2005/06/30

Such Sweet Sorrow (PLEASE READ)

After two months in the blog game, the Reverseblog is moving on, or up might be more to the point. We will now be hosted by our friends at indieWIRE, so point your browsers, change your favorites, and head on over to our brand new home at: blogs.indiewire.com/reverseshot

War of the Worlds, Part I: What the Bleep Do We Know?

Many of us have really taken to lambasting a couple of things that most of us know next to nothing about: Scientology as practice and theory, Tom Cruise’s seemingly ecstatic inner love-life, etc. What’s most disconcerting, or telling perhaps, is that this nearly uniform, rabid attack would seem to function only as self-defense mechanism for the devout. But it comes not only from the conservative media at large but from many corners that define themselves in strictly secular terms. Yes, the concept sounds patently ridiculous: aliens populated Earth eons ago, connecting to our souls somehow, or spirits maybe, and it is the human struggle ever since to shed the last vestiges of their being from ourselves, or something like that. It really sounds to me like nothing more than a 12-step program on a grandiose scale, a way for the less intellectually-inclined rich and famous to reconcile their own self-centeredness (and they are the center of our universe in a pretty damn literal way) with a belief system that allows for it while instilling some sense of moral awareness.

Like I said, I know little to nothing about the particulars. But what’s the difference between the "nutty-as-a-fruitcake" alien legend, and, say, some dude long ago being nailed to a cross, ascending to the skies, and subsequently returning to imbue each and every one of us with a distinct purpose, or, say, the belief that your distinct group are the "chosen people" who must return to the holy land that is rightfully theirs, and fuck everyone else. Dangling payess from our sideburns? Eating crackers and drinking wine as the body and blood of that crucified dude? Crashing low-flying planes into skyscrapers to get closer to God? Well, ok. You make the judgment call, but it’s somewhat disingenuous for the most atheist among us to lambaste something that simply represents another set of blissfully deluded principles.

But this is after all a movie blog, ostensibly, so what does this all mean for Spielberg’s War of the Worlds? Having seen it last night, I feel compelled to reject all of the already-tired-after-one-day-of-release criticisms that try to create a link between the film and the church of Scientology, and how this is somehow insidious for our culture. Jessica Winter’s Village Voice article, which proudly displays the poster next to the similarly designed Dianetics cover art, is simply a dead-end: "According to Hubbard, ailments ranging from the common cold to leukemia could be classified as merely psychosomatic; in Wells, the Martians have eliminated illness entirely. Were Wells's aliens the proto-Scientologists?" Well, uh, no. But thanks for asking.

Even worse, the question has filtered so much into our approach to Tom Cruise’s star persona that David Thomson says in his interview with Rob Nelson for City Pages this week: "I could conceive that War of the Worlds might be a very good film--even though it's certainly possible that [its star] Tom Cruise will have influenced it in profound ways." What the…? Oh oh, it must have been that time that Cruise incited a singalong prayer session onset with Kirstie Alley and that butch gal who voices Bart Simpson. God knows that Spielberg has proven himself time and again to be quite a Godless filmmaker, his films so often bereft of spirituality of any sort, why of course he’d need to fill in the gaps with Scientologist rhetoric! Michael Sragow of the Baltimore Sun REALLY has it in for Cruise: "eventually, the actor's relentless drive to be taken seriously pushes this escapist apocalypse past its tipping point, into irredeemable weightiness." Uh oh…need to be taken seriously in a two-hour film about the death of millions. And then: "Spielberg has said that he loves the ideas Cruise brought to this film, but they're lousy in essence or in execution." Does Cruise really come across as that bad an actor to Sragow (has this prick seen Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, Born on the Fourth of July, Minority Report, or nearly anything else this most passionate of American actors has been in? It’s fun to bash him for his sheer belief in his roles, but how many other check-cashing actors can you say even that about?), or does he feel the need to protect his own beliefs from this marauding Hollywood "cultist"?

The media bombardment of the Cruise Crazies has really revealed a lot about a truly self-loathing culture, righteous in its own lack of beliefs yet not comfortable enough in its own skin to refrain from creating hierarchies within those accepted or dismissed systems. War of the Worlds is at its essence a film about the breakdown of all of that, its image of the facade of a city church ripped from its body says more about our tenuous connection to any shared faith than anything these uninformed yet authoritative writers can hack out.

2005/06/29

Playing In The Company of Scientologists









In the sprit of FilmEnthusiast's thought-provoking Manderlay/Mandelay post and all this Scientology/Look Who's Talking talk: one of these photos is a Battlefield Earth still of an alien with a giant package, and the other is a still from the film's premiere.

Has anyone written on this gem for RS? Maybe it's too obvious. Next symposium -- "The Cinema of Scientology". I get dibs on 1984's Introduction to Scientology, which apparently includes the following insight from L. Ron Hubbard: "Psychiatry has to do with the insane, and we have nothing to do with the insane whatsoever. The insane -- well, uh, they're insane." Take me, Tom.

look who's scientologist

interesting article concerning the connections between scientology, tom cruise, the new war of the worlds film, and h.g. wells in the voice. it got me thinking about a less high-profile, but perhaps more insidious, film with l. ron-worshipping stars and possible dianetic messages -- "look who's talking" anyone? my friend mark and i came up with this during one of those late night college shit-shooting sessions: the inimitable John Travolta and pre-obese Kirstie Alley (both scientologists) were involved in the groundbreaking project. if you recall (but who could really forget?), the film's opening gives voice to the thoughts of a sperm cell on its journey down the fallopian tube. what's creepy about this is that a tenet of scientology has the mind active even during this stage in human development, when sperm and ovum haven't even merged -- already the bad "engrams" that cause so much trouble for the individual later on in life are being picked up on by an entity conscious in some form. lord knows how many impressionable minds were twisted into accepting the scientologist view of pre-embryonic existence through this supposedly family-friendly comedy.

Ripped from the Headlines












Courtesy of some drunk intern working in layout at the LA Times.

2005/06/28

We Smell a Rat
















This shot was taken outside of the brand-new IFC Center in the West Village this past Saturday. IATSE Local 306 (the projectionists union - yes, there is such a thing) is protesting the new theatre's refusal to meet or negotiate with them. Theatre manager John Vanco is on record as saying that "We want this to feel different from going to a movie any place else" and given that most NYC theatres employ union projectionists (all of their main competition does) this is most certainly a step in the right direction. So when you check out Miranda July's Me You and Everyone We Know and the focus is soft, or a reel is projected out of frame, you can thank the undertrained, pimply NYU-undergrad who's most likely flirting with the cute hipster working concessions.

