3.31.2010

Dance Me Outside

Herzog and Cage hit one out of the park



I'll call it right now. Werner Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans will be my pick for 2010's DVD release of the year. It's absolutely bat-shit fabulous. Nicholas Cage pulls out all the stops and delivers the most fevered and extreme performance of the past decade. This is a man who simply doesn't care if you think he's overacting. It's a fearless and riveting turn so far beyond the pale that overacting doesn't begin to describe what he does with this character. Bad Lieutenant is a new cult masterpiece that you can put up on the shelf with Kiss Me Deadly, Touch of Evil, The Big Lebowski, Repo Man and Mulholland Drive. A scorching winner that demands to be seen again and again and again. Film of the year, if not the decade.

3.30.2010

Strange Daze - Dillinger Dead, Zombies Undead and Holmes Straight.

The last few films I've watched have made for some truly varied viewing. Two were entertaining diversions – Sherlock Holmes and Zombieland and as odd as it might sound, I thought these pictures shared a bit of territory. Both are modern reinterpretations of oft-filmed stories (I read somewhere that Holmes is, in fact, the most-filmed character in cinema's history with several hundred adaptations) and both succeed in varying degrees in updating these stories for the purposes of entertaining their intended contemporary audiences. The fact that grumpy old traditionalists will rail on for hours about how ludicrous Ritchie's version of Holmes is, the fact remains that Sherlock has been employed in a myriad of different ways over 11 decades (and counting) to entertain film and TV audiences. He's matched wits with everyone from Jack the Ripper to Nazi's and depending on the adaptation, he's either just queer and blissed-out on opium or brilliant, asexual and fit-as-a-fiddle. It should be noted that Ritchie's adaptation is the first I can recall where he is both fit and heterosexual. Like many famous characters, Sherlock Holmes is simply imprinted on contemporary interpretations and Guy Ritchie's take is just as valid as having Holmes lock horns with Hitler. Was it great? – of course not – but it was entertaining and well-cast. If I had a complaint, it was a little noisy.

Zombieland takes the post-Shaun of the Dead romzomcom and puts a uniquely American road-movie spin on it. The zombie movie, an ever-ready genre for all manner of social and political allegory, is played here more for laughs in guilty-pleasure territory, but still manages to get some mileage out of the inherent social commentary that's sort of built-in to the standard zombie storyline. At the risk of over-analyzing what is in essence a well-crafted time-waster, by staying true to the Romeroesque quasi-politcal underpinnings of the zombie flick, Zombieland ends up being a pretty authentic (and at times quite funny) update on a overrun genre. Woody made the movie.

Meandering back to the past (and based on Joe's recent recommendation), I watched Marco Ferreri's Dillinger is Dead last night and haven't quite come to grips with what it might have been about. This is a film that could only have been made in the late '60s and I think its point might be that... it doesn't really have one. One of the major, if rarely discussed, shifts that's occurred in modern film making in recent decades has been a distinct move toward telling very specific stories with hard lines drawn as to how the audience is supposed to interpret the final result. The underlying allegory (if there is one) isn't necessarily telegraphed, but one doesn't have to dig too deep to uncover what the film maker is alluding to these days. That isn't to take away from whatever message modern film makers might be trying to convey, only to point out that it doesn't take a huge leap of intellect to understand the thrill-addicted soldiers of The Hurt Locker or the blatant if-we-just-lived-in-harmony-with-plants Avatar. Like much of our entertainment these days, there just isn't a lot of faith put in the audience's ability to assimilate ideas, so they tend to be packaged in ways that make it easier to understand and digest.

For a brief period of time in the post-New Wave era, film makers weren't so quick to underestimate the audience and directors such as Godard, Antonioni, Hellman, Jodorowsky and others made weird films that left interpretation entirely up to the viewer. These puzzling oddities were polarizing works with about 95% of the audience left shaking their heads at what felt very much like pretentious exercises in absurdity and the remaining 5% fundamentally changed by the event (and out the next morning to buy a water pipe to assist in their new careers as contemplators of the mysteries of time and space). I think you can firmly place Dillinger is Dead director/co-writer Marco Ferreri in this same camp. Dillinger is going to play to audience expectations along roughly the same split as it probably did in 1969. In fact, it'll probably find even less fans these days as our collective drug use has shifted from recreational to pharmaceutical in the intervening decades. It's a minimalist, detached film that denies any single take on a deeper meaning and I think might instead be an open invitation to project whatever the viewer might want to on its loosely-constructed framework. Dillinger is one of those rare films that not only invites but, if it is to be seen as anything at all, quite literally demands the audience's involvement. For what it's worth, I took it to be an effort to define the meaninglessness of a wasted existence, an exercise in surreal wish-fulfillment and/or a projected fantasy about escaping the banality of a bourgeois life (like that's possible). What might be the most fascinating part of the experience is another person would likely find something completely different in the film's seemingly vacant subtext.

Almost impossible to recommend (although I must say I'm glad Coleslaw did), Dillinger is Dead might be just about as far from the likes of Sherlock Holmes as one could get, but in their completely unique ways, both are successes, at least on their own terms. I just wish Criterion had released Ferreri's film under its original title. Dillinger è morto sounds just too cool when said out loud. Looks like I might have to break out the bong from extended storage. Important things need to be thought on.... pronto.

Sporgey

3.29.2010

Short cuts

I've been watching loads of films lately (mostly facilitated by a string of rainy Sundays).  I haven't written about any of them, yet, but in lieu of longer, more extensive reviews, I felt that I'd write a bit about some of the better ones I've seen in the past couple months before the hole gets too deep.  The films I've chosen to highlight are not a compendium of everything I've watched; rather, they are films that I believe deserve a bit of attention that they may not otherwise garner.  In chronologically viewed order:


Women in Revolt (1971)
Paul Morrissey directs this hilarious send up of the women's lib movement and follows the central trio of drag queens as they flop about an NYC that is long, long gone.  Simultaneously side-splittingly funny and sad, this film exposes a lesser-seen side of the drag life, warts and all.


Marebito (2004)
Takashi Shimizu, who shot to fame with Ju-on (The Grudge) and its myriad sequels, takes a less sensationalist, more experimental approach to obsession and horror in this philosophical and psychologically terrifying film.  A reclusive cameraman discovers an underground kingdom and a chained woman who may or may not be a vampire.  Twilight this ain't.


The Hanging Woman (1973)
Spanish gothic horror done remarkably well.  Nothing groundbreaking here, but excellent atmosphere, some surprisingly good effects, and a great turn by the inimitable Paul Naschy all lead to a bona fide cult classic.  The Troma disc (one of a couple - along with Combat Shock - where the label doesn't automatically translate to "Beware - generous helpings of garbage contained within") is fantastic, and represents the most complete document of this formerly forgotten film.


Loren Cass (2006)
Bold, disturbing vision of aimless youth, similar to Larry Clark's Kids, but without the seamy, exploitative feel.  Out of this world melding of sound and image.  Hard to call it "experimental", but certainly different, in the thorniest, most provocative way.  A tough recommend (it's rented once in the near 2 months it has been on my staff picks shelf), but a powerful, incendiary watch, and not chiefly for the seemingly press-kit tailored  "gimmick" of writer/director/actor Chris Fuller's begun-at-age-15, 8-years-in-the-making film.


400 Years of the Telescope (2009)
Fascinating doc on, shockingly, 400 years of the telescope.  Immensely informative, and it never talks down to its audience.  Veers dangerously close to techno-babble at times, but mostly just enough so to make you feel smarter than you are.  This - and not Toy Story 2 - are what grownups should be watching on a Friday night.


