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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: There Is Entirely Too Little General Zod on YouTube

I desperately wanted to post one of the many terrific clips of Terrance Stamp as General Zod in Superman II -- you know, in honor of that crappy-ass Richard Donner cut that came out yesterday -- but, alas, I came up empty. In its stead, here's one of the better shorts from Robert Smigel's genius TV Funhouse, long the only laugh-out-loud material on SNL. Tackling a favorite target, the breathtakingly cheap Hanna-Barbera company, Smigel goes after their little-known show Shazzan, in which a pair of teens (and a flying camel) frequently call on a genie to help them and enact vengeance that's far from commensurate with the acts that inspired them.

Yon Weekly!! A review (second down) of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's HD-shot Climates, plus an interview with local Repertory dude and filmmaker Michael Dennis. Also, Rep.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Screening Diary: Week of 11/19 (aka, the one where I drop the f-bomb too much)

/The Apple/ (1980, Menahem Golan) [a D-/A- split]
I would pay a significant fee to go back in time and stare at Chuck Norris’ face as he watched this while researching his Delta Force director. Do you really think Golan (to your left, deep in thought) had the sense to hide it from him? Also, when Joss Ackland abruptly and inexplicably goes from playing a Gandalf-esque hippie leader to a slick-haired God within a single scene is...not even one of the craziest parts of this crazy-ass picture. Speeeeeeed!!

Night of the Comet (1984, Thom Eberhardt) [C]
I was under the impression, for some reason, that this apocalyptic ‘80s teen comedy was essentially The Omega Valley Girls. Who knows, maybe that’s what Eberhardt was going for. But that’s not what leads Catherine Mary Stewart (of The Apple!) and Kelli Maroney appear to be doing, so what in the fuck, in my opinion. (If that is what they’re doing, it’s the subtlest portrayal of a stereotype yet.) A total muddle of a faintly promising idea, saved periodically by Mary Woronov, who both brings her game and plays a part in a couple genuinely inventive death scenes. Tellingly awkward-but-awesome line: “I’m not insane - I just don’t give a fuck!”

Imprint (from “Masters of Horror) (2006, Takashi Miike) [B+]
I have yet to see The Great Yokai War, nor have I stumbled upon Big Bang Love: Juvenile or any of the ten others he’s made in the interim. But it seems to me that Miike is on something of a streak of late. And surely, it’s no coincidence that two of them -- Box, his contribution to Three...Extremes, and this, his (unaired!) contribution to Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” series -- happen to be of the short-to-medium-length variety. Here’s the thing with Takashi Miike: even though he’s often depicted as a paint-dribbler, crazily dropping ideas and images in the hopes that a couple of them will stick, he’s not only capable of a strong semblance of structure and order, but he actually excels at it. (Either that or at least a narrowly-defined template, like another recent work, Izo, which milks the “damned samurai is stuck traveling through time, murdering people” for all its worth, and then some.) Like Box, Imprint benefits from a pretzeled, hermetic structure, one that hops through time and blurs the fiction-reality line something fierce. In just a hair over an hour, Miike presents a full and horrifying portrait of patriarchal wrath that’s largely carried by women; switches protagonists (and stories), from Billy Drago’s obsessive journalist to Youki Koudoh’s disfigured prostitute; and, by hopping around various time lines and plots, makes a film that feels like it would be better off watched sideways, not front to end. As the proverbial cherry on top, he even puts the gruesome torture, needle-laden torture scene not at the climax but at the halfway mark. That said, just what does Billy Drago think he’s doing. That guy’s fucking crazy.

