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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Soulessly pluggin'

With the stray traces of energy I've retained following the dullest State of the Union in memory, I shall impart unto you, dear reader, the Weekly drill. Two reviews this week, both of romances so mild in their non-white/-hetero-ness, they barely qualify as against-the-grain. They are, of course, the interracial Something New and the sapphic Imagine Me & You. Neither are terribly good, but only one actually stoops to stealing a title from a Turtles song (albeit an opening line, for a change). And, as ever, there's Rep, which is bolstered this week by appearances by rarities from Budd Boetticher and Ousmane Sembene. Tired of Moolaadé? Then, dude, no one but J'Ro's seen 1992's Guelwaar.

Couldn't find a photo of either films; thus, Don "No Soul" Simmons.

Obligatory Oscar Nom Form-Filling

Hmm...what to obsess over today? Dubya's State of the Union? Alito's confirmation? The passing of Coretta Scott King? Or petty Hollywoof politics? The latter, natch. I'm trying to spend the least amount of time thinking about them this year, but here's the breakdown, for what it's worth:

Huzzah! Noah Baumbach; Munich; Felicity; Wally Pfister for Batman Begins; Emmanuel Lubezki for The New World; Wallace and Gromit and Howl's Moving Castle; all the Brokeback stuff

Why (that are actually worth addressing) So many technical awards for Memoirs of a Geisha

Whereforth (that actually had a chance) Grizzly Man; Don Hertzfeldt's Meaning of Life; "Whoop That Trick"

Yo, fuck Capote; Crash; Narnia for visual effects (Shrek looked more realistic than Aslan)

I love you but c'mon Philip Seymour Hoffman, who will beat Heath Goddam Ledger with his (PSH's) least interesting performance not in a Jan De Bont blockbuster

Cheapest yet most crushing irony That David Cronenberg lost getting either Picture or Director the year a movie called Crash got both

Randomest tidbit with which to impress easily impressed people at parties That not one but two forgotten supporting actors from The Birdcage are now (underservably) Oscar-nominated screenwriters: Dan Futterman (pictured, opposite Calista Flockhart) for the craven Capote and Grant Heslov for the passionate yet smug Good Night, And Good Luck.

The Razzies were also announced today, if anyone still titters at their perpetually safe choices.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The gun is good. The penis is evil. Go forth and kill!

For this, the week that Steven Soderbergh singlehandedly changes movie distribution as we know and love it, my Weekly stuff includes two reviews: one for Emma Thompson's seemingly jilted pet project Nanny McPhee and one for The White Countess, Merchant-Ivory's limp farewell as an audience-attracting/-repulsing unit. Also, as ever, there's Rep, which marks the brief return of Jia's The World.

Also, I know it's a day late, but if you're still feeling the reverberations of The Worst Day of the Year™, I offer you a picture of Sean Connery in a '70s moustache, accompanying ponytail, and crotch-enhancing loincloth. To hell with Duck Soup.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Facets wants neither your money nor your attention

Someone on my cine-nerd newsgroup recently remarked about how Facets Multimedia, the "videotheque" whose aim is to calm the fuck down as many obscuritants as possible, is rather poorly organized. This is hard to argue with. Take the front page of their site, for instance. There, you shall find numerous alerts for other company's products, which can be helpful: for what it's worth, it was during a visit to their site many months ago that I first discovered Warner Bros. was planning the awesome Sam Peckinpah box set that just came out, long before anyone else was talking it up. But there's a point where modesty, or whatever ails Facets, becomes a handicap, and the line has certainly been long crossed when your company isn't tooting their horn about the Feb. 28th release of Béla Tarr's The Werckmeister Harmonies to disc. (The still above is from that film's highly memorable whale carcass scene.) This is terribly exciting stuff, and it only gets more drool-coaxing: there will also be discs for 1988's Damnation and 1984's Almanac of Fall. And what's this about a Sátántangó set with no current release date? (I have no direct links; you'll just have to search engine the titles.)

