30 October 2008

Something scary.

So here's one of my all-time favorite pieces. Done for the Nashville Scene's sorely-missed Late Edition, this is my take on the thirteen scariest movie moments of all time (up until October 2005, when the piece was initially written).

I've also posted the text of the article below (the actual Scene page has weird formatting from the last site redesign) for your viewing pleasure.

Scary can mean a lot of things to different people, though I maintain that anything can be scary with the right perspective. What about basset hounds, you may ask? Sure, a basset hound isn't intrinsically scary. But if you found yourself in a room full of about 60 basset hounds, and they were all completely quiet and staring right at you, you would be rightly creeped out. But I digress.

What follows is a little something for people who might be looking for something to view this Halloween weekend. You're not going to find the big daddies of the genre here, for the most part. Films like Halloween, The Shining, Psycho, and Jaws all have their devotees and their charms, and they can be readily had by anyone with a video-store membership or library card.

These are the 13 moments in all of movies that scare me most. Maybe some people will disagree, and that's fine. But maybe there's something in one of these films that'll make your heart quicken—or even better, make you think about what scares you and why. Beware of spoilers, and enjoy.

13. PET SEMATARY (1989) Mary Lambert's nasty, nihilistic take on Stephen King's dark-side-of-life-after-death novel has several particularly gruesome and creepy moments (Achilles tendon, anyone?). But is there anything that compares to wife and mother Rachel Creed's memories of her sister Zelda, confined by spinal meningitis to a dim room in the back of the house? It's a minor part of the plot, but Zelda is why this film remains as horrifyingly potent today as when it was first released.

12. MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) When it comes to the dark veneer of the traditionally staid community, David Lynch and John Carpenter have nothing on Vincente Minnelli. I'll never forget the Technicolor nightmare of Margaret O'Brien as little Tootie traversing her darkened neighborhood. It echoes in Carpenter's own Halloween, in the dark places on familiar streets. Children, you see, are allowed to be scared. Adults, however, with our jobs and obligations, are not. But a good scare reduces everyone to their childhood self again.

11. THE HAUNTING (1963) Robert Wise's take on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is one of the most graceful and elegant ghost stories ever made, and its enduring lesson to all future films of a dark and suspenseful nature is that implication really is much stronger than displaying something completely. In this black-and-white Cinemascope minefield of subconscious terror (G-rated, nonetheless), there's a moment of boundless horror when a shifting light source slowly turns a section of bric-a-brac next to the terrified Julie Harris into a monstrous, quasi-demonic face. It doesn't roar, it doesn't detach from the wall, and if you were of a completely assured countenance, you could say that it was still only a small fissure. But people of completely assured countenances don't understand the art of fear, even as the strange geometry of Wise's Hill House would doubtlessly frustrate their certainties. In the darkness, Harris grasps the hand of her roommate, Theo (Claire Bloom), only to be met with a cold, clutching grip. The house’s unseen terrors are finally too much, and she turns on the light—whereupon she learns Theo is on the other side of the room. "Oh God," she says, "what was holding my hand?" Delicious.

10. STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) The things that scare us are deeply personal things. Granted, multitudes of differentiated fears can be reduced to anxiety about death— that's something universal. But the weird fears, the phobias, this is when you get into the uniquities of people. Me, I have personal issues with spiders, elevators, and whales. Thanks to our friendly local brown recluses and black widows, I maintain that it is not unreasonable to be afraid of spiders if you live in Tennessee. Likewise, people do die in elevator accidents all over the world (though thankfully not very often). But why whales? Especially living in Tennessee? All I can say is that whales best embody the creeping unease that keeps me from going in any body of water of which I can't see the bottom. The idea that below me an unseen something dwarfs me—it is nearly unbearable. The time travel sequence in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home illustrates this unnamable feeling. A featureless human body, suspended in space or underwater; behind/below/beyond it, coalescing into view, a giant cetacean. It speaks volumes without saying a word, the image forever burned into the hippocampus—the part of the brain where nightmares live.

