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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

In the Hall of the Mountain King

What, it's already been a week? In the new issue of the Weekly -- coming to a Gilmore Girls episode near you! sorta! -- I penned reviews of Block Party and current Oscar-nominee Street Fight, an A-list on the just-kicked-off Backseat Film Festival ("the drinking man's film festival"), and, as ever, Rep. The latter boasts words on a night of one-off actors-gone-autuer moments, including Peter Lorre's The Lost One and Johnny Depp's self-suppressed The Brave, plus an I-House doc fest that brings to Philly both Darwin's Nightmare and Adam Curtis' riveting, knotty The Century of the Self. Looks like space restrictions did a number on that final one (or mostly its second half). No worries. After all, what are seldomly-posted-on blogs for? Here goes what I turned in, uncut, and by that I mean unedited and long in the ass:

Copyright issues have done all they can to keep Yanks from the epics of Adam Curtis, a BBC documentarian whose The Power of Nightmares became something of a craze last year for obvious reasons: it does a side-by-side on the rises of both neoconservativism and Islamofascism. (You can watch a tiny version of it online at the public doman site Internet Archive.) Made of a quartet of hour-long docs (there will be a thirty-minute intermission at the halfway mark), Curtis’s 2002 miniseries The Century of the Self examines the 20th century through the impact of Sigmund Freud, whose debunked but entrenched theories, Curtis shows, helped create a culture whose needs can only be sated by consumerism. The doctor’s most effective mouthpiece, in fact, turned out to be his family, chiefly his American nephew (and agent) Edward Bernays, whom Curtis views as no less than the chief architect of the century. A marketing genius, Bernays took his cousin’s revolutionary theories on psychology and applied them to business, in turn inventing focus groups, market testing, and product placement. (In a clip from a 1991 interview, the man calmly and eerily explains coining the term “public relations” only because “propaganda” had been tarnished by the Germans.) Even when Bernays was technically out of the picture, the beast survived and adapted. Once people switched to Freud’s rival, Wilhelm Reich, and brought forth the self-actualization movement of the ‘70s, advertising simply switched from stressing peer pressure to claiming that products could help people express their inner selves. Curtis’ tale is a knotty one, yet he never loses track of it, taking his time to untangle the issues clearly and thoughtfully: I’ve rarely heard a better theory on how a generation could go from Jimi Hendrix to Ray Romano than I have here. (Much less how Reagan and Thatcher took over.) Rarely less than dizzying and always absorbing, its one criminal misstep is, thankfully, kept to the final minutes: you really shouldn’t have capped things off with a certain overplayed Louis Armstrong standard, bud.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Me & Bobby Altman

Just pluggin' myself, with a review (second down) of Running Scared, which is so not the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines buddy cop pic, and, as ever, Rep.

While I'm here, let's semi-belatedly celebrate Robert Altman's 81st birthday, as well as the Honorary Oscar he'll be infinitely more belatedly receiving next Sunday. Here's my Top Five R.A. favorites:

01. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
02. The Long Goodbye (1973)
03. 3 Women (1977)
04. California Split (1974)
05. Tanner '88 (1988)

(Still need to see: Brewster McCloud; Thieves Like Us; A Perfect Couple; Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; Vincent & Theo; and, of course, Prairie Home Companion.)

Well worth the look is Terrence Rafferty's piece on the man in Sunday's NYT. One question, though: is The Company, his ballet-a-thon from 2002, actually considered an Altman Doozy as per the consenseus? 'Cause it certainly shouldn't be...

Americans cinematically demonized?

Boo hoo.

Link is to Planet of the Arabs, Jacqueline Salloum's faux-trailer that compiles decades worth of anti-arab sentiments in Hollywood, be they breathtakingly racist (Delta Force, the Anthony Michael Hall fighter pilot pic Into the Sun) or fairly innocuous (Back to the Future, some Muppets thing). One question: what the hell movie is that Chuck Norris clip from?

