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Updated: 2016-09-04T07:47:59.032-04:00

 



A Game Of Stones

2012-04-16T13:36:59.368-04:00

SPOILERS. People are bagging in force on The Hunger Games’ directorial choices, specifically the drunken cameraman style of filming. Director Gary Ross has his public rationalizations, but there’s something more at play. I think Ross is trying (or acting unconsciously) to fuse different elements of dystopian science fiction — different threads that have nonetheless been woven together in the public consciousness because, hey, all science fiction is the same, right? He’s abetted in large part by production designer Philip Messina (Steven Soderbergh’s chief designer since 2000) and cinematographer Tom Stern (bleaching out Clint Eastwood’s movies since 2002). I’d have to see it again to cite specific examples, but the disorienting shot choices and editing in the first Games skirmish, as contestants bludgeon each other to death over the goods in the Cornucopia, remind me of the kind of compositions we saw in a lot of 1960s and ’70s cinema — particularly the ones that involved handheld cameras and protagonists acting out against a bleak futuristic landscape. The Saarinen architecture of the Cornucopia (above), site of The Hunger Games’ first, middle and final battles, evokes just such landscapes. The film raises class questions of vast scope. The twelve subordinate Districts are poor, starving and exploited (yet Peeta has cakes to frost), sucked dry for coal and row crops, as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) outlines to Gamemaster Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley). From these resources, the ruling elite of the Capitol can power 200mph light rail, hoverships with no visible rotors or vents, and hardlight holography that can generate deadly fireballs and dog-boar-things. They genetically engineer killer LSD wasps and formulate antibacterial salves that destroy internal infection (despite being topically applied … nanotech?) and heal third-degree burns and severe lacerations overnight. All these things bespeak massive resources and engineering prowess, while the attention paid to outré grooming and haberdashery is a hallmark of wealth and leisure. These class issues have their physical expression in the film’s urban design. Take the Capitol, an Albert Speer wet dream of centralized power and martial glory. Such structures are for individual heroes to measure their own stature against, megaliths with unyielding surfaces that must nonetheless be climbed and conquered. In SF films, architectural environments began with such soaring structures, visibly optimistic testaments to human achievement. On one track of cinema, this branch of utopian urbanism — call it the Enlightened City — persisted through the 1970s. But a subsequent school of SF city design evolved in the 1960s and paralleled the Enlightened City. This latter branch was mostly seen in dystopian SF, which employed (in a critique of the form? or a nod to budgets? or both?) the Brutalist locations offered by contemporary business parks, office complexes and public plazas. These locations were not fanciful but inhabited by the viewers of these same movies. They evoked a time that was today, and yet not. Between the Capitol and locations like the District 12 common plaza (below), The Hunger Games seeks to remarry these two schools of design. There’s probably another whole post to be had about how Katniss begins her story living on her own terms (as best one can in an authoritarian state), but becomes absorbed by an imposed narrative as the Games progress. The warrior-girl with the bow must dress up pretty and profess to love a boy, all because the audience expects it — because that’s how the story ends — all to win a reality show. Oh, pop culture, how you own us. src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/XTSmZx1B2YE?feature=player_embedded" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" width="640">Cross-posted from Soul Smithy. [...]



The Chatterley Effect

2012-03-20T13:59:36.436-04:00

Spoilers? NSFW? I can't tell anymore. src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/XkAfT6LpEuk" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="420">I fell down a psychic wormhole recently while writing about Luis Buñuel's Belle De Jour (1967) for Film Freak Central. It was one of those chrono-synclastic infundibula that can convince a potheaded college student he's living out the theories of Carl Jung, or at least the lyrics of later Police songs from before Sting went Adult Contemporary. Fortunately for science, it's a long time since I was a potheaded college student, but since all time is now I'm gonna just roll with that vibe.Belle De Jour is about Séverine, a moneyed Paris housewife whose sexual frigidity with her husband leads her to explore her fantasies of sexual submission in secret — as an afternoon prostitute in a fairly exclusive brothel. She also fantasizes at length about being abused, bound, raped, and otherwise sexually humiliated. Here's what I wrote for FFC, with select video scenes interspersed:Belle De Jour occupies one of those strange synchronistic points of literature and history, which intrigues me almost as much as the film itself. The source novel, by Joseph Kessel, appeared in 1928, the same year as D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Mmym0sbR8O8" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="560">The two novels bear striking similarities, or rather, reflect each other in striking ways. Constance Chatterley acts on sexual frustrations after her husband is paralyzed; Séverine's decision to act results in her husband becoming paralyzed. Prior to this, the young prostitute Mathilde (Maria Latour) says she entered the oldest profession because (like Constance) her beloved was injured and couldn't work; and Pierre contemplates an empty wheelchair with the air of a man whose grave has been trodden. src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/avTg113xiMw" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="420">In Chatterley and Belle De Jour, there's a surrender of a high-class woman to a lower-class man (or, for Séverine, more than one). In each, there's a fetishization of nature, mud, ordure. (Most of Séverine's fantasy abasements take place outdoors.)… In terms of sex as psychology, both Lawrence and Kessler's novels were preceded by Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle, later the source for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, which finds a man exploring sexual abandon in hopes of assuaging his marital conflict."Traumnovelle" means "dream story," and while there are no dream or fantasy segments in Kessler's Belle De Jour, Buñuel the great surrealist injected them into the screenplay he developed with Jean-Claude Carrière. All these literary and cinematic monuments were built in the shadow of Freud, of course, who tore down the sexual prisons of the past century. Séverine becomes, then, a Freudian adventuress, a lineage she shares with dear Constance Chatterley.I went on in a later paragraph to mention Buñuel's producers on this project: "Robert and Raymond Hakim, past financiers of Jean Renoir and Claude Chabrol and, just prior to Belle de jour, Roger Vadim's La Ronde." A bit of judicious IMDbing, and who pops up as the source author of La Ronde? Arthur Schnitzler, that crazy Viennese (like Freud) who wrote the 1897 play Reigen on which it was based. src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/entjYyDVRlE" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="420">This was after I'd moved on to other ideas and thought I was done with Schnitzler entirely. Brrrrr.Belle De Jour's parallels with Chatterley — published the same year, both proceeding from a woman's sexual dreads and desires, both involving an incapacitated male partner — led me to think about the other areas of film where the Chatterley effect came into play. Since pop culture and literary studies are often a process of working backwards, I first encountered the paradigm in Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves (1996).Von Trier's delvings into sexuality are well-explored,[...]



The Man In The Box

2012-03-06T09:26:35.016-05:00

SPOILER ALERT for the film Source Code, the Many Worlds hypothesis of quantum mechanics, and fiction by Dalton Trumbo and Ambrose Bierce. Bet you wanna read this now, dontcha?Colter Stevens is living proof. A living proof of several things, actually, when you really take apart Duncan Jones' film Source Code (2011, scr: Ben Ripley) and the protagonist's place in it. In proving these concepts, he inhabits several contradictory states at once. He has the freedom to go anywhere, yet he will never leave his prison.Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens, shorn of memory, in metal pod of some kind. From here, he's repeatedly plunged back in time to inhabit the body of another man. He is told little by his remote handler Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), except that his consciousness is being hurled into an eight-minute window before a terrorist bomb destroys a Chicago-bound commuter train — a train that was, in his current reality, destroyed that same morning. He dies in the effort to prevent the blast, repeatedly, and each time is yanked back to his pod to try again.No one will miss him. Reported KIA in a helicopter sortie over Afghanistan, Stevens is in fact a limbless lump of flesh in a sealed box, his internal organs held in place by a plastic sheath. His pod, emulating a pilot's cockpit, is just his psychological projection of space. His last glimmer of consciousness — call it his soul — is a tool in a project to change the recent past. In his box, unseen by the world, Colter Stevens is simultaneously alive and dead.In his original thought experiment, Schrödinger imagined that a cat is locked in a box, along with a radioactive atom that is connected to a vial containing a deadly poison. If the atom decays, it causes the vial to smash and the cat to be killed. When the box is closed we do not know if the atom has decayed or not, which means that it can be in both the decayed state and the non-decayed state at the same time. Therefore, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time — which clearly does not happen in classical physics.For injection into the past, Stevens' preserved psyche is wrapped into a spacetime field called the Source Code. The informational set that comprises his personality is shot back to the moments before the train's destruction. Essentially, he becomes a packet of data, overwriting the brain (soul?) of rail passenger Sean Fentress, who's doomed to die in the bombing.In programming terms, "source code" is the raw commands for a piece of software, written in text language. Change any character of the text and you change the operation of the software. (Indeed, Goodwin sees Stevens' responses to her commands entirely as text on a screen.) The Source Code project is, in essence, rewriting informational space to put Colter Stevens in another man's body, several hours ago.Space is the set of dimensions that allows motion to take place, but it also stores information via its configuration. ... Space that has information stored in it has some entropy. Since there is more information stored in some parts of space — for instance, in highly curved parts of space — then the entropy is not uniform. ... Looking specifically at a black hole, space is curved sharply around it — so sharply that, from the inside, it is closed off from the rest of the universe. As objects fall into the black hole, the event horizon expands (this is the spherical surface that, from the inside, is perceived as a closed surface). That sphere now has more surface area, and so can accommodate more information, all of which remains on the surface of the object.In the transitions from his box to his hijacked body, Stevens frequently glimpses a huge, curved, reflective surface, gleaming in the sun like an alien craft. Its presence echos the General Relativity notion of spacetime, through which Stevens is whiplashing back and forth, as a curvature. It also reminds one of the "magic mirror" frequently encountered in Grant Morrison's graphic novel series The Invisibles — the physical mani[...]



