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

Friday, March 31, 2006

PFF Day One: Yes, I will try to squeeze in Inside Man

Let's dispense with pleasantries, shall we? All you need know is that Day One of the Philadelphia Film Festival was a Friday. I was at work for part of it, caught up on writing during another part, and wallowed waiting around/decaying in a bank. Also, screenings didn't even start till the 5:00 hour, which luckily isn't a regular weekday occurance for the rest of the fest. This is a somewhat longwinded way of explaining why I only went to one screening. No, I am not a festival-going pussy. Not yet, anyway.

Okay, so I lied. One more explanation: every film I see will first receive a mention, then an accompanying blurb of superficial to quasi-academic analysis. Sometime, the second part will take awhile; assume that I'm simply too busy watching shit to yet write about them. Till they're reviewed, some variant on "tk" will remain, leaving me open to embarrassment from visiting strangers who see my slacker ways. Not that that trick ever works.

Brothers of the Head (Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe, UK) [B]
[comments forthcoming. this is how it begins...]

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A good idea is a good idea forever

Among the numerous written-by-me effluvia in today's Weekly are a review (second down) of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (the film that should have won the Foreign Language Oscar), Rep (with mucho words on The Pajama Game and Gun Crazy), and a series of pieces on the about-to-begin Philadelphia Film Festival: a combined article on Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Sokuorov's The Sun, another on the modern morality docs This Film Is Not Yet Rated and Fuck, and mini-blurbs on four others of various quality.

The PFF begins on Thursday night with that other, non-Kabbalah spelling bee movie Akeelah and the Bee, which I plan on not pencilling into my schedule. (It could be worse: one year kicked off with Confidence.) But after that, I should be a fest-goin' fool, which I wholly plan on blogging about. Stay tuned for updates, hopefully mucho.

Also, Monday was my 27th. Feel free to send me the new Greenaway set.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Those rocks won't rake themselves, Hiroshi

Today's Weekly finds me blabbing about the über-low-key Mexican festival favorite Duck Season and the star-studded, rather glib yet sporadically amusing Thank You For Smoking (the source of the post title). And, as ever, Rep, the centerpiece of which is a big smack on the lips of Rouben Mamoulian's entirely rad Love Me Tonight, which temporarily convinced me that Maurice Chevalier was more than bearable. How dare it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

In praise of purely functional titles

Oh. My. God.

Perhaps you've heard about a movie about snakes on a plane called Snakes on a Plane. For months, I thought it was a joke. Even with what looks like a professionally-made teaser (the movie doesn't come out till August), I'm still not convinced. Basically, I wouldn't be shocked if it turns out a couple potheads/Chauncey Gardner types pranked their way into a pitch meeting at New Line, and before they knew it, Samuel L. Jackson was cracking, "Enough is enough. I've had it with these snakes." Kudos on the shot of one of the slippery villains getting sprayed in the face; still more for getting Final Destination 2 and Cellular's David R. Ellis to do the b-movie directing duties. If there's a mongoose on board, no way this doesn't crack my end of the year list.

[Update: It appears that, as is often the case with YouTube, the owners of copyrighted material have descended, deleting what was clearly a leaked trailer. If the studios knew a thing or two, they'd give it an early release: the thing is already an international punchline, and seeing that the trailer delivers the goods -- and looks fucking ten kinds of fun -- would help make this a more refined punchline, the kind that works in their favor. If they play their cards right, droves may actually, y'know, see it. There's no reason a movie called Snakes on a Plane can't gross the same amount as a masochistic Jesus movie. Also, the joke trailers are lame. All ten thousand of them.]

[Update the Second: This is no longer true. But you already knew that. It seems that since I posted this, the trailer has been thoroughly chewed by the zeitgeist at large, to the point where Ellis and co. are literally reshooting footage to make it more...you tell me. If this film's more aware of itself, where's the fun? Yo, fuck the internet and it's rapidly de-cool-ing ways. Here's the reinstated trailer, for what it's worth. Opening line still awesome.]

This just in from the recently begun PFF coverage!! District 13, in which two taciturn French bad-asses pound their way through a futuristic wasteland that calls to mind both Katrina and the Banlieue riots, is largely awesome. After this, Kiss of the Dragon, Unleashed, and Transporter 2, Luc Besson need never direct again.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

