23 July 2009

At the movies: The Hurt Locker.

Prepare yourself for a new look at the Iraq War. In the hands of director Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Strange Days, Blue Steel), we spend several missions among one of the elite squads of bomb and IED defusers, and it's a gathering of nailbitingly tense moments. Bravo Company gets called in to handle the big booms, and it's a rotating array of stunning performances (Jermey Renner and Anthony Mackie in particular) and big name chop suey.

Bigelow is frequently acclaimed as one of the most gifted female filmmakers in the world, as if that qualified epithet weren't incredibly insulting. She's one of the most gifted filmmakers working today, period. That she works primarily in the field of action and genre films makes her work harder to pin down and seemingly less respectable in the eyes of much of the critical establishment, but even that cannot diminish her rock-solid hand behind the viewfinder.

Built on a foundation of in-depth art, sculpture, and photography training, Bigelow's films put ninety percent of what passes for action cinema to shame just by being able to convey physical space in a manner that allows the viewer to understand the physical planes on which the film's action is unfolding. In The Hurt Locker, Bigelow emphasizes neither incomprehensible kinesis nor widescreen vistas to ground the viewer in the now of war.

She focuses on the routines of men at work; in that way, one could find a thematic throughline with both Claire Denis' Beau Travail and Michael Mann's recent (and sorely underrated) Public Enemies, though Bigelow's take is much more accessible and visceral than either of those films. It's the first cinematic representation of the Iraq War that doesn't feel tented up by a specific political agenda or ideology, rather an exploration of what a life under fire does to the human mind.

20 July 2009

The Terrifying World of Nature.

Giant jellyfish. Kurosawa's Bright Future doesn't seem so far removed from reality, now does it?

09 July 2009

Flashback at the movies: The Idiots.

As he was adapting J.G. Ballard's novel Crash for the screen, David Cronenberg would speak of several meetings he'd had with potential studio backers. Each of them wanted him to begin with the main characters grounded in normality, making the path of the film easier for audiences to identify with and to follow. With most films, it is rather easy to follow the path; no matter how many twists and turns you take, more often than not you'll wind up about where you started, with a little more knowledge and a few scratches, but ready to move on.

So what happens when you experience a film that never lets you know where you are on the path? I choose that terminology for a specific reason- you cannot just watch The Idiots. You have to experience it. As a film, it is far too precise in its use of the viewer's own sense of embarrassment to simply be viewed. And it is that queasy sense of nervousness and mortification that Writer/Director Lars von Trier uses to hook you. Or, as the derisive boos and innumerable walkouts which greeted the film at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival demonstrated, it is that queasy sense of nervousness which will drive you away. Not to mention the hardcore sex.

Ostensibly the tale of a collective of individuals so contemptuous of bourgeois society that they must act mentally disabled in public ("spassing," as they call it), The Idiots is a story about love and security, and how modern life, for most, is tragically devoid of either. This is the second film in von Trier's "Golden Heart" trilogy (the first being 1996's Breaking the Waves, the third 2000's Dancer in the Dark). This heroine is a melancholy and just soul named Karen (Bodil Jorgensen), who becomes our audience surrogate during the course of the film. She is found in a restaurant by three of the collective and brought into the group by her own kindness. Emotional need responds to emotional need, and she reaches out rather than withdrawing.

She begins to make friends with the group: the gentle and good-hearted Susanne (Anne Louise Hassing), the meek Josephine (Louise Mieritz, whose work here is quietly devastating), the bourgeois Axel (Knud Romer Jorgensen), the uncertain Jeppe (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, a gifted actor with a remarkably expressive face), the cipher Katrine (Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis), as well as several other men and women. We see these men and women of the group in terms of the collective, yet we also experience their recollection of their time spent at the house in the Danish town of Sollerod. The film's timespace fragments, as an unseen interviewer asks the members about their time as idiots, and about their specific memories. There is one common element to each of their stories: Karen.

As Karen becomes an accepted member, taking in the various antics of the group, from a darkly comic trip to an insulation factory to an emotionally harrowing visit to the public pool, each time she experiences the group's tactics, sometimes as silent observer, other times as minder.

