a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

playing catch-up

Okay, my iBook's back and working fine. You care.

I'll try and get around to a regular, three-times-a-week-if-that duty tomorrow, but, in the meantime, here's some seemingly random sentences: I can cross Rocky off the list. If the ambiguous space-set opening is to be trusted, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie reveals that the Topps trading card grotesques are aliens. Instead of going by John Ford's ethos of "Print the legend," King Arthur makes up its own stupid legend and prints that. Couldn't get into a sold-out screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 on Sunday, so I saw the (presumably) exponentially better Control Room instead. Vincente Minnelli's The Clock is a fine way to kill an hour-and-a-half as you impatiently wait for DHL to not deliver a much-needed package. Either Badder Santa isn't "badder" at all or it's the most seamless re-editing job there ever was. With the utmost respect to countless respectable people, Yes blows.

Today's Philly Weekly has but one thing from yours truly: this. Shake Yr ASSthetics indeed.

Also, expect a rant on Michael Moore once I can find a theater that has a seat for me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

published effluvia

In today's issue of The Weekly, you can find my usual deluge, plus reviews of Jean-Jacques Annaud's non-annoying tiger pic Two Brothers and a somewhat too (psuedo-)academic take on the pleasantly asinine Dodgeball.

More importantly, lead cricket Sean Burns managed to catch Fahrenheit 9/11 before deadline. Predictably, seeing how he also felt the same way about the liberal bully's last movie, he sees right through the filmmaker's trickery, which, after Christopher Hitchen's recent Moore-vivisection, seems to be popular pasttime these days. Sounds like I'll agree with him. Then again, what did the man say about withholding judgment? Surely that won't stop the legions of kneejerk Moore-heads out there, who undoubtedly, and delusionally, equate hating Moore with being pro-Bush. I'll elaborate after or on Friday.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


The other day, my handy, trusty IBook went and crashed. So, for the next two weeks while it's repaired, I will have to live on the kindness of my roommate, who will let me borrow his computer here and there. Expect fewer updates -- or fewer updates than usual.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

what do you think of meester chames choyce?

Everywhere I’ve gone for the last week, Ulysses has been there. NYT had a scribbling on it. Slate forced Jeffrey Eugenides and Jim Lewis to battle over it. Edmund Wilson’s 1922 review of it was reposted. When there wasn’t an NPR program on it or a friend with whom to discuss it, I went and brought it up out of the blue, much to the bafflement and/or annoyance of others.

To officially commemorate the centennial of Bloomsday -- the day, if you weren’t aware, when the “tale” takes place -- Dubliners could watch a complete reenactment of what little happens. Here in Philadelphia, we did what most cities do on June 16: we have famous people or non- read from much of the 768-page text. Unlike most cities, we have something extra up our sleeves: we possess, within the annals of our famed Rosenbach Museum, the original, entirely-illegible manuscript. Take that, the rest of the world.

Having started on this daunting, endlessly clever tome last week, I'm merely on page 42. However, the last five pages made not a lick of sense to me so, really, I'm on page 37. That didn’t stop me from trekking a mere five blocks to 20th and Delancey Sts., where, annually, chairs are set up, a sound system is erected, James Joyce masks are sold, and legions of Philadelphians sit for hours and hours, listening to portions of the book read by the area’s finest orators (plus Police Chief John Timoney). To make heads or tails of this classic of 20th Century Modernism, you’re required by law to purchase or borrow a guidebook. A dictionary, too, should be your constant companion. Regardless, Joyce always stated that the best way to groove on his rhythmic prose is to hear it, not read it in a quiet bedroom. Joyce was full of shit.

Yesterday was my second Bloomsday visit. Now knowing a little more about the tome -- including, but not limited to, realizing who this Bloom fella is -- I fared a little better this time around. Before it rained and I wound up choosing food and shelter over hearing Drucie McDaniel’s bawdy rendering of the Molly Bloom finale (and, my current favorite, the “Tinbad the Tailor” lead-up), I lasted three hours, rarely moving from my seated position on the sidewalk.