27th Annual MIFF: The Fifth Dispatch - The Rig Is On

The winners were announced on Sunday night and somehow - surprise, surprise - the only Russian film in competition won the Golden George. This despite a supposedly concerted effort to diversify the pool and attract more international industry interest in the fest. To me, this was very typical of things in Russia right now, where a big show is made of improvement or openness on the surface of things while insularity works behind the scenes so that the status quo - or the desired outcome - prevails. I can't make a good argument against giving the top prize to Dreaming of Space - it's well-made, and sensitive and wise about envy and desire. Of course it's also uncourageous and unwilling to follow through on its own themes (exploration, liberation, curiosity, flight) without finally pinning them all on the grand, nationally empowering, film-killing-obvious moment when the Soviet Union sent a man into space. Yet it was the best film in competition. How? Because most of the competing films were low-grade, cookie-cutter, "for film fest eyes only" fare, and simply lucky to be there (or anywhere). I can't say that this stacked deck was intentional - I have no idea what kind of submissions were received - but I do know that Dreaming of Space was a late addition to the fest, and that its participation was requested by someone of significant power in the Kremlin. Director Alexey Uchitel wouldn't name names, but he seemed happy to hint from how "high" the request came. If you can read Russian, the interview can be found on these pages. Though I'm pretty cynical, I can't imagine a host government of any another major international fest intervening in such a way. Yes, it's also true that 2 out of 6 jurors were Russian, and another 2 hailed from former Soviet territories, but anyone would have considered Dreaming of Space a top contender in this company. Dear Wendy deserved a certain respect, but its flaws are considerable, and the other decent films (The Porcelain Doll, The Outcome, Left Foot Forward On The Beat) are decidedly minor achievements. Ultimately, this was never about film. This was about Russian film. And about Russian film being exemplary of a resurgent Russia. That's what the government's paying for. I'm glad for the investment, because this area of the world certainly merits a major film festival. But I'd be even happier if film wasn't just another sector ripe for intervention on behalf of leaders allergic to fair competition.

2005/06/26

Fucked

27th Annual MIFF: The Fourth Dispatch

Saturday, June 26, 12 noon. Penultimate day of the Moscow International Film Festival, penultimate in-competition press screening, and we've got a first: the lights go up instead of down and "special presentation" music (the theme from The Phantom of the Opera, if you must know) heralds two people to the stage. First to the mike is producer Bonnie Curtis, who wastes all of five words before mentioning that she's an associate of Steven Spielberg. She then mentions that her co-producer on the film we're about to see, Lawrence Bender, is an associate of Quentin Tarantino. She pauses for applause both times. Then she introduces the director, Arie Posin, who makes a show of speaking in Russian and introducing his Russian mother who's sitting over there in the front row - stand up mom - it's her first trip back to the motherland since fleeing back in the sixties. Posin goes back to speaking English so that he can better explain how his first film, The Chumscrubber, explores the true American suburbia, showing, "the world you see and the world underneath." Oil in water promo act exits stage left, the lights finally go down, and so begins the worst film I have ever seen.

Dan Aykroyd's atrocious Nothing But Trouble pops to mind as a worthy foe, but many years have passed, I kind of miss having Chevy Chase to kick around, and Aykroyd didn't exploit his lineage to land it in a foreign festival. The Chumscrubber proves just how eco-friendly Hollywood can be, because not only is every frame recycled material, it's source material wasn't very fresh to begin with (if The Chumbsrubber is the thinnest one-ply bathroom tissue, and American Beauty a chafing, newspaper-like public school ply, then Pleasantville is a softer but too-easily torn weave, The Graduate a nice, sturdy, two or three-ply, and the stories of John Cheever are like a fucking cotton field); furthermore, screen time is found for embarrassing cameos by past-their-prime Hollywood talent, whose thrill at working on an "independent project" is as infectious as an agency roster purge. Why have I seen more than one Rita Wilson performance in my life? When did Glenn Close become Joan Crawford? (I feel I'm late to this realization.) Who owes the Culkin family this many favors, and when can we expect a concluding payment?

Star power (if Lauren Holly really qualifies) and that native language intro worked a certain magic on some in the audience (ostensibly press), as I heard shouts of "bravo!" and, "as good as Dreaming of Space!" - the actual Russian film in competition - when The Chumscrubber mercifully expired. It was confusing to hear that response, as limited as it was, and it distracted me, briefly, from my national affiliation mortificatoin. For some - and certainly for whoever decided to accept the film for the competition - a bad movie by a well-mannered son of Russian emigres, starring Glenn Close and Ralph Fiennes, was a coup for the MIFF, eager as it is to raise its international profile. And acceptance at the festival was certainly a coup for Bonnie Curtis and other folks responsible for redeeming this fertilizer. I can't decide which Moscow film fest phenomena is more cringe-worthy, the petty nationalism or the worshipping of foreign celebrity. The Posin and Curtis duet may have made my flesh crawl, but they knew exactly what and how to play.

2005/06/24

What are We Watching this Weekend?

Batman? Land of the Dead? March of the Penguins? Definitely some of the Louis Malle retro at Lincoln Center...

Third Dispatch From The 27th Annual MIFF

Eight days down, two to go. More postings of substance will follow, but right now I'm choosing five hours of sleep over four hours + blogging. Thankfully, the last two late night screenings were well worth the sleep deprivation - Claire Denis's The Intruder and the Dardennes The Child, though why Denis and her film were relegated to an 11pm weeknight screening was a mystery, especially considering her very high profile (locally, of course) presence on the jury. Nevertheless, she anticipated the restlessness by gracefully promising, "if you don't like the film, it's only my fault."

The in-competition films have improved, thank God, with Peter Gardos's Hungarian folk tryptich, The Porcelain Doll, being the most pleasant surprise. The sole Russian entry, Dreaming of Space, received a distracting amount of attention - from the press and from the hordes of pensioners that somehow qualify as press and eat loudly from loudly rustling plastic bags at 9am and demand aisle seats to stretch their aching joints and...where was I?...yes, Dreaming of Space - but considering director Alexey Uchitel's last film, The Stroll, was a revelation at MIFF 2003, some of that attention was deserved. The new film is highly accomplished and merits more attention, but it takes a right turn - and I mean right turn - at its conclusion, sinking it beneath the new patriotism of apolitical nostalgia; an ending far more disturbing, after ninety minutes of sweetly somber ambiguity, than Von Trier's Manderlay (selling out all week at the Gala Screenings sidebar), which shocks only in the time it takes to belabor every one of it's two or three points, and in the degree to which it apes The Village.

Until next time, some quotes from Peter Greenaway, in town to introduce the "Russian Version" of The Tulse Luper Suitcases:

I have no truck with mysticism. Tarkovsky is not my favorite director. I am a rationalist. I believe in civilization.

There's more religion in my little finger than there is in the pope. But no, I don't believe in God. I am an athiest. A Darwinian evolutionist.

I am Welsh by birth, English by education, and European by nature.

I acknowledge Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. They are prostlytizers of English socialism preaching to the converted and telling us what we already know. Cinema is best served away from documentary neo-realism. I come from a tradition of post-post-Italian neo-realism in England, where we've produced the best television in the world. But to paraphrase Truffaut, the English have no visual imagination.

It should be noted that Mr. Greenaway was never asked, at any point in the press conference, to define himself.

The Real Deal: Art-cinema force Ramon L. Posel, 77, dies

Most of you won't recognize the name Ray Posel, so I've excerpted heavily from a great piece that ran in today's Philadelphia Inquirer (its well worth reading in its entirety - I would link to it, but you need a login). I only know him only through a handful of phone conversations, legend, and his terrific theatres (to which this Southern Jersey shore lad would trek to regularly come summertime), so I leave things to someone who knew Ray well.

By Carrie Rickey
INQUIRER MOVIE CRITIC

Ramon L. Posel, the film showman and real estate developer who cultivated community at his Ritz Theaters and shopping malls across the region, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at his New York apartment. He was 77.

A tenacious man with the physical presence of Russell Crowe, the intellectual force of William Rehnquist, and a pompadour that looked good only on him and Ronald Reagan, Mr. Posel gave the impression that he could outmuscle any comer.