Speaking of which, surely you've caught wind of The Random Chuck Norris Fact Generator. But did you know that dude has responded? Boys will be boys!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'm sorry, but that code is inconnu

Wouldn't you know it? I'm only swinging by with a small bag full of shameless plugs! This week finds me blathering on about Melvin Van Peebles' debut, The Story of a Three-Day Pass (second down) and getting tangled up in A Cock and Bull Story. (Pointless trivia! This is, I believe, the only full-length review I've ever written where I didn't once drop the movie title.) Also, Rep.

And if you haven't already, do make sure you take in the results of Sunday's Blog-a-Thon on Code Unknown, my pick for Michael Haneke's best work yet/that I've seen. (As for Caché, I need to see it again, this weekend in all likelihood, to make up my mind on its more alarming ambiguities.) (I also need to see Code Unknown again, come to think of it. It's been awhile, baby.) (Anyway.) There are presumably dozens of posts strewn about the blogosphere, but I can assuredly point you towards (but of course) Filmbrain, Zach Campbell, Matt the Esoteric Rabbit, and much of the Cinemerati crew. Most aesthetically pleasing of all was Eric Henderson, whose heavy reliance on pictures and fondness for the YouTube has made his one of the few genuinely innovative blogs, especially w/r/t this post. (Many more can be found at the lair of girish, the -thon's instigator.) Good job making the reference/comparison to Haggis' Crash, all of you.

Hey, remember when I used to write posts with actual or at least attempted girth? It wasn't that long ago. It won't be that long from now...

Monday, February 13, 2006

The second best shooting story of the fortnight

This is a couple days late, but in case you haven't heard, Werner Herzog -- in addition to pulling Joaquin Phoenix out of a car wreck, having his awesome doc play 24/7 on the Discovery Channel, getting cast as Abraham Lincoln in Harmony Korine's latest, making a to-be-released sci-fi pseudo-doc starring only Brad Douriff, and basically having done more nutty things in his lifetime than can possibly be catelogued here -- was shot. Seems that while doing an interview, he was shot by a sniper (who, of course, may have been a crazed Herzog fan), only to calmly tell the interviewer that they should move. And so the interview continued, Herzog bleeding while keeping his composure. He later fed reporters this instant classic: "It was not a significant bullet. I am not afraid." Video here.

As a friend suggested, this sounds like a prank, though you really can't tell with a guy who's on filmic record eating his shoe (pictured).

Meanwhile over at Nashville Scene's Pith in the Wind blog, Jim Ridley tries to suggest this doesn't make him cooler than Chuck Norris.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Can't talk, coming down

As usual, I've so spectacularly mismanaged my schedule that I barely have time for a stop-and-go. (Even the obligatory Simpsons reference, above, feels forced.) Just plugging my Weekly junk, is all, chiefly an Editor's Pick that doubles as a goopy paean to Michael Chaiken, the just-departed full-time film programmer at International House, as well as bootlegger extraordinaire. (Albert Maysles, his new boss, is one lucky documentarian.) The Man Who Brought Philly Too Much Cinema will be honored via a screening of three short profiles from the Maysles Brothers and...well, just read the damn thing. Also, Rep, with mucho words on Fellini's even-nuttier-than-you'd-think hijacking of the Casanova tale. (That's Donald Sutherland, bewigged and with an oh-so-18th-century hair-shave, pictured. Out of focus, of course.) Yes, there will be midgets.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Moira Shearer 1926-2006

As someone else stated, I didn't even know she was still alive, but hats off, please, to Moira Shearer, master of the balletic arts and, of course, Powell & Pressburger starlet extraordinaire. You surely know her as the centerpiece of The Red Shoes -- the girl in the unusual position of being torn between Anton Walbrook and Marius Goring, to say nothing of her pact with those damned shoes -- but she was also memorable as the living, heart-breaking doll that goes spectacularly to pieces in the recently-Criterionized (and entirely fawesome) The Tales of Hoffman (pictured; center, obviously), as well as the danciest murder victim there ever was in Peeping Tom. CNN obit here, and filmography here. Pointless, embarassingly personal non-trivia: I used to get her confused with Norma Shearer (before seeing The Women, that is). Maybe it was because Moira, a ballerina first and foremost, did so few films...