30 December 2010

2010: The Year in Film.

You know I love hierarchical foolishness. So here, without any further ado, is my year-end wrap-up for where film went in 2010.

At the movies: I Love You Phillip Morris.

Almost two years after I saw it initially, the big deal GLBT film of the year (because there can only be one or two a year) finally makes it out into the American world. It's a twisted and funny story and well worth your time.

21 December 2010

At the movies: Black Swan.

So, I've been going on about Black Swan for awhile now. It's kind of an obsession, which suits the film itself. This piece lets me, at length, get into what I love about the film and why it's been bouncing around inside my head for the past three weeks.

28 November 2010

Lost Review! At the Movies: I'm Still Here

I wrote it and got paid for it. But it never made it into the digital archive at Metromix Nashville. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice... So I saw this before it premiered at Toronto, but it opened in Nashville after the involved parties had revealed the whole thing to be a hoax. So that's annoying. Here's my genuine response. You're soaking in it.

In 2009, just after completing the film Two Lovers, Joaquin Phoenix announced his retirement from acting in order to pursue a career as a rapper. Befuddlement ensued, from fans who’d followed Phoenix’s career as an acclaimed actor as well as a celebrity-obsessed media that couldn’t help but wonder at the sheer randomness of the whole thing. So from that, Phoenix began to document his transition into hip-hop with the help of his brother-in-law Casey Affleck. This film is the result of that, following Phoenix’s downward spiral into what very well could be a self-created career annihilation.

Everyone is wondering whether or not I’m Still Here is real or fake, or ‘real.’ When you’re talking about film or fame, there is no real, at least not in the way that suits an easy dualist perspective. My guess is that the germ of this film started out as invented and planned, and that during the course of this ‘documentary,’ the outside world decided to play along and everything got too real for everyone, and Phoenix ended up in showbusiness limbo.

Filth abounds, as well as a good deal of drug use, pimpcraft, exploitation, nudity, and empty Hollywood debauchery. In its defense, I’m Still Here does have a staggeringly effective and beautiful final shot, a miraculously tranquil and haunting moment. But the slog of it is just brutal.

I give Casey Affleck a good deal of credit as an actor.

As a director/documentarian, he’s coming from some place very different. At its best, this film is like evidence for an intervention, or a cautionary tale for anyone trying to get too metatextual with their career. You feel a corrosive sense of pity for Phoenix at first, one that eventually gets used up by the ceaseless, whiny grind of watching a goof on the idea of celebrity that acquired its own malignant inertia and ended up fulfilling its fake crisis with a real one. Let’s hope this mess scares Phoenix into rediscovering a passion for acting.

24 November 2010

At the Movies: Harry Potter 7.1.

The latest journey into the Wizarding World.

Catching Up at The Movies: Carlos.

5 1/2 hours worth of awesome. Poster designed by the truly awesome Sam Smith.

25 things You May Not Have Known about The Breakfast Club.

One of the most awesome experiences I've ever been privy to.

Catching Up at The Movies: Inside Job.

In case you've been wondering what happened to your money/house/life.

Catching Up at The Movies: Hereafter.

So I feel like I was way hard on this film. Looking back on it, Damon's performance stays with me, and his scenes with Bryce Dallas Howard are emotionally hardcore. But I don't know if I can make myself watch this one again. Maybe...

Catching Up at the Movies: Enter The Void.

A singular visual experience. Certainly worth seeing in theatres.

Famous People Talked to Me: Gaspar Noe.

Noe way.

Catching Up at The Movies: The Social Network.

Still one of the best films I've seen all year, and certainly one that's resonated with the most people.

Famous People Talked to Me: David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin, Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield.

A fun day at the Walter Reade, getting to the heart of things.

Catching Up at The Movies: The Agony and The Ecstasy of Phil Spector.

Ah, the sheer madness of it all.

23 November 2010

Catching Up at the Movies: Going the Distance.

I still can't believe that this film was such a staggering failure. It's so far ahead of every other romantic comedy I saw all year.

Catching up at the Movies: Life During Wartime.

A surprising box office disappointment, considering how well Happiness did in nashville back in the day.

Famous people Talked to Me: Michael K. Williams, Ally Sheedy, and Todd Solondz.

A chance to talk with Writer/Director Todd Solondz, Actor Michael K. Williams, and Actress Ally Sheedy at the 2009 New York Film Festival. This is where that photo of me and Omar comes from...

Catching Up at The Movies: Wild Grass (Les Herbes Folles).

A bonkers opener for the 2009 New York Film Festival, and a truly unique offering from one of the greats. I apparently liked this more than most.

Catching Up at The Movies: Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

This one ran in The Tennessean as well, where I was treated to some snarky-ass comments by idiots. It's been pulled from their archive, so who can say?

21 August 2010

An intriguing new professional development.

I actually have some web presence in the Gannett armada of publishing... It only took ten years, but I'm actually quite psyched for it. Stop by No Concessions, check it out, and let me know your thoughts.

All my reviews from here on out for Metromix will be archived there, as well as a few classics from the past that have been lost to the eddies of time and space. I'll also be doing current film updates as well there.

Does this mean I'm doing away with Interface 2037? Far from it. I need a space that will remain my own, and this is it. I'll link to NC stuff here, so you'll receive notification in some form or another when I've got new things to read, but let's just look at these two beasties as newfound stepsiblings who are figuring their space issues out.