9. FOUL PLAY (1978) Librarian Gloria Mundy (Goldie Hawn) sets about shelving some errant books after having closed the library she works at. Of course, she isn't alone, and the teasing quality of the pas de deux that she and a chloroform-wielding albino assassin are dancing through the shelves becomes almost maddening with tension. The grace note arrives when she removes a book from the shelf, revealing the killer's eye, staring back at her. Because of this scene, the two and a half years I spent working at a used bookstore were neverending exercises in the most cruel kind of fear; even today, every tome I take from a shelf is done so with a steady hand, for fear that there's someone right on the other side waiting, watching.

8. THE KEEP (1983) The horror of trespass is a particularly effective one when dealing with a sense of entitlement. The sudden or gradual realization that the terrain is unfamiliar, that one no longer holds the upper hand, or that not listening to a warning is going to reap a terrible price—all these are examples of the horror of trespass. A lot of times, it goes talon in talon with the Embrace of the Monstrous (see A Nightmare on Elm Street and Candyman below), not always consensually. Equally visionary and ridiculous, Michael Mann's adaptation of F. Paul Wilson's monsterpiece The Keep is a flawed gem that contains what may be my favorite single shot in all of film history. Some German soldiers, occupying a Romanian fort during World War II, have started investigating the hundreds of crosses that line the interior walls. "Never touch the crosses," the blind caretaker had warned them, but if they had listened to the caretaker, there wouldn't really be a movie, now would there? Hundreds of nickel crosses are embedded in stone blocks, except for one… this cross is silver. And this block moves. The soldiers explore where this newfound passage leads, and we find a cavernous space. The camera pulls back from the ever-smaller soldier and his flashlight, further and further away. At last his flashlight is but a tiny dot near the top of the frame, and we pull back further still, as gradually we can see walls around us. When the camera stops its movement, we are hundreds and hundreds of feet away, motionless in murky earth as something hideous arises. That shot is a masterful representation of one's sense of self, world, and physical space being challenged by something monstrously greater.

7. PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) "This is not a dream.” Now immortalized on DJ Shadow's Endtroducing… (as well as albums by Marilyn Manson and, ahem, DJ Nomi), the mysterious transmissions from the year 1999 in John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness never cease to send a chill up the spine. A tracking shot along the front gate of a church, which hides a cosmologically horrifying secret, ends with a mysterious dark figure emerging in triumph from the building's interiors. Like the phantom beacon on Alien's planet LV-426, the image beams, in this case back through time, in hopes that someone will understand its dire portent.

6. THE SENDER (1982) John Doe #83 (Zeljko Ivanek) is a young man admitted to a mental hospital with a severe case of amnesia and suicidal tendencies. Unbeknownst to the hospital staff, he is also capable of broadcasting his dreamlife directly into the minds of those around him. This means that reality becomes pretty much meaningless. Of course, think the higher-ups at the hospital, what John Doe #83 needs is a slight dose of electroconvulsive therapy. It's okay, you see, because he'll be sedated. He won't feel a thing. What happens when the hospital staff activates that ECT machine is something you can't easily describe. I'll say this: it is impossible to envision the world that Chris Cunningham creates in his art and film without this particular sequence. It is a graceful chaos of motion and raw physical power, and certainly one of the finest FX setpieces in the history of filmmaking. Like its younger brother in 1982 horror, The Thing (see below), The Sender does things that no computer could approximate. But great effects are not necessarily scary. What lingers about this sequence is the effortless shift from clinical reality to photovoltaic nightmare without tipping its hat once. It is simply masterful.

5. SUSPIRIA (1977) There is an instance of awareness for any animal in mortal danger—a specific point at which the phrase “life or death struggle” becomes an analysis, not a hypothetical. Dario Argento's mad fairy tale Suspiria serves up one of the finest, as ballet student Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) finds herself abandoned in her school’s sinister dormitory, as the whole school has gone to the theatre. She calls one of the few outsiders she can trust, only to lose the phone and the lights in a vicious storm. The lights return; the phone does not. And that's when Suzy realizes: "I'm next." She'll gear up and wage battle, to be sure, but the finest moment in this hallucinatory nightmare is Harper's when the phone fails—there for but a flash, and then gone.

