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

Monday, August 30, 2004

punks gone to the multiplex

First off, the NC-17 awarded to John Waters' new comedy, A Dirty Shame is ludicrous. A couple shots of penises aside, the rating seems to have been earned exclusively by its "adult content," at least insofar as the characters in this film talk about sex and literally nothing but. On the flip side, the buzz floating around is mostly correct: this is as close to a classic Waters film we're gonna get from anyone these days, feeling for all the world like Shivers as made by, erm, well, John Waters**. Sure, it's a mite depressing that Waters has been making the same damn movie for thirty years, with varying budgets and success (at least he fares better on the returning-to-your-roots front than Woody Allen*). At the same time, it's been at least a decade-plus since Waters has fired on all cylinders.

A late-comer to everything mainstream these days, I finally caught up with Michael Mann's Collateral, and am pleased to say it might be the tightest thing he's ever churned out. Like Mamet (and all of his protagonists), Mann fancies himself a pro. Only thing (and this goes for Mamet, too): he's a terribly eccentric pro, as fascinated by characters as he is by their melancholy and/or existentialist moods. After two mood-fests in a row, Collateral finds Mann stripping his work down, getting the running time to under two hours and working through the same increasingly contrived scripts in which luminaries like Sam Fuller and Anthony Mann*** used to trade stock. As the ice cold hitman, Tom Cruise is effectively hollow -- with his Miami Vice suit and Harry Lime-ish philosophy, he could pass for Patrick Bateman after some a couple days of introspection and an employment switcheroo. What's more, Cruise, after a slew of navel-gazing films, has figured it out and gone elder statesman: this is the kind of mentor role to which he used to play opposite, with the maturing Jamie Foxx apparently stepping into his old shoes. As for the film itself, it boasts a strong (okay, promising) first half before growing ever silly and anticlimactic. But there's plenty of subtext to make forgiving its many lapses more or less effortless. Underneath, there's still Mann's usual woes-of-the-well-dressed-macho-man brooding, but there's also a far more interesting trail about conflicting philosophies: not for no reason did my mind sidetrack off the picture for a bit, flashing back to heated coversations I've endured with people of different takes on politics, religion, art, et al. Kudos to the great Dion Beebe for the ethereal cinematography (Beebe shares credit with Paul Cameron). DV can look aesthetically pleasing!

Quick advance buzz on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: Yep -- it's Guy Maddin gone very, very, very mainstream. A visual stunner with a geekily retro vibe, it's also keen enough to boast a simple, slight, and not terribly po-mo script, with acting to match. Only problem: next to zero subtext. I'm either slightly underrating it or slightly overrating it; can't wait for the reactions, which are bound to be polarized. Me? Ever the contrarian, I'm just slightly off-center.

Lastly, the attempted plot description on the IMDb for David O. Russell's belated I Heart Huckabees goes like this:

Albert Markovski ([Jason] Schwartzman), head of the Open Spaces Coalition, has been experiencing an alarming series of coincidences the meaning of which escapes him. With the help of two Existential Detectives, Bernard and Vivian Jaffe ([Dustin] Hoffman and [Lily] Tomlin), Albert examines his life, his relationships, and his conflict with Brad Stand ([Jude] Law), an executive climbing the corporate ladder at Huckabees, a popular chain of retail superstores. When Brad also hires the detectives, they dig deep into his seemingly perfect life and his relationship with his spokesmodel girlfriend, the voice of Huckabees, Dawn Campbell ([Naomi] Watts). Albert pairs up with rebel firefighter Tommy Corn ([Mark] Wahlberg) to take matters into their own hands under the guidance of the Jaffes' nemesis, the French radical Caterine Vauban ([Isabelle] Huppert).

The. Fuck. Who did Russell blow to get $20K on what looks like a mainstream version of Schizopolis? (That is, unless, as I suspect, it gradually morphs into a heart-warming parody of New Age-isms. Please let this not be the case.) Catch the quotable-festooned trailer here. Do it.

* Shoppers alert: one can purchase a box set of Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, and Anything Else for the desperate price of around $25.

** As per usual, the author assumes that everyone else shares his own experiences and knowledge. Shivers, made in 1975, is David Cronenberg's proper feature film debut, in which the denizens of an ultra-modern apartment complex are infected, one by one, by a tiny slug creature that renders its victims hypersexual zombies. Which means: love-in.

*** The author already made a joke about their surnames in one of the comments boxes. It is a considered theory that he correctly realized that's one too many.


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