P For Plugging

In this, the week superheroes finally cross the line over to all-out terrorists*, I wrote two pans (third and fourth down), one for the second Zooey-Ferrell joint Winter Passing, one for Amanda Bynes' Twelfth Night "update" She's the Man. And, as ever, Rep. Looks like the review of Or (My Treasure), my sole semi-major blurb in this issue of Rep, got trimmed for space, so I'll reprint the unedited, raw version here. Thank the gods for blogs.
Borrowing the kitchen sink miserablism of the Dardennes Brothers, Karen Yedaya’s expertly naturalistic Israeli drama works a memorably non-judgmental vibe -- all the better to tone down a worldview that lies somewhere between bleak-o-rama and apocalyptic. Late Marriage’s Ronit Elkabetz plays a fortysomething prostitute kept in check (or as much as she can be) by daughter Dana Igvey, a head-on-shoulders teen frequently shown cleaning her apartment and, sometimes, her mother. If you think Igvey stands a chance then you’ve got another thing coming, though Yedaya staves off the inevitable as long as she can. Most of the film consists of a steady accumulation of details, static long takes whose rawness aren’t necessarily Raw, but merely capture the rhythms of lower class Tel Aviv. It’s such a steady tone that the eventual souring almost takes you by surprise, even if you saw it coming; a scene where Elkabetz pays an ill-fated visit to the mother of Igvey’s well-off boyfriend suddenly reveals the class resentment issues that had only been simmering prior. Yedaya’s view of prostitution as a disease passed on in the genes is a hair on the dubious side, but there’s no doubting her talents elsewhere, no less so in the casting department: Yegvy gives the kind of performance that’s brave, alive and never less than authentic, qualities the film itself often shares.

* Good job Sean Burns stiffing SEP for Subpar Eisensteinian Propaganda (sorry) for a lengthy appraisal of Manderlay, finally released into the Philly wilds by IFC Film. Also, amen, brother.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Philadelphia Film Festival: All growns up?

I have no wish of repeating what I always say about the PFF, which is this: it's all I got. That is by no means a knock. The Philly Fest has, in the eight or so years I've been in whatever capacity going to it, has grown leaps and bounds, starting as a spunky little civic pride fest, lunging for the scraps from other fests, to what it is today, namely a second- or third-tier deluge of Actual Cinema. (Coming a month before Cannes, i.e., the beginning of the film festival calendar, doesn't bode well for a promotion.) I still remember the jump in quality from 2003, when it started to really gain some girth, to 2004, when suddenly the catelogue was festooned with exclamation point-worthy names: Breilliat! Greenaway! de Oliveira! von Trier and Leth! Monteiro! Demme! McElwee! Maddin!, etc. "This must be what it's like to hang out in Rotterdam in January," I probably mused at the time.

Jump two years forward and I'm a hair less enthused. No, no, no (*laughs, bitterly*), it's not that the PFF -- which its nearly fortnightly run at the end of the month -- has kept this level of quality so high that we're now bored of the stuff, pining for mediocrity. (Something tells me you weren't thinking that.) It's that, while the number of drool-worthy auteur product hasn't fallen terribly, almost at all, low, it's gotten a little less...brave. Now, I know that the esoteric stuff doesn't exactly translate into either high ticket sales and especially not high audience ratings; the bottom rungs of the audience ballots list, made public at the end of every fest, is lousy with titles like Come and Go and A Talking Picture. However, did anyone in charge expect otherwise? These are specialty items and, really, film festivals are all they have -- and, consequently, what we who still adore projected celluloid can't get many other places. (I'm as tickled as anyone over the DVD revolution -- just picked up '80s Seijun Suzuki from TLA, tee hee -- but, as per Jake Gyllenhaal, it just doesn't compare.) Maybe in an audience of 100 slogging through the latest Hong Sang-soo, 95 may choose to rhapsody on the state of their ass than the temporal shifts, but the 5 who don't will likely forever cherish the experience above most.

I could be wrong. Though I've yet to fully imbibe the brochure (which one can do on their site), the more-than-passing glance I've given it shows it's noticably lacking in the esoterica. I'm not sure if there just weren't that many Level IV, three-hour long-take-a-thons on the circuit this year -- I seem to recall Cannes '05 being a bit light on the Level IV director fare -- but the round-up does seem subtly yet only slightly more middlebrow than usual. What is very unsubtle is how even more powerhouse certain screenings are. There are a number of Sundance debuts making their second appearance, among them the long-awaited Nicole Holofcener/Jen Aniston joint Friends With Money, the md'a-approved Ryan Gosling Is Michelle Pfeiffer Sans Coolio outing Half Nelson, Hard Candy and an on-the-cusp-of-release showing of the...interestingly titled Lucky Number Slevin. (Pointless yet requisite bitch: no Science of Sleep? Old Joy? Bobcat Goldthwait's Stay?) Kudos are in order. I hope y'all make bucketloads of money off of these higher-profile-than-usual screenings. Maybe you can use that cash next year to bring back the alienating fare? For instance, if Béla Tarr's The Man From London hasn't secured a domestic release date -- and is, heh, actually completed -- could you kindly nab it?

