Friday, March 31, 2006

New April 4th!!!

There's not much coming to theaters this weekend. There's another Jennifer Aniston dullard whose only perks are its costars. Catherine Keener and Francis McDormand may aid in making Friends With Money almost watchable, though probably not. It seems apt that the first megastar Romantic comedy of the year was titled Failure To Launch.

Out this week on DVD is a very inexpensive (let's hope this does not mean cheap in production, as well) 5 film, 2 DVD set of films starring Marlene Dietrich. The horribly named Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection arrives via MCA Home Video. Featuring stellar gems like Von Sternberg's Morocco, Blonde Venus (pictured right) and The Devil Is A Woman and lesser non-Von Sternberg films Golden Earrings and The Flame of New Orleans, this collection marks the first time any of these films have arrived on DVD on this side of the Atlantic. This one is a definite purchase best appreciated after reading Underground filmmaker Jack Smith's article on the films of Von Sternberg which can be found here.

And in West Hollywood, store owners are going to have to beat off rabid costumers with large sticks as Brokeback Mountain hits store shelves everywhere. Now you too can freeze-frame your way through nude scenes, or you could be the only person actually watching the film in the privacy of your own home.

Among other things, a new DVD of the classic (and recently reviewed here) comedy, 9 to 5: The Sexist, Egotistical, Lying Hypocritical Bigot Edition. The DVD boasts a feature commentary with Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lili Tomlin. I wonder how they wrangled that?

The World's Greatest Lover, a film by and starring Gene Wilder gets a DVD release - though it only appears on this website because it costars the wonderfully frightening Carol Kane.

Lastly, though I never plug music here, Massive Attack's new Best Of collection, the appropriately titled, Collected deserves definite props. The Special Edition features a second double-sided disc. Side one, rare and unreleased tracks, two of which feature the lovely vocal dabblings of Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser. Side two of the disc (and the pertinent bit to this post) is a collection of ALL of their videos from Daydreaming to the two video versions of their new song Live With Me. Check out their wonderfully designed website for the release here

Porny Weather

I try to imagine what hetero critics think when reviewing a homo film. Of course, a gay critic may be swayed by (what is perhaps the only intention of most of these films) the not-quite-pornographic eye that probes nearly every inch of our protags' buffed, trim, Grecian bodies (except, of course, for that one area "that matters"). But then, perhaps certain, inept middle-aged female staff writers for LA Weekly(I think we all know of whom I speak) might be convinced by a nostalgic longing for the youthful spunk which she has long lost and stares at jealously bleary-eyed, one that also lead her to write a glowing review of the atrocious 9 Songs last year. I read two not-quite-glowing, but still favorable reviews of a new homo offering from the Faterland, Sommersturm (Summer Storm), both of which insisted that the film resisted cliches and stereotypes and was a sensitive portrayal of coming out and summer love.

My question, put simply, is this: When reviewing a Gay film, do reviewers just throw all of their expectations to the wind? It seems an exercise necessary to maintain sanity when forced to sit through countless pseudo-pornos that masquerade themselves as films. And Sommersturm is certainly no exception. It seems that director Marco Kreuzpaintner (a beefcake in his own right) went through a Taschen book of 1,001 most beautiful photographs and attempted to recapture all of them on a shoe-string budget. Most of the time it fails miserably, playing out like a trite Hallmark TV movie, though there are (mostly in the first act) a few lovely moments. These few moments of promise are killed by a script which rips whole chunks from far better predecessors like Beautiful Thing, Get Real and Edge of Seventeen and a horrifically bad cast of awkward Hitler wet-dreams (well, if they weren't "gay"). There are some fantastically trite metaphors - the scene where the boy who's about to come out has the sunburned flesh peeled off his back by his new gay lover (shedding the skin, get it?) is not to be missed - but by the time a $1.99 cover of the Pet Shop Boys Go West plays at the film's culmination, you just don't care, and it's been about an hour since you have. Few can breathe life into a script that feels like a Homo coming-of-age Frankenstien's monster (sans sensationalism, of course). Suffice to say, Kreuzpaintner is not one of them.

Perhaps we should learn something from the upcoming Snakes on a Plane(which is going through its own title trouble at the moment) and just start naming these films Cute German Boys Fucking at rowing Camp Part 3. It'd be more honest.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Here comes the rain again...

So, I do like to pop critically darling balloons, though seldom solely for the sake of popping them. Though I will assure you that I have not built up enough animosity to lash out against the Dardenne brothers (au contraire, I have no feeling one way or the other for them), neither do I write this luke-warm review of their new critically heralded L'Enfant (which I'll allow you to translate on your own) as an act of critic rebellion. The film, which I saw on a little trek through New York city (allow this to serve as explanation for my lax blogging), is a quietly deadly one. Though I'm none too certain that the Dardennes are not more than a tad too exploitational. The situation for our anti-hero Bruno and his girlfriend Sonia is "heart-breakingly" rugged. When Sonia gives birth and brings the infant home at the beginning of the film to find her flat subletted, the typical (though somewhat less stark) fluorescent glare of the neon lights illuminates the tenement flat that she must (of course) trudge up innumberable flights of stairs, again, child in tote. When she finally finds Bruno hustling on the street for change, it is (as many liken it) reminiscent of Bresson, but also Fassbinder's little seen TV Melodrama I Only Want you To Love Me, only here, the source for our protagonist's poverty-denial spending sprees proves more to be himself than his girlfriend, and especially not the child (note I do not say "his" child as - do not fret, I am not giving away anything - he would show more pride to a leather cap than his own flesh and blood). When he finally sells the child into the black market - a particularly frank and harrowing scene - your want of a more diverse and complex figure of Peter Pan-dom comes to its apex.