What’s more, I really got into it. I often have trouble concentrating on public readings, but, taken in small sections, Joyce’s way with words -- and, more specifically, its musical nature -- all but hypnotized me. During the onset of the downpour, I wound up talking loudly to a friend as she made her way to leave. Eventually, a man rose from his seat and audibly hushed me. I don’t know how many of my fellow patrons had read the Greatest Novel of the 20th Century™, but it was a transcendent moment: for one day and one day only, people will congregate to listen to some very difficult and obtuse prose -- indeed, one of the few books whose infamy makes it as much a bestseller as one that no one finishes. I ought to finish this sonofabitch; few “difficult” books have warped my fragile little mind as much as this one.

(It should be noted that yesterday had two anniversaries: the invention of the hamburger -- that is, the idea of putting meat together with a bun -- and the ten year one for the day Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise takes place. Surely not a coincidence that one -- and another reason why that movie quite rules.)

* The new Beastie Boys album ain’t bad on first listen. It’s also, as I predicted, a step-down -- a nervous retreat into the pre-Hello Nasty days, only with an elder statesmen feel that renders it less goofily addictive. Going with a stripped-down production, the ostentatious surprises are few and far between. In other words, all the songs basically sound like minor variations on one another, with an exception here and there. (“Ch-Check It Out” promises more than is rewarded.) So, essentially, it’s one of those: an album that requires multiple listenings to discover all the quirks and nuances rather than one which grabs you. It does grab though -- it’s never less than head-noddingly listenable. It’s just that hip hop, by and large, has been expanding its focus lately, eating up more and more influences that one of them -- namely, The Love Below -- boasts almost no rapping whatsoever. This one is all rapping and, after the forays into instrumental tracks and even outright singing on Nasty, it can’t help but feel behind a bit. Again, let me listen to it ten more times.

* Congrats to Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper lead film critic, on getting a small article on Richard Lester’s totally negelcted The Bed Sitting Room publishing within the pages of Entertainment Weekly. Now, not only will the country know of this never-released-to-video classic, but will also be able to make fun of a guy who shares a name with either a patriot or an ale.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

shameless plugs, issue of 6/16/04

In today's issue of the Philly Weekly, one can skim over two reviews I penned: a decidedly minority opinion on the feel-good blob o' ethnocentricity that is The Story of the Weeping Camel and a noble attempt to un-pack the Bangladeshi The Clay Bird. (They're the fourth and fifth down, respectively.) There's also the one constant in my life: my quasi-column, complete with a run-down of Kubrick's abridged resume. You know. For the kids.

Happy Bloomsday Centennial, incidentally!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

to the 5 boroughs

* The new Beastie Boys album lands today. I was chatting with a friend the other day and wound up bugging him for his thoughts on "Ch-Check It Out," the new, awesomely-retro single from the Beasties. Looking visibly annoyed, he told me was over them, that they were a thing of his less mature, non-married past. I, forever single and still prone to foam over, say, the first Ramones album, felt decades younger.

Nevertheless, I refuse to be fazed. Though too often the lame white guy's introduction to hip-hop, the Beasties are far more than their pop culture ref-dropping, in-unison-shouting rep would suggest. They're also musical geniuses. Break out your neglected copy of Hello Nasty and you'll see it ages well -- it's less impenetrable than it once was, and that scope that was once naggingly daunting is now impressively daunting. (The first four songs especially -- why doesn't the carnivalistic "Song for the Man" get any love?) Not sure if the new one -- first in six years, you know -- will continue on the path, or if they've nervously retreated into their Liscensed to Ill days. Either way's fine, really.

* Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, of course, gives your mind more to munch on than Monster. It's also a Nick Broomfield doc, a title which is one of the more polarizing out there. He's a hack tabloid pusher, his detractors say, and sometimes, as with Kurt and Courtney, he's downright incompetent. All valid points. But, for me, these are also his strong points. Really. Who but a self-depricating faux-naif could get Wuornos to open up the way she does? And who but a scumbug could attract the attention -- and get the low-down -- on a spree of other, even worse scumbags (or Dr. Legal, "otherwise known as 'Steve'")? If ever a history of the world's depressing celebrity hangers-on should be compiled, it would start -- and maybe end -- with Broomfield's resume.

(The movie's pretty good, by the way. It never tops the scene early on when Broomfield's 1992 Aileen: The Selling of a Serial Killer is used as Exhibit A in the latest court case -- a meta- scene that's one of documentary film's finest, most revaling moments -- but it expands on the original (and Monster) in ways that eat into you. Charlize did do a pretty bang-up job!)

* Here's the deal with Jean-Jacques Annaud's Two Brothers: I'm an idiot. Not exactly a memorable yarn -- and those shots of tiger cubs looking "sad" have to go -- but it's incident-heavy and allows some darker shades to seep in, proving again how antiseptic most kiddie fare is. I'm assuming this is countless leagues better than The Bear...

* Super Size Me is a stunt after all. Hoping no one's read -- or is aware of the sheer journalistic density of -- Fast Food Nation, Morgan Spurlock does as little ruminating as possible. Or, rather, he does just enough that he can ship it into theaters rather than onto MTV. As with Michael Moore, I agree with almost every point he makes. Unfortunately, there are roughly three points, each of them hammered home endlessly. What about the fact that McDonald's pops up in low-income areas? And why not dwell on the sheer cheapness of these meals? Spurlock settles for less, and since most people like to know only bullet points -- and not too many of those -- his movie's a runaway doc hit. Not to mention that I grew quickly weary of Spurlock himself: his obnoxious, unreasonably confident schtick reminded me of the has-been frat boy he most likely is. Moore should sue.

* Solid but instantly forgettable, Strayed plays like a less imaginative and real-life riff off of Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf; here, too, are a mother and two kids running from a vague enemy, only to meet up with an ominous rapscallion. (It's as though they co-ordinated their plans.) André Téchiné does fine work, as does Emmanuelle Béart. But it seems like it could've been 30 minutes long and every bit as effective, if not more so. Pretty good sex scene, though.

* The Six Feet Under Season Premiere was nowhere near the wan disappointment critics have been touting it as, though it certainly felt like a transitional episode. Still, it should've lifted a bit from the metaphysical circlicues of last season's debut. Nothing embarrassing went down -- in fact, the ending almost literally grossed out my SFU-virgin compadres -- but I can't help thinking that I'm going to have to patiently await the full-throttled return of My Favorite Current Drama. Seeing that last season practically saved my life (or my mental health, anyway), I'm willing to cut it some slack. Claire: Marry me.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

a summary judgment

Remember that section of Love and Death where Woody becomes suddenly and inexplicably depressed? That, alas, is what's become of me over the last several weeks. (Technically speaking, Woody became suicidal; the principle's roughly the same.) Needless to say, work -- and, thus, my filmic obsession -- has tapered off a bit. As I make my way out of the hole, I've devised a smashingly therapeutic idea: drop a few hopelessly quick words* on what few long strips of celluloid I've seen in the last week or so. More importantly, it's been barren round these parts, yes?

Here goes:

/Little Murders/ (1971, Alan Arkin) This one -- a very deadpan adaptation of Jules Feiffer's lucidly dark comedy of a play -- apparently grew in infamy in my mind; a second viewing reveals that, no, the second half doesn't entirely work -- or make any kind of sense, for that matter. The first, however, is an entirely different story. There's a good hour stretch where it's never less than wildly inventive in its absurdism, which must be some kind of record in sustained comic misanthropy. (Particularly the 20-minute meeting-the-folks scene; bite me, Meet the Parents, indeed.) Elliott Gould = Coolest Actor of the '70s. Grade: B+

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Alfonso Cuaron) What everybody else said. But not this. Or not all of it anyway. Grade: B