The Long Goodbye- Part 2

2012-01-18T20:08:18.403-05:00

I'll confess, with no shortage of shame, that I had been putting this off for more than three months and am only writing it now because the Sundance Film Festival is starting tomorrow and some may be wondering why I won't be covering it. You see, I have retired from film writing; for Film Freak Central and a little less definitely for my personal website I Viddied it on the Screen. I had been going in this direction for a while, I fear. It’s too difficult for me to get up at five in the morning, work all day, and then come home to write. Furthermore, it became too difficult to justify spending my free time writing. This work is rewarding, but it is work and I guess that I reached the point where the payoff didn’t really warrant the effort. Most of the time, it’s a struggle knowing that my wife was in the other room watching television and instead of joining her I was on the Word Processor trying to sort through my feelings about THE BABYSITTERS.I tried, but never could figure a way to balance work, family, and this. But the actual cataclysmic event was being accepted into a part-time Master’s program for social work. I’ve always seen film criticism as kind of a romantic dream job, not all that different from wanting to be an actor or director actually. Or a painter or novelist. Social work was kind of a synthesis between that romance, the social worker is at heart a kind of bohemian after all, and some kind of grounded pragmatism. No, it doesn’t really pay all that well, but it IS a real career. But social work really isn’t a compromise for me. All those years I covered Sundance, I came to realize that the people I was really jealous about weren’t paid film critics, but LCSWs. After only one semester, I’ve realized that this isn’t even just a career for me. It’s making feel... whole in a way that no other career ever could. When I die, I don’t know if I will look back on this life as being one of accomplishment. But I do know that I will be able to say that I was there when other people were at their worst , I was there when I was at my worst, and I never hid from any of it.Maybe that was what I was trying to get at in writing about movies. I was trying to be honest and develop a real set of values that spoke truthfully of my own feelings and attitudes. And maybe I felt that I wasn’t getting anywhere because I was dealing with the shadow of reality instead of the reality itself. That’s just my best guess at this point. You could probably argue me down from it.I feel pretty confident in saying that Korine and Morrissey have a more accurate understanding of poverty than DeSica or Rossellini. It’s not a tragedy, it’s a tragicomedy. To some extent, it’s a cartoon. There was one boy I worked with that I don’t think I will forget. He was a tall, skinny, “African-American” was lazy eyelids and big donkey teeth. He was always talking. He talked so much that you could see white stuff form in the corners of his mouth. He would ask female staff if they “had any black in them” and said that he was going to go into porn because you don’t need to be good looking you just need to be well-hung. When the patients were allowed to make their own pizza he asked for one with chicken wings. At one point he asked me if “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was based on a true story. I am not making any of this up. None of it. I occupied the same physical space as this person. Am I racist for noticing him? Obviously, he is not representative of all black people and obviously he is an outlier. But I tell you that he exists and I’m not going to pretend that he didn’t exist. I wonder though, maybe it’s not political correctness that keeps people from acknowledging his existence. Maybe most people aren’t very film literate and don’t understand the tradition that he comes from or they haven’t learned how to regard other people as abstractions. See, I don’t really know. I’m still working through this.[...]



Props

2011-11-08T14:20:43.601-05:00

Watching Super 8 this morning, I grew nostalgic for those pre-film school days when I made movies with my weird friends the way other kids got a band together and jammed. But what it made me nostalgic for was mainly the idea of writing with an ambition--if not a skill--that wildly exceeded my resources and expertise. Really, Super 8 augmented a bittersweet feeling that came over me recently when I stumbled upon a relic that was the product of ingenuity and a fire in my belly that's only embers at this point.I actually shot a few things on super8 as a kid, mostly glorified home movies, but it wasn't until my parents bought me my first video camera, in 1990, that the directing bug became incurable. That was the year of the Miller's Crossing/Goodfellas/The Godfather Part III hat-trick, and I wrote my own gangster movie--The Gentlemen--that dutifully ripped them all off. A brief summary of the production: the 19-page script we started with ballooned to about 60 pages by the time we were done; and we shot virtually every weekend and school holiday for two years straight.Due to the genre we were working in, the creative demands weren't that extravagant. We realized early on that we could get away with painted-on facial hair--moustaches seemed essential in aging us up--because of the generally shitty picture quality. We wanted rain in one scene, just hitting the window, so my friend sent his sister outside on a November night to spray his bedroom window with a hose. It flooded his basement. Looked great, though. There was an easy solution to the many scenes that called for us to smoke: buy cigarettes and smoke them. At one point, we needed a City Hall stand-in. My friend's/the star's mother was an alderwoman, so the mayor gave us the keys to his office for the weekend. (Come Monday, he was not happy to find an ashtray full of cigarette butts and a script page littered with profanity--but hey, we had everything we needed by then.) And we somehow talked a gorgeous teenaged model into playing the female lead, who might as well have been called Helen of Troy.But as time wore on, I started getting self-conscious about the guns. As we had cap guns and an effeminate little starter pistol filled with police-issue blanks (my two closest friends working on the production were sons of cops), the choice was a cool-looking gun with no muzzle flash or vice-versa. Enter Dave F., a guy I nicknamed Pockets because he had everything you could ever need somewhere on his person. A savant with power tools, Dave would assume the role of my fairy godmother on this and subsequent projects.So I says to Pockets, I says, "These guns suck." He borrows a dummy gun we had on hand and proceeds to drill a hole through the hollow handle, thread a wire up through the barrel, and secure a charge fashioned from cherry bombs to the tip of it. He rigs the other end of the wire so that it can connect with the batteries we use for the camera; all someone has to do off screen is touch the contacts together while someone on screen pretends to pull the trigger, and voilà!: muzzle flash. It wasn't exactly practical (you couldn't really get more than one take out of it), but still.I found one of the many guns he set up for this the other day. And before tossing it, I took pictures.This gag inspired me to ask for the moon, by the way, and probably our most impressive achievement was a shot of a helicopter coming to pick up our main character. Dave built a model helicopter and motorized the propellers; in order to have it move without obstructing the blades, we suspended it upside-down on a makeshift zipline and turned the camera upside-down to match. For added realism, we shot it against a grey sky--I blew out the exposure (erasing the fishing line) and zoomed in from far away to flatten out the image.Unfortunately, that scene was cut out of The Gentlemen and this helicopter footage now only exists on a Hi8 tape I can't access, or I'd put that fucker up on YouTube[...]