25 July 2010

The Fifty Best Prince Songs of all time, Pt. III: 1-10.

So it took me two years to finally finish this endeavor. It gets harder and harder to write about these songs, the closer they get to my heart and hippocampus. It helps, though, seeing Purple Rain with an audience. It lets me get back into that purple part of my heart.

So, let's catch up. Part one, which covers #s 50-16, is here. Part two, which covers 11-15, is here.

10) COMPUTER BLUE (Unreleased Version) (1984)
So many different versions. I'm partial to the one that Prince turns into the funk version of "The End" (i.e. the 'hallway speech' version), but I've never heard a version of Computer Blue that isn't captivating.

09) ANNA STESIA (1988)

A remarkable dialogue of faith.


There will never be another song quite like this one. It is ground zero of a whole new kind of sound, and I am dazzled by it on a daily basis.

07) DIRTY MIND (1980)

Naughty, but not filthy. Funky, but in a way no one had experienced before. Synthy, but with much more on its mind than riding some sequencers in search of easy groceries.

06) REBIRTH OF THE FLESH – Camille (1986)

For some reason, this has always reminded me a little of "Earache My Eye." Party rock at its finest. I want a horn section with me at all times because of this track.

05) CHILI SAUCE – The Time (1984)

The funniest loverman seduction ever put on record. Why hasn't some enterprising individual made Morris Day their spokesperson? I mean, the possibilities are just limitless. And this song is such a singular vision of purple strings and straightman sass, it just makes me smile every time I hear it.


A studio error gives rise to one of the most enduring love songs ever written. If I ever get married (yes, I know, we've talked about it- I want a wedding, not a marriage), this song will play, mark my words.

03) WHEN DOVES CRY (1983)

If you want evidence as to why radio was millions of times better in the mid-80s than it is today, let's note that this was a massive hit (the biggest of Prince's career) that changed radio, clubs, MTV, and the movies. It is such a singular and masterful expression that I just trip out on its utter magnificence. Even today, nothing else sounds quite like it.

02) MOUNTAINS (1986)

With all the ongoing debate about what the Revolution did or didn't do, I always like to point to this masterpiece. Prince, Wendy, Lisa, Dr. Fink, Brown Mark, Bobby Z, Sheila E, Atlanta Bliss, Eric Leeds, and Miko Weaver. The Counterrevolution, but damn if I don't find something new in this track every time I hear it. Prince made magic when writing with Wendy & Lisa, and this song stands eternal as testament to it.


Is it any wonder Susannah went with him? If someone had written this for you, wouldn't you follow them anywhere?

and then, the song we'll never hear, but that plays in the heart of every Prince fan...

One evening shortly after Susannah (Melvoin)'s departure, [recording engineer] Susan Rogers could tell something was very wrong when Prince came down to the basement studio. Looking disconsolate and barely speaking, he began constructing a song around a melancholy piano pattern. His spoken lyrics portrayed a fictional dialogue between himself and Wally Safford, a dancer in the band. Sounding sad and lost, Prince asks Wally to borrow $50 and some sunglasses so he can impress his lover, but then changes his mind and returns the items, telling Wally that since he is alone now, he has no one to spend the money on. Prince was accompanied only by piano throughout the verse, but guitar, bass, and drums enter as the song built into a chorus on which he sings the phrase, "o-ma-la-di-da."

Watching Prince construct the song, which he called "Wally," Rogers was stunned by the honest emotion and wistful resignation it conveyed. She saw the song both as a farewell to Susannah and a means of expelling the poison of a failed relationship.

"Do you know that malady means sickness, illness in French?" Prince asked Rogers, referring to the phrase he sings in the chorus. "It's almost like the word melody, isn't it?" Prince, who rarely exposed his inner feelings, even in his music, was groping for a metaphor that would convey his feelings of loss. Rogers felt it was a turning point in his songwriting.

But as the session continued, Prince started to distance himself from the creation. He added extraneous instruments that diminished the song's clarity. A percussion part cluttered the verse, detracting from the lyrics.

"Don't you think it was better before, Prince?" Rogers said. "Maybe we should stop." He ignored her, adding a synthesizer riff. Soon it became clear to her: He was intentionally destroying the song. After larding the piece with additional instruments, he finally spoke.

"Now put all 24 channels on record and erase it," he told Rogers.

"No, you can't do this!" Rogers said, dismayed by the prospect of losing the statement at the core of the song.

"If you don't, I will," Prince responded.

Rogers stood her ground, and Prince was forced to operate the soundboard himself as he destroyed his own music. "Wally," like his relationship with Susannah, Wendy, and Lisa, involved more emotional intensity than Prince was willing to accept. "I thought it was the greatest thing he had done," says Rogers. "I had waited years to hear a Prince song like this. I ached to hear him be this honest."

Yet, Prince's refusal to explore his feelings was not altogether surprising. Rogers had discussed the topic of depression with him before and found Prince contemptuous of the very notion. "He thought it was practically a sin to be depressed," she remembered. Many other associates have observed that Prince -- not only in his relationships, but even in his music -- is cryptic and unrevealing of his deepest feelings. "His music is very passionate, but he doesn't let himself open up emotionally," observed Marylou Badeaux. "And look at the way he's dealt with women in his life -- he's not able to get emotional, he just keeps it on the level of sex play."