4. THE THING (1982) At an Antarctic research lab, the crew is told they are going to explore a spooky building. "And why are we going there," the men ask— a good question when a shape-shifting monster is devouring anyone within reach. Research scientist Kurt Russell points to the remote shack, where a light burns from within. "Because," he says, "when I left there yesterday, I turned the lights out." The matter-of-factness is what sells it: he could just as easily have said, "Gentlemen, here comes the shit," or, "I know where some alien horror is…" It's a moment of visceral fear that nonetheless gives us a glimpse inside the character. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

3. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) First we see that Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) has been cut, badly, and her arm is bleeding. But with her other arm, from under the sheet she pulls a rumpled brown hat— the hat belonging to long-dead child-killer Freddy Krueger, burned alive by the neighborhood parents. Attention, both in the onscreen Katja Sleep Clinic and from the offscreen viewer, naturally fixes on Nancy, But watch her mother's reaction to that hat. Marge Thompson (Ronee Blakley) sees a real-life souvenir of the horror of trespass, while her daughter looks near-giddy with the possibility of what has just happened; she can bridge between the worlds of the conscious and the unconscious. This is the embrace of the monstrous.

2. ALIEN (1979) Yeah, I know: the monster bursts out of John Hurt's chest and people lose their fucking minds. It's a milestone of shock, but is it really scary? Sure, it encompasses cancer and anticipates HIV fears in a particularly visceral manner, but does that chest-bursting provoke intense dread? As if anticipating this, the film (in its original version, not the 2003 “director’s cut”) follows up that sequence with a one-two punch of abject terror, starting with the protracted sequence where Harry Dean Stanton's Brett searches for the ship's cat and finds only alien nastiness. But that's just the first part, because Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt— the biggest star at the time, and thus the least likely to die) has an engagement in the ship's air ducts. The sound is a mesh of Jerry Goldsmith's sinister strings for the movie Freud, the pulse of an agitated heart, and the beeping of his tracking device. The most chilling moment is folded into the other sounds, but when Veronica Cartwright as Lambert screams, "The other way! No, the other way!" just as the alien introduces itself to Dallas, it'll get to you. There isn't a single false moment in the whole sequence, a symphony of light, shadow, and propulsive fear.

1. CANDYMAN (1992) There's a very specific scene in Bernard Rose's Clive Barker adaptation that elevates it from exceptional to one of the finest horror films ever made. Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) has been charged with the murder of her best friend, is under suspicion in the disappearance of a baby, has been forcibly committed by her louse of a cheating husband, and is now tormented by the affections of a supernatural death-dealer. She's just been shown video footage of herself in the midst of a horrifying confrontation with the legendary fiend known as Candyman, and only she can be seen. The doctor turns off the monitor and asks her what she really thinks about the whole situation. Helen then sloughs off all the things of this world by uttering a simple phrase: "I can call him." The bloodletting that follows is impressive, as is the story's action-packed and deliciously resonant resolution. But this is the moment that we never get to see at the movies. Time and time again, in many different genres, characters find themselves in the midst of the wild and weird and interesting and unreal, and they always scuttle back to the safety to their own planet, their own time, or their own narrow existence. Helen Lyle simply has nothing left to lose, so she decides to expand her horizons and ride the whirlwind. "I can call him," she says, and she does. The resulting chill makes you question your own philosophies. And that's the best kind of fear.

24 October 2008

Fred Jones Part II?

Uncertainty abounds. Apologies for my absence. There will be more.

10. Mr. America

16 October 2008

I have fulfilled as much civic obligation as one can.

I voted (love early voting, for real). And confirmed my HIV-negative status (as all sexually active adults should on an annual basis). And took some books to an old folks' home.

11 October 2008

So I read this: River of Gods by Ian McDonald.

Imagining India circa 2047, this is a rather remarkable SF novel. It has an expansive but not diluted collection of main characters, its technology is advanced but comprehensible, and its knowledge of human behavior is remarkably consistent with who we are and where we most likely are headed to.

There's a playful cleverness to McDonald's work, and his embrace of the complex sociopolitical forces at work in contemporary (and alternate future-contemporary) India is impressive. I'd love to see this in a cinematic context, but it would be hard to find a happy synthesis that can make allowancwes for some of the extremely nonvisual plot points. But this book is an utter delight, and I recommend it to anyone looking for an evocative SF experience.

At the movies flashback!