Halloween Horror: Abominable, Adorable, Indelible

2011-10-30T16:53:45.094-04:00

Nobody ever dresses up as Dr. Anton Phibes for Halloween, and I need an explanation of why that is. Underexposure? An allergy to camp? The death of the UHF groovy-movie marathon channels? Whatever, the man needs more respect. He demands it. Or he will set a plague of boils upon thee.The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) is a great helping of late-period Vincent Price on a ham platter. It's also the rotten little B-horror treasure that foretold at least two mass mainstream successes. And it's a Halloween movie to its marrow, with masks, hooded robes, dark kitsch, deathly allure, and (tasteful '70s) gore. The Doctor of the title -- wealthy polymath, gifted musician, fiendish plotter of deathtraps and riddles -- is a dead man, burned to a crisp in a Swiss car accident as he rushed to the side of his dying wife. Alas, she too would die, despite a nine-person medical team's best efforts. As far as the not-so-dead Dr. Phibes is concerned, their best wasn't good enough; in fact, it was tantamount to murder.From just this side of the grave, courtesy of the great Sam Arkoff's American International genre factory, Phibes reaches out to destroy those surgeons, syncing his murders with the Ten Biblical Plagues of Egypt. On screen, his victims are consumed by locusts, frozen into mansicles, bitten to death by bats, choked to death by mechanical frog masks, exsanguinated by hot ladies, and impaled with a brass unicorn.No, I don't think that last bit was in the Bible either.If you can't be arsed to hunt it down and watch it -- and I'm indebted to scholar and genre-film fan Dan Hassler-Forest for my DVD copy -- find an excellent scene-by-scene recap at The Bad Movie Report and a solid appreciation at Mark Bourne's Open The Pod Bay Doors, Hal. But if you've any appreciation at all of David Fincher's Seven or the Saw films, you're missing out on their progenitor. By his efforts, Phibes marks himself as the granddaddy of John Doe (the Seven Deadly Sins vs. the Hebrew plagues) and Jigsaw (psychologically significant deathtraps). Take that legacy for what it's worth ($327 million and $848 million respectively), but acknowledge that mainstream film culture has scraped the strata of schlock and polished the gems there to a new shine.The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a camp carnival that must be seen to be believed. The antihero is a Phantom of the Opera given new life in a kind of mod Agatha Christie dreamscape, pursued by bumbling Scotland Yard detectives named Trout and Crow (Peter Jeffrey and Derek Godfrey) to absolutely no effect. Humor and horror, intertwined and balanced by former "Avengers" director Robert Fuest, expertly acted by a seasoned star who never once opens his mouth to speak, surprise-guest-starring the great Joseph Cotten as the Final Girl, and speaking elegantly to matters of loss, death, madness, and the survival of love.And please don't let that sequel fool you. Dr. Phibes never rose again. The last scene of this movie, with love and death fulfilled, is the last of the magnificent musician-mastermind. AIP is history; Vincent Price is gone. We may see his like again, but we'll nevermore meet Dr. Phibes himself. width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/yBo0H3oYSoo" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="">[...]



Yeah, nice slogan, Harvey.

2011-10-26T03:17:39.086-04:00

(image)
For those who haven't heard, I went and wrote a scene-by-scene analysis of a little film called The Dark Knight. Would you be interested in an in-depth thematic discussion backed up by thorough research and third-party quotations? In that case, The Faces of Gotham: Myth and Morality in The Dark Knight is available exclusively as an ebook, and can be purchased at Amazon and Barnes & Noble for an all-too-affordable $7.49.

And don't forget--if you don't own a physical e-reader, both Amazon and B&N have free programs for download on the computer/phone/iMachine of your choice.

So give it a read! And hey, if you liked it, spread the word, and write a review on the book's storefront page, whydoncha.



TIFF 2011

2011-09-09T09:29:22.889-04:00

TIFF 2011 coverage here.



Charging Star

2011-07-25T03:57:46.722-04:00

I wasn't quite sure what bothered me about Captain America. It took me forty-five minutes to really warm up to the thing, and even as I left the theater with a handful of moments that screamed do not forget about this film in December!, something else stuck around to nag at the back of my mind. At first I thought it was because the film lacked moral dimension, but no--it's a Saturday morning serial straight outta 1944. It's supposed to be operatic, goddamn it, and it certainly accomplished that. But my inability to comprehend that first act soon forced me to question the parts that I did enjoy--even as I recognized it as a faithful mock-up of Allied propaganda, I couldn't help but think, "Didn't Inglourious Basterds already dissect this kind of wartime fiction?" Walter's review helped immensely in understanding and appreciating the film, but a second screening was inevitable, and I soon knew that my reluctance could be traced back to a single moment. Halfway through the movie, the Red Skull denounces Hitler as his cronies belt out an emphatic "Hail HYDRA," throwing out their arms in a ridiculous parody of the Nazi salute. The first time through, I giggled derisively, because seriously, what is this Mickey Mouse shit?My friend Bob Chipman made the excellent point that Joe Johnston and Captain America didn't need to expound upon the mytho-religious implications of the Cosmic Cube because Thor had already done that job for them. (To which I responded that I would now only accept Thor as a direct prequel to Cap.) His astute observation eventually made me realize that the universe was my problem. Continuity was my problem. Now, I still firmly believe that Iron Man 2 erased any and all need to throw The Avengers at us, but this time the fictional timeline interferes with our own. Before I recognized Captain America for what it was, I wasn't sure how to feel about Marvel sidestepping the Nazis in favor of its own villainous organization. But why? People have been doing this for years. This company's been doing this for years--Adolf Hitler met his end in Marvel Comics when the Human Torch burned his ass to death in the bunker... only to be resurrected as the "Hate-Monger" some twenty years later. That's fiction for you, man, and I've argued over and over and over again that superheroes are capable of handling the headiest of topics. But Captain America appeared to be somewhat gun-shy when it came to the icons of Nazism. As Walter mentioned, the Red Skull states that he "no longer reflect[s] Hitler's ideal of Aryan perfection," and you'll see plenty of armbands and red flags and what have you, but swastikas are mostly obscured--HYDRA's tentacled skull is the fetishistically omnipresent symbol in this universe. Cap spends the majority of the war on a campaign against HYDRA, and I couldn't help but think, "So the actual war is still on, right? We're still fighting the Axis?" You can call it an attempt to keep the movie viable on the international market, but in the wrong hands, it could have been twisted into an extreme example of what bothered Jefferson about Dead Snow: at first glance, Captain America seems too squeamish to truly approach ideology or iconography.Thankfully, Johnston knows what he's doing. What makes Captain America such a great movie is how it understands the components of propaganda, and, moreover, the power they carry. I got that the first time through, but the second time forced me to really contemplate it: the ultimate soldier becomes a film star/comic book hero/inspirational symbol before he feels compelled to join the action--to live up to his name, his image and his potential--with an "A" helmet stolen from a USO showgirl. The symbol gathers up a few more trinkets from popular entertainment and becomes tangible. Watch how Cap's role changes between newsreels and wonder how many layers of fi[...]



