Saturday, December 31, 2005

Best of 2005

I'll be needing to see a few films before I can make my best of 2005 list. And there are films that I decided to not see for personal/political reasons that are negated from consideration (either because I have values or because I'm closed minded, draw your own conclusions). In the next week I will try to see Match Point, The New World and Cache (again. I saw it a couple months ago at AFI Fest, but it really was that good and dense). And think long and hard. Well maybe not all that hard...

There's just something innately wrong about Dirk Bogarde in a Sexual role.

Last night I watched (for the first time - I suddenly realize I am not really giving myself great credibility with not having seen both this and Mommie Dearest until only recently. But really, I have seen more films than any reasonable person) the erotic classic The Night Porter. I must say, though, I was rather underwhelmed. The first hour of the film is quite masterful. Every subtle moment of status that is worked into the first half of the film subjugates Dirk Bogarde's Max, stripping him of all dignity until he is little more than a manservant - at times even a mere piece of meat. This is done in slight gestures, so small I cannot recall them now, but they seemed enormous when watching.

As is usual with Bogarde, there is an unusual amount of homosexual subtext. Sadly the connotations they make are all with dredges of society - Gigolos and Nazis. It is more a perverted sense of fraternity, really. And perversion is a good word for the film as a whole. And I say this with no ill intent. For the entire thesis of the film rests on how one adapts to their circumstances and how that adaptation might pervert traditional forms of sexuality. Do not be fooled, The Night Porters idea of sexuality is not progressive by any means. It is strictly a masculine heterosexual world, with perhaps the exception of class, as there are moments where Rampling overpowers the Max character. But since this traditional view of the sexual power structure is in tact, the second half of the film succumbs to the faltering of its sensational intent.

The film takes its visual cues (at least at wonderful moments of stylistic punctuation)from the likes of Ken Russell and his set decorator, Derek Jarman who, though he had not made a feature by the time The Night Porter was made, obviously made an impact from designing the look Russell's The Devils (a film I could not recomend more) and Savage Messiah. But unlike the films of Ken Russell, the subject matter does not quite give itself over entirely to the aesthetic of these moments, and this is the factor that makes Russell's films work so well. With the plot sidetracked, the film allows itself to revel in its ecstatic aesthetic. The Night Porter holds its subject matter too pertinent to allow for such rapturous occasions, yet still attempts to echo the better moments of Russell. It is a move that does not work within the greater context of the film, and the later half (with the exception of the infamous scene shown above) is quite dull to sit through. One can always watch Rampling though. And it would have been easy to assume that she might have trudged forth to create a career not unlike her contemporary Isabelle Huppert, but a few too many safe career decisions killed that idea. Now one can marvel at her brave performances in this and Visconti's The Damned and watch her more iconic performances in her work with France's no-longer-enfant-terrible, Francois Ozon.

Pick of the day 12/31...

Love Is The Devil: Study For A Portrait of Francis Bacon This is a BBC Biopic of the ill-famed painter Francis Bacon. I felt that this film presented the idea of artist as monster far better than Capote did - and it wasn't afraid of the homosexual subject matter. Though everyone who I have shared this opinion with and has seen the movie finds it to be quite a bore. So perhaps take this recommendation with a grain of salt. I love it, though... Coincidentally, Tilda Swinton is in it as the most repulsive Fag Hag in the world, splurping oysters and cobbling shellfish. Just thought I'd throw that in as an added bonus. It is not, however, the only reason I like the film

The Bill Murray Show!

This is an older review of mine, posted as a favor to a friend. I saw Broken Flowers in theaters this summer...

It always seems difficult to make any just decision on movies that get hoards of acclaim either verbal or written (or especially both), and this verbose acclaim reaches you before you reach your seat at the cinema. It is especially difficult if the film's ambivalent-to-everything attitude is the primary method by which one may come to understand its construction. And why is it always starring Bill Murray?

Okay, so Broken Flowers won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year. Jarmusch has always been a cult favorite. And I will freely admit that I have somehow never seen another one of his films. But all I could think as Broken Flowers was abruptly brought to a close was, "Why?" And I don't mean this in a bad way. Perhaps I am thinking too Oscar-y, but Broken Flowers is such a quiet film, I could just as easily believed that it may slide into cult-dom, allowing dust to accumulate on its shrink-wrapped case on some metal rack at an independent video store waiting for some slightly geeky guy with his cuter-than-he-is girlfriend to say, "Oh, this is a great movie." But no, Cannes has deemed it better than that (though, didn't I just last week see a million copies of Van Sant's Palm D'Or and Best Director winning Elephant on the ten dollar sale at the local Virgin Megastore???).

But I digress.

Broken Flowers is a tough cookie to crack. Perhaps that is its appeal. It has a hell of a lot more heart than the Lost in the Aquatic Life of Steve Rushmores. Murray has minimized his already dead pan performance down to the slightest eyebrow twitches and shoulder shrugings. I've read his face compared to a Daumier print, and it really is. Never before have the slight scars on his cheeks resembled tears. Or perhaps, never before has Murray left behind enough irony to actually empathize with him and allow those marks to resemble tears. Make no mistake, Murray is quite good in this film. But he is not the only element to the film, and it is these other aspects that trouble me.

The one thing that I did find very surprising about Broken Flowers is its pacing. Other reviews would have you believe that Murray gets this mysterious pink envelope and off he goes. No. The First Act of Broken Flowers goes well into the second act, and it feels as though half of the film has transpired before he actually steps into the airport - hipster sunglasses in tote, of course. (Side note: Is Bill Murray really just one long sight gag?) The visits paid to the different women, in an attempt to discover the mother of his alleged child, are rendered completely unremarkably. Each visit unnecessary, almost. But not quite. And I believe that it is this "not quite" that Jarmusch is attempting to stand for purpose here. It is infuriating to put your finger on, but liberating when comparing it to the kind of not-an-ounce-of-subtlety, do-not-make-up-your-own-mind hollywood approach du jour.

Broken Flowers never really says anything, explicitly. Even the message is completely open to interpretation. I left the theater saying "Fuck all of these family themed movies," then later wondered if the nuclear family was the one thing that the film was attacking. Murray was fine with his life until the idea of family was introduced, then it was turned upside down. None of the respective women have the Mother, Father, Children structure. A radiant (but all to recognizable) Connroy refuses to have her sequestering husbands children. Stone's husband was lost to a race car explosion. Lange is divorced. And Swinton, well, who the hell knows, but it's not nuclear, that for sure.

But there's the happy Ethiopian family next door. The wife is radiant and sexy. There are kiddies GALORE. And the father, Winston, is Murray's best (only?) friend. Winston is the man who sends him on this journey for discovery. What then does it mean that he does not discover. Jarmusch does not really let you know. And with a unspecified visitor at the end, it would seem the film that you are already watching has come back at you to say, "ha! You still sure don't know just what I am." You have your suspicions, but they are never comfortably resolved. So I guess this is why it garnered all the acclaim. And I guess I agree. But really, does it have to be so Goddamn hip?

Friday, December 30, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/30...

Jayne Wyman and Rock Hudson star in the 1955 hormonal dramedy (perhaps that is putting it rather harshly, as the film does carry an immense emotional weight) All That Heaven Allows. The film has spawned two remakes, Fassbinder's 1974 Ali: Fear Eat Soul and Haynes recent film, Far From Heaven. IT is certainly worthy of two remakes. This is a far better film than the other Sirk Criterion disc, (and Dynasty inspiration) Written on the Wind.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

An Interesting Read...

I am in the middle of Alexander Numerov's, Icons of Grief: Val Lewton's Homefront Pictures. To be more truthful, I am skipping around (I couldn't wait to read the chapter on the Carrefour character from I Walked With A Zombie) and am finding it a very interesting, if not all that well written book. The writing is fine, it's just that Numerov attempts to justify his points too strongly and, instead of merely flowing, it comes off like "I swear, this is the way it is." Regardless, wonderful points are raised and the book could not (of course!) be released at a better time, what with the new Val Lewton Box Set and all...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Better late than never

Holidays! Because of a home trip and Family some like antics, I have not posted. This does not, however, mean I have not watched movies. Oh have I watched movies! Instead of long rambling discussions of said films (I am still working on a Cat People piece, by the way, so expect that shortly) I will post little quick condemnat...err summaries.