Thanks to Facets, you wouldn't even know seeing these films was an option. Despite all the huzzahs from Gus Van Sant, the dichotomy between those who know who Béla Tarr is and those who've actually seen any of his work is arguably more massive than with any other filmmaker. His only distributed film has been Werckmeister, and I've been told that Menemesha Entertainment, who handled its American distribution, all but assured its failure at the box office with their neglegence and general assholish disposition. Facets should be bragging up a storm -- or at least informing, say, Film Comment, who don't even list the Tarr maelstrom in their video section. Surely I, who stumbled upon this information accidentally, am not the only person who knows about this. Unless I am.

On the other hand, maybe it's wrong to speak so ill of Facets. They are the only company who have put out any Tarr on disc, and, along with June's 3-Pack (with the allegedly Cassavetes-ish The Outsider, Prefab People, and Family Nest), they'll have almost all of his feature-length work out on disc as of late next month. What am I carping about? Facets rules! Let's all go buy their stock!

Also, regionless folk (and by that I mean those who don't have to worry about NTSC and PAL): how's the much-cheaper Werckmeister/Damnation two-pack? Good transfer? Worth nabbing even if you can only run it on, like, one player?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A message to this weekend's moviegoers [update]

As per numbers 8 and 11, bottom of the page: you people fucking sicken me.

[Update: What did I fucking tell you people? Jesus.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

That's Brechtian!

Once I finally shake the damn thing off, I'll throw you some words on my bout with Béla Tarr's Sátántangó, though many of them will be on the caliber of "fawesome," "frad," and "ftranscendent." Till then, let's plug away. In the latest Weekly, I did reviews (2nd and 3rd down) of the creepy missionary adventure End of the Spear and Transamerica, two lousy movies, one of them with a pretty terrific, mostly gimmick-free and, finally, Golden Globe-winning performance. Also, Rep, with coverage of an excellent retro on Luc Moullet, Mr. Neglected Nouvelle Vaguer. Anyone within throwing distance should basically give up their weekend for the Moullet deluge, as 1) the man never gets attention, 2) who is this man again?, and 3) this man is pretty damned accomplished in his proudly amateurish, defiantly lo-fi, cineaste-laden weirdness. And varied, to boot: in three days, you can see a filmmaker go from freewheeling Bande á Part-ness (Brigitte and Brigitte) to actual implosion (A Girl is a Gun) to emotional and otherwise nudity (Anatomy of a Relationship) to a gagfest so assured yet rarified in its humor it'd be a wonder if even Jerry Lewis-lovin' frogs love it (The Comedy of Work, which is hilarious). I saw Moullet's 1968 comedy The Smugglers almost three years ago during a fest of obscure French New Wave films, of which it stood out. I always wondered what his other work was like, but had treated the notion of seeing for myself with the same optimism reserved for catching the full Magnificent Ambersons. So, kudos are in order. New Yorkers can wait till (I believe) February, when the retro will head north, with a more comprehensive roster. (Along with adopting two more features, among them the aforemtioned The Smugglers, it will surely sport a more than modest helping of his dozen or so shorts. One of them, 1988's man-vs.-Coke feud Opening Tries, is pictured above.) But Philly-delphians can cut back on bus fare money by doing what they can now. Hear me now, believe me later: Moullet will rank with the Rivettes, the Chabrols, and the Godard's one day, if not in his or my or your lifetime. One look at Brigitte X 2's man-on-the-street film survey sequence -- "My dream is to die while watching a film," says one -- and you know the Criterion set would sell like hot cakes, if it existed and people knew of same.

I would also like to apologize for the recent spate of exclamation points in post titles. I should know better.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Steve Holt!

I've been remiss in posting my Weekly crap, only because, for the last few weeks, there's been not much to post. But today finds a mostly rehabilitated Rep scene, at least as compared to the week before. Next week: an actual Luc Moullet retrospective, plus the return of Winter Soldier.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

And with not one tennis metaphor

Match Point (Woody Allen) [B-]
Note: this review will, somewhat clumsily, employ the many variations on Woody Allen's Christian name, as he's one of the few filmmakers who can never be referred to by his surname, only because it sounds weird. That includes the NYT-approved "Mr. Allen" or the more traditional "Allen," even if that is his actual first name.

