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

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Up against the man

Just Rep this go-around in the Weekly. Slim pickins again, folks, but with stand-outs being a screening of Jules Dassin's boffo prison break pic Brute Force inside the Eastern State Penitentiary, the cap-off to a month of Douglas Sirk, and a relatively puny version of this year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.

Other things have happened recently, too:
* Ismail Merchant has died, and along with him one of the more ubiquitous cinematic brand names.
* Cannes ended with Kustirica et al. feting les Dardennes. I called that shit.
* Richard Schickel and Richard Corliss joined heads to inundate the world with yet another 100 Best Ever list, characteristically a clumsy marriage of Moves We'd Be Hanged For Not Mentioning and Self-Consciously Eccentric Choices. Salon retaliates by regurgitating Andrew O'Hehir's equally ho-hum list from 2002.
* I haven't seen a single movie since Sunday.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On dupes and duping

As a skeptic and all-around New Age allergist, I’m pleased as punch about the dueling grown-woman-thinks-she’s-met-a-dead-boyfriend pics from last fall -- namely p.s. and the more high-profile Birth (2004, Jonathan Glazer -- B+). Both films follow women who stand at the crossroads between faith and logic and wind up chosing faith. In any other age, their decision would be something to applaud while the nay-sayers would reveal themselves to be hissable villains -- miserable cynics straitjacketed by rationality, maybe even with a secret violent streak.

Not that that last viewpoint isn’t present in either one, but the films wind up having it both ways: in their respective ends (spoiler warning, natch), Laura Linney and Nicole Kidman wind up magnificent fools, the object of their beliefs ultimately proving to be frauds. But where p.s. fumbles through a torrent of false starts, never deciding on a throughline, Birth cuts right to the point, and throws in expert filmmaking to boot.

No less than a meditation on why people believe in irrational things, be they reincarnated dead paramours or god(s), Birth quietly sprinkles an assortment of reasons for Kidman’s willingness to be duped, though none of them are clear. Finacé Danny Huston may be a bit smug, but that doesn’t seem to bother her. Nor does her Upper East Side lifestyle -- in fact, that was her life before her husband fell dead in Central Park. We never see or exhaustively hear about her previous life -- and we never even see this husband except from the back -- and nothing explicitly suggests she’d fall for such a bizarro-world ruse, even when Cameron Bright’s 10 year-old starts correctly answering ultra-specific pop quizes.

There must be an explanation; in fact, Glazer more than makes guessing the twist a no-brainer, planting it right there in a gratuitous scene in the first five minutes. But he pays more attention to dropping subtle clues as to why Kidman would convert so quickly. A key moment takes the form of Bright identifying who told her there was no Santa Claus, while most of it makes us implicit: just like Kidman relies on faith, we have to rely on our own faith to explain why she’d ever consider this set-up genuine. It’s up to us to graft our own theories onto Kidman’s inhibited persona ‘cause she ain’t dropping us many hints.

Is it a case of Kidman believing in One True Love? Perhaps -- particularly once Huston (who’s frankly awesome) buys into his own violent streak. Or is it a case of wanting to believe in more outside one’s self, therefore lunging at the first out-there suggestion that saunters up to her? Still more probing, it could be her subconscious need to upturn her perfect life, as evidenced by her abrupt suggestion that she and Bright run away, social mores be damned. Better still, it could be the classic duped case: after being presented with a small handful of sweet-sounding lines, she jumps to the false conclusion that they add up to something concrete. (Perhaps it's a good time to plug Temple University math professor John Allen Paulos again, whose 1988 best-seller Innumeracy -- as well as A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper -- are addictive repositories on how irrationality frequently gets the better of us.)