So today, I wanted to hype up some of my first net-published film criticism, for my friend Joe Robin's now-defunct Opposable Thumb Films site. These were written from 2001-2003, and while I find my sensibility pretty much the same, I'm glad that we finally have a DVD release for The Fog (and that the current Blue Underground disc of The Stendhal Syndrome ups the ante considerably in terms of visual presentation).

So here you have it, my reviews for Opposable Thumb films.

Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi's Baise-Moi.

Gary Nelson's The Black Hole. This film needs some serious special edition love.

My double review of modern feminist horror classics: Bernard Rose's Candyman and Neil Jordan's In Dreams.

John Carpenter's The Fog. The screencaps were from a VHS dub of the laserdisc, at that time the only way to see the film in a home environment in a letterboxed fashion. And well before that abysmal remake...

Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension, which I still adore.

Michael Mann's The Keep, which needs to get some form of DVD or Blu-Ray or whatever release, because I worry my laserdisc is going to disintegrate and then what will be left?

Ah, Jack Sholder's A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. This review actually achieved me a small bit of eFame, and it still periodically pops up on horror boards, which is fine by me. I'll grab ahold of any morsel of attention I can.

And finally, Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome. I will not bash Troma (they certainly showed the film more love than Miramax did), but I'm glad that Blue Underground stepped up to the plate and showed what a kickass transfer can be like. If only they could do that with all the Argento films that have fucked up DVD presentations in the US that they're responsible for (Suspiria, Deep Red, I'm looking at you).


The time has come for you to get your Kubrick on.

And it looks like I will be introducing Eyes Wide Shut at some point during its three-day run. Mark my words, it will be worth it.

10 October 2008

At the movies, intermittency.

Since I staggered into Boston yesterday morning, I've seen:

CHOKE (d. Clark GREGG) ***
BODY OF LIES (d. Ridley SCOTT) ** 1/2
QUARANTINE (d. John Erick DOWDLE) 1/2

"You eat apples? I produce Entourage."

At the movies: The Duchess.

So my review of The Duchess got picked up by The Tennessean, so it will reach the public, somehow or another. I am glad of it, and I hope you're having a good day.

09 October 2008

At the movies: Synecdoche, New York.

The short version: unfinished pluperfect subjunctive, four stars.

The not-so-short version: ripples on the surface of a lake cannot be unmade. The point of injury/trauma can be mended, but any true healing will always continue on the heels of that which has already spread outward. Something broken cannot be fixed to be like it was- it is something different, something made new out of brokenness.

It angers me how playful the film plays at being, even as it wounds so very deliberately.

I am not a psychiatrist. I am not a surgeon. I cannot make this film better, despite the countless thousands of words I have written over the past ten years doing, or trying to do, exactly that for countless other films.

I do not fully comprehend aspects of this film.

Small acts of forgiveness, then. The absence of control. The body in revolt. There's something distinctly Cronenbergian afoot; perhaps this was the natural Brundlefly fruition of the Cronenbergian process given theatrical form, rather than the maligned opera of The Fly that I still desperately would love to see.

I will now never be able to meet Dianne Wiest without sobbing incoherently.

I've always said that part of me is still walking through the desert in Van Sant's Gerry. And as with that film, I feel I haunt this one.

08 October 2008

At the movies: The 46th Annual New York Film Festival.

Here's my handy-dandy overview of the 46th Annual New York Film Festival. As these films receive some form of Nashville (for All The Rage) or national (for Dish Magazine) release, I'll go in depth. But for now, here's the digest for all to luxuriate in regarding the thirty films and shorts that I saw. A ^ between the film's title and rating indicate that I have discussions with involved filmmakers coming as well.

It was a phenomenal year for both the NYFF, specifically, and film in general. There was not a single thing that I saw that I hated (like last year's Actrices/Actresses), and everything I saw offered up something unusual and interesting and worthy. As the number of distributors willing to take a chance on foreign and independent cinema dwindles with every day that passes, it gets harder and harder to experience film in its proper theatrical context. So for the meantime, places like the NYFF (and our own Nashville Film Festival) become more and more valuable.

ENTRE LES MURS (The Class) ***
It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, and at first feels like a typical Dangerous Minds/Stand and Deliver type film en francais - the young teacher who cares, dealing with students who are stymied by varying levels of bureaucracy and indifference. But as it goes along, it gets weirder and more dialectical, and by the end I was pretty much won over. Sony Classics has it for the US, which means it'll get a week at Green Hills.