Me? I’m a “best since Sweet and Lowdown” guy, though I vastly prefer that Django-era jazz pic to this, the solid if familiar quasi-thriller that has people other than the French once again speaking highly of the Woodman. Most of the hype, as you’ve no doubt heard pundited endlessly, has to do with some very dramatic timing: few filmmakers have so thoroughly bulldozered their reputation in a way Woody has over the last five years. (I know he always goes through valleys, particularly in the Bergman-heavy late-’80s, but it’s a mere two years from Radio Days to Crimes and Misdemeanors, and only two Interesting Failures from Manhattan to Zelig.) If he has to rush over to Britain, get seduced by a new starlet, and rework the Martin Landau section of Crimes and Misdemeanors to get his groove back, so be it.

As it would happen, the trick has largely paid-off. The crowded scenes of ambient chatter have a different, unforced feel from the stilted counterparts in past years, while he seems willing to dolly and pan in ways that seem profoundly un-Woody. In other words, he seems to be trying something new on for size, even if it turns out, as has been suspected, that he merely crossed the Atlantic with an already-completed script in tow, hoping some accents would spice it up. The film, no matter how glacially paced and occasionally redundant, feels controlled by a steady hand, and that earns the film a lot of goodwill, only a respectable amount of which is squandered by film’s end.

It's too bad most of the naysayers seem to be distracted by its (scant) meditations on luck, since apart from the opening bit and the final twist, that isn’t really the Woodster’s chief concern. But class is. Make no mistake: Woody loathes these Britishers through and through, from the blissfully unaware Hewett family to those, like our barely formed protagonist, who aspire to be amongst them, if not exactly one of them. To a jarringly de-Bowie-ized Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, they represent a cordoned-off coziness which is passably constricting, a middlebrow taste and lack of intellectual gamemanship he can tolerate and not much else. But Woody is less forgiving, never outright condemning them but perterbed by their love for “G & Ts” and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Motorcycle Diaries. (Rarely has a film’s title on a marquee been held for so long.) He never once tries to make their livelihood look inviting -- it’s simply comfortable, if in a lazy kind of way, but still powerful enough to expel any member, such as Scarlett Johansson, who proves an increasing headache.

But Woody’s not with her much, either; in fact, he’s not much with anyone. I can't be sure what caused it, but Woody’s finally arrived at a pitiless but faintly amused view of humanity that’s not too far removed (maybe even borrowed?) from Shohei Imamura. It makes sense. Over the years, he’s grown more misanthropic with not just the human race, but also (maybe even more pointedly) with his reputation. This bitter feeling imploded in Anything Else, a fascinating -- but, sadly, nearly anti-entertaining, and not in a good way -- salvo that suggested, among other things, that any young-’un (especially someone like Jason Biggs) who tries to model themself after him is deluded and should promptly head for L.A.. After some more waffling (with the schizo Melinda and Melinda), he’s finally arrived at the clinical tone on display here, and it fits surprisingly well.

So why the low grade? Because many of the same problems still remain: the misogyny that casts women as either harpies, sweet dopes, or solipsistic nutcases; his belief that he’s deep when he really winds up settling on pat conclusions (however dark they can be); a feeling of rehashing, a familiar one in Woody's career; a sporadic tendency (a lot better here) to stage scenes so they look like awful off-off-Broadway plays inexplicably cast with talented people (James Nesbitt and Ewen Bremner’s dialogue together, especially); dialogue and whole scenes that can be way, way, way too literal. The after hours scene in the kitchen towards the end is a prime example of the latter, though you could always say that Rhys-Meyers is in fact just lying to himself, trying to graft logic on a situation that won't have it. That’s one of Woody’s best tricks: providing you with blatant symbolism, only to turn it on its head. The best example is in -- whaddaya know? -- Crimes and Misdemeanors, with Sam Waterston’s blind rabbi: is his character meant to symbolize the world shutting out god or god growing blind to the real world? (Discuss.)

But the one here ain't bad either. (Finally, here be Spoilers.) When the ring hits the rails and falls the other way -- echoing the opening shot and bringing us back to the luck theme -- the audience let out a collective gasp. The audience thinks, of course, “there’s a piece of incriminating evidence -- but, really, who’s going to find it?” We go from a feeling of dread to a feeling of elation when it winds up falsely clearing him of the crime, and then -- here’s the brilliant part -- back to dread again, because we realize how much Rhys-Meyers means it when he tells the inspectors he’d like to see justice be carried out, i.e., him being hauled off to jail. Instead, he’ll live a life a) wracked with guilt and b) stuck with the actively dull Hewetts. So much for good luck.