Glazer directs with an eye for the otherworldly -- his two-minute close-up of Kidman is a startler, and Harry Savides re-proves his mettle in a transporting opening tracking shot. But his other eye is on the chaotic and loose-limbed. “Kubrickian” was bandied about during its initial release, but Kubrick’s preferred acting style was never so relaxed and recognizably human. (Yes, even Peter Stormare.) Even Huston’s manic outburst has a make-it-up-as-we-go-along quality to it -- clumsy, un-thought-out, even slightly funny. (Or maybe it’s his decision to push the piano so it blocks the corridor, allowing him to leap over it and spank Bright undeterred. Why didn’t Redmond Barry think of that?)

Excepting 3 Women, it’s the only metaphysical mindfuck I can think of that’s also an ensemble cast showcase. And it’s this shotgun wedding of styles that clearly makes it a skeptic’s film. The part of Birth that eats into your mind isn’t that Bright could ever be Kidman’s dead husband Mach 2. It’s that she could ever consider it to be true, and what in her life has made her so malleable to such a whopper. That this can apply to anyone, in any number of fashions -- god, horriscopes, homeopathic medicine, that your number’s up soon on the roulette wheel -- makes Birth a disturbing reminder of one of humanity’s chief weaknesses: You believe what you wanna.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Obligatory Summer Wish List

As I plow through the constant barrage of summer movie round-up articles, the one thing I’ve noticed is I’m genuinely stoked for very little that is major. This, admittedly, has frequently been the case since receiving my cineaste carrying card almost a decade ago, but it seems more pronounced than it’s ever been -- unless I feel this every May and manage to forget when it swings around again. War of the Worlds, for starters, should elicit foam from the mouth: Spielberg, Kamiski, yet another case of vague topicality. And yet...and yet. I feel like I’m obliged to see it (and I will), and this shruggy feeling extends to the likes of Batman Begins, Nolan behind the lens or no. So it looks like a priggish summer for me yet again. To wit:

Title Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki)
Reasons for piquancy After a bit of a false start, I’ve grown to relish Miyazaki’s worlds, particularly their daffy, nigh-Svankmajerish logic. And unlike everyone else, he hand-draws, and well. Plus, the premise is crazy enough to avoid auteuristical repetition. A castle on legs? Sign me the fuck up.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed No one seems terribly excited. Miyazaki’s aforementioned logic also has a tendency to get lost in pretzelly nonsense (e.g., actually, the kid’s a dragon...no, wait! he’s a river!).

Title Land of the Dead (George A. Romero)
Reasons for piquancy George A. Romero, basically. Always loved the blunt satire hidden in his zombe pics, and a trip through points in the rest of his catelogue last year revealed a wily thinker -- The Crazies especially -- while a revisitation of Day of the Dead showed a person thinking outside the box. Day isn't even a zombie movie till the final stretch, instead focusing on the further crumbling of society -- taking a logical step forward rather than churning out more of the same. Where will the human race wind up this time? In an ideal world, Romero will effortlessly locate the balance between 28 Days Later’s obvious hectoring and the Dawn of the Dead remake’s willful shallowness. That, and the long-awaited union of Asia Argento and Dennis Hopper. Stills look nice and retro, too.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed Romero’s been rather AWOL lately, no? Though trailers are by no means accurate salesmen, their abudance of zombie porn -- combined with Romero's doubtless shakiness with studio heads -- suggests he could’ve simply fallen in line. Not bloody likely, though.

Title Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton)
Reasons for piquancy Burton and Depp meet Dahl. This could find the director returning to the chaos of Mars Attacks! Good job, buds, going with the title of the source.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed That one is almost nine years old. In the interim, he’s churned out a visually ravishing, sporadically inspired Murder, She Wrote episode, an incoherent remake of straightforward material, and a wad of bathos that suggested he's now ashamed of being a crazed imagist. Placing bets.

