Monday, January 16, 2012

Projectiling on CARNAGE (2011)

There's a point in Roman Polanski's Carnage where the veins in Jodie Foster's neck tighten up so much that the area above her shoulder-region resembles a clinching penis about to ejaculate. That sounds crude, for sure, but when you think of the tension wanting to be released, in both cases, it's right on the money. Kate Winslet's character is allowed to projectile vomit earlier in the film, and you get the sense that she receives at least some distance - if only brief - from the troubles that ail her, but poor Jodie Foster never gets such a privilege.

I'm not familiar with the play God of Carnage, nor will I ever be, nor do I think the actors really care about it that much... even if they give interviewers the impression that they do. Carnage, the movie, is two things: a post-script to Polanski's early career fascination with the psychological terrors that can exist within the walls of an apartment (Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant), and an on-screen forum for a group of fairly talented actors to play a game of four square. Christolph Waltz snorts. Jodie Foster counters with a debilitating weep. Winslet comes stage left with a drunken hobble and a "faggot" blast. Then John C. Reilly stuns them all by getting racial with it.

Carnage is fun, and funny, and charging, but is it anything other than a long-form trending You Tube clip of the week with a little momentum behind it? Nah. Everyone involved has been a part of something much greater and more memorable (although, Jodie Foster's performance alone does stand out to me as one of her best). There's not even much wit to the material's eventual insight: that the brats on the playground and the rats in the gutter can take care of themselves just fine, it's the sophisticated upper-East Coast adults who are in trouble.

But, shoot, everyone needs to shallowly get their rocks off now and then, right?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


If you listen to The Jim Rome Show (or any sports talk radio show, for that matter), you'll know that many of the callers are often mocked for being "pasty fat guys who live in their mother's basements and write their takes on pieces of paper before calling into the show". While that all-in-good-(sorta)fun jab may have some truth in it, it's also a simplistic sketch of somebody that most of us either know or can heartily relate to. And that somebody is the regionally specific "obsessive sports fan" guy.

To give you a piece of personal history, I literally cried in the middle of my parent's living room when the Astros fell apart and lost to the Mets in the 1986 NL Championship Series. Moving ahead to the period of 1989-1993, I used to barricade myself away in the bedroom to watch Houston Oilers football games, throwing mini-Nerf footballs and/or rolled up pairs of socks at the posters on my wall when that damn Run-and-Shoot offence would go 0 for 4 from the opponent's two yard line.

I hope I didn't lose anyone there... my point was to simply express, very briefly (trust me, I could fill a whole new blog with sport heartache stories) , how I feel I can relate to the level of emotional and pathological fandom that comes from following a team with your heart exposed. Of course, that kind of emotion came out of me when I was a "kid". Paul Aufiero, the hardcore NY Giants fan in Robert Siegel's Big Fan, on the other hand, is a schlubby 30-40 something parking lot attendant still living with his mother in a frozen-in-time Staten Island suburb.

Director Siegel and cinematographer Michael Simmonds don't let you forget about that either, shooting the Aufiero house in blown-out saturated colors that paint the already aged living room walls, bedroom floors, and kitchen tops in a nasty yellowish-brown puke hue that matches up nicely with the three day old shiner Paul received early in the film. The beat down viewers get for the entirety of Big Fan comes out of a total package.

Now, I don't - for a second - believe that Siegel nor Patton Oswalt (in the role of Paul) held any malicious intentions when they were laying out plans for a portrait of a guy I'm sure they've known their whole lives as well, but the end product sure doesn't reflect otherwise. Any attempt at dark humor gives way to a sloppy, tonally imbalanced, pencil thin character sketch. Perhaps Big Fan's most off-kilter and confusing scene is its last one, a behind-glass prison chat that recalls Pickpocket by way of American Gigilo. What at first seems like a moment of resolve for Paul, a poor guy that has taken it on an ever increasing level throughout the entire film, turns into kind of a don't-be-surprised-if-I-end-up-in-this-very-same-situation-next-year final shot. It's a bummer.

A friend of mine recently said, "I wish someone else would direct this premise". It's a good point to consider. Think of Big Fan in comparison to The Wrestler (which Siegel wrote), and you'll notice a vast difference in the handling of the subjects of both films. On paper, the sports obsessives aren't too far apart from the down-and-out pro wrestlers on the socially awkward scale, but Darren Aronofsky treated the tanned-hulking massives like real people. Siegel, on the other hand, turns Paul into a but of a cartoon, a hyper-exaggerated man child that masturbates under NFL bedsheets. We already kid about sports show callers living like slobs in their mom's basements. To make nothing but a movie version of that is really just a waste of time.


Hi... just wanted to say "Hi", and that through an e-mail from a friend and a recent discussion with another, I was burnt enough to write something today. Don't know if the fire is back, or if I just needed to get off a shot. We'll see.

Anyways, thanks to everyone who left comments and/or sent me e-mails inquiring about my "status". Thanks to Bill, Greg, Jason, Marilyn, Rick, Pat, Ed, and many others I am not thinking of right now.

Thanks thanks thanks. All of you are good people.

Monday, November 23, 2009


It's lucky number 11 (totally the new "7") today as the TOERIFC debate/analysis of another cinematic work gets kicked around by the smartest film people on the internet.

If you care about Paul Schrader or his film Mishima : A Life in Four Chapters, there is only one place you need to be going for the rest of 2009, and that place is Crips and Mutes, the blog of film blogger Krauthammer.

Paul Schrader did much more than just right the script for Old Boyfriends, so go on over to Krauthammer's today and learn something. And bring your boyfriend.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Slinging arrows at Roland Emmerich is about as easy as propping up Michael Bay on an easel for some critical target practice. Having said that, let's get some universally accepted truisms out of the way: Roland Emmerich makes very dumb movies, and, in turn, is a very dumb artist. So, to call 2012 ethically disgusting would not be to necessarily indict co-writer/director Emmerich as a scabrous, agenda-driven sociopath who fantasizes about ethnic and social cleansing through mass population reduction. He's simply not that intellectually gifted (the man has a mural of Mao in his house without any clue as to how wicked that actually is). No, 2012 is simply Noah's Ark with the unfortunate boarding pass prerequisite that you be one of the world's few billionaires... or one of John Cusack's fictional offspring.