One of the two new films from Jia Zhang-ke at this year's NYFF, and this one is pretty much inert. Students in the 90s, currently adults adrift in their own lives, nobody's happy but they do soldier on. There's some nice tracking shots down a river, though.

WENDY & LUCY *** 1/2
Absolutely devastating portrait of isolation and life on the brink- harsh, elliptical, and filled with a pervasive sense of sadness and beauty. Michelle Williams is truly amazing here, and dog lovers, this is the movie for you. Oscilloscope Films (The Beastie Boys' film label) is handling this, so it will more than likely be coming to the Belcourt at some point.

Can you build a film around an extended sick joke? If it's as good and genuinely effective as this one, then yes.

Holy shit. An animated documentary with the urgency of an unquiet witness and the soul of the most imaginative of poets, and structured around the basics of psychic exploration in a way that will infuriate Scientologists, this may also be the film that pushes the evangelical Christian faction in this country into apoplexy. It's a remarkable film, funny and devastating, and featuring one of the most haunting sequences I've ever seen (three men emerging from the sea, to a cello lead that sounds slightly reminiscent of Vig Mihaly's score for Werckmeister Harmoniak- which is a good thing). Again, Sony Classics has it, so be on the lookout for its one-week run at Green Hills.

The best thing I saw during Press Week I, this short from British artist/Pet Shop Boys collaborator Sam Taylor-Wood (whose only other film I had seen was in a segment of the erotic anthology Destricted) is a short and sweet tale of High School lust played out to the sound of the Buzzcocks. With any luck, this might pop up at the '09 Nashville Film Festival in the shorts program.

Simulatneously about the casual violence and horror of life in Chile under the rule of Augusto Pinochet and one man's need to express himself through dance and wanting to be like John Travolta, this film is upsettingly violent, features hardcore sex, and at least one disco dancing sequence in every reel. How could I not love it?

UN CONTE DE NOEL (A Christmas Tale) *** 1/2
A colleague dismissively called this Kings and Queen 2, but I think it's weirder and a bit more incisive than that. Family dramas, insanity, cancer, sexual frustration, and the arduous process of forgiveness- yeah, it's like that. Highly recommended, though. IFC has it, and with any luck, it'll be this year's big Christmas arthouse hit.

A dark, dark French short that is ruthlessly pragmatic and full of the kind of wit that works beautifully here but leaves you wondering if the filmmaker will make the step up to feature-length material.

Kuorosawa Kiyoshi is back, and this time he's made a fairly conventional film- one that takes the issues that form the subtext of his genre material and works with them on the surface. It's a fascinating portrait of this moment in history, and the central cast is pretty damned great. It takes some wide turns in the last half hour, but is still a fascinating development in Kurosawa's body of work.

This film aims to be an expose of what life is really like in the age of voyeuristic video and violated civil liberties, while at the same time getting at what's really going on with these kids today. Every time I was ready to walk out, something amazing would happen, and every time I was ready to love this film, it did something incredibly stupid. Also, it's one of those films that seems to think that shock is a valuable tool when used without context. It's not. This si the kind of film that it's very easy to overrate. I'm interested in what director Antonio Campos comes up with next, and the frame composition is among the best I've ever seen. But still, it's just not all that.

DEMAIN PEUT-ETRE (Maybe Tomorrow) *** 1/2
An exceptional French short about identity, race, and observation. Haunting, and again, with any luck it may pop up in the shorts program at the '09 Nashville Film Festival.

SERBIS (Service) ** 1/2
Family travails, in and around a four-story moviehouse in Angeles City in the Philippines. Lots of betrayal, hardcore sex, transsexual gender shenanigans, and through it all, the inescapable sounds of the modern city. Oh, and an extended plot point about pus. Regent Releasing has this for the U.S., which means it will get a small-scale release in NYC, L.A., San Francisco, and possibly in cities with high Filipino populations and/or Tagalog speakers, then come out on DVD shortly thereafter. So much gets crammed into 93 minutes that you almost wish the director had made a miniseries out of it- the setting and characters are rich, but there's so much left unsaid or seen. But I would love to spend more time with this film's central family.