Though Susannah had never formally been part of the Revolution, her personal and creative influence on Prince from 1983 to 1986 rivaled that of Wendy and Lisa. With her exit from the scene, the Revolution period ended irrevocably. The epitaph of this time would be "Wally," a song no one would hear.

from Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince by Alex Hahn.

So, to recap:

The Top 50 Prince songs of all time.

1 The Beautiful Ones
2 Mountains
3 When Doves Cry
4 Forever in my Life
5 Chili Sauce
6 Rebirth of The Flesh
7 Dirty Mind
8 The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
9 Anna Stesia
10 Computer Blue
11 The Grand Progression
12 Letitgo (Sherm Stick Edit)
13 The Dance Electric
14 The Question of U
15 If I was your Girlfriend
16 Love... Thy Will Be Done
17 Condition of the Heart
18 Bob George
19 Stand Back/Little Red Corvette
20 Dance with the Devil
21 Strange Relationship
22 Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden
23 Joy in Repetition
24 When You Were Mine
25 Others Here With Us
26 Train
27 17 Days
28 Uptown
29 Lovesexy
30 Lisa
31 Manic Monday/1999
32 Circle of Amour
33 All My Dreams
34 200 Balloons
35 Oliver's House
36 Starfish and Coffee
37 Let's Pretend We're Married
38 Sugar Walls
39 When 2 R in Love
40 For You
41 Slow Love
42 Take Me With U
43 There is Lonely
44 Eye Wanna Melt With U
45 Nothing Compares 2 U
46 Moonbeam Levels
47 Black Sweat
48 I Wanna Be Your Lover
49 If a Girl Answers (Don't Hang Up)
50 Peach

24 June 2010

The Love Show.

Hole are coming to play Nashville in a few days, and I got to write about it in the Nashville Scene. You can read it here.

The one thing that I find kind of interesting is, well- what if she reads it? Ms. Love is not one to hold back, and I really wouldn't want to be on the shitlist of an artist I may very well be seeing in concert.

Who knows?

At the movies: Please Give.

Nicole Holofcener is one of the finest directors working today, hewing out a fascinating milieu of intelligent characters dealing with real social issues in a way that is never pedantic or dull. She has a gift for incisive writing and getting great performances out of her actors, as well as perennial star/artistic muse/Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener, who makes this film's Kate into one of the most complex and powerfully human characters in all of cinema this year.

Following a triumphant premiere at Sundance earlier this year, Please Give has emerged as a testament to the joy to be found in smart, funny, and empathetic movies about real life, serving as another feather in Holofcener's cap.

Kate works with her husband, running a store which sells furniture salvaged from estates of the recently-deceased. Business is good, thriving even, but so is an innate sense of guilt that threatens her ability to relate to humanity in general.

Adding to this is her next-door neighbor, a foul-tempered old woman whose imminent death will allow Kate and her family to buy her apartment and expand their home. Kate is a moderately prosperous woman who desperately wants to find a way to give back, yet finds herself stymied by her own schizophrenic relationship with money.

Going back almost fifteen years, all the way to the still-sharp Walking and Talking, Holofcener hasn't made a false move yet. Please Give is another triumph for her, giving years' worth of detail and emotional resonance in just ninety minutes.

The supporting cast is superb, and Amanda Peet, an actress I've been previously ambivalent toward, is nothing less than amazing in this film. And something else I'd not expected- I've never had the experience of a film placing you so precisely in a specific sociopolitical universe as this film manages in its staggering opening credits sequence. Without words, without obvious signposts, it grabs you and the only sensible option is to be swept away.

20 June 2010

At the movies: Mother and Child.

So the Nashville Scene ran my review for Mother and Child, and I am linking to it dutifully. I hope you enjoy it.

At the movies: The Secret in their Eyes.

This Argentine import came out of nowhere and shocked a large amount of the viewing public when it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year, beating out higher-profile nominees like A Prophet and The White Ribbon.

With its bifurcate time period and a willingness to keep scenes languid, the film isn’t exactly a breezy romp. But its combination of enduring mystery and off-kilter love story meshes together well, and audiences who’ve been digging The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (that would be, everyone- that film has legs like a Rockette or a Clydesdale) will find much here to enjoy and contemplate.

Recently retired judge Benjamin Esposito is trying to put his free time to use, writing a novel that springs from a tragic rape/murder case from several decades back in his career. It means going back through legal documentation, revisiting some of his own tragic moments, and reintroducing himself into the life of Irene, the love of his life, now a senior legal official herself.

Can he find the necessary inspiration to delve into the writing of his book? Can he finally crack the case that sat in the back of his mind for decades? And can he finally figure out what his feelings for Irene really are?

The shockingly reactionary politics that drive the film are problematic, especially because the look and feel of the film is spectacular, with a central mystery that tangles in a few unexpected ways. Stopping just short of endorsing violence for reckless eyeballing, this is a film that just wants to deal with how wounded souls deal with the passage of time, and its scenes are often masterfully constructed and pulled off well.

The central performances are great, and the structure, at times, feels like an early 80s giallo- full of meticulous composition and baroque stories. Worth your time, certainly, though you'll find that it's the peripheral glimpses into Argentine jurisprudence that resonate with the deepest mysteries.

At the movies: Exit through the Gift Shop.

