Jodie Foster, mommy. How do you make a mommy freak out? Steal her child. Or endanger it. That sympathetic human heart-tugging at the plight of a child or woman or, better yet, both--this is the emotional landscape of this movie. It offers a few twists throughout that I hear they call plot, but really it's a character study in how realistically Foster can lose it while still keeping it together. Or, said differently, Foster playing that fine line where we question her character as to her sanity, not knowing if she's really insane or if she's simply a mommy who lost her little girl.
But, personally, I'm a little sick of getting my marionette heart tugged in this way, my string has grown to flexible and callous. Kill the fucking kid, already, just give me something besides Foster's (admittedly well-acted) panicked face to go on.
So, let's talk about the marvel of engineering that is this plane they are flying on. First, it's quite extraordinary that the airline apparently has enough money to buy a plane and not use all of its space. Put in sumptuous staircases, and open lounges (that terminate in the cockpit door, thus putting the drunkest passengers nearest the flightcrew). Why, it even has a cot for the pilot to rest in during those long flights. I wonder if he lives on board?
And then there's the avionics area, which appears to have an exploded Cray-2 super-computer in it (is this plane handling requests from thousands of users at one time? Is it crunching weather prediction data? Is it modeling the airflow over the wing in real time? Measuring the alcohol-to-soda ratio in every cocktail? I can see some novel uses for huge computers on board, but no practical ones), and a good football field of unused space in the nose cone. Hey, 45 passengers could fit in there if you knock out the super computer and fill it with seats. At an average international ticket price of around $1000, that would be $45,000 the airline could make through efficiency each flight.
And what's with all the Jefferies tubes everywhere? Do they call down to the engine room when they need more power? Does the crew crawl around in spaces large enough to fit luggage, people or duty-free goods that they can sell for a profit? Okay, I know that some liberties had to be taken because--let's face it--flying is boring. But, I prefer the other scary flight film I saw recently.
This film, though, it has a big problem, which I suspect is not seen as a big problem in Hollywood, where people care about the roller coaster but not about the rails it rides on. When all is said and done, the reasoning of what happened is so impractical. Okay, some SPOILERS here (and, I think it should be said that part of the success of this movie when it's working is not knowing what's happening or who to believe).
The problem is this: the plot to hijack the plane is so labyrinthian and detailed that the slightest thing could go wrong. Most criminal conspiracies are not built on tightwires, for a pretty good reason: it's too easy to fall. I would like to see a tricky plot in a movie like this that doesn't rely on an overly elaborate sequence of events that just happens to fall into place. The good con is the con where the characters are manipulated into doing what the conner wants without realizing it, and then having the realization wash over them as they understand they've been taken. The conner doesn't rely on human characteristics that are impossible to predict--such as Mommy falling asleep in a different seat than her daughter.
I think the film played it honestly, to be fair, and could have cheated more, but Hitchcock's movies always held up in retrospect. For this movie, which is being called Hitchcockian, I just want a little more in the end.
Better than the previews led me to believe, which is saying something, but not a whole lot of something. A waify potentially psychologically disturbed woman played Connelly? That's no sign of the apocalypse, that just the way things have always been.
The ending of this movie--and by ending you should be clued in about SPOILERS here--is so badly handled that it nearly negates everything before it. The psychological set up for the primary character was, in my view, totally negated by her action. It was a passive thing to do--essentially abandoning her daughter in a different, but just as real, way as her mother abandoned her.
If, though, her character had been truly crazy, and had a moment of clarity that she was hurting her child, then it would have made sense. But they set up JC as a passive woman and then her moment of action, supposedly redeeming herself and her pain at the hands of her mother, and so the last action had no bearing on her emotional well-being.
Tim Roth was great, and disappeared into the roll, as was the always great John C. Reilly and the particularly evil Pete Postletwaite. As for JC--well, she annoyed me, like her characters usually do, which means that she's playing them right on the button, I would say.
A much different Cillian Murphy than we saw last time, and Mr. Craven in fine form. In a little featurette on the DVD he said something to the effect of:
"Horror movies are all about the vulnerability of the body, this movie is all about the vulnerability of the soul."
Which I'm reporting here not because I have anything to add to it, but more as a note that any time I write a horror scene to remember that it's about the vulnerability of the body.
A marvelous job was done for sticking these characters so close together in such a confined space for such a long period of time. You nearly could call it My Dinner with Rippner.
It is a movie that got in, got tense, and got out again without trying to dress it up or get overly melodramatic. I can appreciate a movie that knows its limits, and let's you enjoy it inside of them.
And it was clever without being tricky, character driven without drawing stereotypes, and enjoyable to boot.
A bit of classic melodrama with a decidedly anti-spin, successfully couched in the horrors of war instead of the sentimentality of fighting.
But, it is melodrama nevertheless. The boys we meet are young and sweet, they go to fight and fall. We learn a lesson that war is bad. We learn a lesson that being a man isn't all it's trumped up to be.
Of course, for 1930 it was a different message than today. We don't, for instances, have trenches in Iraq, and the army has better communications and supply chains, right?
But imagine being in the theater in the 1930s in Germany watching this, and Nazi's--not yet in power--would open the doors and release rats into the theater and yell.
But still, it's propaganda. Pro war, anti war, it's all about the message and not the complexity of the message.
So, class, we have learned that war is bad. Except when it isn't. Which is whenever it's needed to not be. Remember that, and then no movie can tell you what to think and feel. You'll need brave democratically elected leaders for that challenging role.
I wasn't a huge fan of Firefly, but I did enjoy it and thought it really stood out from the crowd. This feels like a lost extended episode, which isn't a bad thing at all. It isn't quite as grand in scope as it could have been -- maybe I should have seen it in the theater -- but that doesn't mean I enjoyed it any less.
So, too bad it's probably gone for good. We'll just have to wait and see what Joss Wheadon does with Wonder Woman...
No, not an obscure Hitchcock remix of a DeMille epic. It's a small documentary. It suffers from its smallness, and it's smallness of scope. I think the filmmaker should watch Fast, Cheap and Out of Control 20 times, purge self of Michael Moore schtick and re-edit.
Mostly, my complaints are about the preaching to the converted. The film could have been much more dramatic and compelling just interviewing more talking heads and mixing them together, but instead we have some funny pseudo-high quality flying graphics, and some quippy attitude from our narrator / filmmaker.
If this sounds harsh, it's only because some of the interviews he did get were quite good an could have been longer. But, like any good self-serving atheist, his dogmatism is against the theism and quite pro the "a" part.
I was raised in a quite liberal church, and saw what could happen when you get a bunch of reasonable people together who agree to not judge each other for their levels of faith. The ground work was laid by saying "Okay, we're all here and all believe some level on the continuum, let's not focus on the differences and instead group our collective power to do some good." And by good I mean, charities without conversion goals, supporting people in times of crises without judgement, and those kinda things.
But, I'm not a believer, and can't say I ever really was. I've witnessed first hand how religion does some good things, but then I think that this one small group of churches is vastly outnumbered today by people I have no sympathy for. Their ignorance is incomprehensible, as witnessed not in this documentary but one that recently aired in Britain by Richard Dawkins titled The Root of All Evil? Dawkins interviewed the pastor of a mega-church after a service, and Dawkins compared it to the Nuremberg Rallies, and that Goebbels would be proud. The pastor ignorantly laughs, and said "Well, I don't know anything about these Nuremberg rallies, but a lot of people compare it to a rock concert."
When you're dealing with ignorance that complete--and this, mind you, the leader of thousands of the devout--then we're only talking about brainwashing, mind control and the devastation of independent thought for the simple goal of unification.
I'm with the author interviewed who asked that if everything was true, and he was in an awful hell experiencing the worst predictions of the devout, would he have a moment of doubt and wishing he had just believed? He answered that he wouldn't change his mind, because the alternative would be living in a heaven and knowing that millions of souls were in hell suffering greatly for an eternity. No matter how great the harps and wings, it could never outweigh the awfulness and exclusionary beliefs of the people who surrounded you--those who would sell you out to hell in a second as long as they get to live like kings.
It's not that we don't trust Werner Herzog, it's that we trust him a little too much. This persona that he has carefully articulated through his documentaries--often with him as a starring character--may indeed be the real Werner, but we just don't know. That he's believable may give us a clue to authenticity, but we still don't know. Maybe those who have met him can vouch for his real personality, and if it turns out to be this one great. But why even question it? Because Herzog's motivation for making the films he does might be based on the character Werner that we know, or it could be based on Herzog, that iconoclastic and difficult filmmaker. If they're one and the same, fine, but if not it changes the intention, and thus the story, of the film.
As for Timothy Treadwell--he also is an unreliable narrator. A self-described protector of the bears, who appears to have done nothing to actually protect their environment. More of a wistful hippie dancing his spirit animal than a biologist making studies. He is the self-assigned crocodile hunter of North America, the man who wanted to be Johnny BearSeed, spreading the word of the Grizzly through whatever school would have him.
The only problem for Treadwell is that he didn't get to edit his documentary. Instead, at the hands of a master, we see all the footage that Treadwell himself would very likely have left on the cutting room floor. His obviously deeply felt, but out of control, outbursts on camera towards random authority figures--god, the government, parks service show a man not in control of his emotions. In order to quiet his personal demons, he needed to move to a place where few other humans go.