"You poke fun," she tells the group's argumentative leader, Stoffer (Jens Albinus). The group may spass all they want in public, but they return to their headquarters and evaluate each other's performance with clinical proficiency. What liberation can there be in such an empty and academic gesture? Von Trier tips no hands, making the motivation of each character a mystery to be untangled from the mess of rage, sadness, and raw aching need. As such, the film was an ideal choice to be made under the auspices of the Dogme 95 manifesto.

As developed by von Trier and three other renowned Danish filmmakers (Thomas Vinterberg, Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, and Kristian Levring), the basic tenets of Dogme 95 involve stripping artifice from filmmaking, eliminating artificial lighting, allowing only handheld cameras and recording only 'the moment,' which supersedes all other artistic aims. It is a kind of storytelling that is suited to emotional exploration and modern melodrama, and like its predecessor, Vinterberg's Festen (The Celebration), The Idiots opens itself up, warts and all, to the unflinching ugly eye of digital video. By the very nature of its visual reproduction, the use of DV lends a certain equality to the film's many surroundings, making every scene feel like something intercepted, making voyeurs of us all.

Which brings me to the hardcore sex. Fortunately for us Puritans here in the U.S., the MPAA decided that we didn't need to see what genitals do, and there is ample use of big black boxes to make sure that no one sees what happens to be between anyone's legs. As usual, the double standard is alive and well, because the MPAA has no problem with female nudity. It disturbs me that the ratings board of this country would rather give an R-rating to a film in which torsos are bloodily impaled on protruding spikes and nails (twice, as in the recent Exit Wounds) but not to a film that happens to have non-bloody consensual sexual activity. And for that matter, why did the film's US distributors feel the need to censor for an R-rating at all? The viewing habits of today's underage moviegoer do not include foreign films, even with sex and nudity, and especially with their parents. But I digress.

This is not a film for everyone. This is the kind of film I would not recommend to those who are skittish or easily offended, because those people are right to be skittish about this film. This is the kind of film that delivers many moments of absolute cinematic purity that burn very very brightly, detonating the emotional powderkeg that has been building up inside the viewer's shame and love centers. In the last half hour in particular, there is a very concentrated power that I can in no way define or articulate; my first viewing of this film left me so emotionally incapacitated that I had to turn around and immediately watch Charlotte's Web.

You will not be the same when this film is over.

So take that as a warning, but take also this enticement to those who feel that they are up for it: there are many paths to take in this film. Tread lightly, in case you have to find your way back.

Flashback at the movies: Pearl Harbor.

A lunkheaded tragic romance that feels the need to drape itself in one of the most infamous events of American history to acquire some form of depth, this latest effort from Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Director Michael Bay is just as loud, stupid, and built out of whatever cinematic cliches were laying around the editing room as their last two efforts, the rather brainless The Rock and the idiotic high camp of Armageddon.

As released, Pearl Harbor seems cobbled together and wrong-headed in its determined quest to appeal to every conceivable audience (for instance, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s scenes, featured prominently in the trailers yet only comprising about twenty minutes of screen time). There is no definition to any of the characters in the script by Randall Wallace (Braveheart), merely empty ciphers that are assigned a few random traits which will be readily apparent to anyone who has spent any time at all watching movies.

The heroes of the piece are Tennessee flyboys and slashy best friends by the names of Rafe (Ben Affleck, whose hit-or-miss southern drawl is as conspicuous as his duotone hairstyle) and Danny (Josh Hartnett, who has yet to get anywhere near his stunning work in The Virgin Suicides), who end up in the military and fall for the same woman, a devoted Navy nurse named Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale). But before the forty minute sequence that details the destruction of the U.S. naval fleet, we have to toil through nearly two hours of sunsets, overly tight close-ups, and empty foreshadowing. Not to mention a tragic loss at sea, a shocking (-ly obvious) dramatic return, and a supporting cast who pretty much seal their fates through whatever two or three lines of dialogue they are given to distinguish themselves. Especially out-of-place are Ewan Bremner (fresh from julien donkey-boy), whose stuttering is played for comic relief, and Alec Baldwin, who has a jaw-dropper of a monologue at around the two hours-and-a-half mark. Credit Baldwin with recognizing the idiocy of the film he was in and giving a performance to match.

