March 24, 2007

If I Answered The First Question of March 23rd's "Ask The A.V. Club"

I remember this movie that I saw when I was a young kid, so I'm guessing mid-'90s as a date for it, although it was on TV, so it could've been made earlier. But I'm pretty sure it wasn't very old.

Anyway, in the movie, these people are all working at computers in a very large open space, and overhead, all these NASA-type spaceship-rockets are shooting off constantly. This makes me think that it was science fiction, but the main plot eludes me enough to make this unclear.

Sorta sounds like Gattaca.

So, the main character has some kind of disease or illness

It's Gattaca.

that would prevent him from working at this place,

Gattaca.

so he covers it up by wiping all his genetic information

Dude, it's Gattaca.

(eyelashes, skin flakes, etc.)

Gattaca.

off of his computer every night.

It's Gattaca, dude.

The only other thing I can remember is that the movie ends with this guy and I think his brother playing "chicken" in the ocean,

It's Gattaca.

and I think one of them drowns, but I'm not sure.

Gattaca.

These strange details have been getting to me lately,

Dude, it's Gattaca.

so if you have an answer,

Gattaca.

that would be great.

It's Gattaca.

Posted by kza at 11:00 PM

February 22, 2007

It's The Birthday Present I Gave Myself

As of today, the day of my 35th birthday, I am officially a freelance writer.

Meaning I got paid, yo.

And I plan to get more paid in the future.

Many, many thanks to Bilge Ebiri for this opportunity. Read ScreenGrab everyday, folks!

Posted by kza at 09:35 AM

January 22, 2007

I'ma Call You Suckas Out, Take Two

That's right, the Second Annual Onion A.V. Club Film Poll is coming up, and I'm calling on alla y'alls to participate, like we did last winter. Let's get it done, people.

Posted by kza at 02:00 PM

September 05, 2006

TiVo Alert! Milos Forman's "Taking Off"

We interrupt this previously scheduled blog hibernation to alert the world that Milos Forman's 1971 comedy Taking Off is showing this Saturday, 4:35am PST on the Sundance Channel. Unreleased on DVD (although as it's showing up on cable, that's bound to change), I was fortunate to see it on the big screen a few years ago. (I can't say where; that should be a big clue.) That viewing was one of my favorite movie-watching experiences of all time, and I hope to fucking God it's as hilarious as I thought it was then, because I'm gonna tell everyone I know to see it. Great performances by Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin, one of the best bits of editing I've ever seen in a movie, and the late great Vincent Schiavelli demonstrating how to smoke a joint. How can you go wrong?

Goddam I'm glad I checked my Wish Lists.

Posted by kza at 10:04 PM

June 13, 2006

Cars (2006, John Lasseter)

Cons:

1. Cars don't anthropomorphize well.

2. Even if they did, you'd need a better lead character than the blandly egocentric Lightning McQueen.

3. In an ideal situation, when a character like this gets stranded in a podunk town, you want that character to stay there, because he can't see the charm that's so obviously there. Here, McQueen couldn't get out of there fast enough for me.

4. Well, if the story's well-written, that can be good enough. Except nearly every single moment can be predicted minutes in advance.

5. All right, so that much is a wash. But it's funny, right? I think I laughed out loud twice.

6. It has Larry the Cable Guy.

7. Larry the Cable Guy is probably one of the best things about it.

Pros:

1. Oh my fucking god, is this thing ever gorgeous.

6/16/06: Additional Thoughts:

This is also the worst-casted Pixar joint so far. Owen Wilson just disappears when reduced to a voice -- part of his appeal is how that slacker/stoner voice of his plays against his good looks and obvious smarts, and without that, it's all butterscotch and no stallion. Same with Bonnie Hunt -- she's amazing when she gets to use her intelligence and improvisational skills, but take away her expressive face and stick her with a script and she's just an inoffensive and pretty voice. It just goes to show how inspired it was to cast a guy whose name includes a job description. While he's clearly playing a stereotype (and I've heard tell that he comes by his "genuine redneck" schtick dishonestly), the voice sounds real to me -- and rather than overplay it, he underplays it, like he's been struck modest by being offered to work with the Toy Story guys. And yet, because of that, he walks away with the whole thing.

Posted by kza at 08:35 PM | Comments (3)

April 27, 2006

59 Movies in 35 Days

Yes, I still have a blog, although I've been so busy with Spitball! and other projects that it's taken a back seat. And unfortunately, it will probably continue to do so for the near future.

However, even though I'm not writing about films for the time being, I am concerned about my slow viewing pace. Looking over my Listology lists, I figured out that, as of yesterday, I'll need to see 59 movies in the next 35 days (now 34!) to catch up.

I'm stupid enough to try.

To that end, I'm using a free tool called Backpack to set up a public page so friends, family, strangers, The Funky Four Plus Two More, etc. can keep track of my journey. Take a look at the opening slate of 22 movies here.

UPDATE: I'll be updating my progress every Monday morning with a note at the bottom of the Backpack page.

2nd UPDATE (6/1/06): Yeah, this is over. It was pretty much over about two weeks ago when I had to take care of some family business and watching movies just wasn't in the cards. But the dream lives on -- look for the sequel in July or August.

Posted by kza at 02:20 PM | Comments (11)

January 24, 2006

It's Up! The Inaugural Onion A.V. Club Film Poll!

And here it is.

Congrats to Steve (with three entries!) and Greg for getting quoted. I think that's pretty damn cool. (And I fully expect to be reading Steve's blurbs in the Village Voice film poll one day.)

Here's my ballot and comments:

1. A History of Violence: The biggest clue to Tom Stall’s identity isn’t how he smoothly dispatches the two hoodlums at the beginning, but the cold way he puts a bullet into the back of the head of his incapacitated attacker. That no one (including me) notices this the first time speaks to the subtlety of Cronenberg’s critique and how inured we are to cinema’s history of violence.

2. The Devil’s Rejects: It looks like a grindhouse flick, feels like a grindhouse flick, and probably smells like a grindhouse flick. But behind the façade of this seemingly-inconsequential horror movie is the best articulation of my personal post-9/11 malaise: the crazies on both sides are in control and the rest of us are roadkill. And yet, Rob Zombie does something amazing – he gives us the self-righteous torture the Rejects “deserve” and asks us point-blank, “Does this make you feel better?” To his credit, it doesn’t.

3. Funny Ha Ha: Technically a 2003 film, but it played in Seattle this year, so I’m counting it. An astonishing debut feature from Andrew Bujalski, it’s the only film I’ve seen that really captures twenty-something ennui, complete with inarticulate longing and noncommittal commitments. If you’ve ever passive-aggressively stomped out a would-be suitor with trumped-up melancholy (or have been on the receiving end of such behavior), then it’s a goddamn documentary; if, on the other hand, the prevalence of “like” and “um” seems like a stylistic contrivance (or you actually, y’know, got shit done in your twenties), then go somewhere else.

4. Grizzly Man: This would’ve been fascinating enough if Herzog simply strung together Timothy Treadwell’s videos and provided the occasional contextual remark. Instead, Herzog interrogates Treadwell’s naif philosophy, debating it, judging it, through voiceover and (staged?) interviews with the people who knew Treadwell. While he ultimately finds Treadwell’s doe-eyed Urisdaephilia lacking, he’s able to find worth in his filmmaking, despite how the two are intimately connected.

5. Munich: Spielberg delivers the most mature film of his career since “Schindler’s List”, a terrific thriller and excellent treatise on the price of vengeance, and people bitch about the usual suspects: daddy issues, foregrounding of the theme, a somnambulant Eric Bana. (Well, maybe that last one’s deserved – wherefore art thou, Chopper?) Truth is, if this very European film was credited to a French or Polish genius, there’d be nary a peep.

Posted by kza at 01:32 PM | Comments (8)

January 19, 2006

Reminder: The Inaugural A.V. Club Film Poll

Only three more days!

I just sent mine in -- what about you?

(I'll probably post them after the poll is up -- it'd be cool if one of my entries got printed, so, just in case, I'm going to hold off and let it debut there.)

Posted by kza at 02:31 PM | Comments (2)

January 12, 2006

i'ma call you suckas out

Has everyone seen the Onion A.V. Club's Inaugural Film Poll?

If not, check it out. More importantly, if you haven't sent in your Top Five, I aint askin', I'm tellin' ya. (All right, all right, I haven't done it yet either, but I wanna watch The Island and Funny Ha Ha first.)

Even More Importantly, I'm callin' on the following people to send in your Top Fives. If you want to post said Top Five on your blog/site/ass/whatever, alls the better, but it aint required. Now, the following people have been Called Out:

Scott Black
Steven Carlson
Greg D.
Matt Lotti
Martin McClellan
Socialretard

Be there or be octagonal, punks!

Posted by kza at 05:50 PM | Comments (8)

November 24, 2005

Walk the Line (2005, James Mangold)

Plot synopsis from ComingSoon.net:

"Walk the Line" explores the early years of the music legend, an artist who transcendedzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz PEANUTBUTTERJELLY--PEANUTBUTTERJELLY--PEANUTBUTTERJELLYWITHABASEBALLBAT! PEANUTBUTTERJELLY--PEANUTBUTTERJELLY--PEANUTBUTTERJELLYWITHABASEBALLBAT!

Posted by kza at 04:53 PM | Comments (7)

October 05, 2005

A History of Violence (2005, David Cronenberg)

I am sitting
in the evening
at the diner
on the corner.

I am looking
from the counter
at the man
who pours the coffee.

He is closing
up the diner
but before
he can do so,

he is looking
out the window
at two strangers
coming in.

"I am sorry
but we are closing"
says the man
behind the counter

to the strangers
who have come in.
One is old and
the other young.

And I look
when they say
they want some coffee
and some pie.

Then a woman
(maybe a waitress?)
tries to leave
by the front door

but she is stopped
by the young man
and the old one
pulls out a gun.

The old one
wants all the money
and the young one
touches her breast.

Then the man
behind the counter
does something
quite amazing.

He takes the empty
glass pot of coffee
and hits
the old guy's head.

The gun is loose
on the floor.
The man sees it.
Will he get it?