TIRO EN LA CABEZA (Bullet in the Head) **
This was the screening where a significant portion of the press corps lost their mind. The film is, for all intents and purposes, silent. We hear ambient sounds, consistent with the placement of the camera (almost always far away), but even when we're in the same room as the main characters, they speak but no sound comes out. It's meant to be an allegory about how hard it is to understand what motivates horrifying acts of violence, and it works- sort of. But people HATED this movie. Eh, it's interesting. But it would work better as a short.

HUNGER *** 1/2
Pretty damned amazing, this one. It's a great political film, a savage prison movie, an effective procedural, and rife full of possibilities for theological and political debate. There's a central reel-length conversation that easily ranks among the finest of the year, and it's always interesting to see what happens when artists from other media give film a try. The final half-hour, which depicts the hunger strike that lends the film its title, isn't quite as staggering and transcendent as the first hour, but the film is still a remarkable achievement. IFC Films has this for distribution, and they're aiming for March 09 for a release. I'm not sure when it'll play here, but I'll lay down dollars that it will play in Nashville at some point.

A delight. A frothy (but slightly edgy) comedy from Mike Leigh? Perish the thought. But this film is like a big goofy drunken British hug, and I can't wait to see how audiences take to it. This opens on Halloween at the Belcourt, and mark my words- this is the perfect date movie. If you bring a date/spouse/significant other with you to see this movie, dimes-to-dollars says you'll get some that evening.

THIS IS HER ** 1/2
A snarky but ultimately effective Kiwi short that aims to dig, laterally and figuratively, into women's issues. It gets derailed in its final third by a sappy Lilith-lite ballad, but there's still some interesting moments.

VOY A EXPLOTAR (I'm Gonna Explode) **
If you'd only ever watched Harold & Maude, Romeo and Juliet, and Y Tu Mama Tambien over and over again, then you too could have made this film. The leads are cute and the young-lovers-on-the-run trope never really gets old, but there just wasn't enough of a spark here to make the ingredients properly- explode. Maria Deschamps, the film's star, has a hell of a career ahead of her, making her motion picture debut in a part that feels like 60% Anna Karina, 25% Bjork, and 15% Linda Manz.

A/K/A Che Part I. We were shown what is being called The Roadshow Presentation, which has no credits or specific differentiation of title, so I'm going from the standard titling of the two. This was a cinemascope biopic on the rise of Che, with the occasional high-contrast black & white interlude from his speech before the UN in the early sixties. It jumps around in time a bit, but you're always kept at a distance from the material. It's well-acted, but it's not all that.

GUERILLA ^ *** 1/2
A/K/A Che Part II, when everything gets kind of nuts and handheld and 1.85 and visceral. Guerilla is not quite Tropical Malady, but it's damned close, and both as an extended thinkpiece and an emotionally draining experience, here's what makes it all worthwhile. It's good enough to make me realize and acknowledge that The Argentine is pretty good as well. But in the battle of the Ches, put me down solidly for Part II. IFC Films has this for the U.S., and in Nashville, that usually means Belcourt. So send in your eMails and bloggables if you want to show some Che pride, or are intrigued at exploring the fall of such an absolutist ideology. Either way, there's something here for you.

Cutesy short about love truly being a universal language. Not essential, but not unpleasant.

L'HEURE D'ETE (Summer Hours) ****
Following up his globalization trilogy (Demonlover, Clean, and Boarding Gate), Olivier Assayas turns his focus on the family and makes one of the most beautiful and restrained dramas of the year. One mother, three children, five grandchildren, two dogs, a housekeeper, and an exquisite country house. There are no big scenes, no flare-ups or crying jags, just a rapturous dive into the eddies and whorls of the time we spend as families. IFC has it for the US. Keep an eye out for this one, it will floor you. Bring Mom and Dad with you as well.

An interesting (and non-maliciously deeply misogynist) short from Germany about loneliness and store policies. It would seem to clever for its own good were it not so devastating.

