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

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

P.S. Ken Jennings is no more

Of course, had you listened to NPR this afternoon, you would have already known that. (Sorta. The words they chose barely qualify as "coy.") That said, can I please scream Quiz Show? Right in time for the end of sweeps week, Jennings becoming a boring know-it-all (not my words) -- friggin' "Fed Ex"?! (Yeah, delivery men only work four months a year, dumbass.) Regardless, I salute you.

So, Thanksgiving weekend was a bust, activities-wise. No one told me that if you work 40 hours a week and hold down a job, you, like, get tired and can, if the opportunity arises, spend the whole days at a time "vege-ing." Saw very little over the four-day marathon, and illegally downloaded even less. (At least I have Spinal Tap's immortal "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" on my hard drive.)

Of the bunch, The Stepford Wives remake was the mom-sating offering. As though it needed reiterating, it's a near-disaster: barely 70 minutes of glib Paul Rudnick one-liners and footage cut within an inch of its life, followed by a protracted twist ending so transparently re-shot that the actors even look older. Not that the Bryan Forbes original was some masterwork of subtle horror. (Like, say, Rosemary's Baby, Ira Levin's other woman-in-peril schlockfest.) In fact, it's deadly dull, with bland Katherine Ross barely mustering up enough energy to make us worry about her turning into a robot. (Paula Prentiss, though, could eat Bette Midler for breakfast.) But this is still one of the great missed opportunities: here was a chance to satirize the backlash against feminism, though all Rudnick & co. satirize is the idea that anyone would want to remake the film in our ever-trashy era. Assholes.

I penned a review of Ousmane Sembene's transporting female genital mutilation pic Moolaadé for the Weekly, so I'll let you wait till then. Though I never did get around to writing words -- any words, I believe -- on Sideways, which I took a second helping of at Harrisburg's meager, but welcome, equivalent of an art house movie theater. (Tiny room, broken-spring-heavy chairs, rows that barely make room for legs, no slope, screen always in the cinemascope position...it's good to be home.) While I'm hardly jumping up and down about it, it's almost obnoxiously appealing, movie-izing a kind of geek I don't think has ever received the movie-ization. That realm of geekdom is the wine geek, and there's no shortage of hilariously arcane tidbits littered about (so stems are what give it its color!), delivered with the correct mixture of awe and deprication. As the increasingly unhinged nerd, Paul Giamatti delivers his most lived-in turn yet: I loved his seamless blend of class (he pronounces all his consonants, and correctly says "croissant") and self-destructive vulgarity, equally at home talking vino and nustling up to a Barely Legal. Also, again needlessly reiterating the plenty iterated (sorry), Thomas Haden Church is one funny motherfucker -- don't think I don't remember you from Wings. While it's plenty absorbing and quietly trenchant throughout, the second viewing rendered the last twenty minutes -- or at least up to the tacked-on but still restrained hopeful ending -- my favorite section of the movie: there's not a lot of movie that really get that feeling of having your heart (and dreams) smashed and then having to endure the company of friends, all while on the road. (It's not fun.)

The biggest gain -- and it's a sizeable one -- was getting back on track with the westerns of Anthony Mann and James Stewart. Winchester '73, purchased on a whim, is pure psychological quagmire bliss, with a treasure trove of characters bouncing off one another, all connected by the passing of the titular rifle. "Yeah," you're saying, "I already saw that one. It was called The Red Violin. And I loathed every second of it." But you're wrong: Mann all but ditches the gimmicky structure halfway through (right around the time a young Rock Hudson pops up as an injun), turning his focus onto the mental damage it has wrought. Most of it's on Stewart, and I have to say he's the most unsettling crazed asshole in screen history: who but Mann (and, afterwards, Hitch) realized that his good-naturedness was only an inch from deranged obsession, nearly foaming at the mouth to get what he wants? The Man From Laramie is every bit its equal, only more ambitious: Mann holds the balls in the air with such clarity, yet such precision, that Stewart's quest -- again, to avenge a relative's murder -- extends to the very land itself. Neither is as vivid -- or as tortured -- as the loneliness of the five-actor Naked Spur, but it does cement Mann as every bit the equal of Hawks and Ford -- and probably the former's superior. So the weekend wasn't a huge wash.

Also, this just in: Jeremy, my novellist pal, has successfully bested National Novel Writing Month. Maybe he'll even post the news himself one of these days.

* And contains what is for the author the "funniest moment of, like, ever": after Virginia Madsen's come-hither monologue, none-too-subtly preaching to the richness of middle aged women, Giamatti respons with a three-year pause, followed by a shrug and "Yeah, I like other wines, too..." Perhaps you had to be there.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

You know why I'm here

In tomorrow's Weekly, I once again penned but two articles:
*A very paltry Rep commands only a couple hundred words this time (and next week's not a ton better).
* And what I believe to be, without having done a lot of research, the geekiest Top Five of the Moment ever. I'm not boasting.