Title Rock School (Don Argott)
Reasons for piquancy Civic pride, of course. From the looks of the trailer -- and from the stories I’ve heard -- Paul Greengrass could probably devour the planet if he wanted to, then set his choppers on the Milky Way.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed A doc being a hit at Sundance ain’t always the bearer of good tidings. Many of them -- Murderball, Lipstick & Dynamite, presumably Mad Hot Ballroom -- tend to favor entertainment over insight, taking all the wrong lessons from Spellbound. Speaking of which, really oughtta get crackin’ on that essay about how reality TV is destroying documentaries.

Title The Bad News Bears (Richard Linklater)
Reasons for piquancy Smart guys working on dumb material is one of my secret pleasures. Billy Bob is perfectly cast. At worst, it’s a breezy delight.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed Both Linklater and Thornton have visited this well before. On the other hand, there’s a rising rebellion against those who deride terrific filmmakers for repeating themselves (cf. 2046, L’enfant.) Then again, with Linklater, you at least get to ask which film he'll be repeating. My plan, meanwhile, on how not to get sick of the season’s spate of sports-related comedies: don’t see any of the other ones.

Title The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam)
Reasons for piquancy Gilliam, basically. The studios haven’t been doing much advertising, which may mean his blending of biopic and flights o’ fancy may be tenacious enough to be interesting.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed Gilliam, basically. Seven years away could result in a mushroom cloud of oppressively unchecked ADD. Is Heath even funny?

Title Saraband (Ingmar Bergman)
Reasons for piquancy The reviews have been hyperbolic, and after 2046 and Before Sunset, I’m a fan of revisiting brutal love stories. Eternity and a Day of the Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, anyone?
Reasons my hopes may be dashed The release date may be a tease: Bergman has infamously withheld the high-def shot sequel to Scenes From a Marraige for the last year or two. All the more time to actually rent -- and actually trawl through -- the first one’s Criterion set, it appears.

Title Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)
Reasons for piquancy Strong word of mouth, bizarre premise, plus Herzog’s latest in his return to docs. Can’t wait to see how he arranges someone else’s footage into one of his inscrutable meditations on social outcastdom.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed Herzog has a tendency for bullshit, whether he acknowledges it or not. Or rather he doesn’t -- what hasn’t hit me the first time usually does so on subsequent gos.

Title Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch)
Reasons for piquancy Bill Murray headlining Jarmusch. Is everything this easy?
Reasons my hopes may be dashed Word from The D’Ange is that Murray’s weariness hits somnombulent lows here, something which has increasingly become a threat since he became an international icon of ze ahrtistic gzeen-yus. Jarmusch is capable of autopilot Warholian nothingness...though what the fug's this with Jarmusch “spelling things out for us” this time?

Title Pretty Persuasion (Marcus Siega)
Reasons for piquancy Skander Halim wrote it, and his newsgroup posts and former critic site both provide/d guaranteed yuks update-to-update. James Woods being crazy. Over-the-top Heathers-esque set-up.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed None of Skander's closest chums have flipped, not even out of disingenuous journalistic respect.

Title The 40 Year Old Virgin (Judd Apatow)
Reasons for piquancy The Freaks and Geeks man going the feature-length route, with Steve Carrell in tow. Strong premise. Catherine Keener not playing the bitch (presumably) and still being funny a welcome move.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed Television to the silver screen is rarely a smooth move...and really, that vague fear is it. This, along with Bad News Bears, seems to be the big lock of the season.

Title 3001 (Mike Judge)
Reasons for piquancy Judge doing Sleeper. The very idea of laid-back Luke Wilson being the smartest person on earth may prove comic gold...
Reasons my hopes may be dashed ...unless it doesn’t. Sometimes Luke just doesn't give a shit. I have yet to become a convertee on Maya Rudolph (even if catching Amy Poehler on Upright Citizens Brigade alerted me to her (Amy Poehler’s) potential).