When naysayers told him he'd lose his shirt trying to bring quality retail to North Philadelphia or quality movies to Center City, he persevered, turning a forlorn parcel into the bustling Station Center at 2900 N. Broad St., and the Ritz Five into a local chain that Sony Pictures executive Tom Bernard ranks as "one of the best in the country."

In 29 years, the Ritz has become as irreplaceable a Philadelphia cultural institution as the Museum of Art. "He revolutionized the moviegoing experience in the region and developed the audience," said Juliet Goodfriend, president of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

Robert Frost thought that good fences make good neighbors; Ray Posel thought good theaters make good neighborhoods.

....

In the days before 1976, Philadelphia was a film wasteland with a handful of derelict movie houses. That Bicentennial summer, Mr. Posel built the Ritz Three (now the Ritz Five) on Walnut Street near Second, developing an audience for independent and international cinema.

"Before the Ritz, I had to go to New York or Chicago to see art films," said Bernard Watson, chair of the Barnes Foundation. The Ritz took Philadelphia from a film-illiterate burg into one of the five top-grossing American markets for off-Hollywood movies.

And in the multiplex age, when most new theaters sport a Naugahyde 'n' neon casino aesthetic, Mr. Posel took care to build chrome-and-halogen chapels with the streamlined elegance of an ocean liner. "Cunard Modern," he called their style.

"He was very passionate about quality and taste, both in the physical facilities as well as the product," said fellow developer Ron Rubin. Mr. Posel personally programmed the Ritzes - where She's Gotta Have It, A Room With a View, and Pulp Fiction enjoyed long runs - developing a clientele who loved his theaters as much as the movies. It is not uncommon to see patrons buying a ticket to "whatever movie starts next."

....


The son of Russian immigrants, he was born in August 1928 at Second and Morris Streets, next to the Lyric Theater, one of seven movie houses owned by his father. Mr. Posel had two theories about his moniker: Either his mother named him after matinee idol Ramon Novarro or could not spell Raymond.

Mr. Posel grew up watching movies in the family theaters, working his way up from cleaner to cashier to usher. By the time he was at Central High, where he was both a football and academic star, he was working in the projection booth. He preferred jazz clubs to movie houses, said his friend Arnold Roth, the political cartoonist.

As a youth, Mr. Posel dismissed movies because they lacked the resonance of novels. He studied English at Swarthmore, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1950 and on whose board he subsequently served, and at Columbia University, where he was awarded a master's in 1951.

While attending Harvard Law School, he saw Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief and was converted.

....

"People used to go to the movies as they now watch television - not to see something but to see anything. We're trying to select . . . features for those who want to see something."

"Ray was never motivated by the bottom line," Rubin said. "He got pleasure in showing offbeat product in the best possible environment."

The Ritz Five, which has a pre-feature slide show celebrating the work of area artists, premiered M. Night Shyamalan's 1992 debut feature, Praying With Anger, and local filmmaker Susan Rosenberg's experimental shorts. Mr. Posel hired local architects Bob Geddes for the Ritz Three (rechristened the Ritz Five in 1985) and Jerry Cope for the Bourse and Voorhees theaters.

Given its current status, it's hard to believe that the first Ritz took seven years to turn a profit. By 1990, when Mr. Posel opened the Ritz at the Bourse, a chic art-plex at Fourth and Ranstead Streets, he had developed an audience so insatiable for independent films that the Bourse was in the black in less than a year.

He was vigilant about protecting the Ritz's exclusivity, said Sony's Bernard, who characterized him as a formidable negotiator.

Perhaps years of eluding extortion demands made swimming with movie sharks seem easy.One legend about Mr. Posel, confirmed as fact by two Philadelphia lawyers, is that in the 1970s when a New Jersey mobster told him to use the mobster's vending machines or else, Mr. Posel looked him in the eye and shrugged, "You'll just have to kill me." The thug folded.

...

Hopefully someone will come along and carry the torch for Philly.

Match, Point, Set

Woody Allen has a pretty interesting, fairly troubling, and memorably insightful rebuke to all those who criticize his films for seemingly existing in a so-called post 9/11 New York City. In an interview with Der Spiegel , Woody says:

"As a filmmaker, I'm not interested in 9/11. Because, if you look at the big picture, the long view of things, it's too small, history overwhelms it. The history of the world is like: he kills me, I kill him. Only with different cosmetics and different castings: so in 2001 some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now, some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other. Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral, not important. History is the same thing over and over again."

Myself being somewhere in the middle on Melinda and Melinda, a film which literally invites such on-the-fence reactions through its very structure, I had criticized it openly for its candy-colored Golden Age homage, its luxurious decor, its spacious Manhattan apartments inhabited by unemployed actors, and its twentysomethings grumbling about not having enough money whilst clutching stem-glasses of crisp Chardonnays. Yet Woody's comment here, and others in this insightful interview, show that not everything is perhaps as black-and-white in his films as many speculate. Is it wrong to take Allen to task for not presenting a New York City as we see it through our individual perspectives? Isn't it somewhat self aggrandizing and nearly puerile to bemoan Woody——the director of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, and Zelig, for God's sake——for a lack of critical distancing?

It seems to me that, regardless of what he's "aping," or perhaps appropriating for American consumption, Woody imbues his accessible films with more questioning and rejection of normative resolution than any other famed filmmaker in this country. Why isn't Tarantino criticized for his own recycling? Because he trafficks in the disreputable, something most mainstream critics don't feel protective of...Chekhov, Bergman, and Fellini are untouchable, while chopsocky kick-flicks and EC Comics are industry "fair game." It may sound odd to many, but I can't imagine an American cinematic landscape that doesn't include Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters, or Another Woman.
Here's hoping that the buzz on Match Point is reliable and true, and that this very important voice in American cinema is back in full swing while he's got some solid years left.

Weekly: NY Times Title Game

Hit it.


1. Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said
2. Trying to Update the 60's, Just a Twitch at a Time
3. Under a Bridge, and on Top of the World
4. Adulterous Romance in a Fractious World
5. New EBay Service Aims to Stem Merchant Exodus
6. At Your Request, a Bespoke Adventure
7. Lord Love a VW Bug That Knows Its Mind
8. An Affair of Their Art
9. The Lives and Loves (Perhaps) of Emperor Penguins
10. U.S. and Europe Differ on Testing Athletes for Rare Heart Ailment

2005/06/23

It Just Keeps on Growing

Though there may be no finer or nobler pastime than reviewing those films that may or may not exist, or those better left unseen, I'd like to draw your attention to some boring shit: theater consolidation.

After Regal gobbled up UA, Edwards, and the remnants of Hoyts a few years ago, I suppose this latest was only a matter of time. Though "analysts" referenced in the article describe this as "as a show of faith in moviegoing," it's certainly not a show of faith in moviegoers as this merger will most likely result in more theatre closures and a more centralized control over programming. That AMC is, in general, much less friendly circuit-wide to "specialized" films is cause for serious concern, though it remains to be seen how much of Loews' film buying staff will make the transition to this new behemoth.

The reason for this: Continued sagging revenues. It seems Hollywood's having its worst run since the 1980s. But as usual, the NY Times frames the crux of the issue without even realizing it:

"I do not go to a theater," said Gail Cornelius, a 27-year-old Internet analyst waiting outside the AMC Empire 25 on West 42nd Street. "I follow the movie."