THE WRESTLER ^ *** 1/2
And the Academy Award goes to... Mickey Rourke. The story is conventional, and it appears our boy Darren Aronofsky's been watching some Dardenne brothers films in the past few years. But it's edited like a normal movie, and Rourke (and Marisa Tomei) are just exceptional. The story is pretty conventional, so it plays against Aronfsky's arthouse instincts beautifully. And how can you not love a film whose soundtrack is half 80s hair metal and half trap-rap. The way that Guns 'n Roses's "Sweet Child O' Mine" is used in this movie made me tear up like a damned fool. Fox Searchlight is releasing this in NYC and L.A. on December 19th, with the rest of the country to follow soon after.

A three-minute documentary that is effective and scarring.

The good news is that Clint Eastwood is still an amazing director, Angelina Jolie knocks it out of the park, there are quite a few moments that are of unearthly power, and it starts with the old-school Universal logo from way back in the day. The bad news is that the script is a mess, it's way too long, and there are a few scenes (mostly involving a necessary subplot) that are just embarrassing to behold (though some are apparently taken from historical record). This one makes some of the same mistakes that Mystic River did, and it makes them bigger. Am I jaded because hyperstylized and violent representations of violence against children just don't affect me anymore? I should be horrified seeing axe murders and nonconsensual electroconvulsive therapy, but none of that holds a candle to some of Angelina's scenes with the child-who-is-not-hers. Worth seeing, absolutely. But one of Clint's best? No.

The latest evolution in Mafia movies. A colleague compared it to The Wire and found it wanting. There's some tense moments, and its indictment of blustery machismo is refreshing, but after two-plus hours, I just wanted everyone to get shot in a surprise fashion and for the thing to be over with. That said, a couple of connoisseurs of gangster films said it was a spectacular achievement, so go with that if you're so inclined. IFC has it for the US, so it'll be around. And it's nice, between this and Tropic Thunder, to see "Sadeness Pt 1" get some cinema love.

AHENDU NDE SAPUKAI (I Hear Your Scream) ****
A remarkable single-shot short about the process of loss, told completely in silhouette. Just remarkable.

LA MUJER SIN CABEZA (The Headless Woman) ****
Take the skeleton of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, then send it wandering off into the last half hour of Mulholland Drive but preparing for a Last Weekend at Marienbad, and you have the idea of where this remarkable mindmelter from Argentina's Lucrecia Martel will take you. It is so much subtler than any of those films, though, and filled with so much possibility and tinges of the most visceral dread. This and Synecdoche, NY are proving the films from this northward sojourn that I want to dwell in repeatedly, again and again. If there is any justice, this film will get some kind of further distribution.

C'EST DUR D'ETRE AIME PAR DES CONS (It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks) *** 1/2
A battering ram of a documentary that illustrates the trial of the publishers and editorial staff of French weekly Charlie Hebdo, which printed those infamous twelve cartoons which portrayed the prophet Mohammed. The film has countless things to say about the role of the press and the courts and religious authorities, and all of it is pretty fascinating even if lack of access to the actual courtroom proceedings lends a surreal air to the whole thing. Certainly worth seeing, and as provocative a way as any for me to finish up my time at the 46th Annual New York Film Festival.

God bless Faye Dunaway.

Is it as good as the Baldwin answering machine message? No. Is it good enough for me to blog about? Oh yes. Yes, indeed.

All of her Frank Perry-directed performances are great, and I think she's exceptional in The Rules of Attraction. And, I mean, Eyes of Laura Mars. For real, y'all.

"I think it was smoke inhalation."

CREATURE (d. William MALONE) * 1/2
SYNECDOCHE, NY (d. Charlie KAUFMAN) ****

07 October 2008

"She would have already have been dead by then..."

In the past few days, I saw the following:

AHENDU NDE SAPUKAI (I Hear Your Scream) (d. Pablo LAMAR) ****
LA MUJER SIN CABEZA (The Headless Woman) (d. Lucrecia MARTEL) ****
OUTING RILEY (d. Pete JONES) ** 1/2
ELECTRIC DRAGON 80,000 VOLTS (d. ISHII Sogo) * 1/2

04 October 2008

This is rumor control; Here are the facts.

I am currently in the midst of a medical to-do. It is not life-threatening, it is not debilitating, and it is not something that the doctor I spoke with felt I should be too terribly concerned about.