Title 2046 (Wong Kar-Wai)
Reasons for piquancy Saved this for last as I’ve already seen it. Just haven’t seen it on the big screen is all, which should be the best place to eyeball the most visually ravishing movie since Wong’s last.
Reasons my hopes may be dashed Allegedly (and is this true?) this is the second re-cut since the notorious Cannes one. I have the first. This one should be significantly shorter than the 129 minute cut I gawked at, thus turning Wong's most slackly paced film into another (brilliant) jumble. A pox on you distributors.

Wait. Did I say “priggish?” Clearly not. More like “mildly alternate.”

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Our Man in Cannes

* Every year, Mike D’Angelo is kind enough to post his grades from Cannes on his site. We in return make fun of his perpetually unimpressed or hostile reactions, especially if they're for titles we’ve been breathlessly awaiting. Of course, it’s foolish for us to rely entirely on these reports -- write-off or not, I’m still going to see the Egoyan as soon as I can -- and besides MD’A’s at his best on his nerve.com blog, tossing off witty observations and self-depricatingly creepy updates on his obsession with the lovely Sylvie Testud. (She’s pulling jury duty on one of the sidebar fests.) Consult the Enchanted Mitten for the numbers if you can’t wait for the prose, and check out, if you dare, the comments box for what looks like a genuine nervous breakdown from OMC. Never reveal your weakness(es), bud.

* Back in college, a friend and I used to breathlessly await Sunday’s weekend box office tally, discussing little else but the numbers. As in, “Hey, The Mummy grossed a lot” or “What, you thought Cameron Diaz would push Very Bad Things into the Top Five? Since when did she have box office consistency?” I’m largely over it, even while I recognize, pseudo-enlightenment since aside, it actually does matter; safe to say the $45 mil cume for Hitchhiker’s means The Restaurant at the End of the Universe won’t be rushing into pre-production. Edward Jay Epstein’s article on the weekend cash tally, therefore, proved fascinating, even when it confirmed most of what I suspected: Sunday’s number is largely meaningless, merely a way to spread peer pressure around to the winners. (You’d think it’d be a bit of a risk, but it’s not: stinkers were invariably going to be stinkers anyway; not every movie is Cutthroat Island.) As the fogeys said in State and Main, you have to look at the per-screen average.

* Filmbrain has alerted those of us with regionless DVD access to a British three-pack of Godard, including my personal favorite, Pierrot le fou along with Made in the USA and Prenom: Carmen. A nice, if pretty random, survey, that, though the big kicker is Filmbrain’s compare-and-contrast between the new PFL transfer and Fox Lorber’s notorious Region 1 disc. I can vouch for the latter -- damned burnt-on subtitles -- though you really oughtta see this thing projected if you can. The one floating around is one of the most sparkling classic film prints I’ve ever seen; the color-coded party scene, washed-out on the Fox-Lorber, is crystal clear. (Useless side note: it was during that very scene that I, beforehand pale on Godard, became an instant convertee. Ah, sophomore year...)

* Yes, I’ve seen Da Sith. No, really, I will discuss this. (The politics -- including the blown opportunities thereof -- are fascinating. Maybe I should make it clear, however, that I do, for the most part, approve. Maybe not as much as this guy, though.)

* Just this for the Weekly this week. A slow period, this -- on the cusp of the summer season -- the lineup eaten up by the rest of the Philadelphia Palestine Film Festival (PPFF). The big drawl, for me: a screening of Sirk’s A Time to Live, a Time to Die, projected all the way out in bumfuck Phoenixville. Currently accepting ride offers.

* Would it, like, kill lottery addicts to not pick up their tickets during fucking rush hour? Don’t pretend you don’t notice our impatient sneers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

haven't posted in awhile, so...here's a big, exhausting post!