In the hands of a Tim Treadwell production, we would have seen the slightly-wacky but very caring creature, as he appeared in public. And, it's no surprise, this former failed actor created his own reality show in which he was the star. There's no way that the bears were the stars of his show. If that was the case, he would set up the cameras and observe, not put himself into the shot. That he did--often obscuring the bears--is obviously an extension of his desires to simply be a bear. Name me one other naturalist who puts themselves above the nature that they're shooting.
Let's not mince words, here--Treadwell was no naturalist. He was all ego in the wild. Taming foxes and baby-talking kodiak bears that stood to nearly twice his height were just some of his offenses. It was best summed up by the Native guy in the museum who said that his people had respected the invisible line between bears and people for 7000 years. Treadwell not only ignored what might be right for the bears (to encounter as few humans as possible), but he ignored the historical understanding bears and humans have held--come to close, get mauled or worse.
So Treadwell is a product of a pop-culture age, raised with Yogi bear and stuffed bears. He anthropomorphized them with cute names and human intentions. He fashioned himself into his picture of what they needed, as if his very presence would somehow save them. From what? Imagined poachers and parks service rangers who were out to do some imaginary harm. What was his real intention, there? He stopped no poachers. Other than vaguely threatening an annoying nature photographer just by videotaping him throw a rock at a cub (a word of advice: where there are cubs there are mother bears, and they get kind of pissed about things like that) he did nothing proactive at all.
But Treadwell, for all his desire to escape and leave the human world, couldn't just go sit and hang out with the grizzlies. He needed to be known as the guy that did that. So, his protestations of independence were really somewhat of a charade for his need for attention. I'm sure he was fun, as a kid, to watch this crazy guy come into your class and talk to you about stuff--but was he educational? Who knows. The watchers of this movie will never know.
See, but there is the rub--Herzog manipulated us. He first made us like Treadwell, and think he knew his shit--and then he carefully undid that view over course of the movie. By the end, we think Treadwell is a bit of a lunatic. So, is my review just playing right into his hands? Is this exactly what he wanted me to feel?
Any objective view is that Treadwell must have done something right, because he managed to survive up there for so long. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was more--but we'll never know Herzog told us the story he wanted us to see, and had us feel the things he wanted us to feel. As for the rest? Well. I'm satisfied. I'll buy in. I like this Herzog, be he real or a figment of his own talent.
Only about 15 minutes of the crashing, the rest of the trying to win love's true heart in a bizarre wealthy American setting. Love Christopher Walken, but this was a pretty stupid movie. Standard predictable personality comedy. Not as hostile as some, not as doe-eyed as others, but still not funny enough to really rise above the fray. If you saw the trailer, you saw all the good jokes. Bonus points for having a female character be a sexual deviant and not have the requisite punishing that such characters usually end up with.
I always hated those after school specials with the inevitable bad thing that happens to the kids. I would shirk away from them, like in horror movies when that person in theater involuntarily cries out to tell the teenager not to to walking in the swamp on a moonlit night.
So, a similar feeling pursued me through this film, in the pit of my stomach--a grinding, nauseous unease, which played into sympathy for Maria and her plight. But, if I were a prosecutor I'd say "I'm sorry--her story may be sad, but she still chose to smuggle the drugs. She still chose her path."
So she did, but not as a job, but as a gamble. The idea that this long shot might pay off and elevate her to a different life. A life of living in America and working jobs just as menial as those in Columbia, but at a much higher wage. Welcome to America, Maria. You'll be safe so long as the politicians that hire you don't suddenly feel a need to show they're tough on immigration.
t'wasn't beauty that killed the beast...
It was SFX. If there is one moral to be taken from back-to-back watchings of these three Kongs, it's that a man in a monkey suit (I'm talking to YOU 1976) is never as good as stop motion and computerized animals. Kong76 was just weak. He felt like a man in a monkey suit, looked like a man in a monkey suit, and walked like a man in a monkey suit shot in slow motion. Even at his most pathetic, in the hold of the cargo ship being brought home, he was monkey-suitish. If a man in a monkey suit falls off a tree in the forest, will anybody cry? Not this time, buddy. Even juxtaposed on the tragic towers, Kong76 was more hackneyed than hankied. Die, Kong76! Die!
Kong33 moved like a dream Kong. He was monkey like, curious, and pounded like an angry 5 year old boy in a room full of miniature toys. Brilliant animation, and FX that looked better than the seventies version. He didn't try to seduce his blonde, he just grabbed her and ran. Although, his eardrums must have pierced with the pitch of her peril, he was manly--er, apely, throughout. Great moments: flexing the jaw of the Tyran. Rex after killing him. Breaking out of the chains on stage, because of those wicked, wicked flash bulbs; Climbing the Empire State, and the finale, a truly emotional powerhouse of a confused and angry and sad ape brought down by the planes. Tears were choked back. Kong33 mesmerizes.
Kong05 is a new kind of Kong. He's shiny! Looks good in close up! Has the stamina to go on for hours and hours! He also is capable of being coy and communicative, something he has over his brethren. He actually forms a relationship with the blonde, who will do anything for him. And I mean, climbing to the top of a radio tower in designer heels to stop the damn planes. This Kong--boy, did I mention he goes on forever. And ever. Man, is he done fighting all of those things yet? This island is fucking vicious! How does anything survive for more than a day or so? How many creatures fall into that valley so that those insects can eat them? Do the insects have total turf wars and eat each other? Sorry--didn't mean to digress. So, they're on top of the Empire State (Tris McCall sings: "Just know that this tangle of tickertape is the price for our Empire State"), and the blonde is weeping. Did I? Well, I confess, no. But it wasn't for lack of emotion, but for the splitting headache our late dinner and movie did to me. I think I need to see this one again. (Movie was screened, incidentally, at the best theater in Seattle. Some people ignorantly think this is the best theater in Seattle. They are wrong. This is the best theater in Seattle).
But, before that, let's talk about blondes: Fay Wray set the stage for all the others, after all. She was coy and sweet, a bit tough and tender, but never really related to her Kong. She was a bit more of a stereotypical screamer. She was meant for one man, and that man was the man on the boat, not the beast on the dry land. In her, we saw both the bitterness of her captor dying, and the sweetness of being free of him forever. Talk about Stockholm Syndrome, 40 years before the term was coined.
To Ms. Introducing Jessica Lange: I hope you gave a big fat endowment to Ms. Magazine after making this stinker, where you not only played the embodiment of every stereotypical seventies men's fantasy, but you actually appeared to enjoy it. The lithe airhead who actually, literally tries to find out what sign Kong was. Okay, so maybe it's not your fault--maybe you're at the hand of directors whose idea of the ideal woman was a giggling moronic beauty, but maybe that was the very poorly done subtext, eh? That you finally met a man who really treated you like a Barbie Doll, and you kind of fall for him? No, wait--that makes no sense. And what the hell was Charles Grodin doing as an oil man?
And finally, we have Naomi Watts. We've known you could act since Mullholland Dr. We've known you could you were willing to mock yourself with I Heart Huckabees. Now we know you can do action too. The only Ann Darrow who felt like a real person. She had a talent, besides beauty, and a drive, besides swooning. She formed a real, believable relationship with the great ape. Of course, her digital double defies physics, but Watts herself was just great.
Okay, and then we have to address the whole racism of the movie in general. Is Kong supposed to be emblematic of the untamed black man, and the idea is that we have to protect our wimmin from him? I dunno. I think the more curious question is why these Pacific Islanders all look like Africans, although Jackson's natives look more like a satanic Maori tribe. It seems to be a racist conceit--the whole goddamned thing. Is it?
I'm not smart enough to know for sure. I would say--maybe, and then also say--maybe not. That is, maybe the movie is racist, and maybe the movie is pointing out fear of the unknown, which is the basis of racism--which is fear dressed as power.
And power is what brought Kong down. Bullets in the chest as he tried to protect the blonde. An animal suffering, at the end. Not a black man, or a metaphor--what makes us cry (or almost cry) is the animal misunderstood and attacked. God help us, we've just killed the beast.
A carefully controlled look at Klaus Kinski, with director Werner Herzog in the starring role of redemption. Look, he claims, I'm not as crazy as the man said. The implicit tone is that Herzog is answering his critics for the record--his critics being both Kinksi himself, and the press and rumor mill that publish stories about the two of them.
Especially telling, to me, was Herzog's nihilist-on-depressants rant about the jungle during the filming of the great Fitzcarraldo. I think this man was every bit as disturbed as his star, but one was only really genius behind the camera. The other, in front of it.
This is a political film, dressed up as a love poem. It's a statement and defense, in the context of so much history to break through.
What's the truth here? Only the people who were there will ever know. But watch Fitzcarraldo, or Aguirre, Wrath of God, and you can forgive the men anything. You can forgive them for tearing themselves apart with madness.
John Waters makes moral films. How long before our country recognizes this great American, and gives him his due?
He has more to say about your hangups than your psychologist ever did. Especially great in this are the three bears. Every bigots worse fear of the gays, and yet, surprisingly sweet and furry at the same time. Or Selma Blair's ridiculously enormous breasts. Here's a question: if a woman exposes her breasts, but they're synthetic, does it count against the movies rating?
Of course, it uncovers the great truth that the only people who see sex everywhere are the ones who are scared of it. Like on trees. And plants.
This is high parody, shot low. Let's go sexing!