Those Tapes I Made For You

2011-06-24T14:04:05.297-04:00

Do me a favor and watch this episode of "Street Fighter". Be forewarned, however, that this is a Saturday morning cartoon based on a video game franchise, so you know what you're in for. style="font-family: trebuchet ms;" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/SFFYlFwD0f4" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" width="425"> style="font-family: trebuchet ms;" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/V_U0BBGYiAU" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" width="425">Nonsensical pap, produced on the cheap and aimed squarely at American children--the sequel series to the original Street Fighter movie that no one particularly cared to see. However, search online and you're more likely to find thirty isolated seconds that have since become subject to an internet meme: src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/p0j0lO7uQBo" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" width="425">And search for "Bison yes" and this little baby will be your first destination: style="font-family: trebuchet ms;" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/P3ALwKeSEYs" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" width="560">I don't really think of this reduction as hostile in any sense of the word. Sure, you can't get around the reduction itself, but the blaring, "dramatic" horn section, the bizarro camera movement, and the fact that one recording of "YES!!" was so obviously doubled--this is an ancient Saturday morning distilled to perfection. I think it's a little wonderful, actually, that I can consider this six-second clip as part of a mutual language. There are several points I want to tackle from here, and they all involve ideas removed from their original context. (Appropriate, I suppose, that the now-largely-forgotten episode of "Street Fighter" is entitled "The Medium is the Message.") I've talked about that before, but this video has the odd distinction of simultaneously forging assumptions about the source material and creating something new from those ashes. Maybe I can believe that the rest of the series falls in step with that four seconds. But that's kind of silly, isn't it? I can assume all I want and I won't know until I actually sit down and watch the damned thing. But after that, what am I left with beyond the desire to keep "Yes!! Yes!!" outside of its original narrative boundaries?One thing to consider is that this is a "widescreen, HD reupload" of the "Yes!! Yes!!" clip. This is a short clip posted by a fan, but it's fair indication that the whole world's going widescreen, baby. Cartoon Network's website has an annoying habit when it comes to posting full episodes of their pre-widescreen cartoons: for shows like "Dexter's Laboratory," they stretch the borders of the image to fit a 16:9 frame, which gives it an awful fish-eye effect. Ironically, Genndy Tartakovsky and his crew already operated by a cinematic sensibility, and stretching the picture becomes a serious problem when the series indulges in one of its many pans and zooms. "Street Fighter" is too flat to entertain such concerns, especially from this infinitesimal scope--and, what's more, the widescreen clip keeps its silliness intact. (Note that the edges of the image have been chopped, rather than stretched.) But it's still not in its original format, and it's still stripped completely bare. Isn't it like "MST3K" in that regard--I'm geared to laugh simply because there are familiar shadows at the bottom of the screen? If we're not looking at the source seriously, should we really concern ourselves with such particulars? Why aren't we looking at it seriously, anyway? Why am I laughing at all?Now, when I talk about the official mangling of television, I don't want to paint Cartoon Network as some villainous entity. (Indeed, they're not averse to exploring the very nature of their business: J. G. Quintel's "Regular Show" is a keen explor[...]



Hanna and Her Brothers

2011-05-06T11:42:29.850-04:00

Hanna was raised in the woods by her beloved Papa, a hunter and woodcutter (both trades undertaken for the simple matter of survival). Her nemesis is also her Grandma, in a sense, with an oral hygiene compulsion so fierce she scrubs her teeth till they bleed. (She's sharpening them, see?) When the green-slippered foe confronts Hanna, she steps forth from the maw of a wolf. (Nor is this the last transformation she'll undergo before the end.)Joe Wright's Hanna is an espionage quest which, like all such riffs post-Bourne, is really a search for identity. Hanna — no ordinary girl, but a Chosen One just as surely as Harry Potter is — has been shaped one way, but her emerging individuality demands she sculpt herself anew. It's at just such points that our forebears turned to the folktales of their culture, like those collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, to illustrate the perils of straying from the path or trusting in the wrong authority figure. The root wisdom of these tales, we are told, have resonance for the ages, and we do well to heed them.The film's own distributor tried hard to make such a point, publishing an interview with highly-paid fairytale inverter Gregory Maguire. But just as Hanna sets out to refashion those myths to its own ends, I'm not convinced there's anything more to be done with Grimm-era fairytales but invert them. We don't read them to our kids nowadays, but we all know their gist — at least their bastardized versions, filtered once by the Grimms, once by Disney. So they remain a kind of irrelevant background hum of easy reference and surface psychology.Yet how often they're employed when filmmakers turn their lenses on young female heroines! Catherine Hardwicke's recent Red Riding Hood, Matthew Bright's 1996 Freeway — have we no other overlay to apply when making a film about a young woman's transition to sexual maturity or worldly wisdom? Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves remains the best contemporary application of childhood myths to the passage into womanhood, and it won that mantle by developing its own allusive, symbolic vocabulary.Most commonly, the palimpsest of a childhood myth is held up in order to be overwritten. The movies believe they're striking a feminist blow in this way. Riding Hood will not be eaten (read: raped). The princess will escape the tower, with minimal assistance at most. And when it comes time to kill the wolf, she don't need no stinking huntsman to do it for her. There's no instruction taken from these stories anymore, just an opportunity for postmodern mockery.Comic books saw the opportunity long ago. After Alan Moore deconstructed the superhero, Neil Gaiman did similar for the fairytale — gently, because he respects the power of story, but his groundbreaking Sandman opened the door for future creators to get it wholly wrong. After Sandman and Bill Willingham's Fables, it's very hard to look a classical myth straight in the eye without smirking. Much easier for our young people to learn life lessons from the troubled, downtrodden Marvel heroes, who teach us that no matter how nobly endowed we might be, we're easily pricked by debt (Spider-Man), addiction (Iron Man), anger (The Hulk) and all the other ills of the modern day. But where the fairytale-derived femme flick has to do with transcending boundaries, the comic book movie has a lot of interest in reinforcing them.Thor, by way of Marvel, is both a superhero comic and a folktale — a rough gloss on Norse myth that remains "classical" in the sense that pride is at the root of Thor's fall to Midgard. Once there, of course, he becomes its defender, all the while trying to live up to the standards of his distant, powerful father Odin. He can regain his status only by defending the status quo, on Earth as it is in Heaven.In comics, superhe[...]



Apropos of Nothing: "Doc Hollywood"

2011-04-29T16:48:58.443-04:00

So, the other night Doc Hollywood was on TV. Now, every time Doc Hollywood is on TV, I try to time it so that I happen to channel-surf past it just as Julie Warner is making her Ursula Andress-style topless exit from a sylvan lake. But this time, I decided to keep watching, and...I actually saw Doc Hollywood a number of times during my Michael Caton-Jones phase. Back then, the Scottish director had followed up the amiable Doc Hollywood with the lovely This Boy's Life and the marvellous Rob Roy, and he made enough interesting decisions--like putting nudity in Doc Hollywood (the film that would essentially inspire Pixar's Cars), or dropping the score for the climactic swordfight in Rob Roy--that he didn't seem to be so completely at the mercy of his scripts, as later films like The Jackal and Basic Instinct 2 revealed him to be.But Doc Hollywood, in retrospect, already made this abundantly clear. Scripted by the decidedly low-wattage trio of Daniel Pyne (Pacific Heights) and partners Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (Wild Wild West), the picture coasts on the charm of its actors, including Michael J. Fox (although knowing that he went into production having just been diagnosed with Parkinson's casts a shroud of melancholy over his performance), whose character's braggadocio would be unpalatable without Fox's knack for turning Alex P. Keatons into total softies.The movie is not without merit as cinema, don't get me wrong. I'm particularly fond of a scene Caton-Jones himself came up with, if I'm remembering the publicity lore correctly, in which Fox and Warner--sounds like a corporate merger, doesn't it?--dance to Patsy Cline's "Crazy": as these would-be lovers lose themselves in each other, everyone around them momentarily vanishes into thin air. Little dashes of magic realism like that would go a long way towards keeping many of today's romcoms out of the ghetto. Still, even as far as these things go, the love story in Doc Hollywood is perfunctory, and there's nothing particularly original or seductive about the town of Grady, which cleanses Fox's soul like a Norman Rockwell enema. It's basically a less oppressive precursor to "Gilmore girls"' Stars Hollow.What really ruins the movie for me today, however, is the fucking pig. More specifically, it's a sequence where Fox inherits a pig for fixing a patient's toe. (Hey! It's That Guy! Raye Birk plays the patient, making Grady feel at once more cozy and more artificial.) Fox, desperate to get out of Grady, then barters the pig to the mechanic fixing his Porsche, only to learn that Warner's four-year-old daughter is crazy about pigs and would love it if Fox brought his porcine pal around sometime. Fox, desperate to get in Warner's pants, then tries to buy back the pig, but discovers the mechanic has turned around and sold it to the butcher. Fox frantically races to save the pig's life--and does, by putting his surgeon's hands to use cutting meat all night for the butcher. Phew!The trouble is, the next day, Fox shows up at Warner's, pig in tow, and Warner's daughter, sitting placidly on the stoop, doesn't react! She doesn't acknowledge the pig--doesn't pet it, doesn't smile, doesn't freak out the way kids sometimes do when confronted with the reality of an animal they've only envisioned. Nor is her apathy itself the punchline, insofar as we can tell. All that sweat-inducing set-up, no payoff.Anyway, I think it's this lack of ruthlessness that ultimately became Caton-Jones's undoing. Does the shot establish that Fox accomplished his mission? Well, yes. That'll do, pig.You can blink now.[...]