It is, however, very embarrassing and fairly gross, as well as being strange. So I'm avoiding specificities. Let's just leave it at Cronenbergian/Breillatic.

If anything serious develops, I will let you know. More than likely, I'll be laughing about it within a few days.

One thing, though, that you should know (which I didn't): a doctor cannot prescribe medication across state lines. So if you're in a state in which you do not live/have a regular doctor and you need non-emergency help, always be aware of your nearest walk-in clinic.

Also, I can now officially say that I had a doctor say "Well, I've never seen that before." I think I get a bumper sticker from the AMA or something to that effect.

03 October 2008

At the movies: Blindness.

Blindness is a mess. It's an ambitious mess, one that aims to resonate
with all cultures and all ideologies in confronting them with a truly
universal crisis, but still not an overwhelmingly successful
adaptation of Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago's novel about a world
struck blind.

Director Fernando Meirelles is a gifted visual stylist, and he does
well with flashy transitions and trippy fades, but he still
demonstrates the same inability to connect with the emotional root of
a story that has plagued his work since City of God, his international
breakthrough back in 2002. And with a work like this, you've got to
have a visceral emotional connection or everything just falls apart
into overly-didactic object lessons.

But there are moments of overwhelming power, most all of which come
from star Julianne Moore. She has always been a reliable embodiment of
gravitas and passion, but here she becomes the embodiment of all that
human society represents, and she pulls it off beautifully. Even
without her usual red hair, she burns with a fierce grace onscreen,
and if the film comes close to achieving the grand vision of its
source material, it is thanks to her. The rest of the supporting cast
puts their all into it, but this is Moore's show.

I admire a film like Blindness, a film with a bleak vision that still
finds hope in humanity's resilience and adaptability. I admire that so
many talented people put their all into making such a weird film. But
I don't think anyone is going to learn anything from this film, and I
don't think attitudes will be changed by it. Film can shape ideas and
influence lives, but I think humanity is too far gone to tune into
this film's vibe. No one trusts any institutions anymore. No one
thinks anyone will help them in times of strife. How many thousands of
people stayed in their homes during Hurricane Ike, despite the
warnings of certain death? No one trusts anyone, and we're past the
point of a quasi-Sci-Fi allegory to help. Or rather, thinking back to Children of Men, we're past the point of this specific SciFi allegory to help.

02 October 2008


I genuinely love it it when my friends become successful. That's not faux-modesty, or in the slightest sarcastic. It makes me incredibly happy when people who are good and kind and deserving of all that's awesome in the world get to reap some benefits.

And sometimes, that benefits me as well, which is how I happened to find my way into the Ben Folds show at Terminal 5 in NYC last night (and had the best burger in Manhattan, which is a secret I cannot post in a blog but will gladly tell you in person or via drunken phone call at some point in the near future). I was overwhelmed by the crowd and the quality and the energy that Folds and his crew were pumping out; so much so that it wasn't until a few songs in that I remembered I had a VIP pass. This meant I got a great view and a chance to embarass myself hooting and hollering amidst islands of suits and haute-haught.

That's my friend Sam on the drums, and in this photo he's got a sort of Hindu-multiarm look, which is suitable for drummers, I think.

The new stuff is really good (and suited for the time in which we are living), and I'm planning on picking up a copy of the new record at an actual record store. Now I know what you're saying, you're saying "but do such places even still exist?" And the complicated answer is 'yes.'

But why I wanted to write about this was because of a moment I shared with several hundred people, when Folds had the entire audience doing tripartite harmony on "Not The Same." It was like being in church if church still had the power to move me. It was like being kissed properly. It was one of the most electrifying moments I've had in the city on this particular trip, and I don't even know how to articulate it beyond saying that it certainly helped me get some shit settled and move into a severe abundance of hope.

I'm yammering on, and not doing particular service to any involved parties. But I tell you, it was one of the most profound little moments I've had this year, and I thought I'd share it with whomever happens to be reading.

Recently, I saw:

RALPH (d. Alex WINCKLER) ***
APRIL FOOL'S DAY (d. The Butcher Brothers) -
THE WRESTLER (d. Darren ARONOFSKY) *** 1/2
GOMMORAH (d. Matteo GARRONE) ** 1/2

and here's the latest Folds video, directed by Tim and Eric (of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! fame).