So, this guy walks into a film school. The screenwriting instructor says "I have three rules for you if you want to make good movies:
1. Something interesting has to happen to the characters.
2. Never use text on screen or tell the story in exposition. It's cheating.
3. Give people characters they can relate to and will genuinely like.
And the guy says "Fuck you! Your rules are for the dogs." And then he makes a movie that ignores all three rules and, despite some promise, it kinda sucks.
That's this movie.
PS--Maggie rocks. Lisa's pretty damn good. It's the overly clever structure that killed it.
There may still be time for Cube to regain his street cred. After all, you can't fault the man for trying.
Bullet points about the movie that contain spoilers, but you probably shouldn't care because the movie pretty much blows.
* Aliens have absolutely no regard for scientific method. They use the term "experiment" very brazenly
* Then again, that may be an earth-centric assumption that presupposes aliens subscribe to our ethics. These experiments could be taking place in four dimensions.
* Like the fourth dimension of suck...
* Like the literal sucking of the only cool effect in the movie.
* But still, I'm disappointed in our new alien overlords, and their callous disregard for the term experiment. Isn't an experiment something in which one watches for observational effects and notes them, and not one where someone manipulates the subject to break their will? Is this the Stanford Alien Experiment?
* And what the heck is going on that the massive airplane hanger that they are in has columns in rows every ten feet or so. Is it like an art installation where buildings are made that cannot be used for their intended purpose? Is this for wingless airplanes with fuselages of less than 10 feet in diameter?
* When the main alien gets rebuked by his superiors, it shows not only that their experiments are bad science, but the administrators are totally harsh.
* "Zardox, one more mishap on the puny human experiment, and we're pulling your license and turning on the sky vacuum."
* Lessons learned from the film: the bond between mother and child is spiritual, unbreakable, and precious, and science is bad. I think the script might have a purpose driven message.
Followed this one up the next night, coincidentally, with a PBS documentary about Kinsey. Despite the fact that Neeson is a much more handsome man than the real doc, it's a compelling story. Especially compelling as a biopic that sells the idea that personal obsession can still lead to great science.
Of course when we see an obsessed physicist, or an obsessed mathematician, we just want to make plush dolls out of them, but when one's obsession is sex--albeit in an academic (as well as personal, so the movie suggests) fashion, our culture tends to react in quite a different way.
But the research had to be done. It's hard for us, post-sexual revolution people to imagine, but the repression about sex was tremendous. To get an idea of just how bad it was. Not only where there very few facts to be had, but the facts that were available were severely flawed. Abstinence-only education was the norm, and the painful scene of the Kinsey's on their wedding night was the norm, I'd suggest.
Of course, though, I'm one of those people who believes that good factual information is the key to being an adult and living an adult life. If you repress sex--especially by means of repressing information-- you end up with a lot of ignorant pregnant teenagers. You end up with a higher rate of abortion. You end up with a lot worse. Like this story reported today about a rape victim who could find no one to fill her prescription for emergency contraception.
Most telling, of course, is that denial of sexual information is almost unilaterally aimed at girls, and repression of sexual information always comes hand-in-hand with repression of women (take a look at fundamentalist muslim populations, or fundamentalist christian populations that put the burden of sexuality on the woman by saying that if she doesn't cover herself, then the men will be inflamed by her callous action). Boys are a lot more simple, and if a boy is ignorant he can't get himself pregnant, taking away his choice in the matter of whether or not he wants to be a parent. Some people would call that a good thing--a little fear, repression, guilt and reliance on god's will--I call it the dark ages. But, at least the opponents to nearly everything are consistent: they would ban all science, including sex research.
My sister and brother-in-law once went to a church where the preacher, leading a value-driven sermon, said "There are four problems in the world today: 1. Secular Humanism, 2. Darwinism, 3. Homosexuality and 4. Science." They got the hell out of there as fast as the politely could, but it was my 9 year old nephew who summed it up nicely when he was told why they wouldn't be going back to that particular church. "Science?" he said. "They don't believe in science? Without science we'd all be living in elephant-hide tents!"
A common problem might be that you are chaste and good and a virgin, but you're finding it hard to wait until your honeymoon because of your attraction to your potential mate. Some might suggest prayer to stay the course, but I would simply suggest an enjoyable triple feature:
1. We Don't Live Here Anymore.
3. Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?
One and three will take care of the relationship parts, but number two is just for the absolute misery. Enjoy!
The end of this movie, and by ending I meant the final few minutes when the director imposed too fine a point on it, negated the movie before it. I don't think you could necessarily call this a spoiler, even though it sounds like I just described the Sixth Sense. It's not a spoiler because what the director imposed is a political message that had nothing at all to do with the story he just told.
I guess a movie like this can be made for two reasons. The first is to look at the history of an historical figure (no matter how you feel about them) and look at the forces that created the persona that made them famous. The second is propaganda about an historical figure that attempts to exploit their past to impose some sort of divinity on them. I might have argued that this movie was trying to be the former, but when our young Guevara swims across the Amazon to spend the evening with lepers, I would say we're walking into sainthood territory.
But the end of the movie. Right--we're reminded that this young man whom we've watched grown and (and this can't be emphasized enough) has empathy for the people turns into the poster child for lefty ignorance--I mean, the handsome revolutionary who was the saviour of his people. Or, rather, other people who needed saving.
I'm pretty far to the left, but embracing Che feels a little close to embracing Pol Pot. I guess it depends on your view of Communism, but I have yet to see an application of Communism that is any more humane that the system is was supposed to replace. I have no empathy for the revolutionaries because none of the revolutionaries proved their propaganda by any other means than tragically imposed dictatorship.
Of course, I'm just as uncomfortable with the right in America demonizing communism and Marxism as some sort of tool of the devil. I certainly don't think that capitalism is divinely inspired--but, here's a good one, if you're ever arguing about evolution with a right-winger, ask them to explain capitalism from a divine point of view instead of natural selection, which is kind of the point of capitalism.
Pardon that digression--the truth is that the leaders I admire were people who stood up to oppressors and bared their chests to the sword point, standing on principal. I have little sympathy or respect for those that held the knife, even if it was sharpened on the block of the people, even if it was held to the chest of the oppressor. Propaganda of any sort--and this film is propaganda--leaves me feeling more manipulated and angry than a million Spielberg films.
This director is asking us to feel empathy for a man only showing us some reasons he may have become what he became, but without showing us what he did. Without showing us the revolution, we have no revolutionary. But, at the same time, without showing us the revolution we have the sanitized Che, the one who you can't argue against. After all, he loves poor people!
If the director had left off that last bit of text, explaining who this character became, and how the CIA murdered him (maybe they did, but the facts seem a bit hazy to make unambiguous statements like that), then we would be dealing with a film concerned with narrative and character. INstead, we're dealing with a movie whose message was summed up neatly with a bow for us. Instead, we're dealing with a movie only Pravda could love. It's no better than the Passion of the Christ. What a shame to waste such beautiful cinematography. What a shame to waste such good acting.
The very fact that I am writing these words proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this blog is not about street cred. It is, as I have said, a record of the movies I've seen--and it would be against the spirit of the thing to deny a movie just because it was a Disney movie made for little girls. And it's about Ice Skating. And the box shows two views of the protagonist with the words: "From Scholastic...To Fantastic!"
I'll ignore the implication that smarts ain't all that, and focus instead of the weird self-mocking the movie engaged in. Joan Cusack (whom I would watch in nearly anything, but was made very dowdy here) played the mother of our physicist-on-ice. She complained about feminist ideals throughout, including a critique of the ice skating costumes as sexist little misogynistic ideas of what girls should be (well, not those words exactly...) to which her daughter replied "But mom, they're actually very aerodynamic!" The message our young viewers were supposed to take away is that Mom is strident and unrealistic, and not with the times. I suspect a writer who worked on it is a Sarah Lawrence grad who was full of self-loathing for writing such fluff (and for Disney to boot!), and crafted the mother carefully as both a foil to the intentions of the Dorothy Hammel-Bohr character and as a way to express her own loathing of the material in a contained and approved way.
At heart it's a sports-plot movie (plot number 1 in my review of Murderball), which I usually find much more rewarding than watching actual sports since the story arcs are more controlled, and the competition is a distillation of real sports. You have to be a serious fan to sit through all the mundane normal games to catch that amazing, exciting game. Sports movies deliver that fantastic game every time, without fail.
Other brief comments:
* No matter what you think, or what characters you might see in movies, it is impossible to be punk rock while ice skating. Can't be done. There's no such thing as punk rock sports. Even the X-games. If punks and jocks actually ever merged, the universe would implode.
* Sometimes you must realize that the mean popular girl is actually very nice pretending to be mean. It's actually her mother who is mean pretending to be nice.
* No matter what role she's in, Kim Cattrall looks like she's about to talk dirty to you.
* Ignorance can be overcome with a quivering lip and dazed expression.
* Zamboni's can travel over land.
I totally guessed the big "secret" of the Crying Game before it was revealed. When that movie came out, it was all the buzz around town. Have you seen it? Could you believe it? Like many people (who are either pro or anti), I always claim that I can totally recognize transvestites and transsexuals, but that assumption is totally undermined by the reality that I would never know if I met a transvestite or transsexual that I couldn't tell, so my scoring is skewed by my own confidence. So, before I become too self congratulatory on this useless and meaningless talent, I'll just say that I didn't love the Crying Game because the reveal was ruined for me and leave it at that.