The worlds of film and art have both been sideswiped by this movie, racking up a sizable amount of controversy as to just how real the whole thing is- whether or not it is an actual document of one man’s conquering of the art world by being at the right place at the right time or simply a remarkably-researched and executed farce, manufactured by artists to deliver an acid-soaked love letter to their constituency.

Regardless, the film is a delight, stuffed to the gills with drama, pervasive humor, and a remarkable look at the processes by which artists, both real and imagined, create their work.

This is the story of Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeleno who went from selling overpriced vintage clothing to an object-struck public to becoming self-manufactured art superstar “Mr. Brainwash” in a decade, just by constantly filming everything around him and learning exactly the right lessons on how to commodify and sell art. Along the way, he extensively documented the beginnings of street art, befriending and assisting with every artist he could find on an international level.

But when he finally met elusive genius Banksy, everything in his world changed completely, and the end result is as corrosive and fascinating an autocritique of art culture as you’ll see anywhere this year.

The idea of a comprehensive street art documentary is intriguing, but this isn’t it. To start with Shepherd Fairey and not even address Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, René, or Cost + Revs seems limited to begin with. But we’re dealing with a very specific place in contemporary art, so let’s put that aside.

Whether you see it as an inside look into the world of street art that mutates into a documentary about evolving with a voracious marketplace, a prankish tweak of the mercurial nature of the art establishment, or a Frankenstein-like cautionary tale about what can happen when one is a bit too supportive, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a breezy, brilliant film with lots of laughs and a remarkable discussion piece for anyone even remotely interested in art, both as a concept and as a business.

I'm still not sure whether the whole thing is real, and I find that my certainties become less so as time passes by.

At the movies: Shrek Forever After.

When animated films reach a certain level of success and they aren’t made by Pixar, they more often than not become self-perpetuating enterprises, with sequels and other ancillaries cranked out to maintain awareness with a fanbase that has proven themselves interested in the brand. It’s a good sign that the makers of the Shrek films have gone in a new direction with this latest film (after the unspeakably awful third film),one that moves in a more contemplative sphere and that addresses issues of family burnout and female empowerment- again, the philosophy seems to be 'design for the kids but write for the adults.' The audience, at this time, is a foregone conclusion.

Frustrated by his increasingly domestic life, the once-feared Shrek longs for a simpler time, when villagers fled from him instead of basking in his fame; before Fiona, and Donkey, and the rest of his friends. Well, he makes the mistake of entering into a pact with the scheming Rumplestilskin and finds himself in a mad universe where he never existed. So it’s an ogre to his own rescue, reencountering all of the elements of the previous films (though the third film is, for the most part, skipped over) in new and weirder ways.

It’s no How To Train Your Dragon, but Shrek Forever After is a definite step in the right direction after the boring third film. The actors know these characters inside and out, and Eddie Murphy’s role as supporting jukebox ends up paying off periodically to great effect. The influx of witches (who live on the outskirts of town in a carriage park) add a new texture to the story, and the villainous Rumpelstilskin has a certain Jack Black/snakemanlike charm.

I am once again annoyed by the determination with which movies seem to value boring family life (their depiction, not my evaluation) above everything else, but Shrek Forever After is a pleasant family entertainment, with at least one line so unexpectedly great that I jostled my glasses off my face from laughing.

Unlike crappy post-processed 3D (Clash of the Titans, this means you), Shrek Forever After was designed and animated for stereoscopic viewing, so you can feel safe spending your 3D moviegoing dollars and not worry about paying a premium for an afterthought.

A sort of update.

I've been away for a bit. I haven't gone anywhere per se, but after the flood and the ongoing oil spill, I've been kind of a mess. I've still been writing, I've still been working, but I haven't made a point of keeping the blog updated, mainly because I've been kind of a downer for the past six or seven weeks.

So I am back, updating this blog and trying to lead a productive electronic life. I hope you enjoy it.

09 May 2010

For those of you who didn't know-

and there are apparently many throughout the world, my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee got flooded during a torrential bipartite downpour last weekend. There are a horrifying number of people who have lost everything- their homes, their possessions, their vehicles, their pets, some would say their very selves.

I was lucky. Luckier than most.

My house flooded, I lost a bunch of stuff, and I've spent the past week hopping from one friend's couch to another, trying to keep on keeping on, as the axiom goes. I'm back in my home, with a place of my own to sleep in, and I am grateful.

But I can't even begin to express the surreality of the situation, and part of me (perhaps praeteritively) questions whether I should even try. The water shortages are a hurdle, to be sure, and there's nowhere in the city you can go that isn't offering up personalized devastation, sitting in the front of thousands of yards. And the number of homeless pets is heartwrenching; I've seen so many animals in and around the city, with collars and a frantic look on their faces, trying to find home.

But there's something that feels completely off in the air, and it isn't just the near-omnipresent stank of stagnating water (or the mosquitoes that ensue in such situations). I love this city, in the way that you can only love something that occasionally threatens to push you over the edge into madness. I love this city like an old married couple who occasionally exchange gunfire at one another while remaining completely devoted to one another.

The way to avoid feeling helpless, they say, is to help others. And that's exactly right.

In the words of Haven Hamilton, "They can't do this to us here in Nashville! Let's show them what we're made of."

A Trip down Elm Street (after).

So, in addition to all the other horrifying foolishness that happened last weekend, I saw the Elm Street remake. You can read my thoughts on it in the Nashville Scene. It's a staggering disappointment.