In no discernible order, here's what been occupying spots of my brain over the last couple weeks:

1) Sputnik Sweetheart
Perhaps it was a curious after-effect of getting a full-time job in addition to my part- one, but I’ve found it next-to-impossible to sift through a work of fiction since roundabout November. Since then, it’s all been facts, facts, facts. (Or more accurately, “interpretation, analysis, maybe even a little spin.”) In short, I’ve had a thirst that can’t be filled by narrative play (I have film for that), and studying up on my math (John Allen Paulos), evolution (Richard Dawkins), and language (Geoffrey Nunberg) has proven to be the cure. So kudos to Haruki Murakami. I may not be able to go more than 60 pages into The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle without growing distracted, but it only took three bouts to complete his 2001 200-pager Sputnik Sweetheart -- thus putting and end to my fiction dead patch. The story’s a blatant L’Avventura riff, but Murakami’s exploration of longing, in the form of a fairly unique love triangle, is palpable, told with characterisitic deadpan. Besides, telling the story from the most insignificant of the three is a choice move, and one that I’m inevitably a sucker for.

2) The Phantom of the Opera
Of all the “the world is divided into two people” scenarios, the only one that matters is the one that pits those who love Andrew Lloyd Webber against those who find him to be a masterful designer of exquisite torture machines. My mother falls in the former category. So did I, once upon a far off time, but age -- or some something -- has forced me to switch teams. My wise decision was backed up ten-fold upon waffling through Joel Schumacher’s long-in-development-purgatory rendering of the show, a 2 1/2-hour block of consistent bombast and obviously the most faithful adaptation of anything ever. Apart from a pointless switcheroo of the chandelier plumet scene, everything is as it has already been, only with less vocal talent: ‘80s synth drums, gold-on-red sets, hysterical overacting -- all there, every last bit of it stubbornly unforgiving of the newbie’s newbieness and the hater’s hater-ness. Not that anyone on the latter side ever stood a chance. ALW's wicked schtick is simple: he writes four or five annoyingly derivative songs then re-visits them again and again over the long haul. It's very middlebrow and very undemanding; the lyrics never rise to the occasion either (at the end: "It's over now/The Music of the Night!") Schumacher, as ever, is glad to play ball, canting the angle at random points, having actors whoosh! by right in front of the camera, pulling us up, up, and up into the heavens as Le Fântome wails in (strained, grizzled) anguish. It’s all so tacky-big, not unlike Vegas (or Showgirls), from the boat trip that looks like it was shot inside the Pirates of the Carribean ride to a hallway-set, “look, here’s the secret secret plan” scene that looks like it has more extras than the interminable masquerade ball sequence. For those into this kind of faux-opera-ness (and good job Nathan making the Meatloaf connection), it’s a masterpiece. Which, I suppose, is a good thing, in its way, but the lumbering beast’s so top-heavy it’d collapse fantastically if you blew lightly on it. Watching it, I felt like I was being crushed by a boulder, slowly, inevitably.

3) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I’ve already elaborated here (see: comments box) to some extent, but the gyst is this: it’s all about American vs. British comic sensibilities. Specifically, can they fit? Can you have Stephen Fry droll narration on top of an overblown dolphin production number that lends a tune to “So Long and Thanks For All the Fish”? Can Mos Def’s mumbling line readings bounce off Alan Rickman’s dour ones? Is it possible that Martin Freeman can register when pitted against wily special effects, fast cutting and, most of all, Sam Rockwell’s gonzo-Dubya routine? (Not that all of those are all inherent American qualities, but they’re ones currently on loan.) The anwser to all is, of course, no, but not for lack of trying. Americans, stereotypically, just don’t do well with understatement, which is a bit of shame when the lifeblood of HHG2G is, in fact, near-sociopathic understatement. So the movie is essentially trying to find a middle ground that just ain’t there, pissing off fans and baffling the virgins. (Try watching it as though it were tabula rasa. For one thing, you'd never know that the bulldozer exchange, tragically abridged here, is one of Brit-com's acme moments.) What’s really heartbreaking is that the series has proven to be the most adaptable thing ever, mutating into different mediums without an ounce of a hitch. (Don’t believe me? Try the 1984 text computer game.) Perhaps delusionally, I’d always hoped that this would be the “Ultimate” Hitchhiker’s, fully envisioning Adams’ universe while keeping the sensibility: imagine a blockbuster where the characters are constantly underwhelmed by the ace pyrotechnics. Okay, these are some harsh words for a sci-fi bohemoth that features a missile turning into a sperm whale. And honestly the thing sporadically hits, with the yarn bit and the trip around Earth Mach 2 suitably wowing. And some of Adams’ new inventions - the truth-ray for one -- fit right in. And while the perfect casting somehow leads to much stranded talent, Bill Nighy barely disappoints with his 11th hour appearance. (I also dug Mos Def, who’s kind of awesomely distracted, and La Zooey, who fleshes out a non-existent character, who essentially loses all personality after introducing herself, with her La Zooey-ness. Move over, Maggie Gyllenhaal.) Plus, not downplaying the atheism in a major studio product? Even including a Darwin joke? That's hot. But at the end of the day, I wonder if we can try it again. ‘Cause Restaurant is gonna be a toughie if we're headin' in this direction. (Related article: M.J. Simpson, Adams's official biographer, hurling monkey feces and still more monkey feces at the film. I agree with about 70% of it.)