Mona Lisa is a stronger film. It's a bit less grand, but we get a lot of screen time with Bob Hoskins, who is mesmerizing, and fascinating to watch. He's like that guy you see on the street and would like to follow out of curiosity, but your better sense turns you away. I personally prefer when he plays the tough guy in movies like this, as opposed to the whimsical guy in movies like Maid in Manhattan, but either way I think he's pretty compelling.
The story is revealed in peeks through windows, and frankly the plot was never terrifically clear to me, other than Bob driving around Cathy Tyson, giving a view of underground London in the 80s, gritty cheaply priced sexuality everywhere. Neil Jordan filmed real street walkers in a number of the scenes, a definite nod to reality. It is a film that could be a story lifted from a real life, everything plausible, but not without hope.
It's interesting to hold this film up against some of Mike Leigh's film, to see realistic characters treated without derision, a reflection of the sociology of Britain in its day. At a time when the Iron Lady ruled the post-socialist, grey concrete and pale-red-brick landscape that spawned a million synthesizers from the fading glory of edgy guitars, this movie harkens back to noir. No need for metaphor, though, in that day and age. Dealing with the subject directly gives us an opportunity that the noir films never gave: to be exposed to a side of society that the majority of us steer clear of, and to cheer on the man we think might just escape it, if he can keep his head screwed on straight.
Why oh why did this movie get panned so hard? It's got an abysmal 50% at Rotten Tomatoes (as opposed to 70% with The Royal Tenenbaums, or 85% with Rushmore. Shit, even Bottle Rocket got 75%). What happened in between the projection and the critics eyeballs that they failed to recognize this absolute master work? Is it like battery polarity, when you mix post-modern critics with certain movies they start repelling each other?
What seems to set the polarity--and this is an anathema to our modern, overly smart culture-soaked critical pool--is earnestness. It's not that it lacks irony, but this movie is a love poem to Jacques Cousteau and his crew, and not the mocking of a iconoclast that would have been much easier to make, and possibly more popular. Instead, Anderson took us on a voyage of discovery past the known world of Cousteau to the unknown world of Zissou--but isn't it true that Cousteau's world was just as strange and beautiful to the people who watched his works? Isn't the world created by Anderson a logical extension of such a world, fictionalized to impose the same sense of wonder on the modern audience?
I once thought that Wes Anderson kept a yardstick between himself and his characters--the requisite ironic distance so that he could mock them playfully--but in reviewing some of his films, I've come to change my mind. I think he's in love with his characters, and he treats them with great affection. I declare him post-ironic (I've quoted it before, but it's worth saying again. The Hipster Handbook says "To a hipster, irony caries more weight than reason". Has Anderson broken the sixth wall? The wall of necessary irony and emotional detachment?).
Roger Ebert said that "My rational mind informs me that this movie doesn't work." I had no such qualms. Maybe if you break it down in three-act segments, with rigidly constructed character arcs you might find some flaws, but the emotional landscape of this film is engrossing and endlessly bitter sweet. It feels like the last day of camp, when you're leaving all the good friends you've made to go back to your regular life. It's a movie I'm very comfortable with.
Anderson's attention to detail is flawless--his shots and technique perfect. Everything from the fictional fish to the cut-away boat were spot on. Even the carefully considered and controlled typography--using a stroked Futura, as opposed to his usual filled Futura--evokes a metaphor of loneliness.
Everyone I've talked to who loved the film were also Cousteau fans. Maybe that's the prerequisite, or the polarity switch. When it comes to investing yourself into this work, it helps to know the inspiration. I predict (that I am a fool for making a prediction, however...) that this film will be rediscovered in the future, and considered one of his best. History will be kind to Zissou. It was certainly kind to me, I loved every second of it.
Ode to Bruce Willis, star of the movie Hostage
in Villanelle form
Bruce Willis, Bruce Willis--save and fulfill us
Your women are scared, but they will understand
Please don't retire, we need you to thrill us
Your woman, she knows that bad men will kill us
the man that she wed is a manly men's man
Bruce Willis, Bruce Willis--save and fulfill us
A plot is revealed, and themes soon will drill us
reckless armed devils are playing their hands
Please don't retire, we need you to thrill us
But wait! an impossible twist has just chilled us
How will you fix what you can't understand?
Bruce Willis, Bruce Willis--save and fulfill us
We pay out our ticket, a small price to bill us
Evil degrades 'neath your able strong hand
Please don't retire, we need you to thrill us
Torn shirt and blood let through a gash on your head
You've saved all the girls, and the leader is dead
Bruce Willis, Bruce Willis--save and fulfill us
Please don't retire, we need you to thrill us
A better band than movie, but a fun to watch nonetheless. I've not got anything to say about the movie in particular, but I will repost something I wrote when Johnny Ramone died in September, 2004.
The third Ramone to go in just as many years, Johnny was an odd ball. While Joey was the heart of the Ramones, and Dee Dee was the arms (muscled and lined with track marks, no doubt), Johnny was the brains. For those that believe the Ramones to be tough-guy simpletons who luckily stumbled across their sound, well--you bought the press release, but didn't look very closely. The Ramones were custom built for super-stardom from the ground up. Named after a pseudonym that Paul McCartney used when the Beatles toured, and carefully studied in the Phil Spectre wall-of-sound, their rapid-fire set lists and Dee Dee's famous "1-2-3-4" countdown to launching every song were as deliberately planned as their ripped jeans and leather jackets.
Which is not to say that they were unauthentic, but they were thoughtful. Imagine it--1976. If you turn on the radio you hear Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton, dripping with intricate guitar solos. You hear Queen's lush arrangements from a parallel world 1930's era. You hear Kiss, and the Who and Sweet--guitar solos, guitar solos, guitar solos. You can go to a Yes concert and listen to one song for an hour. Or go to a Dead show and listen to one guitar solo for an hour.
And let's say some dude at the record store shows you this album with these four punks on the cover. Mind you--punks didn't mean punk rocker, but it meant criminal, undesirable. These guys that looked like they'd mug you as soon as sing to you. You put on the album, after switching off the radio that is playing 'Play That Funky Music' by Wild Cherry, and your speakers explode with fucking POWER CHORDS mixed loud. Three chords, and a singer that sounds like his nose is stuffed up and he doesn't quite finish his words.
The whole album clocks at under 30 minutes. Imagine! In this age of gatefolds, double albums, 30 minute sides--you could swallow the whole thing during your lunch break.
If you'd never heard the Stooges, never heard MC5, didn't listen to the Sonics or any of the garage stuff--you'd be knocked on your ass. You get excited and go see them play. 30 minutes of high-decibel assault, and it's FUN. Imagine that after going to see Kiss rise 15 feet above stage on pneumatic risers in pretentious boots. Unardorned power-chord rock that never stops.
Johnny Ramone ran the band. He was the business manager, the record keeper. Despite feuds and disagreements, he kept them together. He told one journalist, who wrote a recollection I was reading, that he wanted to open the door for kids to pick up a guitar and play, without feeling that the need to be Jeff Beck or Jimi Henrix. He wanted to democratize rock.
Too bad this dude named Eddie came along and blew that away. It would be until the 90's before Johnny's ripple hit the mainstream, but before that it thoroughly saturated the underground. The Ramones played London, and that show influenced the Damned and the Sex Pistols. There would be no punk rock, no hardcore without them.
Too bad that they never hit it big. They never had their mega hit--they were just too much too handle for most music lovers. Too direct, too intense, too mean looking. I remember hearing rumors in high school about skinheads slamming at a Ramones concert with razor blades. Obviously a stupid rumor, but it just goes to show that even when they seemed to becoming a cartoon, they still had an edge.
So, to the Ramones--to Dee Dee the criminal, Joey the sweetheart, Johnny the business man. To Tommy, the lone survivor. Spin this track, and imagine it's 1976 and you're hearing it for the first time. Imagine that you've never heard anything like it, or anything influenced by it--no CBGB, no London politicos or melodic Buzzcock/Damned/999, no California hardcore, no Grunge, no straightedge, no (thank god) limp bizkit. Imagine you've put down your guitar after trying to figure out some stupid impossible Robert Fripp lick, and then you hear this. You listen again and again, and then you pick up your guitar and start to play along full blast. You can't quite keep up, but it's in your grasp. You pick up the needle and move it to the first groove over and over. You've almost got it, just try to do those down-strokes at his pace. Then, after a bunch of tries you got it. You're playing along with Johnny. You've got it, and now you can't lose it.
You're in the Ramones, goddamit. We're all in the Ramones.
Mike Leigh exposes this one slowly--almost lethargically, without the capitol "p" Plot that more industrially drove Secrets & Lies, for instance. It takes time and relaxed observation to really uncover this film. I confess that I was taxed a bit the first 40 minutes--my Hollywood-molded mind wanting more direction--not knowing where he was going--but knowing how much I love Leigh's work and trusting him as a director, I re-focused, and enjoyed the film.
While the adult relationship (or lack thereof) between Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville is the central focus, I found the goings on of the teenage set most interesting. Two neighbor girls couldn't be more different--one shy, tender, and feeling. She covers it up with self-righteous overreaction and stabs at her bemused mother who sees through her act. The other insecure and raising herself alone with one completely incapacitated parent, and the other uncaring and self absorbed. Her insecurities translate into confidence and sexual manipulation.