Incidentally...

2011-04-11T06:20:30.781-04:00

Just a little screencap game while I clear out the cobwebs. A couple of movies have been on my mind lately, and I thought I'd present them from a different angle: by giving a look-see to the incidental shots between significant moments, the midpoint of a pan, the split-second right before a cut that sends us right back into the action. (For the sake of argument, let's just say that I want to celebrate every single one of those twenty-four frames per second.) Bet you wish you had that FaceBack app now, huh? There are a few telltale hints, so you eagle-eyes should be able to identify them. No prizes, I'm afraid, but would anyone care to take a crack?

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COSMONAUT review

2011-03-17T21:25:44.746-04:00

COSMONAUT (Cosmonauta) (2009)**1/2/****starring Claudio Pandolfi, Sergio Rubini, Mariana Raschilla, Pietro Del Giudicescreenplay by Susanna Nicchiarelli, Teresa Ciabattidirected by Susanna NicchiarelliSusanna Nicchiarelli's Cosmonaut (Cosmonauta) opens with little Luciana fleeing Holy Communion, shedding the accoutrements of the ceremony on her sprint back home. She seems a little young to be throwing off the shackles of religious conformity, younger even than her alleged onscreen age of nine, but the punchline's priceless in its precociousness: "Because I'm a communist!" she barks when her mother asks why she left church. There's actually a bit more to her rebellion than that. With their dad gone (having died a "true communist"), she looks to her geeky older brother Arturo for guidance, and because it's 1957 and the Soviets are about to launch Sputnik, he favours the godless world of communism as well. From a North American perspective, the movie is interesting in that respect, as very rarely do our history books stop to consider the excitement that Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin must have engendered in Europe on their way to depicting America's mad rush to win the space race. Even propaganda footage showcasing the likes of Laika the Russian dog--which forms the basis of transitional montages similar to but less operatically intense than the ones that constitute a good portion of Marco Bellocchio's Vincere--was mostly new to me. In fact, when the moon-landing cropped up in the finale, I breathed a sigh of disappointment, though it's worth noting that it may not be such a cliché in Italy.Arturo is diagnosed with epilepsy. Cosmonaut flashes forward to 1963, the year Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman--moreover, the first civilian--in space: Luciana's now a surly, chain-smoking fifteen-year-old (she doesn't appear to inhale, which may have been actress Mariana Raschilla's own squeamishness but suits a character who's all affectations just the same), a heavily-medicated Arturo is a social liability to her, and their mother has remarried, mainly for stability's sake. Following in her late father's footsteps, Luciana joins the Italian Federation of Young Communists, implicitly out of childhood nostalgia. While Arturo mysteriously hoards match-heads, headstrong Luciana establishes herself as a promising addition to the party, but her efforts are clearly designed to attract the attention of her handsome branch leader, who, somewhat hypocritically, has his eye on the seemingly better-heeled Fiorella. Luciana's actions then become strictly jealous and petty; proving the wisdom of a voting age, her raging hormones trump her allegiance to any political cause.The movie has its charms, including an enticing, Almodóvarian palette and an intriguing juxtaposition of Cold War iconography and old-world architecture. Raschilla's humourless, almost joyless performance is decidedly disengaging, though, and I lost patience with Cosmonaut as it became an increasingly pro forma coming-of-age flick. Nearly every beat in the film's second half, down to Luciana's cruel rejection of Arturo's advice and Arturo subsequently running away from home without the identification he needs in the event of a seizure, finds its origins in genre convention rather than in organic storytelling. (Although Nicchiarelli elicits sympathy for Arturo by showing others marginalizing him, she ultimately marginalizes him as well (a Catch-22?), making his theatrically self-destructive gesture feel arbitrary.) And what to make of the picture's historical irony? Luciana and Arturo cling to doomed concepts (socialism, rocket ships), allegorizing the youthful ignorance of us all, yet the smartest, most humane character[...]



The SUPER 8 trailer is here!

2011-03-11T17:52:21.668-05:00

So let's rejoice...by watching the just-released trailer for The Smurfs!


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I watched "The Smurfs" religiously until they phased out Gargamel by introducing Johann and Peewee, and the show gave way to all sorts of inscrutable Belgian horseshit.

UPDATE: I don't actually want to see this movie, just to clarify.



Unfinished

2011-02-17T15:27:40.913-05:00

I'm Lucy operating the conveyor belt when it comes to keeping up with my review queue; here's a taste of my numerous false starts over the past few months, if for no other reason than to shame myself into finishing the two or three pieces I'm currently juggling.SMALL WONDERI was 10 when "Small Wonder" debuted, and I seem to recall it as being the first TV series I approached with anything resembling cynicism. For starters, actually landing on it while channel-surfing was a bit of a crapshoot. The vagaries of syndication not meaning much to me then, I interpreted this as corporate embarrassment in the program which transferred over to me, even with my undiscriminating latchkey palette. For another thing, "Small Wonder" marked the first time I noticed special effects as such: done by Disney, according to creator Howard Leeds, they generated more laughs for their transparency than for any sight gag they were aiming to execute--which, along with the dependably lame jokes, gave the show a certain ironic lustre. I seem to recall most often encountering "Small Wonder" at the tail end of Saturday-morning cartoons, and it was only my extraordinarily passive viewing habits--combined with a frankly bottomless appetite for sitcoms--that kept me from changing the channel. A few more things I remember about my childhood experience with the show: that I loved the theme song, or at least that it took up permanent residence in my brain almost immediately; and that Tiffany Brissette, in the title role, was one of the few child actresses I didn't have a crush on, for reasons that ultimately had less to do with her looks than with the uncanniness of her performance. More on this later.THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICEOddly enough, the worst scene in The Sorcerer's Apprentice is the one that apes the titular segment from Fantasia/2000. It's a non sequitur, for starters, its shoehorned-in feeling aggravated by a weird edit that plays like a skip in the record. For another thing, there is nothing charming about an enchanted mop in live-action. On this we might blame the Swiffer commercials, in which anthropomorphized custodial implements are sent to the gulag because the lady of the house has decided to "give cleaning a whole new meaning." (The sequence relies on the same sort of crude puppetry and self-demystifying close-ups--all your mind sees is a grip standing just outside of camera range.) And Jay Baruchel is no Mickey Mouse, so it's a long time before we even realize that this is supposed to be that.SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCESympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not a direct translation of the original Korean title of this first instalment in Park Chanwook's "Vengeance Trilogy" (and the only one he didn't have a hand in writing--although it was clearly a huge influence on his own writing style), but it describes the film much better than the generic Vengeance is Mine would have. Revenge here is not biblically cathartic but rather the sort of dysfunction we aim to minimize with a cute title, because in fact we never want to experience it. Late in the picture, two good but misguided men stand in a river; one tells the other that he's sorry but he has to kill him, and we don't necessarily agree, but we're, yes, sympathetic to the impulse.from an abortive attempt at expanding my BACK TO THE FUTURE reviewI guess I never really realized, seeing as how I saw it before I would've seen anything that influenced it, Back to the Future's playful conversation with the cinema. It's not a pastiche, but it references a gamut ranging from James Whale's Frankenstein ("It works!!!" is this movie's version of the similarly lightning-soaked "It's alive!!!") to, with Doc B[...]