It all began with Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things... The title pretty much sums it up. Or rather, may I suggest they change the title to (Director) 'Rob Clark Shouldn't Play With Dead Things.' This was one of the most painful movies I have ever sat through. I can sit through anything, and yet at the mere 12 minute mark, I turned to my boyfriend and said, "Do you want to watch something else?" He made me keep it on as punishment for renting it in the first place. Punishment it was. The positively INSIPID dialogue grates on your nerves through the first hour. The zombies don't even appear until well over an hour into the film. It becomes frighteningly apparent that the director didn't have the budget to have a mass zombie scene for more than twenty minutes of the film, so instead, he relies on DIALOGUE, which, come on, it's a zombie film we're talking about here. The one redeeming moment of the film was a scene in which a Karen Carpenter-esque hippie/medium stick woman looks at a corpse and sighs, "I wonder what he's thinking." I wonder what they all were thinking... or dropping.

Then there was Christmas eve with the family. Last year it was the marital drama We Don't Live Here Anymore. This year, something a little more upbeat, or as my mother said, "Nothing screams Christmas like The Valley of the Dolls!" This is really a great trainwreck of a movie (which appeared to be the trend this holiday season). It is so over the top (hello!) and so over budget. There is really no slow moment to the film. I won't write too much about it. I'll just recommend it very highly... and the more your states are altered, the better, The great metaphor for the film is the "Theme From Valley Of The Dolls," sung by Dionne Warwick. The lyrics are almost illiterate and the same version of the song pops up what feels like a dozen times in the film. Key scene: Patty Duke drunk and dolled up, kneeling in the alleyway of her big Broadway show, looking up to god and screaming "Nealy O'Hara!" Pure camp genius!

I had never seen Mommie Dearest! Can you believe it? But now I have, and boy was I missing out. Words really cannot describe. It is really the thesis of Sontags' Notes on Camp in the sense that the film aims at being an earnest depiction of child abuse but all the while, all one can do is cheer on as the terrifying Faye Dunaway beats the shit out of her daughter. This really is pure camp. Especially since I find Dunaway to be one of the most terrifying actresses of all time. Pay close attention to her rotting teeth. Ever since seeing a print of Chinatown, I have been unable to get those teeth out of my head. Well, the teeth are here - in all their foul glory. I did enjoy the film, though it was very much the Dunaway/Crawford show. When the film begins to focus on the developing Christina, everything tends to fall apart, and the film completely lags in its last half. It's is a very flawed film, but a perfect one, particularly for a time like Christmas.

Later that night, the pick was Cabin Fever, which had the best exposition I have seen in a long time. The film had a tremendous B energy, but the film did fall apart after the plot sets in. After this glorious introduction, minor plot twists or key events occur to resuscitate the film, but eventually it slips into the trap of most contemporary scare tactics. Effects over content ensues and we're left with a bloody pulp of a relatively nice vengeful ending (just the last five minutes, I mean. Most of what comes before is muddled and action-y). The last line of the film is quite a riot, though. The director, Eli Roth, worked with David Lynch on (what I would guess was) Lost Highway, and you can tell. There are moments that are just a little too Lynch - in a way that smells more of plagiarism than of influence. I would recommend the film to people interested in the horror genre for the way it normalizes its characters in the film's opening and there is one particularly vile sequence of an infected girl shaving the flesh off of her leg with a pink Bick razor, but overall I was not impressed.

I also fastforwarded through David DeCoteau film Witches of the Caribbean just for Six Feet Under's Johanna Cassidy. It was so bad, I will not even talk about it here.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/23

Valley of the Dolls. I'm out of town, so sorry for the delay. I am working on a longer piece about Schrader's Cat People which I will probably be posting later today or at some point tomorrow. It's going to be a smutty christmas having already planned to watch Mommy Dearest (which I've actually never seen!) and Valley (which I own). But there will be some quality. 2046 is on the list, too. till later...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Similarly Themed movie short list

1.The Addiction which is sadly not out on DVD at the moment

2. The Hunger (of course)

3. La Bete (if you can stomach it. I am still literally traumatized by this film.)

4. Tropical Malady

Pick of the Day 12/19...

Because of similarities in attitude and genre, the pick of the day is Paul Schrader's remake of Tourneur's CAT PEOPLE starring Nastassia Kinski. This is one of my all time favorite films. It is the greatest example of a trend in eighties cinema of what I like to call the Womanimal. Might I also recomend rewatching it with the Paul Schrader commentary. IT is a different era of cinema entirely. You can hear Schrader whine (he sounds frighteningly like Paul Morrissey - the world's biggest whiner) about how he died mountain lions black to make them look like leopards or how they tethered these cats to the tree, watching one fall off the tree and almost hang itself. He claims they made the orange desert then had to remake it because he matter-of-factly states, "the orange dye was toxic." On a burned forest, "Oh yeah, we burned that."

"It's on the inside, so don't try and understand."

Last night I watched Trouble Every Day. I've seen it before. I actually own it. And I must say that I have also written about it before. The little essay-esue rant which I wrote for a installation show of mine focused purely on the metaphorical cannibalistic element of the film, linking it to thoughts on Armin Meiwes ("Germany's cannibal killer") and Edvard Munch's The Kiss. There's a little story to my first experience with Trouble Every Day, too. A friend and I wanted to see it so badly (when I was living in Portland, OR) that every time we went into this Mecca-video store, we would ask/implore on the status of the film. See the was released in theaters, but because the distribution company folded (and perhaps for additional reasons), never hit R1 home video. It still hasn't. So I finally saw it when I moved to Los Angeles and acquired a region free DVD player - even still I had to be put on a list for this coded DVD. Short story long, for three years this was a VERY difficult movie to come by. So one's perception of the film is obviously subject to this "quest" to see the film.

My first impression was that of disappointment. Trouble Every Day is certainly a loosely presented film. The script is barebones and the acting at times positively atrocious. I extended all of this labor for a mediocre film? It is important to understand its context in contemporary French cinema, though. Trouble Every Day came out during the high reign of "French Extreme Cinema," and it follows many of the implicit guidelines of this sub-genre: Loose structure, shallow characters existing solely as thematic stand-ins, a violent current that strips the viewer of all comfort levels so that the film is viewed in the most vulnerable state. Trouble Every Day certainly delivers on all of these fronts. I had forgotten how graphically violent it was. I suppose because the violence is SO allegorical, I always construe the sequence as a sex scene rather than a killing. But after Core has consumed her victim, you certainly are stripped to a more weary state of observation. It is also a wonderfully critical homage to exploitation horror cinema. It explores, quite frankly, the trouble with the simplicity of exploitation horror with very quiet asides and - in faltering the film's own structure it functions as a larger critique of this genre. The plot structure is so simple that it becomes a mere suggestion. With the whole genre, I joke that you will glean more reading the box cover than from actually watching the film (plot wise). And here, all we ever get are suggestions of a plot that we already know all too well. It's not necessary to the film. The film thrives on our prior knowledge of the horror genre, offering us an explanation for other similar films while poeticizing its use of their structures.

What's funny about Trouble Every Day is how much it pissed off just about everybody. Director Claire Denis' previous film Beau Travail was heralded as a glorious gift to the canon of cinema. People could not stop singing their love for the film. Even today, it is annoying. I am among the few that was completely unimpressed by the film. Aesthetically it was lovely, but... I just wanted more. It is the kind of film that "proper" capital C Cinefiles wet their pants over. I suppose I'm not one of them. These were the people that, when Trouble Every Day was released (out of competition at Cannes, no less) were incensed at the alleged mediocrity of the film. I have never actually read a good review of the film - a review that hasn't called it gratuitous, plodding and such a waste of a good filmmaker. Whatever. If my life has a mission it is that these so called lesser get acknowledged as nothing more than equal to their "distinguished" others. As an aside, there was a fantastic article of some similar topics published in yesterday's New York Times.