The Garden of Earthly Delights (2004)
Captivatingly structured film about a man and a woman's short, passionate love affair, this film by Polish auteur Lech Majewski (based on his own novel) is heady, startling, and moving without being sentimental.  You'll either view it as laughably pretentious or an absorbing, thought-provoking meditation on art, science, love and death.  Highly, highly recommended.


Mala Noche (1985)
Gus Van Sant's debut feature follows the love triangle of a young Caucasian and two Mexican wetbacks as they fumble around a seedy Portland neighbourhood.  Van Sant sets a template for his later films with sumptuous photography in super-saturated black and white, and the themes of displacement, gay acceptance/rejection, and loss that recur in his later films are all on display here.  A fascinating document.


Take Out (2004)
A starkly simple film about a Chinese-American delivery man over the course of one numbingly hellish 24 hour shift.  Almost has a doc feel at times, it is that unadorned and real.


House of the Devil (2009)
One of my most anticipated releases for this year, House of the Devil did not disappoint.  Director Ti West nails the look, sound and feel of early '80s satanic cult horror in this creepily pervasive film that builds palpable dread before an explosive and bloody climax.  Extremely satisfying.


The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008)
Joshua Safdie's film follows a day or three in the life of a young woman as she wanders around New York, meets up with a friend, drives to Boston, back to NYC, gets arrested and then released, all the while pilfering small items of no real consequence, seemingly more out of fascination or something to do than the criminal urge.  While it could easily be lumped in with the unfortunately named "Mumblecore" school, Safdie's film is a slyly different beast altogether.  And instead of finding the characters generally annoying, I was bewitched by principal Eleonore Hendricks.  Good, lo-fi stuff.


Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Miyazaki's first feature is a much different film than he currently puts out, which isn't to say it is better or worse, just different.  It follows a master thief with a heart of gold who is out to save a princess and break up a counterfeiting ring, dodging his police pursuers the whole way.  A hell of a lot of fun, the film moves at a break-neck pace, is whip-smart, mischievous, and playful.  I've started watching all the Miyazaki films chronologically as I had previously only seen Spirited Away.


Maitresse (1975)
Barbet Schroeder's ode to S&M, Maitresse sees Gerard Depardieu at his most restrained, and I realized that without the histrionics, Depardieu is a solid actor and not just another Denis Pelletier look-alike.  A complicated take on love, commitment, ownership and boundaries (physical and emotional), Maitresse is a weird winner.


Harry and Tonto (1974)
Scott wrote about this film at length awhile back, and I can't add much to his thoughts.  A warm, humane and moving film that never veers into saccharine falsities.  Carney is thoughtful and giving with a good sense of humour toward anything life tosses his way.


The Black Cat (1934)
Karloff and Lugosi square off in this superb Poe adaptation.  Edgar G. Ulmer's inventiveness gives the production an amazing look, and gets a great turn out of both his leads.  I've been working through the Bela Lugosi Collection, and this is the best of the bunch.


A Bucket of Blood (1959)
This Roger Corman beatnik horror-comedy totally caught me off guard.  I was expecting cheap and cheesy, instead I got a disarming look at a man's desire for acceptance, and the sad, horrible lengths he will go to maintain his status once achieved.  Dick Miller's Walter Paisley is a character who embodies the desperation and desire of the outsider and the hesitant and darkly comic brutality he must employ in order to keep up appearances...


Babe (1995)
So sweet.  I'd never seen it before this viewing.  One of those films you kind of have to be an asshole to hate.


Ichi (2008)
A modern take on the Zatoichi tales, though this film has "Zatoichi" as a young girl.  Stunningly beautiful (both Haruka Ayase's Ichi and the film), Ichi is delicate, artful, and totally kick-ass.  I don't know why it took me so long to watch this.  Recommended to any fans of samurai/Shaw Bros./Zatoichi films.  Awesome. 


Cat People (1942)
Jacques Tourneur was a master of shadows, of menace through suggestion, and Cat People is a fine example of this.  When teamed with producer Val Lewton, the director was at his best.  Simone Simon's Irena is wonderful at conveying the foreign quality of her character, both in a new country, and in intimacy.  Coyness and seduction wrapped up in a ball of vulnerability and female ferocity.  Not hard to read between the lines in this one - love hurts, sex kills!


Dillinger is Dead (1969)
Let's get fucked up and watch Dillinger is Dead!  If you have to use mind-altering substances to appreciate this absolutely surreal, symbolic and psychedelic exercise in flaunting cinematic conventions, you're missing the point completely.  Pop art, politics, bourgeois ennui, and marital fractures are central to Marco Ferreri's ferociously incendiary and peerless film; think Godard at his most enigmatic, Fellini at his most playful, and Rossellini at his most exact, and you're halfway there.  This film rocked my world.


Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Another Miyazaki makes the list, and really, why not?  With its strong environmental message and a moving plea for peace, Nausicaa is another winner from the Studio Ghibli camp.  The animation seems a bit clunky at times, but some of the drawings are breathtaking in their impressionistic beauty.  By the way, I'm watching all the Miyazaki films in Japanese with English subtitles.  Just sayin'.


The Blob (1988)
A pre-Entourage Kevin Dillon battles a growing pile of pink slime in the remake of the 1958 Steve McQueen original.  Awesomely slimy practical effects and a tight story leave this revivalist creature film a cut above.


The Sentinel (1977)
Michael Winner corrals an almost laughably rich cast (Chris Sarandon, Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, Jerry Orbach, Christopher Walken, Eli Wallach, Jose Ferrer, John Carradine, Martin Balsam, Beverly D'Angelo, etc...) in this spooky and well-crafted religious thriller.  Sure it borrows from The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, The Antichrist, and a handful of other churchy-horrors, but The Sentinel is a worthy watch.  Winner gets some flack around these parts, but I'm a fan.  The film boasts two or three truly frightening scenes (it's been awhile since that happened), and the climax - with its use of actual deformed "actors" - is still disquieting.


Elvis (1979)
Following almost directly on the heels of John Carpenter's Halloween (there was a small - but well-done - made for TV thriller, Someone's Watching Me! in between the two), Elvis is a true epic.  Running a few minutes shy of three hours, Carpenter and star Kurt Russell do a fantastic job of recreating the life of the man who would be King.  Starting with Elvis' childhood and ending after his 1969 comeback special, Carpenter exhaustively chronicles the ups and downs of Elvis Aron Presley.  If a criticism could be leveled at this film, it would be that Carpenter pussyfoots around some of the more contentious issues issues of the King's life.  Regardless, Carpenter's precise filmmaking style and obvious affection for his subject (born and raised in Kentucky, Carpenter would have been aware of the social environment in which Presley was raised) works wonderfully in tandem with Russell, who wears the skin of Elvis admirably.  It doesn't hurt that Russell is, at times, a dead-ringer for the King himself.  Masterful filmmaking is pulling off a 3-hour biopic that never feels like it drags, not for one second, and never feels like any information presented is superfluous, and that each scene is absolutely necessary.  A major achievement that was released 2 years after Elvis died, and was unavailable on DVD until last week.  Would make a fantastic double feature with Peter Watkins' Privilege.  Walk the Line?  Never heard of it...