Annual Professional Commentary on the Oscar Nominations

2011-01-25T12:25:06.475-05:00

Best Motion Picture of the Year127 Hours (2010): Christian Colson, Danny Boyle, John Smithson = oyBlack Swan (2010): Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver, Scott Franklin = yay, pretty muchThe Fighter (2010): David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Mark Wahlberg = barfInception (2010): Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas = obligatoryThe Kids Are All Right (2010): Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray = sorry, noThe King's Speech (2010): Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Gareth Unwin = Miramax nostalgiaThe Social Network (2010): Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, Ceán Chaffin = and the winner isToy Story 3 (2010): Darla K. Anderson = yay, pretty muchTrue Grit (2010): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Scott Rudin = yayWinter's Bone (2010): Anne Rosellini, Alix Madigan = barfBest Performance by an Actor in a Leading RoleJavier Bardem for Biutiful (2010) = Julia paid 'emJeff Bridges for True Grit (2010) = yayJesse Eisenberg for The Social Network (2010) = sureColin Firth for The King's Speech (2010) = whatevsJames Franco for 127 Hours (2010) = at Gosling's expenseBest Performance by an Actress in a Leading RoleAnnette Bening for The Kids Are All Right (2010) = best thing about itNicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole (2010) = barfJennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone (2010) = yawnNatalie Portman for Black Swan (2010) = yayMichelle Williams for Blue Valentine (2010) = yayBest Performance by an Actor in a Supporting RoleChristian Bale for The Fighter (2010) = the full retardJohn Hawkes for Winter's Bone (2010) = best thing about itJeremy Renner for The Town (2010) = interestingMark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right (2010) = shrugGeoffrey Rush for The King's Speech (2010) = shrugBest Performance by an Actress in a Supporting RoleAmy Adams for The Fighter (2010) = her perennial nomination; also: yumHelena Bonham Carter for The King's Speech (2010) = shrugMelissa Leo for The Fighter (2010) = oh pleaseHailee Steinfeld for True Grit (2010) = emoticons to express yay because she's 14Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom (2010) = yayBest Achievement in DirectingDarren Aronofsky for Black Swan (2010) = won't winEthan Coen, Joel Coen for True Grit (2010) = awesomeDavid Fincher for The Social Network (2010) = deserved this fifteen years agoTom Hooper for The King's Speech (2010) = whatevsDavid O. Russell for The Fighter (2010) = aw hail noBest Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the ScreenAnother Year (2010): Mike Leigh = throw the dog a boneThe Fighter (2010): Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington = no no way n'uh uh no way fuggetitInception (2010): Christopher Nolan = oh pleaseThe Kids Are All Right (2010): Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg = see InceptionThe King's Speech (2010): David Seidler = he wrote TuckerBest Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published127 Hours (2010): Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy = Slumdog ass-coveringThe Social Network (2010): Aaron Sorkin = rent that tuxToy Story 3 (2010): Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich = okTrue Grit (2010): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen = yayWinter's Bone (2010): Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini = barfBest Animated Feature Film of the YearHow to Train Your Dragon (2010): Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders = okThe Illusionist (2010): Sylvain Chomet = love-children everywhere are checking their atticsToy Story 3 (2010): Lee Unkrich = believe it or notBest Foreign Language Film of the YearBiutiful (2010): Alejandro González Iñárritu(Mexico) = or Julia would've killed everyoneDogtooth (2009): Giorgos Lanthimos(Greece) = yayIn a Better World (2010): Susanne Bier(Denmark) = didn't see, but Bier should be in movie jailIncendies (2010[...]



Top Ten Talkback

2011-01-02T12:41:53.424-05:00

Here's your chance. What'd we miss? What'd we get right? What were we smokin'? And what was the deal with all that cunnilingus? (Full lists with intro here.)Ian's list: 10. Iron Man 29. Somewhere8. Marwencol7. Mother6. The Other Guys5. Valhalla Rising4. I'm Still Here3. Greenberg2. Black Swan1. True GritBill's list:10. The American9. Black Swan8. Blue Valentine7. Exit Through the Gift Shop6. Somewhere5. Dogtooth4. Greenberg3. Marwencol2. Life During Wartime1. True GritWalter's list:10. The American9. Marwencol8. Dogtooth7. Greenberg6. Mother5. Animal Kingdom4. Black Swan3. Somewhere2. True Grit1. Valhalla RisingI'll start: I'm completely unwilling to acknowledge that Iron Man 2 is anything but a turbid, often-unwatchable mess that may lend itself by its very vapidity to some read or another, but doesn't present much beyond just the fact of itself. So be it - I don't know that I've been immune to that instinct in the past (like Blue Crush, for instance) - he without sin, and all that. I lament not having seen Todd Solondz's latest as I really, and for truly, love Todd Solondz's stuff (well, except for Storytelling) - and wish I'd seen Soderbergh's latest on Spalding Gray because, as Bill has eloquently put it about things in the past, I feel like I've dreamed it already.I want to echo Bill's Twittered pride about not any of the three of us sticking Social Network in the top ten though, yeah, I think we all liked it. It's just, you know, so blandly intelligent and well-crafted... sort of like The Ghost Writer though I fear that I don't see any connection to it and Chinatown. The Ghost Writer doesn't end with resignation... ah well. I do wonder about the venom, though, of my colleagues against Scott Pilgrim which, though it didn't touch my heart in any discernible way, I was sort of impressed by in a technical way. It was my Tron 2, I guess, and I was sort of excited by Wright's joking dedication to making a sequel to Krull in the Twitter-verse. Maybe I'm just a sap.And what is it with all the cunnilingus?I think it's interesting that I was the only of these three male critics to rank Somewhere above Greenberg... though when it came time to do the top flick, well, it couldn't be more masculine.I noticed, too, that there were a lot of people jumping off things in movies this year; that Resnais' Wild Grass is actually sort of a twee piece of shit; and that even though I still don't think that Shutter Island is great, I'm coming around to the idea that it's not as elderly as first suspected. Here's the thing, it's been a long time since a year in pictures has boasted as many beautiful-looking films, independent of their ultimate value. Stuff like Ondine, for instance, by the always-reliable Neil Jordan, which is mostly cross-eyed badger spit and missed opportunities, but in moments flabbergastingly lovely. Like Inception, which sucks, but is a wonder to look at - even the documentaries - even the foreign flicks... I'm excited to catch up with what I missed this year; I'm thinking 2010 was a deep well.[...]



Real Life, Real Nudity, and the Breast Actress

2010-12-30T12:36:50.345-05:00

What follows is a type of confession. By that, I'm not saying that this is the sort of thing in which I admit that Ben Affleck is actually pretty good in Surviving Christmas. No, this is the sort of thing in which I admit that I'm not a very good person and don't particularly care.There were two events that led me to post this. One was the brief mention of "real nudity"--the sort of nudity mentioned by Bill in which you see a featured actress' parts, and not a nameless, often faceless, stripper's. Real nudity is the sort of thing that intimately involves you in the life of a famous actress--irrevocable and invasive, it has very little to do with sex and quite a lot to do with the destruction of privacy. Also, it's awesome in every way and a few I'll never be able to articulate.The other event is Bryant Frazer's piece on Fantasia--a leisurely and fair dissection of one of my favorite films. "Of course," you might think, "the Pastoral Symphony section is too goofy for words." What can I say? "If it accomplishes nothing else, it does seem pretty fucking 'pastoral?'" Anyhow, my band-aid having been fully removed, it's time to go for broke and tell my little story.So I'm having a conversation about the greatest films of this era with a girl--a friend--who has just turned 21. My assignment, and hers as well, is to pick the major Academy Award categories (Picture, Director, Screenplay, and the four Acting categories), but for her lifetime instead of any particular year. I add on a pick for Foreign Film, not because pretentiousness gives me little cerebral erections, but because she came up with one first. And I try to avoid repeating films wherever possible. So here are my choices (I don't entirely remember hers, but they are non-terrible and non-interesting):Best Picture 1989-Now: Pulp FictionBest Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindBest Director: Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old MenBest Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be BloodBest Actress: Emily Watson, Breaking the WavesBest Supporting Actor: Samuel Jackson, Pulp FictionBest Supporting Actress: Lara Belmont, The War ZoneBest Foreign Film: Hero (I actually prefer Hable con ella, but she's already an Almodovar fan, and they're so close in my mind, I went with something I didn't think she had seen.)So my list, if you know me, isn't particularly surprising. I feel no responsibility to mention less common films just to seem worldly, so I find the lack of anything idiosyncratic strangely idiosyncratic. My friend told me her list, listened to mine, and nothing of any particular value was discussed. Then I started thinking about my list.It's not particularly interesting except for the fact that both of my best actresses play sexual victims. Lara Belmont is raped by her dad and sets her own breast on fire in front of her brother and still somehow comes out in better shape than my best actress, who basically allows her disabled husband to talk her into getting fucked to death by strangers. I mean, Daniel Day-Lewis is pretty great in There Will Be Blood, but he doesn't have to take a bowling pin in the butt. No doubt Day-Lewis, the consummate professional, would set his nuts on fire if the role depended on it--one thinks about the tears jerked from a hypothetical filming of My Left Ball--but the fact is that the sexual degradation of dudes isn't interesting. Not from a plot perspective, and not from a "real nudity" perspective.Naked tits have value, even in this Google and external hard drive culture. Readily available, not to mention the most infantile valuabl[...]