Yes he does so
and he fires it.
Five bullets hit
the young man's sternum.

But the old man,
he's still conscious.
He sticks a fork
in the man's foot.

But the man
isn't quite done yet.
His gun
is fired once more.

Oh, the bullet,
it will continue
through the skull
and out the face

of the old man
and there is silence.
I am thinking
of heroes

and of horrible murders,
gangland contract hits
performed execution-style.

I finish up my coffee.
This will be on the news.

Doo doo, duh duh doo doo
Duh duh doo doo, duh duh doo doo.

Posted by kza at 01:49 PM | Comments (3)

September 08, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005, Doug Liman)

Curiously lifeless. Kudos to Liman for finding a way of directing an action flick (like The Bourne Identity) that doesn't feel like it's from the Bruckheimer mold -- something he does with quiet moments and little details sets it apart from the others. But I knew it wasn't working during the dinner scene that leads to the big Pitt/Jolie fight (where they know the other is an enemy agent but aren't sure if the other knows they know... anyway) because a) we're sympathetic (as much as we can be, see the next point) towards both of these characters, and we know it's all going to work out anyway, so the tension is seriously muted; and b) there isn't much to these characters to really care about to begin with. I'm sure this script read well -- one can enjoy, intellectually, how the action tropes are used as metaphors for the couple's marriage -- but on the screen it's pretty empty and joyless, especially as the Smiths' marriage begins to gain meaning and joie de vivre. Doesn't help that Pitt, for me, still reads as a little boy and not an adult, making the relationship difficult to buy in the first place.

Posted by kza at 08:42 PM | Comments (2)

July 25, 2005

The Devil's Rejects (2005, Rob Zombie)

The Devil's Rejects arrives at bad time; what might have caused a controversy not more than a few years ago -- you know, outraged parents, attacks from Congress, the cover of Time -- is nothing but a tiny ripple on today's cultural landscape. Actually, forget Zombie's newest film for a moment -- the most controversial movie of the year is Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know. I saw two people walk out at my screening, but is there a fiery national dialogue burning from coast to coast? I mean, if a 7 year old has a internet chat with a stranger about poop and no-one says anything, did it really happen? (Instead, the current scandal is over the latest iteration of Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em. Hillary, please; Rockstar doesn't need your help.)

So anyway, we apparently live in a time where unless you've already sold hundreds of millions of your product, you're too small to register as a threat to the culture. That's a shame, because Zombie's sorta-sequel to House of 1000 Corpses could use the exposure. H1kC, as I like to call it, was about the murderous Firefly clan and their subsequent capture and torture of four young people. (As one of them was Chris Hardwick, presumably this was for inflicting "Singled Out" on us.) While it was clear that Zombie has a great love and thorough knowledge of 70s horror, he had trouble getting his vision across: clumsily-shot scenes, a narrative that increasingly went nowhere, and worse, Zombie would too often spike his horror with winks and cutesiness. The chamber of horrors that serves as the climax was no different than the cheesy haunted house ride that Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) runs from his shack, and the overall effect was one of Zombie's cheap-ass videos for his ex-band White Zombie, blown up to 35mm and thus rendered even more cheap-ass. That just ain't right.

Zombie must've realized all this, for he corrects most of these missteps for The Devil's Rejects. The Firefly clan is on the run from the cops, including the increasingly-crazy Sheriff Wydell, and the film rejects the claustrophobic darkness of H1kC for the scorching brightness of the Texas desert. It's a road movie of sorts, shot in blown-up Super 16, and all the harsh graininess that implies. Zombie has improved as a director -- he's learned how to build a sequence into something engaging -- and if he hasn't quite figured out how to use the camera to maximum effect, he has learned the power of the editing room. The credit sequence -- the best one this year -- is a flurry of freeze frames that brings to mind the ending of Night of the Living Dead, and while the middle part isn't as exciting, it moves along ferociously -- even when it gets sidetracked for ice cream.

Sid Haig reprises his role as Captain Spaulding, the killer clown, and can we get this guy declared a national treasure? His role in the first film was simply to spout Tarantino-ish dialogue and look cool for the inevitable collector's maquette; here, he actually gets to act and demonstrate his incredible charisma. "Aw, it was fifty-fifty," he replies when asked if his dream (about being killed while having sex) was a nightmare, and if you aren't locked into Haig's magnetic presence at that moment, there's no hope for you. It's never too late for second acts when it comes to acting careers; here's hoping Haig gets one.

This is the trashy, no-redeeming-value 70s slaughterfest that Zombie had in him, and it's great to see him get it out more-or-less intact. I think there's value in its nihilism, but what really surprised me, and what makes it better than simply "good", was that it's the only movie I've seen that has adequately articulated my feelilngs about this post-9/11 world we're living in. Consider: A small group of people, hidden in America, commits atrocities and other acts of terror on the populace. A man, a Texan man, with the full force of the law behind him, goes on a mission from God to destroy them. But his quest for vengeance (for something done to one of his family members) leads him to become just as terrible as the ones he's hunting. He even decides to hire independent contractors, morally repugnant types, to help him. And yet, prisoners are tortured and killed, innocent people are slaughtered, and one is left with the feeling that these crazy, violent, monomaniacal people, on both sides, are in control, and thus, the world is quickly going to hell.

Of course, I don't believe that Zombie intended this reading, at least not in the way of Romero's connect-the-dots subtext for Land of the Dead. It's not even really subtext, something that needs to be dug up from underneath the surface, but more like a trail of slime left in its wake. Regardless, it had a profound emotional affect on me, something I wasn't expecting from a story about a family of serial killers, and about as far from being a "Republican victory lap" as can be.

Due to age and geography, I'll never know what it was like to go to a Times Square grindhouse theater in the 70s. But now I at least have a sense of what it might've been like, and I'm thankful. I think Zombie is capable of bigger and better, and I'd like to think he's gotten this kind of movie out of his system. If he doesn't have something original in mind, and is going to continue to mine the 70s for ideas and influences, I have a two-word suggestion for him: Russ Meyer.

Posted by kza at 11:25 PM | Comments (4)

June 19, 2005

Sahara (2005, Breck Eisner)

Huh. Not nearly as sucky as common sense would dictate, perhaps because there were low expectations on both sides of the cinematic divide, the creators and the audience. Populated by actors who are too good to be considered C-list and not popular enough to be A-list, directed by the son of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, based on the work of a best selling author who isn't a household name, it's like everyone knew beforehand this thing would have an aura of crapitude from the get-go. So there's a sense of relaxation and freedom to the thing that's refreshing. (How many action movies would you expect to make stinging jokes about the Iraq National Museum and Bush's environmental record?) Seems like Raiders is the template -- and there are several shots that support that -- but as Gabriel noted at Cinemarati, it's more like a Hope/Crosby comedy disguised as action flick. (This is the kind of movie where bullets, generally speaking, don't hit people, no matter how many fired. Flare guns, yes, ancient cannons, yes, but not bullets.) Zahn's in good form, McConaughey isn't annoying, Macy smokes cigars bigger than Keira Knightley, but the real find here is Eisner. He's a natural with the camera, finding interesting compositions, bits of amusing business in the margins (my favorite: Two African guards, one chatting endlessly, the other completely bored, none of it subtitled English), and rediscovering the wide in widescreen (a lot of this won't work in P&S). Goes on a bit too long like these movies do, with one chase too many, but more satisfying than, say, National Treasure. Oh, pretty cool opening credits, too. Remember opening credits? Batman Begins and Cinderella Man don't.

Posted by kza at 10:22 PM | Comments (8)

May 28, 2005

Absolut (2004, Romed Wyder)

Ah, the "warped reality" screenplay. Kind of the One Ring of screenwriters, it seems to offer limitless power ("Ha! Fooled you! The world is really an illusion created by alien bureaucrats!"), but easily leads to corruption ("Ha! Fooled you again! It's really the fantasy of a English housecat!"). Here, we have a young man who loses his memory of the past few days after a car accident -- which is unfortunate, because he was in the middle of some corporate monkeywrenching, and isn't sure if he completed his mission, or if the authorities are on to him. He volunteers for a new scientific procedure to recover his memories (via the use of a magic hairnet) -- but which memories are real and which are blah blah blah. Wyder is pretty good with the paranoia -- background characters continually turn up at various places, and it's unclear if they're villainous agents or harmless bystanders or figments of the hero's imagination. The straightforward digital photography, all those grey-blue tones that seem to visually define the 21st century, is well done, if not groundbreaking. And, narratively, it moves well, which is always one of my sticking points. But the problem with the warped-reality story is that it, almost by definition, moves well; since we're always unsure what's real, we're always on the edge of our seats, so the problems the screenwriter must solve come after that. How, for example, does one insert disruptions into the story's reality without it seeming arbitrary? And what, ultimately, is the reality distortion for, narratively and thematically? Wyder's script doesn't tackle these problems adequately; the only big revelation here is that corporations will do unethical things to protect themselves [slaps cheek with mock surprise]. Bonus points, however, for scoring a Mission: Impossible-lite sequence to a Young Gods song. Good job, Gods.

[Note to David Pittner, should he be reading: Your script Parson Street was better than this, imo.]

[Yet another note: The highlight of my only 2005 SIFF movie to date was getting to meet socialretard and decadentscholar, two very cool people whom I hope to see again in the future. In the words of Paul Young, "Come back and stay for good this time..."]

Posted by kza at 11:19 AM | Comments (7)

April 25, 2005

Frank Miller's Sin City (2005, Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez)

Surprised I liked this one as much as I did, seeing how, based on the one Sin City story I read (Marv's story, whatever it's called, I'm not that much of a fanboy), I had low expectations. The comic was amusing enough, I suppose, but marred by Miller's usual self-importance and shitty storytelling. (I'm sorry, did I step on some toes?)