3.24.2010

Chasing a Crooked Shadow: The Sporgey El Hefe Story

I got thinking about Kris's last few noir posts and have really enjoyed his fresh takes on a genre that I've nearly squeezed dry of options. As overly dramatic as it may sound, the discovery of film noir in my 20's in a very real way changed the course of my/our lives. The Film Buff, and all that that includes, is directly connected to a dozen or so films we watched in the mid '80s. Thinking back as to which exact ones served as early catalysts for this adventure was an interesting exercise. Kris mentions three of them in The Big Heat, Kiss Me Deadly and The Lady From Shanghai. One of the problems I have with recommending noir these days is just how far from the core films my own viewing has strayed. There just aren't that many films that stay true to the generally accepted noir conventions and the last ten years have been spent trolling way out at the fringes and in the Grade-Z forgotten-for-a-reason outer reaches of the noir canon.

I thought it might better serve my championing of this interesting and unique genre to, as Kris is, take a fresh look at some of those early pictures that got me rolling in noir. One of the very earliest (if not the first) one we watched was Carol Reed's The Third Man. Strangely, it's not even really a noir, more a mystery that's shot like one. Regardless, it's a great film and if you've not seen it, it's highly recommended. In addition to Kris's excellent introductory triple bill, I'd add two of the B-noirs that managed, with limited budgets and truly imaginative direction, to become cult favourites for countless genre fans, including myself – Detour and Gun Crazy. Directors Edgar G. Ulmer and Joseph H. Lewis were the kings of doing amazing things with no money. They're both weird and wonderful.... and so are their films, Ulmer's Detour particularly.

The last couple that come to mind are really bookends for the classic noir period. Murder My Sweet from 1944 starring Dick Powell is a great take on Raymond Chandler's Marlowe. I prefer Powell to Bogart for some reason and this film, my favourite Chandler adaptation, might be why. At the other end of the classic period is the film that sort of closes it, Orson Welles's Touch of Evil from 1958. This film has long stood near the top of my personal favs and the restored version on DVD is a revelation. It's so goddamned weird that one marvels it ever got made. Thumbs way up if you haven't seen it.

From these early flicks, Donna and I ended up discovering a cinematic treasure trove of everything from '30s French neo-realism to Jean-Pierre Melville in the '60s to Japanese Yakuza gangster films to quirky revisionist Westerns to The Thin Man but they all traced back one way or another to a series of film noirs watched over a couple of years because we were too poor to go out and video tapes and Nick had just been invented. 25 years later, we watched Chase a Crooked Shadow tonight, a noirish 1958 film that I'd never seen. It wasn't fantastic like the films Kris is working through, but it made me remember why I still love these little crime/mystery/thrillers, how fun the journey has been thus far and what an appropriate title it would make for my yet-to-be-written memoirs.
 
Sporgey

3.23.2010

"with you dead, the big heat follows" The Big Heat (1953)


Fritz Lang's The Big Heat is the picture perfect noir. It's moody, dark, ridden with dames and soaked in booze. The film's protagonist is homicide detective Dave Bannion played strongly by Glenn ford. The story begins with Bannion investigating a police suicide only he's not completely convinced it is a suicide. That's all you really need to know.
The script alone makes this film a classic but in Fritz Langs hands it becomes truly special. The characters are all boldy drawn and the divison between the good guys and the bad guys is palpable in every scene.
I was surprised with how far this film went in terms of violence. Of course most of it happens off camera with a scream or a bang but a lot of good people go through hell in this film.
All the performances are stellar across the board with a young Lee Marvin's Vince Stone and Gloria Grahame's Debby Marsh standing out. It's not as gritty as say Kiss Me Deadly but not such a stroll in the park as The Maltese Falcon, The Big Heat exists in a space between the two making it a noir any one can sink their teeth into. Highly recommended.

Films on Planes: part 3 - Michael Jackson's This is It (2009)


This one time Dropkick left on a jet plane. He didn't know when he'd be back again, but whilst on jet planes he watched whatever film that was played on board, ate bad food, drank Bloody Mary's, and hoped to one day return home to write reviews no one would read of the films he saw in the clouds. This is part 3 of an ongoing series.

Flight: Bogota to Miami
Film: This Is It
Director: Kenny Ortega
Class: Business (holla)
Drink: Red Wine.... Bloody Mary
Meal: Omelet (again)

When the Spanish stewardess with legs up to here announced we'd be watching Michael Jackson's This Is It I felt quite relieved. The last two plane films made me wanna gouge my eye out with the practically useless plastic knife I got with my barely edible sky meal. This Is It, a documentary about Michael Jackson's sold out series of concerts that never began due to his death a mere three weeks before the first date, was something I hadn't planned on seeing but was curious about.
Growing up I was a Michael Jackson fan, until Vanilla Ice came around that is.
As i grew older my musical tastes drifted away from pop and moved into pop-punk and then into punk and then into metal and there was a moment there where I just listened to noise.
Anyways, once when I was 19 i was convinced by a friend to go to a night club, places i swore i'd never go to. I hated the music and the people at those places, but this friend told me the drinks were insanely cheap and I, being the lonely smelly guy I was, obliged.
A funny thing happened that night, i left the club a lover of pop music again. I had danced my little Greco-Colombian ass off and by doing so had purged alot of stress out of my system.
Near the end of the night the DJ played Billy Jean and it all came flooding back, what deep down I've always wanted to be...
I no longer feared dancing because i thought i couldn't.
I no longer just wanted to stage dive and punch people in the eye all the time.
I wanted space on the floor, i wanted to bust a move, I wanted to moonwalk, I wanted to walk down the sidewalk and have the pavement light up, I wanted to grab my crouch and say "Whoo!", I wanted to smash a car with a bat and scream, I wanted to synchronize dance with the dead, i wanted to save children from Danny Devito and turn into a giant spaceship that the children enter to hear me sing Beatles songs (see: Moonwalker)
I wanted to be Michael Jackson... I had just forgotten that I did. Much like Robin Williams's Peter Pan forgets Neverland in Hook...

Well, in accordance with the beginning moments of the film, where all the back up dancers tell the camera how they feel about the tour and Michael Jackson, I thought I'd throw in my two cents on how the man affected my life is all.

The footage featured in This Is It was intended to document Jackson's monumental endeavor. The planned concert series was poised to be the biggest comeback in pop history. It wasn't filmed with a concert film in mind, so it can seem a little bare at times but if you're a fan of Michael you won't really mind.
The film is laid out just like the set list would have been played, so you're given a concert experience of a concert that isn't ready yet.
It certainly looked like this show was gonna take the world by storm and for the most part the film is quite watchable. I applaud Ortega for not sugar coating the whole ordeal. When Jackson forgets words or gets tired or has an issue with the band it's left in for us all to see. These moments make up the funniest moments of the film, we all wanna see what a nutbar Jackson is and he doesn't disappoint when he stops a song because it's overtaking his ears and there isn't enough "L-O-V-E".
However, what i thought would be more of a mess wasn't really. Michael was 50 years old and the man still had the moves and the voice. He wanted this show to be perfect and that really shows in the footage. When you watch this all you see is Michael Jackson the performer, probably the best musical performer of all time. And that goes a long way.... especially when some angles make the guy look like Skeletor.
This Is It, makes you feel like you're sitting in on something historic and entertains throughout. It'll make you dust off your old vinyls of Off The Wall or your worn out tape of Dangerous. It's a fan only film that no fan will dislike.