Not to fully discredit the film. There are many fantastic elements to the film. The acting is at times stellar, at times minute - with a real focus on Déborah François' Sonia, who is really given the short end of the acting stick here. The shots are remarkably composed, with a spunk and vitality that lifts the down-and-out morality play to a more relatable space (not that we must relate to everything we see!). But plot pits and moral judgement are the film's mains flaws. Imagine the Fem-y bald girl in art class who paints a picture of her Vagina. When Bruno sells little Jimmy, the "Oh my god!" anti is just entirely to manipulative and vibrant for such a muted world. It's too easy to woo you with the child factor (which is where the film's greatest emotional moments lie). And though the final scene plays itself out rather well, the events leading up to it are just a tad too manipulative to make someone like Bresson smile at his tutelage.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Fundamental Fissures or Bratty Reactionaries? Half a Week of Time Based Art in New York City

So, I've been in New York city the past few days, which accounts for the calm on this Western front, and though I normally wouldn't do this kind of thing, I shall take time here to write about the video work that I saw on my jaunts through the streets of one of the art capitols of the world. Bear with me, or don't read, yet it would seem that filmic "narrative" has infected many works which seem more apt for a non-linear approach.

It will comes as no shock that New York is the city of the big boys (and girls), and walking through Chelsea, the only artists allowed to present videos (as video is the hardest to sell, and generally the most costly and demanding - because of its installational qualities - product on the art market today) were, more or less, the big boys. The first video I sat through (well, most of, anyway) was the first video - Proper - directed by Nan Goldin, who fancies herself a video dabbler now. I beg to differ. Goldin, of course, became famous in the Seventies with her slide shows set to the music of the The Velvet Underground or Leonard Cohen. The ever-changing performative "Ballad of Sexual Dependency" was a loose narrative of sexual loss and torment, ripped straight from the life of Goldin's closest friends, even Goldin herself. But you probably already knew that. Goldin's last show at Matthew Marks' Gallery, "Heartbeat" was a creepy, voyeuristic (more so than usual) look at the sex lives of her younger, cuter friends (and in one case, relative), replete with a self-defacing looking-like-hell self-portrait that has already become a sort of sub-category in the artists' ouvre. We have it here, too, along side her first stab at narrative video, Sisters, Saints & Sibyls. The video, which parallels the artist's recently deceased sister to Saint Barbara, sadly, takes most of its inspirations from bad emotional Hallmark docos. Devoid of subtlety, when the narrative asks for a fight, the audio delivers hushed "fuck you"s and "you're a whore"s. When her sister is institutionalized, we hear the slamming of a giant metal door. You get the idea. And try as Goldin might to recapture in video what she so famously depicts in photography (at some points successfully), the construction of the piece at large is so hopelessly artless that one cannot help but feel as though they've stumbled into her sentimental iphoto slideshow.

Just across the street, at Metro Pictures, artist Tony Oursler, who is proving more and more prolific as the days pass by, offered a collection of video installations, "Thought Forms." Oursler's most recent work (which I have taken to calling "the Dudes," though they all actually have names like Pinky etc.) has found him projecting perversely collaged video, Walt Disney school drop-outs onto knee high porcelain sculptures. The Dudes say absurd things like "pink puddle" or "entertainment...I want to kill you." over and over while smacking their lips, making kissy noises and blinking one of their two off-kilter eyes. I adore the dudes because of their perverted nonchalant entertainment drive. Oursler is recognizing the trend of the art world that yields art which entertains its supporters (yet, of course, labors under one presumption or another as "so much more"), and making a mockery of this desire. This mockery is also proving to be an economic wet dream for Oursler whose "Dudes" are being purchased faster than you can say "pink pink puddle." In his new show, however, Oursler takes the dudes a step (too?) farther. Now, these slightly unsettling portals of easy entertainment, are being assigned a purpose. "Three amorphic materials," the press release informs us, "Mercury, Water, and Dust come together in the exhibition to create an ever-changing dynamic installation. The artist felt that these materials and their symbolic ramifications reflect the present moment in America; a moment of constant flux and lack of solidarity." And though I'm not certain that this is evoked from these sensational works, that humor lent to the earlier Dudes, here proves theatrically rich, as the sculptures now compete with you in size. Their statements are more pointed, more serious, and much of the joie de vivre has been replaced for a more fantastical science fiction read. They are also placed, now, in a setting of projected starscapes and dust clouds. It is a fantastic feat to watch these figures, but after locating this approach to the sardonically entertaining, can Oursler really bring it into the world of earnest criticality. These figures, because of their predecessors, will never shed their entertaining skin. Perhaps most tellingly, upstairs rests a Siamese triplet old-school dude, who, at one point looks at its burdened friends and asks "How did we get here?" How, indeed.

And over at the Whitney, in case you were wondering, the Biennial, this year titled Day For Night was, in fact, as dreadful as people are making it out to be. Relying almost primarily on theatrics (the top floor is a horrifically pandering sight!) it is a sad state for contemporary art. Kenneth Anger, who is graced with a primary location, all but wastes his recognition with a remarkably bad video titled Mouse Heaven. Using tacky techniques, Anger superimposes Mickey Mouse figurines over Mickey Mouse rugs being vacuumed with Mickey Mouse vacuums. Most of his signature cynicism is lost on the piece in its nostalgic and material cheapness. Surrounding the video are screen prints from Invocation of My Demon Brother and narcissistic images of a young and dour Anger which are hung below a set of neon lips that read Hollywood Babylon. All off the ephemera ends up merely confusing itself in a "oh shit, let's make a retrospective!" hurried frenzy.

Rodney Graham's sardonic Torqued Chandelier Release was probably the best time-based work in the show (at least, one given the respect of a room, as the Biennial infuriatingly exhibits countless fantastic video and film artists like Lewis Klahr, Michael Snow and Joe Gibbons on monitors placed in the lobby, expecting visitors to stand by the elevator with headphones on for hours on end). Graham's fetishistic installation exposes the inherent yummy-ness(if not modernist masculinity) of 35mm film and, as in the work of Oursler, parodies the Biennial(and thus, in some ways, the art word) itself, likening it to a glistening spinning chandelier. Knowing Graham's work, it is not too much of a stretch to glean this interpretation (His huge 2004 MOCA show was entitled "A Little Thought"). Though it is wonderful to watch the juicy materiality of the chandelier, spinning in a decadent whirl of light and, well... bling-bling.