Near the end of what feels like a fourteen hour slog of a movie, U.S. Presidential aide Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) exclaims, "Oh, for God sakes!" in reaction to some last minute do-gooderism. Though he plays a villain, you can't help but sympathize with the guy, for he's in a film where the moral centers - geologist Dr. Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the President's daughter (Thandie Newton) - pat each other on the butt for saving... five hundred extra billionaires. A few weeks later, after both of their fathers have suffered drowning deaths, Ejiofor and Newton are seen flirting and giggling about some future whoopie that will help kick start Human Race 2.0 by producing a baby of their own. Cut to Cusack, a tranny-looking Amanda Peet, and their kids out on the ship's deck sailing towards Africa (the only land mass still above water). Having already digested the horror of a billion corpses that are roting underneath, how does Emmerich bring a little human levity to this scene of cuddly characters? By dropping in a diaper joke, of course. Cue Adam Lambert song, roll credits.

Amazingly, critics seem to be giving 2012's ugliness a pass because they view it as a "popcorn spectacle", "formula done to perfection", and "a laugh riot". To be sure, it is none of those things, and you should stop reading any paid-per-word goofball who would go to print with such nonsense, but something that really sticks in my craw is how 2012 has come out of the critical gauntlet somewhat celebrated while Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has been regularly branded "one of the worst movies of the decade"? Look, both films are bad, but, damn, if I was forced to choose between Blu Ray copies of either, you can be sure I would be grasping at the hand which held Bay's monstrosity instead of Emmerich's.

Is it because critics take offense to T:ROTF's marketing of high-priced autos and high-thighed hos to an under PG-13 audience, but play pussy when Emmerich pops up with some of his phony eco-sensitivity? Or maybe it was the ghetto slang and gold toothed grins by two of T:ROTF's go-to comic relievers that rubbed the critics raw. Fine, but may I remind you that 2012 ends with a boat full of mainly super-rich white people sailing towards the continent of Africa. Neo-colonization fantasy anyone?? "Lighten up, man!". Trust me, I'm as light as they come, and I can get off on grandiose visual nonsense with the best of 'em, but if you're going to strap me in a seat for two and half hours, at least stimulate my senses. Heck, the animated "car chase" scene in G-Force was more magnanimous than one puff off of 2012. Even its most entertaining facet - the sub-plot of Woody Harrelson's militia-minded conspiracy rat - disappears way too soon.

It's understandable that a filmmaker would get all tickled-up and excited at the prospect of blowing up the world on film, but Emmerich simply takes this idea too seriously. What's worse, after deciding to go down that straight-lipped path, he plays the extinction of billions of humans completely wrong. No, I wouldn't expect any director to be able to bottle the genuine emotions of a plane full of people who are witnessing millions of their fellow citizens descend off the coast to their deaths, but could you at least try? I don't think I've experienced a more disturbing sequence this year than when plastic surgeon Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy) tries to guide a plane through a split-in-half building while people fall from all floors of torn cement and wiring. When out of the rubble, a punch line comes.

Psuedo-psychologists worry about the desensitizing effect of video game culture on our youth. I think they'd serve our society better if they checked up on the sensitivity of secluded millionaire filmmakers instead.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


It didn't dawn on me until the quietly dynamic "toy train shop" scene, but what David Mamet accomplishes with his recently-to-DVD film Homicide, is a bringing to screen of some of the truest instincts we human beings have in relation to our own ethnic identities. Although the shadow of race plays a part in almost every scene in Homicide, the film isn't interested in any divisive eye-poking like those cartoons made by the socially angry and ridiculous Paul Haggis. Without condemnation, what Mamet is expressing here is almost a scientific fascination with the way people will slide into the comforts of social, racial, or religious segmentation in order to find strength and power and purpose. Much like the famous mob scene in Fritz Lang's Fury, a majority of the people who play prejudices and sling slurs in David Mamet's Baltimore are decent people, they've just been seduced by the elixir of group think.

Joe Mantegna plays Bobby Gold, a homicide detective who is Jewish, but in - what seems like -that very strictly non-practicing way. By chance, he is assigned to the murder case of a white Jewish shop owner in a predominantly black part of the city. At first, Bobby treats the investigation like it's a bit of a chore. He has his sympathies for the loss of life, of course, but when the shop keeper's family lays forth the notion that politics and/or hate were motives in the killing, Bobby shrugs it off as quickly as he can roll his eyes and jerk his knee. But slowly, as that small specter of ethnic identity awakens inside him (simply by being near the customs, history, and elements of his heritage), Bobby lets it become the guiding force in his research. There is a burgeoning sense of cultural allegiance now driving the operational dirt digging. Emotion has trumped logic.

None of the transformations taking place in Bobby are, for a second, meant to imply that the fears and concerns of Homicide's Jewish characters are unwarranted. Not at all. Clearly, there are real forces of hatred and tension present in the city as witnessed in the backroom of the previously mentioned toy train shop (Mamet wonderfully contrasts shots of Mantegna reacting to the innocence of tiny toys with that of the rage in neo-Nazi flags and fliers) and in the off-handed comments of policemen and members of the community. However, the issue remains that Bobby has let the ideas of what he wants to find, how he wants to see it, and who he wants to blame create a tunnel vision in his brain. For a man who leads the life of a lonely homicide detective, a new sense of belonging and identifying must feel invigorating.