I must say that I think Trouble Every Day is a very good film in many ways. It is prefaced with a short sequence of a couple kissing in a car. This is truly all the intro we need to contextualize the film. What we will watch for the next 90 minutes is summed up in this kiss. All of the violence and yearning are contained in this kiss. When Beatrice Dalle starts devouring her victim, it is exposing the line that is everpresent in human carnality. These are, of course, extreme examples, but for god's sake, you are watching a horror film. A horror film is nothing but essentialized examples of the fears that rack our public consciousness. Some critical studies departments teach history through the horror film because the subject/monster of the film is always that thing that is forefront in public consciousness. Trouble Every Day speaks to many fears, AIDS is very present as well as these powerplays and social structures. Vincent Gallo cannot consume his wealthy and pure American wife, but the eroticized foreign maid is below him totemically, and is, therefore, easy prey. It is a social critique as well as genre. When I first watched the film, without understanding the racial politics of french culture, I did not understand the implications that the killing of the maid suggests. This is a common thread throughout most of Denis' films and allows a greater sense of purpose to Trouble Every Day.

Ultimately, Trouble Every Day is a visually stunning (another job well done by cinematographer Agnes Goddard) nod to horror/exploitation cinema that furthers a discussion of just what we are looking at when we watch a horror film. The characters are SO meta that we cannot take them for actual people and this is perhaps the best success of the film. The film presents us with a theory of not only horror cinema, but of the human condition. It's not a pretty one, but it hardly ever is...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/18...

FREEWAY! It's Reese witherspoon before she was totally useless. Featuring my favorite insult du jour, "Well, look who got beat with the ugly stick!" Costarring Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke Shields, Amanda Plummer...the list goes on. It's is a total campy delight. But you've probably already seen it...

Saturday, December 17, 2005


At least someone from the Village Voice agrees with me about Narnia! 'Bout time...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/15...

Dario Argento's Opera. It is perhaps his most visually stunning film and the ending! Oh my god, what a shocker, it has to be seen to be believed...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Now It's WAR!

The following is a selection of the stupidity that is Ella Taylor's "review" for Michael Haneke's Cache: "As one who giggled through his widely admired, irredeemably silly The Piano Teacher..." and furthering upon her stupidity with "Brainy or not, they all shop at Williams-Sonoma (The blue meanie in me can’t help wondering where Haneke gets his own home-decorating tips)." I will not post a link because noone should so much as think about listening to her insipid, desperate, over the hill point of view. Sadly this is the best picture that I could find of her (perhaps because she is a complete imbicile), but those of you with large dogs, please train them to attack on site. Or just send hate mail

Pick of the Day 12/15...

The Seventh Continent is director Michael Haneke's (Piano Teacher, Hidden, Time of the Wolf) first film, propper is a fantastic meditation on consumerism. Word on the web has it that the film will come out on DVD from Kino Video early next year. Until then, you can only find it a good video shops wrapped in that hard sealed plastic stuff.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/14...

I Walked With A Zombie Jaques Touneur's mood masterpiece is only rivaled by Dryer's Vampyre, but because of today's review, Zombie gets the attention

Oh no she di'nt

Last night I had a rather odd double feature. It was not a sort of selection that necessarily complimented one another, but I was out with a friend and both films sparked our interest. Those films were the Kate Hudson spooky vehicle, Skeleton Key and the Lynn Hershman Leeson Tilda-pic about the woman who invented the computer, Conceiving Ada. I will talk about the former now, as it was the first of the evening.

Of course I was not expecting much from this silly little film. Maybe some spooks and jumps. Instead, Skeleton Key reads as a textbook in scare. The three of us watching called just about every jump, plot twist and deception. EVERY ONE! The film takes place in what was once New Orleans, so of course Ms. Hundson has a token black friend who knows absolutely everything about Voodoo and Hoodoo. She goes to clubs with token and dances all sexy like in the all black company. As the film opens, we find her in a retirement home reading to a dying black man. As he passes away, Ms. Hudson (here Caroline, or CarolIIIIIne) decides she must quit her job as the employees do not care about the man's passing. It's ALL preposition. There is not a single line that is not setup, and whereas in some films this delivers a delicious reward in the end, the blatancy of the writing is just tormenting here. The shots are all in the contemporary scare fest style. But the budget keeps it from becoming the sleek chic fest of recent boo-hoo remakes The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is about the only thing that works for the film. It actually attempts at an old fashioned spookiness. I'm not saying it achieves it. But it tries and should deserve some props.

Gena Rowlands and Peter Saarsgard(which are of course the reason I saw the film) on the other hand are SO DOING THIS FOR THE PAYCHECK. Rowlands' southern lady is probably the most forced performance I've seen this year (and I saw Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!). She (with a faltering southern drawl) says things like "Fiddle-dee-sticks, dahlin' won'tchu gone fetch me some seed packets in the attic." Yeah. Of course, we are expected to be surprised when things go bump and boom in the attic. Eventually the film becomes an odd Voodoo or rather Hoodoo movie in which an incredibly odd race politic is introduced, or resident ghosties being black conjurers. There's some nice southern gothic here, but its killed just as quickly as it's ahem...conjured. And there just seems to be something more than a bit wrong with lil' white Kate Hudson running away from the bad Blackies. Which is eventually what it comes to, with an almost original twist. But a twist free film would be new equivalent to the twist film these days, with M. Night Shamamamamamamalama holding the reigns. And the film turns decidedly more wicked than I was expecting. Still, there's no reason to assist this film in doing anything but landing in the $5.99 bin at Blockbuster Video. However, if you are jonesing for a "mighty fiiiine" Voodoo flick might I recommend the pick of the day.

I had to get a picture of this. It's just too brilliant.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Exploit and Flo

Pick of the Day 12/13

Because I am hanging out with a dear friend and fellow CalArts grad today, I thought I would use this time to plug her ABSOLUTELY STUNNING video work. The Castle Video is one of her more recent works and it is just wonderful. I cannot praise her enough here. Please go check this out before she's showing at Blum and Poe and you can't get access to her stuff any longer.

Some thoughts on the craze of Queer performances

I have decided to post this in reaction to J.'s comment on the proliferation of Queer performances by heterosexual actors (who all seem to either have just had kids - Cillian Murphy and Heath Ledger - or talk about them incessantly - Phillip Seymore Hoffman - as a kind of proof of heterosexuality). It is a safer way to represent homosexuals and while actuall homos will never actually live up to their responsibility (Nathan Lane, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConauhey), we, as a general public, are comforted in knowing that the homosexuals we watch on screen are meerly simulacras those who we can recognize as being heterosexual celebrities. This is an excerpt from my tome on homosexual cinema, and as I am hesitant to actually accept these recent films to the cannon of Queer cinema propper (where in actuality, only Capote and Brokeback Mountain present homosexual protagonists - lest we not forget that trannies are not homos). This was written before these movies and was more a reaction to the horrific queer film Eating Out, but I think it is pertinent regarding all of the "performances of the year," are expressly heterosexual actors playing homo roles. Also, if you like this, YOU CAN PURCHASE THE ENTIRE PUBLICATION AT SKYLIGHT BOOKS IN LOS FELIZ FOR A MINIMAL $4!

Learning to love the Cage

In order to follow the evolution of the contemporary Queer cinema, it is imperative to understand the three consequential cultural events that culminated in the nineties. The AIDS epidemic exacted its devastating effect on the Queer population, resulting in 70,000 deaths in 1990 and 115,000 cases. It would eventually claim 350,000 lives by the close of the decade. The cultural impact this singular event produced left its mark on every aspect of the arts. The New Queer Cinema was, in many ways, a direct reaction to the epidemic. Embodied by a similar sense of devastation, the movement was also informed by the attitude that embodied the fervent political attitudes of Queer activist groups like ACT UP. The narrative scenarios were frequently daunting, but the rebellious stance taken by these films hinted at a possible transcendence of the harsh world that they so frequently depicted. In this sense, these films, which are so frequently criticized as fatalistic, present a productive kind of optimism. It is only from the situations at hand that these protagonists suffer. If one were to use these documents as a call for social change, a more realistic (and informed) version of contemporary Queer cinema's utopian (or just simplified) ideals may have been possible.