And speaking of Bling bling, Francesco Vezzoli's Prada funded Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula, which premiered at the Venice Biennale in 2004, was a calculated inclusion. Reveling in the pretension and rock-star inaptitude of the art world in general, the hilarious (if not hilariously shallow) Trailer stars, among others, Helen Mirren, Milla Jovavich, Benicio Del Torro, Courtney Love, Karen Black, Michelle Phillips and Gore Vidal, of course. The costumes were designed by none other than Donatella Versace. As a guilty survey of who's who and who's hip, it proves a ridiculously decadent revelry - and isn't that what the original was, before anything else. I applaud current artists for being more comedically parodic, but more than the aforementioned pieces, Trailer caught wind of something decidedly more nasty. Instead of being poignant, doesn't this instead resemble more the baby who soils his own crib rather than rattling at its bars?

Monday, March 20, 2006

New In Theaters and on DVD 3/21!!!

Out in theaters, I am really looking forward to The Inside Man just so I can watch the most earnest comedically deprived actors in Hollywood stumble around seriously trying to earnestly do whatever it is that they are meant to gravely do with the most determined, somber and sober face as has ever been rendered on screen. Watch this one like a comedy. That's how I went into Flightplan and boy, did I have a good time! Watching a constipated Jody Foster running around unhumorously was one of the funniest things I did last year. This one proves to be Flightplan times three.

Released on DVD this week, Lodge Kerrigan's surprisingly poignant Keane begins rather poorly, but by the end of the film, you discover a lovely, multi-faceted exploration of loss. The film landed at the bottom of my "Best of 2005" list, and is certainly worth the price of the DVD, or at least the price of a rental. Kerrigan shot an entirely different film starring Peter Saarsgard, but when the negative was irreparably damaged, Kerrigan decided to exact a more honed and quiet film (with obviously a more "honed" budget). Keane is the impressive result.

Also, The Squid and the Whale finds its way onto video store shelves. This was one of those films that I deemed unworthy of cinema viewing, i.e. I fork out my money for movies that MUST be seen on the silver screen to get the full gist of it. I figured I wouldn't be missing out much, waiting until video for this seemingly character based film. So now I can finally watch it. Maybe you will, too.

Also on DVD this week, Capote (which I take great joy in dropping the e so it sounds more like compote), the relentlessly limp Derailed, the even limper Chicken Little, Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story starring, as my friend calls her, the foetus, which seeks to legitimize itself with it's atrociously extraneous title, and a few others that I find so bad or am morally opposed to mentioning.

On the gay front, both the good at heart and well cast travestyThe Dying Gaul and the Grecian film that sells itself as a melodramatic black comedy, Blackmail Boy which I have not seen. Perhaps I will. Perhaps not.

There's a fantastic sounding old TV show coming out on DVD called The Flying Nun which sounds at least worth a look.

The Extinct Creature Known as the Adult Film. *and I don't mean Porno...

There was a time when Hollywood made movies that made you think. They labored under the assumption that you had, in fact, read more than three books (and no, I'm sorry but the Davinci Code does not count). The American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater is holding a mini festival titled "Return To Hollywood" which they interpret as more minor works of the 60's and 70's Hollywood narrative that have been overlooked in terms of home video distribution, but they still maintain as "revolutionary cinematic treasures that could not have been released without the go-for-broke atmosphere of the letting-it-all-hang-out New Hollywood."

The most epic of these films (and those which screened first, as both evenings that I attended were double features) were the Joan Didion novel, adapted for the screen by Didion and her late-husband John Dunne, Play It As It Lays and the film based on Sue Kaufman's Diary Of a Mad Housewife. The former being a much more literary film than the latter, followed Didion's book (go figure) very closely. The editing was far more experimental, and not in some Momento-esque schtick-y way. The camera dashed from stop light to sky to parking garage in a wonderfully gracious hand-held sweep that would make today's viewers run for the hills screaming for lack of specificity - for not showing them, specifically what they are supposed to be looking at. In one sequence, the superb Tuesday Weld relates in voice-over the details of her upbringing. We rest on a shot of a small town hotel as she tells us of the tiny home town that no longer exists. "This is not a picture of [my home town]" (I forget the name, presently). In keeping with Didion's more non-fiction texts, she trapses into the realm of semiotics - questions our need to associate image and idea. She breaks the consistency that is film language.

Didion initiates you into a world already developed, dense and complicated without any (now)typical easing into the characters. You are shot into a world as it is, rather than experiencing the characters slowly, familiarizing themselves to you. It is a shock to the lazy contemporary viewer. "They expect me to discern?!" you catch yourself thinking, and then chide yourself for doing so. This is what films were like in a society of thought. The language is, of course, a rare and special treat. Parodying her ex-husband who has claimed he has captured in film what is "existentially a performance" - using the buzz phrase coined by someone else regarding his work on a television talk show - Weld's Mariah repugnantly jibes him with the retort, "existentially, I'm getting a hamburger." It is a film that spells very little out for you. It is one that could NEVER be made today, and for it we are the more worse for wear.

Diary of a Mad Housewife, which is made by the same director, Frank Perry (who infamously cremated his career with the laugh riot Mommie Dearest) is in earnest what Mommie Dearest is in its misintentions. An excruciating comedy from start to finish, Diary follows a phenomenal performance by Carrie Snodgress as a thoroughly sophisticated (if not a tad up-tight) housewife whose painfully irritating husband and hellaciously bratty daughters drive her to fall into the arms of the pretensiously misogynistic writer, played by Frank Langella, who opens in her a sexuality which she never imagined. Played for comedic value (as well as tragic), the film is a powerhouse of criticality, letting no one off the line, least of all Snodgress' Tina (though we do sympathize with her). The film's nastiness renders it, too, another film that could never be made.