It is with this new sense-of-self burning inside of him that Bobby lets the word "nig*er" fly from his lips during a police raid. The slur comes out not because Bobby is a racist, but because his chest has been inflated by the gauntlet of cultural branding he just recently emerged from. His behavior is a sociological phenomenon, much in the same way a black council member calls Bobby a "ki*e" earlier in the film following a heated exchange over a racially sensitive matter. Is the council member a racist? Doubtful. He too is reacting in an emotional setting, with a hurried heartbeat, and a duty of cultural preservation on his mind. But what's brilliant about Homicide is the way it never plays these outbursts as signs of a greater hidden division. In fact, made in 1991, Homicide is a film made by a man who seems to have accepted the reality of a post-racial society. Mamet is simply interested in the natural wonders of tribal identification, something that will forever exist.

By the way, I've just skimmed the surface of what goes on in this film. Homicide begs repeated viewings. There's much to dissect here, and it sort of feels like David Mamet's masterpiece.

Monday, November 02, 2009


[NOTE: This is where the blogger gives himself a strict 10 minutes to rattle off whatever about a movie he just saw that he doesn't feel deserves a thoughtful edited review but still feels the need to feed the animals anyway. Quality is of no concern.]


I suppose me walking in three weeks after the fact, the fact being that everyone else has already weighed in on Surrogates, is a little cheap on my part. I don't particularly take pleasure in being the 47th person to stroll in and punch something sucky in the face. In fact, I'd rather be the one who gets the first punch in and then tell everyone else "hey, settle down, he's had enough". But hey, I need some space to fill, and I also went and saw Surrogates after work today, so what else to reach in and scrape off my brain than this new boring Bruce Willis movie. Don't get me wrong, i'm a fan of Bruce Willis movies (I will defend Hostage), I'm just saying that this latest one of his is beneath any other further qualification. Some guy directed it that has directed other things. I guess some other things that people like. But whatever, he's pretty shitty if you ask me. Maybe he directed Surrogates in a "method director" fashion. meaning, maybe he made himself into some zombie surrgogate droid blob while he directed this film. Maybe he directed from some futuristic lounge chair or la-z-boy like "The Lawnmower Man", or something. If Surrogates is a warning about our f'ed up future, then I'd rather squint through Dee Snider's Strangeland all over again. Really. What's the point of making a movie like this PG13? Really, all anyone wants to know about people who have their robot selves running around town being controlled by their brains back home is what happens when their robots climax during sex. Do they actually ejaculate or vibrate in their genitals when they orgasm, or does all that imprortant stuff happen back home in the depressing confines of some Idiocracy-type apartment. I don't know. Maybe I'm being too hard on Surrogates. I guess it was kind of neat to see Bruce Willis in glossy paint like he went through one of those pottery kilns that makes things shiny. I also felt bad that he loved his wife so much but she was so addicted to being a "surry" that he was lonely all the time. What was up with that taser thing that the surries got off on at the party? It made me think of tha that orb egg thing from Sleeper that gives all of the guests orgasms. Isn't that what the future really all comes down too? Who cares about war or the environment or population or food or the economy. All we really wnat to make sure about is that our sexual experiences don't get messed up. Cuz, really, when everything else in the world is totally gone and yoou don't even have a rough over your head, well, at least you can give yourself an orgasm. Do homeless people do that? I wonder. Maybe they are too depressed to get those hormones going. What am I talking about? This is depressing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


After those cross-cutting moments of dread that roll-up on father and son at the end of A Serious Man, the dialogue that lingered with me the most was that which was spookily spoken by Barry Corbin in No Country For Old Men: "You can't stop what's coming." I suppose that flavor of throwing-up-your-arms inevitability is something that could be attributed to the Cinema de Coen as a whole, but after so much preventative hand-wringing by A Serious Man's protagonist, physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), it really stung to see him get thumped on the nose right before the curtains closed. Sure, on the surface, A Serious Man is advocating a "stop and smell the roses" philosophy but, like the endearing goofball antics of Burn After Reading, that's just the lubricant to get the larger ideas inside of you.

So, what does it all mean? (The movie, that is.) A Serious Man is the Coen's headiest film to date, and I'm not just saying that because it's been rattling around my noggin for days. There are many interpretive avenues to travel down: there's the one that obsesses over the use of Surrealistic Pillow; the Jewish one; the one about logic & probability. But, for me, it seems that the domestic issues of family and marriage that exist in A Serious Man have never been so vivid in a film of the Coens since Raising Arizona. The Gopniks are a two kids/two car family with the makings of a clan that might just live in the same subdivision as Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper. Larry's son signed up for the Columbia record club, his daughter wants in the bathroom, and his wife wants a divorce. None of this is his fault, of course ("I didn't do anything", he repeats). But as Larry reprimands a Korean student of his by referencing the laws of action and consequence, we know that he's partly at fault for it all.

Thankfully, we're not back in the braindead Sam Mendes/Alan Ball suburban warfare territory here. No. As the Coens accentuated the close living quarters of H.I. and Edwina's trailer in Raising Arizona to reflect the good-Earth nature of those characters, so too here does the Gopniks's house reflect a protective nature that Larry steadfastly strives to provide. Sure, Larry can come off as a sheepish lion when he lets another man talk him out of his own house, or when he backs down from a neighbor who is planning to encroach onto his property, but Larry's motivations are his kids and his home. This is evident in the way he let's himself get pinballed around by his synagogue's three elusive rabbis for the endgame benefit of finding a pathway to stability for his family.

But the dark horse in this whole scenario is The Gopnik Family's relative, Uncle Arthur (bravely played by Richard Kind). Introduced to us early as a comedic foil - the reason Larry's daughter can't get in the bathroom is because Arthur is constantly inside, draining his sebaceous cyst - Arthur is, in many ways, at the heart of A Serious Man. In fact, he drives the climactic scene between him and Larry that takes place at an empty motel pool (drained, just like his cyst). Larry has been so consumed by the griping and gritting and grinding away of his own misfortunes, that he never took a breather to step back and gain perspective. Especially from the perspective of Arthur. Yes, Larry admires the fact that Arthur "never complains" but, in truth, Arthur is really a specimen that's at the the butt-end of life's most appealing physical qualities. He's hairy in gross places, flabby, has terrible posture, dumpy, and has an ugly face. Thus, he's an extreme outcast, envious of Larry's ability to create a family. But when Arthur confesses this to Larry point blank, it goes over his head. He's unawakened.