As Michael belted out his last song of the set "Man in the Mirror" i caught my own reflection from the airplane window overlooking the Atlantic ocean and softly sang "I'm starting with the man in the mirror, i'm asking him to change his ways, and no message could have been any clearer, if you wanna make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make that change.... na na, na na na, na na, na na...."

3.22.2010

Which one was Brolin?

a penny drops...

Along with most other people I know born in the 78-83 period I must have re-watched Richard Donner's classic The Goonies well into the double figures. Just yesterday on my 23rd viewing (shut up Joe, you were watching Babe anyway) I realised Josh Brolin plays Brandon the big brother. Cool eh? Buddies? Reminds me of the day I re-watched Flight of the Navigator and realized it was Sarah Jessica Parker all along or when I watched Last man on Earth and recognized Vincent Price's voice from the Thriller music video. Ahhhh, the 80's. I hated it at the time.

3.21.2010

Only the dead have seen the end of war.


Of this weeks delivery I ignored the hoofs and claws in The men who stare at goats and Fantastic Mr. Fox and instead plumped for Brothers, the American remake of a lesser known Danish film from 2004. There has been considerable chatter regarding this remake and the likable cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and motherfucking Tobey Maguire seemed promising enough. In hindsight Maguire put in one hell of a performance.
I'm realizing now it's quite hard to talk about this film without spoiling it. Avoid watching the trailer, it ruins the first act of the film and undersells the rest.
In stark contrast to what will be remembered as this years war drama The Hurt Locker, Brothers shows very little of the war itself. Only a brief chapter showing the capture and imprisonment of Sam (Maguire) the older brother is shown. Instead, we are firmly on home turf witnessing an uncomfortable aftermath. There have been many great films to comment on the after-effects of war and Brothers is at the more melodramatic end of the spectrum. Somehow though it comes away feeling very truthful. It is a sharply focused, engaging film and after a six pack of Hoptical Illusion I'm finding it hard to fault. That's not to say that I loved it, but it takes a message and stands by it unflinchingly and there is a certain appeal to that. It feels like a personal story and tells a tale of family, death and paranoia. If you're looking to be shaken by an intense and touching drama you could do much much worse.

3.19.2010

House/Hausu (1977)




A whole long time ago, back before most of you were born, I watched this completely whacked Japanese horror film at the Hanover Drive-in. It was part of an all-nighter horror fest and I can't remember any of the other titles. I'm not sure why the Hanover Drive-in was playing a Japanese horror in 1979, but they did. Strange days indeed. I'd completely forgotten about it until I was reading about a few newer PAL releases from the fabulous Eureka! Masters of Cinema series (a sort of U.K. Criterion), and stumbled across this familiar-sounding 1977 film by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Sure enough, after clearing some cob-webs out of the furthest reaches on my pot-addled teenaged memories, the film was called House (Hausu) and MoC released a restored print of it about a month ago. As I recall, this is one whacked-out film. I remember sitting in the car with a couple of other stunned/stoned dudes completely in awe of this tour-de-shite film. None of us had ever seen anything remotely close to it before. The story line (after reading a couple of refresher online plot synopsis's) has several school girls visiting one of their aunt's creepy houses in the forest and being dispatched in increasingly ridiculous ways with stupendously bad special effects. I'm sure it's a truly banal movie but it stayed with me and receives all sorts of kudos from a variety of interesting film critics.


I ordered it from the U.K. earlier this week and look forward to revisiting a forgotten moment from 30 years ago. Coleslaw/Tilly/Krissy, at the risk of stating this obvious, this might be worth a trip over to Segredos for a viewing. It sounds right up your collectively-looney alleys. Anyone else who's interested is welcome. It'll probably arrive next week and we'll set up a viewing time.

btw - I bought you FBE dudes a new computer for the cafe today. Hope to get it updated and installed next week. You've suffered long enough and I'm getting too old to chamge those drawer slides every two months.

3.16.2010

Team FBE Thrilled to Break $100 Mark on Cafe.

TORONTO In a surprise result, Team FBE shocked onlookers and naysayers by reaching the $100 mark in ice cream sales last week, eclipsing their previous record of $97.15. Team Captain Josey Reed was quick with her demands of team management for new training facilities and better uniforms. "I think we've proven today that with the proper equipment and a modest level of commitment from the team ownership that we can break the $125 point by 2014." she said. July Pelt added that she could barely fit into the ridiculously tight green shorts and they caused extensive chaffing. Asked for her input on reaching the new milestone, longtime Team FBE anchor Krissy Kadcaine was quickly interupted by rising star Tilly Roche, who pushed in front of Kadcaine saying, "I think it's high time Team FBE's management started listening to our demands. Josey, July and me are bloody well fed up." Rumours have recently swirled around Roche's questionable eligibility for league play, but those reports are currently unsubstantiated. As Kadcaide was about to add her thoughts, Team Captain Reed chimed in and ended the news conference suggesting, "I think we're done here." and with that turned off the microphone and left the stage with Pelt and Roche in tow. Alone on the stage, Kadcaine was about to respond to inquiries about her recent call up to the 1st Division FW United when the studio was plunged into darkness before she could speak. When contacted for comment about the aggresive demands from its minor league members, team ownership seemed unaware that Team FBE was part of their farm system. "I'll have to check with accounting, but it's not ringing any bells" said FW United President Sporge El Hefe, adding "Quite frankly, we tend to concentrate our attention on FW United, but it's entirely possible that this Team FBE is one of ours." 

Reuters News Service     

3.15.2010

12 times and counting...

The most absurd things I ran across today.

Number 3...... A $300 Count Dooku figure http://www.sideshowtoy.com/?page_id=4489&sku=300012

Number 2..... An email message from TigerDirect.ca received this morning - "Celebrate St. Patty Day w/ 19" LCD $129..."

and finally... The Number 1 silliest thing I ran across today
http://www.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/11/avatar.movie.blues/index.html

Sporgey

Red Riding Trilogy (2009)

I returned to the Red Riding Trilogy having finally received the PAL DVD last week. Red Riding is a television adaptation of English author David Peace's Red Riding Quartet. Published between 1999 and 2002, the quartet comprises the novels Nineteen Seventy-Four (1999), Nineteen Seventy-Seven (2000), Nineteen Eighty (2001) and Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002). Only three of the books were adapted ('74, '80 and '83) for the series. So.... in a nutshell: 1974, written in 1999, was filmed in 2009 and released as the first in a trio of films based on Peace's quartet of novels. Confusing? Wait 'til you watch them.

The three films that make of the trilogy were shot by different directors and even though a number of characters span the series, the lead is different in each film. The plot is set against a backdrop of serial murders (including the real Yorkshire Ripper case) and deals with everything from police corruption, to murder, to seedy backroom deals, subterranean pedophiles, a system rigged for injustice, and reams of bureaucratic and religious misconduct. Thematically, it focuses on how systemic, ingrained corruption leads to communal rot if good men do nothing. The crimes featured in the scripts are dramatized versions of events rather than factual accounts, but you'd be hard pressed to pick out the real ones from the fictional.

There is a distinctly grimy quality to both the adaptations and the way in which these films are brought to the screen. Based solely on the northern England presented here, I completely understand Tom's decision to leave that wretched country. The Yorkshire of Red Riding makes Detroit look like sunny Madrid by comparison. What a shithole. The murderers have to be quick because most of their victims are about that far from offing themselves anyways. Yorkshire Tourism and the local Chamber of Commerce would be wise to buy up all the copies they can find of Red Riding and have them destroyed.