So yeah, I was pleased when it turned out that if you take his romantic anti-heroes and hookers-with-hearts-of-gold-and-fistfuls-of-dynamite and godawful narration and give it flesh and voice, it becomes quite campy and totally hilarious. Probably not the intent, but far from being excited or disgusted, I was charmed by its artificial aesthetic and cartoon physics. Can't imagine why some people wanted a more gritty movie; considering the atrocities these characters inflict on each other, anything heavier would look like Irrversible done for yuks. All the actors are totally game, even as they look silly (like Clive Owen jumping down six stories, effortlessly gliding to the ground in his bright red hightops); yet, the more makeup an actor is wearing, the more they become one with the phoniness of the enterprise and thus more effective -- like Nicky Katt (stealing the show for a brief minute by poking holes in the script's macho posturing through sheer atttitude), Nick Stahl (the best "straight" performance here), Elijah Wood (no makeup really, but turned into silent cartoon) and the wonderful Mickey Rourke. Rourke really is something other than else here; while the other leads simply coast on star power (not a bad strategy, as the script and mise-en-scene reward this), he gives it all he's got, trying to find something honest and human admidst the junky noir clichs, and succeeding admirably.

Anyway, we finally got the "faithful" comic-book adaptation we say we wanted (although I question how faithful it is if it makes the source look so dumb). Can we now faithfully adapt a comic that's, you know, good?

Posted by kza at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

April 23, 2005

Oldboy (2005, Chan-wook Park)

**SPOILERS**

Wow -- I'm getting finicky in my old age or something, cuz I didn't find the latest from Park (the respectable Joint Security Area) to be the Next Big Thing nor The Death of Fine Cinema, just rather ordinary and slightly boring. Didn't find the characters very interesting, and the story never builds, just limps from scene to scene. (You got tired out by the back-and-forth of Pirates of the Carribean's climax? Meet Oldboy's entire second hour.) The problem here is that so much is withheld, that the only way for the story to proceed is through exposition, leading to lengthy flashbacks involving characters we've just met and have no emotional involvement with. Nor does it help that the story turns out to be a sexual variation on "Scott Tenorman Must Die", yet Cartman's revenge is not only more visceral ("Oh, the tears of unfathomable sadness! Mmm-yummy!"), but more plausible as well. Yes, there's a magnificent fight scene (dubbed "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em" by the ever-brilliant Theo) that's done in one take, but other than that... this is considered "stylish"? This is considered Fincher-esque? He's using split-screen and a giant clock for transitions! OMG!!!Eleven!!! Critics be trippin' -- they also need to rewatch the goddam Game.

Posted by kza at 09:32 PM | Comments (1)

January 25, 2005

Paul Giamatti not even nominated?

The fuck?

Posted by kza at 06:28 AM | Comments (9)

January 20, 2005

Best of the Half-Decade

Over at the Cinemarati Roundtable, Nick Davis is tabulating a poll of "The Best of the First Half of the 00s", here meaning 2000-2004. He's asked participants (member critics and bums on the street like me) to submit their top 25 films, top 10 performances, top 10 supporting performances, and the top 10 best new filmmakers (that is, directors who debuted their first feature film in the last five years). The results will be tabulated Village Voice style, although it's unclear if we'll be submitting snarky one-liners as well. I took the time to make up a list, so why not keep the blog going with a quick cut-and-paste job?

Best Film
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry)
2. Memento (2001, Christopher Nolan)
3. 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee)
4. Hero (2004, Zhang Yimou)
5. Monsters, Inc. (2001, Peter Docter)
6. Code Unknown (2000, Michael Haneke)
7. Eureka (2001, Shinji Aoyama)
8. Gerry (2003, Gus Van Sant)
9. Spirited Away (2002, Hayao Miyazaki)
10. Songs from the Second Floor (2002, Roy Andersson)
11. Irreversible (2003, Gaspar Noe)
12. Time Out (2002, Laurent Cantet)
13. Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi)
14. Dogville (2004, Lars von Trier)
15. National 7 (2000, Jean-Pierre Sinapi)
16. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Bla Tarr)
17. The Pledge (2001, Sean Penn)
18. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)
19. Primer (2004, Shane Carruth)
20. I ♥ Huckabees (2004, David O. Russell)
21. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003, Quentin Tarantino)
22. Ginger Snaps (2000, John Fawcett)
23. The Saddest Music in the World (2004, Guy Maddin)
24. The Day I Became A Woman (2001, Marziyeh Meshkini)
25. Dawn of the Dead (2004, Zack Snyder)

Best Performance
1. Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive)
2. Paul Giamatti (Duets)
3. Hugh Grant (About A Boy)
4. Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Carribean)
5. Ewan MacGregor (Down With Love)
6. Sibel Kekilli (Head-On)
7. Birol nel (Head-On)
8. Johnny Depp (Secret Window)
9. Lance Crouther (Pootie Tang)
10. Will Ferrell (Elf)

Best Supporting Performance
1. Miranda Richardson (Spider)
2. Daniel Day Lewis (Gangs of New York)
3. Paul Bettany (Dogville)
4. Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count On Me)
5. Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man)
6. Mark Wahlberg (I ♥ Huckabees)
7. Jude Law (I ♥ Huckabees)
8. Josh Peck (Mean Creek)
9. Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass)
10. Emily Perkins (Ginger Snaps)

Best New Filmmaker
1. Shane Carruth
2. David Gordon Green
3. Marziyeh Meshkini
4. Sofia Coppola
5. Dover Koshashvili
6. Zach Braff
7. Jean-Pierre Sinapi
8. Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu
9. Jacob Aaron Estes
10. Edgar Wright

Posted by kza at 12:01 AM | Comments (5)

January 17, 2005

Beyond the Sea (2004, Kevin Spacey) (f)

Ever see that episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns hires Seor Spielbergo to make the hagiographic "A Burns For All Seasons"? Yeah. Potentially interesting twist to the biopic -- Darin directs the movie of his life -- but falls apart in so many ways. It never uses the conceit in any formal way; early on, the kid version of Darin appears and literally calls bullshit on the proceedings, only to drag the story back to day one, like every other fucking biopic. There's also a shot of the kid watching rushes of his memories, but again, nothing is done with it. There's one good idea here (Darin wooing Sandra Dee by crooning the title song in a musical number), and it really isn't that good. And why film, anyway? If this were about Coppola or somebody, it'd make sense, but this is the guy who's famous for his hepcat version of "Mack the Knife". (Can you name any of the ten features Darin appeared in?) Most disastrously, Spacey's Darin doesn't have a single flaw; any difficulties in his life are because of the flaws of other people, usually (come to think of it, only) the women. The overall impression is that Darin is an insufferable, egomaniacal prick, and despite Spacey's efforts to convince, the song-and-dance routine doesn't redeem him. I dunno, maybe it's actually brilliant; the last dance sequence, featuring a dozen lookalikes cavorting about and creating a funhouse mirror effect, is as disconcerting as Malkovich Malkovich, and apropos of a solipsistic self-directed biography. It would've made more sense if the film was about Kevin Spacey making a Bobby Darin movie. But that might've cut a little too close to the bone, eh Mack?

Posted by kza at 10:05 PM

January 14, 2005

49th Parallel (1941, Michael Powell) (f)

or, I Don't Know Where The Hell We're Going. More Pressburger's bag, really; Powell is up to the task of making the story believable (after a rather tortured opening) and gets good performances (including the magnetic Olivier as a trapper wizth ahn outrageous French accent), but he's just there to make sure this crazy-ass propaganda film doesn't go off the tracks. (There's a scene near the end that features an intellectual, slightly effeminate novelist lecturing two Nazis, dressed in three-piece suits, on the topic of Indians while in a teepee; that I had to think about how weird this was is a testament to Powell's ability.) A strange, fascinating script from Pressburger. He tells the story of six Nazis trying to escape Canada entirely from their point-of view. We aren't asked to find them sympathetic, but being the center of the narrative, we are forced to be in their shoes. There's a great deal of humor in their interactions with the various left-of-center oddballs they come across (mountain men, Socialist Christians, an army deserter). Then, brilliantly, cruelly, he uses a counter-intuitive strategy to propel the story forward: every character that's interesting or sympathetic is killed or left behind, until only the most despicable and fanatical are left, and in each scene the humor quickly sours into brutality. It's almost a parody of traditional film narrative, with the usual willful protagonist replaced by the berwillful Nazi lieutenant (key image: the lieutentant marches through the wilderness, and doesn't stop when his only remaining soldier drops to the ground, exhausted.) While it's wonderfully unpredictable, I'm not sure how well it would hold up on a second viewing. And because it's propaganda designed to bring America into the war, there's too many moments where the film stops to denounce Fascism. That's the thing about propaganda; once its shelf-life is up, the message is either stupid or common sense.

Then again, seeing how it's about crazy, inhuman Fascists versus compassionate, independent "decadent Democrats", maybe the message here isn't as dated as I originally thought.

Posted by kza at 11:30 AM

December 27, 2004

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, Wes Anderson) (f) 66

Like most people out there, I was less than impressed by Anderson's latest, despite being a fan of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums; but when critics who are smarter than the average bear see something in this half-baked ratatouille of a film, I'm forced to reconsider, even if it means coming up with the same result. (And no, ratatouille isn't baked; sue me.)

One thing to note is that, despite some claims to the contrary, this really isn't the same Wes Anderson. Sure, there are the usual Andersonisms: the childlike, closed-off, invented world, the deadpan acting style, the 60s and 70s music. But Anderson is expanding his style; the closed-off world now encompasses an ocean, his camera seems to move more, and he dips his foot into action conventions for the first time, with interesting and odd results. (This culminates in one of the most visually audacious moments in Anderson's oov-rah; I won't spoil it here, but it includes the line (paraphrased) "this is probably going to hurt".)

Unfortunately, the deadpan acting, while appropriate for a family of neurotics, is ill-fitting for a family of eccentric diver/filmmakers. It's supposed to represent their professionalism, their imperturbability, but it becomes stifling. Usually, there's one character that's allowed to break through this emotional wall (Mason Gamble in Rushmore, Gene Hackman in Tenenbaums), but no one's allowed here. (Unless you're counting Cate Blanchett, and I'm afraid I'm not.) As a result, the movie is always at arm's length, and Bill Murray just doesn't have the chops to find a way to let us in.