The problem is, that the principal suppliers for these major chains (Hollywood studios) are providing fewer and fewer movies worth following. The same thing is happening in the recording industry--why pay for disposable crap when you can download it and throw it out (or wait for it to arrive at Blockbuster or On-Demand)?

The only upside might come for the Landmarks and more established indie theatres, though not without additional costs. When Loews engagements play a major role in the success of a larger "indie" film like Lost in Translation, the theatres who stick their necks out for tougher fare get hurt. But if they're now able to fill screens with Sofia Coppola, where does that leave Tsai Ming-liang?

Pawlikowski pulls one off!



Caught this gem this weekend on video, even though it’s still playing down at the Landmark Sunshine on Houston and 2nd. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, hearing all the rave reviews. Also surprised that it got a wide release, but since I found out my favorite Euro film stars were appearing, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. Pawel Pawlikowski truly is an up and "comer."


P.S.- Isn’t it time we started reviewing the films we all REALLY watch?

Batman Begins: A Movie Review of a Movie I Haven't Seen

We all have our little despised truisms; for my part, I’ve always found a huge fallacy in that familiar chide “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” This just isn’t, in my experience, always the case, for better or for worse. Truth is, you can often garner a pretty good idea of someone’s personality from their tee-shirt, get a pretty accurate idea of a movie from its trailer and, yes, get the gist of a book from what’s on the jacket.

Which brings me to my latest innovation, a revolution in film criticism that is sure to shake that esteemed literary tradition to its very foundations: reviews of movies I haven’t seen! Think of the time we poor scribes of the screen will save by not thanklessly ruining our eyes absorbing Hollywood waste product! Why, given the phoned-in—no, fuck it, telegrammed-in nature of most contemporary criticism, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this technique is already widely practiced!

All of that said, I would like to inaugurate what I’m sure will soon become a Reverse Shot institution with my thoughts on Batman Begins, a movie whose overwrought grayness and 140 minute runtime will almost certainly bar me from ever, ever setting foot into a theater where it’s playing. So; A Movie Review of a Movie I Haven’t Seen. For the purposes of bemusement, I have written in “sarcastically fawning” mode:



Batman Begins
“Batman has always managed to tow an uncomfortable line in the comic book universe; he’s a superhero who looks like a supervillain. There’s a blessing to this; that badness makes him easier to fully root for than, say, a lily-white all-American do-gooder like Superman. It’s what makes Bruce Wayne work, and it’s what Joel Schumacher mucked-up with his two neon nails in the coffin to the Batman franchise. Tim Burton, that mad master of brooding set design, made Gotham a glossy deco nightmare; Schumacher made it a pinball machine.

Enter Christopher Nolan, the wildly inventive young Brit director responsible for the devilish puzzle-box Memento, who wipes the slate clean. When he’s done with the Bat-legend, you feel like Guy Pearce in the aforementioned movie; the short-term nightmares of Schumacher’s missteps have disappeared! Gone are lantern jawed caped-crusaders like Clooney and Kilmer; you can’t tell if nouveau Bruce Wayne Christian Bale even has a jaw, masked as it is under a wiry beard.

Yes, this movie is dark, bearded leading-man dark, the dark of glistening mean streets’ concrete, the dark of all-night Edward Hopper diners, a hyperbolic uber-noir dark that will leave you squinting when the house lights come up. It was so dark that this critic often wasn’t quite sure what he was looking at, only sure that he loved it! Serious isn’t just for Dostoevsky anymore; with Batman Begins, Nolan makes a passionate, grimy argument for comic books as the novels of the 21st century (would that make video games our new movies?), and it would take a self-serious fuddy-duddy to ignore the importance of this tough, broody material. Who will soon forget the moment when Wayne reveals his true identity to Katie Holmes, the sight of the new, bulky, all-terrain Batmobile skipping across rooftops, Last Samurai’s Ken Watanbe (Toshiro Mifune v.2.0, as I’ve taken to calling him!) solemnly filling Bale’s mind with mysterious Eastern mysticism and fighting techniques, or that show-stopping final battle between our dark knight and the supervillain that he fights? Not I, and not, I suspect, many viewers--the idiot who said that American lives don’t have second acts obviously didn’t count on the resilient modern mythology of Batman.”


So, how’d I do, Batfans?

2005/06/22

AFI (A Fine Idiocy)

"Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor.  Don't you forget it.  You're going to get back on that horse, and I'm going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we're gonna go, go, go!" - Katharine Hepburn as Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond (1981).

Yes, folks, it's that time of the summer again, when AFI trots out another not-just-pointless-but-actively-stupid list populated by the same 33 titles of American movies in rotation. Didn't get enough of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? in 1998 when you rented it to satisfy an unnatural urge brought on by the AFI claiming it as one of the 100 best movies ever made in this country? Well, then odds are you'll get to see it again some time, when AFI releases its list of 100 Best Reaction Shots, 100 Best Closeted Gay Movie Stars, or my favorite, 100 Best PG-Rated Films with Pedophilic Undertones.

The quote above, one that's constantly on many a movielover's lips every day of the calendar year, is a touching moment from the climax of the indelible, certainly-not-dated-at-all On Golden Pond, although I would have probably gone for young Doug McKeon's explaining to Henry Fonda's Norman Thayer what it's like to "cruise chicks and suck face." And if that didn't work, why not Fonda's aching struggle to find the words when he gets lost out picking blueberries in the backyard. I mean, if we have to go the Pond route.

Now, of course the only thing worse than something forgettable like the quote above, is the indeed eminently quotable list provided otherwise. Still on their, as they say on their official site, "mission to reignite an interest in classic American cinema," the AFI has summarily whittled cinema down to a few touchstone movies, and now, reduced it even further to a few extractable sound bites. Of course, the criteria being movie dialogue that "viewers use in their own lives and situations; circulating through popular culture, they become part of the national lexicon," how could we expect anything more than the most degraded of self-aggrandizing social activities in list form. For anyone who has either been disgusted by (me) or been (me) one of those people who can't stop quoting The Big Lebowski, or is sick and tired of the AFI monopolizing American film experience with endless rehashes of On the Waterfront and It Happened One Night, I offer up an alternate list of the stupidest quotes from one of the stupidest movies in recent memory.

All of the following culled from the Best Picture-winningAMERICAN BEAUTY, the CASABLANCA of bad movie quotes:

"Remember those posters that said, 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life'? Well that's true about every day but one: The day you die."

"It's just stuff!"

"I will sell this house today!"

"Oh yeah, well at least I'm not ugly!" "Yes you are. On the inside."


Please, everybody, join in the fun! Take it from the AFI, and let's reduce American films even further!

Some Thoughts A Propos of Mr. Tom Cruise's Recent Erratic--Dare we Say--Scandalous Behavior Before His Viewing Public



Nah, that's okay, Reverse Shot isn't going to step up to that bad Scientologist juju... Shit is freaky.

We're behind you 101% Tom! :)

Hidden Treasures, Volume I

SCHMATTY’S MILLIONS

"Monsieur, surely I can't be blamed if this safe opens ITSELF!?"