Perhaps the New Queer Cinema's greatest achievement was its visibility. The Living End, for instance, was made for a meager $22,000 but ultimately grossed nearly $700,000. Jennifer Livingston's Paris Is Burning raked in a remarkable 3.7 million dollars, a sum hitherto unheard of, particularly for a film depicting Harlem drag balls and the ethnographic "other" that frequented them. The new movement had a voice, and one that was being heard. One of the most receptive ears to this impressive oeuvre was Hollywood, which rode in on the coattails of the New Queer Cinema's successes. In 1996, MGM released the Birdcage, a remake of the seventies French comedy La Cage au Folles (the Poof Cage). Starring Robin Williams and Gene Hackman, the film grossed 124 million dollars. It's interesting to consider just what drove people all across America to see The Birdcage. One would imagine the greatest factor is, of course, Robin Williams. "See Robin Williams play gay!" as if it were the new brand of Minstrel show. It is safe. Robin Williams is not gay in actuality, but he pretends to be so the general public, who was hitherto disassociated, can understand this "new lifestyle" without actually having to engage in it - even look at it. Robin Williams gives a light performance to alleviate the pressure of experiencing a new and laden reality. Now, it is not my intent to suggest that no one had ever seen a homosexual before The Birdcage came out (so to speak), but the film is extremely influential, perhaps Hollywood's first mainstream example of the normalized homosexual protagonist that is not meant as an act of judgment (Cruising) or martyrdom (Philadelphia). The film's other act towards integrating or banalizing the homosexual - which is not original to the Hollywood film, is significant given the choice of a film to remake - was to establish him functioning within the heterosexual family structure. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane live together, but Robin Williams - undoubtedly heterosexual Robin Williams - is also a father, with a female ex-lover in the wings. So, Williams' homosexuality is legitimized by his ability to work within this "family" structure, whereas Nathan Lane, who is Williams' lover and the star of the Cabaret they own together, is the accursed other or, as he claims at one point, "I could be the uncle." Hollywood, in depicting the homosexual for mainstream consumption, established him as partaking in a heteronormative lifestyle. If he does not confine to these guidelines, he is left as "the uncle," and removed from the familial structure - which is, of course, the worst thing one could possibly be. In what is the most deplorable role of The Birdcage, the butler, Agador Spartacus, is cast as the ethnographic other. Existing solely for comic relief, the black servant delivers nothing but slapstick physical comedy. He truly is the minstrel show, containing no depth and bearing none of the grace that the figures in Livingston's documentary thrive on.

In 1997, the first crop of the homosexual themed Hollywood films popped up in multiplexes across the country. Paramount released Kiss Me Guido and In & Out with big name stars like Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack and Matt Dillon. This was later followed by films of lesser box office draw: The Object of My Affection and The Next Best Thing, both of which depict the homosexual as a kind of desperate alternative to a paternal figure. In both, an eccentric urbanite falls for her gay best friend and attempts to raise her baby with them. In the case of both films, the female protagonist finally realizes that the Homosexual is no excuse for a father, as he cannot service her as a traditional father would nor can he provide a "real" example of masculinity for her son. The result, then, is a cold hearted abandon of the "poor lonely homosexual" for a traditionally masculine figure. A five-years-later epilogue is tied onto The Object of My Affection. In it, everything is hunky dory. All of the nasty things that were said are forgotten, and the homosexual has taken his place as the "uncle." In The Next Best Thing, we do not even get the reward of seeing the alleged happy ending. It is only depicted on title cards. The homosexual gives up his child to the mother's new boyfriend. He gets to see the child every once in a while. The mother and her boyfriend are still the homosexual's best friends.

The Hollywood Homosexual film negated any need for independent Queer cinema. With Big Brother making films with budgets in the millions, the independent's voice became quaint and unnecessary. The New Queer Cinema was already fading by the time Hollywood took over, and these big budget productions nailed the lid on its coffin. When the Hollywood version of the homosexual proved economically iffy a few years later, the issue was dropped from the table. Instead, he was relegated to the role of quirky and desexualized best friend. A relatively stunned Queer community was then forced to pick up the pieces of a very confused Cinematic genre. Aware that the homosexual film was no way to make a profit, a Patty Hearst-like homosexual film industry somberly began going through the motions of their predecessors. With little to no budget, these filmmakers began emulating Hollywood's take on their community. They accepted the terms of the heteronormalized homosexual. And, as no Hollywood Homosexual film dared to present a homosexual love story, these new Queer filmmakers based their love stories on the structure of the heterosexual Hollywood film.

The wake of devastation that swept the Queer film industry after Hollywood's abandon can still be observed. As I have mentioned before, Queer films are played in theaters quite infrequently. Somewhat resentful of Hollywood's abandonment (but not such that the style of filmmaking is relinquished), Queer cinema began appropriating tactics of the film industry even more powerful than Hollywood: the Porn industry. Queer cinema resorted to "straight to DVD" releases. The hunk quotient was upped considerably, as the protagonist's physique on the box cover became more the selling point than the film itself. Even the Queer community began to acknowledge the shoddy quality of the films, showing up to Queer festivals to support brethren filmmakers, but scarcely attending a Queer film in theaters; renting a DVD, cover down, so as not to alert others to your questionable taste. Queer film occupied a new space in America. It became nothing but a guilty pleasure. The kind of thing one apologizes for as he is admitting liking it. To celebrate new works of queer cinema is not to praise them, but to justify them. Certain mediocre elements "required" in their construct need to be overlooked: bad acting, bad writing, loose plot structures... There are certain films that are NOT bad films, but that they exist within the cannon of contemporary Queer cinema which dictates the structural elements which they must abide by, the interesting aspects to the films are overshadowed by the mediocre filmic tropes of this cinema at large. Bad acting works for Hollywood because you are not going to see acting. You are going to see Julia Roberts or Ashton Kutcher. You are going to see a face, a persona. This approach does not work for contemporary Queer cinema because it lacks the star - with a backstory and set of acknowledged traits - which may function as an excuse for the poorer aspects of the film. This is a technique that Pornos have mastered. The recurring presence of certain porn stars who can do certain famous "tricks" with their bodies can be directly paralleled to Julia Roberts' smile or Jennifer Lopez's rump.

Even now, The Advocate's New New Queer Cinema looks to the genre film to revitalize its own sullied cinema. Like Frankenstein, it is resurfacing faces from the New Queer Cinema as a means by which to legitimize itself and to say "remember when..." Hellbent, a Queer horror film will be released this summer. But it is a campy horror film, where one is to laugh at the West Hollywood Halloween parade murders. Does this not sound like a frightening literalization of Leo Bersani's argument, posited in Homos? With de-emphasizing the importance of Queerness and abidance to the conventions of Horror (which, I would just like to add, is innate with slashings, decapitations, and dismemberings for entertainment's sake) "it accomplishes in its own way the principal aim of homophobia: the elimination of gays."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/12...

Even though I feel betrayed by Swinton (and I have decided to NOT celebrate her, making this Tilda Swinton week on the web site as I had previously planned) she still has delivered some of the most dynamic performances in cinematic history. Her shining moment is probably in Sally Potter's Orlando based on Virgina Woolf's gender bending 200 year yarn.

Lord of the Narnia

Fuck this shit! I WANTED to see Narnia, though I'll admit I probably wasn't thinking things through too clearly, as all I wanted was some good Tildage. I ignored (somewhat) the fact that this film had the potential to be a wretched piece of Christian propaganda. I went based on the many GLOWING reviews I read of the film - reviews that stated the religious element of the film are take it or leave it. I have one question for them. Well, okay, two questions:

"How could you?"


"How is father Christmas non religious?"

The first thing I said coming out of the film was, "Well, now we know where the $150 million budget went - to bribing the critics to write good reviews." Because really, it did not go to the production. Everything shimmers with the chrome glow of CGI, except of course for the frosty breath (which provided a graphic effects friend of mine a two week, time-and-a-half, four star stint in Guatemala). The movie on a whole felt more like a Frankenfilm - the more harrowing elements of LOTR (including, of course, the ENDLESS battle sequence), some Labyrinth (to try to make the creepies slightly less creepy) fact, watching Narnia you feel as though you've seen all of it somewhere else before. The white witch's castle even mirrors the castle in Conan: the Destroyer. The would be charming elements just come off bland. A beaver family drowns in the fact that they look so poorly digitized, any cute or cuddliness goes right out the window.

And I was there with the movie for the first half hour. Zooming right along, we're in Narnia 15 minutes into the film. Little Lucy is the first to discover the gas powered lamppost, which burns with antiquated zeal, but then, Tomnas the faun comes up and the poorly animated hooves make one begin to wonder... You start to distrust it when as punishment, the tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed eldest son, Peter, punishes his younger, dark-haired brother, Edmund, for lying by making him wear a fussy women's coat. The crowded theater laughed. I did not.