So what are ber-cinephiles seeing here? Mike D'Angelo suggests elsewhere on the World Wide Web that the relationship between Murray and Owen Wilson (playing Ned, who may or may not be Zissou's son) is a red herring. I can go along with that; to me, it looks like Zissou is looking for someone to love, someone to complete him, like his now-dead friend Esteban (note the name) and former love Jacqueline, and he proceeds to "audition" others for the part, before realizing that his team is all that he needs. Yet, a lot of the film's meat is the Zissou/Ned relationship, and, as David Edelstein noted (I think), deadpan versus deadpan doesn't create any sparks. And thus, the half-bakedness, as the film violently shifts from wonderful bits (of production design, of wit, of virtuosity) to dramatic scenes of dead air and back again.

But all Wes Anderson movies deserve a second viewing -- most of their pleasures are derived from multiple viewings, once the plot is a given -- and this is no exception.

Posted by kza at 11:15 AM | Comments (1)

December 21, 2004

Sideways (2004, Alexander Payne) (f) 80

This is gonna be one of those get-it-the-hell-done-already posts, since I won't let myself watch another movie 'til I'm caught up and I'm not sure I can add a whole lot to the discourse on this here movie. Um, lessee: 1) great work from Giamatti, Church, Madsen and Oh (who would be deserving of an Oscar nom if her character had a little more to do; she makes a helluva an impression); 2) Good script that gets off to a bumpy start; the exposition isn't poorly handled so much as it feels a bit obvious. Not such a crime since other details, like Miles' alcoholism, are handled with some subtlety. 4) However, I'm going to be a bit contrarian and say that I ultimately prefer Payne's About Schmidt. It's true that here, Payne is definitely more "humanistic"; he's less judgmental, less detached, cares about the characters more. But I think that, in this case, it results in a blander movie, visually and emotionally. Odd that I would feel that; by the end, Schmidt is trapped, but Miles has the hope for a way out. But Schmidt's world is always defined by spaces that are both cavernous and claustrophobic (offices, the motor home, the wedding reception room), and that and Payne's distance from his characters gave the movie an, oh I don't know, an "edge". Sideways, by contrast, with its Kodak moments and funny-cute montages, feels like soggy bread. 5) Yet one of the more maligned sections of Sideways appears to be the retrieval of the wallet, or, as its known on Cinemarati, the "flapping wanger" scene. I guess some people object to the outrageousness of it, after ninety minutes of restrained realism, and I think some see misanthropy in the depiction of the lower-class married couple. I can't really speak to the first -- either you welcome the low comedy at that point or reject it -- but there's something interesting going on in the second. No one's seem to noticed that, after confronting his wife's infidelity, the man, who could potentially do a lot of things (yell, storm out, get physically abusive), turns it into a bedroom fantasy (with the wife on board, of course). They certainly seem to have a better handle on their relationship than Miles ever had on any of his. Maybe that's a patronizing, doing-Irish-jigs-on-the-lower-deck-of-the-Titanic kind of attitude, but it isn't misanthropic. 6) I may very well cry if Giamatti wins an Oscar for this; he really is a kind of hero to me, a normal-looking character actor with talent to burn who would've been in hundreds of movies had he worked in the 30s or 40s, but only seems to get loser-schlub roles in our still image-conscious era. If he wins, maybe, maybe he'll be able to drop the schlubs and get to play a winner for once.

3) I have no idea how this supposed "get-it-the-hell-done-already post" is any different from my usual posts.

Posted by kza at 09:13 PM

December 04, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004, Kerry Conran) (f) 40

Seems, at least in the beginning, to answer the age-old question, "What would the love child of Spielberg and Maddin look like?", but Conran doesn't have the narrative dexterity of the former or the formal chops of the latter. Instead, it looks more like a live action Paul Dini cartoon, only with real people weighing everything down. There's no real indication here that Conran has any ability to actually write or direct -- the relationship between Sky and Polly is so perfunctory it almost doesn't even register, and scenes never really build up to anything -- but perhaps the willpower to actually get something like this made is all that matters anymore. I was dreading the blue-screen gimmick (especially after Lucas' foray), but a lot of it is pretty damn seamless (and when it is obvious, it reinforces the old-timey 30s feel), but it ultimately inaugurates a new skill by which to judge actors: whether they can do blue-screen acting. Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi can; Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, alas, cannot. (And based on Paltrow's terrible performance -- incapable of convincing us that she's interacting with her environment, she singlehandedly ruins a good scene, the giant robots attacking NYC -- it's possible that Law himself was never in the same room as her.)

Posted by kza at 09:28 PM | Comments (1)

July 06, 2004

Spider-Man 2 (2004, Sam Raimi) 79

Unfortunately, it's not The Amazing Spider-Man that I hoped (and that seemingly everyone wants to believe it is); more like The Perfectly Acceptable Spider-Man. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I can't help feel disappointed.

The biggest problem (and the one I'm sure that everyone will disagree with) is that Molina's Dr. Octopus just isn't as compelling as Dafoe's Green Goblin. This was underlined by Dafoe's brief cameo, which was electrifying in comparison. Sure, Molina's dinner scene is great, but once he becomes a villain, he loses all of his personality, seemingly drained from him and siphoned into the tentacles. And the tentacles don't have a thing on Dafoe. They could have; although I think the tentacles have some sort of messed-up AI in them, it looks to me that it's really Octavius' suppressed dark side, in the Jungian sense, that's really in control. But there isn't a lot in the movie to support this idea, so Dr. Octopus ends up just being a mindless Big Bad, like the swarms of vampires in Blade II. I mean, Molina never gets any lines as perfectly comic-booky as Dafoe's "We'll meet again, Spider-Man!", and that's a shame.

What made the first movie so spectacular (heh heh) was that it was the first time since perhaps Superman that the notion of super-heroes are taken... not so much seriously as respectfully. This was demonstrated in the first movie in what I imagine is the most derided scene, the rooftop conversation between the Green Goblin and a paralyzed Spider-Man. Visually, it's ridiculous -- two grown men in silly-looking skin-tight outfits, their faces completely obscured, having a serious discussion about the responsibility of power. It was certainly jarring the first time I saw it. But later, I realized it was probably brilliant, for it forces us to acknowledge that, at their core, super-heroes are ridiculous. They are stories about men in costumes, beating each other up. It's a point that movies like X-Men, with their cool black leather and persecution subtext, and Unbreakable, with its solemnity, and Batman, with its wacko, Langian, artificial cityscape, try so very hard to avoid. These movies are afraid of this essential truth, afraid of looking silly, working hard to make sure we take them seriously. Spider-Man embraces the inherent goofiness of the concept, and finds a kind of freedom and joy within it, something denied these other films.

But Spider-Man 2 feels like a step backwards in this respect. It feels a need to demonstrate its "real movie" bona-fides by hitting us over the head with its "we all need heroes" theme, the nadir being the completely unneccessary Uncle Ben dream sequence (nice to see Cliff Robertson again, though). Shockingly, a lot of critics think this makes it "deeper" or more "character-oriented". No, it just makes it longer.

Pardon the "a lot of critics" line; I was temporarily possessed by Armond White. (It happens.) But in the overflowing praise this movie has received, it seems like the first movie wasn't entirely accepted or trusted.

Two things, though. First, the ending overturns a lot of conventions in super-hero stories, and it forces the Spider-Man 3 writers to be very creative. They're kind of painted into a corner, and I can't wait to see how they get out of it. Second, the train scene is truly awesome, worth sitting through Aunt May's monologue for. It ends with a moment similar to the first's "You mess with New York, you mess with us!" bit, which always gives me goosebumps, only ten times more powerful. It ultimately says more in pictures than a thousand thematically-relevant speeches ever could.

Posted by kza at 01:55 AM | Comments (5)

June 14, 2004

SIFF - Secret Fest #4 (can't say, won't say) 80

Impressive debut feature, with excellent performances from a young cast (everyone is in the 12-18 range). A bit too writerly in places (particularly the long dialogue leading up to the Big Dramatic Event At The Heart of the Picture), and there's a ten-minute or so lull just after said Dramatic Event when it feels like clichs are going to seep in and ruin all the great character stuff the movie spent an hour building up. Thankfully, it recovers for a quiet and refreshingly understated ending. This is a writer/director to keep an eye on.

(And maybe I was just misreading the crowd, but it seemed like they didn't like it, at least not as much as last week's train wreck. Whatever*, Seattle.)

*From The Evasion-English Dictionary by Maggie Balistreri: "The minced oath whatever. Translation: Fuck you."

Posted by kza at 11:17 AM

June 09, 2004

Hero (2004, Zhang Yimou) 95

[Again, it's supposed to come out this year. Again, it's Miramax.]

And that rating could go up after a second viewing, since I saw this from the third row at the Cinerama, which is like watching TV with your forehead on the screen. Visually amazing and, in certain scenes, literally breath-taking, this is the crazed poetry to Crouching Tigers sensible prose, as well as being the closest thing to a Kubrick martial-arts movie. I dont think its quite as cold as that Kubrick comment makes it sound, but it is the kind of movie where characters and fights are turned into icons and abstractions. That probably sounds off-putting, but Yimous visual imagination is so voracious (two characters fight over the still water of a lake mostly just to demonstrate all the different ways to film such a scene) that its incredibly easy to get absorbed into the story. One fight in particular, between Zhang Ziyi and Maggie Cheung (who has never looked as gorgeous as she does here, and thats counting In The Mood For Love) in the middle of a million yellow leaves, is simultaneously heart-stoppingly exciting and jaw-droppingly beautiful. Its the scene of the year, and last year, and next year.

Posted by kza at 11:30 AM | Comments (10)

The Best of Youth (2004, Marco Tullio Giordana) 75

[Technically, this is a 2003, but Miramax is supposed to release it this year, but you know how that goes.]

Two brothers in 1966 Italy, during the summer before college, escort a mentally-ill young woman on a train ride to find her family. The film, six hours (!) long, follows how this gesture affects the brothers (and their family) over the next 37 years. Originally made for TV, its remarkable in that it manages to avoid soap operatics and remain engrossing from minute to three hundred and sixtieth minute. Although its televised origins pops up on occasion (characters disappear for extended periods of time, and every now and then theres a Word processors are the future! type moment), ultimately, it does work as a movie, even if the best part, cinematically speaking, is the journey during the first hour. Acting is terrific across the board, and the actors do a convincing job of playing everything from 18 to 55, even if the make-up doesnt always keep up. The emotional climax (which subtly and cleverly breaks the staid realism of the piece) wouldve seemed silly in a shorter movie, but is terribly powerful after getting to know these characters so well over the long haul.