Why this little delight is so wildly overlooked is one the great mysteries of this rabid cinephile’s quarter-century. Existing somewhere in that nebulous zone between post-Stolen Kisses French New Wave doldrums and the emergence of the Hollywood Brats, Remy Mastodon’s neat little crime caper undoubtedly managed to pull off a stunt all its own. Anthony Lane, in one of the first reviews he ever wrote—first scribbled onto the back of a pearly white dinner napkin—for his hometown paper, The Delouth Crimson, called Mastodon’s film: "A charmer; not only does it make you thrilled to be in a darkened room all by yourself with nothing but the images on the screen wafting off like the vapors of a stringent bloody mary but it also makes you realize that film as an art form shouldn’t really be taken that seriously in any context." Touchez, monsieur! When I first stumbled upon Schamatty’s Millions, I have to admit what caught my eye was the presence of a not-as-pretty but not-quite-ravaged Alain Delon of 1971 pitted against that most bovine-featured of odd British-Hollywood crossover stars, Glenda Jackson. Fresh off her Oscar win for Women in Love, Jackson certainly brings some of her D.H. Lawrence-inspired randy insouciance to her role as Bethany, a safe-cracker who’s as stone-hearted as she is savvy. Quickly falling under the spell of wayward police officer Thierry McFarland (Delon, sexier than mid-period Paul Newman but slightly more of a real-life prick) after she is caught with her pants down (literally) in a scenario too wonderfully hazardous to explain, Bethany slowly in turn seduces Thierry to the dark side. With a muddied, downtrodden L.A. landscape reminiscent of Demy’s Model Shop and a jazzed-out, intentionally nauseating score (much of it lifted from The Pawnbroker), Schmatty’s Millions really keeps you on your toes, every twist is like a sharp left-hook jab. The scene in which Delon trains Jackson how to use a shotgun while she masturbates furiously is as shocking now as it was then. The stellar supporting cast includes a crestfallen Anna Karina as the titular Schmatty, a proletariat socialite (imagine the contradictions!) whose fortune seems to be up for grabs, and Sal Mineo as Crip, Thierry’s eternally pissed off brother—though Mineo’s attempt at a French accent leaves a lot to be desired, his propensity to disrobe and show off his Who Killed Teddy Bear-honed physique more than makes up for his dramatic limitations. I heard through the grapevine that a DVD release is scheduled for some time in 2007…hopefully it will be soon, or it will fast become more sought-after than The Leopard and The Conformist put together.

2005/06/20

For Your Consideration

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One is a product that has the same effect as vigorous masturbation, the other... (insert joke here)

Second Dispatch From the 27th MIFF

As promised, an update:

Lars (Von Trier) talks often of the size of Afro-American genitals.

-Thomas Vinterberg at the press conference following today's Dear Wendy screening, in response to questions about the film's use of a young black male to represent shoot-first aggression, or as he put it, "men of action". He surmised that Von Trier, the screenwriter, chose a black character in order to be politically incorrect, and also because of envy, saying:

Being a small white animal from a small country in the north, we're envious of beautiful African men. It's in our nature.

Look what nineteenth century thinking the MIFF dragged in.

Manderlay screens tomorrow. Whoo boy.

2005/06/19

Dispatch From The 27th Annual Moscow International Film Festival

I kept the otherwise superfluous "27th Annual" in the title to evoke visions of the great 1979 inaugural fest, likely blessed by a doddering Brezhnev and teeming with Estonian, Chinese, and Cuban films (comrades in two hemispheres!). Things have obviously changed, but with sidebar presentations commemorating the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War and the East German director Konrad Wolf, not to mention the packs of military officers that inspect press passes at the gape of every room, there's also some continuity. Of the 17 films in the main competition, 5 have been screened, I've seen 4 (I missed the Chilean entry because it lacked English subtitles - unannounced, of course, before I miraculously arrived in time for the 9:30 am screening), and they've all been well-polished, lifeless turds. Thankfully there are many many other films being screened in the supporting programs, the best being a "Russian Alternative" at the vanguard Cine-Fantom club near Gorky Park. On Saturday night they showed 4, a festival hit at Rotterdam that has no planned release date for Russia, ostensibly due to its needling of the ruling administration and its harsh, stomach-churning vision of contemporary Russia. The film, directed by Ilya Khrzhanovsky and penned by enfant terrible Vladimir Sorokin, is unlike anything else I've ever seen: savage and human, blunt and considered, elaborate and spare, there's no way to summarize or do it justice here. It's the most profane, and possibly the best Russian film I've seen since Alexsei German's Khrustalyov, My Car! Thanks to curator Andrey Plakhov, who also screened Russia's first identifiably gay film, You I Love, on Sunday night, local cinephiles can finally see it for themselves, albeit for one night only.

Screening tomorrow is Thomas Vinterberg's Von Trier-scripted Dear Wendy, in competition, and thus an early front-runner. Assuming the militsia let me in, and the promised English subtitles actually appear, I'll have more to tell in the coming days.

Poster of the Week


Even in the world of hopeless, puerile nostalgia for all things '80s (in which I'm about to take part), nowhere is this piece of crudely-drawn Hanna Barbera magic ever mentioned. I remember my dad grudgingly taking me to see it when I was about five or six at the now-hollowed-out Route 3 cinemas in Chelmsford, MA. From the size of the audience and the look of distress on my dad's face, I had assumed at the time that it wasn't the most regaled of the bumper crop of animated (hand-drawn, so antiquated!) films of the era. I remember the Jule Styne score (its songs sounded like warmed-over HELLO DOLLY rejects), the truly bizarre Night on Bald Mountain-inspired nightmare sequence (which to this day I wouldn't believe actually happened if not for the Chernobog-esque mountain man at the top of this dazzling poster), the adorable non-talking goat sidekick. and of course, the evil, slimy Sammy Davis Jr. voiced rat (get it?) Heidi encounters when locked in the grubby basement of her wicked aunt's mansion. Regardless of the shitty reviews it received, Heidi's Song was a nearly seminal film for me for some reasons: it was one of the few non-Disney animated films I was taken to (along with TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE some years later, whose Orson Welles voice-over work even outdid Lorne Greene's stellar effort here), and because it was a film that only my father accompanied me to, my mom probably too busy with grocery shopping or a League of Women Voters meeting. Never have I met anyone else who has seen it andnever have I seen a video copy of this, nor a DVD version, so the film simply exists in vague outline in my memory, almost as if it never quite happened at all. In this sense, the film does indeed stand alone.

2005/06/17

What are We Watching this Weekend?

Believe it or not, tomorrow morning at 10:30AM I will be settling down for this. Poor trailer or no, I'm still pretty excited. We need to do more coverage of IMAX stuff.

After that, a double feature of My Summer of Love and 5x2. Maybe Batman later.

Weekly: NY Times Title Game

I had a good time with the new format used in last week's edition, so I think I'll stick with it for a while. It occurred to me that it might also make sense to post the answers at some point, so I'll try to do this on Monday from now on.

Here goes. Pick the real four:

1. Many Still Seek One Final Say on Ending Life
2. What Price Authenticity?
3. An Artistic Eye Wide Open, Observing Odd, Lost Souls
4. When Blurry Lines Divide Fact, Fiction and Family
5. When Astronauts Brief Congress, a Little Levity Goes a Long Way
6. New Jersey Won't Make Deadline to Transfer Mentally Ill Youths
7. Dark Was the Young Knight Battling His Inner Demons
8. Giants Still Healing From Last Year
9. A Corporate Moral Slide on a Wartime Oil Slick
10. Not Ready for Their Close-Up

Indie rock-- the new Rap?

'Garden State' pointed the way, and Hollywood has heeded the call of Zach Braff--there's a new inobtrusive, innocuous brand of "furniture music" (to borrow a phrase from Antonioni) to lubricate the scene changes and introspective montages of the Dream Factory's latest steaming loafs. Indie rock on, bros!