But about that forty minute sequence depicting the bombing of Pearl Harbor… Well, it gives good carnage. Which is exactly the problem that plagues every frame of this film. Why did the filmmakers feel the need to make this film? It is not devoted to historical accuracy, nor is it really even about the circumstances that led to the bombing of American soil. If it weren’t for a few cutaways to Japanese plans during the first eon of the film, the entire bombing would be almost incidental.

As is typical of Bay, jingoism and antiquated masculine codes of behavior are in plentiful supply. More disturbing is the film’s absence of passion or immediacy. You would think that a movie about such a tragic event would have the balls to make some sort of statement about anything, and instead we are treated to an elementary school history class summary of post-Tokyo bombing America. The shameful legacy of Japanese-American internment and the vaporization of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is conspicuously absent from this little voiceover epilogue regarding America’s ‘inevitable victory,’ leaving the audience, as they leave the theatre, with a sanitized version of one of Michael Ironside’s history classes from Starship Troopers. And then comes the saccharine love theme. Natch.

Flashback at the movies: Dancer in the Dark.

I have a fondness for hard-hitting melodrama that I can date back to a very specific incident in my youth. One gloomy Saturday afternoon, my mother had me sit down and watch one of her favorite movies of all time, the Douglas Sirk remake of Imitation of Life. It was gaudy, overstylized, and methodically designed to reduce even the most stone-hearted viewer to tears. I loved it.

Several years later, I had a similar experience wherein my father had me watch John Waters' Female Trouble. I mention this, because if you were to take 70% of Imitation of Life and 30% of Female Trouble, you would have the basic tone of Lars von Trier's brutal musical epic Dancer in the Dark.

As emotionally wrenching as his sledgehammer-to-the-solar plexus love story Breaking the Waves and as formally intriguing as his own Dogme 95-derived ice pick into the subconscious of alienation and regret The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark tells the story of Czech immigrant Selma Jescova (Icelandic/Martian fairy princess/pop singer Bjork), who works double shifts at a steel sink factory in Washington State in the early sixties to save enough money to save the eyesight of her son. Selma is already feeling the effects of a particularly nasty form of congenital visual myopia, and she labors (at her own risk and the risk of her coworkers, oftentimes) ceaselessly to prevent her son Gene (newcomer Vladan Kostic) from suffering the same fate.

Selma, as played by Bjork, is almost a fragile, alien creature, possessed of delicate and unique features and a melodic brook of a voice. At no point in the film does she use anything approaching common sense, and yet her fierce resolve draws the viewer into tacit support of her, even as she remains alienating to both the audience and the other characters.

Even though she can barely see to make her proper steps, she is singing the role of Maria in a local production of The Sound of Music, and to hear Bjork's crystalline and visceral whoop of a voice tear into Rogers & Hammerstein is a treat in and of itself. Pulling double duty on this film (she also composed the unique and emotionally sumptuous songs), Bjork is almost as much the auteur as von Trier. Her character's obsession with musicals is such that even though she cannot see the screen, she attends the cinema religiously with her best friend Kathy (the ever-radiant Catherine Deneuve, here graceful as ever), who describes to her what happens on screen, even at some points tapping out the dance formations on the back of Selma's hand.

Deneuve’s unshowy work provides an emotional foundation to the film’s simultaneous canonization and mortification of Selma, as does Peter Stormare’s aching turn as Jeff, Selma’s meek and earnest suitor. Also of special note are the performances by David Morse (who is well-suited to emotional firestorms like this one, as anyone who has seen Sean Penn’s The Crossing Guard can attest) and Siobhan Fallon. An SNL alumna (and you might recognize her as the bus driver from Forrest Gump), Fallon here turns an oddly written part into a quietly devastating portrait of compassion.

