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

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Preliminary Don't Even Describe It

Just to get in on the action*: were I to erect my year's end Top Ten List, it might look like this:

(in faux-suspenseful reverse order, as is plainly shown)

10. SPARTAN (David Mamet, USA)
09. SPIDER-MAN 2 (Sam Raimi, USA)
08. HERO (Zhang Yimou, China)
07. BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater, USA)
06. DISTANT (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
05. KILL BILL, VOL. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
04. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE (Guy Maddin, Canada)
03. I ♥ HUCKABEES (David O. Russell, USA)
02. PRIMER (Shane Carruth, USA)

And yet, I'm still tinkering. Spots #9-10 are iffy, while Hero might go up a peg or two should I bestow upon it another gander. And then there's the nuisance of not having seen some of the potential entries: I already mentioned a handful, but I neglected to include Tropical Malady, Notre Musique, Goodbye Dragon Inn, Springtime in a Small Town, Oasis, Blissfully Yours, Son Frére, DIG!, and (ulp!) A Very Long Engagement. Again, to those privvy to more info than I: when, if ever, is Bad Education hitting Philly? This is a fucking travesty.

Besides, I can't help wondering if this list is just so goddam boring. I always wonder that, every goddam year.

Grant me a couple weeks and I'll get that offical end-of-the-year deluge underway.

*"That's on my Top Ten of the Year!," I've been hearing from this one fellow critic whenever I casually mention some asinine-sounding film I'm stridently avoiding. Example:
ME: Er...I'm kinda dreading Million Dollar Baby...
HIM: That's on my Top Ten of the Year!
Are critics in other cities this self-serving and weird? Are we supposed to be walking list-machines, rabidly exchanging info from December until the Oscars?

Two Weeks of Backlog

Firstly, an R.I.P. to...so many people. For an in memorium on Susan Sontag, consult Christopher Hitchens. For one on Jerry Orbach, check with Dana Stevens. (Can you tell I'm a Slate-junkie?) As for Reggie White, I'm sure you can find one -- or exponentially more than one -- elsewhere. As a side note, it seemed, at least here in Philly, like the former football-ist's demise effectively usurped The Catastrophe. It's almost -- but not by a mile -- like when Princess Di's death overshadowed that of Mother Theresa.

As per the titlecard, here's what I wrote in the year's final issue:
* A news article on the Bryn Mawr theater's unorthodox renovation. This piece also represents a personal milestone: this is the very first time in history that my name is on the cover of the paper (in reference to this article, of course).
* Rep, which is, again, puny. Stupid holidays. Also, forgive me the baiting Sideways line. Yes, I'm also a target (replace wine with film). Yes, I was annoyingly coy about same.

And last week's effluvia:
* An A-list (fourth down) on Ted Turner's aggravating tendency to broadcast A Christmas Story for 24 straight hours on the 25th. And, yes, it was a slow week, local events-wise. (For those who care: no, my sister did not keep the damn thing on all day. Instead, she screened at least half of the the 20 hour Patrick Swayze-a-thon North and South, debatably as revenge for me demonizing her in print. The good side: David Carradine. "Watch me as I kill your lover!", he purrs before falling to an un-majestic death.)
* A review of -- it pains me to say it -- Fat Albert. Always at work during the usual morning screenings, these things are now my purgatory-ish beat. Next up: Racing Stripes!
* Rep. Skimpier than today's.