From rollingstone.com

"A new song by the Flaming Lips, 'Mr. Ambulance Driver,' will be featured on the soundtrack to the upcoming summer comedy, Wedding Crashers, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Packed with indie rock -- including tunes from Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley, Bloc Party and Spoon, and a rare early track by Jimmy Eat World -- the CD is due three days before the movie's July 15th release."

And lest you think that prominent inclusion in Mandy Moore's 'How to Deal' and now this Vaughn/ Wilson party joint should dampen Lips frontman Wayne Coyne's artistic pretentions:

"The Lips' track on the album, however, is considerably prettier and more melancholy, as "Mr. Ambulance Driver" was inspired in part by Coyne's sickness and a dark Seventies hit."

"My mother died about a year ago, and there was a mood that came with her illness that felt so desperate -- the shock of thinking about what the future might be," he says. "And I had this folksy, storytelling song about the scene of an accident: The guy is pleading with the ambulance diver to hurry up, but he realizes that the girl he's with is already dead. You know, there was a hit here in Oklahoma in the Seventies called 'D.O.A.,' this real heavy death-rock song [by Bloodrock] about a guy in a crash -- but I wanted to make something more emotional."


Could there be a better forum for such galvanizing material than this?:
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Uh-oh cool guys, your middlebrow ambitions are showing!
This bland could be your life.

2005/06/15

Armond White vs. the Ghost Hipsters Part 18: Attack of the Ladies Man

Can he be stopped?

"If I had never seen a film by D.W. Griffith, Antonioni, Ozu, John Ford, Vincente Minnelli or Prince, I might have been impressed by performance artist Miranda July's Cannes award-winning directorial debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know." - Armond White

Where are the ladies, Armond? Or is this list of great directors intended to sit cozily alongside your definitive survey of the eight or nine great female performances given to date that you cobbled together while attacking Charlize Theron in Monster.

Before anyone gets all antsy, realize that I am more than aware that taking Armond's hyperbole too seriously on any level is unnecessary at best, and unhealthy at worst. But in discussing this latest gem with robbiefreeling8, we realized that this outrageous statement, while par for the course in most respects, continues a tradition of tossed-off misogyny that runs through his writings, and may have found its apex in his review of Jane Campion's In the Cut:

High-minded Campion (director of The Piano and The Portrait of a Lady) has always pandered to low instinct. In the Cut is the latest example of the way she uses sexual paranoia to appeal to the weak-minded sympathies of feminist critics and audiences. Campion especially looks like a con artist in this, her first U.S.-set movie, because our women’s struggle has moved far beyond the concerns that her New Zealand background mistakenly takes to be current. In the Cut is stuck replaying the complications of such 70s movies as Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Klute because they easily rub the soft-spots women still have about threatening, attractive men. Campion doesn’t examine the peculiar detente that has occurred among post-women’s-lib daters (boys and girls freely acknowledging the same physical hunger). This movie drags us back to once-simplified conflicts the same way horror movies repeat the fear of ghosts and goblins.

(emphasis added)

And just when you think it couldn't get worse (what insider info on the sexual proclivities of Kiwifolk is Armond mining to make this argument?), lo and behold, it does.

Feminism has garnered more favor in the mainstream media than has gay rights. This has nothing to do with correct thinking or sensitivity. As Jane Campion’s movies demonstrate, it is the result of privileged insensitivity.

....

Campion’s a standard-bearer for the media’s sexual and political status quo, and this has gotten her acclaim from less-than-conscientious critics. Through their own sexual prejudice, they sanction Campion’s perversity and ignore Nolot’s investigation of gay life because it still wrankles the mainstream–even though he’s the finer artist and has made the far superior movie.

This misguided tirade stems from the lack of attention paid in the media to Jacques Nolot's queer drama Porn Theater. The Armondster presumes a finite amount of media space available to films (actually not too far from the truth) and argues that in the calculus that dominated the week these films saw release, Porn Theater lost out to In the Cut because women are just more popular and socially acceptable than homosexuals. This kind of logic moves beyond serious debate around the merits of a particular film or filmmaker into a hugely problematic realm.

In this line of reasoning, Armondster willfully boils down the complicated reasons why a film like In the Cut gets notice (stars, budget, release patterns) and ignores the fact that much of the coverage of the film was wholly sexist in nature (when it premiered in Toronto, several major papers stoked interest by proffering articles with lascivious headlines that focused near exclusively on Meg Ryan's nude scenes with scant mention of their filmic context), and that it was basically a flop (our society likes movies from women that probe female sexuality only slightly more than the queer version of the same).

I’m not going to argue that any part of this state of affairs is right—our world is certainly homophobic, and small films often lose ink to bigger budgeted stuff—but blaming the troubles of one minority group in gaining representation on the success of another is a Rove-ian maneuver that only a true-blue conservative could make with such a straight face (Are you a poor and white? Are fags ruining your life? Vote G.W. Bush!). Of course this is coming from the Bush apologist par excellence who just last week chalked the deaths of 3,000 people on 9/11 up to a mere “communications snafu.”

Women filmmakers are still largely underrepresented in the filmmaking canon. This is inarguable. And in truth, if we want to get down to brass tacks, it'd probably be easier to pull together a list of successful male filmmakers who were/are queer with storied careers behind them than one for women. Forget whether their films openly featured queer subject matter - let's talk about whether or not their sexuality was known by those who control the flow of production capital, and if they were still allowed to continue working and communicating with audiences.

Miranda July shouldn't feel bad, though. Armondster also slammed Lucrecia Martel's The Holy Girl, tossing its quietly beautiful formalism and serious (if muddy) spiritual inquiries off in a mere two paragraphs. Ignore that he's incorrect on several plot elements -- I'm sure that confusing two main characters wouldn't have changed his reading of it at all. And I won't even mention the beating Breillat takes at his hands. He is often pro-Denis, but then, who isn't?

If anyone's got other evidence, please send it along. But if being a hipster critic involves making room in my filmmaking world for the vision of female artists, then consider me guilty as charged.

When No One Cares

LOS ANGELES, June 14 - An urgent meeting got under way in Universal City on Tuesday, as the executives who made the star-crossed film Cinderella Man mulled the miserable question of the day: What went wrong?

So begins this unintentionally revealing article from the NY Times. I haven't seen this Manbiscuit wannabe yet, but I find this line of reasoning from an exec at Universal to be particularly troubling:

Mr. Shmuger noted somewhat bitterly that he repeatedly heard the complaint from cinephiles that there are no serious, adult dramas on studio schedules. Now that there was one, he said, moviegoers did not go.

"Despite all protest to the opposite, that audiences are clamoring for an alternative, I guess what they're really looking for is what their behavior shows," he said. "That's terribly concerning."

This takes for granted that the re-warmed meatloaf marketing campaign for Cinderfella somehow translates to cinephiles (hardcore or lightweight) as "serious, adult drama" and that just because audiences didn't respond to their pandering, they necessarily desire more Mr and Mrs. Smiths. Perhaps optimistically, I like to think that most people don't blow $10 on Mr. and Mrs. Smith out of of strong desire to see Branjelina go at it, but rather because its a better, less stultifying option than, say, Cinderfella. Is one really less insulting to the audience than another? Self-seriousness is only saleable up to a point.