Mikey and Nicky (1976, Elaine May) [B+]
Starts off like May aping Cassavetes' shtick with his own help (as well as Peter Falk’s); quickly develops into its own thing, though still very much a reworking of one director’s signature style. You kind of expect May to amp the macho bullshit, all the better to expose it. But she’s really with these two, as they take a long, dark journey of the (‘70s Philly) night, not to mention participate in a disturbing and fascinating portrait of male friendship. (Likewise, the brutality towards women isn’t cut down, though its impact is given extra stressing.) What she doesn’t do, in essence, is try to act as though it’s real, or The Truth, as Cassavetes had been doing up till that point. The stress is on the high theatrics of the performances, which rank near the top on both actors’ resumes: Cassavetes was never more quintessentially Cassavetesian that he was here, while Falk emerges as a truly tragic figure, honestly hurt by the way his friend treats him but also stuck with a need to one-up him, even if it means turning him over to the crime bosses who want his hide. It’s no Killing of a Chinese Bookie, the Cassavetes-directed release of the same year, but it’s close.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006, Marc Forster) [C+]
Likeable enough, thanks to strong turns from Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and a reasonably human spin on the kooky babe character by Maggie Gyllenhaal. But I have to go with Jim Ridley -- this is just a whimsy pile-up, a welter of promising ideas with little to no organization. Even Will Ferrell’s discovery of the voice is blown, coming far too early (or late) in the picture and for no discernible reason. What caused Ferreal to hear the voice? For that matter, why did this Zach Helm guy think it was such a great idea to have Ferrell and Thompson occupy the same universe? That this revelation produces, like, two bats of the eye from the characters, en total, is depressingly indicative of the lack of imagination on display. Against my better defenses, I found the film’s exclamatory ode to breaking out of one’s rut unexpectedly moving; decidedly less so its dubious and thin hatred for aspiring artists. Also, can I call a moratorium on screenwriter’s writing about novelists if they can’t convincingly reproduce believable prose on the screen, in particular if said novelist is apparently ace enough to ensnare literary professors? Thanks kindly.

The Long Goodbye (1973, Robert Altman) [A]
I really forgot how fucking nuts this is, as in wall-to-wall. It’s not just every scene that has something offbeat in it, but just about idea, from the academic-stoner guy Elliott Gould’s Marlowe shares a cell with during his prison stay to the way the entire soundtrack, save for sarcastic “Hooray For Hollywood” bookends, is variations on the title song. This is Raymond Chandler, old Raymond Chandler movie adaptations (the screenplay is credited to Leigh Brackett, who wrote such things as The Big Sleep), the ‘70s, the ‘40s, film noir, Hollywood and Altman himself caught in a 112-minute time warp, floating around eachother, intermingling and making new cross-associations. The film is relentlessly and genuinely unpredictable, best exemplified by the moment where Mark Rydell’s initially harmless-seeming Jewish mafioso professes his sincere love to his air-brained mistress before smashing her face with a bottle to prove a modest point. Impossible to pin down, and restlessly experimental -- indeed, the shot through Sterling Hayden and Nina Van Pallandt’s patio door, in which you get both a fuzzy, hopelessly obscured image of the two arguing as well as a distant image of Gould dancing around on the beach, is probably the farthest Altman ever went into the visual ether. I’ll spill one for you, Bobby A.

[Seen for Da Weekly: And If Tomorrow? (2005, Giovanni La Parola) [C+]; /Dead Man/ (1995, Jim Jarmusch) [from a C to an A-]; Climates (2006, Nuri Bilge Ceylan) [B+]]

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: "Retirement? You're Talking About Death, Right?"

So, earlier today I was casually worrying about what I was going to post on my obligatory YouTube Wednesdays. Let's just say the site really needs the flood of Altman material that's doubtless en route.

I have no eulogy. You can throw a rock and you'll hit one, maybe even three. I won't even link to any, lest I pretend to single any out. I feel no need to try to coax words to explain why I will miss a filmmaker who was in my top tier, and whose Hands on a Hard Body movie I was eagerly anticipating, even if it had only been in pre-production. And I really can't conjure up words to explain what it's like to live in a world where there will be no new Robert Altman films.

That said, there are plenty of Altman films which even I haven't seen, and some which even you haven't seen. (I counted about 10, plus a whole fuckload of TV work, his The Caine Mutiny and McTeague adaptations among them.) I eagerly anticipate, for one, the well-belated reassessment of his '80s, play-adaptation-heavy period. Ditto his television days, before M*A*S*H.