If this all sounds twee, or corny, rest assured that it is not. There are a few moments of joy (the musical numbers, a gracious gift of a bicycle, some fancy candies) that are as welcome a relief as any for both the characters and the audience as wave after wave of hardship crashes into Selma and Gene. When an unscrupulous neighbor (and former friend) betrays Selma, a rickety Rube Goldberg machine of mortification and martyrdom is set into motion, as fixated on tragedy as Juanita Moore's radiant Annie Johnson in Imitation of Life or Divine's Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble.

This film has been brewing up controversy just about everywhere it goes, winning the Palme d'Or (Best Picture) and Best Actress (for Bjork) awards at this year's Cannes film festival amid scathing reviews and criticisms and equal amounts of ovation and booing at screenings. Writer/Director von Trier has always thrived on such drama, and it is apparent that he has no intention of mellowing any time soon (longtime von Trier fans will be pleased to know that the title of the film is still displayed against his mammoth name).

Equally iconoclastic and respectful to the classical Hollywood musical (the film even begins with an abstract overture, a pleasant touch that I last recall in the duelling space epics of 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Black Hole), the films super-saturated DV musical numbers are both meticulously choreographed and messily assembled. Supposedly 100digital video cameras were used in the filming of these sequences, but you'd think that that sort of setup would allow for more satisfying coverage of the dance numbers. Unless, of course, there is a philosophical reason for it. And I believe there is. The muddy hues of digital video continually keep us behind the failing eyes of Selma, and even the deeply-hued musical sequences still look unnatural when compared to the inherent glamour of film.

Director of Photography Robby Muller (Dead Man, Breaking the Waves, Barfly), with von Trier as camera operator, crafts a unique landscape that gleams as often as it disappears, always finding the right light for the emotional center of the scene. As is typical of Von Trier’s work, jump cuts are present in abundance, though rather than being disorienting, they keep the flow of the dialogue continuous.

I wouldn't dream of spilling any of the beans, brazen plot machinations, or implausible tragedies that are sprung throughout the film, but I recommend you experience it in the spirit of Douglas Sirk, or Rainer Werner Fassbinder, or yes, even John Waters. Let’s just say that before this film finishes playing its cards that greed, anticommunism, the American judicial system, and the hearts and souls of the audience are all thrashed soundly AND you get to see the inimitable Joel Grey tap-dance in a showstopper of a number. This is not for everybody. This is hard-hitting melodrama at its most unique, experimental, and brutally alive.

Flashback at the movies: Urbania.

I’m going to challenge Nashville filmgoers with this one. One of my other jobs involves selling tickets at a local googolplex, so I know how you react when it comes time to spend your movie dollars. It seems that the only phrase that scares the typical Nashville moviegoer more than “it’s subtitled in English” is “it deals with gay issues.” So I’m faced with a dilemma when a film like Jon Shear’s Urbania drops into the picture.

It isn’t just that it happens to be the finest English language film I’ve seen all year, nor is it the fact that as a means of telling a story cinematically it is peerless in its use of editing (as shocking as it may seem to those who have been weaned on the frenetic and incomprehensible vidiot-montage tendencies of Michael Bay, editing should help tell the story), mood, and image. The dilemma I find with this film is this: how do I get people to experience this unique and moving example of fully realized cinema without pandering to the people who are left quaking in their boots by the thought of two men kissing onscreen?

Well, to be truthful, fuck ‘em. This film speaks to and analyzes the soul of the bereaved better than anything I’ve seen since Carl Franklin’s One True Thing and Lars von Trier’s The Idiots. As the protagonist Charlie, Dan Futterman (from Shooting Fish and The Birdcage) delivers a performance that ranks up there with Tom Hanks in Joe Vs. The Volcano or Joan Allen in Nixon or The Ice Storm or, for that matter, Holly Hunter in anything – quiet, unshowy work that merits inclusion among the truly great screen performances of our time.