Though Mr. Shmuger's (and what more perfect name could we give to a studio exec?) comments just lead me to believe that the boxes containining "creative" executive imagination continue to shrink, the article did have this nice tidbit that made me smile:

"There are hardly words to describe how we all feel," Mr. [Brian] Grazer said. "I feel like crying."

Watching him with an Academy Award in his hands was pretty much the same thing for me.


Well, nobody's posted in a while

...So, in celebration of the release of that new, dreary Batman brood-fest, here's a still from some weird Turkish Spiderman movie where Spidey is like, a cat burglar baddie or something. Hopefully this will kick start some dialogue.

2005/06/10

What are We Watching this Weekend?

I'm in Seattle currently for the film festival, but the pickings seem surprisingly slim for a fest that shows hundreds of films over the course of three weeks. Granted, trekking between the many venues (this a longtime stronghold of Landmark Theatres which has eight houses here ranging from the gargantuan aquamarine movie-palace The Neptune to the Quad-sized screens of its tenplex Metro) without access to a car may be playing a large role in my desire to stay outside and stroll around the downtown area of a gorgeous city I've never been to before. As a whole, the festival has a good selection, and seems extremely well-run, but I may just be here on an off couple of days for films. Still, I'm hoping to catch Police Beat tomorrow which I've heard good things about, and Gus Van Sant's latest Tarr cherrypick Last Days is the closing night film, so I'm shooting for that as well.

Also, Revenge of the Sith is playing commercially at the immense Cineramadome, so if I'm gonna take the plunge, this might be the place for it.

Weekly: NY Times Title Game #7

A little late this week, but I thought it'd be nice to switch things up for our seventh installment. Instead of matching titles to movies, below is a list drawn from the entirety of today's NY Times and your challenge is pick the real movie review titles. Good luck.

1. Action Hero Travels Light and Often Takes the Bus
2. The Appetites Are Nearing the Gate
3. Citigroup to Pay $2 Billion in Enron Lawsuit
4. For Better or Worse, Even on a Battlefield
5. A Sliver of Prairie Still Untamed
6. A Church Where Birth Runs Out of Control
7. A Cursed Teenager Turns 90. Let the Adventures Begin.
8. Portraits of Life and Fantasy That Embody the Artists
9. Fungus Fatal to Mosquito May Aid Global War on Malaria
10. Like Trains, Crossing but Never Touching

2005/06/09

In Praise of Mr. Kim

This last Wednesday, June 9th, I went by Kim's Video on St. Mark's Place after work, as I usually do, to return a rental (in this case the execrable 1977 Evel Knieval hagiography Viva Knieval!--look for the review in an upcoming Reverse Shot) and to pick through CDs. There was a makeshift paper sign on the door, 'Closed- Come Back Later,' which I didn't think much of; I figured that a disgruntled ex-employee had hacked the computer again, went on my way, and that was that.

Well, this morning I discovered that it had been no garden variety closing. It was a police raid; the store was in trouble for selling bootlegs, and employees had been scooted off to jail in the fracas. I stopped in later and learned from a friend on the inside that the complaining party was none other than Columbia Records, incensed by some illegal CD-Rs or another, which had prompted the legal action. The result? Three clerks and two managers arrested, and Kim's extensive stock of illicit, pirated treasures pulled from the shelf, at least for the time being.

I was a little surprised by my reaction to this news. Full disclosure: I'm one of those disgruntled ex-employees, having served a full year as assistant manager at the now-deceased Ave. A Kim's. In my tenure I had a firsthand seat to experience the complete corruption of Kim's upper management, who bear comparison only to certain Soviet Bloc dictatorships for sheer ineptitude and venality. I'd received the ludicrously scanty under-the-table pay envelopes, helped to circulate the urban legends about the dapper, imperious Mr. Kim's alleged ties to the Korean mob, and I'd spat "good riddance" when Ave. A closed its doors for the last time. Sure, I still made the rounds to Kim's, but only as a necessary evil.

But now, as the boom has suddenly, inevitably lowered on Mr. Kim's law-flaunting empire, I'm not so sure. I find myself thinking back to when I first visited New York City five years previous, coming from Southwestern Ohio, a barren wasteland of Blockbusters and Hollywoods, and to when I first walked through the doors on St. Marks to find odd, obscure titles--for so long only figments of my imagination--suddenly very palpable, rentable realities. It's easy to take the place for granted now, but at that one moment, Kim's was a paradise fulfilled.

And, though I know the circumstances are entirely different, I find myself thinking about being a teenager in Cincinnati, Ohio circa 1994, and hearing about the Pink Pyramid gay bookstore downtown being charged with pandering obscenity by Hamilton County's crusading anti-porn Sheriff Simon Leis--for selling copies of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo or 120 Days of Sodom! And I think about the mom-and-pop video stores back home, the ones with racks of weird, moldy horror flicks, that only managed to keep pace with the relentless Blockbuster/ Hollywood oligarchy by maintaining well-stocked "Adult" sections. I think to the ailing repertory houses in Washington D.C. that switched their fare to hardcore during the day so that they could play A Matter of Life and Death at night (to quote Eminem [which I probably shouldn't do]: "Will Smith don't gotta curse to sell records but I do/ so fuck him and fuck you too"). And I think, finally, to the stories about Mr. Kim, possible mobster and definite asshole, who once rented copies of WR: Mysteries of the Organism out of cardboard boxes in his laundromat in the late 80's. And I can't find any kind of triumphant comeuppance in this whole mess anymore.

Bootlegging and artist's rights are thorny issues, and I don't pretend to have the brains or the facts to deal with either of them just now. What I do know, and what concerns me, is that you'll never once hear a goddamn thing about the police raiding Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. With good reason, yes; both franchises tow the line very nicely, trimming their 'NC-17' titles to a perfectly palatable 'R,' paying a respectable minimum wage, and never, gracious me, never! sullying their shelves with a release that's anything less than 100% studio-approved legit. And from sea to shining sea their clerks will--without any of the storied Kim's surliness--offer up the same flavorless selection of New Releases, a few stolid, dependable Classics, and, should you be in a metropolitan area of 100,000 or more, a whole shelf worth of Foreign.

Short of a renewal of trustbusting, these chains will never get in trouble for one very good reason: they don't give a shit what's on their shelves and they've got gobs of money to back up their indifference. Kim's Video, regardless of its failings, does care. And slavedriving sunuvabitch though Mr. Kim may be, let's not lose sight of the fact that he's gone to all ends of the earth to offer the best possible selection to his clientele, legality be damned. There's something in this which demands, if not our love, than at least our respect; to be a proper friend to the movies in this day and age requires a healthy distaste for the law. So! I say, without hesitation, long live the disrepute of the cinema! Viva Mr. Kim! And, finally, to paraphrase the title of an album by the UK hardcore punk band Conflict: "Only stupid bastards support Columbia"

2005/06/08

I Can't Go Home Again

Whenever I hear of the death of an actor I had admired greatly, I'm always stunned by the fact that I knew little to nothing of their sickness. Of course, it makes sense that this sort of information wouldn't be at our fingertips in the press. But when I found out last night during a casual dinner on the couch at a friend's house that Anne Bancroft had died, I sucked in my breath with an alarmed gasp. We'll undoubtedly be inundated with "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson" headlines and "Miracle Worker" clips for the next couple of weeks. And her grander, cornier, more emote-heavy later roles (Agnes of God, The Turning Point) have gotten a few shout-outs already.