I leave you with lists.

Upper Echelon
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  • The Long Goodbye (1973)
  • California Split (1974)
  • 3 Women (1977)
  • Tanner '88 (1988)
  • Gosford Park (2001)

  • Images (1972)
  • A Perfect Couple (1979)
  • Popeye (1980)
  • Kansas City (1996)
  • The Gingerbread Man (1997)

    Ones I Most Desperately Need to See
  • Countdown (1968)
  • Brewster McCloud (1970)
  • Thieves Like Us (1974)
  • HealtH (1980)
  • Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
  • Vincent and Theo (1990)
  • Tanner on Tanner (2004)

    And because no Altman break-down would be complete without it:
  • Overrated or Just Not Very Good (Yet Well Worth Seeing, Natch)
  • Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's Lesson (1976) [but great visuals; squint hard and it's just as good as those from the same epoch]
  • Quintet (1979) [though something tells me this becomes a masterpiece on third or fourth viewing]
  • Streamers (1983) [so far the only Altman I flat-out just don't like]
  • Secret Honor (1984) [okay, not really, but it does has a chasmic gap between material and execution]
  • The Player (1992) [also not really, but I've always found the central conceit a little on the glib side]

    R.I.P., dude.

    And now, Le Weekly An actual film cover issue yields an article on the Greater Philadelphia Film Office and Sharon Pinkenson, its frizzy, golden-haired head. Meanwhile, a new, fancier spread for the film section debuts along with an interview section lorded over by moi; first out of the gate is an intervew with actual-Amerindie god Andrew Bujalski that I had to cut well, well down. (Forgive the name, by the by.) A review of his Mutual Appreciation follows. Ditto Rep.

  • Monday, November 20, 2006

    Screening Diary: Week of 12 Nov 06

    Babel (2006, Alejandro González Iñarritu) [D+]
    Too bad screenwriter-buddy Guillermo Arriaga’s jumping ship -- I was sincerely hoping that he and Iñarritu’s next film would take place all over the galaxy, sketching the connections between lowly earthlings and a variety of alien species, who of course brood up a storm. (“What makes us the same is what makes us miserable...from the sponge-gorillas of Centaur Delta 7 to the arachnid-frogs of Pegasus 9.4.”) The Crash allusions aren’t unearned, but they don’t explain what’s so aggravating about Babel. Haggis may never have had anything specific to say about his gallery of latent (or not) racists, but the message was still clear. (“No, I’m sorry, it was a trick question: the entire panel are racists!”) Babel’s just passive-aggressive, coyly refraining from making any grand judgments while making plenty of smaller, equally shallow ones. And so we get Iñarritu and Arriaga getting within an inch of saying, for instance, that it’s somewhat wrong that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett’s children got saved from the wilds of the desert while the maid got shipped back to Mexico for stupidly leaving them there, but not quite saying it because, y’know, that’s kind of stupid when you think about it. Not to mention, this is one of those movies where everyone does the single stupidest thing they could possibly do, especially if they’re Gael Garcia Bernal. There’s a meme that’s been sifting through the, uh, memesphere that posits that the real villain of the trilogy is Arriaga, and that it’s entirely possible that Iñarritu is more a tech man. That may be, but that still leaves me with little hope for the guy: his gritty hand-held shtick is virtually indistinguishable from anyone else who throws out their tripods, his Intolerance-esque four-way editing suite rarely produces thought-provoking or even visceral ricochets, and the one scene that comes closest to conjuring up a new sensation -- Rinko Kikuchi in the club, the sound going on and off -- is built around an effective but jujune idea whose novelty wears off as soon as you figure out what’s going on. (I.e., pretty much immediately.) That said, anything that reminds me (and hopefully others) how awesome Code Unknown and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance are isn’t entirely wasteful. Crash, I’m looking your way.

    Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967, John Huston) [A-]
    Hard to imagine anyone ever watched this in standard color; maybe that explains why it's been left for dead. Its famed pictorial shtick -- in which the entire frame is bathed in a hazy golden (heh) hue, except for one strategically colorized object in the frame (like Elizabeth Taylor’s red shirt in a room full of men) -- may be just that (i.e., a shtick), but it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and perfectly compliments this odd mood piece besides. (The film was released in this strange format, but was swapped for the traditional color version a week later after people complained it was too weird.) Certainly one of the most deterministically experimental studio pics ever green-lit, Huston’s film also made a benchmark for portrayal of homosexuality. It’s still caught in the gay=crazy vein, but it’s remarkably frank about what’s ailing Marlon Brando’s Army post Major, leaving little doubt as to why he keeps staring and stalking Robert Forster’s zombie-esque volunteer Private, who has a habit of riding around horseback in the buff. Though it won’t rank with Streetcar, Last Tango or even Burn!, Brando’s performance is uncommonly terrific and subtle; he plays his character as a man not so much torn as breaking down. When he screams “I’ll kill you” at Elizabeth Taylor, he puts his whole body into it, suggesting that every last inch of him is struggling to make sense of this new sensation. (Ditto his horse-beating scene.) Meanwhile, his big in-denial monologue plays like an android reading a script -- perfectly suitable for a character so excruciatingly in denial. Huston’s portrayal of violence, meanwhile, is sudden and brutal. Also, greatest final shot ever? No. But it’s close.

    Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuarón) [A-]
    I might be writing about this when it comes out, so let’s keep mum till that potential occasion. Or rather, mum except for this: the three bravura long takes you’ll be hearing cinephiles yammering endlessly about within the next two months aren’t the only reason this kicks the holy ass. V For Vendetta better watch its back.

    The Fountain (2006, Darren Aronofsky) [C-]
    Hard to hate, and I feel guilty pitying it. This film has been through the ringer, from conception to development to the reaction from everyone who isn’t a Premiere lacky. And some of its images are pretty striking, especially the shot of hanging lights in Isabel’s court (it’s in the trailer), or any of the times Hugh Jackman’s fingers do a roundelay with the tree’s hairs (that one’s not, and you’ll have to see it). But it never even gets off the ground, let alone moves the posts of sci-fi. The problem (or one of them) is that it’s clear lightning fast that this isn’t to be taken literally, and that everything but the middle period is a fiction or a metaphor. A love story spanning a thousand years? Hell, we never even see the Bald Jackman design the poster’s space bubble, let alone hop into it with a tree. I so want to like Aronofsky, as he’s one of the few young turks working with Eisensteinian montage. But he needs to start adapting other people’s work, or at least come to grips with the paucity of his ideas. I still think his Batman: Year One would’ve been pretty awesome, just as Requiem For a Dream is often awesome if you don’t think about it.

    Casino Royale (2006, Martin Campbell) [B]
    I’m still not sold the way others are on the lack of bloat, and it’s definitely too long. But over the past couple days, I’ve realized I kinda can’t wait to see it again. The action scenes, and not only the one with parkour, are genuinely exciting and clever, Judi Dench M proves she’s even more valuable to the series than previously thought, Eva Green makes for the most fascinating Bond Girl since Diana Rigg (though, I should admit I have a thing for Sophie Marceau’s baddie B.G. in TWINE) and, of course, Fuck these people in my opinion. Moreover, while hitting the reset button doesn’t rejigger the franchise quite as aggressively as it did with Batman Begins, it has the gauling second half that one chickened out on. The whole film, slowly and steadily, builds up to a single, extremely familiar statement of purpose, and when it comes, it’s impossible not to titter. Not to mention, this is the first Bond movie I can remember where Bond gets more skin time than the girls. And one of the girls is Eva Green! Think long and hard about that. Moment I realized I truly dug it: hotel clerk tells Daniel Craig to enjoy his stay. Craig pauses, dumbstruck, then genuinely and through a big, chipper smile replies, “Thank you. I will!”