A couple of quick observations about the series. The story arc is well adapted and even though the individual films can stand alone, they work best as a trilogy and are obviously intended as such. Questions posed in the first film are answered in the third and so forth. Of the leads, Paddy Considine in the middle film, stands as the highlight of the series. Ever since Dead Man's Shoes, I've considered him one of the leading actors of our time, even though he doesn't seem to land as many roles as you might hope. His performance here reminded that I need to watch PU-239, a DVD released last year that I never got around to watching.

The dingy and depressing aspects of Red Riding felt a little unrelenting at times and that might put some off. The good guys are few and far between and the bad guys the deepest shade of pitch black. Evil permeates this quasi-fictional world, at times to the point of overindulgence, but I suppose the that is its point. Left to their own devices, the evil that men do can escalate until someone stands up and puts a stop to it.

Terrific, but exceedingly grim, the ambitious, compelling and slightly flawed Red Riding trilogy is definitely worth a look for those who like their crime stories bleak. And nobody does bleak quite as well as the Brits.
 
... and on a slightly different, but significantly more upbeat note, at least that stupid fucking picture of Drew Barrymore is finally gone.  
 
Sporgey

3.14.2010

Films on Planes part 2: Fame (2009)

Recently, Film Buff employee and blog contributor Dropkick went on a trip to a far away land. Whilst traveling to and fro he experienced the best of what in-flight entertainment has to offer. This is part two of an ongoing series that focuses on cinema of the sky.

Flight: Miami to Bogota
Film: Fame
Director: Kevin Tancharoen
Class: Business (nothing less)
Drink: Champagne, Mimosa, Bloody Mary
Meal: Steak
Fame... I'm going to live forever. I'm going to learn how to fly... high...

Hot on the heels of Hollywood's reboot fever comes Fame; a remake of the 1980 film that became a cultural phenomena that spawned a successful television series as well as a stage musical.
Funny how with the current state of cinema you could tell this one was coming from a mile a way but while watching it i couldn't help but feel that this Fame showed up late to its own party.
This film should have came out circa 2006 or 2007 nearing the end of the 80's revival that took most of the 00's by storm.

Out of all the flicks i caught in the sky this was the only one i watched the entirety of... god knows why. I think it was mostly because i was in awe of how horribly written and paced the film was, i had to keep watching to know if it could actually keep it up during its complete run time. Unsurprisingly it somehow got worse as the show went on.

The film follows various performing art students over four years as they attend an NYC school that prepares its students for careers in dancing, acting, singing, film-making, etc. etc. There is no central character here, instead the focus veers between a group of say... 10 or so students... all of which have their own trials and tribulations to go through. Somehow each story is cliche and predictable, some of the 10 or so stories are even slight variants of each other.
Let's see... we got the naive nice girl from a small town who has come to the big city in hopes to be famous but ends up learning the true price of FAME, there's the violin player who really just wants to sing but has the biggest assholes of parents who apparently want nothing less then to see their daughter sing and achieve FAME ... if only to make her cry alot, then we have the geeky funny movie nerd who gets scammed out of thousands by a bogus producing company as he's trying to claim his FAME by way of making a short film , we have the hot dancer whose parents are also assholes but she must learn to go her own way to reach that FAME and balance a relationship at the same time.
ok what else?... oh the poor kid from the ghetto whose angry and must learn to control his rage and not let FAME make him lose his cool... and other stories just like these.
Now perhaps if the film cut the fat and focused on say, four students then it wouldn't feel like such a mess.
There's so much happening at once that some character archs are given only a few minutes of attention... say like the "funny" gay dancer boy who is told by his instructor that he's never going to achieve FAME as a dancer so he tries to commit suicide. So little time and care is put into this dramatic moment (probably the most dramatic moment of the film) that this too little too late attempt to grip you falls on blind eyes and besides, at this point you're on your third bloody mary and thinking "what's the point?".

The film covers all the teenage drivel bases but it's done in such a half assed way you wonder if you're watching an after school special or an outtake reel from Strangers With Candy. For instance, when it gets to the issue of alcohol abuse there is only one scene that tries to approach the subject wherein a girl is drinking for the first time on some New York corner while the film geek videotapes the act. They make her drink a whole mickey of peach schnapps to herself. She sings some inane familiar thing and then promptly after, vomits all over the street. The scene cuts to the video being shown at school where a classroom full of students have a big chuckle at her expense. Even the teacher is amused by it! The teacher says something along the lines of "that's very funny but remember drinking is irresponsible" and the girl replies "don't worry i'll never drink again"... YEAH RIGHT. The damn film geek just unleashed the beast, she's screwed for life now.
What kind of brain dead message is that? Just get drunk one time kiddies, and have your friends videotape it and put it on youtube... then you'll never drink again. . Gimme a break. Abstinence by way of public humiliation.

Anyways, unlike the original there's barely any singing or dance sequences. There's one long dance number that's very unclassy, oddly placed, and poorly scored.
What else?.... Oh! All the teachers are played by noticeable TV sitcom actors... two of which are from Cheers.
Part of me wants to say "wasted opportunity" as if this flick could have conveyed something worthwhile but all i have to say is WASTE OF TIME. The filmmakers here try to revive a dead horse by injecting it with generation WTF attitude but just like the generation it tries to appeal to it's brain dead.

When the film started i calmed myself by thinking that at least, at some point in the film the title song FAME would be played. It's a catchy tune... so i looked forward to it. Whenever someone would start singing i would get excited "is this it!?... damn." So i kept watching wondering when the song would finally drop. When it came to the graduation scene at the end of the film i was ecstatic "SURELY THEY'RE GOING TO SING FAME NOW!!!!"
but alas... they did not. Instead they sang some high school musical b-side. It wasn't until during the credit roll did they FINALLY play the song... and then it was some hipped hopped version of it, not even the original.
So i reclined my chair all the way back gazed out the window overlooking South America and sang softly to myself
"I'm gonna make it to heaven. Light up the sky like a flame. FAME!
I'm gonna live forever. Baby, Remember my name..."

How to get fired at The Film Buff part 2

3.13.2010

The films of Todd Solondz.

The films of Todd Solondz are particularly hard to approach. He doesn't have many vocal fans and with running themes of depression, insecurity, murder, paedophilia, exploitation, bullying, rape and suicide you do have to ask yourself, exactly what kind of mood do I have to be in to sit down to one of these pictures? On paper it's all about as appealing as licking poo off a cactus. However, contrary to my expectations I have found his films resonate with an honesty and morality that makes them both unique and vitally provocative.
Welcome to the dollhouse (1995) has the veneer of a classic coming of age story but quickly steers into more awkward territory as 7th grader Dawn Wiener finds out not only does she hate everyone but everyone hates her. Things go heavily off track only to leave us all intact but with our heads spinning. I really enjoyed this film, it's like Dazed and confused, Freaks and Geeks and Ghost World all had a crack baby. And that baby shat out a film. And this was the sequel to it.
Happiness must've been released at 12:01am Jan 1st 1998, how else would the "No.1 film of the year" on the sleeve make any sense? His most critically acclaimed but personally my least favourite of his films Happiness sees Solondz develop his now trademark episodic caption approach. Philip Seymour Hoffman sells hard as a loner pervert in a plot so droning that it's the individual scenes you remember. Some really powerful characterisation here but it paces like a drunk pigeon in traffic.
Storytelling (2001) is a unique and original experience. A very strong film in which Solondz seems to confront his own issues with film making. He simultaneously lampoons his critics in a chapter where a writing class critique each others work. The statement made is en enigma nestled within a conundrum, but what does come through is a snide, searing criticism of an industry, perhaps even a species that benefits through exploitation of others.
With Palindromes we are again taken on a bizarre trip to the farside. We follow Aviva, a young girl who wants to have a baby no matter what. She runs away from home and what opens up is a debate on abortion, religion and parenting. The film bares various references to Dollhouse including the character of Mark Wiener, Dawn's older brother, now accused of child molestation. Some interesting storytelling techniques are used. For example, multiple actors are used for Aviva the main character. Some people have said this is to show that we are "all equal" but i think more precisely it works by erasing any prejudices across gender, race or age we might have and instead forces us to really learn the character. It is also a comment on the mental state of some of these adults and their child like approach to life.