There are two teenage characters--the latter girl and a teenage boy--who both feel that they are in charge of the relationships they actively manipulate, but are surprised to find that, in fact, they are not in control at all. It's a fine point to put on the equation that a relationship is the interaction of two people, and dealing with the person means bringing their desires and disagreements into your life.
In fact, that's a microcosm of the bigger message of the movie--although I'm not claiming that Leigh had a capitol "m" Message (just like this is not a capitol "r" Review and now I'll stop using this capitol "a" Annoying way of speaking). The realization that people are not only alive in context to our relationship with them, but that our relationships are only alive when people are most fully and fundamentally themselves with you.
The characters find succor in truth and openness, when they seem to fear that finding that point might mean the end of their relationships. Sometimes it does, but it's hard not to say it's for the best. Those who continue to live the closed lives will forever be unhappy, distrusting and alone, even when sleeping next to somebody they share a house and children with.
My favorite story about Lars von Trier was told by Paul Bettany on a talk show. He says that he flew to Europe where von Trier picked him up in person from the airport. On the way, they stopped at a quickie mart. "I have to stop and pick up some things" said von Trier. Inside, Bettany was surprised to find von Trier stacking up pornographic magazines. "Want some?" he asked. Bettany declined.
The director paid for his purchase, and they drove straight to the hotel where Bettany was to meet co-star Nicole Kidman. The two men entered Bettany's hotel room, von Trier still carrying his stack of magazines. A minute later, Kidman showed up, and von Trier said something to the effect of "Paul, this is Nicole. Nicole, this is Paul--he made me stop on the way from the airport and buy some pornography. I'll be right back." and then he left the room.
Bettany was thunderstruck, and started explaining to Kidman what had happened--that this was not his pornography, when they both heard a noise and turned to see von Trier on the balcony observing them.
I picture von Trier as a sadistic manipulator acting out his own insecurities by forcing emotion into other people through melodrama. Bettany's story showed that it was more than in the movies that von Trier does this, and the Five Obstructions reinforces that idea. Von Trier is petulant and pouty that his mentor could take this ridiculous limitations and turn them into compelling films.
But as the film goes, you realize that the petulance has a reason--the pouting has its own logic. It's not merely von Trier's professional jealousy urging him to challenge Jorgen Leth (although, it would seem, that's in their as well). He may be simply playing the part of the sadistic manipulator, but I actually think that's just a part of who he is. Like all of us, he's contradictory and complex. Large and full of multitudes.
Which makes the finished revisions on The Perfect Human so fascinating. All art, I would argue, thrives with restrictions. Every medium has its rules that regulate what you may or may not do--from as simple as the physics of light and color, to the constrains of a canvas, or a formal dogma about technique (but please, young artists, stop writing goddamned manifestos, and just do the work. That's all you need). Von Trier, who limits himself in somewhat idealistic and ridiculous ways (dogme 95, not flying), knows this, and provides some shelter to his mentor who, so it would seem, approaches life more directly. When asked to shoot in the a depressing place, Leth immediately thinks of the red light district in Bombay. I would wager that most people, when confronted with such a question, would not have first hand knowledge of such miserable places.
Most interesting to me was the transformation of confidence in Leth, although he's always a cool cat. But with each successive victory in his filming puffs his chest a bit larger, and he seems to almost be at ease with himself more. Because of this, and the previously mentioned sadistic manipulation, the last obstruction was totally appropriate. But just to attribute it to those two things would be only assigning it subtext, when the text of it is obvious and true: the whole film is a love letter from one filmmaker to another, and an unabashed appreciation for what a true artist can create when willing to be open to challenge.
We are reminded often in this film--and pointedly--that the rich do not talk about being rich. The subtext is that the rich don't talk about being rich with each other, but especially they don't talk about being rich with those who are not rich.
I would imagine this arises from a past where the wealthy are taught not to lord their privilege over those of less. Today that's not so much a risk with bling and Escalades. But then, those aren't necessarily the truly rich. Always funny to learn that somebody is loaded, because often it's the only the un-wealthy who act as if they are loaded, as if the act itself would be enough to attract the money.
Which, in the case of these kids, it would have been, since all the interviewees were born into their fortunes. Not all seem to badly damaged--Ivanka Trump comes off as incredibly grounded and bright--but one or two are obviously bitter about their families, and probably terrified of losing their money.
But good for Jamie Johnson for questioning himself and getting his friends involved. His father, when suggesting a potential career for his son suggested collecting antique maps. I think Jamie made a smarter choice looking into being a documentarian.
It exists on the fine line between funny/affecting and cloying/precious. Sometimes it leans to one side, sometimes to the other, where it sadly ends up. Not bad for a first film, but so earnest in its desire to be moving that it reminds me of a kid on stage singing out of key--you barely have the heart to to tell them they're flat.
I suspect that Braff was watching tv one day when very young and caught Harold and Maude and it deeply affected him. He found this to be the ultimate expression of the world's sadness, and strove to recreate it with his own vision (Personally, I thought Being There did it better).
The movie was saved by Portman, who can be tricky and honest at the same time. She feels natural, unaffected and true.
The emotional climax was--well, anti-climactic. Here we had a perfect foil, played with cool distinction by Ian Holm, who, had the sterility and emotional warmness of a Dr. Christian Szell. So, the ending confrontation came off as Braff totally missing the point, and his manipulative father letting him.
Still, some truly original funny moments. Now that he's made his statement, I'm hoping Braff starts exploring. I'm definitely willing to give him another try.
Okay, I know you expect me to talk about con movies and such, but before we start I just have to say that what the fuck was Ridley Scott thinking okaying the motion graphics for the title sequence? Did he not see any Saul Bass title sequences? Did he not see the opening to Catch Me If You Can? Did his grandson decide to enter the field at age 15--because, I've seen better executed titles from a monkey with a mac. The motion was slow, hackneyed and completely un-playful. The effect they were going for was underscored by the music, but demolished by the terrible execution. Next time, buddy, get rid of your auto-tweening and build the damn thing by hand. Maybe you'll learn something. Word to the animators, yo.
Now then--the movie itself was pretty good. Yes, it was a con movie. Not a bad one at that, but I did have it figured out early. Really early. I mean, the breadcrumb is all there--a bit too obvious for my taste, but I could have been thrown by the the whole kid angle.
But then, remember, this movie is sold as a con movie. Even the trailer, if I remember correctly, said something directly about them being con artists. So, I was completely surprised to learn that it was a movie about an OCD whack job with a daughter he didn't know about. That was the con, for me--the fact that they successfully obscured the real plot from us ignorant movie-goers.
Thar blow spoilers, matey
But what the fuck? How many mentally ill people do you know that suddenly lose all of their ticks on a placebo? The GUILT of his job? Oh, give me a break. But, if we have a miraculous healing, then we can have many other things happen that we can willfully ignore. Like a pharmacist id'ing a drug by the silver blister packaging. Hmmm.
In any case, he's pretty level headed guy. I mean, look--he lost a million and barely cares. But, he got the girl! We knew he would because we recognized her as a character actress--she's not an extra, we've seen her before!
Ahhhh, he loves his daughter anyway. What a guy. Thank you Hollywood--now I know that the road to happiness is found in a 9-5. Wait--didn't he learn that lesson before with Tea Leone? Poor Nick Cage, he obviously wants to give up his wealth and power to live a blue-collar life. When you're ready, Nick--we got your back.
Is it possible to not love a movie, but love that it got made? If I was a critic that anybody read (insert sounds of crickets as Martin shakes the internet tree for a comment or two...) I would score this movie up, just to hope that more people see it.
The issues it has lay, I think, in Chris Eyre's direction. That is to say, I think he's done a fine job, but after three or more movies under his belt, I wish I saw a bit more polish on the final product. There were still moments that hung just a bit too long, the film looked faded on the DVD transfer, and some of the acting is just off enough that you notice it--just off enough that with a few more takes he might have gotten it perfect.
But maybe that's just low budget for you. And despite these complaints, I found the movie extremely moving. Graham Greene gives a truly stellar performance as the drunk Mogie--a character just doused in sadness, regret and booze. But, you just can't hate the guy. He doesn't drink to flip you off, he drinks to settle his sharp brain. This is high-caliber, naturalistic acting, and is worth the rental alone to witness it. As he said in the special features, he's just glad to be in a movie where he gets to stretch his muscles instead of stand there and, as one director told him, look stoic.
The social awareness parts of the movie were also well placed and quite moving--that much was very smart to include--to see such despicable living conditions within the borders of the US is atrocious--especially since the modern reckoning of the US Government's culpability in deliberately destroying their cultures is not quite done. Good for Eyre for turning a bright light on issues that not only should be confronting all of us, but particularly holding Indian communities feet to the fire as well. I also liked the ending quite a bit--part ode to Hitchcock, part well-done moving statement.
I'm still arguing that somebody--preferably a Native director--should take some of the Raven or trickster stories from the Northwest Coast Indians from a time period before the white man, and make a special fx laden picture based on some of those amazing stories. Maybe Robert Rodriguez could show you how to make it cheap, and some of the casino's could pitch in for the budget. Tom Robbins once said something to the effect that the best anti-war painting shows a flower. Showing a version of what life might have been like a thousand years ago in America, even a fantastical version, might be the one of the best ways of showing people what was taken away. Understanding first, after all.