By the way, the Voice has its annual Take 6 Critic's Poll comments cavalcade up, which is always enjoyable. Congrats to local colleague/personal hero Sam Adams, though that Sideways comment is slightly out of line. A good chunk of its backlash has to do with people not, like, liking it. Wouldn't it be great, though, if people really did think so shallowly? It would make one-liners so much easier to write.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Turn back now; just self-promotion

Namely, this (fourth one down) and this.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Already?! [updated]

As my meager list of current films seen will inform you, I'm in no way ready to compile a mostly-indestructible End of the Year List. But others sure are. Firstly, that entirely superfluous parade semi-affectionately described as "loose" announced its potential goldies. As though this fucker deserves thought:

Surprises: Uma Thurman (for "endurance," I guess); David Carradine; Nicole Kidman; the three for Million Dollar Baby (guess it is getting buzz; sorry) Scarlett Johansson (only because what the fuck is A Love Song for Bobby Long?) (A. Johansson returns to her Southern digs and shacks up with a white-dye-jobbed John Travolta and some scruffy dude. Looks gross.)
Pleasantries: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Incredibles; Jamie Foxx x 2; Meryl Streep; Clive Owen
Petty Annoyances: Finding Neverland; The Phantom of the Opera; Mar adentro; Spacey; De-Lovely (note: all of the ire reserved for these is based solely on silly, but do doubt correct, assumptions)

Is there, or will there be, or has there already started, a big backlash against Sideways? (A: A. &/or C.) If deafening praise is the worst thing you can do to a great film, then lending the same services to a Little (But Not Terribly) Big Film is akin to sending someone on a vacation to an iron maiden. And we've so rushed along poor old Thomas Haden Church. I'm guilty of calling him "one funny motherfucker" myself, but if this keeps up, both will be rotting like fruit on a windowsill by Christmas. (For He Who Was Once Lowell, it'll be doubly cruel: was that, what? A month on top of the world?) And while we're at it, why not throw nascent leading man Paul Giamatti and comeback girl Virginia Madsen up there, too?

Calm down, people. Don't you know the year should be all about Kate Winslet?

I've already linked the New York Film Critics Circle (try to find it), so here's the Boston unit, who are usually interesting. (As I recall, it was they who gave their top honor to black sheep Out of Sight back in 1998.) Kudos on Yimou. Not for the right film, but close enough.

Lastly, for the delectation of y'all, here's the massive and grotesque list of films I should probably see before compiling my own, complete with putrid excuses:

Suspect: The Aviator (Martin Scorsese)
Reasons for going: Scorsese (plus Mann); Howard Hughes deserves to be remembered for more than growing long fingernails and wearing tissue boxes on his feet ("I said, get in..."*); Cate.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Well, it isn't out yet, is it? However, I did miss two screenings for this thing, for reasons too pathetic to go into now. Also, remember when a new Scorseez was an event and not an Event?

Suspect: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson)
Reasons for going: Anderson (plus Baumbach); Bill Murray looks funny and not brooding-funny; trailer promises Devo and Bowie sung in Portuguese; a preview of Wes and Noah's forthcoming segue into animation.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: New York trip kinda out of the question right now (gimme a week); despite Baumbach and Selick, Anderson's bound to hit a redundant patch -- really, where else could he have gone after Tanenbaums excepting a complete overhaul? Take the director-for-hire jobs, Wes.

Suspect: Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood)
Reasons for going: Curiosity for Clint; Hilary Swank is allegedly actually good this time; Sean said it ruled, but not in a Mystic-y way.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Ditto, blah blah. Also, it sounds like Space Cowboys in a sweaty boxing warehouse.

Suspect: Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Anderson)
Reasons for going: Word o' mouth; fascinating subject blown up to near-epic length; Anderson apparently loathes it when people abbreviate it, which is curmudgeony enough for me.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Never made it out of NY and L.A. Fuckin' PFF committee...

Suspect: Hotel Rwanda (Terry George)
Reasons for going: Cheadle, plus Nolte!; fairly solid word of mouth; also Cheadle; and Nolte.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Well, it's not out yet, is it? (In fact, as I type these words, it's playing a mile away right now. I'm lazy.) But the words "This year's Schindler's List" arouse suspicions that it's not but it would damn well like to be.