Four day holiday on the horizon, and I'm sure I'll wind up finally typing up some words on Man on Fire, Fritz Lang's Spies and Wong Kar-Wai's rapturous Days of Being Wild, which many of my film-critic idols caught in Manhattan over the weekend while I had to settle for DVD on the tiny television in my bedroom. You guys are bastards.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I Walk the Line

Only two things in today's Philly Weekly, but they're each quite a bit lengthy. First, it's the Holiday Guide, so as is the usual drill, I penned a gift guide (of sorts) for those who flood their loved ones with DVDs. (Of course, my idea of a gift-receiver is someone who'd want L'Age d'or.) Also, as ever, there's Rep. Lots of Not-revieweds this time around, if only because the bulkiest entry -- I-House's Italian Film Fest -- resulted in no screeners. Oh well.

Tomorrow, as some of you may be rueing, is the Great American Smokeout, otherwise known as "Annual Belittle a Pathetic Nicotine Addict Day." As I work at a medical campus, there's apparently a big to-do w/r/t it scheduled throughout the day, which I can only interpret as people harrassing and throwing eggs at me whenever I nip out for a break.

As a nic-head going on three-and-a-half years, what gets my panties in a bunch about clean-lungers' isn't simply their unrepentent (in fact, bafflingly unaware) self-righteousness, one of the few prejudices that remains socially acceptable among all races, creeds and political leanings. It's their complete and total inability to understand the seasoned smoker. "Why don't you just quit," I often get, as though that option never entered my cross-hairs and then jumped up and down, waving a big sign that read "Why don't you just quit?" with every word underlined and in italics. It's like those twerps who drive through gay-pride days in a big truck that informs people the bible prohibits what they do: do they think I and my colleagues will see it, stop what we're doing, stare into nothingness, then go, "Oh yeah. Never thought of it that way"?

It's been said that cigarettes are harder to shake than heroin, the underlying principle being that because its effects are long-term and not quite as gruesome, the need to give up is never quite as imminent. Cold turkey has worked for some, sure, but what it does is deprive a smoker of their chief source of nerves-quelling (as well as a mighty oral fixation, to boot -- there's gum and nicotine-flavored toothpicks, but I'm sure most people wind up chewing deep into countless pens). Thusly, these people -- who have built up a profound chemical dependency on it -- freeze up, grow impatient and become, for lack of a better word, total motherfucking assholes. For a month. After that, they get downgraded to "motherfucking assholes," then simply "assholes," which they remain for at least a couple years, if not for the rest of their lives.

I'm in no position to become a total motherfucking asshole, even for a month. In fact, one of the only ways I can write is to puff through countless fags, relieving myself of stress as I ponder over what word to employ next. (Plus, I'm an undiagnosed depressive type. I stress out easily and very neurotically, prone to brood over minutae and worry about anything socially-related.) Should I be convinced by these light-on-their-feet, nosy pricks to quit tomorrow, the first thing I'll do is take another drag and maybe add an extra hour onto my break regime. It will be a long-term thing, spread out over many months, if not even longer.

And, no, nicorette doesn't work for me. Sorry.

And, of course, the most loathsome part of this is when ex-smokers descend upon me, telling me how easy it was for them to shake one of the hardest addictions on the planet. Whenever I get that, I want to blow a long drag in their face, watch them slowly and surely crack under the flashback-induced pain. And then cackle diabolically, of course.

Oh yeah, there is the other side of this: they just want me to get healthy. Thanks for worrying about me. Now fuck off and let me settle my aching bones without any extra guilt.

(That last part doesn't go for people I actually know who've said the same thing to me. I love you all and I'll dedicate a book or something to you one day.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Bomb Voyage!

Jesus, I can't even remember what has happened since I last posted. Basically, I've been busy, and when I haven't been busy, I've been relaxing. Is this what happens when you have a full-time job, seasoned full-time-job-havers? In the interim, I've missed a whole two weeks worth of updates for my shit in the Weekly. Better take care of that first:

In tomorrow's paper, here's what I got:
* Two reviews (third and fourth down), one of Robert Zemeckis' it-shoulda-been-worse com-anime opus The Polar Express and the necessary but wan Tying the Knot;
* And, as ever, Rep. Bucketloads of words on Cassavetes, as there's a mini-fest in town, plus some dismissive words on Lynne Stopkewich's probably-a-cult-classic Suspicious River. Betcha I get chewed out by Andrew Repasky McElhinney, the curator, for that one.

And then, in last week's paper (11/3), I penned:
* A review of Being Julia, which, if nothing, is worth catching for Annette Bening. Not that it's just about her: practically everyone's on the ball -- Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon, Lucy Punch...just not Juliet Stevenson, who, with this and Nicholas Nickleby, has apparently decayed into a characateur over the years since Truly Madly Deeply.
* Also, Rep.