4) Meet the Fockers
Ever since it became a Saturday afternoon cable staple, the original has started looking better and better, turning from a standard time-killer to a passably farcial elaboration of the Hassidic-Jew-in-the-Midwest visual gag from Annie Hall. Alas, the creators saw it a different way, thinking everyone prefers the cat-urinating-on-the-ashes bit or the covered-in-feces gag or...drawing a blank here, honestly. This may be so, but I don’t know about you but the top grossing live-action comedy of all time has to be something of a jerry-rigged laff-machine, not the laziest sequel since Home Alone 2. A horny dog is flushed down a toilet by a cat. Babs sports whipped cream on her pushed-up cleavage. Foreskin tumbles into fondue. A cursing, mugging baby goes hog-wild over a Hispanic maid's voluptuous mammaries. And so on, with only Dustin Hoffman’s rather filled-in characterization offering respite from the this-happens-and-then-this-happens stumble. (And even there I'm not sure if Hoffman was actually brilliant or if it was one of them relative deals.) What made Parents a pleasant quasi-blast was the forward thrust -- they milked the outsider-in-the-Midwest for all its worth, the pace rarely flagged, and Ben Stiller, his well-meaning nebbish schtick still fresh, was always the center of attention. This one has more of an Altman spread, though it constantly forgets about characters so that it’s about everyone and no one, the red-vs.-blue set-up brought up to little to no noticeable effect. And, yes, it is fun being snobby about ultimately harmless neo-farces. I respect my farces.

5) Ann Coulter...
...is, in case you haven’t been making your weekly checks, still completely evil. The Time cover story is a joke, but that hardly prepared me for her little outburst at Harrisburg International Airport last month. Inadvertently affected by that which she heartily supports (whoops!), Coulter underwent a routine full-body search by an security official who was simply doing her job. In fact, this attendant was a multiply decorated employee. The sucubus freaked out on the girl and then made a mad dash to her computer, subsequently churning out a hate-filled missive in which her searchee has her name mocked, her figure belittled and is dubbed a lesbian. Now, let’s say racial profiling is her preferred bigoted anti-terrorist mode (which it is). Don’t you think these purported terrorists would have, as they’ve already proven their mettle, by now caught on and found different ways of infiltrating the system? Say, by employing someone not of their background? Say, an Amazonian goddess who likes to show off her long legs and scream epithets? Oh, but I forgot. She tells it like it is.