Fascinating to me--but then, I get that feeling of discovering a band that is so cool that you can't help but share it. At times in my life, I've prided myself on my in-depth music knowledge. Such pride is always knocked flat by some other asshole who actually does know more than me, and usually in one way or another they are like Rodney Bingenheimer. Except, of course, Rodney has street cred like no one I know. He trumps us all.
My earliest musical influences, apart from 70's pop radio, were forged in the schoolyard. There was this guy, Christian, who was wiry and tough. He had a gang, although a pretty pathetic group by today's high-shooting standards. Then it was an excuse for some dudes to hang out and act tough. I was an honorary member of the gang--on the outside because I wasn't considered tough enough, but on the inside because all of the guys in Christian's gang liked me. One of the tenets of the gang was that you had to like Kiss. I liked Kiss. Kiss rocked. When I was all of 9 or so, listening to KISS ALIVE! and Paul Stanley is crying to the crowd--asking them if they like "al-key-haul?" I thought they were talking about rubbing alcohol, and couldn't quite figure out why the hell people would scream about it. But I would play my tennis racket like a guitar, and sing along.
So, Kiss it was for a number of years. My first album bought with my own money was Meet the Knack, pretty standard fare for a kid growing up in the 70s. And here's where it could have gone terribly wrong. What if I had never been exposed to new stuff? I mean, I had honed my appreciation for great 70s rock (and I even had a discriminating palette at that age), but what if I had never branched out?
Well, I did. Thanks to my sisters--especially my eldest one who had friends with their ears to the ground. When I was 12 we moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham, Washington, and two things were my saviors: Elvis Costello's Armed Forces, and the Surf Punks My Beach (you can guess which one I still listen to today). It opened my eyes to music that was very different than anything I'd ever heard--angry, obnoxious, direct.
Within a few years of moving to Bellingham I had sold my comics collection and started spending all my money on LPs. I would hang out in Cellophane Square--the local used record store--and cherry pick cool disks. You could listen to them before you bought, so I would approach the stand with 10 or so in hand, and spin a few tracks. For five bucks, you could walk home with two or three interesting, but slightly beat up, used records if you were careful. They'd wrap them in old newspaper, seal them with tape and away you'd go with your package of instant street-cred.
I met friends with similar tastes, listened to anything I could get my hands on--punk, rock, some wavey stuff, although I have a guitar-based heart. I got a radio show at KUGS, pulling the 2-4 am slot on Friday nights--my parents weren't happy, but since I was under 18 the station had to protect themselves from litigation if I did anything nasty. I would run the warning that profane comment might happen in the next half hour every half hour on the half hour just to cover myself, and then put on a mix of raw punk from MMR comps, Television and NY City shit, local weirdness, and experimental stuff I'd pull from the library like Tupelo Chain Sex and Throbbing Gristle. The goal was always pure eclecticism and knowledge. I hated--I mean hated--it when somebody asked me about a band and I didn't at least know what they were about--have some sort of sense of them.
Of course, there were plenty of mix tapes for friends, the idea I got from my friends Rob & Carl, whose older sisters were even more cool and extreme then my sister. One of them made a great tape I still have to this day. The mix tape became an artform that had to do as much with the segues between the songs as the songs themselves. Songs would collide with songs, interrupt weird comedy bits, radio squawking and any other sonic textures I could find. I had this perfect tape deck that would pause on a dime. I could splice tape right there without a blade, making insane mixes of micro-seconds of noise mixed into a legible mood.
So--anyway--parts of Rodney I totally relate to. That love of the music and wanting to spread it--although were different in that I never really wanted to meet my idols. I didn't mind loving the music and leaving it at that. I have to concede, of course, that when it comes to knowledge, I'm a rank amateur next to him. That's okay--it used to be that you'd discover music through trusted sources and pockets. Now, with the internet, it's much different. Less mystical, more programmed and easier. When I listened to, say, Joy Division, I felt like I was the only guy in the world who got them--even though this is a ridiculous feeling, it made me relate to the music in a much more personal way. Now, you type in your band name du jour in Google, and you have 20 fan sites waiting to tell you their latest move. You no longer have to buy small edition privately published short-run biographies, now you have blogs trading trackbacks.
But fuck it--I'm not so stuck in my ways that I'm going to say that it's worse now, just different. Some things are better--hopping on the newsgroups with thousands of MP3s, listening to a few that I like--downloading them if I really like them, buying the album if I listen to it more than once or twice. This is a great way to get music, and as soon as the record companies get taken down somehow, the future has the potential to be great. I remember being on Napster, trading music I hadn't seen in 15 years--the rarest of the rare--all those tracks I remember from the KUGS library, or seeing the vinyl at Cellophane Square and never having the money to pop for them. A lot of them are out of print--and even worse, in the case of the band Slow from Vancouver, stolen from me. But, there they were--music that nobody can control any more. Music that won't make anybody much money anymore, but music that could be freely traded amongst those that love it, if only our copyright law were more geared to consumers.
With this film, it was strongest when it capitalized on people who love the music, and the musicians who love them. More than one person commented on this odd relationship. The film was weakest when the director imposed his questions about fame on the famous. He may have been getting at something about Rodney--famous for just being known--but he didn't wrap it up well. Wish him love, long life, a new bigger-than-life band to come and tear this shit apart.
Ah, the con. In Argentina. El Con. What can I say? Plenty, I'm sure.
Warning here that spoilers may follow--I'm not sure yet, since I haven't written them, but I'm feeling the need for unbridled writing. The kind of writing that uses words like unbridled, for instance.
So--here we are in Argentina with some small time operators. The first half we're covering the angles, and as a viewer of many con movies--a viewer and appreciator of con movies--I cover them pretty well. I tick every plot point off in my head, seeing what each character reveals. I take note of which order things happen in. The twists in con movies always fall on the unexpected points--the throw away exposition in other movies--and if you remember them, the bread crumbs lead you all the way through the forest back home.
Problem with most con films is that they rely on audience ignorance. Either they have couched the film in terms of another genre to throw off suspicion, or they dangle blindingly obvious red herring to throw you off the scent of the true, obscured plot. The assumption being that the audience won't follow the twists.
This is a film, however, that is very smart about its audience. It knows that the people who watch it will be taking names and plot points, building the twist up in their brain. So, it lays the cards on the table, in a game of cinematic 3-card monty. At first, you think wisely, that the film is pretty standard stuff--show a few short cons, and put two con men together. Of course, we don't know who they really are, but they give each other a song and dance about who they are.
But this film gets more and more complicated. It anticipates, and at parts mocks, the audience members like me who are trying to tie the plot up into neat packages. As the plot devolves, and events take place that alter the outcome, you're forced to reconsider everything that came before, and how this new event could play into your theories about the movie.
After all, with a movie about two con men who meet--with any con movie--there are three basic possibilities: 1) Guy one is conning guy two. 2) Guy two is conning guy one. 3) they are conning each other. The fourth possibility--that nobody is conning each other is a nice thought, but it's honor only among thieves. Among confidence artists, they can only show respect for those who outcon them. To not have the cons conning would mean that they're not really a con man, and thus the movie is not a con movie, but another genre masquerading.
As for this con movie, the ending didn't throw me for a loop, but it was a satisfying reveal--especially pulling a global perspective in. Actually, what I felt was the real ending would have been very satisfying in a way that would have been a little fuck-you to other con movies.
And here's where the spoiler comes in...
If at the end it had turned out that the con men were actually being honest with each other--and therefore not really con men--and the bank closing had left them both screwed, the statement would have been that they--that all of us--are small timers compared to the powerful people and banks that control our culture. The idea of almost every world currency is buoyed on layers and layers of tradition and crafty bookwork, but not at all on stockpiles of gold**. Wealth is virtual, and the greatest con is on our culture--or specifically on Argentineans when the banks closed and fled the country. Given what we've learned about the ethics of many American C.E.O.'s over the past four years, would you trust them to do the right thing and lose everything, or to maybe get out of dodge with the money bags?
But, the second ending spoils that reading, and I'm not sure it's for the best. Sure, it's neater--sure, it's a "happy" ending, but the other one tells us that there are things bigger than our petty concerns, but they are controlled by people with concerns as petty as ours.
Anyway--good movie, good characterization, and it was squeezed from an Argentinean version of Project Greenlight. All the cooler!
**for an interesting discussion of these issues, I recommend browsing Boggs: A Comedy of Values by Lawrence Weschler. A biography of J.S.G. Boggs, the artist who draws money and asks for people to honor its face value as a purchase of art.
Could have been a better movie if the damn camera had stopped moving, and if it had gotten over its film-school-cool-effect identity and just told the story. As it is, it's a bit whimsical and so maintains this distance between the viewer and characters, which I think is supposed to echo the ebbs and flows of the primary relationship, but really is too affected to allow the viewer to fully relate.
There were some genuinely funny moments, and those moments made me want more more more more moments like that. It's like a band putting out an album with two amazing songs. Why not wait an extra six months and write 6 more amazing songs? I had very little reason to care about either of these characters in the grand scheme--and it didn't help that the movie kept pushing me out of their emotional lives with its precious, clever editing.