Posted by kza at 11:25 AM

SIFF - Secret Fest #3 (can't say, won't say but I'd love to) 46

The latest from acclaimed and controversial director [redacted], making it the first Secret Fest movie this year worthy of being a secret. Unfortunately, its an utter and complete mess, showing neither the restraint of his last feature nor the control of his most famous, both of which are masterpieces. In other words, its like most of his other films. (Figure it out yet?) This thing is going to get shredded when its released, and deservingly. Why the high(ish) grade? Not having a marketing campaign to guide my response, I had absolutely no idea what it was about or what was going to happen, making the weird 180-degree plot turn a half-hour in legitimately surprising. Unfortunately, thats when it gets stoopid. (Dont worry this twist will be the focal point of the ad campaign.) Still full of interesting bits and stylized shots, though, and an absolutely gorgeous title sequence.

Posted by kza at 11:20 AM | Comments (4)

May 30, 2004

SIFF - Secret Fest #2 (can't say, won't say) 47

Welcome to Indie County! You know the place. Look over here: there's the dwarf who has a fixation on trains. Hey bud! And look over there: there's the retarded killer who likes french fries. That's right, my friend, they sure are tasty!

But we're gonna pull over and rest for ninety minutes in the dark side of Indie County. Not Tarantinoville; that's a few more miles up the road. No, I mean the wrong side of the tracks. Here, the buildings are taller, cast longer shadows, the colors drabber, the concrete and the blacktop harder. Things aren't as happy as they are on the good side of the tracks. There's less friendship and more danger, and people just don't have the time or energy to be quirky.

Yes, the residents of the bad side look forbidding. They advertise their scars, and want to lure you into their lives with the whisper of taboo. But the bad side of Indie County has a secret it doesn't want you to know: It's all the same soil underneath, good side or bad. It's stable, dependable soil, and everyone in Indie County walks on it and feeds from it. So fear not, gentle traveler. No matter how uncomfortable it might get (and it can get uncomfortable), remember: You know these people, and they won't break the skin. Even if they're a dwarf, or a retarded killer, or a...ah, that would be telling.

Posted by kza at 04:00 PM | Comments (1)

May 26, 2004

ratings update

I've gone back and updated the blog entries to reflect the new ratings. A few movies escaped the two-digit brand, but I stamped them and corralled them here for your convenience:

Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento) 88
The Brood (1979, David Cronenberg) 85
The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock) 60
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970, Dario Argento) 57
The Last Samurai (2003, Edward Zwick) 53
Shrek (2001, Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson) 20
Moulin Rouge (2001, Baz Luhrmann) 6

Something I should've said earlier: the rating system is, obviously, still in its infancy -- numbers I make up now are becoming benchmarks for later ratings, so there's still a need for some fine-tuning over the long haul. I've rated all the 2003 movies, more-or-less giving each a gut-instinct number, and needless to say, it's made a mess of my Top Ten list. I'll probably go with this new Top Ten, but I want to get some more ratings under my belt before I finalize it.

Posted by kza at 01:52 PM

May 25, 2004

He Loved Him Some Movies -- Jetzt mit Bewertungen!

I've fought it for a long, long time, but today I've given in: I'm now adding a number score to the movie entries. I'd been resistant so long because I thought that, by not providing ratings, that somehow my criticism would be "purer" somehow. And maybe it does work like that, but, let's face it, I don't write enough for anyone to make a reasonable assumption about what kind of rating I might give a movie. Also, it looked like Martin added a "We deign to rate it" tag to the end of my entries, like what appears on his blog. I admit, it excited me. Well, it was just a software error -- I couldn't just type in a rating, like he can -- but in that brief moment, I revealed my true colors to myself. So, ratings ahoy!

I've decided to go with the 1-100 scale, like all the cool kids are doing. The scale breaks down in a sort-of Metacritic fashion: 100-80 is totally awesome; 79-60 is recommended; 59-40 is so-so, with maybe a few things to make it worth watching; 39-20 is bad; and 19-0 is just godawful.

Some of the individual numbers have specific meanings, as well. I've imported Mike D'Angelo's definition of the 69 rating: a movie that's good, but is missing that certain something to put it in the unqualified thumbs-up category. I probably have more negative things to say about a 69 than, say, a 66, cuz they were just that close. And a 40 is shaping up to be a movie that, had it not had a great performance or two, or incredible talent behind the camera, would have its ass dropped 21 points or more.

Here's a more-or-less complete list of what I've seen so far this year. The (f) is for a film viewing, the (v) is for video.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry) (f) 97
Holes (2003, Andrew Davis) (v) 92
Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman) (f) 90
Dawn of the Dead (2004, Zack Snyder) (f) 89
Cowards Bend The Knee (2003, Guy Maddin) (f) 83
The Saddest Music in the World (2004, Guy Maddin) (f) 81
The Barbarian Invasions (2003, Denys Arcand) (f) 75
The Winslow Boy (1999, David Mamet) (v) 74
Night Tide (1963, Curtis Harrington) (v) 73
Blade II (2002, Guillermo Del Toro) (v) 72
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, John Carpenter) (v) 69
Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1969, Mario Bava) (v) 69
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, George Roy Hill) (v) 69
The Stranger (1946, Orson Welles) (v) 69
Images (1972, Robert Altman) (v) 68
All The Real Girls (2003, David Gordon Green) (v) 67
The Butterfly Effect (2004, Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber) (f) 66
All the President's Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula) (v) 65
demonlover (2003, Olivier Assayas) (v) 64
The Company (2003, Robert Altman) (f) 63
The River (1997, Tsai Ming-liang) (v) 63
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, David Lean) (v) 63
Dreamcatcher (2003, Lawrence Kasdan) (v) 60
The Station Agent (2003, Tom McCarthy) (f) 60
Tokyo Godfathers (2004, Satoshi Kon) (f) 60
Secret Fest #1 (can't say, won't say) (f) 59
Death Hunt (1981, Peter Hunt) (v) 57
Along Came A Spider (2001, Lee Tamahori) (v) 50
Opera (1987, Dario Argento) (v) 49
Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler) (v) 48
The Battle of Shaker Heights (2003, Kyle Rankin & Efrem Potelle) (v) 47
Dementia 13 (1963, Francis Coppola) (v) 46
Stolen Summer (2002, Pete Jones) (v) 41
Elephant (2003, Gus Van Sant) (v) 40
House of 1000 Corpses (2003, Rob Zombie) (v) 35
Nattevagten (1994, Ole Bornedal) (v) 33
City of God (2003, Fernando Meirelles) (f) 30
Seabiscuit (2003, Gary Ross) (v) 28
Pit and the Pendulum (1961, Roger Corman) (v) 25
Anatomy of a Psycho (1961, Brooke L. Peters) (v) 23
Japanese Story (2003, Sue Brooks) (f) 15
From Hell (2001, The Hughes Brothers) (v) 8

Posted by kza at 10:30 AM | Comments (10)

May 24, 2004

SIFF - Secret Fest #1 (can't say, won't say) 59

Here's the ever-continuing problem with the Secret Festival -- the movies need to be so gripping, original, amazing or...something, that you want to shout to the rooftops that you've seen it, but can't.

Needless to say, #1 isn't one of those movies.

Which isn't to say it was bad or boring. The actors, whom I've never seen before, are terrific. And the interstitials that break up the story into acts are cool. But the story is flat, afflicted with a kind of rigorous logic that prevents anything truly surprising or off-the-wall from happening.

I suppose I shouldn't be too harsh on the Secret Fest; in the past three times I've gone (1998, 2001, and 2002), I can only think of two movies that fit my stringent requirements. (Both were 2001, oddly.) But I can't help but feel a bit frustrated. Oh well -- three more chances.

Posted by kza at 12:21 PM | Comments (3)

May 07, 2004

SIFF!

Ah-ah! Savior of the Universe!

Well, no. If the Seattle International Film Festival was the savior of the universe, we'd be fucked. Let's face it, compared to other festivals, SIFF is pretty lame. Very rarely does anything interesting debut here; most of the films are usually last year's Cannes and Toronto, with local stuff thrown into the mix. One day, I'd like to go to a real film festival; for now, I have SIFF.

But with that said, there's some cool stuff this year. The biggest event for me is the one-time showing of Jacque Tati's Playtime, in 70mm, at the Cinerama, no less. I have the DVD, seen it twice, but anyone familiar with the movie knows that a TV, no matter how big, aint gonna get the job done. I'm gonna have to watch the DVD two more times and read the Rosenbaum essays again just to get in shape.

Also, we're getting the premiere of Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut. Now, I wasn't terribly impressed with Darko the first time I saw it, but lots of people, people I respect, are nutty about it, so I was looking forward to giving it another shot, especially with extra footage, and especially on the big screen. Unfortunately, they're making a big event out of it, with a reception afterward (so you can tell Jake Gyllenhaal, "Hey, sorry about Spider-Man 2") and the tickets are $12, which prices me out of the game.

Then there's the Secret Festival. For $30, you get to see four movies, one each Sunday, with the caveat that YOU CAN'T EVER TELL ANYONE WHAT YOU SAW. Occasionally, one or more of the films are shown really do need to be kept secret; I've heard rumors that, several years ago, they showed a rather infamous film starring Barbie dolls. I've done the Secret Fest three times, and, unfortunately, it's rarely like that. Now, I've seen at least one absolutely amazing film that I wouldn't have been able to see otherwise. And I've seen some crap. I've even been part of a test-audience for a lame horror film. So you never know what you're gonna get. My wish list for this year is The Brown Bunny, The Hour of the Wolf, and my Susan Lucci of Secret Fest films, Pulse. Now that I've said it, it won't happen.