Whilst these films certainly don't focus on the lighter side of life they also don't totally disregard it. Woven amongst these grotesque ruminations are fleeting moments of pure whimsy and humour. Solondz is going to push you into places that you'd rather not think about. He walks on a fine line and I feel although it's not actually gratuitous or exploitative, it certainly is made to feel that way. While a marathon of his work has left me quite mentally exhausted, it has also left me with the sense that we have a brave and thorny oddball among us that somehow found a voice and in making us squirm is somehow wreaking his revenge.

P.S. Before that guy Anon rears his ugly head, yes Solondz does have 2 earlier films called Schatt's Last Shot (1985) and Fear, Anxiety & Depression (1989). If they ever become available on DVD I'll be sure to let you know how long I felt dirty for afterwards. Solondz latest film Life During Wartime (2009) should be out soon. It stars Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) and tackles paedophilia....*sigh*.

3.11.2010

Is Pedro losing his mojo?

I'm never sure quite what to make of Pedro Almodovar's films. Over his 30+ film career, his movies have become increasingly lush and cinematic, bursting with colour and verve, but thematically I'm finding his more recent work a little flat. There's an age-old film making adage that goes; “When film makers start making films about film makers, you begin to worry that they've run out of inspiration.” That isn't to say that his latest film Broken Embraces (in part, a film about film making by the way) doesn't engage, because to does. Almodovar's muse, the ravishing Penélope Cruz has never been better. As an actress, no one working in film today is her match. She simply owns the screen. The camera loves this woman and so do I.

Broken Embraces is a twisty Douglas Sirkian melodrama that's a bit too long and contains just a few too many clichés for it's own good. Other than that, it's an easy recommendation for fans of his previous works. I still consider Talk to Her (2002) his best picture to date, partly because it's a film that doesn't have this fan-base prerequisite. The same could be said of his excellent All About My Mother (1999), making these two films amongst the best back-to-back works by a director in recent, but fading memory. Since then, it's beginning to feel as though Pedro's been treading water. We've had Bad Education, Volver and now Broken Embraces - all films that are exquisite to look at, modestly engaging, but seem to have been directed on autopilot.  

That said, as a visual film maker Almodovar is amongst the best ever. His technique and technical proficiency is nearly flawless and getting better. The opening scene of Broken Embraces, an eye in extreme close up with a man and a newspaper reflecting off its black pupil, is simply stunning. The camera glides around and moves in ways that make you feel like it's you looking around, creating an intimacy and sense of depth that mimics (and perhaps even surpasses) that of the 3-D technical gimmickry being trotted out as groundbreaking stuff these days. It's just a little disappointing that the plot doesn't quite measure up. 

Oh well, you can't have everything.

Sporgey.

3.10.2010

We've finally caved.  Please, do like hundreds of pornbots are bound to and follow us?

http://twitter.com/filmbufftoronto

I know I'm going to regret this but....

Probably safer to show what they came in.....

3.09.2010

Gentlement Broncos... or a review of Sam Rockwell


Gentlemen Broncos. Yeah that's a movie, I guess. Watchable though? Barely. I thought this might have its moments - I mean, I like sci-fi pulp and I liked Flight of the Conchords and Napoleon Dynamite so I thought 'surely it can't be entirely bad, can it?'. And it wasn't entirely bad, but only because Sam Rockwell is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors of the moment and is consistently such a pleasure to watch. From the first time I can remember seeing him, in the Green Mile as Wild Bill, I thought he stole the show every time he was in it. And, although it wasn't a great role, and it was in a fairly shitty movie, I remember him really standing out even in Charlie's Angels. Every time I watch him in something I like him a little bit more and after watching him in Moon recently it solidified for me how great I think he is. He carried the entire film with what seemed like ease, which I realized is how he is in every role I've seen him in. He plays all of his characters so naturally and so smoothly that you wonder if he's even really acting or just acting like himself, but then you compare the roles and realize that surely one man can't be as disgusting and evil as Wild Bill, smooth as Eric Knox, sexually depraved as Victor Mancini and the man certainly isn't a intergalactic fuck-up/goof (which he actually plays in four different movies by my count, all in entirely different ways).



But, I digress. Back to Broncos:

Napoleon Dynamite walked a very fine line and, for some people, it really fell on the side of annoyingly juvenile and absurd. I found it pretty funny but easily saw where these people were coming from. Well Gentleman Broncos jumps over that line and then some. While Napoleon seemed like a slight prod at small-town American living this movie is a full fledge mockery of the dreams and intelligence of small-town Americans. Napoleon could be seen as a hero, in some ways, in his small town of losers but everyone in Broncos is a loser, especially the lead character. He’s a complete pushover and, while we’re supposed to feel like everything works out for him in the end with the publication of his story, even with him getting the girl, you end up feeling like he’s still just a loser. Because his published story is stupid and he never wanted the girl in the first place. And because their first kiss is with a mouth full of his puke. You’re never rooting for him except in the sense that you want things to get better for him just so you don’t have to watch his patheticness anymore. The only good parts of the film are those with Sam Rockwell playing Bronco/Brutus of Benjamin/Chevalier’s story – an intergalactic warrior who has his testicles stolen from him and needs to get them back. And yeah, it’s as funny as it sounds. However, as much as I love Rockwell, there isn’t nearly enough of him to make this movie a worthwhile view, not that any of you were going to bother with it anyways.

G-rated Reviews - suitable for all ages.

The Informant! is a tricky film to get a bead on. It's almost a lot a things, but not quite. It's an engaging and deft comedy that isn't terribly funny. It's got one of the best performances of the year, but not so you'd notice. It's serious and yet whimsical. It's a spoof, but based on a true story, etc., etc.

http://dearbornbaby.blogspot.com/

Matt Damon is the reason to watch this one. He disappears into a role that's one part Austin Powers, one part whistler blower and three parts One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. He's convinced by the FBI to wear a wire to expose price fixing in the food additives industry and suddenly sees himself as James Bond, calling himself 0014, since he's twice as smart. He's completely undependable as a mole, won't stop talking and appears to have embezzled an ever growing amount of money from his employers. A hard one to pin down but recommended if you're in the mood for something quirky and charming. I liked it way more than I expected to.

In an effort to break the recent cycle of being the only one around here to actually contribute and review films (only to get regularly reamed out for having and expressing an opinion), I've got nothing but nice things to say about The Informant!

Sporgey

3.08.2010

Insert Movie Title here



http://www.20sb.net/

Capitalism: A Love Story

In what's turning out to be a loosely connected trilogy of recent posts, I watched Michael Moore's latest film Capitalism: A Love Story tonight and found it picked up on more than a few common threads that have invaded my viewing and thoughts lately. The cycle goes a little like this.... Avatar struck me as the apex of a trend toward marketing usurping the cinematic art form. Up in the Air's strange social politics went mostly unquestioned (and unchallenged) by an adoring media and tonight, Capitalism: A Love Story questions the limited public backlash that Corporate America has faced in the aftermath of what was clearly an epic-scaled confidence game played at the highest levels.