6) ID
I won’t go the Scopes Monkey Trial distance, but the Kansas kerfuffle is still some mighty hogwash and far too much on my mind these days. Three years ago, Slate’s William Saletan was calling ID what it is. Now he reports, in a hilariously mis-interpreted article, that the proponents themselves have evolved, still no more right but at least earning the writer’s respect by defining their methods as “observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.” To which they’re more than welcome, but can we please wait until they’ve come up with something concrete before inplanting it in the minds of young-uns everywhere? (Or, hmm, do I smell something fishy?) Granted, that’s a tall order. In the past, ID has been disproven almost immediately on nearly every occasion. That’s because it’s not a hypothesis as much as a nit-picker, maniacally hopping on every blip in current evolutionary knowledge. Like any complicated process, evolution isn’t air-tight -- there are gaps in the fossil record, questions that remain tantalizingly unanswered, et al. There’s still research to be done. What it doesn’t have is anything that remotely disproves it, though it has many, many things that support it. (And as Dawkins points out, we're lucky to even have fossils.) ID, on the other hand, can’t, by definition, be proven or disproven. When there are ambiguities, how scientifically sound -- or logical -- is it to jump to the conclusion that it’s the smudgy fingerprints of a superior being? It’s like saying it’s the work of an invisible dog -- think Underdog -- who can’t be detected and leaves no physical traces but definitely wins people key football games and causes mutations on Easter Island’s denizens. Can that be proven or disproven? How much sillier is it than going with the God answer? (Look, I’ll even give him a magic wand. Still not sillier.) The ID proponents, I suspect, realize this, but, as Saletan notes, they're sly: they pitch it to their own people, earnestly fumbling to locate a middle point between theism and what is actually reality. See? Science isn't scary, folks! It can tell you what you want to hear, not that nonsense about man being just another creature on a random planet!* But nothing’s locked down and, barring an earth-shattering revelation, nor will it ever be. No matter their improvements in their m.o., ID is still what it was three years ago: creationism pathetically deflated. (Also worth reading: Richard Dawkins just plain railing against religion on Salon, albeit with the briefly-mentioned (too brief maybe for his detractors) caveat that he's referring to the violent/narrow-minded/hypocritical fundamentalist sects. Even better: the Skeptic's Dictionary entry on the subject.)

7) My Sex Life, or How I Got Into an Argument
Personally, I was pretty frightened by Scott Tobias’ near-about-face on Arnaud Desplechin’s Kings and Queen, which I gobbled up in the manner of a kid seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time. Desplechin’s a thrilling filmmaker, but he raises the question of whether it’s good to be too thrilling, too ostenatiously messy, too obviously in love with himself. That vague thought didn’t stop me from surrendering to his breakthrough opus, an epic survey of neuroses, a Woody Allen film with all the tangents left in. Conclusion: no, K&Q won’t go down on a second viewing. Either you give into this kind of thing or you don’t and, in that respect, it’s not unlike The Phantom of the Opera. So, ALW fans, I know how you feel. Not that I’d ever split a bowl of wings with you.

8) The Weekly
I haven't been shamelessly pluggin' for two straight weeks, so here’s the breakdown. Last round: this (last one), this (fourth down), and this. Today's round: this. Meaty pickings this week, what with rep appearances by Imitation of Life, Jean Vigo's entire catalogue, and a video showing of Losey's M, as well as the beginning of the first ever Philadelphia Palestine Film Festival. By the way, I haven't seen Zero de conduite. Is it obvious?

* This, I believe, is the biggest crutch people have about evolution, and more specifically atheism. A mainstay of humankind is the need to acknowledge both our strength and our reliance on other things. And atheism, at least viewed generally, supports neither of these. Sadly, another mainstay is that for someone to embrace something, it has to sound appetizing. And ultimate insignificance just ain't. (For most: I personally find it strangely uplifting. Not in a Nietzchian, super-id way -- I can be a decadent bohemian and nothing will happen to me when I die, because literally nothing happens when anyone dies -- but in an I-am-part-of-a-larger-thing way, just another lifeform inhabiting a planet. I like being humbled.) These aren't necessarily flaws -- just parts of being a human, things I suffer from too.