What’s more, in opening up Daniel Reitz’ play Urban Folk Tales, director Shear (working with Reitz) presents us with a story that has to be told cinematically. As a play, there is no way that this experience could have had the same cumulative effect on the viewer as it does in its fully realized form as a film. Shear’s gifts as a director should lead to a very promising future for the former actor, as his realization of the script (with ace cinematographer Shane Kelly) is coupled with an understanding that continues to elude more-established filmmakers like George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis – that technology is a great boon when it is used in the creation of a good and unique story. Urbania’s press notes state that it is only the second motion picture to be finished completely in the digital realm. The first one: Star Wars, Episode I, natch. The gap between the two couldn’t be greater.

Deep down at its hardened but benevolent core, Urbania is a tale of frustration, desire, loss, redemption, lust, and peace. It manages to be powerful, sad, darkly funny, randy, laden with regret, and filled with every sort of palpable emotion. It dishes out a lot of sex (the good, transgressive kind) and violence (the horrifying kind, where you feel every punch and slap and cut), the latter being very important when hate-crimes legislation is being diddled with by much of the newly-elected phalanxes of the government, and as an emotional journey, the only comparison I can make is with Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut or Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite.

The Dumont film is an interesting comparison piece, as it begins with the aftermath of a horrifying act of violence and expands outward, becoming an examination of humanity and guilt. Urbania begins with a similarly devastating aftermath and focuses inward, bearing down on Charlie’s soul with an unyielding gaze, and finding within it the film’s final frame, a simple image so satisfying and right that it stays with you for days.

Flashback at the movies: Bamboozled.

Beyond its uneven and bludgeoning tone, beyond its odd misogyny and antisemitism, beyond its stupefying central performance from Damon Wayans, and beyond the dreadful second ending (the film has three by my count), Spike Lee’s Bamboozled is the first film of 2000 that I honestly believe every American should see. The warts-and-all screenplay is the story of Peerless Dothan (Damon Wayans), a television writer so desperate to assimilate into the TV mainstream that he obliterates his own ethnic heritage by using the name Pierre Delacroix. Continually frustrated with the resistance shown his sensitive and intelligent scripts about middle class black families, he decides to get himself fired by creating ManTan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show, wherein black actors in blackface sing, dance, and perform skits in a watermelon patch in Alabama. It causes a furor, public opinion is diverse and vocal, and ManTan: the New Millennium Minstrel Show becomes a hit.

Is it possible for such a thing to happen? Lee’s point is that given the preponderance of hoodcoms on UPN and the WB (and he is not afraid to name names either, as the maligned Tommy Hilfiger will attest to) and the recent upswing in the trend of ghetto fabulousness, blackface is just a more obvious incarnation of the destructive racism that plagues society and (more specifically) television today. And there are sequences in this film that are absolutely merciless in their attack on complacent attitudes and foolish traditions regarding racism, just as there are scenes so utterly wrongheaded that one can’t help but be struck by their incongruity with the densely packed morality tale at the heart of the film. Fortunately, the cast offers up several great performances (Tommy Davidson, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Mister Paul Mooney, and a cameo from the always welcome Susan Batson, as cutting here as she is in Lee’s vastly underrated Girl 6) and their devotion to the material is palpable.

What Bamboozled does is make the viewer gauge him or herself against the material being seen. There are images in this film (expertly shot in a jagged and perceptive manner by Ellen Kuras (Summer of Sam) in raw digital video) that are constructed of emotionally and socially violent icons, and the viewer is given no orientation other than whatever inherent sense of right and wrong you brought with you to the theatre. Walkouts abound, but so does a sensation truly unique when compared to most major releases: the feeling that every single person in the theatre is being made to think and evaluate what they are seeing. There is nothing even remotely escapist about the film, and by the end of the whole experience, I was weeping and emotionally destroyed.

Will you like it? How could anyone like the iconography of hate that the film dishes out, both barrels?

Should you see it? Absolutely.