Of course, Larry may still be too distracted by the way his rival, Sy Abelman, has moved in on his wife. Like Arthur, Sy was not blessed with the most attractive of features, but he exudes a convincing spiritual confidence that makes up for it. Subconsciously, Larry admires him. It's not because Sy is able to catch the attention of his wife, so much, but that Sy is able to ride on such a calm wave of life. He walks and talks and maneuvers like he's figured it all out. Revealed in a dream, Sy is the ideal of "a serious man" in Larry's mind. Forget all that math and physics mumbo jumbo that Larry throws up on his classroom chalkboard like territorial gang graffiti, because Sy's already the owner to life's answers. He even slams Larry's head up against the chalkboard for good measure. Cuz, really, what's Schrodinger's cat gonna do for you once the doctor calls with bad news?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Is it me, or does the Saw VI poster resemble that famous black & white portrait of Mao?

Eh... maybe it's just me...

Or... I know! It was that Etch-A-Sketch portrait of Mao that I was thinking of! (framed in RED dontchya know!!)

And then, of course...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


According to one of those New York magazines with "New York" in the title, Rambo II writer James Cameron, said the following to Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of True Lies:

"Do you want Paul Verhoeven to finish this motherfucker?"

Now, it's unclear whether Cameron said "motherfucker" in reference to the movie, True Lies, or if he was actually calling Schwarzenegger a "motherfucker".

If it's the former, then, yes please Mr. Cameron, I would very much like to rewind history and have Paul Verhoeven finish (or just start over) True Lies.

While you're at it, would you mind handing over the Avatar project as well? Cool. Now go out diving somewhere with your camera and leave us alone.


Monday, October 19, 2009


Celebrate the 10th anniversary of TOERIFC by clicking on over to Tom Sutpen's blog Illusions Travel By Streetcar, for a discussion of Billy Wilder's controversial Kiss Me, Stupid.

You knoooow, this TOERIFC thing we do is really like putting on a day long master's class in cinema for free. It's like your college film courses to the 9th power. So, if you want to learn about movies and don't have the tuition for NYU, or wherever, you really have no excuse, because we are offering it up for free. You're welcome.

(Above banner by Greg @ Cinema Styles)

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Not just for his short stature and elvish voice has Spike Jonze always been a filmmaker who deems it necessary to keep an artistic eye on that chamber of life that contains childhood, youth, and adolescence. Remember the look on that girl's face in the back of the car at the end of Wax's "California" video? How about those teenage bull riders in Jonze's short documentary Amarillo by Morning? There's also the touching posthumous video for Notorious B.I.G.'s "Sky's the Limit", the skater kids in Sonic Youth's "100%", the high school gymnastics competition of "Elektrobank", and the throwback letter sweaters in "Buddy Holly". Even Jonze's intermittent work with Jackass evinced an interest in a specific type of manchild that is still too devilish to grow up. So now, at a point in his career that seemed to be at its calmest, Spike Jonze resurfaces with his finest testament to date, a film that critic Kent Jones has described in the most perfect way as "childhood in motion".

At the midpoint of Where The Wild Things Are, there's a moment where average-kid-turned-imaginary-ruler Max (Max Records) sketches blueprints in the sand of an improbable kingdom that he and his monster friends will build and live in together. The unbridled imagination pouring out of Max's mouth as his hands try to keep time with his head during a tutorial for the beasts, made me think of what the production brainstorming sessions must have been like on the set of Being John Malkovich. Writing about a giant Emily Dickenson puppet, a portal into John Malkovich's head, and a 1/2 floor office with short ceilings, is much easier than actually pulling it off for the camera. But such is the ambition of Jonze, a cinematic wish granter whose own fantastic ideas stand responsible for churning out the total uniqueness of his art.

There is much to love about the bulk section of Where The Wild Things Are that takes place out of reality, on the island where Max and his subconscious "wild things" work things out, but of particular note should be the sequences with Max at home and at school that take place beforehand. Frankly, I can't recall a better on screen summation of rambunctious, rambling childhood than WTWTA's first fifteen minutes. Max builds an igloo, gets in a snowball fight, jumps on the bed, tackles his dog, cries tears down his cheeks, talks to a fence, builds a bedroom rocket ship over some bedroom lava, does "The Robot", picks at his mom's pantyhose, yells at his sister, and runs. Of course, all of this is given emotional heft due to the prudence and careful direction of Jonze. Watch the transition that is made from classroom to car when Max's teacher talks about the sun dying out. As his teacher's lecture trails off, the lingering words follow Max into the passenger seat of his mother's car and place a gaze of awestruck fixation on his face, a look that only comes from the fascination of a young discovering mind.

As soon as you can accept that the monsters or "wild things" represent the individual characteristics that make up the prepubescent milkshake that is Max, images of the kid with giant furry puppets start to emit a much grander significance. To watch Max speak up and out to the monsters as they surround him, or to see him leading a charge of all through the woods, is akin to a child's self-discovery of his or her own vulnerabilities and strengths. During a daytime nap, the monsters dogpile each other and form a mountain of mumbling, snoozing bellies, paws, and snouts over Max. Underneath this protective mound, Max huddles, bonding with the most independent and mature of the beasts, KW. The way KW stands apart from the group (she arrives late it greeting Max) as the most aware and accepting of Max's true nature, reveals her to be the stand-in for Max's real life mother.