29 April 2010

At the movies: Notorious.

Thank to the folks at the Nashville Scene, here's my pick for this week's Belcourt screening of 1946's Notorious. Which for some reason is illustrated with a photo from the Notorious B.I.G. biopic. Which is kind of funny.

A Trip down Elm Street (before).

Louisville gets the Original, uncontaminated by the remake.
Elm Street 1.0

23 April 2010

Why You should come to Midnight Movies at the Belcourt.

So I mentioned the proposal that happened at a midnight screening of The Room a little while back, and there's video. I pop up around 2 minutes in, the proposal happens at 2:55.

Never a dull moment, and that's how it should be.

11 April 2010

In memoriam: Dixie Carter.

I just found out that Dixie Carter had died, and it hit me very hard. For my entire adult life and most of my childhood, she has been the personification of wit and great lines, because of Designing Women, yes, to a certain extent, but mostly because of Filthy Rich, a sitcom that ran on CBS from 1982-1983.

Carter's character, Carlotta Beck, was scheming and conniving and willing to do anything to get at the fortune left by her deceased father-in-law Big Guy Beck. But along the way, she had some of the great lines of television history, and next to no one knows about this show. So as a tribute to the memory of the late, great Dixie Carter, here are my seventeen favorite lines she ever delivered on this underseen gem.

You may recognize some of these, if only because I've been quoting them for the past twenty-five years.

"I became confused and forced it out of a small child's hand."

"You want to know what happened to me, I'll tell you what happened to me. I fell into the Mississippi River."

"We do not serve- gristle."

"If you refuse to pay servants, you leave us no choice but to adopt small, pliant children from underprivileged countries."

"This should be put on wheels and taken around to people everywhere to show that it could happen in your home too."

"How I hate it when she pummels us with clever repartee..."

"Yes, I want you hurt."

"If I looked in the mirror I would see someone demented, and frothing, and looking for just the right size axe."

"Kathleen, dear, I suggest you stay out of this or I will verbally annihilate you. I will cut you off at the knees. I will take that two-cent accent and perfectly coiffed hairdo and stuff it down your demurely concealed, but nevertheless dimestore cleavage!"

"We prefer not to seriously consider the opinion of a woman whose dog wears hot pants."

"Bootsie Weschester's taste in men ranges from King Kong to Lil' Abner and unfortunately, you do not fall into that category."

"It must be all that fresh morning air you get on those long taxi rides home."

"Marshall- thunder!"

"Our only regret is that we did not have time to purchase an appropriate gift. Perhaps a silver platter with rabbits on it."

"You've been meditating again... your pupils are dilated."

"Don't tell us! Random House has decided to publish your autobiography, I Was an Elementary School Virgin."

"Nouveau white trash."

09 April 2010

At the movies: The Runaways.

I'm superspsyched- my corporate overlords have started to run some of my stuff in The Tennessean as well as Metromix, and you know me- I love attention.

So you can get all of that right here. Yay.

08 April 2010

In memoriam: Malcolm McLaren.

I know next to nothing about the Sex Pistols or the New York Dolls. But here are a few pieces of music Mr. McLaren had his dirty fingers in somehow or another, and they're all spectacular. He was a brilliant bastard of a businessman, and I think the world will be a little less sleazy-interesting without him.


Ah, the rave years. With a melody that sounds like both the Phantasm theme, "Right in the Night" by Jam & Spoon, and "Spanish Caravan" by The Doors.


Samples from Paris is Burning, and this bad boy predates Madonna's "Vogue" by quite some time.

MALCOLM McLAREN and FRANCOISE HARDY: Revenge of the Flowers

From MMcL's jazz-pop "Paris" project. Love it.


A global mush of everything, and one of the most enduring leftfield tracks of the early 80s.

MALCOLM McLAREN and ALISON LIMERICK: Magic's Back (The Ghosts of Oxford Street)
McLaren meets Stock and Waterman, with the voice of Alison Limerick (not Double You). Apologies for the wonky quality and the lack of embeddability.

06 April 2010

At the movies: Hot Tub Time Machine.

After a longtime friend (Rob Corddry, from The Daily Show) tries to kill himself (to a Mötley Crüe song, no less), his buddies (John Cusack, Craig Robinson) and a hanger-on nephew (Clark Duke) decide to head off to the mountains and revisit the ski town where they had some of their most defining moments back in the day. But add an illegal Russian energy drink into the mix, and the four soon find themselves hurled by Jacuzzi through time itself. Now, their time is short before they find themselves trapped in 1986 forever.

Blessed with a title that lays out everything you could need to know, Hot Tub Time Machine has been building on its can’t-miss premise as well as star Cusack’s own 80s nascent stardom as a way to pull in the nostalgia crowd as well as modern youngsters who don’t get why New Order or The English Beat are awesome.

Robinson has long been the secret comedic weapon of recent subversive cinema, and he gets several moments here that no one else could have pulled off. Likewise, Corddry goes for the gusto in every scene, and the two together are pure gold. Cusack underplays, which allows him to get to a much weirder place than he usually allows himself, and Duke (whose work I was unfamiliar with) is amiable and awkward in exactly the necessary proportions.