Flashback at the movies: Megiddo- Omega Code 2

MEGIDDO: OMEGA CODE 2 (106 minutes)

Given my past experiences with the subgenre of Evangelical Christian Apocalypse films (everything from those Mark IV films from the seventies to the Gary Busey epics of the early nineties to the most recent spate of theatrically released films like Left Behind and the original Omega Code), I walked into Megiddo: Omega Code 2 with a mental checklist of plotpoints to expect: European character actor Antichrist (Michael York, the only holdover from the first Omega Code, kicking it up to unhinged Pacino levels), condescending and vague ethnic stereotypes, sub-‘Made for Sci-Fi Channel’ effects, utter disdain for Europe and Africa and their people, horrifying violence undone by CGI representation of divine energy, climactic religious awakening for the male lead (Michael Biehn!), the complete absence of Canada, and the inescapable corruption of the sacred to fit the template of a lackluster action-adventure thriller. All were present in abundance.

Starting off in Omen-ripoff territory, Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive-In, Leprechaun 4: In Space) gives us the missing childhood years of Stone Alexander (York), the surrogate human body for the devil. He tries to burn his baby brother alive, then gets sent to military school, hooks up with a Satanic priest (played by Eurothriller Mark of Quality Udo Kier), exerts his youthful and evil will, then marries a lovely Italian stereotype who becomes Michael Mann regular Diane Venora. All this while becoming the multimedia mogul who eventually encompasses government, broadcasting, and smting his enemies on a semi-regular basis. Now, a word or two about York’s performance; this is the kind of camp feast that would strike silent film audiences as excessive, equal parts Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Darwin Mayflower.

Anyway, the objective is world domination. The way is through global ecumenism, feeding the hungry, and gathering the sovereignties of nations like baseball cards. The means are Biblical prophesy. And the execution is almost generic enough to slip on by, despite being stuffed to the gills with B-movie character actors like like R. Lee Ermey, Franco Nero, and David Hedison.

So it struck me as odd, given the recent willingness of Hollywood to delay, pull, or do rewrites and reshoots with any films dealing with violence, war, and terrorism, to watch a film with so many shots of people running from collapsing buildings, being crushed and mutilated by debris, and assaulted by the power of both the forces of hell and the power of heaven. Did the film’s distributors even consider delaying the film for a little while, given the reticence which even the most hardened connoisseurs of onscreen carnage have shown regarding movie mayhem? For that matter, what of the film’s near-triple digit body count? It is honestly difficult to say which film, this or Pearl Harbor, is the more shameful in its depiction of the horror of war, hiding the blood for its PG-13 and sending precisely the wrong message about violence to an impressionable audience.

The film’s screenwriters (which include perennial threat to cinema John Fasano, who did a lot of damage to the script of Alien3 and was responsible for Another 48 Hours) do not do any favors to the Divine, portraying God as being ethnically partisan and prone to the human conceit of waiting for dramatic moments to garner more attention. It is a disheartening distortion of sacred text, like making the Bhagavad-Gita into a turgid drama about golf, or turning the Koran into a murder mystery.

But this empty effort takes the psilocybin surreality and nightmarishly epic scope of the Book of Revelation and dumbs it down and amps it up with guns and so-called righteousness in a near continuous five-minute orgy of tanks, guns, hackings, an unnatural eclipse, and a CGI-devilbeast that looks like it escaped from a scrapped Castle Wolfenstein sequel from around 1991. Oh, and did I mention that there’s also the inescapable love story subplot that apparently must be included in all films now in order for them to be made?

It seems that once again Christian audiences are so starved for entertainment that fits their aesthetics that they will make a point of supporting as base, empty, and avaricious a film as this. Those who enjoy the ludicrous and the socially destructive may find plenty to enjoy, and fans of euro-cult character actors will have struck gold with the embarrassment of embarrassed supporting cast members. But for anyone who expects some degree of theological complexity or coherent story-telling that isn’t cribbed from other (and better) movies, Megiddo: Omega Code 2 is exactly like the wasteland to which it reduces countless foreign buildings and landmarks.