The common theme shared by these vastly different films might be just how placated and powerless most have become (or at least feel they've become). Underlying Moore's doc/op-ed/commentary is a slightly-bewildered activist who can't quite figure how they got away with it. Moore's films share similar structures and Capitalism follows in the mold of his previous efforts, but there seemed to be a slight exasperation with his audience this time around. Even when he highlights several successful working-class sit downs and various post-bailout protests, the crowds seem thin and Moore's frustrations with the lack of public hue and cry bleeds through. Why aren't you in the streets? ..seems to be an ongoing theme in his latest work. We're too busy watching Avatar might be the answer.

In an effort it avoid getting too down on the issue, Michael Moore's call to arms is a sincere and positive one. His antics may be old-hat now, but his heart remains in the right place. Sitting down to watch it nearly a year after it was shot (it ends with great promise for change as Obama won the 2008 election), one can't help but feel immense disappointment a year-plus into the new administration. Nothing's changed. The foxes are still in charge of the hen house and the brief glimmer of hope that America could chart a different course fades with each passing month. Perhaps it was unrealisitc to assume otherwise.

And it's no fault of Moore's – he's done more than his share of the heavy lifting. Like him or hate him, the clown-prince of modern social activism is squarely in the corner of a beleaguered middle-America, but nobody, including middle-Americans, seems to give a shit. It's Oscar night, after all.

Hurt Locker wins...YES!

Terrifying..... http://admiringavery.blogspot.com/2010/03/spring-fever.html

Oh, and thanks to everyone who endured the Running of the Yuppies today on Roncey. Nice work.

Sporgey.

3.07.2010

Down on the Ground.

Jason Reitman's multiple-Oscar-nominee Up in the Air is a fascinating picture. At first glance, it's a likeable portrayal of Ryan Bingham, a professional business traveler and corporate employee-firing contractor played in his usual pebble-voiced and sexy-swagger style by every woman's favourite actor and fantasy bunk-muffin, George Clooney. He’s immensely cute as the disconnected anti-human-resources terminator-for-hire. He picks up Vera Farmiga, another traveling business shark in a hotel bar, they do the nasty and plan their next naked-rendezvous on their laptops, not even bothering to look at each other while they coordinate an future intersecting (lay)over. When the sun comes up, they get dressed and reenter the world of an ailing economy.


Up in the Air comes off initially as an enjoyable romp – for all the talk about it's relevance as a contemporary social commentary, it doesn't really have anything to say about it - which simultaneously keeps it from being either too depressing and/or too enlightening. It also keeps most of the real consequences of the train-wreck that is the American economy pinned down by a verbal crossfire of glib one-liners from the various corporate hawks that are the film's quasi-heroes. The few attempts at expressing the deeper implications of the collapse of America's middle class are limited to mournful sound-bite responses from the recently-fired. “But what will I do?”, they ask from one side of the table. “Be all you can be”, the blank answer from the other.

The more you consider and think on Up in the Air, the more troubling it becomes. This is a film that's essentially about the ugliness that pervades contemporary American society, but Reitman refuses to shine a light inside the Pandora's box he pretends to, but clearly hasn't, opened. Every reaction in Up in the Air seems once-removed from what it should be. In a particularly telling scene, Bingham's chippy sidekick Natalie (an impossibly naïve 23-year-old corporate darling who has perfected a sort of remote Skype-like mass firing software suite) is devastated by the news that one of their on-site firings resulted in the woman's suicide. Clooney's character springs to action, but instead of writing to the victim's family, he scratches out a glowing job-reference for his young co-worker. This scene underlines what's essentially wrong with Up in the Air. Its focus regularly shifts from the actual tragedy to the protagonist's reaction to that tragedy. Only the privileged are granted emotions. The movie simply ignores the woman who’s killed herself in favour of giving a close-up on Natalie, who weeps about how it happened on her watch and how sorry she feels for herself. She ends up with a kick-ass job, by the way.

“To know me is to fly with me,” Clooney says in an early voice-over, which brings up another tedious problem with Up in the Air. The entire film often feels like one big commercial for the likes of American Airlines, Hertz and the Hilton Hotel chain. The product placement is so thick on the ground you could choke on it Up in the Air. The film takes on the air of stale recirculated airplane air and one wonders if theatre managers were meant to reduce the oxygen mix during showings.

Up in the Air constantly places the privileged/wealthy on a higher plane (sorry – couldn't resist). In the second act, Clooney and Farmiga make a yearning-for-the-past pit stop to attend his poor-white-trash sister’s poor-white-trash wedding. Bingham waltzes in, saves the day with his wise words, feels the pinch of having abandoned his roots and takes off with a nagging doubt about his life-choices. In an effort to reconnect with his humanity, he makes an impromptu flight to visit Farmiga in Chicago, only to discover that his connecting-flight temp(-tress) is happily married-with-children herself. In another bit of misplaced sentiment, rather than direct our sympathies toward the family Farmiga is cheating on, “Up in the Air” plunges the camera in front of poor Ryan Bingham, furrowed brow and all. Poor fucker.

In retrospect, Up in the Air is a glossy and vaguely-insulting masquerade that makes the unusual demand of its audience to avoid subsequent contemplation about the underlying construct at the centre of the script. It mirrors the problem I had with the Coen's latest, A Serious Man because it begins to feel like a film that dismisses regular people in favour of those in the upper class. The difference between these two Best Picture nominees is the Coen's seem to be playing with regular folks like toy soldiers on an imaginary battlefield, blowing up their hopes and dreams in increasingly spectacular and sadistic ways while Reitman takes a different approach (with similar results) scripting a film about the toy-soldier generals themselves. If you want to see a film that actually tries to reorient the camera from the bottom up, take a look at Extract, not a great film by any stretch, but one with more heart than these two sorrowful head shakers put together.

In either film wins tonight, I'm firing everyone whose first name starts with "J" in protest.  

3.06.2010

Thoughts on the current state of cinema.

Spend an hour strolling around a large magazine stand scanning the shelves and it becomes abundantly clear what society is focused at that point in time. During my lifetime, the marketing industry has become the largest single force in defining what our popular culture is and it manifests itself in the cross-section of titles that end up on an urban magazine stand. Marketers have become the arbiters of taste and worthiness, having long ago supplanted the idea that experts with knowledge and experience shaped the public's imagination and its desires. The marketing industry is but an arm of the corporate business world, but in many ways, perhaps its most important. Big Business (a relatively useless term, employed here to help differentiate between the corporate/chain/mega-companies and the small to midsized businesses that once made up most of the economy), no longer has to produce goods and services that have real merit and value, they simply bombard the marketplace with enough advertising to convince the public that they do. Most people don't care one way or the other because we long ago ceased to collectively describe ourselves as citizens, now preferring the more market-friendly “consumer”.

But what does this have to do with film? The answer, I think, is everything. At the newsstand, I counted around 80 magazines devoted to 3G phones, several hundred about cars, around 500 to fashion, another 600 or so about decorating, a few dozen on fishing, 100 or 150 on music, and 10 on film (8 of which were fanboy horror/sci-fi genre zines). What gives? Isn't film the thing everyone talks about when they can't think of anything else to to say? Why then the short shrift at the newsstand? Is Cinema dead?