What do I do, you ask? (Skip this paragraph if you didn't.) Essentially, I stand in front of a filing cabinet at a medical college for 8 1/2 hours (including smoke breaks). Sometimes I stand in front of a Xerox machine for an hour and a half. Sometimes still I sit in a chair (with a padded back that sticks out almost halfway across the seat and will correct bad posture by the year 3000) and open a bottomless pit of mail for three hours. It's perfect. Net access is rare (as I do nothing that requires utilizing a computer), but my filing room-mate and I have agreed that NPR is where the radio dial shall fall. (Unless someone puts on Smooth Jazz, surely the nadir of all forms of music.) Furthermore, while it's maddeningly dull, it's not stressful, which means I can daydream (or write reviews or come up with wacky cinematic theorems in my head) all day, come home sore but not exhausted and do what I like to do (for pay). Why did no one tell me I could do this before? Dude! I even ate out twice this week!

I will stop talking about this forever right...now.

Anyway. My neglect of this here site means I am officially the last person to opine on last Tuesday's election. But not only have I already exhausted discussion of this thing in real life, but there's apparently -- or so I've been told -- this craze going on right now where entire blogs are dedicated to politics. Huh. Good for them.* I'll spare you my thoughts apart from the obvious feelings: crestfallen, pessimistic, paranoid, disgusted. But, lo and behold, there's a welter of fine musings elsewhere. For those, I recommend heading over to Ryan Wu, who is not merely unspooling his own thoughts but has a deluge of links to here, there, and everywhere. Sore losers we are not. Sore winners, however, are plentiful, and for that I will direct you to Victor Morton, whose first paragraph rubs dems' faces in the expansive puddle of shit better than anyone else. What a dick. (Update, 11/11: Okay, so the succubus didn't disappoint. Let's now thank Victor for not resorting to blinding stereotypes.)

As for, ulp, cinema: well, I haven't seen anything lately that I haven't written about in print. So I'm not about to double my workload, you know? The only film I have seen of late is The Incredibles, which -- being not just the new Pixar, but the new Brad Bird, too -- is naturally lovely. It's also not lovely enough, though it's rather thrilling to see the company lending out their skills, or at least working a the behest of another (equal but different) talent (who's also, it turns out, a marvelous voice actor). More on it later, plus maybe Sideways should plans to see it tomorrow eve successfully materialize.

Lastly, The Blind Watchmaker, by evolutionist Richard Dawkins, is amazing (so far), making perfect sense to this agnostic-leaning-hesitantly-towards-atheism. My only hang-up about joining the clique is that I don't want to rule out the possibility of something happening post-mortum. But I'm starting to realize that that's just an ego thing, an inability to admit that my personality -- my essence, or something close to it -- will simply disappear once dead. Is that what we're all hung up over -- this reluctance to admit we won't exist at all after a certain point? Could that be one of the two or three reasons religion was spurned into existence?** In any case, while I'm approaching Dawkins with a quarry of salt, as I would anyone who claims to know "all the answers," it's at least enabling my agnosticism to curdle into full-force atheism. Let's just hope I can control myself during family functions. Or at least avoid conversations like this:

Nice person: He's gone to a better place.
Me: He hasn't gone anywhere, you delusional twit.

Atheists: any tips on how to avoid self-righteousness in touchy situations?

Lastly (for real), a pitch to two new blogs: Mike D'Angelo has up and started his own, wherein he swears he will not at all discuss the modes of the cinematics. Meanwhile, Philly Weekly compadre Doug Wallen thinks he can juggle editing a newspaper, writing literate music reviews, keeping up his frequently booze-centric lifestyle and maintaining this site without collapsing into an unrelenting coma. His comment boxes are so far desolate, so you can either tell him how he picked a great song for his title or convince him to employ the occasional capital letter I mean Jesus it's an easy to reach button what do you think this is e-mail spruce it up for the fine folks reading twerp.***

* The author won't readily admit it, but he's rather sidetracked this site into the realms of hopelessly -- often times even incompetently -- amateur political rumination. Had he managed to visit a non-cinema site that isn't one of the big lefty web zines, he would have known this is already covered, and that rants along the lines of "Hey, like, it's a disgrace that cons won't watch all of Fahrenheit 9/11" weren't already redundant, but ill-advised to boot. Advice along the lines of "Leave it to the professionals or people who at least read the paper" were left stubbornly unanswered.

** Again with the rhetorical questions. Better off just stating what you mean to say.

*** Doug Wallen could punch the author through a brick wall if the occasion arose. That he hasn't is a testament to his massive good-will towards the human race, as well as to the latter's all-around ineffectualness.