The reason I am so livid about this film is its overall politic. It is the perfect Bush era propaganda film, and what's more, it is all defendible because, "it's faithful to the book." Well, the book was written in a fucked up time when blacks were segregated, women had no rights, homosexuals were mentally ill and it was funny to kill midgets, because it's not like they're real people. A wonderful time to return to? Many of the insane right wing fuck-wits who bought up all of the seats to opening day of Narnia think so. They must be shitting themselves knowing that children are going to see this - learn this - and believe this is what it normal, natural, right

It is natural that the tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed eldest son should lead the just into battle while the women stay behind and tend to the sick - in full-on medieval dresses, no less. It is natural that all of the "good-guys" are strapping virile creatures that resemble the humans, or are at least the noblest of beasts, and the "bad-guys" are short, fat, ugly, awkward, deformed (my boyfriend objected to this claim, but I stand firm - cyclops?) creatures that in no way resemble a human or shifty animals like wolves. It is natural that a woman who wants to rule is an evil ice temptress who deserves to be killed because of her malicious femininity and maternal trickery. But really, the worst is the Christian element of the film - which is in NO WAY (fuck you Ella Taylor) take it or leave it! A golden lion sacrificing himself to the evil witch and her bastion of dark meanies only to be reborn because of the conviction he holds. And as he is reborn, the sun rises, casting everything in Golden Light and the pagan table upon which he was sacrificed cracks. The last half hour of the film shows our Aryan Eldest son in crusades get-up, slaughtering the forces of evil (i.e. those who do not believe in the word of Jesu... I mean, Aslan). This may be faithful to the book, but really, do we need to be exposing our children to this? Is it healthy to allow our children to take this film for granted?

Now I have stated that I only went to see the film for Tilda Swinton's white witch, but I was so morally offended by the film that even her ultra-campy final entrance (and really, what an entrance it is) with a golden helmet atop her white dreds, perched in her golden chariot drawn by snarling polar bears, though it did get a quick burst of laughter from me (and myself alone!?) I was so tainted by the horror of what I was watching that it was not even enjoyable to watch Tilda. Where she was campy fun in Constantine, the movie itself was so silly, throw-away that she was really the only reason to watch the film. Here, however, she lends her talents to a Christian propaganda vehicle, so instead of reveling in her, I just ended up betrayed that she would do such a film because she's smart enough to figure out what's going on. AND she's blue-blood. She doesn't need the paycheck that bad.

it would seem the only site to have enough balls (or to not be afraid of Disney) to give Narnia a bad review can be found here

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Brokeback Mountain - Just Friends

I went to see Brokeback Mountain last night at the Pacific Grove theaters, which is a very odd place to begin with. The beauty of this post's title is that this is precisely how the title appeared on the marquee, placed firmly above the title for some dreadful "I'm fat, you're not, so you can't love me" movie. And it really sums up the attitude of the audience in attendence last night. Of course, I'm not writing to critique a bunch of wealthy Hollywood assholes, but I thought that this little nugget was worth repeating

I'm finding it harder to write a review of Brokeback Mountain than I had initially thought it would be. It is a feature that has become so weighted by politics and countless reviews - by queer critics, by straight critics, by evil monstrously bad writers like Ella Taylor (i.e. my nemesis who writes for the LA WEEKLY). Reviews more concerned with content than the film itself. Believability...

I'll say first and foremost that Ang Lee knew what he was doing. He knew that he was going to be deviating from the dogmatic cinematic structure that is "The Western." And assuredly, he knew he would be pissing many people off in doing so. He chooses, rather boldly, to do this as quietly as possible. It is a good film, but not necessarily in the grand old Hollywood sense of the term. In a very Ang Lee way. The film is mostly whispers. When the men speak to one another, even when breaking out into gruff barks, it is in the form of a secret. One that they must not share. But the whom to which they are afraid of being exposed is not their wives or even their children, but to nature, themselves. And so they drag it up, as a way of passing, donning all of the attributes that signify masculinity.

Brokeback Mountain is a film of accoutrements. There's a cowboy hat in nearly every shot. Later in the film, as the Ennis character grows more weary, his hat begins to droop. It's also a shield - to deflect the gaze of others from your tears and to hide a certain business you may have stirring in your pants. Our lovers first consumate their desires in an old canvas pup tent, yet as the years pass, they find themselves in a blue mylar tent from Patagonia. Jack Twist trades in his unreliable pick-up for a newer model. This decline in the romantic ideal of the cowboy fuels the first two hours of the film. One feels a greater sense of remorse for this loss than for the lovers who, it seems quite clear, will never ride off happily into the sunset on a horse with no name. The cowboys watch their idealized world get swallowed up by $100,000 tractors and apartments above laundrymats. Their wives can hold their own. They don't need a man with masculinity, just money. They need an electric cutting knife and a television. The film resembles a more simplistic vision or Chronenberg's any-old-america-town feel displayed in this years A History of Violence, instead here, where Cronenberg's world was one seething with unspoken undercurrents of violent impulse, Lee's is a world in direct contrast with itself - a world forlorn at the death of the dream which defined it, yet excited by the fruits which this boom of modernity promise. What serves as the outlet for this modernization, are the "fishing trips" that Jack and Ennis take. And I don't think that I really need to state here that fishing is the last thing they do on these trips (though it is also pertinent to state that, though there is one surprisingly frank sex sequence, Lee get's the nasty "out of the way," and there is litle physicality to their relationship after the occernce on Brokeback). Instead, even here the cowboys are feminized, talking (or being unable to talk) about their relationship. Ledger's Ennis Delmar is the stoic one, more unable to speak the "love that dare not speak its name." Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist is the youthfull resident homo of the movie (it also helps that he's married to - what in todays times would be - a total fag hag (sorry, Anne Hathaway).

The acting is quite decent, though I'd never believe anyone but Michelle Williams would ever be in any of these situations. Especially at the beginning, as we watch our cowpolks (pun very much intended) and notice their flawless skin and quietly effeminate nature. They more resemble Calvin Klein's idea of a cowboy than anyone that has ever done hearding or even eaten out of a can of baked beans heated right over the fire. Ledger's Ennis deserves (and I think will get) oscar attention. The film, when not focusing on the browbeating of a modern cowboy, is all about the internal conflicts of Ennis Delmar. Gyllenhaal is fine, but his Twist is not as developed as Delmar. He is the homosexual for the general public to not understand. Because Ennis is a more masculine figure, racked - much like the general audience - with confusion about how to deal with these feelings, he is the figure to whom we are to ascribe our viewpoint. We can relate to he old masculine ideal - the Marlborro man (even though they smoke Camels in the film) - far more than the man who lusts and find other ways of obtaining that lust because Ennis' turmoil is more controlled.

There are many weak elements to the film. Originally adapted from Annie Proulx's short 55 page story, about one hour of the films run time is extraneous stuff added just for dramatic effect. These elements are the sore thumb of the narrative - they detract from the narrative drive and potency. Eventually, all that matters is the trite line, which in context holds much more depth. During an argument, a forty year old Twist moans into the stream with his back to Ennis, "I wish I knew how to quit you."

Brokeback Mountain is eventually the good followthrough at what might have seemed impossible. Lee knows how to massage your tearducts, which normally pisses me off, but here it seems par de course - in terms of subject matter. I must admit, I did get rather moved at the end. I didn't cry, but it seemed like a good idea. The landscape is really the main character, but it is not a tangible thing any longer. The film takes a sentimental postmodern approach to a very much nostalgic subject. It could be argued that the film is not even about homosexuality at all, but a long poem to nostalgia. And it really works as this. It's not the best movie I've seen this year, but it is a feat. I'm hessitant to say that it's one of the better queer films in a while, as I'm not sure I would consider this a queer film - or at least an addition to queer cinema. Though I am certain Lee will be proud of for the rest of his life.






in case you're interested...

Pick of the Day 12/10...