Our "adult" comedies are fueled by toilet humor and sexually humiliating situational comedy. Sex, now, is something that will lead to laughter and debasement. If Matthew McConaughey sexually desires Sarah Jessica Parker (god knows why he would) it is a desire worthy of great ridicule - one which we know shall result in vaudvillian emasculation. Our culture cannot handle the sexuality that Diary wields completely, well... for granted is perhaps the wrong word here. There's a scene where Tina's daughter criticizes her for wearing a top that "makes her boobies fall out." Tina chastises her daughters use of prudish vernacular in place of more mature words like breasts and vagina. One cannot help but realize that our culture has become this sniffling brat, running about saying ta-tas and cooter and spitting out oysters because they are not that which we are accustomed to - rather, that which we wish to face. The daughter wretches the oysters which Tina includes in the Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. "I like oysters in the half-shell, by themselves, but IN THE STUFFING?!?" This sounds frightfully familiar. In our genre-laden times of "everything in its right place," this excruciating comedy has no place as it neither takes stand as comedy nor tragedy, but strategically places its psychologically compelling traumas on the fence, between the two. And again, it is our loss, as Diary of a Mad Housewife is a deliciously wicked piece of cinema.

The other two films, (also by Frank Perry) The Swimmer and the Bergman-esque-Americana of Ladybug, Ladybug were more moody evocations of loss. The protagonists' inability to cope with their present situations (the loss of one's family and nuclear war, respectively) lead them to drastically desperate actions that horrifically reflect human nature. The Swimmer is the only of these four titles on DVD and is well worth a watch. Ladybug, Ladybug can be found here, though I can't vouch for the quality. It was a rather sad event, in that our culture is so far removed from these fascinating works of film, so much so that they have been ostracized from access. If you ever run across a screening of any, I could not recommend them more. The screening continues through next weekend for all of you LA readers.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Potent Adaptations

On Wednesday night, I attended a revival screening of Roman Polanski's infamous film adaptation of Shakespearian MacBeth and suppose now is as good a time as any to write about it. In addition, and in keeping, the day prior I rewatched Claire Denis' rather loose adaptation of Herman Melville's Billy Budd, the film capital F Film cinefiles wet themselves over (which I found rather bland, but perhaps more because of others' wild devotion), Beau Travail (Good Work). And though you may already know my stance on capital F Films, I will open-mindedly further on my opinion of the film below. But first, MacBeth.

First allow me to state that I am no expert when it comes to Shakespearian adaptation. In my (perhaps youthful) opinion, most "classical" adaptations of his works are clumsy, cardboard and awkward. Having been thoroughly unimpressed by some of the works that are considered the greatest Shakespearian adaptations, it is startling (and proof of Polanski's masterful directorial capabilities) that he creates a world where all of the period garb and iambic pentameter come off casually, naturally even. Though one of the juiciest roles ever written falls rather flat on Francesca Annis' rendition of Lady Macbeth, Polanksi's uncompromising vision of this violent and tormented world is as exhilarating and compelling as it is excruciating. The scene that follows the credit sequence finds a body lying face down on the murky shoreline. Blood pools in a puddle. A man tugs on the body's foot. One might assume he is attempting to find fellow fighters who have survived this catastrophe. Yet our perception of this world is solidly established as the man whom we have presumed is dead rears his head back to be met with the other man's mace, which he beats into the wounded man's back repeatedly, leaving a crater of mangled flesh and protruding bone.

This is our introduction to our eponymous protagonist's world. Watching the film, I found myself yearning for a great volume to be published interpreting the film. I felt only capable of penetrating a thin layer of the film's shell. This was my second viewing of the film, and still, subtleties abound, I found myself barely understanding much of the great flourishes beyond the most intrinsic plot points. It is an immense film in all respects. The dialogue, so wonderfully shifting between voice-over and spoken word, flows poetically and unpretentiously - which, come on, is a feat in Shakespearian adaptation. Ultimately, the film proves most effective because its flawless visual stylizations. It is a rare gem (all the more so on the big screen), so consistent in its representation of this grisly yet enchantingly beautiful world that when one leaves the theater, they are surprised by the (slightly more mundane) world outside.

My rewatching of Denis' film coincides with the release of her new film, L'Intrus (The Intruder), a review of which you will be able to find here on March 21st. Unlike MacBeth, Beau Travail is almost purely a visual film. Intending it to serve more as a visual poem, Denis primarily concerns herself with only the expository details of her adaptive source. It is circumstantial. One gleans a greater sense of conflict from the Legionaires interactions with the native people of the French occupied Djibouti(of Denis' contruct) than between Galoup and Sentain (here the Captain Vere and Billy Budd characters, respectively of Mellvilel's). In fact, the main impeuts of their conflict in Denis' world stems from a more homosocial form of vanity. While Galoup plays flaneur in both the African village and through the streets of Paris (where one most typically may play flaneur) he emits an ostracized glare which takes more menacing tones when affixed on the eroticized mug of Sentain.

Though it may sound slightly conservative of me, I'm not sure whether Denis is the figure deserving of all the credit she receives for the visual potency of her films. Without Agnes Godard, who has served as cinematographer for Denis since her 1990 television short Cinema, de notre temps: Jacques Rivette - Le veilleur and has been employed as cinematographer for a handful of remarkable directors (Wim Wenders, Agnes Varda, Andre Techine and Sebastien Lifshitz to name a few), I am not too certain the films of Denis would glow and resonate in the same rich way that they do with Godard in tote. The visuals are what defines Beau Travail. In tableaus that echo the work of James Benning, Godard captures compelling moments from the most banal settings between Djibouti and Paris (though I find it hard pressed to find a boring setting in the beautiful city of Paris). The first time I watched the film(or at least attempted to, abandoning it halfway through), I found it visually sumptuous, yet substantially slight. Upon second viewing, I found this, in a very roundabout way, is a strength to the film, functioning in a very similar way as Denis' Trouble Every Day . And I'll be damned if the last scene of the film is not one of the better scenes I have seen in a good long while. Set to Corona's hopelessly dated, yet somehow transcendent "The Rhythm of the Night," in a strange, unexpected way, it folds the film in on itself in a very complicated way and speaks far better than any words could. Ultimately, Beau Travail is a film I want not to like, yet prevents me from doing so because of the isolated moments which catch me off guard with their sumptuous images and understated complexity. I suppose would recommend it, but not as fervently as I would Polanski's MacBeth.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Being Boring's 100th Post!!!!!