UPDATED w/ANSWERS + WINNER: "Somewhere" Giveaway

2011-03-16T22:14:51.081-04:00

Want to win a Somewhere prize-pack featuring a $25 movie theatre gift card, a copy of Lost in Translation on DVD, and, best of all, a Somewhere poster autographed by writer-director Sofia Coppola? Of course you do. To qualify, all you have to do is submit your answers to the quiz below along with your name and address to by Wednesday, December 22, 2010--the day Somewhere opens in select cities across the U.S.. (Speaking of which, this giveaway is limited to residents of continental North America.)Alas, we only have one of these to hand out, and the winner will be drawn at random from among the correct entries.A COPPOLA FAMILY QUIZ1. How many Lisbon sisters are there in The Virgin Suicides? FIVE2. Which actress did Sofia Coppola replace in The Godfather Part III? WINONA RYDER3. What was the name of the magazine Francis Ford Coppola started in the 1970s?CITY (though whether he started it or hijacked it is I guess open to debate)4. Which of the following actors is NOT a member of Sofia Coppola's family: Nicolas Cage, Alicia Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, or Talia Shire?ALICIA COPPOLA5. How many Oscars do Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola have between them?6 (five for Francis, one for Sofia)6. What did Sofia Coppola use as a stage name in the 1980s?DOMINO7. Which of her father's films did Sofia Coppola co-write with him?"LIFE WITHOUT ZOE," from New York Stories8. Six degrees of separation: connect Stephen Dorff to Sofia Coppola pretending that Somewhere doesn't exist.I loved reading this answer. Most of you used Stephen Dorff in World Trade Center to Nicolas Cage (Sofia's cousin as well as her Peggy Sue Got Married co-star). My personal answer to this was Stephen Dorff to Giovanni Ribisi (in Public Enemies), narrator of Sofia's The Virgin Suicides.9. What is the pseudonym Anna Faris's character uses to check in with in Lost in Translation?EVELYN WAUGH. (Everyone got this--I thought it'd be harder since it's not part of the film's Wikipedia entry.)10. Sofia Coppola played a resident of what planet in Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace?NABOOCongratulations DANIEL NUNEZ of WORCESTER, MA. Your prize-pack is on the way. Daniel, for what it's worth, had the most esoteric answer to #8: Stephen Dorff to Stan Tracy (!) in I Shot Andy Warhol. (Veteran extra Tracy earlier drifted through Francis Coppola's The Cotton Club.)My thanks to Focus Features for sponsoring this contest. In the meantime, carry on as you have been--intrigued to see something of a backlash forming against cult darling Scott Pilgrim. Lots of good stuff coming up, by the by, including our own Top 10 lists for the year. Any guesses?[...]



Spy in Our Midst

2010-12-06T13:32:19.230-05:00

If you're wondering why my Twitter avatar has been stealing the identities of others, well, blame Valve's brilliant "Team Fortress 2"--one of those countless obsessions that tend to crop up at the most inconvenient moments. But hear me out, blog patrons, I'm going somewhere with this.For those unfamiliar with the franchise, the parameters of this game are basically identical to its predecessor: a multiplayer first-person shooter that pits two teams, comprised of nine classes (Scout, Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Heavy, Engineer, Medic, Sniper and Spy), against each other in various wargames. Balance is the key to success--the advantages of one class can be circumvented by the advantages of another--and that's precisely what made the original game so popular. The same dynamic carries over, but a lion's share of the the sequel's lasting appeal lies in its backdrop. "TF2" takes place in a retro-futuristic version of the early 1960s, but what's interesting about this world is that it doesn't really try to parody the era in question. The game carries no pretensions beyond a series of visual and musical cues: it never lets you forget that it is a straightforward fiction created by people born several years after the fact--their idea of contemporary culture dictated by pastel comedies, Silver Age comic books and action movies.Appropriately, this mentality extends to the purely conceptual inhabitants of "TF2". The classes were updated to reflect this new landscape; the characters in the first game were little more than faceless ciphers, but their '60s counterparts are given personalities based on an Americocentric view of the world. The Heavy is a meatheaded Russian; the Spy is an obnoxious Frenchman; the Medic is a straitlaced, sadistic German--and they all comment on their enemies' performance as they kill them. In an interview with Game Informer, writer Chet Faliszek talks about writing and casting actors for the classes:"'Team Fortress' was fun, because we knew we wanted to make it sounds like what Americans in the '60s would have imagined these people had sounded like, not what they actually sounded like, which I think got some positive reviews and some negative reviews. Depending on what country you're from, because as we updated each nationality that nationality would be outraged that we got the accents wrong."However, in terms of visual influence, the creators cite Norman Rockwell, Dean Cornwell and J. C. Leyendecker, all of whom came into prominence long before this period but reflect "TF2"'s aesthetic intentions quite well. The dominant question, then, is not "where are we" but "from where have we come"--and subsequently, we must imagine what forces have led us to this point in time. How did we come to accept these stereotypes? Why do they serve as cultural signifiers for the 1960s? What are these RED and BLU corporations that hire such men to kill one another? Supplementary materials expound upon a century-long war between two obscenely-powerful brothers vying for world domination, but most the specifics are left to the imagination. (The game's production/update blog humorously notes that the game was first created in 1963--the birth year of the modern conspiracy theory.)After nearly a decade of production and innumerable rebuilds, "Team Fortress 2" was released in 2007 to great fanfare, and it has maintained a steady fanbase since then--thanks in no small part to Valve's savvy marketing campaign. Which brings me to the reason why I'm sharing this game with you, my fello[...]



My Favourite Music Videos: "Across the Universe" (1998, d. PT Anderson)

2011-10-14T20:31:45.051-04:00

Fiona Apple - Across The UniverseUploaded by samithemenace. - Watch original web videos.Of the four videos Paul Thomas Anderson directed for then-girlfriend Fiona Apple, this one, their first collaboration, is by far my favourite, though "Paper Bag" is quite good and indicates that Anderson has a glitzy Hollywood musical in him--or at least a Pennies from Heaven-style critique of one. The other two might represent him getting some delayed student-film impulses out of his system, and consequently they're somewhat risible in their contrived artiness. He's still recognizably himself in "Across the Universe," doing relatively long takes (especially for the medium), shooting in 'scope*, and even slipping in a John C. Reilly cameo.Rejuvenating a music-video standby (fiddling while Rome burns), "Across the Universe" is a tie-in clip for Pleasantville that takes place in that film's soda shop and re-enacts--with a visceral impact and visual sumptuousness that makes you wish Anderson had helmed Pleasantville instead of Gary Ross--the riot visited upon it by the titular town's black-and-white residents, who object to the polychromatic painting decorating its glass façade. (Here, unlike in the movie proper, the park bench that goes flying through the window has the ferocious impact of Mookie's garbage can, shocking colour out of the image.) But dollying into the establishment, Anderson gets comically distracted by the pretty girl: snaking illogically but determinedly around a corner and past the looters as if following the siren song, the camera finds the mesmerizing Apple, looking for all the world like a flower child drawn by Disney. She's wearing headphones, and her presence seems to have a similar effect on Anderson, who blots out the world with blissful ignorance. Oh, he tries to zoom out or pan away from her, snatching a few choice glimpses of dreamily-choreographed mayhem in the process, but he clearly can't resist the magnetic pull of her face. While plenty of videos fetishize the hot singer chick, so few of them feel like this, that is to say genuinely infatuated; and those moments when Apple's not on screen suggest a bashfulness on the part of Anderson more than anything else. (The unwavering use of slo-mo is definitely a contributing factor to the sense of lovestruck awe, reminding of that cornball homily from Big Fish: "They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops.") Before long she engages him (or is it the other way around?) in a kind of flirtatious game of chicken, testing him as she tilts her head to the side and what we'll call his P.O.V. follows suit until both are upside-down defying gravity. It's silly, it's romantic, and it's the kind of abstract idea that lends itself to the music-video form. Behold, the stupidity of the mutually besotted.I think of Tarantino's pastiches as letting me see all the schlock that influenced him through rose-tinted glasses. Similarly, it's hard to come away from this video not pining a little for Fiona Apple, because the piece is so palpably taken with her. That her cover of this Beatles favourite is gorgeous just adds icing to the cake.*Unfortunately, I couldn't find a version of it in its original aspect ratio on the Internet.[...]