Though not a theme which dominates on first glance, Max's coping with the separation of his mother and father, and, therefore, the lack of his father's attention in general, is revealed as Where The Wild Things Are's red, beating core. In an early scene, we see Max peering around the corner of the hallway onto his mom enjoying herself with a new boyfriend. Later, as he hides behind a branch, that same intimidated stare returns to Max's eyes as he watches KW and Carol fight over, what feels like, the rubble of old romance. But Max's anxieties, and Jonze's brilliant visual recreation of them, hit their peak in a scene where KW shelters Max from a raging Carol by hiding him in her stomach. The in utero allusions are clear, and it's quite striking to look at a knee-to-chest Max cocking an eye towards the muffled bickering outside between the two larger figures. If Max doesn't blame himself (his conception, his birth, his existence) for the absence of his father, then the possibility of it is definitely something he ponders.

But the loveliest set-up Jonze produces is the miniature stick & clay scenery that Carol shares with Max out in a private, solitary cave of his. The tinker toy landscape - a bite size model version of a monster utopia that Carol dreams about for he and his friends - recalls every child's toy train set, doll house, race car track, or playset that satisfies that under sixteen universal urge to live in a idealized alternate world where every possibility is controlled by you. When Max sticks his head through a hole in the middle of Carol's creation and catches an eye-level view of this matchstick wonderworld, it's the perfect embodiment of childhood imagination within its own physical limitations. I suppose you could say that the making of Where The Wild Things Are was exactly that for Spike Jonze, or, maybe there really is more than mere coincidence to the director's boyish features and voice after all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The above still promises so much more than the movie ever delivers.

[NOTE: This is where the blogger gives himself a strict 10 minutes to rattle off whatever about a movie he just saw that he doesn't feel deserves a thoughtful edited review but still feels the need to feed the animals anyway. Quality is of no concern.]

I hate this movie. I hated this movie. How can I have end up hating something so much that contained so many people I liked? Maybe it was an elaborate prank for Ricky Gervais to come to the states and make a terrible movie here with a bunch of famous comedians the way a bunch of famous comedians took his great BBC show and made it into some crap sitcom on Thursday nights. But The Invention of Lying is so mean and smarmy and meeeeeh and nasty and terribly made that I think Gervais may have spent the last of any Hollywood capital that he had. Heck, he's good at directing half hour TV shows, but he's abysmal at making a feature length film. Another example of why the two forms differ quite a bit. So, what's this all about anyways? I ran into a buddy at teh gym that told me The Invention of Lying was "anti-religious", so I had that in my head as I went into the theater. Well, it definitely is. Maybe more accurately anti-Christian than religion as a whole. I mean, two Pizza Hut boxes are stand ins for the Ten Commandment tablets. And look, I'm a non-believer, a former Catholic that just doesn't buy it anymore, but I still don't care for snoots running around acting like they are smarter than the lads behind them just because that lad believes he's going to heaven. There's a way to be critical and comedic about religion and still be not such a prick. So, is The Invention of Lying arguing that our society would function better if we all indeed spoke our minds and never uttered a falsehood? Because, in the end, even though lying is bad and religion is lying and everyone else in the world except Ricky Gervais and his kid are dimwits, well, he still ends up as the king of the hill with the hot housewife making him supper in a mansion with tons of money. So, he gets his egotistical superiority and the babe with the toned calves. He even makes her serve him while she's about to burst with a baby. What a punk. But seriously, the sweetest moments this movie contains are based on the reality of bending the truth to either spare someone's feelings or prop them up. But, if as were led to believe in the end, that that's all bullshit, then what the fuck?!?! Is this then the most cyncical, misanthropic, spiteful film to ever hit the megaplexes?? Ricky Gervais... what the hell are you doing?? My guess is that the message is mixed and comes out with a bitter face because, well, comics are bitter, but also because this is a half idea that got the money to be made into a movie. It's really annoying too. The hole gag/hook of the film starts to grate about 10 minutes in and when Garner and Gervais are at a dinner table and the cute Martin Starr walks up and even HE is irritating, well, it's time to leave. Of course, I didn't leave, because I never leave. I don't give up.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


There is old world rhyme and beauty in the way director Gotz Spielman gives his protagonist, Alex (Johannes Krisch), active transformation as we see him - in one of Revanche's final shots - gather up apples off the ground and place them in a basket. This action is contrasted by the multiple shots that precede it of Alex sawing and chopping wood for his grandfather. These dead trees move from pile to pile, shrinking in size and significance as their existence whittles down from logs to stumps to shards. But, in the end, it is the fruit of a tree that Alex is manually lifting up to eat and extend life. This kind of old school natural symbolism may wrinkle the noses of those who can't separate the fibers of morality fables from the flames of religious preaching, but that would simply reveal them to be pathetic movie viewers.

Revanche's slowly unraveling drama about humanity in the face of easy and accessible vengeance sitting on a tee, is powerful in the way it lingers with you for the remainder of the day. Blogger friend Daniel Getahun often writes of "taking it [a movie] home with you", a label that helps draw that line between emotional art and entertainment. It wouldn't be silly to compare the series of events - and the significance of them - which take place over Revanche's two hours to that of a flower bud blossoming wide. For a movie that announces itself (and a verbally dirty noun) in bold lettering and quickly moves to semi-degrading images in a brothel, one starts to worry that the rest of Revanche is going to dwell in the Euro-scuzz worlds of Lilya-4-Ever or Hardcore. But patience pays off as the sex house becomes nothing more than temporary residence for a film that eventually transcends all settings.

Sometimes watching a movie can assist you in quickly moving another movie that was hanging around in your subconscious limbo to its rightful resting place. This is what taking in Revanche did for me over my indecision about Lars Von Trier's Antichrist. Seen in the middle of a twenty-eight film viewing hurricane, I initially left the screening of Antichrist sure that I despised it, but unable to shake its lingering impact on me. Since both films tackle the emotions of resolution (albeit it very disparate ways), it was quite easy for me to leave the screening of Revanche knowing, for certain, that Antichrist is garbage. Provocative and well shot garbage, but garbage nonetheless. That's definitely not to imply that a vengeance film which travels down a separate path than Revanche does is worthless. Not at all. For instance, I find the anger in The Brave One and Dead Man's Shoes to be quite convincing as a nod towards something harrowing about humanity. Lars Von Trier, on the other, still needs to discover the "H" word before commenting on it.