Suspect: Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar)
Reasons for going: Almodovar is on a roll; Gael Garcia in a frock on the cover of Film Comment; reportedly has more narrative twists than a barrelful of pretzels
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Okay, so it was supposed to come out on Friday and was reviewed and everything...and then it was mysteriously yanked at the last minute. Furthermore, it is not even back on the Ritz's list of upcoming titles. What the fug, man? Don't I get a lick? Doesn't Gil get a lick?*

Suspect: The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass)
Reasons for going: Original mildly diverting (and does make good TV watching after all!); Greengrass' herky jerky look-ma-no-tripod direction gave people motion-sickness.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Finally! A piece of cine-neglect that's wholly my fault! Was very poor (and hideously, hideously depressed for dumb-ass lame reasons) when it was out and just never made the trek. You can't get motion-sickness from a 20" screen, can you?

Suspect: Cellular (David Ellis)
Reasons for going: So it's probably not a contender, but I'm not kidding.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Sheep.

Suspect: We Don't Live Here Anymore (John Curran)
Reasons for going: Ruffalo, Dern, Krause, Watts, all in a movie that was originally supposed to be made only a year or two after Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: See The Bourne Supremacy, only with a season shift. God, I was so lame.

Suspect: Kinsey (Bill Condon)
Reasons for going: Well, this guy liked it loads.
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Condon is one boring pratt; it's a biopic.

Suspect: The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo)
Reasons for going: What if...?
Reasons for avoiding thus far: See We Don't Live Here Anymore. Also what if not...?

Suspect: Ray (Taylor Hackford)
Reasons for going: Jamie Foxx sure does look like Ray Charles; Kerry; good music can't be bad; I hail from the generation to whom Ray was that old blind dude who did Pepsi commercials (since moderately fixed, but could use more).
Reasons for avoiding thus far: It's a biopic.

Suspect: Alexander (Oliver Stone)
Reasons for going: So loathed (links would only be superfluous) that I need to go in there and proclaim it isn't quite...unless it is; Val Kilmer doing Jim Morrison in Rome...with one eye; Angelina Jolie covered and snakes and whipping out a Transylvanian accent; vidcaps don't do justice to Rosario Dawsons' mammaries (best to fess up).
Reasons for avoiding thus far: Three. Hours. Long. Oliver Stone might be the most loathsome filmmaker since...well, you can't really loathe Stanley Kramer, can you? And I hear this one's not even annoying enough to be risible! What gives?

Aggressive linking by Foy.

* Simpsons. Pathetic.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

And this is good...?

So goes the plot description from the press release for Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (which, incidentally, is PG-13 and runs 137 leisurely-Clint-style minutes):
In the wake of a painful estrangement from his daughter, boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (CLINT EASTWOOD) has been unwilling to let himself get close to anyone for a very long time – then Maggie Fitzgerald (HILARY SWANK) walks into his gym.   In a life of constant struggle, Maggie’s gotten herself this far on raw talent, unshakable focus and a tremendous force of will.  But more than anything, she wants someone to believe in her.   The last thing Frankie needs is that kind of responsibility – let alone that kind of risk – but won over by Maggie’s sheer determination, he begrudgingly agrees to take her on.  In turns exasperating and inspiring each other, the two come to discover that they share a common spirit that transcends the pain and loss of their pasts, and they find in each other a sense of family they lost long ago.  Yet, they both will face a battle that will demand more heart and courage than any they’ve ever known.

Scott? MD'A? No doubt Sean? Is this just piss-poor advertising drivel? Or does Clint really, really, really redefine the old making-the-clichés-work routine?

It's a dirty job, but I pay clean money for it

In today's Weekly, I loaned out my expertise to these:
* A review of the Italian omnibus soap opera Remember Me, My Love, wherein you can witness a duel over who's more radiant: Laura Morante or Monica Belluci?
* Also Rep, featuring many disses of Norman Mailer. I swear that blurb on Marguerite Duras' India Song is all complimentary. Yes, even "interminable" is meant to get you rushin' out to see it.

This amused me all day long. Spartan's got nothing in comparison.