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: F*ck

    Sadly, I am unable to embed this week's clip on this site, as said clip's owner has, for whatever reason, disabled that particular function. What it is is my so-far favorite scene from HBO's The Wire, which I've heard is finally quite a bit popular. It's also, not coincidentally, the scene that a friend who had just gotten into it showed me when he wanted me to get into it, too. It only took a year for me to get around to watching, but man, am I about as addicted to the show as some of its characters are to other more recreational substances. In this scene, detectives Dominic West and smooth-voiced Wendell Pierce crack a months-old case wide open, all the while emitting nothing but infinite variations on the f-word. The recent doc Fuck does a fairly good job on defending the word, yet this scene not only better conveys its versatility, but does it in under three minutes and more entertainingly to boot.

    So go here. (Note: I really wish the clip didn't end prematurely, as it snips off one final fuck. I believe it was a "motherfucker." By the same token, I wish it didn't begin prematurely, too. Oh well.)

    Der Weekly! An interview with Richard Linklater in honor of the release of Fast Food Nation, which I also review at the page's bottom. At the bottom of page, you'll find me yammering about George Miller's surprisingly sometimes scary Happy Feet, while go one Sean Burns review down (while reading it, that is) for words on Barbara Kopple's even more surprisingly moving Dixie Chicks doc Shut Up & Sing. Also, Rep.

    Also also, what's the fuck going on with The Beave? I know they've been having troubles, but it's been longer than usual (i.e., days and days) without a connection. Please say this ain't the end.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Screening Diary: Week of 5 Nov 06

    To Jon Rosenberg, who suggested I'd given up on this feature mid-first post: you're about to have a plate with some words on it and a knife and a fork.

    Lorenzo’s Oil (1992, George Miller) [A-]
    Bilge Ebiri, over at The ScreenGrab, called this the most underrated movie of the ‘90s. Funny, because I thought that was Babe: Pig in the City, also directed by George Miller. But I digress -- this is strong stuff, not just rejimmying the disease-of-the-week movie, but the pompous-Oscar-bait movie as well. Miller’s showy, to be sure: the camera’s always moving, wide-angle lenses are frequently strapped on, and the early shot of Nick Nolte flopping around like a washed-up fish on a staircase upon discovering the grim details of his young son’s rare and fatal disease is among the most over-the-top images ever left in a final cut. But he’s also thoughtful. The moment where care may have turned into cruelty comes around the hour mark, leaving plenty of time for the viewer to marinate on the ethical debate. Things turn out for the better (if not the best -- 14 years later, Lorenzo is still in about the same place, mentally), but that doesn’t let Nolte and mom Susan Sarandon off the hook for, among other things, ridding themselves of family members, fellow parents of kids with the same disease, and a revolving door cast of increasingly freaked nurses. (There’s also a scene where Nolte tries to wrestle with the notion of arrogance, and how it’s sometimes necessary.) Better than anything is that it doesn’t disguise its triumph in spirituality or divine intervention, but in the people themselves; there’s a part where Nolte chides Sarandon of turning her back on God, but the film makes no attempt to suggest that her resilience has to do with anything but her own inner strength. Special note: late in, Sarandon does a bit of oh-so-cinematic minimal crying, and I swear she actually manages to allow two drops to fall from both eyes at the same time. Now, that’s acting!