Thematically, Revanche reminded me of Terry George's underrated Reservation Road, where the loss of a son happens at the hands of a hit-and-run fluke. While the journey that Joaquin Phoenix's character takes isn't handled with nearly as much grace as Alex's is in Revanche, there is ultimately an immense swallowing of wrath that propels both films towards profundity. Again, referring back to old-school structure, Revanche's visually poetic storytelling could be seen as a throwback to the man vs. man dilemmas expressed in early cinema. Like lyrics in a song, great dialogue can really enhance the glow of a film, but no verbiage can ever communicate more concretely than the richest of compositions. Take the shots of Alex and Robert (a policeman) separately staring at photographs of Tamara (Alex's girlfriend). Their compassion towards the subject in the photo originates from different places and arrives out of different circumstances, but the wealth of emotion between their eyelines/bodies and a piece of paper is something that only a well-guided camera could capture.

Finally, in one last lunge to laud this film, I wanted to voice my disagreement with reviewers who have been labeling Revanche a thriller. It's not that I dislike thrillers or even get ruffled over another's categorization of a film, it's simply that I see this movie as something larger than a genre piece. Generally, thrillers that dribble out information in order to make you feel like you're solving a puzzle, do so in order to give the viewer a secondary buzz to the actual experience of watching a film, but Revanche's reveals are in place for the evolution of the characters' resolve, not the audience's enjoyment. Yeah, it's a small quibble, but one I felt was worth getting out. Dissecting small details matter when you're discussing one of the year's best films.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


This isn't a video I really care for, just a band I really love and wished more people loved them too.

Maybe it's because we're in an era where the well-produced/well-recorded album (Fleet Foxes, Veckatimest, Wolfgang Amadeaus Mozart, Bitte Orca) takes top critical billing, but, for whatever reason, with every passing year Times New Viking put out another album and none too many people ever seem interested.

Or, maybe I'm just a sucker for scuzz-rock trios that appreciate melody. Believe it or not, the below song is probably their most "produced" recording:

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

ON "old" DVD : FEAR X (2003)

You can pass by a movie on the shelf in the video store a hundred times over, know that it's there, know its title, know its cover, but never once consider renting it as you go on to grab Friday the 13th - The Final Chapter, The Forgotten, Frogs, or Fright Night. Not only that, but you can have a preconceived dream about that innocent film. For example, I had the John Turturro movie Fear X pegged as some kind of indecent post-Se7en detective thriller. Maybe I also let the near vicinity of FearDotCom creep into my subconscious and add to the bad feelings. Or, maybe I didn't like the use of "X" in the title, a letter that left a bad taste in my mouth after people followed my generation around with it ad nauseam.

So in the weird way that things work themselves around to you, a week or so ago I caught a screening of the movie Bronson. Impressed by its beefy elegance (imagine Derek Jarman had he had an eye for violence), I searched out its maker and its maker's past work. I quickly realized I was late to the show. Turns out many people had long been impressed by the films of Nicolas Winding Refn, yet I'd never even heard his name prior to two weeks ago. And, what do you know... it turns out my notions concerning Fear X were all backwards. I suppose the movie does contain elements of a detective thriller, but it is much more of a tone poem rather than a linear narrative that satisfies with a final boxed-up conclusion. In fact, I view Fear X as some kind of small emotional powerhouse for our post-9/11 world.

Coming out in 2003, the undertones of paranoia and anxiety that carry Fear X's surface murder mystery story along, indirectly connect to feelings of aimless anger, obsession, frustration, and hopelessness that many Americans felt on and after that tragic day in 2001. John Turturro plays Harry Caine, a mall security guard whose pregnant wife gets murdered in some apparent criminal cross-fire. Lack of major evidence has left the case unsolved and the bad guy(s) is still roaming around. Harry uses his small-time surveillance skills and an newly empty house to start a crusade that may just as equally serve as a distraction to Harry's heart as it is a cause for justice. But as the digging progresses, the more the wormholes splinter off into every possible direction. Whether Harry ends up in a Kubrick-Resnais-Lynch bizarro world or right next door to the truth is up to each one of us.

Unlike mystery/thrillers that offer up a cliffhanger in place of a satisfying solution, Refn's game is to push you off the cliff into some sort of zero gravity space between conditioned expectations and hopeful logic. Fear X continues to communicate all the way through its credits, carrying you on to a final blank screen with an ominous Brian Eno score, while also inviting closer scrutiny with a blurry collage of cubed surveillance footage. As it so happens, the title to Nicholas Winding Refn's film isn't silly or off-putting at all. No, it's exactly on the mark for what this movie is, a beautiful depiction of an ugly and uncomfortable state that many of us enter into without knowledge of its origins or preparation for its power. How to bottle that and put a label on it, I have no idea if anyone can, but Refn's attempt at doing so is pretty damn admirable.

Monday, October 05, 2009


For a film that starts strong with introductory bookworm narration by Jesse Eisenberg and a slo-mo gush & smash title sequence to the sounds of Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", Zombieland becomes increasingly dull relentlessly fast. With a script as spare as a two-page outline, Zombieland's best moments appear to come from the impromptu performances and improvised dialogue of its fairly able cast. I generally adore Emma Stone, but her and Abigail Breslen essentially fill space here. The movie belongs to Eisenberg in the role of Columbus, a teeny nerd who continues to survive the zombie apocalypse by adhering to a strict list of rules. The fact that he wields a shotgun in tidy hoody, curly hair, and skinny pants gives Zombieland an aura of geek fantasy fulfillment to it. He's a virgin too.

Zombieland's globe-spanning poster and epic-sounding title hint at something much grander than this brief episode of four people who cross paths and make their way to California from Texas ultimately gives out. Sure, a movie with the words "zombie" and "land" in the title pretty much demands that you close down logic centers and open up a playful mind before taking a seat, but seeing a satellite's eye view of the world under a zombie plague would have been more big screen bonzai-rific than the measly four-pack of characters we were given. Yes, Zombieland's much buzzed-about cameo delivers, but a massive globe-trotting, ensemble zombie film would have been much more appetizing. Think Babel, but with zombies (also, pretend that Babel was good).