If it weren’t for a slack reel in the middle and some gratuitous homophobia (and by that I mean the duelling sports bet BJ sequence and a few F-fords), Hot Tub Time Machine would be a classic. As it is, it’s still generally an utter delight; unafraid of going to the darker side (the Greenberg-ier side?) of human despair (and laying some well-deserved blame on friends who don’t return their friends’ phone calls) or getting weird with the tyrannies of love and memory.

The 80s material seems slapdash, but the soundtrack choices are rightfully awesome; if Hot Tub Time Machine is a little off as an 80s film, it’s a superb time travel movie and well worth your time.

My only Class A-complaint is that of all the songs recorded and performed between 1986 and 2010, a character determined to wow an audience chooses "Let's Get it Started" by Black-Eyed Peas. I'm sorry, what?

Hats off to Crispin Glover and whoever did the music supervision.

At the movies: Clash of the Titans.

Who can save the city of Argos from the wrath of the (some would say justifiably) slighted gods and the business end of a monstrous Kraken? Why, it’s Perseus (Sam Worthington), one of head deity Zeus’ scores of illegitimate children and the only man capable of tackling the biggest, strangest critters Ancient Greece can throw at him. There’s a princess to be saved, computer-generated battles to be fought, semi-divine heritage to shun (again and again and again), and a black winged horse to help with aerial shots.

But it's still not really enough.

Simultaneously a high-profile remake of a semi-beloved 1981 cult favorite and the litmus test for whether post-process 3D can work on a large scale, this Clash has been getting a lot of attention. The cast is stacked with great actors (Pete Postlethwaite in genre cinema is always a good sign, and there's a remarkable supporting cast hidden somewhere in this mess of a film), and the original’s flashy camp is well-preserved in the scenes set on Mount Olympus (it’s like some bizarre fusion of The Legion of Doom headquarters and Showgirls).

But will audiences be willing to pay the exorbitant 3D prices for a film which was hastily converted after the fact? The truth is, they shouldn't. 2D is perfectly fine. The only scene which at all benefits from the after-conversion is the opening prologue, telling the story of the Olympian revolt against the Titans across the stars themselves. It's a magical sequence, filled with color and imagination, qualities which sadly vacate the premises once the action starts.

There are three big problems with this film.

1) It’s a film dealing with ancient Greek society and its issues and belief structures, yet is firmly made in the mindset of the modern-day audience (see also 300). This dates a film badly and also creates a central incongruity that can be insurmountable. For an example of a film that does not make this mistake but that most people seem to hate- Oliver Stone's Alexander.

2) Sam Worthington, just as in Avatar, is a blank slate; there’s no presence there, and he just sort of blends in with the pixels on display. He's brawny, he's capable of being forceful (though it comes off more as petulant), but he's got no presence at all.

3) The 3D is weak. Like Alice in Wonderland, this post-processed 3D is neither immersive nor consistent. If a film wasn’t crafted to be in 3D, it shouldn’t be shown that way.

The monsters are fun (big ups on any films with giant scorpions- and this one has at least eight or nine, and the new-concept Medusa is iffily effective even if her lair is the one staggering achievement of the production), Director Louis LeTerrier (Transporter 2) has an exemplary sense of kinesis, and there are moments when it captures the hokey majesty of bringing Greek myth to life. But I'll take the dated techniques and I, Claudius supporting cast of Olympians of the original over this any day of the week.

At the movies: Mother.

The developmentally disabled Yoon Do-joon (Bin Won) finds himself locked away after police decide he’s the most likely person to have killed a young woman. Do-joon isn’t capable of mounting a defense of his own, and he seems doomed to fade away in the depths of the prison system- except for his devoted mother (Kim Hye-ja, in a performance that will leave you breathless). And when the authorities won’t continue their investigation into the tragic murder, only Mother can step up and dig deeper into the muck that surrounds the whole town.

An herbalist, freelance acupuncturist, and full-time guard for Do-joon, Mother has an understanding of people and an effortless guile when it comes to delving into what happened on that fateful night…

Writer/Director Bong Joon-ho (who made The Host, South Korea’s highest-grossing film of all time and a surprise hit here in the U.S.) has a remarkable ability to snag an audience early on and never let go. Following its U.S. bow at last year’s New York Film Festival, Mother has gone on to win rapturous acclaim from critics and audiences nationwide, and it isn’t hard to see why; family is universal. The unprecedented success of Shutter Island has proven that intelligent thrillers made for adult sensibilities can find traction in today’s multiplexes, and Mother is as fine an engine of suspense as world cinema has produced in years.

Kim Hye-ja’s titular performance is something of majesty, the kind of work that stays in the subconscious long after the film has ended. Bong’s construction of the film around her never drops the ball or becomes too clever for its own good, rather letting its labyrinthine twists and turns grow organically from the central question of the film: ‘What wouldn’t a mother do?’

Built like a novel, streamlined like a racehorse, and as visceral as your news of choice, this is the kind of film you just have to step back in awe from; if nothing else, Mother has the best, most expressive, overwhelmingly beautiful final shot of any film since 2002’s Morvern Callar. Bowled over by euphoria and tragedy, nothing else in theatres even comes close.

So you're going to the 2010 Nashville Film Festival...

Well, it’s that time of the year again. The Nashville Film Festival is looming around the corner, and I’ve had a few folks say “Hey, what should I try and check out?” So, here we go.

Section I: Stuff I have seen and proclaim to be awesome.