I wanted to save this post for something special, and it appears to have come along. Sadly, I did not write it, but it certainly deserves to be read. Keep on reading, like you have read my blog FOR 100 POSTS!!! Happy Post-Day Being Boring... anyway, as I was saying, the link above is to an article written for the Guardian by Annie Proulx concerning her hatred for the Academy voters, and how "living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good. " It's a wallop, and delivers a decidedly vicious laugh at the end. So keep on reading. And keep on reading here, and thanks to everyone who has been reading so far.

The day, which should have yielded another post, actually snowballed into what I'm guessing is a 20 pager (it's about 4 now) on watching Experimental films on your T.V. as opposed to in a grimy makeshift theater (or a nice one, though let's not expect too much of people). There's a Jack Smith post in the works for flukiest, too (quel shocker!), but that one'll have to get done in the next day or so. I'll post the former in segments here, as it gets refined. We're talking gradschool application here people! Well... I am very personal today. I better go. This thing should look a tad more profesional (though I don't think calling Sharon Stone snatch-y-poo is all that profesional, either). Alas. I must be just a little senitmental. That is all for now. And, also in the not too distant future, a rewatching of Beau Travial, which I'm still not thurroughly convinced about. Ta

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Moralistic Debauchery anyone?

Okay, lovin' double features recently. Today, I treated myself to a matinee ($4.50) screening of Johnny Depp's eternally delayed The Libertine, just to see if it really deserved all of the abysmal talk it's been getting. Please allow me to be perhaps the first to inform you that all of the negative cred and disastrous claims that reviewers have been piling up are all very well earned. The Libertine is certainly one of the laugh-out-loud funniest films I have seen in a very, very long time. That it intends to be taken all-too seriously is perhaps what makes it go that extra mile. From the film's very opening moments, when our very G-rated libertine (Depp, of course) informs us of all of the debauchery and scandal that he is capable of (yet nary partakes in on screen), jabbering on and on about cunts and cocks with the silliest stab at seriousness, we smell the characterization quite familiar to Depp. This is the figure whom we have seen time and time again... so many times, even, to require parody. This is certainly why Jack Sparrow was so appealing. Johnny Depp was not taking himself so Edward-Scissorhands-seriously. To think he could return to a dramatic role after parodying his limited dramatic range was a huge mistake.

Yet Depp is not the only one to blame. In what must have been a contractual obligation, John Malkovich yawns his way through as King Charles II, grotesquely bad false nose in tote. At one point, apparently enraged, he picks up a chair to smash. The apathetic force with which the chair taps upon the surface of the table - shattering like the prop in a fifties western - is perhaps a great metaphor for the film, so confused in its intents, yet so intent to fall apart. Samantha Morton is the biggest stinker of all. In her scenes of "Acting," one cannot help but laugh mercilessly, as if this were American Idol: Debuke, Iowa. Even the indecisive production team lacked any originality or vitality, racking the focus on the lens more than all of the masturbating Depp claims (yet never seems) to do. This is the sort of creative crew you imagine thinking things like, "the muddier it is, the more real 17th century London will seem!" And just when you think it can't get any better, believe me, the last line of the film, which, don't worry if you miss it the first time, as it is repeated not once, not twice, but FOUR times - for poetic resonance, one must assume - is so trite, that you will leave the theater roaring with laughter, primarily because the film would have you drying your eyes.

Hot on the heels of The Libertine, I dashed on over to my favorite ghetto moviehouse in downtown LA (endearing ghetto, not scary ghetto) to see Haute Tension director Alexandre Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes which, comparatively felt like Citizen Cane (oh yes, The Libertine was that bad!). Aja, a French director, is well known for his horrifically graphic violence and absolutely crippling, nail-biting tension. And though all are present, Hills drops all of the critical elements that made the original Carter family's attempt at survival so harrowing. Without the twisted bait of the original's climax, nor its wonderful final freeze frame, Aja's film merely becomes another remake, though one of the best in this slew of reiterations. The giddy glee he takes in rendering limbs from their frames or gouging holes where there should not be (all of course resulting in torrents of spattering blood) is a bit of a treat, and rather (but not wholly) absent is the exploitational feel that usually accompanies such extremities. The tense moments are near unbearable, though not as excruciating as the bathroom scene in Haute Tension. He has nothing to really new to say about Americana, though he bashes us over the head (and in one case, through the throat) with it, where more subtle fair like A History of Violence proves more concise. Though the casting of Ted Levine (dubious for his portrayal of Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs) as the all American father is wonderfully off-putting - all the more so as he fits the mold so frighteningly well.

The film ultimately fails, like all of its predecessors, as it necessitates an explanation as to why these people do what they do. In The Hills' case, it is revenge that the radiation mutated inhabitants of a small mining town seek. But who cares. In our era, Leatherface has facial cancer and the Amityville house is haunted by a crazy Quaker. That's not scary. What is scary is Leatherface careening out of the house with womens' make-up on his flesh mask for no apparent reason. The real fear lies in not knowing, yet in an information driven society, where we have 20,000 songs on our ipods and answers to every question at, it would seem we are unable to suffice with not knowing. The last film that comes to mind that played on that idea was The Blair Witch Project which, however it might hold up now, was scary as hell when it first came out. It was scary because you never saw a goddamn thing. EVERYTHING was left to the imagination. But who needs an imagination when you've got TiVo?

Speaking of TiVo, coming to DVD this week, we have David Cronenberg's Americana masterpiece, A History of Violence that critically gushed over, Oscar ignored(hmmm...) treat about a man who may or may not be the mobster a creepy Ed Harris accuses him of being. Catch Cronenberg's best film since Existenz and a wonderfully hammy performance from William Hurt. It comes with a generous smattering of deleted scenes, commentary and docos...

Also on shelves today is the "Ultimate Edition" (if I had a dime every time I heard that, I'd be dead) of Basic Instinct, just in time for the sequel starring the every ravishing Charlotte Rampling, along side snatch-y-poo of course...

Louis Malle have lots to piss themselves over. Criterion has just put out a lovely boxset which includes Au Revoir Les Enfants, Murmur of the Heart and Lacombe, Lucien.