But the casual Bancroft fan shouldn't forget that this tough old bird, great New York stage actress and B-movie staple of the 50s, has been elevating movies in the smallest of parts, with the slightest of nuances, for years and years since. Her smokey old card-sharp in the weirdo Harold Becker serial-killer/medical malpractice thing Malice; that lovely-grotesque Miss Havisham in the Hawke-Paltrow Great Expectations. Most distressing of all is not that we won't be treated to The Graduate: 40 Years Later anytime soon, but that now my dream of a sequel to Jodie Foster's 1995 masterwork Home for the Holidays is now as good as gone. Like Before Sunset, it would have to take place over the course of one day, as its predecessor, and exist not for financial reasons but because the Larson Family deserves at least another 2 hours of screen time. Bancroft's bewigged Mrs. Larson was so lived-in, so awash with anxieties, neuroses, and her signature performative grandiosity, that it's a character I wished one day to return to, to see where life had brought her. An annual watch at my household, Home for the Holidays never ceases to amaze in its grasping of American family mundanities and hypocrisies; in its own microcosmic way, it could be one of the great politicial films of the Clinton era, a rebuttal to conservative "famly values" punditry.

And Bancroft herself brought more compassion and contradiction to her role than could have been on the page. Rent the film, now or at Thanksgiving, and savor each crease of doubt on her forehead, each glimmer of inner warmth as it spreads across her face even while trying to maintain matriarchal fussbudgetry, each overly scripted malapropism expressed with unembarrassing dedication. This year's viewing of Home for the Holidays will have even more of a tinge of melancholy and bittersweetness than usual: what always seemed like a film gorgeously without closure will now be something more conclusive. I will finally have to say goodbye.

2005/06/07

the manchurian candidate

bam's current "village voice best of 2004" series serves a valuable purpose in that it allows me to catch up on films that i refused to pay ten dollars to see last year. so i saw the manchurian candidate last night. i didn't read too many reviews of the film when it was first released, so i don't know if anybody pointed out the most glaring error of this missed opportunity of a movie (especially in regard to what it could have pointed out about the current political landscape): in the original manchurian shaw is the programmed assassin who is forced to kill the presidential candidate so that his mother's second husband -- a milquetoast mccarthy-esque senator under her thumb as a communist-controlled puppet -- can ascend the throne as vice-presidential candidate. but in the remake shaw is both a programmed assassin and the senator/vice-presidential candidate. this makes no sense because as a vp candidate shaw would be under surveillance twenty-four hours a day by the scoop-obsessed press and an adoring public (there might also be his own handlers, pr people, bodyguards, etc., but i'll put that aside for now, assuming along the lines of the film's own logic that they're all in on the conspiracy). the remake tries to get around this problem by making [SPOILER WARNING -- i learned my lesson after my high tension review goof] marco the patsy, but the scene in which shaw kills senator jordan and jocelyne is rendered completely ridiculous because of this plot tweak. not only that, but because the script never establishes a relationship between the two, shaw's killing of jocelyne is hardly as poignant as the original, when shaw and her are about to ride off into the sunset before mommy sends him off to perform his evil deed. who can forget the shot in the original when shaw, after killing jocelyn, walks away from the murders still brainwashed but unknowingly crying thick tears of pain? the only thing i liked about the new manchurian was streep's performance which, while over the top, was perfectly creepy during the near-incest scene.
btw, i'll be getting around to that baillie/marker comparison soon, i'm sure yr all trembling in anticipation . . .

The Future of Cinema

Is here. Maybe for the special edition DVD of Closer someone will digitally remove Natalie Portman's entire performance.

2005/06/03

Thank you, from all of us







You've shown all of us how to dream again, to be children again; from film lovers everywhere, "May the force be with you!" And let me congratulate you for having so craftily concealed your hefty waddle (is that a goiter, George?) behind that rakish salt-and-pepper beard. Here's to another six episodes!
Or might I suggest that you have another much-beloved fantasy franchise that's been let to lay fallow for far too long?

What are We Watching this Weekend?

'Fess up - who's going to see Cinderella Man?

Weekly: NY Times Title Game #6

This week is the juciest we've had in ages:

1. Mean Girls (Some Are Even Fascists)
2. Struggling With Nature and One Another
3. Often Serious, Often Not, Teaching Rock His Way
4. When California Started Sliding on Little Wheels
5. Roll the Fairy Tale, Fade to the Fists
6. Try to Help a Stranger and This Is His Thanks
7. Friends 4ever No Matter Who Wears the Pants
8. Struggles of a Working Mom and Her Daughter in Tel Aviv

---------------------------

1. Or
2. Caterina in the Big City
3. Apres Vous
4. The White Diamond
5. Rock School
6. Lords of Dogtown
7. Cinderella Man
8. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants

For your consideration...

A particularly unsettling lobby card from Robert Downey, Sr.'s 'Up the Academy' (formerly 'Mad Magazine's Up the Academy')

2005/06/02

Criticism ISN'T dead!

A lot of people (or at least the half-dozen who give a shit) might think we Reverse Shotters a relentlessly negative bunch, the way we heap abuse on the autopilot prose of so many of our critical contemporaries. But we by no means take delight in playing killjoy, which is why it is with utmost pleasure that we draw our reader's attention to the emergence of a powerful new critical voice. "nswfzf," writing on 'Super Mario Bros." in that most egalitarian of forums, the imdb.com user comments, displays a robust, idiosyncratic prose that seems to have sprung from nowhere, fully-formed, like some Olympian. If there is a greater joy than watching the fluid maneuvers of nswfzf's spry mind, I don't know what it might be--to watch his words whoop and wheel across the screen is nothing short of a revelation:

Greatest Movie Since Ever., 24 September 2004
Author: nswfzf

When did we learn to be so critical to movies, and stop having fun with them? Movies like this, Mortal Kombat, Independence Day, etc are my examples of the greatest movies. These movies set out to be totally entertaining from the get go, and succeed. Sure it doesn't take much work, but who cares? Why waste time worrying about plot flaws? Aren't movies generally released for our entertainment?

I got an idea, I'll goto the movies and enjoy the entertainment, and you sit at home with an 8 page essay written by a famous lawyer and analyze it. We should both be happy then.

To the point of entertainment, this movie is the greatest. I do not exaggerate when I say I've seen the movies over fifty times. Still rolling with laughter at Luigi's use of the term 'buiscet-head', to counter 'over-weening rogue'.

Of course, we must differentiate between movies and film. Film is serious Cinema, a true art. Some movies breach the difference between the two categories (Training Day), but this one certainly does not at all. If there was a line with 'movie' on one end and 'film' on the other, this would be all the way on the movie end. So while I would say this is the greatest movie, its the worst film. The greatest film is Paris, Texas.

I would like to address consistency issues, mainly dealing with the impossiblity of de-evolution and little things like lizards having hair, or a shard of a meteorite merging dimensions. This is clearly a FANTASY world, and anything can be changed in such a world, why try to apply real standards and knowledge to it? For example, people were complaining Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, that Mat Cauthon (One of the three main characters) learns to juggle 6 balls at once way too fast, that mastering such a feat takes 20 years in real life or something like that. But its a FANTASY world, RJ can dictate any set of deft learning he likes. People who consider themselves intelligent have a bad habit of hunting for flaws in everything, but why? Is that proof of civility?

I wont bore you further, this is a good movie though, I recommend it to anyone who likes to have fun.


There you have it, folks. "Paris, Texas." Thank you, and God bless.