Friday, December 03, 2004

I'm seeing the Pixies on Saturday and you're not

New discovery: apparently, if you get a good night's sleep before a full day of work, you start out great but increasingly, as the hours wage on, fall apart, heading home physically and mentally fatigued. However, should one drink the night before -- not enough to get slobberingly drunk, but enough to mutate into a cackling fool who keeps harrassing people about Anthony Mann westerns -- you'll be in the dregs for a couple hours only to vastly improve, hitting your peak towards the seventh hour and leaving work refreshed and ready to conquer the evening. Try it sometime.

(No, this will not turn into a blog about the pangs of the office drudge.)

As ever, I only have enough energy to throw a couple useless words at what I've been watching of late. I neglected to mention these two, but Peter Brook's The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1967) (I typed that whole thing from memory!) and Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (1977) make strangely comfortable bedfellows. (In fact, they're playing together.) Sure, Brook never finds the appropriate cinematic equivalent for theater...but neither does he get as cloyingly gimmicky as Shirley Clarke did with The Connection (with the reel changes implemented into the script and everything). Not to just settle for something, but you don't need extra huffing and puffing when your film's teeming with nutcases making a disgrace of the French Revolution, and at the same time sending up post-Rev society as barely different than before. (Must finish that Foucault someday.) Pretty much works as a horror-fest, though it's not as tic-heavy as it sounds; Glenda Jackson still squeezes in her authorative-ness into the blinks and mouth-danglings, while Patrick Magee makes for an intense de Sade, every bit the antithesis of Geoffrey Rush's quip-master. The Fosse, meanwhile, is pretty much hollow: he never delves deeper than surface complaints, though it has a phantasmagoric spectacle quality that's undeniably thrilling -- which basically sums up Fosse. Roy Scheider, as usual, does his underrated best.

Remember Me, My Love (2004, Gabriele Muccino) is passable slop. I'll let you wait till the review next Wednesday, but here's a preview: I let loose a potentially foolhardy mini-diatribe about D.W. Griffith having more relevance today in television than film. Trenchant or stupid?

Also, check out this Slate article on Richard Dawkins. Not sure why Holt's thinks he's "not much given to humor." Does he not know that, second to Stephen Jay Gould, he's the least dry evolutionist? I'm not going to make a meal of it, but something mystical has been going on of late. First, I finally buy Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker, years after reading about it in the Soderbergh/Lester book Getting Away With It*. As I plow through it, the asinine evolution vs. creationism debate springs back to life. And just as I buy his debut, The Selfish Gene, he's out with a new one.

* A magnificent source of literary recommendations. Along with Dawkins, they namedrop Martin Amis' The Information, a couple works by the byzantine post-modernist Donald Barthelme, and the, for me, life-affirming Pictures From an Instiution by Randall Jarrell.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Stuff and junk

Today's Weekly stuff:
* An A-list (second or first one down, depending on your view) on the 1974 aggressively incomprehensible Sun Ra vehicle, Space is the Place;
* An Editor's Pick (at the very, very bottom) about an exhibit showcasing pics of a litany of old (and demolished) Philly movie palaces. (Our last remaining one, the Boyd-eventually-known-as-the-Sameric, has been under threat of wrecking ball for 2 1/2 years now. I'm technically on the committee, or a volunteer, or something.)
* Two reviews, one on Ousmane Sembene's Moolaadé, the other on Franco Zeffirelli's laughable Callas Forever.
* For the second week in a row, a very skimpy Rep. Next week's is far girth-ier.

Late breaking news: Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers is kind of awesome -- awesome enough, in fact, that I ran out immediately for Hero, as MD'A guilted folks for preferring the former to the more lyrical latter. So is, in a different way, Norman Mailer's notorious 1987 Razzie-gobbler Tough Guys Don't Dance. "Oh god. Oh man. Oh god. Oh man. Oh god. Oh man. Oh god. Oh man. Oh god." (Might be missing a few.) I'll elaborate later. Maybe. But probably not.