Which of course raises the famous Ebert qutoe: "A movie isn't about what it's about; it's about how it's about it." What would this story have been like with a more traditional narrative and editing? Would it have strengthened the story at all? Is the reverse thing doing a good job in giving us an emotional tie to D'onofrio? Do the freeze-and-zoom shots give us any sense of time, or temporal feelings? I say no, for me. It left me a bit cold, and there were only a few times I emotionally connected. Since that is my metric, I can say that I intellectually liked it more than emotionally liked it, and for that reason I should have just read the damn thing.
D'onofrio is a scene chewer, and I love that about him. He is fearless and heads straight into the characters without reserving himself. Tomei is good, and she plays the frantic girl well. Here's one thing that I can say positively, that I believed the characters were real. By this I mean that they struck me as more real than written, with the exception of the ex-files thing, which seemed a bit quaint for its own good.
Some of the time-travel conundrums and photography reminded me in abstract ways of things that Kent and I attempted with YELLOW. If someone is interested in those things, it might be worth a rent just to see how other people dealt with them. I'm not sure, frankly, they dealt with them any better or worse than we did, but its always good to be informed.
Finally, as an aside, I would just like to say that we picked this up at the Seattle Public Library, whose collection is never what you'd expect and always surprising. We don't even reserve things there anymore, we just let our local (Queen Anne) branch, the uncoordinated motions of many people, and synchronicity guide our hand. We've found some damn good movies there.
Christine pointed out that Cassavetes, no matter who was in the foreground, kept Gena Rowlands centered in the frame. She was the focal point of every scene she was in, even as Peter Falk bullied his way into center stage. You can't blame the director, since his wife was not only beautiful, but pervasively dynamic and completely unpredictable.
Most actors playing crazy play really crazy. Think Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, or Halle Barry in (bleh) Gothika. They play it supremely affected--broad strokes of madness to display, with thespian zeal, just how crazy their character truly is.
But real madness, as played beautifully by Rowlands and Falk, is about confusion. Are they really crazy? Sometimes they seem sane, and sometimes they don't--but where is that dividing line where you make the leap from harmlessly whacky to helplessly mad? This question all the more disturbing in the days when a man could have his wife committed with the snap of a finger. If roles were reversed, and Rowlands held a job every day, what would Falk's reaction to her be? How unstable would he seem, caring for kids by strong arming them to have fun and feeding them beer dinners? Would she have him committed if she could?
Madness, also, could be mis-read cues. Is Rowlands truly mad, or is she a woman desiring of consistent attention from a husband whose mood changes on whim? Is she passively-aggressively asserting herself in an environment where true assertion gets shouted down? Maybe she is a bit mad--as her mannerisms suggest.
It's this questioning of the madness that makes the performances so harrowing. People don't fit into the surprisingly narrow definitions we love to use with them. Sometimes they swing from one category to another before we can re-evaluate their classification. Rowlands is so vulnerable you wish to go hold her, but you suspect that when you do she'd hold you back with both arms. Then, when you walked away she'd wish to be held again and the cycle repeats itself.
I'm a fan of the talkie movies--the ones that do it well, that is. Movies that have people moving about in exterior worlds while the real action takes place in their internal ones. Or, more to the point, the action takes place in the intersection of people's internal worlds, as expressed by dialogue.
One reason I love them is because the films operate on two levels. You could walk away form this particular talking movie and say that it's about sex, but of course it's not at all about sex. It's not even about one character's views or ideas, but about social behavior and how our company changes our footing and what we talk about.
There are four distinct social groups witnessed here: Men talking with men alone with nobody around to hear them. Women talking with women alone with nobody around to hear them. Lovers talking alone with nobody around to hear them, and professors talking to classes, presumably with everybody listening.
1. THE MEN
They speak like ribald poets or priests at the temple of sexuality, each rushing to prove their devotion to the act above the others.
2. THE WOMEN
Speak like detached observers into the circus of ribald poets, who occasionally get pulled out of the audience to be part of the show.
3. THE LOVERS
They either speak or have sex, but the speaking isn't about intimacy any more than the sex appears to be.
4. THE PROFESSORS
Speak in big ideas to mask their feelings of helplessness. They are talking about themselves when they talk about society. When one character talks about obsession with pleasure and happiness being signs of the end of an empire, she is really speaking about herself, and her own guilt about her own actions. That guilt plays itself out in a particularly nasty way later in the movie.
This movie is not about the ideas of the characters, but about why the characters have these ideas. I may write more about this later, but essentially this is my maxim about movies, most especially movies with lots of dialogue: Movies are about the power in relationships. Who has it, who wants it, who is acting out because they don't have it. I challenge my reader(s) to name me one movie where this is not the case textually or subtextually. I personally can't think of any.
Denys Arcand certainly understands this, and plays it well in his films.
Kent and I often talk about films that could potentially be made on a smaller budget, and theoretically on the surface this could be one of them. It could be, because there are only four primary roles (and, in a departure from the play, two small walk-ons), and five locations: Inside the house, outside the house, inside the bar, outside the bar, and inside the car. The main costs of this project would be exposed film and actor's salaries.
Then you read that Nichols took five months to film this. It's hard enough living in their house for one 2-hour night, but can you imagine living in it for five months? Did they do operatic voice exercises to keep their throats from being ripped bare by the high-pressure sound waves of the insults?
So, no. Deceptively expensive, this film. It lives and dies by acting, and Taylor is truly astonishing. Renée Zellweger might get industry nods for gaining 30 pounds to play Bridget Jones, but Taylor's 30 pound gain for this role is much more metamorphic. Certainly very little sign of Gloria Wandrous and Cleopatra in our vile, drunken Martha. But she's not all vile, we learn--Taylor plays her heart on her sleeve, albeit partially obscured by liquor. She never loses her venom and wit, delivering lines with easily readable body language. She weaves and wobbles her body through the psychodrama, but she moves from angry to vulnerable to sweet and back again with no indication that she's reaching for a feeling at any time. She fully inhabits the role.
Which lead to a conversation around our house about great actresses who are crazy. Taylor, for somebody who is young enough to have only seen her modern persona, seems like a has-been. But, when you see these great performances--the ones that defined her career, you understand why people still love her. She's magnificent. There are other actresses that are older, Liza Minelli comes to mind, who are the same--really gifted actresses (although I'd take a Taylor over a Minelli in a talent blow-by-blow) who are kinda nuts in their real life. The question became: are there any modern actresses like this? For actors we have Billy Bob, and even Robert Downey Jr., but do we have any modern actresses that inhabit both of those traits? Is it a sign of the times, or being raised in show business?
Sure, there are plenty of crazy actresses, and plenty of great actresses, but I think we need a list of those that touch both camps. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.
The next time somebody is over and asks to powder her nose, I'm surely going to retort: "Martha, will you show her where we keep the, uh, euphemism?"
Recently, we went to see a live performance of Noises Off! at the Seattle Rep. It was a jolly good time, so we ordered up the disk to compare the filmed version to the live show. On paper (well, if you ignore the reviews) it sounds good: Bogdonovich directing, Caine, Burnett, Ritter and Reeve (the two dead R's) acting. Why, even Marilu Henner has a starring role, post Elaine.
So, we pop the disk in and the set is nearly identical to the stage version. I mean, really--which makes me think that the script is very specific about such things, seeing as the play is all about timing and blocking. The screenplay is also, all things considered, remarkably like the script. Okay, they added these ludicrous Broadway bookends, but otherwise it is a faithful rendition down to the marrow.
Which means it's a perfect example of how you can really fuck up a funny play and make an unfunny movie. First thing to remember is that you should choose your material carefully. This is a horrible movie idea--the play needs to be run on a full view of the stage. Doors open left, right and center with people moving in carefully orchestrated measures that work on two levels: one, the level of the actors on stage playing actors on stage playing actors in a play that requires orchestrated measures, and secondly that the actors on stage playing actors that are involved in a physical comedy within their own worlds as they are attempting to play actors on stage in a play that requires orchestrated measures. The audience needs to see it unravel full frame.
In addition, the reason the play is so successful is that it implicates the audience. Not only are we the audience, but we become the audience for the play within a play. We have two roles as well, which is not bad considering that we just get to sit there while the play unfolds and flaps around in front of us. Too bad that Bogdonovich didn't get this at all--even when the cast is falling to pieces in front of a live audience, there are absolutely no reaction shots from the crowd. They might as well be playing to an empty house, and then who the hell cares if the highwire act falls to the ground?
Which brings us to point three, which is that the cast was kind of horrible. Caine plays his earnest Englishman, but Ritter's sense of his character was awful, especially evidenced in his rushed lines. Everybody phones it in, and in a movie where they should be chewing the scenery, they all lay there like the dead fish on the plate. There's no damn life in it.
In the movie, Nicolette Sheridan plays a horribly boring Brooke Ashton/Vicki. In the Seattle Rep version, that character was played amazingly well by a local actress named Bhama Roget. Not only did she spend most of her time in her underwear, but her comic timing, physicality and presence all but lit up the stage for the other actors. A large part of my disappointment in the movie might simply be that I kept wishing that Sheridan would be magically replaced with Roget, so that I could see the part played one more time by her.
I don't think it was as funny as everybody else seems to. Maybe its because I watched it with my parents, instead of surrounded by people like myself who were in high-school in the '80s. I mean, I like the idea of laughing at characters who are too dumb to know they are funny, but I don't know that Napoleon's absurdities are really that funny without a plot at all--heck, and I scored Jackass: The Movie higher than this.