BLUEBEARD. Fri. 16 @ 515pm, Sat. 17 @730pm
One of my favorites from the 2009 New York Film Festival. One of Breillat’s best (though it does contain a graphic depiction of medieval cooking).

“The Inner Workings of Outer Space” screening in TENNESSEE FILM NIGHT I. Th, 15@7, Sun. 18 @830pm
One of the best Watkins student films I’ve ever seen.

DOGTOOTH. Wed. 21 @530pm, Thur. 22 @1215pm
Disturbing and provocative Greek psychodrama.

“Love Child” screening in GROW UP ALREADY. Sat. 17 @1145am, Tue. 20 @945pm
One of the best shorts of the year. I saw it at the NYFF, and it made local cineaste and philanthropist Scott Manzler laugh harder than I’ve ever seen anything make Scott Manzler laugh.

HOOP DREAMS. Mon. 19 @3pm
Granted, I haven’t seen it since 1994, but as I recall, it was pretty amazing. I’ve had people that I trust who say that it doesn’t hold up, but I’m angling to give it a re-viewing.

FILM WITHOUT BORDERS. Mon. 19 @7pm, Wed. 21 @5pm
As last year, I programmed the experimental film section, and I think it’s a spectacular array of films. I stand by all of them.

Section II: Stuff I haven’t seen, but people whom I trust have and proclaimed it worthwhile.

NOWHERE BOY. Thur. 15 @8pm, Fri. 16 @1pm
Sam Taylor-Wood made last year’s exceptional short Love You More, three amazing dance records with the Pet Shop Boys, and a series of artworks that continue to captivate me. I’ve heard great things about this, her feature debut.

APPLAUSE. Fri. 16 @315pm, Sun. 18 @915pm
Danish actress Paprika Steen (My 1998 Best Actress choice for The Celebration) goes full-on Opening Night.

HIPSTERS. Sat. 17 @715pm, Tue. 20@noon
I have a complicated series of feelings regarding Jonathan Rosenbaum, but in his most recent column in Cinema Scope magazine, he recommends the film highly enough to advise his readers to snag an unsubtitled Russian disc of the film from Amazon. That in and of itself makes me superintrigued.

FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE. Fri. 16 @730pm, Sat. 17 @215pm
This film melts even the coldest of hearts, apparently.

THE COMPLETE JAMIE TRAVIS. Sat. 17 @5pm, Sun. 18 @245
Intriguing fantasiae that have been wowing the world for some time.

LOURDES. Sun. 18 @3pm, Tue. 20 @1230pm
The magnificent Sylvie Testud (Murderous Maids) in a serious story about faith and what it means to be divinely healed. I’m supremely stoked for this.

CYRUS. Thur. 22 @7pm
John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, and the Duplass Brothers. Sold.

Section III: Stuff I haven’t seen, but that has some kind of hook that resonates.

I AM LOVE. Wed. 21 @740pm, Thur. 22 @1245pm
You had me at Tilda Swinton.

THE GOOD HEART. Wed. 21 @noon, Thur. 22 @530pm
I trust Brian Cox as an actor completely.

“Horndog” screening in SENSATIONAL ANIMATION. Sat. 17 @715pm, Mon. 19 @445pm
Bill Plympton is always worth a look, especially his ongoing Dog series.

SOUTHERN BELLE. Sat. 17 @445pm, Sun. 18 @2pm
Any time a documentary deals with southern issues of any sort, you can expect some fireworks. There’s a quote from the inimitable Flannery O’Connor which I can never exactly remember, but which goes something like “those not from the south would view certain things as grotesque, while those from the South would view them as realistic.” Anyway, apologies to the great FO’C, but you get my drift…

CROPSEY. Fri. 16 @715pm, Wed. 21@1pm
Tonally, this seems intriguing. I’ve heard it described as both terrifying and socially irresponsible, so there you go. I’ll be there.

SOUND OF INSECTS. Sun. 18 @345pm, Wed. 21 @245pm
This sounds completely devastating. I’m so there.

ARTHOUSE. Fri. 16 @930pm, Sat. 17 @10am
Greta Gerwig in a comedy about art school. Sold.

THE COLONEL’S BRIDE. Mon. 19 @ 9pm, Wed. 21 @510pm
Local talent and I’ve heard some good things about it.

Section IV: Stuff I haven’t seen but that has an intriguing synopsis and that I feel worthy of taking a chance on.

OMG WTF shorts block (though that’s a terrible name)

So there you have it. Feel free to say hey if you're attending this year's Nashville Film Festival, and always remember, it's okay to have a genuine experience even if you were initially trying to have an ironic one.

26 March 2010

At the movies: Greenberg.

Greenberg is the titular subject of Noah Baumbach’s new film, played by Ben Stiller in a way that aims to reaffirm how great he can be as an actor when he wants to be. But Greenberg is also a state of mind; a quasi-narcissistic, neurotic life paralyzed by not only the process of aging but by the way that language, expectations, and alienation have cut us all off from one another.

Stiller’s Greenberg, specifically, is a carpenter who once was an almost-rock star, recently released from a mental institution. He’s come to L.A. to keep an eye on his hotel developer brother’s palatial house while their family takes a several week excursion to Vietnam. He’s not completely on his own, though. He has his brother’s assistant, Florence (the magnificent Greta Gerwig), to rely on, and from this springs an awkward and deeply resonant kind of relationship.