My schedule isn't cemented just yet, but right now, it can be divided up into a couple different categories: The Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!s (Playtime, The Saddest Music in the World, Cowards Bend The Knee, Primer, and Hero), the Super Troupers (Doppelganger, Bright Future, Goodbye Dragon Inn, In Your Hands) and the Take A Chance On Mes (Minor Mishaps, The Best of Youth, Parts 1 & 2 [3 hours apiece!], Slim Susie, Take My Eyes, and Torremolinos 73 [which I'm interested in primarily because it sounds similar to a script I wrote a couple years ago.])

More info as it happens.

Posted by kza at 01:20 PM | Comments (4)

April 06, 2004

Moulin Rouge (2001, Baz Luhrmann) 6

Blast From The Past, part two. Hey Kent, remember when you said you could use stuff from your old website in case you didn't have anything new ready? The hell have you been doing these past two weeks?

I suspect I'll get my ass handed to me for this particular review. Like the Shrek entry, I stand by the sentiment, if not neccessarily the way it's expressed. Also, for some reason, I was really into using footnotes during this period (and I've never read any David Foster Wallace).

Fear of an Unironic Planet

I knew there was something wrong only a few minutes in. At first it was okay; the screen turned into a proscenium, complete with red curtains, and the music swelled as if coming from an orchestra pit. The credits started. Then, a little man appeared at the bottom, the conductor, and he proceeded to conduct in the most over-wrought way, drawing attention from anything that was on the screen. If I didn't already know what movie I was seeing, I would've missed the title.

The image of a conductor upstaging both the music and the performance he's supposed to be supporting is the perfect metaphor for Moulin Rouge, the worst movie I've seen in 2001. Director Baz Luhrmann is so concerned that you notice him, that he pushes aside everything else: the performances, the songs, the art direction, the story itself.

And he manages to do so with a single instrument: Jill Bilcock's editing. The movie begins with a flurry of movement, exposition, and editing, and it felt like an episode of The Monkees. Although hard to digest, it seemed like an appropriate way to get the story going. Unfortunately, the movie never lets go of this style and pacing, even when the story demands to be slowed down, as when Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Satine (Nicole Kidman) discover they love one another atop her funky, Indian-style apartment.

I don't think I've done justice to Bilcock's atrocious editing. Let me explain further: Hardly any shot lasts more than a second and a half. Furthermore, since any editing forces a viewer to re-establish the point of interest for a shot, Moulin Rouge forces the viewer to re-orient him- or herself every one and a half seconds. If the point of interest of each shot were kept consistent, this wouldn't be a big deal; unfortunately, the point of interest is wildly different each time, causing wear and tear on the eyeballs as they bounce around like that odd metal ball in Men In Black. And when you consider that the overall color of the shots will veer from light to dark in rapid succession, you have a recipe for a visual disaster. Honestly, there were times when I simply couldn't look at the screen.

If the physiological effects of the editing were deleterious, its artistic effects are just as bad. The unbearable lightness of Bilcock's editing results in every shot, every moment, every scene being rendered meaningless, and thus, the story uninvolving. If I can't see a character's reaction shot long enough for it to make an imprint, why should I care? If I can't figure out the physical space of this world, and where the characters are within it, why should I care? If the editing causes the actors' voices to become disembodied, unattached to anything physical, why should I care? If the editing tells me that no shot is more important than another shot, that all I'm supposed to pay attention to is the rapid succession of images, why should I care?

Ultimately, Moulin Rouge, a movie that is just as much about decadence as it is about love, is the most conservative movie of the year. How is that? Because nearly every artistic decision is made out of fear: The use of pre-established pop songs (sure, any soundtrack is good when you got Bernie Taupin, Kurt Cobain, and Sting, among others, working for you); the use of blurry, trailer-style slow-motion (you know the kind, used in previews of foreign films to make an otherwise unremarkable shot seem "important"); the inability of the movie to slow down and express real, human emotion, instead of a series of shots that simply propose it (or worse, put it in quotation marks). Two kinds of fear are demonstrated here. The most obvious kind is the fear of upsetting some imagined audience's expectations, resulting in songs we've all heard before, images we've all seen before, and a story we already know. But more importantly, it is the fear of sincerity that Moulin Rouge expresses most completely.

I had the fortune to view Annie Get Your Gun on DVD a few days prior to Moulin Rouge. While not the best musical in the world (another way of saying it isn't Singin' In The Rain), it was certainly enjoyable enough. After seeing Moulin Rouge, though, I found myself reflecting on Annie, particularly Betty Hutton's peformance of "Doin' What Comes Naturally". Her performance is over the top, even by theater standards; it is difficult, even painful, to watch, as Hutton mugs her way through the number [1]. Yet, I realized that the same quality that make it difficult-its sheer, intentional corniness-is also what makes it human. It isn't afraid to look stupid, it isn't afraid to turn some viewers off, it isn't afraid to be "uncool". It expresses its emotion sincerely, wildly, and without apology.

Moulin Rouge reveals itself as incapable of expressing sincerity, only irony. It can't be bothered to deal with messy emotions, only with surface images, images that are shown then taken away so quickly that they leave the audience nothing to hold onto. It doesn't care; it doesn't ask us to care. What does this movie care about? To put it another way, Why does this movie exist? I can't come up with a solid answer to this question-but thinking about it, I find myself continually drawn back to that distracting conductor.

[1] It should be noted that the corny nature of the performance is probably intended, in order for the 29 year-old Hutton to convince as a teenager, and to contrast the immature and raggedy Annie to the later, more mature and clean Annie.

Posted by kza at 11:54 AM

March 10, 2004

Shrek (2001, Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson) 20

Blast From The Past Dept.:

Before I started this blog, I had a website. It only lasted a couple months, during the summer of 2001. I quickly burnt myself out, thinking I could churn out something long (like the review below) on a weekly basis. It didn't help that I wanted to be Jonathan Rosenbaum, either, and it really didn't help that I was quickly turning into a bad parody of Armond White instead. Anyway, after four long reviews and one capsule, I gave up. (On the plus side, the website encouraged me to figure out about thirty years worth of Top Ten lists; hopefully, I'll get those on here soon.)

But now I'm doing this blog. I can't say why the blog would be any different, but it feels more low-key than a full-fledged website. And, hey, when I don't have an entry ready, I got some backups. So, reproduced here with virtually no changes, I present to you: My Second Review Ever.

The $44,000,000 Puppet Show

The Shrek commercials that carpet-bombed the airwaves were the first giveaway. If they're still on by the time you read this, look at them. Look at them carefully. Notice anything? Notice how EVERYTHING IS IN THE CENTER OF THE SCREEN? At first, I was willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt; Pixar created a version of A Bug's Life where they digitally squeezed everything together to fit television's aspect ratio. Perhaps they were doing the same thing here. But then my friend Lauren went to see it after I told her my reservations, and I apparently ruined the experience for her: all she could notice, she said, was that everything was in the middle of the screen. Now I had to see if my hunches were correct, or if I was just making my friends neurotic.

Shrek has quite a few marks against it, primarily due to the script, which sucks. It isn't funny; the only wit it manages is the "have you seen the muffin man?" bit with the paraplegic gingerbread man. It is chock full of cliches, both verbal and visual. The characters aren't even that interesting (I mean, the donkey's name is Donkey). However, what if the script was brilliant? Characters with more than two traits, original jokes, and genuine surprises? Fact is, Shrek would still suck. Why? Because the directors don't know what they're doing.

Shouldn't a computer-animated feature, released in 2001, be better than one released in 1995? Isn't that a reasonable expectation? Of course, it depends on what you mean by "better". From a technical standpoint, Shrek is more advanced than Toy Story. (That's what they say at least; I'm not sure I can tell). But there always exists the possibility of going backwards artistically; and Shrek is as backwards and regressive in its storytelling compared to Toy Story as the medieval ages are to modern day.

In the first ten minutes of Toy Story, we get: swish pans; varied compositions; movement within the frame; off-screen dialogue; interesting lighting (when the toys look out the window at the incoming party guests, the black shadows of the blinds create a beautiful shot); and interesting scale changes (Woody talking to the tiny toy soldiers, then moving down to their vantage point). The most captivating segment is the soldiers' recon mission, as they move from the bedroom down to the first floor, which is told with little dialogue.

In Shrek, we get virtually none of that. Furthermore, every long shot, medium shot, and close-up in the film has its subject placed right in the middle of the screen; it's like the directors have a button for each, and they're calling the camera shots "live", like on TV show. Whenever someone speaks, we cut right to that person, dead center. If another person responds, another cut, dead center. (Antz, another Dreamworks production, had the same problem.) The "camera" (of course, there is no physical camera in computer animation) barely moves, and when it does so, it keeps its subjects dead center. Everything is told through the dialogue; you could listen to this movie on the radio and not miss anything.

Ultimately, Toy Story is told visually, and Shrek is told verbally. Understand: there is nothing inherently wrong with this. It's simply a style, a choice, and there are a number of great films that are told this way; look at any film by John Cassavetes. In fact, there is a precedent for a kind of visual performance that is told through verbal means: the puppet show. Nothing wrong with puppet shows, right?

But when you are using computer animation, and you can show anything you can imagine, from any angle you can imagine, why, but why, would you use puppet show aesthetics? Unfortunately, the answer is simple: because you have a threadbare imagination.

Is that harsh? Look at any still from Shrek. Once you get past the surface beauty of the image, look at the background. There is no sense of life in this world. There are geometric rows of flowers, slick, clean-looking stone castles, and forests that disappear from memory once they've left the screen. Several of the backgrounds look no better than the mattes used in fifties films. One of the big jokes in Shrek is Lord Farquad's castle, which is supposed to remind viewers of Disneyland's antiseptic cleanliness. The hypocrisy of this joke is that everything in the movie is as sterile as the castle. Everything is curiously underpopulated, curiously spacious, and curiously geometric. The cathedral, where the climax takes place, looks more appropriate for a "Quake" death-match. I take back my earlier statement; these aren't puppet show aesthetics, they're video game aesthetics.

Douglas Sirk once said that camera angles are a director's thoughts, and the lighting is his philosophy. I can only surmise that the Shrek directors' responses are "I don't know" and "I don't care." Since it's gotten them this far, I don't expect them to change any time soon.