There's always been an uneasy relationship between the arts and commerce. Some say art is compromised when it's reduced to a commodity and there may well be a grain of truth in that belief. Movies are a little different than most other art forms. For all intents and purposes, they started as a commodity and grew into something we now consider to be an art form in retrospect. Elements from other art forms (stage, performance, play writing, etc.) were co-opted and used in the movies, but the medium itself wasn't regarded as a vehicle for true artistic expression until much later. Cinema as art probably extends back to the earliest moving pictures but it wasn't until around 1950 that it was acknowledged as such. Film criticism evolved along side motion pictures culminating in the Auteur Theory advocated by film director and critic François Truffaut in 1954. "Auteurism" is the method of analyzing films based on this theory or, alternately, the characteristics of a director's work that makes him an auteur. Even though the creation of a film is a process requiring a large group of skilled technicians, actors and writers, the Auteur theory posits that the director's creative vision can be distinctive enough to shine through all kinds of studio interference. Film Theory continues to evolve as the medium changes and evolves itself.

Sandwiched between the studio era and the rise of the modern blockbuster exists a brief decade where the idea that film wasn't just a commodity bled into and shaped how young filmmakers approached their craft. This hugely creative period, roughly between 1967 and 1977 found a whole generation of young American directors spilling into Hollywood, writing, producing and directing a different kind of popular film. This independent film renaissance drew on the deep divisions caused by the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. The old-school studio system had collapsed as the initial stages of the multicultural fragmentation of American society unfolded. Up to the mid-'60s, popular film making relied on the the advancement of unifying national mythologies. Film had once defined that mythology, but the industry's cultural power was clearing waning. As indie film makers deconstructed the myths and ideologies of American contemporary popular culture, the studios found themselves becoming more and more irrelevant. This forced obsolescence required a response and the studios faced fading into extinction if they fumbled it. They didn't.

In a brilliant (but culturally devastating) move, a consensus grew around the idea of a purely monetary response to the rise of the independent film maker, but perfecting the blockbuster required mastery and re-engineering of the genre picture. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman, Superman and a host of other studio-financed movies were green-lighted. These and other films drew on nostalgic narratives and characters reviving national myths from the Great Depression through World War 2 popular culture, the last era of ideological coherence and common belief. Studio film making reached back in time, or out into space, for that which eluded them in the present. Myths.

Culturally, the films that sprang out of this studio maneuver served little purpose beyond entertainment (and increased box office receipts). Differences between the eras represented on screen and contemporary culture weren't part of the narrative. They were simply mining the past for mythology to repackage for the modern film consumer. At best, these blockbusters represented an expression of regret at the loss of former certainties, at worse, they became the manifestation of the rise of a transient, disposable cultural. What is important to consider about this shift is how it fundamentally changed film making to this day. Society's historical record is often defined indirectly by it's popular culture and with the film industry mired in the past, an entire generation of film makers (and by extension, the audience) have lost their opportunity to supply commentary through the movies on (and about) their own time. The Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush era has little in the way of popular film to serve as any sort of cultural reference for future generations. 90% of the popular films produced during this period are set in some mythological past, either specifically or metaphorically. While the idea that film serves as a cultural touchstone for its time may seem foreign, directors like Oliver Stone with his Vietnam and political films, Spielberg's Schindler's List, Spike Lee's Macolm X and others have attempted to commit contemporary interpretations of significant modern events to celluloid. One could argue that Katherine Bigelow's Oscar-nominated Hurt Locker has a similar goal. Perhaps the very personification of our era's apparent vapidity is Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, a film that exists in roughly equal parts amnesia and nostalgia. Historical memory during the past 25 years seems to hang in midair, suspended between too many pasts, no past at all, or completely fabricated ones.

As the 2010 Oscars fast approach, the expanded 10 Best Picture nominees represent an opportunity to look at the films that will serve as important social institutions for storing and interpreting our present somewhere down the road. What do these pictures say about the world? Do they collectively serve as a reflection of who we are? It should be said that the Academy walks a fine line between popular and acclaimed film and often errs on the side of quality but the inclusion of a film like Up in the Air undermines the entire effort. While there's nothing particularly wrong with the film, as a contemporary dialogue it has absolutely nothing to say. What about 500 Days of Summer, Moon, In the Loop, Goodbye Solo?, hell... even The Hangover was at least about something.

Which brings me full circle back to the idea that the cultural significance of film is fading fast and might be terminal. At the risk of restating the obvious, a film like Avatar advances cinema's manufactured decline as well as any other. In some ways it's the culmination of that long ago studio efforts to build a purely transient blockbuster film factory. If it's a reflection on anything about our society and time, it might be our inability to face truths and our desire to lose ourselves in illusion. The marketers have convinced us of Avatar's significance and cultural importance and we've responded by making it the highest-grossing picture in history. Perhaps that says everything that needs to be said about our time. If the limited film analysis journals and periodicals on display at the magazine stand are any indication, most appear to have stopped looking at film an art form anyways. For the lion's share of the audience, the medium has devolved into merely a commodity to be consumed and discarded, just like the studios had hoped for.
 
Here's hoping for a win by The Hurt Locker. Not only would that send a message about how film can articulate elements about our time, but it would reinforce the idea that Avatar is a commodity and not a great and/or important film. Simply nominating it already overstates its merits by half. 
 
Sporgey.    

3.02.2010

Where the Wild Things Are (2009) - Dir. Spike Jonze

I'm not sure what Spike Jonze ever did to cast any doubt in my mind.
Was it that the Sabotage video was so overplayed? That Adaptation was "Soooooo Po-Mo bro"? Was it that he worked with uber-cool Beastie Boys, Weezer and Daft Punk before most of us even knew who they were? Perhaps his association with the interminable Bjork? Or the fucking Praise You video which played constantly for two years invariably accompanied by someone insisting "You know, they're all actors".
His collection of films on the "Work of Director..." series was just too bloody good for me to believe he could do anything next other than drop the ball. Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich. The truth is, the only thing Spike ever did to annoy me was to consistently surprise me. I don't like surprises, but I can hardly hate him for being prevalent and influential can I? I've found value in everything he's done and though I understand his work will not be for everyone, it's certainly for me.
And that brings us to his latest film Where the wild things are. The source material for which somehow passed by whilst I was busy not reading a whole array of other books. What's clear is it was something very close to the filmmakers heart. With Where the wild things are Jonze has captured the naivety and wonder of childhood in a way that the industry thought we'd grown out of. It reminds me of Roald Dahl books and films from my childhood like Labrynth and Flight of the Navigator. Even more so of Miyazaki's fabulous My Neighbour Totoro.
There could be some sort of analysis made on what it all means and what this or that represents, the truth is it is all somehow grotesque and familiar and I'm sure quite subjective. Just let your guard down and give this one your time, it's a joy. Sure, recognising the voice of Tony Soprano is distracting but the cast overall is strong and dynamic. Catherine Keener has somehow ascended into the sub-zero realm of Kim Deal, all humans may have become obselete next to those two, being cool as fuck has never been exemplified quite so well.
Let's be honest, Pixar and Dreamworks has gone stale, it's time more of us got back to black. Put simply, WTWTA doesn't feel CG and we need that now more than ever. When a triumphant ditty like this somehow falls on deaf ears it makes you think when a certain wild thing exclaims "We forgot how to have fun!" Thankfully not all of us did.