Baumbach builds on the foundations he’s been trafficking in since 1995’s Kicking and Screaming, following the masterful one-two punch of The Squid and The Whale and Margot at the Wedding, and with the input of his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, who produced and helped develop the story, he’s been able to distill something amazing onscreen.

Nothing I’ve seen all year rings truer than an altered Greenberg talking to a bunch of twentysomethings about the meanness that drives their interactions; “The Chauffeur” in the background, party favors all about, and one man facing the void of modern courtesy.

It will haunt you, even as Stiller gives his best performance in ages and Gerwig shines like a supernova in her first big film. You take joy where you can, but that’s not what drives you. It’s the regret, and the confusion, and yes, the hope.

25 March 2010

At the movies: Chloe.

So the new Atom Egoyan film is kind of a mess, but still interesting (as is often the case with his lesser films). I went on at a medium length about it in The Scene this week, and I feel I should share it with you.

At the movies: Two-Lane Blacktop.

I love writing about the classics, and Monte Hellman's 1971 road epic is very much one of them. Nashvillians are in luck this weekend, as the Belcourt presents a 35mm print as part of its Weekend Classics program. Don't miss it.

And if you're not in the Nastyville area, well then- road trip...

18 March 2010

What's New in the World of NSFW Movie Trailers?

First and foremost, nothing in this post is appropriate for viewing by anyone with any sense of decency or a well-adjusted moral compass.

As a critic and media prophet, it's my job to be aware of what's coming your way in the world of transgressive cinema. It's also something that I- well, let's not say enjoy, but it's something that I'm more than willing to do.

I don't endorse violence and degradation in real life.

Movies are not real, but they can express aspects of the human condition just as any art form does.

And now that we have that out of the way (and seriously, this is your last chance warning; if you don't regularly discuss contemporary art cinema, please skip this piece and move on to the photography and the section where I talk about Tyler Perry), here we go...


This film's director Marc Vorlander is apparently battling it out with Rena Riffel (you know, Penny/Hope from the original) for dueling Showgirl movies.

I say "please, y'all, may I have some more." Everyone should make a Showgirl movie. Quentin Tarantino, Claire Denis, Philippe Grandrieux, and Gaspar Noe should all make Showgirl movies. Because I have no idea what to think of this. It's just under five minutes, and has been trimmed from the unending ten minute monstrosity at the film's official website. And the music feels like a riff on John Carpenter's Halloween music over the beat from Schooly D's "PSK (What Does it Mean?)."

Notable fan of timeless American values and human decency Erik S pointed out, quite accurately, that this totally looks like a Fantom Kiler movie.
Also, just for comparison's sake, here's Rena Riffel's trailer for her own Showgirls sequel.

"How bad do you want it? Bad..."

ENTER THE VOID ("Soudain Le Vide")

Gaspar Noe is kind of awesome. A few years back, he hosted a night at the IFC Center in NYC where he showed 35mm prints of Seul Contre Tous and Salo, and in between the two I got to talk to him for a couple of minutes about his work, Kubrickian motifs, and Bruno Dumont's Flanders; he even signed my ticket, so full props to him.

He's made two beautiful misanthropic masterpieces (the aforementioned Seul Contre Tous and the staggering Irreversible), and now here comes his third feature, with an inordinate amount of sex and drugs and pinballing through the streets of Tokyo. Music by Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk, no less. Here's the Japanese trailer.

The colors... I've actually talked to people who have seen this, and I am super-pumped, especially since (unlike every other film discussed on this page) it actually has U.S. distribution from the lovable freaks at IFC Films. And seriously, how can you not love one of the most twisted characters in the world cinema game who confesses to crying when they killed HomeTree in Avatar?

KINATAY (which, for some reason has been given the English language title of "The Execution of P")

This film, like Enter The Void, premiered at Cannes '09, where its director Brillante Mendoza (who made the porny, atmospheric Serbis a couple of years ago) won the Best Director Award and Roger Ebert lost his mind about it. It's about corruption, Catholicism, misogyny, dehumanization, and the darkest parts of physical space and the human heart.

There's no English-friendly trailer yet, but this French-subtitled one gets the point across (though I actually think it soft-pedals the film's brutality and experimental quality- this could easily be an American trailer for a foreign film, the way it focuses on aspects of family and moral choice).

The actual translation of the title is "Butchered" or "Slaughter." You probably guessed that, though.

and that brings us to the big nasty.

This film hit Texas this week with the force of several hundred dropped jaws, countless buckets of tears and vomit, and dozens of spontaneous religious awakenings. I'm talking, of course, about...

A SERBIAN FILM ("Srpski Film")

If even an eighth of what has been said about this film is true, I fear it may cause crops to wither, pregnant ladies to explode, and sex to stop happening across the board. Explicitly political and super-upsetting, this is currently the most scandalous film in the world.

Now my question is this- what is the song used in the latter half of the trailer? Y'all know I love squelchy synth drones as a counterpoint to shock and horror.

So, that brings us to the end of this compendium of What's New in the World of NSFW Movie Trailers. Many thanks are due the lovable freaks at Twitch Film and Zack H for bringing some of these to my attention, and big ups to you for making it this far.

04 March 2010

Ave Madea.

So, for anyone who'd like to know my thoughts on Madea's Big Happy Family, you can do so here.

I'm glad to be expanding my critical voice.