Walking Dead 1:2

2010-11-20T13:36:00.218-05:00

Something that's been bugging me since the first episode reveal that Officer Dipshit's slut wife was doing Ponch somewhere in the Georgia wood is the timing of everything. Let's say that the assumption was made for whatever reason that our moron hero died when the hospital was overrun - and let's say that people can survive for about a week or so without water. And then let's say that his IV ran out probably later the same day that his unit nurse got lunched on by the shambling horde... doesn't that mean that he couldn't have remained in a coma for much more than a week, and doesn't that mean that his wife decided to do the ol' protein exchange survival strategy not much more than a week after her husband maybe died?That's maybe why the opening of episode two, in which the wife gets doggy-styled in the wilderness while we look at her wedding ring in extreme foreground, left such an ugly taste in my mouth. Either this fucking whore was already cheating on her husband or she's doing what she's doing to provide for her kid and really misses Officer Doofus. You can't have it both ways, Frank Darabont.Anyway - the fact that none of these characters are worth a shit is the least of the "Walking Dead's" problems. Not when there's a speech in eps. 2 in which we're told that there's no such thing as "black" and "white" anymore, man, it's just the living and the dead. Not when ace B-man Michael Rooker is wasted completely as some slavering gomer who's the punchline to the worst CGI "oops" since that hot conehead girl ate a Subway sandwich in a few bites to the delight of Chris Farley. Not when there's a Short Round character dropping one-liners and no-time-for-love-Dr.-Jones bon mots before descending into the sewers for no good reason but that whatever dunce directed this episode wanted their very own matchbook-in-a-stairwell sequence.My fave, though, is when our heroes stand around slack-jawed as they smash into a zombie corpse (but not before Sheriff Andy delivers a soulful speech over it) and expect not to get any zombie gristle in their chops. They do that, see, because they want to roll around in it so the other zombies can't smell their freshness. And then it rains.Bullshit.Stupid bullshit, besides.And what's the deal with the racial representation? It's like the friggin United Colors of Bennetton up there on the rooftop of the Only Department Store in Atlanta.I'm done. This show has gone from pretty godawful to unwatchable in two weeks, and, folks, life is short.[...]



Walking Dead 1:1

2010-11-01T22:30:16.796-04:00

Soooo... I was pretty geeked about this series despite Frank Darabont's involvement in it. I liked The Mist rather a lot but he seems regularly to squander opportunities for horror in favor of syrup and, y'know, hard to say which Darabont was gonna' show for an adaptation of Robert Kirkman's Image comic series. Jury's still out. The problem I have is that main character Deputy Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is a fucking idiot. He makes bad choices, seems inconsistent in his acceptance/comprehension of the zombie apocalypse, and, lamentably, exists in a scenario that doesn't sensibly punish him for his idiocy.Consider that when he returns home after bumbling about in hospital (in straight ripper of 28 Days Later) and making his way through a few impressive environments, he makes quite a spectacle of himself in his house and neglects to dress and arm himself upon his departure. Immediately after, a sympathetic father/son survivor unit warn him that any excessive noise draws the "walkers" (in a world without George Romero, I guess, you call them something else) which leads to The First Night in which Deputy Grimes' suburbia is seen crawling with nocturnal baddies (in a straight ripper of I Am Legend which is, by the by, also not about zombies). The idea that zombies would be more active at night is curious to me - and to the makers of the series as well, apparently, as soon enough our moronic hero rides a horse (!) into the middle of downtown Atlanta into a horde of the hungry undead in broad daylight.It's not smart. It's kind of stupid, actually. Stupid being exactly what Romero's zombie movies are generally not. Honestly, whenever anyone in a deserted hospital that's obviously the scene of violence decides to go into an unlit stairwell with a pack of matches; well, son, you've already lost me - and most likely for the duration.Like the scene where Deputy Grimes and his buddies take a hot shower at the local police station, a-whoopin' and a hollerin' in appreciation of one of modernity's luxuries: lost to the horde! But what about the noise? And what about Grimes' complete non-acceptance of the infestation despite witnessing scary hands and a half-eaten body at the hospital? And what about his failure to ask one of his former colleagues if there's any Bub in there after the "sickness" took hold? And what about the stupid cross-cutting between Grimes dispatching a cool-looking zombie chick out of... mercy (in a scene so poorly established that I did wonder for a few moments if the monster was his wife), and his buddy trying to shoot his zombied-out wife and failing in fits of unsympathetic weeping? What's it all about?Hoping for the nihilism of The Mist, I'm sort of thinking that Walking Dead is more akin to the Eisenhower-era relational melodrama of The Majestic. As it's written so far - with the dumbass dialogue, the wooden performance, the stupid actions of its stupid characters (the wife's hooked up with moron Ponch? who gives a shit about any of these douchebags?) - there's not much hope for me that this derivative though often handsome-looking series is going to be much more than heartfelt pap with occasional gore: zombies your mom could love (to go along with the "Dragon Tattoo" series' ugly rape-revenge-sploitation you could take your grandma's sewing circle to).Sure, I'll hang with it a couple more installments... but I'm just saying...[...]



R.I.P.

2010-11-20T13:27:47.966-05:00

The first screening that I attended in a professional capacity was for a now-forgotten piece of quaint English shit, Greenfingers. It was at Denver’s historic Mayan theater, run by Landmark, and I was only the third person to arrive after the lovely publicist, who used to be on a soap opera and has since moved out of the market, and local radio show host Reggie McDaniel. I was nervous – scared, really – and he was kind. He was, in fact, the only person genuinely kind to me for the first couple of months on my new beat – my other colleagues were suspicious of me in exactly the way that I find myself suspicious of all the new faces that show up at screenings in the Denver area nowadays. Reggie passed away a couple of months ago after a long illness so long that I’d started to think of him as invincible. In a lot of ways, his congestive heart failure brought back the last two years of my father’s life for me – I was hoping to replay it, I think, with dad pulling through this time. But he didn’t, and Reggie didn’t. And it’s been hard for me to make it back to the Cineplex ever since his passing. If my output seems anemic lately, well, it has been.Reggie called his show the “Every Day People’s Guide” and listening to him, and then reading me, you’d be hard pressed to find a lot of common ground. We both loved horror films, but where he tended to find something positive to say about everything that he saw, I tend to find something negative. It’s just the way our critical muscles attached to our public skeletons, I guess, but it didn’t stop Reggie from inviting me onto his show on a few occasions, nor from encouraging me when I was most frustrated by my treatment by an industry that, frankly, doesn’t owe you any favors and knows it. He was wiser than I am still. He told florid stories, gory with embellishment (I think), about times he tried to kill commanding officers with lab rats and his stint as a drill instructor, using them as explanation for his genuine philanthropy. Everyone noted with irritation that he seemed always to be on his phone. Not everyone knew that he was fielding calls from crack addicts, ex-whores, and assorted convicts he’d taken under his wing and into his home. Reggie said he had a lot to atone for.The truth about Reggie is that he was a keen critic with a good eye who understood that the only way he could parlay his passion for film into something like a living wage was to bank on his expansive personality and play to the dumbest person in his audience. The thing is that he did it without condescension. It’s something that I couldn’t do – and something that I couldn’t always resist judging him for. But in private conversations, he revealed to me a depth of understanding – and a clear, precise way of expressing himself – that belied his persona as the affable buffoon; his careful presentation as the voice of the people. There’s a part of me that still doesn’t know what to feel about that. It’s the part of me that probably needs to lighten up.I remember a screening of Mulholland Drive where, midway, Reggie muttered “What the hell?” in what might be the most honest initial reaction to the picture. I remember a BBQ dinner at a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall called “Blest” that has, alas, since folded and disappeared, in which a few fellow diners at first disdainful of Re[...]