    Lady in the Lake (1947, Robert Montgomery) [C]
    There’s a ten-minute section in the second hour involving a car crash and a nighttime crawl when Robert Montgomery’s subjective-camera gimmick works gangbusters. Otherwise, it doesn’t at all. To those who’ve never heard of this film, what this is is Chandler’s titular novel shot entirely, save for a couple direct-address interludes/how’s-it-going’s, with POV shots. I.e., actors look right at the camera, cigarette smoke constantly wafts in the foreground, punches and slaps are given from off-screen and received by the lens, etc. Pretty innovative, no? Then why haven’t you (most likely) heard of it? Why is no one mentioning Montgomery in the same breath as Charles Laughton as actors-who-sadly-only-directed-once? (Not to mention Orson Welles, who at one point planned his debut as a subjective-camera movie.) Possibly because it bombed and earned a reputation as a giggle-inducing failure. Warner Bros. included it in their latest Film Noir comp set, suggesting a reassessment was a-transpirin'. But it turns out, no, it’s pretty much a total failure after all. For one thing, Raymond Chandler’s books (and the other movies based on them) are already plenty subjective. The idea that “You and Robert Montgomery solve a murder mystery together!” (as per the poster) would still hold up even if Montgomery was in front of the lens. As md’a would put it, it’s like a hat on top of a hat. (Incidentally, it’s almost tempting to think that Montgomery realized what a bland Marlowe he would make, and then came up with the gimmick. He certainly sounds like he’s doing a Bogie impersonation, and a bad one at that.) For another, not only does the camera suggest the stiffest of movements, both in the body and the eyes, but it encourages it in those in front of the camera, too. Put simply, there has never been this much eye contact on the planet ever. That said, Audrey Totter, as the potential femme fatale, almost makes it work in two ways: 1) she seems to be in on how absurd it is, and finds the right hammy tone, which most notably manifests itself in sporadically bulging eyes; and 2) by never ever ever ever breaking eye contact, Totter takes the notion of trust to its breaking point, as who can keep up a ruse without averting their eyes? (As we learned in The Negotiator, looking up is a classic giveaway.) In any case, the nicest thing you can say is that whatever’s involving about it has to do with the source -- surely not what one’s going for when trying to revolutionize cinema.

    Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World (2006, Albert Brooks) [B-]
    Starts out in the same self-pitying vein of The Muse before turning into the most scabrous assault on the Albert Brooks persona since Lost in America. Hooray! If only it was better directed (the flat style, which Dave Kehr has in the past not insanely compared to Ozu, only serves to give a formlessness to some of the scenes, most devastatingly the central stand-up bit) and didn’t devolve into International Incident that’s unfortuntately too little, too late. Brooks, who plays “himself” (see: Larry David), is in his late-middle age closer to a geriatric, forever whining about trivial matters, sometimes in front of picturesque landmarks. But the portrait of American isolationism was already devastating before the third act. That's Ed, I really can't carp; at least it's funny...

    Zathura (2005, Jon Favreau) [B]
    Methinks the brother angle is overplayed, while the sis one is egregiously underplayed, leaving her asleep or frozen for the first hour before whipping out a bizarrely unremarked-upon incest angle. On the other hand, as my brilliant colleague Sean Burns noted: there are actual dudes in actual freaking lizard costumes! Awesome! The retro, tactile approach compensates mucho, as does the general simplicity of the whole thing: as predicted with Favreau at the helm, there’s none of the fat of (what I’ve seen of) Jumanji, and he coaxes relaxed from both its kids and adults, namely Tim Robbins and Dax Sheppard. Speaking of which, how amazing is it that a modestly-budgeted, studio fantasy film that’s both a sequel to a blockbuster and one filmmaker’s follow-up to another monster hit (i.e., Elf) boasts a total of five cast members. (If you don’t count a handful in lizard suits. Or Frank Oz, who voices the robot.) Also, can anyone provide me with the philosopher or quantum physicist or whomthefuckever is responsible for that leftfield third act plot twist? My mind was actually and genuinely blown. Would make a nice double feature with Monster House.

    [Seen for Da Weekly: Alpha Dog (2006, Nick Cassavetes) [C-]; Yolda (2005, Erden Kiral) [C+]; My Man Godfrey (1936, Gregory La Cava) [B+]; Happy Feet (2006, George Miller) [B- -- seriously].]

    Next week: Why Babel blows!!