And god knows there must be another soul out there whose grandma forced them to watch countless reruns of Columbo. If so, take a trip down memory lane with Columbo: The Complete Fourth Season.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Odd Couple (well... one more than the other)

File this one under your stranger double features, last night I watched both Grey Gardens and the endearing 9 to 5". Most frequently, when two movies are watched in one night, commonalities, no matter how different the sources are, arise. Yet here, I may most safely state, their were no recurring traits or characterizations. I had never seen 9 to 5 (shocker) though I have danced to its theme song a half dozen times in my favorite Los Angeles gay club. Always a steadfast fan of Dolly Parton, this one had somehow eluded me for some time. Must be all of those Susan Hayward movies...

Grey Gardens, on the other hand, had already found its way into my home (and my heart). Rewatching the film because of the many related projects which will come to fruition this year (the hottest ticket off-Broadway is the Grey Gardens: A New Musical, Criterion will be reissuing their DVD with a bonus disc of unseen Gardens footage and a new doco about the cult phenomenon of the film, there will be a book published with the letters and photos of little Edie, and a film starring (ick!) Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore is in the works) I was struck how many choice moments I had forgotten. Perhaps the traumas inflicted from watching Little Edie dump that bag of Wonder Bread and Purina Cat Chow onto the floor of her attic to feed her pet raccoons overshadowed the more subtle gems of the film. Throughout you get the nagging nasty feeling that the filmmakers are just making a mockery of their lives, yet because of the sadder undercurrent, the film seems less exploitation and more multivalent. Whatever it may be, Little Edie remains one of the most uncompromisingly bizarre subjects ever rendered in film. As she dances with an American flag with a sweater bound about her hips, you wonder at what point something slipped in her mind, or be it a slow transgression, just what drove this woman to the state in which she functioned in daily life. The answers, as there is no single easy one, are all here, and ultimately it is not the point. What is are the odd tableaus of mother and daughter existing in a world far removed from all social codes of society.

On a lighter note, 9 to 5 was a delightfully wicked movie, featuring stellar performances from all on board. It is interesting to see Dolly in her first acting role become confident before the camera as the film progresses. With no remakes on the way (but let us not forget the absolute gem of the similarly themed, Clock Watchers, which, if you haven't seen it, run don't walk!) this one is allowed as a gem of its time, with all of that era's women in full form. I won't really write much about it here, as most of you have probably seen it (once again, I am the odd one out!). Merely let this serve as a reminder to watch the movie and laugh loudly as Lili Tomlin in snow white garb poisons her boss and throws him out the window. That's daydreaming, alright!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I Want To Live without being told how to do so!

As you may well know, I am a great fan of women's' films of all eras. 50's melodrama, a 60's women's' western, yesterday's Liftime original TV movie? Bring it on! One of my biggest guilty pleasures is a film that a coworker lent me starring Susan Hayward as an old VHS copy. Backstreet is a film about a fashion designer (rae "all small letters, very chic") who falls in love with a man who happens to be married to a horrible drunk who denies him a divorce just to aid in the tawdriness of the plot. The film, though in glorious technicolor, is very cheaply done. Seldom is a shot of nature shown if it is at all possible to place the actor in a studio. Blue screen abound, the budget is spent on Hayward and colored gels to inform you precisely how to feel about a scene, in case you perhaps get lost in the course of the narrative. Blue gel = sad. Red gel = passionate. You get the idea.

Now, what made the Oscars so tedious this year stems from the age old idea that, if you've got a film that takes itself completely seriously, it deserves prestige. Now there is quite a lot of proof to the contrary. May I submit the entire career of Jody Foster as evidence. Here is an instance where too much earnest intent turns the performance (or film, as Foster's vehicles are generally her's and her's alone) into a camp spectacle. And this is no stretch for women in such film, as Pamela Robertson has stated that because of the one-sided homosexual appropriation of femininity which does not conversely occur in the performance by the "real" female, "women are camp but do not knowingly produce themselves as camp, and furthermore do not have access to a camp sensibility." There is a far more tedious side to seriousness that would site morality as its riding purpose. This is best exemplified by the artless bestowal of the Academy Award to Crash. Some films become so occupied with twisting realities to inform us as to how we should be living our lives, and, what's worse, infuse their message with a manipulative guilt that causes the (liberal, white, male...) viewer to feel bad for those persons (destitute, black, female...) whose lives crumble before them in the most absurd fashions.

Last night, I watched I Want To Live!, for which Susan Hayward earned the Academy Award for best actress in 1958 expecting, from the title alone, an over-the-top tale of a down and out jailbird who spews hilarious aphorism after hilarious aphorism (as is Hayward's specialty). Instead I endured a cautionary morality play that best resembles the worst works of manipulative Hollywood cinema today, rather than the skirt twirling lascivious dance that illustrated obscene female sexuality performed by Dorothy Malone (who coincidentally won the Oscar for that role) in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind. Even through the absurdity of her moral degradation (when something "wrong" is done, it is not just a bottle of whisky on the table, but a bottle of whisky, a full ashtray and poker chips - all shot with a crooked angle, no less) one could is not allowed to enjoy themselves because, "this is serious."

Now, I saw Flightplan in theaters because I knew how hilariously serious it would be. My attempt at turning I Want To Live! into a similar venture was thwarted by a nasty mechanism called Hollywood manipulation. You know it is the only reason why the racist and just plain poorly constructed (and I'm talking all aspects of production) film Crash won the Oscar. Because it demanded to be taken seriously, in all the worst ways.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Some thoughts on the Oscars