Posted by kza at 11:44 AM | Comments (4)

March 08, 2004

The Last Samurai (2003, Edward Zwick) 53

For a Tom Cruise Vanity Project, not bad. Enjoyable. A bit bloated at 2 1/2 hours, but again, Vanity Project. Good job with the fight scenes. Interesting: a story about an American accepting Japanese values, featuring sword fights that attempt to respect spatial continuity in the Asian style, as opposed to the Way of Bay. (Not always successful -- thanks for the slo-mo replay, btw -- but the attempt is there.) Playing the Nerd Card: it made me want to play the Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game, and making me want to play a game is a special merit badge that few films attain.

Posted by kza at 11:21 AM

March 05, 2004

Japanese Story (2003, Sue Brooks) 15

I could say a lot about this. I could talk about how there is absolutely no chemistry between Toni Collette and Gotaro Tsunashima, rendering their developing relationship more hypothetical than anything else. I could mention that Mr. Tsunashima shows no charisma whatsoever, not neccessarily a shortcoming in general, but deadly for movie about two people falling for each other. I could explain why the direction is uninspired at best, content with easy signifiers (loneliness = eating baked beans alone, grief=crying and hitting the bathroom wall). I could say that the super-secret, don't-tell-your-friends-make-them-see-it-cuz-it-worked-for-The Crying Game twist actually works, at least for a couple minutes, before it becomes apparent that the twist is a lazy screenwriter's gambit, and they got nothin' left, leaving the film to spin its wheels in the red dust for the remaining time. I could mention how the performance of the guy playing Baird is atrocious, all capital letter ACTING, and go on to detail a theory that good Australian acting is an oxymoron (and I like Collette and Geoffrey Rush).

But instead, I'll leave the final word to my wife, Aza, a veritable fount of wisdom:

"It was kind of like Gerry, only the opposite."

Posted by kza at 11:26 AM

March 01, 2004

The Barbarian Invasions (2003, Denys Arcand) 75

I'm quipless too, Martin. Wait, how about: I didn't realize Scott Thompson's Uptight Straight Guy had a soul!

This is a pretty good movie, folks. Good script that doesn't try to make anyone "right" -- in fact, both the "sensual socialist" Rmy and his son, Sbastien, the "puritanical capitalist" can be insufferable, and it's a credit to the script and the actors that I never lost sympathy for them. As a writer, I'm still trying to figure out what exactly Arcand does to make all the characters, even the minor ones, feel so well-drawn. (Certainly one of his best choices is to give Sbastien's fianc a job and make her good at it.)

If it's "only" a good movie and not a great one (and good ones are so hard to find), it's because I'm not sure groups of friends, however close, have such witty and profound conversations in real life. And on the big screen, listening to these ex-radicals from the sixties talk about blowjobs, it can get a bit twee. But then again, maybe that's the price that's paid to establish a strong rapport between these friends.

Posted by kza at 12:14 PM | Comments (1)

February 28, 2004

City of God (2003, Fernando Meirelles) 30

All those surprise Oscar nominations for this? Really?

It's been called amoral by its detractors, and while they probably have a point, it's hard to get too outraged over a film that doesn't put anything over; not the story, not the characters, not the direction, not the cinematography. Oh, it's not bad; sure, there's energy; but all the split-screens, freeze-frames, and 360 camera movements feel oh-so-nineties to me. Did Meirelles not trust the material? Is it all just a two-hour calling card? Did they just make up shit as they went along?

It's a shame, too, because there was potential here. There are a number of interesting threads (the massacre at the whorehouse, Li'l Ze's voodoo amulet: "You mustn't fornicate while wearing it") that are dropped. When something truly interesting happens -- Rocket is set up to be the personal photographer of the sociopathic Li'l Ze -- the movie is pretty much over. Fine, Meirelles; you don't want to write that movie, maybe I will.

Ultimately, Meirelles is so enamored of his stylistic affectations, that the story becomes a series of anecdotes, a series of shrugs, really, and his actors are reduced from characters to just bodies in front of the camera. He makes Guy Ritchie look like Wes Anderson.

Posted by kza at 08:15 PM | Comments (4)

February 03, 2004

The Station Agent (2003, Thomas McCarthy) 60

Peter Dinklage has chaRAZma. I already knew this, though, before seeing his performance in the lead role of The Station Agent. I saw Dinklage for the first time on The Daily Show, of all things, and it was clear from his brief interview that this shy, modest guy was a major talent. Then I saw him in Elf, and his one hilarious scene proved it. (Admittedly, it isn't much of a scene, but it's the deadpan earnestness of his character that puts it over the top.)

So I guess I had some high expectations for The Station Agent, and they were more or less met. Dinklage, as expected, is great, playing an ordinary man whom no one will treat as ordinary. He gets to show off his range (in a subdued kind of way), and holds the film together -- a necessary feat, as he's in nearly every scene.

But it's not an exciting film. Not that it's supposed to be, of course; it's a quiet indie, about the developing friendship between three people. It's the kind of movie that when a certain character smiles, it's a triumph. But there's a kind of crowd-pleasing quirkiness/cuteness at work here that seeps in like a water stain, damaging (but not wrecking) the interesting character study it's setting up. Here I'm thinking: Patricia Clarkson's first and second encounter with Dinklage; the coffee truck that just happens to be parked in front of the Dinklage's new residence (seems like an awful place to attract customers); the residence itself, an old train station that looks rotted yet is still all ready for someone to move in. It's like McCarthy didn't trust these characters to be interesting in and of themselves.

That's a shame, because Dinklage, Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale are excellent, needing only a couch to bring these people to life. I especially want to highlight Cannavale as coffee vendor Joe, playing a very real "type" (call it the loquacious stoner frat boy) that could have been broad and annoying, but Cannavale does it with gentleness and humor.

So, good, but ultimately underwhelming. Hopefully, Peter Dinklage will go on to bigger and better things now. (If he wasn't a dwarf, he'd no doubt put Colin Farrell Inc. out of business). To borrow a phrase from Mike D'Angelo's review, pituitary discrimination must stop.

Posted by kza at 11:31 PM | Comments (2)

February 02, 2004

Tokyo Godfathers (2004, Satoshi Kon) 60

I've never seen any other version of this oft-filmed story (about three outcasts who try to return a baby to her mother), but I'm not in any hurry after seeing this anime. Not that it's bad, but I have trouble imagining any version that doesn't succumb to sentimentality; and this version has homeless people as its protagonists as opposed to cowboys. Maybe I'm just a little wary of babies.

Kon is no Miyazaki, but perhaps that's the point. The opening minutes are jarring: we find our protagonists at Christmas concert for the homeless, sitting amidst a sea of identical, weary faces, that look like flat, cardboard cut-outs. Our heroes seem to be the only ones with life (even compared to child singers regaling them with carols), but they too move with the traditional anime stutter, thumbing its nose at the relative smoothness we expect from Miyazaki. There's a grittiness, a griminess on display here, something I associate with, say, Bakshi, not anime.

Once the godfathers move out into the winter Tokyo landscape, the true strength of the film is on display. The Tokyo here is incredibly detailed: looming apartment buildings, power-line cluttered skies, alleys filled with white trash bags. While most movies focus on their characters to the exclusion of the world around them, the Kon's Tokyo feels completely alive and lived-in, like we could crane up into one of those apartments and witness another drama altogether. The city becomes another character, and it joins other works (namely, Jacque Tati's Playtime and Grand Theft Auto III) that express the awesomeness (in the traditional sense of the word) of the archetypal Big City.

I could be generous and forgive the many coincidences as the work of the city-character; but I won't. The story is determined within an inch of its life, working overtime to make sure every loose end is tied up. Each character has some deep and profound connection to the baby (It's the daughter I lost! It's the daughter I can't have! It's my little kitty!) and each character arc is carefully traversed, like a man looking for where he dropped his keys. It feels like a Hollywood movie from the 80s, like, I don't know, Beverly Hills Cop, where the filmmakers try to please everyone by jumping from comedy to drama to action and back again. It slowly but surely saps the grit out of the opening minutes, and while I think I understand the purpose (to restore hope in the world of the characters, where hope is a rare commodity), I think it goes too far.

Posted by kza at 02:50 PM

January 11, 2004

comments on top ten (#1)

Gerry (Gus Van Sant)

[Click here for the complete Top Ten.]

Huh. 11 days into the blog, and I'm starting to run out of steam. Well, perhaps that's not completely true; I think I can muster up something interesting for Irrversible and for the 29 (!) DVDs I managed to get over the holiday. But I haven't seen Gerry since January of last year, and I've only seen it once, and I just can't think of anything to say that hasn't been said better.

If you've never seen it (or even heard of it), Gerry is the story of two guys (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck), both seemingly named Gerry, and what happens when they get lost in the mountains. It's slow. Very little "happens" in the conventional story sense.

Why #1? Well, if you're willing to give into it (which may be difficult to do on video), it's hypnotic. The entire thing is consists of bravura camera work: the tracking shot that follows Damon and Affleck getting lost, almost like a third person goading them into their fate; the extreme close-up of the Gerries as they hike further into the void, their faces bouncing madly up and down; the shot near the end, what must be a near-ten minute take, of Damon trudging, step by step, through the salt flats, with Afflect mimicking every step, as the sun slowly rises in front of them.

But I named this movie #1 not just because it's an amazing achievement in cinematography, yet I'm having difficulty expressing what exactly I liked about it. I'm not comfortable using words like "existential", and it's a word that gets used a lot in discussions about this film. But there is something very strong and primal about it's construction and presentation, and in the way it strips away with the normal artifices of storytelling. In other words, it's an experience, not entertainment in the usual sense, and while I know Gerry isn't the first film like this, it's certainly one of my favorites.

(Here's where I make the obligatory reference to Bla Tarr, the incredible Hungarian director that Gus Van Sant was inspired by [some would say completely stole from], and whose Werckmeister Harmonies is worth finding.)

This probably sounds like a back-handed compliment, and isn't intended as one, but here goes: Gerry is the art movie you can take home to your parents. Seriously. It's got a name actor, amazing landscapes (Argentina and Death Valley, CA), and a very basic story (two guys get lost in the wilderness). If you can introduce your family members to this, it might be a gateway drug to Bla Tarr or Andrei Tarkovsky. And then the revolution can begin.