It's a bit disconcerting when a film that runs only eighty minutes long must rely on recycling its own devices and jokes. The way the block letter "rules", that Columbus abides by, pop up on screen in real time is cute, as is Tallahassee's Twinkie obsession, but much like the fervor that is established in Zombieland's opening and credit sequences, these tropes wear thin quickly. I suppose this could all be a set up for numerous sequels that will unravel a wider, more interesting landscape and story much in the way REC 2 did with the way overrated REC, but that kind of TV serial planning really irritates me. If your film demands a sequel, then great, but make each one substantial, please. If you're just gonna trickle out your thoughts and plot and art, then please stay planted in TV land.

While at Fantastic Fest, last week, I noticed a sobering amount of audience members who were easily pleased by films that offered a snack size handful of clever punches, but very little in overall breadth. I like unique gags and useful gimmicks as much as the next guy and gal, but I can't help but wonder if our cinema is becoming more and more dominated by movies of compiled whoo-hoo, hand clapping moments instead of films that are of an accomplished whole. Perhaps this is line with the way music fans are trending toward the song download instead of the album. Maybe this is why TV is so popular again too. I don't know, but if Zombieland expected to knock me down with what it brought on Saturday night, then dude better get back to the weight room.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Having to go back to my "real" life and my "real" job, starting to(yester)day, the amount of movies I could take in slowed down majorly. However sad that might have been, it probably arrived right on time considering that I had started to show signs of detachment from the world (is that healthcare bill still alive???).

******Kaifeck Murder (Esther Gronenborn)

I hate to say it cuz I wanted to like it, but watching Kaifeck Murder was like watching a screener that had snuck its way through the festival programming road blocks. Now, no programmer is perfect (see whoever green lit The Human Centipede), but this was a pretty easy one to weed out. Kaifeck Murder's plot becomes convoluted not out of complicated predicaments but out of "huh???". Or, maybe it was because it was German. For all you TOERIFC alums, Franken from Black Book has a cameo... well, not the character, the actor.

Under the Mountain (Jonathan King)

This was disappointing. For anyone who saw King's Peter Jackson-esque (when Peter Jackson was still interesting) Black Sheep, a few years back, Under the Mountain is the director's follow-up to that. It sounds nice on paper: King wanted to make a tame adventure/horror flick that his kids could watch while still retaining the make-up and effects elements that made Black Sheep much more enjoyable than it had any right being. But then came the hard part of actually transferring said game plan to the screen. It doesn't work. King seems to be over thinking his instincts here. To me, he comes off as a director that works better on the run, in transit, off the cuff, not somebody who plans things out too much.

The Bare Breasted Countess (Jess Franco)

This was a retrospective screening - Venus in Furs, Succubus, and Eugenie also played, with Franco in attendance - that offered a rare chance to see a Jess Franco film on the big screen. I find Franco's films to be lovely to observe but difficult to penetrate. That latter problem, I think, comes from his films either being constructively sloppy or immensely personal. For instance, I have no idea what was happening in Succubus, but I admired the hell out of its visual audacity. The Bare Breasted Countess is incoherent, but, strangely, after it works on you for an hour or so, it reveals itself to be a filmed personal obsession that Franco had with the film's actress, Lina Romay (they are now married).

The Bare Breasted Countess is essentially a sex film disguised as a vampire film that makes no sense. Further, it's really Franco going exploratory with his camera on his muse/obsession/love in four extended sex scenes and a couple of solo romps. I won't deny that it gets tedious (selfishly made art generally does), but it's also revealing and touching. Franco and Ronay did a Q&A afterwards, and Ronay summed up the palpable on screen connection between the two by saying, "He took me to the moon with this movie, and I'm still there." Awwww.

Lastly, it was very heart-warming to see a frail, wheelchair bound Franco thank the audience for honoring him and then saying, "I feel free here [at the festival]".

Kenny Begins (Carl Astrand & Mats Lindberg)

This was like watching a Saturday Morning Cartoon translated into a live action film... in Swedish. Don't get me wrong, Kenny Begins had its charm and its laughs, but in line with the "Saturday Morning" vibe, the film comes off like an overlong episode instead of a full-grown movie. Harmless and idiotic (I mean that in the positive), Kenny Begins details the, er, beginning of Kenny Starfighter's ascension to being a police captain on a planet far, far away. The subtext may not be intended, but seeing this story of a delusional, oddly-shaped fellow in a space uniform made me think that this film probably hit home with many of the festival's attendees.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


With this being an evening of recovery, I thought I would share the short films I've enjoyed the most at Fantastic Fest thus far. Unfortunately - but understandably - not all of the films are available on You Tube. Where they aren't, I've posted a trailer.

Attack of the Robots from Nebula 5 (Chema Garcia Ibarra)

Next Floor (Denis de Villeneuve)

Danse Macabre (Pedro Pires)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Tired... disoriented... unaware of anything else that's been happening in the world over the past five days...


Cropsey (Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman)

An interesting enough piece of low-budget journalism that attempts to get at the truth of five or more missing children that became alleged murder victims around 25-30 years ago in Staten Island. Brancaccio and Zeman truly seem to be hunting for the facts and not out to exploit tragedy for "the sensational documentary"'s sake. Still, there's something wrong when a Geraldo Rivera piece - that is used within Cropsey for some frightening exposition (truly frightening... sickening even) - is more interesting that the doc that's enveloping it.