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: Teapot Atheist vs. Meth-Smoking Gay Pastor

    The clip of recently resigned National Association of Evangelicals head Ted Haggard rhapsodizing on homosexuals in Jesus Camp has been dominating the media. But far more creepy and revealing is his appearance in The Root of All Evil?, Richard Dawkins' two-part TV doc about religion. (Perhaps you saw Dawkins buttfucking a transsexual on South Park!) You can find the full show, which spans two 45-minute sections, on YouTube, if you want. It's not prime Dawkins (neither, for that matter, is The God Delusion), only because the biologist tends to allow too many generalities when discussing religion, where he's typically air-tight when discussing evolution. Of course, not that he's wrong. Dig Haggard's rapidly diverting eyes and general impatient vibe when Dawkins is rhapsodizing on the beauty of science.

    Weekly! I yammer on about Harsh Times and Old Joy (forth and fifth down). Also, Rep.

    Finally, good job, America.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    New Bloody Feature!! Screening Diary: Week of 29 Oct 06

    [Welcome, scant readers, to a new feature on the ol’ K.B. First off, go look at my Films Seen list. I’ll wait. Okay, welcome back. It’s pretty effing long, no? Yes, I’ve noticed that, too. And perhaps you too may have noticed that, while I write about at least half, probably far moreso, for the PW, that still leaves more than plenty for which I have very little to answer to. I mean, a letter grade? What is that? Not much, really. I’m usually able to brush off such concerns, heading directly for the “Well, I write a lot of shit for the PW. It’s not like I’m just hitting the Open/Close button my DVD player.” Except that I kind of am. I’ve therefore decided that once a week, I will grace this site with a breakdown of my movie-watching week, writing off the top of my head for, oh, 15 minutes a film, until I have a little, vaguely presentable blurb. Something that’s not too time consuming but forces me to justify my grade and time. I will of course excise any titles I watched (and am thus writing about) for the Philly Weekly. (You thought I wrote for Publisher’s Weekly?) But I will note them at the bottom. Because you care. This will also not keep me from writing longer reviews-cum-articles of films that particularly jog me cranium. Which is to say, of course, it won’t keep me any more than it once did. Ditto little random posts to say, oh, I dunno, thanks MOMI, for only showing Jacques Rivette’s super-rare 12 1/2-hour Out 1 once, and not making tickets available to non-members till fucking the beginning of December. Seriously, if any of you MOMI members have even the slightest reservation about spending two straight nights sitting on your ass for six-hours-plus apiece watching some longwinded Rivette madness, please succumb. Lastly, I know that I have started features like this and they rarely make it past a couple sessions, if that. But as I said, I think this one is perfectly manageable. And besides, I want to boost my visitor numbers for ego-stroking reasons, and this sounds like a really easy way to get people to come back regularly. You’re so being used. Diabolical laughter. And away we go!]

    Time period up for scrutiny: 29 Oct 06 thru 04 Nov 06

    /Dawn of the Dead/ (1979, George A. Romero) [A]
    Second viewing in less than three months, though that was my first viewing since freshman year in college, as well as my first since becoming Mr. Die Hard Romero Head. (I should also note I watched the extended cut, which restores more characterization, jokes and boobs.) Bizarre how I missed all the blunt satirical jabs, which, in case you forgot/ignored, are more than mall-centric/consumerist. Indeed, the opening half hour is some of Romero’s densest work, sketching the breakdown of media and briefly, hilariously showing the rise of Western Pennsylvania’s rednecks, seen gunning down zombies while swigging Iron City Beer. (Should the apocalypse come, surely they will be the ones who triumph.) What’s really amazing is how Romero seamlessly weaves his own Marxist concerns into what really is, when you get down to it, one of the most delirious, perfectly realized popcorn pictures ever concocted. It’s always a thrill to watch our (surprisingly well-acted/-developed) quartet slowly figure out how to conquer the mall, step by step, even as Romero leads us down a dark corridor where humans wind up coming off worse than the zombies. (As I often say, it’s insane how, for all the zombie movies on the planet, no one but Romero bothers to explore or make them evolve. Except when Danny Boyle says, “Hey, I have an idea, let’s make them run fast instead of move slow, even though that’s one of the main reasons why zombies are so fucking terrifying. Of course, we’ll call the virus ‘aggression’ or something, as my screenwriter is a novelist.” And then Simon Pegg says, “No, they really should move slowly. Dumbass," and makes Shawn of the Dead. To which Romero says, “Yes, and by the way, this British comic performer understands the Dead movies better than most of you horror mavens,” and makes Land of the Dead, giving Pegg a zombie cameo in case he was being too subtle. You’re the man, Romero.) In the end, DoD is doubtless one of the most humane and sympathetic explorations of the consumer mindset, as well as the macho one.