The semiannual retro-whatevra Poolside Margarita Radio Adventure Show

04-06PM CDT

Depeche Mode – Leave in Silence (DJ Nomi ReEdit)
Pet Shop Boys – Two divided by zero (Demo)
Winc – Thoughts of a Tranced Out Love (Black Lettuce Mix)
Fever Ray – Triangle Walks (Rex The Dog Remix)

Talk Break 1
Baby Ford – RU486
Miss Nicky Trax – Hooked on You
Paul Rutherford – Get Real
Maurice – This is Acid (Multimix)
Kid ‘n Play – 2 Hype (Ha├žienda House Instrumental)

PSA: Car Mileage
Chrome – Electric Chair
Smashing Pumpkins – Appels + Oranjes
Climie Fisher – Love Changes Everything (DJ Storm Bmore Club Mix)
Prince & The Revolution – Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden (Live 06/07/84)

PSA: Eye Exams
Talk Break 2
Donna DeLory – Only You Tonight (from Killer Workout/Aerobicide)
Pseudo Echo – His Eyes (from Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning)
Kim Wilde – Take Me Tonight (from Tenebrae)

PSA: Litter Volunteerism
PSA: Diabetes Awareness
Sparks – My Other Voice
JX – Close to your Heart (Immortals Remix)
Madonna – Heartbeat (Sanno Solavas Bootleg)
The Five DuTones – Shake a Tail Feather
Michael Jackson – You Can’t Win

Talk Break 3
Roxette – The Look (Elaste)
Time Bandits – Endless Road
Propaganda – Heaven Give Me Words (Honey in Heaven)
Robbi Robb – In Time (Futurecop! Remix)


02 July 2009

At the movies: Public Enemies.

Michael Mann, since embracing the Viperstream HD camera (a system he helped develop) a few years back, has been the aesthetic innovator for non-celluloid filmmaking (and if you don't believe me, check out Collateral or the ridiculously underrated Miami Vice), and despite some initial concern that the HD look would draw viewers out of Public Enemies' 1930s setting, Mann finds that masterful balance (think what David Fincher did with Zodiac) between the medium and the message.

It's weird, because I've read several reviews of the film which make reference to security cameras and the television show Cops in analyzing the look of Public Enemies, as if sharply-photographed displays of crime are somehow proprietary to those grungy examples. Mann has always been a remarkable visual artist, and with this film, he continues to establish the aesthetic capabilities of HD cinematography.

Based on the true story of the legendary Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger, Public Enemies serves up a classic American archetype (the antihero who cultivates a folk following while confounding authority) in a story that feels all too relevant given our own uncertain economic predicament. And it's in Mann's emphasis that we learn something rather fascinating about John Dillinger the man. He's a creature of routine- he has style, and verve, and he knows how to orchestrate things, but watching his bank robberies are amazing specifically because of the efficiency with which they are undertaken and executed. Dillinger brags that he can rob a bank in a minute and forty seconds flat, and Mann keeps to that timetable, avoiding fetishy extrapolations and cutting to the meat of the situation- it's glorious.

And Johnny Depp, at least momentarily free from his pirate obligations, plays John Dillinger and gets to the issues and uncertainties at the heart of American fame masterfully. He's great at what he does, understanding publicity and persona in an almost deconstructive manner. It's just sad when crime passes him by. As crime gets more organized and starts making its money on a nationwide scale, Dillinger's brand of hustling seems, well, quaint.

At the same time, though, the beginnings of what would eventually be the FBI is deciding to up its technological game as well, using wiretaps and torture and coordinating information in new and expansive ways. Under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup, crying out for a spin-off film) and Chicago division head Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale, with nary a Terminator in sight and gloriously alive), we see the beginnings of the cop/criminal escalations that are still with us today.

Like all Michael Mann films, this boils down to the continued isolation of a man just trying to do his job and uphold some kind of personal code. The Dillinger/Purvis duality is built out of contrasts, but we see in them an absolute commitment to their own paths. The drama is internal, inexorable, and we feel it continuously. No one can stage a siege like Mann, and the film's centerpiece is a late-night raid on a Wisconsin retreat. Hats cut through the night, gunsmoke clings to the ground like eldritch fog, and nothing burns brighter than muzzle flash, nothing darker than freshly spilled blood.

01 July 2009

Six Minutes to Change your Life.

So much happens. What a weird meeting of the masters of funk dancing...

Oddly enough, my favorite moment is James Brown just calling out "Prince? Prince? Prince?" Magnificent.