Anyway. There's still plenty to not carp over, most notably the Danger After Dark section, which takes a more U.K. bent this year. (The Descent, Evil Aliens, Isolation, and Wild Country all bear the markings of heavily-accented...er, non-American English, as does the Aussie porcine woman gut-churner Feed.) As ever, Travis Crawford, the PFF's Associate Program Director and DAD brainchild, is the man, keeping the cinephiles always sated. (Who brought PFF '05 Kings and Queen?) The sole Crawford-related downside? Not one Takashi Miike. What is the world coming to when Mr. Seven-Movies-a-Year-In-an-Off-Year couldn't crank out more than a Krull-esque kiddie movie, but Suicide Club's Sion Sono can get twice represented? Can the film festival circuit make it more than a year without him?

Again, I need to do still more brochure probing, but here's what's what, as far as I can tell. The titles in the first category are bound to leave you wondering what it is I'm getting so peeved about. And yet I won't relent.

Stoked (or as much as one can be given however much of a thrashing they've respectively received) A Bittersweet Life (Kim Ji-Woon, of Tale of Two Sisters and Foul King fame); Brothers of the Head; Death of Mister Lazarescu; L'enfer; Heading South; It's Only Talk; [Sympathy for] Lady Vengeance; The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; The Proposition; The Sun (pictured, above); Wassup Rockers; This Film is Not Yet Rated; and Wordplay.
Finally The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Already in Gotham, But Whatev Our Brand is Crisis

Could Maybe Be Interesting, Perhaps
* Cold Showers (Larry Clarkisms from France, which is kinda redundant)
* Danielson: A Family Movie (Or, Make a Joyful Noise Here) (doc on God-lovin' band from NJ that counts Sufjan Stevens as a member)
* Dear Pyongyang (South Korean progeny disapproves of North Korea-worshipping dad)
* Evil (Greece's first zombie movie)
* Fuck (history of the word)
* Hamlet of Women (insurgency messes with Algeria)
* Hell (Thai vision of same)
* La Petit Jersualem (straight outta the Banlieue)
* Reincarnation (The Shining by way of Takashi Shimizu)
* Shame of the City (doc on 2003 Philadelphia mayoral race -- ouch!)
* The Shutka Book of Records (Czech gypsies)
* Stoned (an honest-to-dog Brian Jones biopic; Paddy Considine is Frank Thorogood)
* The Uncertain Guest (Spanish mindfuck)
* Waiting (chain restaurant workers bitch...er, make that Palestinian refugee camp-dwellers bitch)

Where's... The Bow; Gabrielle; Lemming; Mary; Regular Lovers; A Tale of Cinema; Three Times; Tideland; many more probably not worth bringing up.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


While it's hard to dispute muse malade's claims that this whole YouTube phenom will get hijacked by the craftiest sum'bitches, the below screen makes it feel well worth the inevitable headaches and evilness:

That's right, kiddies: technology has evolved to the point where you and I can watch the best movie of 2000 -- Guy Maddin's The Heart of the World -- not by buying the Archangel/Twlight of the Ice Nymphs disc, but by clicking a couple buttons. And in relatively good quality, no less! (Be patient with the loading time; I tried it on a couple computers, and for whatever reason it always took eons.)

This is a very exciting development. Granted, the qualities aren't ideal -- the logo's an unsightly blemish, to say the least, though the clips on the YouTube site are clean -- but the accessibility's hard to beat. Basically, you know those hopelessly obscure shorts you've always wanted to see? Well, now there's a chance some dork not only has a digital copy of it, but has uploaded it to YouTube's seemingly inexhaustible terrain. Already, there are a couple Svankmajers and Angers floating about, and that number can only go up. I know there are many carps to lodge with this new gimmick, many, probably all, of which I share. Right now, however, I'm just gassed enough about watching Michel Gondry's new White Stripes video when I wish to temporarily ignore them. The days of forking over thousands for an nth-generation dub are so almost over.

This week's Weekly junk, by the way, entails a my annual tirade at AMPAS' FL branch by way of a review of the undeserving Oscar-winner Tsotsi, and, as ever, Rep. Again, mad props to whomever booked a celluloid screening of Preminger's hard-to-find Forever Amber. If only anyone actually liked it...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Obligatory wtf Crash post

Just wait till Bill O'Reilly, Matt Drudge, et al. find out the movie that beat out Brokeback has black people in it. Whoops!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Robert Altman and Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Paul Newman’s Unheeded Lesson Directly Influencing His Joining the Cast of Quartet

[There used to an Altman post here for the Matt Zoller Seitz-instgated Altman Blog-a-thon. However, I wound up with less time than expected to spend on it, and I rushed out an I think inferior and sloppy post -- on the not very good but interesting Buffalo Bill and the Indians -- so that it would make the deadline. But I see MZS didn't even link to it yet, so phew! I'm off the hook from having my undisciplined mumblings exposed to however many people fly by his site. To the two or three who did read it while it was up, sorry, and a better, tighter, less obviously first-draft-y version will be up soon. No, really.]