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Far From Heaven

The first shot of Batalla en el Cielo (Battle In Heaven) is a direct appropriation of the only shot of Andy Warhol's Blowjob, a thirty six minute film in which a man may or may not be recieving a blowjob. We learn quite quickly (a little too, perhaps) that there is no speculation in Battle In Heaven's case. The camera pans down the corpulent front of our grimy protagonist, Marcos, to find Ana, protagonist #2, fellating him. Now, to a post-Nine Songs, or rather (giving credit where it's due) enmeshed in the era of the French auteurs who demand their actors perform real sex (Catherine Breillat being the most prolific of these filimmakers), the only shocker associated with this scene lies in the repugnance of the man paralleled with the beauty of the woman. While I admire Battle In Heaven's consideration of time - the film utilizes s l o w meandering takes, which allows mere spectators a shot at protagonism, and its cinematography is perrhaps some of the best non-European influenced work this side of the Atlantic, I find that the dichotomy of ugly/beautiful a trite and shock-for-shock's-sake. Like Gaspard Noé's contreversial (and in my mind despicably shallow) Irreversible, again we have a world of polarities, where, if you're not stunningly beautiful, you weigh in at 300 pounds with the naked cellulite proof to match. In one of the films earliest scenes, we watch seemingly random people pass by a blanket of clocks and jello molds sold by our protagonist's wife (who is not given the decency of a name). In the group of "randoms" we first encounter a boy with down syndrome, then a geriatric man toting a piss bag. In the film's logic, you're either perfect or perfectly deformed. This goes for morality, too, as Wife (as we shall call her) lost her consciounce somewhere last lifetime. Marcos, too, has a few problematic traits: kidnapping, multiple homicide, but the positively obese woman he calls dear (his real life wife) is given the greatest credit as monster extraorinaire. The film pits a strange stance against Europeanism. Gas stations pump classical music to drown out the religious worshipers that Marcos refers to as sheep. Their son goes by Irving. Though the cinema seems completely unadorned by the trappings of European standards, a feat which deserves great respect considering director Carlos Reygadas contemporaries (Gus Van Sant, Michael Winterbottom, Claire Denis to name a few) all have their irrefutible dues to Europe's Neo-realism. This is a film I would like to like, but find just a few too many problematic traits in to recommend. Perhaps wait til video.

Friday, March 03, 2006

R. W. Fassbinder's Chinese Roulette

Last night I watched Chinese Roulette, which I own, but haven't watched in quite some time. Actually, I haven't watched any Fassbinder in a while, at least not since my Heaven-a-thon (All That Heaven Allows(Sirk), Ali: Fear Eats the Soul(Fassbinder) and Far From Heaven(Haynes), the last two are continuations on the same theme as Sirk's original film). It's kind of difficult to explain Fassbinder to people. I learned his canon in an extraordinary way. When I was living in Portland, Oregon and attending Pacific Northwest College of Art, my school ID got me into the Northwest Film Center for free. My last summer there coincided with the arrival of the traveling Fassbinder retrospective. So, in a span of one month, I saw Beware of a Holy Whore(which, coincidentally, is a fantastic film to start out with), The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Effi Briest, Fox and his Friends, Mother Kuster's Goes to Heaven , The Stationmaster's Wife, Lili Marlene and Lola all as restored prints. This is also ideal in the sense that it is the manner (albeit, a slightly more condensed version) in which Fassbinder made his films. Between the years of 1969 and 1982, he made 40 films, television plays and miniseries (the most famous of which is his 15 and 1/2 hour adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz). Watching them in a similar fashion, I was able to glean from them the serial quality that only aids in the understanding of his films.

Fassbinder was interested in Hollywood cinema, and, more particularly, the fifties' melodramas of Douglas Sirk. His were Women's films. In Sirk, he saw women who entertained independent thought. Never before had Fassbinder seen women actually think unaided in any cinema, particularly that of Hollywood. So he modeled his films, in many ways, after Sirk's. As Fassbinder originally came from a theatrical background, the repeated use of actors and dependence on an ensemble cast would thematically echo the general tropes of the melodrama and its natural evolution into the soap opera. In his films, we see the same actors return, time and time again, generally bearing the same characterizations or roles(though, never the same names). In Chinese Roulette, Margit Carstensen plays Ariane Christ. Fassbinder typically used Carstensen to portray the classy and composed woman who, through the course of the narrative, succumbs to her hysteria(think, Petra, Fear of Fear and, or course, Martha!). This characterization is quite true to the film in question. That Fassbinder created his own troupe, from which to cull when necessary character types arose is quite illustrative of his marriage to the melodrama (and its distilled form - the Soap Opera, with its cardboard character types).

This is one of the elements of his practice that makes Chinese Roulette such a delight. The ensemble here is comprised of Carstensen (whom I have already discussed), Brigitte Mira (the seldom used star of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, in a more viscous turn of character), Anna Karina (a Goddard star, this film was one of Fassbinder's first largely budgeted ventures), Ulli Lommel and Volker Spengler (both Fassbinder minor male leads). To call the film an ensemble piece is to state the absolutely obvious. We are presented with a scenario in which we rest with these characters in one house for the majority of the film. The house is the Christ mansion (subtle), Herr Christ has escaped their with his mistress, Irene (Karina) for a weekend of adultery. So has Frau Christ, with her husband's business partner. A situation which is initially met with a laughter turns grave when their crippled daughter (onto which they heap all the blame for their lives' torments) arrives with her mute nursemaid. The crew eventually assemble for chinese roulette, a guessing game which allows for all of their repressed spite and animosity to surface.

The film distinguishes itself apart from Fassbinder's other works as one of his most stylistically distinct films. Movement in Chinese Roulette is a very integral and composed thing. The way our cast moves through a room, or, more importantly, the way the camera follows our cast, forms a balletic parallel to the words and personal positions which divot and sway in the lengthy patches of dialogue. When a camera sweeps a room and lands on a figure, so narrative focus is isolated to that individual for whatever duration that cinematic hold may be. It is a markedly original method of narrative focus, as disruptive as it is effective. Reflection and splitting are very interesting and dynamic visual metaphors utilized throughout the film. Positioned in each room are clear glass towers which serve as liquor and stereo cabinets. Visually, however, Fassbinder uses these as visual devices to isolate and mirror the figures in the room. One character may speak to another, and though they are in the same room, sometimes even in embrace, they exist in polarity, separated by or trapped within these glass towers. Seldom is there a shot in the film that is not interrupted either by these cubes or a pane of glass. There are many shots taken from the exterior of the house, the camera peering through the reflective glass pane of the windows. Seen from this vantage, our wealthy and amoral crew appear trapped. As the majority of the narrative takes place within the mansion, this can be considered as a greater metaphor for the figures of the film who are enmeshed in the construct of their deceit. And yet, this approach also informs the visual potency of the film as but another visual flair that lends to the film. It makes for a stunning image when a figure is doubled in the glass boxes. As open to metaphor as he was opposed, it can quite certainly be argued that Fassbinder chose to depict his crew in this landscape because, more than anything else, it proved visually alluring

