visibility and power in the country.

Gus Van Sant, fresh from his quirky quartet of moody and expressionist art films (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, and Paranoid Park), makes a triumphant return to mainstream film with this effective and inspiring biopic of one of America's unsung heroes. A bawdy, outspoken charmer with a complicated love life and a gift for organizing, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) doesn't seem like the kind of personality that would fit with Van Sant's current aesthetics. But in getting in touch with his narrative storytelling abilities, Van Sant has tapped into something palpable and electric, with audiences responding in kind.

Penn simply hasn't been this fun in decades; but in this funny, fierce performance, he really taps in to an essential humanity that too often he seems to shunt in delving into characters. The supporting cast (particularly James Franco, whose performance here complements his druggy/sexy Pineapple Express turn nicely, and Josh Brolin, who proves there's simply no one he can't play effectively) helps sustain the film's 'you are there' attitude toward 70s San Francisco, and the film's lessons are good ones, with a tone that manages to be both inspiring and mournful. But this is Penn's show, and he delivers.

R.I.P. Bettie Page

Eighty-five years of singular iconography.

07 December 2008

R.I.P. Odetta.

One of the most important voices in American history has died.

People often use the phrase 'voice of an angel' to descirbe whatever twee white woman is deploying some tasteful melisma over strings and dispassionate tunefulness.

I call bullshit.

There are several voices that I feel manage to encompass the breadth of divinity and still express what mortality means to us as human beings- Diamanda Galas, certainly. Antony Hegarty, pretty much. But there is no one who ever put the expanse of the human experience into song like Odetta James.

04 December 2008

"No dream is ever just a dream." Notes on Eyes Wide Shut.

I was fortunate enough to introduce a screening of Eyes Wide Shut as part of the Belcourt's Stanley Kubrick retrospective. I had a lot of people ask about several of the things I mentioned during my little talk, so I figured I would post the notes I used that Wedensday night.

I only got to cover about sixty or so percent of what all I had written, but it was such a thrill to see a 35mm print of the film (and to talk with people afterward) that I would put it all up here. Part sentence-outline, part flow-chart, I can't say that it works aas a logical piece of criticism, but it covers all the bases on the film that I wanted to get into.

I was also sent an article by one of last night's attendees about the film that is absolutely delicious analysis and criticism of the film. Many thanks to Richard K for hepping me to the Krieder piece.


1 Obligations.
For the story, of marriage.
For the audience in 1999, of sexual content and the ‘event’ of a Kubrick film, a posthumous one at that.
For the characters, of society. Drudgeries of work, the process of Christmas (presents, parties).

Temptation takes the Harfords for a dance

Made in the shadow of the Cruise/Kidman marriage, now a memorial of it.
Other marriages have crumbled in its wake. “Taking the day off to figure out who he was.”
At the beginning, Bill takes Alice’s body for granted. Literally or figuratively, this is his journey back.

‘the grass is always greener’ somewhere, it seems.
Rainbows recur (costume shop, two women at the Christmas party)

The Wizard of Oz as deconstructive journey home
Kidman’s current turn in the vastly underrated and utterly insane Australia.

Trust does not necessarily imply a common interest
Sex and its weird power- it binds them together, comically but firmly, in the final line.

2 What we see and what we do not.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Harvey Keitel as well.
The women at the masked ball; the carpet doesn’t match.

We don’t know the real story behind Nick Nightingale and the multiple Mandies.

The Harfords’ NYC apartment, big enough for sinuous tracking shots-
Ths Shining’s steadicam shots and vast spaces of menace and portent are explicitly doubled with the slinky curves of Kidman’s body in a cocktail dress and the mystery ball Bill so desperately wants to experience. Kidman has a Steadicam spine, like a Modigliani painting. Compare the Zieglers’ Christmas party dance with the New Year’s Ball at the Overlook.

“Staged… charade… fake.”