Since later on today, I'll post a review of Brokeback Mountain, I will consider today Gay Day and recomend a more in-your-face politico-revolutionary Queer porn film by Bruce LaBruce, The Raspberry Reich. It is SO great. Featuring slogans like "The Revolution is my boyfriend," "Madonna is Counter-revolutionary," and "Heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses." This is one great film. It has the energy of an early Gregg Araki film, which is really a lot harder to accomplish these days than it sounds.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/8...

Because it was so good, Tropical Malady is the pick of the day. It is at few rental stores (I couldn't find it locally and had to go through Netflix) but I believe they carry it at some Hollywood videos (a friend works there).

Topical Magesty

The summer of 2005 was a very good year for films. Of those films that graced the screen (in L.A. at least) the most memorable were not, however were made this year. There were two films that experienced devistatingly short runs and minimal attendence completely blew my mind. I saw Wild Side last year at Los Angeles' OutFest. Because of a mix up, I walked into the theater late, missing the first 20 minutes of the film, yet, even without preposition, Wild Side struck me as one of the most daring and well crafted films of the 2004. It played for one week without any sort of advertizements (and believe me, a French film about an Arab, a trannie and an illegal Russian imigrant does not exactly get people coming in droves). It is not my intent to discuss Wild Side here, I'll save that for another tome (and what a tome it will be). The other film played at a theater nowhere near my apartment one summer week and then it was gone. I didn't get a chance to see it. Until last night. I could not recommend a film more highly.

Tropical Malady was the kind of cinematic experience that reestablishes my faith in cinema as an art form. It was the first Thai film to be entered into competition at Cannes where it won the Jury prize. Cahier Du Cinema also awarded it "Best Film of 2004," and I believe I must agree with them. IT is no surprise that the film was so dearly loved by the French. The film indeed resembles the best moments of Claire Denis' (too highly?) esteemed work, Beau Travail. The film is sectioned in halves. The first half places two Thai homosexual lovers Keng and Tong in their (natural) surroundings and, much with Denis' work, I feel much of the weight here is lost to a western audience. Moments of radiant beauty pierce the abismal atmosphere created here and the pacing is rather greulling (also like Denis). Still, moments of pure magic occur here. Keng courts Tong with a Clash tape during a topical monsoon and Tong is overjoyed. Later, Keng relates,

"When I gave you the Clash cassette I forgot to give you my heart. You can have it today... Here it is. Do you feel it?"

"I'm receiving it. I can feel it," Tong replies.

In moments like these, not only does one ffel disconnected from the culture, but one is brought back to the time when these exchanges where possible though out culture. That in being restricted, the lovers may infact be more free. There is one moment of sexual physicality between the two. When Tong relieves himself at the side of the jungle after a joyride with Keng on his moped, Keng takes Tong's hand and kisses it. "I haven't washed my hands yet," Tong states. Keng continues. Tong takes this farther, licking Kengs hand like a cat. The moment is extremely sexually charged, being their first sexual interaction, after which Tong merely walks away, into the blackness of the jungle. The scene is reminiscent of the moment in David Lynch's Lost Highway where Fred walks down the dark corridor to emerge into an alternate world(?). After this scene, Keng rides away and we are treated to night shots of a more sinister view of the city.

This occurs almost precisely at the one hour mark. Following, we view a crude drawing of a tiger and a new set of credits appear on the screen. A folktale is told about a shamen who could change into any form. At one point in time, he became tiger. A trapper catured him, and now the ghost of this tiger haunts the forest. Here, the film which we have become accustomed to through the first half of the film slips away, and what we are treated to is a meditative mixture of ohhh... Trouble Every Day meets Predator (to be daft). The narrative then follows Keng as he attempts to track and kill this "beast" who may or may not be Tong. Without giving too much away, the film becomes a metaphysical exploration of desire. And that's a very base way of describing it.

What makes this movie so spellbinding is the visual treatment of this second half. Being a jaded viewer, I can hardly recall the last time my breath was taken away by a film. As the credits rolled last night, I sat in rapt silence, unable to believe the magic I just witnessed. It is the kind of imagery that has to be seen to believe. Any descriptions would just decorate it. Really, all I can say is SEE THIS MOVIE! It is by far the best film of 2004 and I have a feeling, a good long time.

As a side note, though, the DVD transfer that Strand did of this title is completely embarassing. It is obviously made from a PAL copy and the frame is cropped to full screen. The subtitles are rarely linked to the actual spoken dialogue. If you have a region free DVD player, might I recomend the R3 copy of the film, which is in its original widescreen format. I have not seen the copy, but I can almost assure you, it is better than the Strand disc.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

In the works...

For those of you who haven't heard, David Mackenzie, director of the flacid film, Young Adam has signed on to direct the ever radiant Tilda Swinton in a biopic of the Warhol superstar and goth queen Nico. The screenplay was written by none other than David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples who penned the screenplay for Blade Runner. The film is based on the book The End by James Young.

Tomorrow, a review of Tropical Malady. And later this week a review of Bareback... I mean Brokeback Mountain and Narnia (just for Tilda, of course)

Pick of the Day 12/8...

A much more disturbing film, Clean Shaven could, for some strange reason, not be more highly recommended. It's an okay film, but boy does it stay with you...

In honoring the thrown we must destroy it: an exploration of Gus Van Sant's Last Days

I can watch just about anything. I received my education from an experimental arts college and have braved (and mostly enjoyed) my way through countless "Avant Garde" films. What this means is not specific. Avant Garde may be used to describe monotonous works that reveal their intent well into the construction of their repetition, this is the sort that I prefer. Andy Warhol, James Benning and Luther Price can be sited as examples of this approach. Then there is the type of Avant Garde film (and really this term is exchangeable with Experimental film) which is solely based around its aesthetic qualities such are the films of Phil Soloman, Charles Bukonowski and Stan Brakhage. There is a type of cinematic observation that transcends the subject (be it person or location) in the former approach to Experimental Cinema. In resting with something long enough (as Warhol famously did in films like Blowjob or his 24 hour Empire) other narratives and states of perception begin to occur. When Guz Van Sant's first film in his recent "trilogy of death," or what I am going to call his "film based works," Gerry, was released, one publication called it Ansel Adams meets Andy Warhol. This claim was no understatement. Van Sant's films did acquire the observational stance of, say, Warhol. Gerry was a marvelous film because Van Sant's main concern was the overall cinematic approach. The storyline was secondary, even the characters toted the same name. It seemed the entire film worked up to the famous long shot, walking through the desert at sunrise. But from this removed approach toward narrative, Van Sant accomplished perhaps his most stunning depiction of the human condition. By being non-specific, Van Sant executed his most honed work of specificity.

This does not hold true, however, for Elephant, an abomination of his previous efforts. What seemed to work for Gerry worked because of this generality. In utilizing this approach to depict a socially weighted event, Van Sant's form is lost on its content. Furthermore, its sensational content is confused (or even sentimentalized) by the seemingly documentary style of depiction. The open approach then becomes manipulative because it bears the appearance of being reality - yet there are too many cinematic devices employed, making for a mess of a film.

The important word here is film, because more than any other contemporary American filmmaker, that is what Van Sant is making here. Film. The tangability and awe-inspiring aspects of the medium are fully displayed here, warts and all. It was with great sadness that I sat down with a DVD of Last Days last night. Having seen Gerry and Elephant on the silver screen, I knew the importance of seeing Last Days in theaters, but I just never got around to it. Overall, I must say I liked Last Days. I don't necessarily think it to be a good film, but as another approach towards a socially weighted event, this film is worlds beyond the likes of Elephant. Perhaps Van Sant is slightly too cruel to our Cobain-esque Blake, but in a way, he has to be. So many Gen X-ers that I have spoken to are so completely insulted in the making of the film that only by completely shattering their saintly image of their saint of Grunge can the film move past anything but imitation. The Blake character is so completely useless and so far gone that he (much like Cobain) is a metaphorical ghost before he becomes a ghost in actuality - in a scene as absurdly ridiculous as it is effective and even somewhat poetic. Van Sant depicts him in broken takes from the "last days" of his life, and what this conjures is a greater sense of these "last days" than a forced, emotionally edited Walk the Line style biopic. Because there is seemingly no sense in what visual information is included and what is not, the film functions more as a mood piece than a narrative film. It has been called something like the definitive rock movie, and in a way, it is. There is a scene in which a scenester mouths along to the Velvet Undergrounds "Venus in Furs," and if this does not bring you to a point in time where you have done quite the same thing to the exact same song, perhaps it harks to a time when you have done such a thing to a different song. The camera's unwavering gaze on this figure inquires as to what it is that we are doing, why it is that we do this.