Jean Rouch Fest A scary part of my job as writer and compiler of the Philly Weekly Repertory Film and Video listings: while readers (or non-) get to hypothetically take in rare films on big screens and with other people, I almost always see them on my couch and (usually) on my lonesome. Sometimes, I even wind up taking in an entire mini-festival in the span of one day's sitting. Such was the case with this six film tribute to the late Rouch, documentarian pioneer and one of the purveyors of cinema verite. I haven't become an expert -- the dude has 106 films, according to the IMDb -- but there was more to the guy than my simple description would suggest. In films like 1967's Jaguar and 1961's A Chronicle of a Summer, he made sure to throw in exposes of the doc form's inherent fraudulence. Not to mention that he was expanding the form -- having subjects re-watch films, even narrate them after-the-fact -- before it was fully-grown. Not a master, but neither just a time capsule filmmaker.

Dishonored and Morocco (1930/1931, Josef von Sternberg) If only Greta Garbo had the affection of a von Sternberg. On the other hand, Dietrich, the director's seven-film obscure object of desire, deserved what she got. Morocco, the duo's first Hollywood effort, possesses the expected B&W lushness and chiaroscuro-ness while attaching some cork-screws into the simple plot. Gary Cooper is pretty non-Gary Cooper, to boot. Dishonored, however, is pure movie-geek bliss. Playing a Mata Hari type, Dietrich is perpetually elusive, always slipping into a new identity as she slithers through the otherwise by-the-numbers storyline. The director, meanwhile, turns in what looks like his Forty Guns: a whirling dervish of odd tricks that somehow, but almost don't, coalesce into something coherent. The party scene, with its jungle of balloon strings, must be seen before you die. Grades: B/A-

Oh, and my usual published deluge is viewable. Nothing else this week, he says semi-casually.

*A promise that, as always, I'm incapable of keeping

N.B. For some reason, Repertory is credited to lead film critic Sean Burns -- but only on the web version. Sean, one of the biggest Mystic River fans in the galaxy, should be pleased as punch since net-hounds will now discover that he thinks rather less of it.
N.B., uh...2 Misprint remedied. And there was peace once again in the realm...

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Coffee and Cigarettes (2004, Jim Jarmusch)

Is Jim Jarmusch a perpetual film student? Or are film students perpetually like Jim Jarmusch?

While you ponder that, here's the scorecard:

Loved: Blanchett & Blanchett; Coogan & Molina; Rza, Gza & Murray
Liked:Pop & Waits; Rigano, Vella & Vella, Jr.; Rice & Mead
Feh: Lee, Lee & Buscemi; French & Rodriguez; Descas & de Bankole; White, White, Lee & Marvin's portrait
Neh: Benigni & Wright

All in all, not bad for a filmmaker who's simply dicking around. The worst segments flat-out don't work but are hardly awful, while the best is probably the strongest stuff ever jettisoned out of Jarmusch's mind. Ironically (I think), the latter bunch is also the least Jarmuschian. There's a classical structure to them, and they're led more by the actors than the filmmaker. (Coogan, especially, with his perfectly timed non-reactions. In an ideal world, everyone would be goosed to see Around the World in 80 Days.) Jarmusch even cuts a lot more than he usually does; I'd imagined it as eleven static set-ups, but Jarmusch has certainly gone and nabbed up some heavy coverage. Also, 35mm B&W: swooooooon.

For anyone absolutely baffled by my review of Cowards Bend the Knee (two posts down), there's solace for you: I'm gonna write up a normal, healthy, sane post on it terribly soon. Seemed like a good idea at the time...

Crap in Print

Just two: a review of the blah Since Otar Left (four down) and the usual thang.

And it's official: Harry Potter/Azkaban, as helmed by Alfonso Cuaron, is good but not all it could be. Is it perhaps a good thing, at least for Cuaron, that he's been replaced by Mike Newall for Goblet? Still hoping for some sensual insanity with this one, though.