Eyes Wide Shut, by virtue of its ethos of available light and the many scenes lit by Christmas trees, pushed two stops, represents a camera philosophy even more radical than Barry Lyndon.
The elimination of shadow detail means there is simply no place for anything to hide. Minority Report loved grain this much

Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle
Freudian, but not in terms of symbolism, more in terms of using dreams as deconstructive tool.

Dream logic – italo horror, Silent Hill film adaptation, eXistenZ

The backprojection work is stunning, especially 4th street as it crosses Sixth avenue.
Malik Hassan-Saeed (Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor” video)

The two party/ball sequences cut directly to the return to the Harford home.
There is no diegetic travel, merely a cut. Scenes of travel, therefore, are significant.

3 Fear and Desire.

If you came to this film for flesh, you have it before the title card is even revealed. So where do you go from there?

As an analysis of male sexual insecurity, this is up there with Lynch’s Lost Highway.

Fear of what you might find keeps sex at bay:
The cancer during the breast exam
The HIV (Domino), contrasted with Mizzi’s illness and Fridolin’s fear of diphtheria in the Schnitzler.
The abandonment

The whole stoned argument like a Bene Gesserit training exercise, feinting text and subtext.

Yet every step he takes questions Bill’s masculinity, except in the mirror with Alice and the flirtatious hotel clerk (there’s the Barry Lyndon comic queerness again)
Any attempt he makes to assert his sexuality leads to the abyss.
NY Post headline “Lucky to be alive.”

Kubrick the perfectionist did something in this film that we had never been allowed to see: he ground the movie star out of Tom Cruise. He seems out of place, never in control in any situation. When he tries to use what we perceive as his iconic charm, its effect is off-time. He tries to react like a movie star: money, baked goods, charm, everything- we seem him lose his edge in real-time. Cruise drained of star power; given his recent difficulties, imagine, then, how the hundreds of takes must have been.

This sexparty is very Prussian, a very ierarchical orgy at the masked ball- voyeurism as a thing of the upperclass?
The digital figures are emblematic of Bill’s own yoyeuristic tendencies. We want to see acrobatic sportfucking, too.
The vast majority of masked ballers are voyeurs, not participants

Bill throws $ around like candy
Commerce of desire; in this case, knowledge.

My, how Stanley loves bare breasts pressed against formalwear (cf Barry Lyndon)

Orgies we have known
Fellini, Cecil B DeMille (The Sign of The Cross)
Emanuelle in America introduces the spectre of death.

There is no definitive version of the film.
A) grainy initial international version, 35mm, no digital obstruction in orgy sequence, crew reflection present, unsynched Kidman line.
B) grainy US version, 35mm, with digital obstruction in orgy sequence, crew reflection present, unsynched Kidman line. This is what we’ll be seeing at the Belcourt.
C) smoothed international version, 4:3, no digital obstruction in orgy sequence, now out of print
D) smoothed international version, 4:3, no digital obstruction in orgy sequence, bhagavad-gita extracts removed (though actually Tamil love song)
E) smoothed US version, 4:3, with digital obstruction, Tamil extract removed
F) Hi-Def 16:9 master, smoothed international version, Tamil extract removed

R. Lee Ermey vs Todd Field

Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata and what it represents.

Mystikal – “Shake Ya Ass” much in the way of 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” was for Full Metal Jacket.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (The password is ‘ooooooor-gy’).
Season Two of True Blood (oops, I’ve said too much)
30 Rock joke about playing piano for those rich weird people

01 December 2008

My desperate quest for public recognition.

I'm getting attention in the press. Yay!

13. G.G.

Seconded, Mr. Ebert.

Astute, as he often can be, in a way that combines intelligence and populism. There isn't a day that goes by without me worrying that the shoe is going to drop and I find myself with no film writing gig whatsoever. I guess I'm fortunate, but I am so utterly freaked out by the way that modern journalism is tilting.