When I was in middle school and high school, we had a guy like this in our class. I forget his name, honestly, so let's call him John. He was rail thin, tall and had straight blonde hair. He would stand up for himself with the bullies who harassed him, but his defenses were utterly ineffectual -- the bullies would taunt him just to get a rise out of him, and then laugh at his reaction. For those of us who tend to feel empathy for the underdog, John would run hot and cold, either assuming we were going to be mean to him, so he would be preemptively defensive, or he would be genuinely nice, but kids fearing that he would turn on them would keep their distance, and those who felt low on the totem pole would be especially wary of him because it could mean harassment by proximity.
I was reminded of him when the study came out a few years ago that showed that people who don't understand much don't understand that they don't understand much. John fell into that category, as does our hero Napoleon.
In our school, as in any, there were two girls who were, um, "developed" beyond their years. One was a brunette, the other a blonde with big, bouncy curly hair. For a talent show, they did a dance, the stage bathed in red light, in skimpy t-shirts and short shorts, gyrating inappropriately to the astonishment of the administration. Later, in high school, the brunette became a cheerleader and gained more respectability, and the blonde dropped out and had a kid before her 18th birthday. But in Middle School they they were both stoner girls. Tough outsiders who gained whatever cred they had by their adolescent slutty persona.
I remember a scene, vaguely, where the two of them were sitting with John on the curb. He was between them, and they were toying with him. I don't think they wanted anything from him but to embarrass him for their amusement, but John didn't care. He was getting attention from these two girls whose attention was a valuable commodity. I don't remember a thing that they said, but I do remember their tone, and I remember his nervous, excited laughter as they pushed his buttons and had him dance on a string. It was the closest he'd come to an affectionate relationship with a girl for some years to come, I would imagine. He didn't know that, though, or care. He was just happy for the attention any way he could get it.
So, maybe Napoleon reminds me of him. Maybe it was the lack of plot, or the fish-in-a-barrell humor. I'd respect a tear-down of harder targets, personally. Or humor brought from situation instead of lack of character.
Maybe I'd feel better about it if Jared Hess appeared to remotely like his character. As it is, I feel ambivalent about Napoleon. At times I like him, at times I hate him, but I never feel good about either of those. I guess comedy can exist in that precipice, but that's exactly how I felt about John which was never very funny, whether he was getting pushed up against the locker by asshole guys, or dancing like toy poodle for the stoner sluts. Any way I felt about him felt like the wrong way to feel about him.
Then again, I always wanted to tie a string on one of my matchbox cars and dangle it from a moving car when I was a kid, but I never was brave enough.
Look! It's French New Wave! You can tell by the naked ladies and the gritty subject.
Widely thought to be one of the greatest heist films of all time, it should be considered to be one of the greatest character studies of a heist-er. After all, the heist doesn't come in until half-way through, so this is more an exploration of place, of Paris, than of the Casino job they set themselves to.
More interesting to me was the remake with Nick Nolte where Bob is a junkie instead of just being down-on-his luck. Still, I can appreciate this for its time and place, but as a heist film in-of-itself it fails to deliver.
Bob did have very nice platinum hair, though. Very shiny.
We watched two French movies tonight. One famous, one infamous.
Irréversible has been written about so much I'm not sure that I can add to the dialogue. I will say that for those who argue that the theater is the only appropriate way to see a movie, I'm actually glad we didn't see it in the theater. Yes, the experience was less intense on a small screen, but frankly it was plenty intense for me. While the bowel-shattering 28Hz frequency was minimized by the size of my speakers, and lack of sub-woofer, the audio and graphical content were plenty disturbing enough.
But Irréversible is one of those films that people love to argue about as a litmus test of moral standards, the typical responses being: 1) I am moral, and this was gratuitous and therefore repulsed me, see how moral I am by rejecting it's shock value? 2) I am moral, and this film shocked me because of the un-glamorized sex and violence, see how moral I am by empathizing with such an awful situation? 3) I am immoral, and the film excited me. See how tough I am?
Christine brought up G.G. Allin, who was an infamous underground punk rock singer. Most punk rock fans (this one included) were middle-class rebellious teenagers, who really were disaffected and had no place to vent their rightful or self-indulgent anger. Punk Rock made rebellion its clarion call, and a subset of rebellion is bad behavior. Rejecting society's dress code, punks would be anti-fashion as a walking billboard mockery of the normal people. Rejecting the fallacies and theater of rock n' roll, punks would play music that was tougher, meaner, faster, harder and louder than those posers on the arena stages. They didn't need to be famous, they didn't need approval.
Problem being that like gansta rap, most punks really were visiting the zoo of caged rebellion. They were having a bit of fun and expressing themselves, rather than being real outlaws. That's a problem when you have to lay out your bona fides at the pissing gallery. In walked a few people who really were outlaws. Who really were criminals and could prove it by their jail records and track marks. It's one thing to tell your parents to fuck off, that you'd rather live in the gutter, it's another thing to really live in the gutter. Allin lived in the gutter.
Nobody could top him. He would break glass on stage and roll around in it, hitting himself with bottles. He would sodomize himself with his microphone. He would defecate on stage and throw it into the audience, or eat it. Audience members would fellate him. For years I heard about this character, how outrageous he was. Dude! You have to go see this guy, they'd say. He's fucking outrageous. I never did. I couldn't bring myself to listen to his albums (which were heavily secondary, sophomoric songs about murder, rape and butt-licking), which squarely puts myself in category one above. The people that were in category three, I felt, were buying the fiction of punk rock, not realizing that it was about as real as the Jack Daniels bottles that Van Halen used to have on stage (filled with tea). It was usually the people that told me how outrageous Allin was that told me how amazing heroin is. That's a contest where the end game is something I'd rather avoid.
So, Irréversible. I think that most viewers of this film end up in category one or two above. I'm in category two for this film. I would guess the majority end up in two. They are repulsed by the violence. But to what end? What did we learn from this film? Fire extinguishers extinguish more than fires? Pimps raping beautiful women are bad? Rape is horrible? Certainly the film is a masterpiece of visceral filmmaking. The first half is so nauseating, so overwhelming and bone-chillingly tense and frightening that it could only come about through design and craft. Some art is nauseating and worth it, even if you don't understand fully the message. I see Irréversible as more of a poem than a statement, albeit a dark, disturbing and not very hopeful poem.
One final thing: Vincent Cassel was very good, but that didn't surprise me. Monica Bellucci floored me, though. Having my first exposure to her be (as many people) the Matrix films, where she was fine but so formalized that you couldn't really feel her, here she was raw and unadorned. She was completely naturalistic and heartbreaking, and in the ending scenes after stepping out of her shower, so rawly emotive that it was implicitly clear what she was feeling though there was no dialogue and minimal action. Of course, it's an awful thing to proclaim "Oh look, the pretty girl can act too!", but after years of training at the hands of Hollywood sleight-of-hand artists who cleverly edit the American and English beauties so that it looks like they can act, its refreshing to see that arguably the most beautiful woman in the world has the chops to be a first rate, deeply affecting actress. I hope that she becomes famous beyond measure, and picks good roles. I would watch her act in anything now. Next stop: The Passion of the Christ.
I've hidden my quip somewhere in the movie. Tell me if you find it.
Worth it just to watch Harvey Weinstein mock himself with a bit of a wink.
A movie that I would definately quip about had it been made by someone besides Mr. Sayles.
We interrupt this quip with a quote: "our basic human desire to see other people suffer used to be fulfilled by the comic strip the Lockhorns" says Christine, in relation to the popularity of reality tv shows.
In a nod to Johnny Knoxville's baby alligator stunt, I held my cat up to my nipple to see if she would bite. No go.
The only filmmaker consistently awarded the patented "Hellbox Quip-Free award." John Sayles--quip free for two posts and counting.
"Yeah, it's always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice."
They removed the laugh track and replaced it with shitty music.
A movie that invokes the name the first movie star governor of California, and includes a self-concious pec-tweaking cameo by the second.
Jews and Arabs join together to battle the metrosexuals in the Circus. Meanwhile, Jesus uses his godly powers to plot the overthrow of the Republican party.
Seeing Owen Wilson with a blonde perm made me feel rather, I dunno...fresh.
Every modern review of this movie talks about its prescience. I have to agree, how anybody could have forseen the communist chic craze of the mid-80s?
for all you nomeansno fans...
GIMMETHATKNIFE, MOH-NI-CA, GIMMETHATKNIFE...
Sure Warren Beatty is handsome and charismatic and all that, but my god -- put him next to the Space Needle in all of its glory and he's just another little tiny man. Not a god, like our spire of the future. Just a little tiny man.
Four out of five sadists recommend dentistry for their patients who use torture.
Michael Douglas plays a grandmother who is murdered so that her apartment can be used as a staging area for a pyschiatrist who, using all the tricks of his Harvard education, tries to get Britney Murphey to remember her own telephone number. In a side plot that can only be described as blockbuster mano a mano, Phoenix must keep the keys to Xavier's mansion away from Boromir, despite her shattered fibula that must have occured when Wolverine (played by Oliver Platt) tried to hump her leg.
This movie made me uncomfortable with my liberal white racism.
Nobody makes fun of John Sayles and lives to tell about it. Nobody.
Wasn't this the title of an AC/DC song?
Michael Caine, white courtesy phone. Mr. Caine, white courtesy phone.