As a whole, Chinese Roulette is Fassbinder's most inconsistent film. Yet here, these inconsistencies prove to be conceptually arresting tangents in the way of the film's narrative. When Kast's son, Gabriel, opens the door to the daughter's room to find the nursemaid playing hopscotch with the cripple's canes, Kraftwerk's Radioactivitat floods the soundtrack. It is a moment isolated from the rest of the film for the inclusion of contemporary (pop) music. We have only heard Mahler and the film's original score by Fassbinder regular Peer Rabin until this point, and it is an eerie inclusion that marks the scene as one of interesting import. Similarly, at one point we move from the house into a pastoral shot. Already we are removed from the narrative consistency, as we have yet to part company with our characters to embark on an isolated journey. After we are treated to a lovely pastoral shot, as we carrion with the voice over from the previous (interior) scene, the camera rests on the maggot infested skull of a deer. The voice over, which says something of the mortality of man, juxtaposed with the dead deer reminds us, not just of the material triviality of the dramas that plague our protagonists, but of the mortality of our cast. And also, for as foreshadowing of that which is to come.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ozon fans, rejoyce!

Perhaps the ex-enfant terrible still has a little bit of terrible left, after all. These are some randy snaps from his forthcoming, ahem, film Le Temps Qui Reste. Don't get too excited,though. Let us not forget the faux penis in Breillat's Sex Is Comedy. The last one is actually a rather decent photo.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Almost nothing but summer lies. Almost...

I finally rented the British love story, My Summer of Love, and found, much to my surprise, that it was not a mere coming of age love song that the previews would have you mistake it for. Instead I was treated to an hour and a half of pure visual bliss. Fields of flowers and mossy brooks, all caught with the same salivating gaze. This is what summer love looks like, and it brought to mind one of my favorite not-coming-of-age, though-we-would-have-you-believe-so-to-market-this film, Presque Rien (distributed in the states as Come Undone but literally, Almost Nothing). The greatness of both films lies in the fact that they are NOT coming age films, nor are they truly love stories.

That My Summer Of Love would initially have you believe so is one of the important deceptions of the film. Because, as we soon discover, both girls are playing with a greater deck of cards than we would have imagined from the get go. Fifteen minutes into the film, the girls are discussing Nietzsche and Freud, albeit with a vibrant and youthful pessimism, and we realize that, what the girls see in one another is not idyllic romance, but a displaced mourning. To each girl, the other is a replacement for a family member who has recently died (For Mona, her mother, who died of Cancer; For Tamsin, her sister, who succumbed to anorexia). This devotion, rooted in projection, swells to a physical relationship, but at no moment does the film allow you to forget the yearning that instigated this bond and the asexual role of each girl's predecessor. Even during the sex scenes, you cannot claim that My Summer of Love is a lesbian film. The girls are emotional replacements, not lovers.

Though it is misleading to have you believe this film is maudlin. Far from it. The visual style of the film glows with the vibrant pulse of summer's scorching sun. The camera cannot sit still, but must close in and retreat from the faces of our protagonists. There's a scene where both girls sit perched on a hill of flowers, as they lean back into the flowers, they disappear from the narrative completely. For a moment, both are gone and we are treated to a pastoral view of the town, yet they refuse their seeming absence by the trace smoke which one exhales, shrouded in the flowers. The film is like that scene. Even when apart, the two are somehow together. In the few shots that include neither, their presence is always near, perhaps in the adjacent room

The boys in Presque Rien have it a bit worse off. Where My Summer of Love is a world drenched in a golden glow, that same sun beats down on the French seaside town of Pornichet. It is a sun that blinds the eyes with its flaxen wash. Likewise, the two boys barely reach the level of vibrant intimacy shared by Mona and Tamsin. Mathieu, who is vacationing with his sick mother and bitchy sister (with papa mysteriously absent), allows the roguish Céderic into his world. Céderic shows him around town, where he (like Mona) resides, not merely vacations (like Tamsin and Mathieu). He drifts from summer job to summer job, leaving a trail of ex-lovers for Mathieu to discover. Told in a very non-linear fashion (I know non-linear is the new linear, but itrulyly works here) the film documents Mathieu's attempted suicide and the preceding summer romance that transpired between the two. For Céderic is the replacement for stability that Mathieu so yearns for, and Mathieu, ambition for the lost Céderic. It is this desperate desire for these missing elements that bring the two together, rather than a want of typical summer love.

The film, directed by Sebastien Lifshitz, who is certainly one of the most underrated directors working today, has a similar mesmeric quality, though I would use the word haunting here, rather than glowing. His visuals shield more than they reveal. Even in a seemingly sober scene like the love scene in the sand dunes which is blanched in throbbing sunlight, the editing rips from the exchange a certain intentionality that these two would seem to share off camera. And here lies the great difference between the two. My Summer of Love is a film that exists solely within its frame. There is no time between scenes, no allusion to the unseen. Like I said, when the girls lean back on the hill, narratively speaking, they cease to exist. Presque Rien forces you to imagine that which is not depicted. A great majority of the narrative is abstracted and absent, leaving you with the results of acts that you have never seen. There is no dramatic scene with a bottle of pills, nor is there one in which the two discuss their love. Yet both, in their own way, are remarkable (and deceptive) depictions of the desperateness of yearning youth. Of course, the venue of Summer love is a fantastic one to locate these quests, and in both cases, you get far more than you ever thought you were asking for.

It is also worthy of note that both have FANTASTIC soundtracks by 2 wonderful bands. My Summer of Love uses languid snippets of Goldfrapp (back when they were good) which fuse perfectly with the film's images. Similarly, the somber(and relatively unknown, outside of France) music of Perry Blake illustrates a perfect marriage of image and soundtrack. If you don't know Blake's work, I highly recommend it.