    Regular Lovers (2005, Philippe Garrel) [A]
    I heart this movie. Is that a sufficient explanation? Perhaps, but I want to talk more about this anyway. And I probably will once I have a couple more minutes. In conclusion (for now), I heart this movie.

    [Seen for Da Weekly: Harsh Times (2005, David Ayer); Moon Over Harlem (1939, Edgar G. Ulmer); Boarding House Blues (1948, Josh Binney); Shut Up & Sing (2006, Barbara Kopple & Cecilia Peck); Mutual Appreciation (2006, Andrew Bujalski); Kansas City (1996, Robert Altman); David Holzman’s Diary (1967, Jim McBride); Portrait of Jason (1967, Shirley Clarke) (aside: I’m not bragging, but whew!)]

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays

    (Might as well make it official, y'know?)

    Now, I'm aware I've yammered about this a bit too often, but then, I was too flabbergasted to find it on YouTube to keep it to myself. Here, then, is the opening eight-minute shot of Béla Tarr's 7 1/2-hour miserablist Hungarian epic, Sátántangó. Consider it a primer for its long-due DVD release later this month. (See here and, if you have to*, here.)

    Only 442 minutes left! (I kid. This movie is the bee's fucking knees.)

    I know that it doesn't remotely translate to YouTube, proper aspect ratio or not. But even from a scratchy transfer on your computer -- don't even bother blowing it up to fill the screen -- it at least gives you an idea of what it should look like. Furthermore, it shoud give the unitiated an idea of what Sátántangó is like. More then just a kickass long take, this shot sets up everything that the film trades in: the detached, grimly comic tone; the glacial pace of the shots (the first of only 150!); the film's view of humans as little more than animals; the muddy, rural post-Communist Eastern European milieu; and, perhaps most of all, the subtly menacing sound design, in a way as accomplished as the photography. (The faint ambient melody is what really helps one succumb to the shot.) Then there's the behind-the-scenes reality -- how you're made aware that Tarr actually had to find this gloomy locale, had to shoot this sequence over and over and over again until the cows did exactly what he wanted. (The film, like Werckmeister Harmonies and his still-in-development Man From London took years to shoot.) At the end of this shot's eight minutes, you know what you're in for. In all likelihood, your body should follow suit.

    Now: Plugs! I A-List about Richard Dawkins, who's swinging by the Philadelphia Free Library tomorrow. (Aside: I totally never wrote "bollocks.") Also, Rep.

    Lastly, a warm congrats to my wonderful former editor Doree Shafrir, who today has taken up the mantle of associate editor at Gotham snarkspot Gawker. (She's the one on the left.) You may have last seen her doing a fine job explaining the Auteur Theory over at Slate, just one of many high-profile web-rags to which she contributes. Make us proud!

    *I actually hear that the Facets transfer isn't as putrid as I once made it out to be. Reportedly, Tarr oversaw the transfer -- perhaps he saw what they did to his early work -- and the release was even delayed two months to fix minor mistakes. (Or so says an anonymous employee on an -- no joke -- IMDb message board.) Also, I've heard that they didn't totally fuck up Damnation and Werckmeister Harmonies as bad as I thought. Not that you shouldn't still get a regionless player and purchase the Artificial Eye release.