The film is a bit too hipster for its own good. But that's Van Sant for you. Including such hipster essentials as Asia Argento, Velvet Underground, Michael Pitt and even Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon in a tender, but all-too-brief appearance. And the camera can be horrifically condescending to those who enter the Northwest mansion in which the film takes place. But you start to wonder if the camera is not observing from the same drugged up point of view as the mansion's inhabitants. And, just because it's Gus Van Sant, there is a scene of gratuitous gay make-out session between two of the non-Blake male characters.

Overall, the camera's treatment of music, at the core of being, is certainly unrivaled. There is an incredibly long take in which Blake plays his guitar like a little prince behind his drumset thrown and the music is at times awful, sad, beautiful, flawed. But it cuts through the shit and shows that this music that we have made absolute is in fact a man in a room with a guitar. For more information about the film, visit the imdb page for it

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/7...

So instead, may I recomend a trashy not-much-older work by Ozon, 8 Women The film, rather like the profiteroles is all in the first 3 minutes, really, before you even enter the house. It is perhaps best appreciated with this supplementary reading.

I Only Want You To Love Me


You could see it coming with Sous Le Sable (Under The Sand). The filmic eccentricities of France's no-longer-enfant-terrible cum pride-and-joy François Ozon diminish picture by picture. Where there were once musical numbers popping out of nowhere and giant man eating rats, now there are bobos and large Parisian apartments. Ozon's last film (the newer offering, Le Temp Qui Reste, garnered posters on every street corner when I was in Paris a couple weeks ago) 5x2 is more visually comparable to a Banana Republic add than the sort of Fassbinder meets Waters of his older films. And there are no ACTUAL rats to speak of. Instead there are rat people. Neither Marion nor Gilles are what one would call healthy people, but hey, isn't that a good thing. I mean, who in their right mind would want to watch two healthy people for 90 minutes? And it is this slow burn of inner yearning that has replaced Ozon's more playful absurdity.

For this viewer, Ozon's contemporary films are an entire movie based around one single scene. The key scene for 2003's The Swimming Pool was that in which Charlotte Rampling sits down at the café and, after eating nothing but bland yogurt straight from the plastic at home, devours a plate of sumptuous profiteroles. This scene is all you need to decode the rest of the film, and The Swimming Pool is made cheap by its M. Night Shamalamallama ending. At the moment, it makes you go "Ooohh," but this is an exclamation that sadly does not last as long as those profiteroles Ramplings plate, and the film's subtler moments are the real strengths. 5x2 labors under a similar function.

Modeled after odious films like Momento and Irreversible in terms of structure, the film fails to really establish our protagonists as characters of depth as we are constantly aware that they are constructed as the most contemptible figures possible. Even this could hold a legitimacy, as you could count on your right hand the number of honest characters Ozon's hero Fassbinder depicted in his films. But there seems to be such a drive to make these characters particularly shifty. When Marion has their baby prematurely, Gilles is nowhere to be found, he visits while she is unconscious, but only after a day does he call Marion to apologize.

The acting is similarly flawed, though Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is quite a delight to look at. In an opening scene, she lays nude with a large breast - a dead weight planted on crisp white hotel sheets. Not since Tilda Swinton's deliciously unattractive sexual performance as Ella Gault in Young Adam has blasé sexuality been so frank. Ozon's direction is decent though, and the uninteresting story (fueled only by its plot device) becomes a remotely appealing yarn. His best decision here is his use of music. Separating the five in-reverse-order scenes is a colorful soundtrack which harks back to the musical number in Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes (Water Drops on Burning Rocks). I would like to ignore the fact that most of these songs are in Italian and eventually we find our lovers meeting at an Italian resort (it's a connection that makes a little too much sense, for a movie that presents many odd occurrences sans explanation). Sadly, what I would like to coin "the profiterole moment" occurs in the DVD's deleted scene section (so I am at a standstill whether to even discuss it here) where Ozon deviates slightly from the film's construct to present us with a prologue. In the newly moved in domicile, Marion happens upon Gilles reading a copy of L'Histoire d'O. Suddenly the film has a more apparent sense of context. The question of ownership and independence is what has been guiding this film all along. I realize that this scene disturbed the structure of the film, but really, rules like this are just made to be broken. Even if you're Lars Von Trier.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/6...

The Gleaners and I by Agnes Varda. A beautiful documentary that is pertinent for everyone who may view it, and that is certainly no small feat. As a side note, Varda visited my school and was the feistiest women I have ever seen, talking about a doco she made in South Central and how she MADE gang members help her shoot her film. Originally they protested her being there and she said, "Not only am I going to shoot this, but you are going to help me."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Aeon Flops...Sort of

If only every action film could echo the best film of the summer (and what is shaping up to perhaps be the best film of the year) Transporter 2. It seems that most films have become mere vehicles for whatever heavy handed message the studio decides to affix to it. Nothing can just be anymore, it has to have a purpose. Transporter 2 was the exception. It was guns, bikinis, explosions, Jason Stratham, sexy cars, more explosions, Jason Stratham. What ends up ruining films like Aeon Flux is its inability to just submit to its purpose, and really, the purpose of an action film is... anyone? anyone? ACTION. When these films become conveyers of ideology then we know somethings fishy.

For the first two thirds, Flux resists explanation, instead going for the surreal ambiguity of the late night cartoon on which it is based. This does and does not work. The film is incredibly disjointed. Scenes and sometimes even shots don't link up to those following. The exposition is poorly executed (and really, the exciting thing about the Aeon Flux cartoon was that we did not know the reasons for Flux's labors) giving Flux the weepy raison d'etre that is awarded any typical action figure (here it is avenge sister's death). Soon she is backflipping and dropkicking her way into the Goodchild fortress in an assassination attempt on the reigning Chairman Goodchild. The structural problem with crafting the film around a single mission is the fact that we never see Flux do her thang successfully. We hear she is the best in the business, but the first real mission we see her attempt is forfeited to her emotions. With this limited view of her, all credibility of her expertise is blown away (if you will).

The other factor stacked against Aeon Flux the movie is the context in which it is viewed. Where one would happen upon the original Aeon Flux on Liquid T.V. late at night, the transfer of the dark and odd cartoon to the mainstream film -starring Charlize Theron of all people - loses something in translation. There are scenes, particularly in the beginning of the film, where the production designers seem too wrapped up in being weird. The first outfit we see Flux in is completely ridiculous, but once the action starts, then the real fun begins (sort of). Even these scenes (a particularly harrowing scene shows Flux and Hands-for-feet Zathandra flipping through a garden with razor grass and shooting trees) are hit or miss -literally shot by shot.

Now where Transporter 2 celebrated cars and explosion, Flux eventually reveals its motives as an anti-cloning film. Man must not tamper with nature. Man must be at the mercy of nature, because as Flux earnestly exclaims "dying is what make give us purpose," or something like that. And haven't we heard this time and time again. I mean, couldn't they have figured out some weird heavy handed message that we haven't heard before - or at least a million times. When Flux's surrealism isn't laughable, it's quite rewarding, but none of it can save the weighted ending from being laughable. Humanizing Flux makes the style less potent. Meanwhile, the humanity, or rather mortality of the original character made the show completely riveting. Flux could die. That was the thrill. Here though, as the film comes to it cataclysmic close, no matter what happens, you know that Theron (not Aeon) will stand up, brush the dirt off of her not-quite-lingerie and raise her head in pride, knowing that she has saved the day.

Just as a little post script, Frances McDormand's hillariously absent role as Handler is rather noteworthy - delivering her lines as if off of cue cards and never, not even once, does she move - not even her neck - the entire movie.

Pick of the Day 12/5...