EDIT: If I'd known that all it would take for the Eagles to beat the Packers was for me to finally post on Gerry, then, crap, I woulda done it sooner.

Posted by kza at 05:02 PM

January 07, 2004

comments on top ten (#3-2)

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino)

This could've been merely an exercise in fight choreography, severed limbs, and choice soundtrack cuts. (And to some, that's all it was.) But with one shot -- The Bride realizing her baby is dead -- it becomes something, well not deeper, really, but more moving. Yet her revenge, which should be so simple, is complicated by the fact that she cuts down her enemies when they're at their most happiest. (We see this happiness, and not in an abstract form, either: a nightclub, a friendship, a house, a child.) Unlike some movies I could mention (oh, you know which one I mean), revenge is the opposite of happiness, the destroyer of happiness, and no one gets away from its whirlpool of violence. Oh, and it's amazing to look at, to boot.

The School of Rock (Richard Linklater)

I think formulas (as in movie formulas, you know, as in, "it's such a formula picture") exist for a reason: because at their genesis, they aren't really formulas but archetypes. They work not because plot A and character B and situation C are lazily filled in by hacks, but because the archetypal form, when engaged honestly and with imagination, shines and dazzles us. This is exhibit A in that hypothesis. Not a single unpredictable moment, really, but also not a moment that doesn't buzz with life and energy. I'd love to see this get nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor; I mean, if freakin' The Full Monty can get the first two...

Posted by kza at 01:21 PM

January 05, 2004

comments on top ten (#6-4)

I'm sick today -- head cold, it feels like. I mention this so that in 2024, I can look back on this blog and say, "Why the fuck would I want to remember that?"

X2 (Bryan Singer)

I might be overrating this. I only saw this flick once, and I don't remember a damn thing about it. Well, not totally true. I remember Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler being pretty cool, and his rescue of Rogue at 30,000 feet was very exciting, but other than that...zip. But after I see a movie, I immediately enter it into my handy-dandy Excel database and, if warranted, place it in my Top Ten. (I believe this sucker entered in at #2, originally.) I'm gonna go with my original instincts on this one, but I really need to see it again.

Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton)

I might be overrating this one, too, possibly letting it coast on the Pixar name, a name good enough to get tattooed on your ass. (Not my ass, mind you, your ass.) My main beef is the feeling that a lot of action scenes felt like they were developed simultaneously with the inevitable video game. That is, it was difficult to watch the Albert Brooks fish and the Ellen DeGeneres fish hide from sharks, or jump on the jellyfish, or try and find something while that flashlight-fish was chasing them, without thinking how these scenes could be translated into a video game without any difficulty. That's probably a strange thing to say, as every Pixar movie has been turned into a video game. I think the indefensible stance I'm getting at is that in other Pixar action sequences, the action feels too chaotic; there's a sense that there is a goal (get to the back of the moving truck, cross the busy downtown street), but no rules -- anything could happen. The action in Finding Nemo feels like it's guided by rules, the kind of unbreakable rules you find in video games, where you complete the task in the only way deemed possible by the programmers before you can move on. Maybe this feeling has to do with the infinite-looking blue sea, which has the paradoxical effect of making the world feel small and linear. Or maybe I should just shut up now.

Anyhow, there's obviously something to this movie, or else I wouldn't have put it at #2 on my then-Top Ten, knocking out X2. I'll post follow-up comments when I buy the DVD (it's Pixar, maaaaan.)

Down With Love (Peyton Reed)

Fizz! Pop! Bang! There was only one movie that was funnier, and only one that was more fun visually, than this kooky ode to the fluffy romantic comedies of the 50s and early 60s. Although it isn't a musical (well, there is a musical number, very well done, but it's during the end credits), it's presented like a musical, with large, fantastic sets, goofy colorful costumes, and a broad, to-the-rafters style of comedic acting that I found refreshing (in this context, at least). There's a great moment when Renee Zellweger and Sarah Paulson enter a restaurant and drop their coats simultaneously, and swagger to their table -- a bit of unneccessary yet totally wonderful choreography that expresses the spirit of the movie. If you avoided this in the theater, thinking it silly piffle, please, check it out on DVD. Silly, perhaps; piffle, perhaps not.

Posted by kza at 11:54 AM | Comments (3)

January 04, 2004

comments on top ten (#9-7)

The Trilogy: On The Run (Lucas Belvaux)

At SIFF this year, I saw (in one sitting) Lucas Belvaux's The Trilogy , three stand-alone films (including An Amazing Couple and After Life) that have overlapping characters and situations. They were all excellent, but I liked this one (about a revolutionary who escapes from prison) just a little better, if only for the final shot, which is both horrific and heart-breaking. But if you get a chance, catch 'em, catch 'em, gotta catch 'em all.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson)

The main beef some people have with the final installment is that it mostly rehashes a lot of the stuff from The Two Towers; i.e. Theoden = crazy mixed-up koo-koo king of Minas Tirith, Helm's Deep = Minas Tirith, Frodo-Sam-Gollum = Frodo-Sam-Gollum. And in general, I agree, which is why it comes in at #8, instead of #1 like the last episode. But leftovers of, say, filet mignon, is still filet mignon, and it's still yummy. And "you bow before no man" is a goose-pimply, instant classic moment.

Now that Jackson's done his epic storytelling thang, though, maybe he'll inject a little of his juvenile gross-out humor into King Kong....

The Secret Lives of Dentists (Alan Rudolph)

Also seen at SIFF (same day as the entire Trilogy in fact), this was the most impeccably acted film of the year. Sure, Denis Leary does his Denis Leary schtick, but he's an imaginary character most of the time anyway. But Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, those three kids...Seriously, if you haven't seen this movie, you haven't seen what a good child actor under good direction is capable of. It's not a big movie, of course; in fact, it's intentionally small and fragile. But I like a movie where there are no villains, really, just conflicting desires and conflicted hearts.

Posted by kza at 03:19 PM

January 03, 2004

comments on top ten (#10)

For someone who claims to loved him some movies, I really didn't see a whole lot this last year. According to my records, I saw 39 movies dated 2003; I've seen 65 that are dated 2002.

Admittedly, I didn't necessarily see all 65 in 2002; I saw Franois Ozon's 8 Women, a 2002 release, in 2003. (I don't keep a daily log of what I see, cuz I'm just too lazy, although this blog may change that.) But even so, I'd estimate I saw 55 to 60 films in 2002 in the theater.

I don't know the reason for the drop-off, although I suspect only seeing 4 movies at SIFF would be the prime suspect. (2001 was my big SIFF year, which bumped my 2001 total to 95.) Also, my good friend Mary went to live and work in the U.K. in 2002, and she could always be counted on to drag me to see something I wanted to see but didn't want to take a bus across town for.

So, anyway, I hope to see at least 50 movies in the theater this year and get back into the swing of things. I want to take the art of films (and thinking about films) more seriously than I have in the past. I started a website back in 2001 after SIFF, but it was more ambitious than I could maintain, and I let it lie fallow. Hopefully, this blog, which, by its very nature is less ambitious, won't suffer the same fate.

So now some quickie, not-really-thought-out comments on the top ten:

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski)
Johnny Depp is the main reason, of course; but how about a little love for Geoffrey Rush? He's a natural ham, and he hasn't had a role recently that lets him channel that porcine energy effectively. (Shine doesn't count.) More fun than a crass and heartless exercise in brand extension had any right to be.

One thing that's bothering me, though. I've been a 'Binski Booster since his debut with Mousehunt, which was a shitty movie, sure, but I saw hints of poetry there, particularly in a quiet sequence with Nathan Lane standing in the snow. And I think he's terrific with actors, as James Gandolfini in The Mexican and the aforementioned Depp and Rush demonstrate. But ever since The Ring, as the budgets increase, I feel his distinctiveness (or potential distinctiveness, at least) as a director wane. This is the old, old story, of course; big money has a way of sapping idiosyncrasy. Yet somehow David Fincher manages to retain an individual stamp on his movies, and I had Verbinski pegged as the next Fincher. But with each picture, that seems less and less likely.

More later.

Posted by kza at 04:27 PM | Comments (5)

January 02, 2004

top ten of 2003

For my first movie-related post -- a quickie -- here's what I thought were the ten best films of 2003, plus one anomaly:

(note: (f) means I saw it on film, (v) means on video/DVD.)

0. Irrversible (Gaspar No) (v)
1. Gerry (Gus Van Sant) (f)
2. The School of Rock (Richard Linklater) (f)
3. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino) (f)
4. Down With Love (Peyton Reed) (f)
5. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton) (f)
6. X2 (Bryan Singer) (f)
7. The Secret Lives of Dentists (Alan Rudolph) (f)
8. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson) (f)
9. The Trilogy: On The Run (Lucas Belvaux) (f)
10. Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski) (f)

An incomplete list of other movies I liked (in alphabetical order):
28 Days Later (Danny Boyle) (f), Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff) (f), Dreamcatcher (Lawrence Kasdan) (v), Elf (Jon Favreau) (f), Hulk (Ang Lee) (f), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir) (f), The Trilogy: After Life (Lucas Belvaux) (f), The Trilogy: An Amazing Couple (Lucas Belvaux) (f)

Critical favorites I haven't caught up with yet: Capturing the Friedmans, Elephant, Spellbound, The Station Agent, All The Real Girls, Bus 174, Dirty Pretty Things, Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary, The Son, Shattered Glass, The Company.

Some of my least favorite movies of 2003: The Eye (Pang Brothers) (f), The House of the Dead (Uwe Boll) (f), The Hunted (William Friedkin) (f), Identity (James Mangold) (f), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Stephen Norrington) (f), Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) (f), The Matrix Reloaded (The Wachowski Brothers) (f), Mystic River (Clint Eastwood) (f), Run Ronnie Run (Troy Miller) (v), Spider (David Cronenberg) (v)

Hopefully, I'll follow this up (sooner rather than later) with some explanations, like why there's a #0 in my list, why I didn't care for Mystic River, and maybe even why I liked Dreamcatcher more than Lost in Translation.

Posted by kza at 08:07 PM