It’s not earth-shattering, but it does, unlike many of Woody’s pseudo-profound endings, actually stick in the gut, no less because Rhys-Meyers, who’s never entirely human, is also never entirely likeable. Moreover, there's the simple (and unstressed) fact that Rhys-Meyers never finds out about the way he got off, how close he came to getting caught. It's unnerving. But even more than that, Match Point encourages that feeling again: the one of seeing “The New Woody Allen” in a theater packed with an enthusiastic crowd, everyone stoked for anxious zingers and Nuremberg jokes, the lot of us hunkering down and ready to hear what the Woodman has to say this year. Not since 1999...

Random notes that didn’t fit into the review proper that I am listing here, all willy-nilly:
* The whole crime sequence -- from genesis to just afterwards -- is some of the best work in Woody’s career. And by that I mean it’s wholly unlike Woody, and yet his attention to detail, real-time events and an opera soundtrack give it a unique edge. It's one of the year's most thrilling set pieces, and the crime scene scene, with its heavy reliance on handheld, is probably the most immediate work of his career.
* Of course Woody would mostly use old opera pieces.
* In praise of mediocrity: Matthew Goode exclaiming, "To hell with her -- Motorcycle Diaries!"
* Dig that Woody cast two of the League of Gentlemen -- Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton -- but, suspicously, not Reece Shearsmith. Did he make the cutting room floor? Or was it just serendipitous small-role casting?
* In my opinion, Emily Mortimer mops the floor with Scarlett Johansson. But then, Mortimer doesn't get to get drunk and throw fits. (Also, remember when Kate Winslet was supposed to star? Try to imagine her in the Nola role. She would've made the film ten times more interesting.)

Sátántangó alert

Yes, that's right. Béla Tarr's Sátántangó -- the 7.5 hour tracking shot masterwork, fabled by virtually everyone's who's ever laid their eyes on it, serially ripped by Gus Van Sant 3.0 -- is making the rounds through MoMa starting tomorrow, with Wednesday and Thursday cutting it in half and the whole shebang being threaded up from Friday to Monday. The screening isn't Out 1-rare, but, then, it's hardly a Hitchcock retro, either.

This is also as fine a time as any to bemoan my near-poverty, a state I'm in until late next week. If it turns out there is an intelligent designer, s/he sure doesn't approve of my cinephilic streak. [Update: This turned out to be greatly exaggerated.]

(Feel free to congratulate me on finally taking the fifteen seconds to figure out how to add pictures. Looks so much more professional, no?)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

And so went David Edelstein

Well, it took me a couple sentences to grow wise after casually clicking on the link, but David Edelstein totally didn't write this, which must mean he's migrating over to New York as we speak. Anyone know if his stuff will be available online? Or must I deliberately "waste time" in the magazine aisles of Barnes & Noble to keep up with one of my favorite film critics? More importantly, will Edelstein be allowed to keep the loose, occasionally gonzo style, or must he be de-balled for more middlebrow consumption? Less importantly (but still very much important), is freelancer Stephen Metcalf, who's filled in once before, simply doing more of the same, or has some young turk taken up the Slate mantle?

While you ponder (or simply answer for me) these and other questions, do take more than a glance at Edelstein's final contributions to his longtime home: his Top Twenty (Or So) List for 2005, and the quite sane, quite fascinating Movie Club, a marked improvement over last year's Armond-plagued nonsense. Only tangentially related but of high interest: a mildly fanboy-ish interview with the man from what appears to be a couple months ago on Rockcritics.com.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hi there, buds.

So listen: sorry about the complete and total lack of updates. Holiday season, general fin d'anée laziness, spending actual time with actual human beings, etc., surely you understand. Anyway, reviews -- and not merely tossed-off blurbs with precious little substance -- will soon be flying fast and hard on this here blog. In the meantime, I leave you with two of weeks of paltry-assed Reps, their skimpiness the result of major holidays landing on the weekends. Think of them as for the completionists only, ha ha.