MARTHA by Rainer Werner Fassbinder Fassbinder's deliciously wicked approach to the Melodrama. This has been argued as his best film, and though I cannot budge from The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Martha is also superb. Later, a review of Aeon Flux...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Pick of the Day 12/4

Teorema by Pier Paolo Pasolini You really need to be able to endure slowness for this one (more than I remember when I watched it some years ago) but if you can, what a rewarding film it is! Koch Lorber has just put out a resilient DVD of it.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Nibbles on Pluto

I believe Neil Jordan's newest offering, Breakfast On Pluto was to be his reintroduction to the (arthouse) mainstream. It's been 6 long years since America has indulged and even longer since it has enjoyed. The End Of The Affair was the last film to garner wide distribution (and oscar attention) despite (or perhaps because of) its limp melodramatics. I still find it surprising that the Crying Game was so widely celebrated. Of course the script is flawless, the acting stellar (well, mostly) and the direction tight as can be. Perhaps the Dill caharcter was just so universally empathetic that people across America were able to deal with a few little "details, honey. Details." Certainly Jordan took this success into consideration when making Pluto. It's very familiar territory afterall. Trannies, nightclubs, Irish internal conflict, Stephen Rea. Only this time, Jordan is less concerned with making us understand than making us laugh, then cry...then laugh...then cry...

This would-be complex world is so caught up in being complex and binary (bitter/sweet, tender/violent) that it sometimes forgets to just BE. The world stands like a nostalgic technocolored Disneyland - all of the buildings and characters flat and propped up on two by fours, like the face of some palace in an unnamed studio backlot. As the film is based on a book, of what I am guessing would have about 700 pages, the characters come and go in quick sound-byte styled snippets, firmly imposed by chapter intertitles. This prevents any sort of relatability to the characters - particularly our protagonist, Kitten.

Now I've heard plenty about Cillian Murphy's perfomance. How he transforms into a creature of considerable complexity and I can honestly say that I just don't buy it. Mind you, I don't mind looking at him for hours on end, but his performance, well...

Murphy's Kitten is swishy and effeminate to a fault. It seems as though Murphy based his perfomance on a single visit to a suburban drag bar, Oscar Wilde BBC biopics and reruns of Will and Grace - in equal measures. He so involved in "playing gay" that he sometimes forgets that homosexuals are actually people just like him. His performance becomes just that, a performance. What he did not pick up on was the command that these figures can hold on a subject (because anyone who has seen the Crying Game will attest to the fact that we are all, at one point or another, Dill's subjects). His character (or caricature) lacks any sort of depth or majesty. For the first two hours of the film, his Kitten is a torment to watch.

Which is perhaps true for the film as a whole, as it is only when Jordan abandons the comedic trappings that any emotional depth begins to develop - or at least show. And I was quite surprised when I realized I actually cared what was going to happen to Kitten. Jordan's epic film becomes universal, but only if you are able to sit through the meandering and at times excruciating first two hours of the film. At this point the missed attempts at visual puns and "oh my gosh, what will happen next"s stop, he allows Kitten's sugar frosted shell to crumble around her and invests himself with exploring the means of Kitten's search for her mother. Murphy picks up slightly here, too. Slightly. Particularly in a fantasy scene in which she disarms a group of terrorists with Chanel No. 5. In fact there's a thread of murky representations of terrorists in no way humanizing them as in the Crying Game but not totally vilifying them either. In trying to make a comedy, Jordan left most of his usual issues at the door. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

His "usual" traits that remain, however, are completely hit or miss. Half way through the film, Stephen Rea shows up with a great breath of fresh air, and even though his character is essentially using Kitten (in one of the few moments of complexity in the film) he is doing so with utmost earnestness and love in his heart. The music is odiously ironic, distracting from many key moments of the film. The greatest achievement of the film is Jordan's aesthetic eye. In shots of pure cinematic mastery, he sends the camera swooping from rooftop to rooftop without batting a false lash. Some of the CGI is pitiful (bookending the film are two CGI robins whose tweets are subtitled(!) and appear to be made of chrome rather than feathers)however a nightclub bombing parallels its fantastic blast of glittering mirrors and flaming mirrorballs with the scorched-sober aftermath (another key scene to highlight Jordan's directorial strengths).

I would like to say Pluto is not worth the effort, but that's not quite true. Nor can I say wait till video, because the cinematic flourishes will probably be mere whispers on the small screen. I don't think I would recommend the film to anyone who is not already interested in seeing it. You ability to stick it out is essential here.

Want Another Opinion Or Yet Another

Pick of the Day 12/3...

Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! by Russ Meyer. I am almost not even suggesting this for the camp factor. The cinematography is really surprisingly striking. It's still fucking camp as hell, though. And later, a review on Breakfast on Pluto

Friday, December 02, 2005

Pick of the Day...

The Scarlet Empress by Josef Von Sternberg

Some little Nuggets

Click the link below to read Ryan Wu's hillarious rip on the making of the sure-to-be odious Memoirs of a Geisha Click Here

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Transparent Art.

Last night I watched the film High Art for the first time in years. For a bit of context (which may prove completely unnecessary to this review), I saw the film as a young queer boy living in a large, not-so-metropolitan midwestern city. This was the late nineties of Queer cinema. The movies were fluffy, ridiculous and purely emotional sedatives. A few films from the earlier ilk of Queer cinema (more brooding and meditative films all concerning, if not directly, the devastation and still in the shadow of AIDS) made in more remote regions (like Canada?) were just filtering into the theaters, but for the most part the happy Tricks and Get Reals ran the market. Now, There is a need for most things. Films like Get Real helped with my acceptance of who I was and how I (could) fit into the world around me. (In that region, queer youth need all the help they can get!) Along side these coming-out happy flicks were the "look-where-this-will-get-you" films like Boys Don't Cry and High Art. I remember going to see High Art. I remember who I was with (a group queer kids and my mother). I remember what I was feeling (in a large context that I will not even bother with here). But I don't remember much about the film. There's a reason. High Art is one of the most flaccid (pardon the pun) films I have seen in a long time. I remember it marking a certain point in time, and it does. It marks a time when films such as these were made. And I mean that in the best way possible. Where films like High Art may not be good, for the time in which they came out they are essential for the progression of Queer cinema at large. The look, the attitude, the music are all completely indicative of the late nineties. Radha Mitchell is the typical lesbian coming-out-in-the-late-nineties character (if you factor out Syd's ambition) in all the good ways and bad. The Syd character is not so much a character as she is a pretty girlish face for the audience to (cathartically) learn through, but to also know more than . For the people watching High Art are typically going to be queers or queer family members (i.e. fag hags or my mom, which is really one in the same). They will have already gone through (however long ago) what Syd is now facing. Syd is the sigh factor of the film - the "remember when" ploy that makes you empowered. The Lucy character played by Ally Sheedy is a different thing entirely. As I discuss in my essay on Queer culture AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT SKYLIGHT BOOKS IN LOS FELIZ FOR A MEER $4, Sheedy is the projection of our lust (sort of). The cool who-we-wish-we-were embodiment of the film who has gone awry by following that ego a few too many times. This is made all the more clear as Sheedy is so well known as the innocent arty chick in The Breakfast Club. We have seen time transpire on her face - and we rely on our knowledge from previous films as to how we perceive the Lucy character. This move is one of director Lisa Cholodenko's smartest. Still, watching the Syd and Lucy characters interact is about as bland as it comes. Both actresses, though filling their physical and structural purposes, are exceptionally mediocre. The moments where the narrative calls for the two to tête á tête are really the weakest scenes in the film. Cholodenko attempts to make up for their lack of passion with superb color schemes and soundtrack, but still does not pull it through. I lied a little. I did recall one thing about the film very strongly. And it was the reason I rerented the film. The one thing that saves this movie from being a complete waste of time is an absolutely STELLAR performance by Patricia Clarkson as Greta. Sad that a woman completely fucked up on heroin the entire movie would have more vitality than its (sober) protagonists. As a former Fassbinder star, Greta's lines are the only ones with any humor, but, what's more, compasion. Though she is (very flatly) written as the most contemptible element of the film (perhaps it's a tie with Syd at the film's close) Clarkson's delivery infuses her cardboard character with yearning and sadness. When she tells Lucy she loves her, it is the only point in the film that anything remotely resembling love is actually depicted. I cannot say I was surprised to find that High Art had not lived up to my expectations (though Clarkson's performance may have even ripened with age). Cholodenko's last film Laurel Canyon was one of the most excruciating piece of dreck I have ever sat through. But as you may find, I say that a lot. For anyone who wants to know about the film (plot, characters...) you can go here or rent it.