****** Mandrill (Ernesto Diaz Espinoza)

Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and his crew may be the most exciting new Latin American filmmakers going. In short time, they've - on modest budgets - made three well measured and breezy feel-good action hero flicks. After seeing their martial arts film, Kiltro, I knew it was only a matter of time before the studly Marko Zaror would cross over into Hollywood stardom. Well, that's already on its way as we were host to some early footage of the Mirageman remake (retitled The Defender, for some reason). I admit that Mandrill does go a little limp after a first half that's frontloaded with its brightest ideas, but seeing as how this was the first time they've screened the film for an audience, perhaps this version of Mandrill is still a work in progress. Highly enjoyable, nonetheless.

Metropia (Tarik Saleh)

OK. So, through no fault of Metropia, I kind of hit the five day wall at this point and slid down into my chair relying on only the arm rests to keep me from sliding to the ground in glorious full-fetal nap position. Luckily, later in the night, I caught a brief second wind, but Metropia suffered for my red eyes, I won't deny that. With that disclaimer, I still wasn't feeling this animated film. Europe in the near dystopian future where the corporations blah blah blah..., and the media blah blah blah..., and the brainwashing blah blah blah... . Not that those topics are unimportant, but Christ, give it a unique spin, please. The programmers played an old Brazil trailer beforehand as a good-natured and appropriate lead in, but little did they suspect that being reminded of Brazil right before seeing Metropia was only going to shine the light on the latter's flaws.

Stingray Sam (Cory McAbee)

Wow. What to say about Stingray Sam? I surely wasn't expecting this to be the funniest movie of Fantastic Fest before walking into it, but man oh man was it ever the most oddball-weirdo-nutball hilarious film I've seen in quite some time. Since the festival brings in people from across the globe, it's often telling to gauge audience responses based on geographic origin. I say that, because my perception is that Stingray Sam possesses a goofball humor to it that is distinctly American. Most of our European and Asian guests didn't seem to connect with it. Director, actor, writer, everyman, Cory McAbee talked about the political aspects of his work, and boy was it refreshing to hear an artist understand the difference between creating propaganda and letting politics influence your fictional art. I think this guy may be too smart for Hollywood to ever understand. A sad shame, because he's immensely talented... and a total freak!

****** REC 2 (Paco Plaza & Jaume Balaguero)

I wasn't too hot on REC, so I wasn't expecting to be too high on its sequel. While, mostly, that is true, I do think that REC 2 is a superior film to its predecessor. For one, the camera work is cleaner and single shots last for a much more extended and fluid period of time. Also, Paco Plaza & Jaume Balagueró's inspired idea to jump to a "helmet cam" periodically gives the film time to breath and gain some much needed punctuation that was lacking in the first. There's also a spiritual/possession element in the sequel that wasn't sound in the first. Because Plaza and Balaguero have matured as filmmakers, and because their original film has now been given space to stretch out its story (I would imagine a REC 3 is in the works...), the REC franchise has instantly become more interesting than I ever thought it could be. Props to Plaza and Balaguero for keeping their film under 90 minutes once again. Though the hands are much more steady this time around, there's only so much hand held one can stomach.

Monday, September 28, 2009


After a slow start, Fantastic Fest 2009 is shaping up to be the best one yet...


Buratino, Son of Pinocchio (Rasmus Merivoo)

Filled to the rim with inspiration, the sparkly Buratino, Son of Pinocchio ultimately has too many cross-wired problems to commit to the ambitions that it hints at in its first ten minutes. The intro - a baby hungry woman sings to the stars about wanting to be with child and gets her wish via a splinter that magically flies into her womb and sprouts a baby Buratino - is fun, wicked, and wise, but too quickly Buratino, Son of Pinocchio simply feels like a short film tacked on to a half done feature. Director Rasmus Merivoo discussed the difficulties in logistically pulling off an Estonian/Russian co-production, and, sadly, that is reflected on the screen. But props to Merivoo for standing by his efforts. His humility was refreshing. Merivoo knows he loves making movies, and he knows he didn't make a strong one here, but such is the process.

Down Terrace (Ben Wheatley)

If Fantastic Fest generally offers up films dealing in the physically extreme, Down Terrace was an alternative to that from the emotional department. Where, at first, it seems like a dark comedy out to debunk the myth of the sexy gangster lifestyle, Down Terrace turns on a dime and becomes something much more confrontational. A wave of shocking hard violence challenges the audience to question the laughter we were enjoying previously. Is this another winning British class conscious comedy, or the exploration of the sociopath gene being passed on from one generation to the next? Not sure yet, but I know this debut feature by Ben Wheatley engrossed me, and I expect it to be spilling out into some small run theaters very soon. Look for the performance of newcomer Robin Hill. He may be Britain's next big thing.

The House of the Devil (Ti West)

Ti West is a smart guy. From The Roost, to Trigger Man, and now with The House of the Devil, this young modern day jack-of-all-trades (he writes, directs, edits, shoots) just keeps getting better. The House of the Devil is so delicately constructed that it almost feels too beautiful to be a horror film. Save for perhaps the very end, and a little bit of its middle, The House of the Devil feels nearly note perfect. People have already been labeling this film as an homage to 1980's horror, but West nailed it in the Q & A when he rightly described The House of the Devil as a period horror film, not a retread. West now has an excellent handling of beats and a visual richness to go alongside his already economical craftiness. I'm so anxious to see what he does next.

District B13 : Ultimatum (Patrick Alessandrin)

If there's an on screen prologue to match the sentiments of current political and cultural situation, it is DB13:U's "A new government is in power, but nothing has changed". Looking like it will get a late 2009 release, District B13 : Ultimatum is the best remedy for wiping away the unpleasant memory that was District 9. Where District 9 was nihilistic, District B13 extracts hope from a dystopia (only four years in the future, mind you) that more naturally resembles our world than the limp-dicked allegory of District 9. How can you not swoon over a fight sequence that is based around the security of a rare Van Gogh painting... and where said painting is used as an acrobatic weapon? Or what about Alessandrin and Luc Besson's pacifying of lower-class racial tensions by bringing self-segregated groups for a unified goal? Sure, it all sounds a bit candy coated and idealistic, but in the realm of hero-led action cinema, it feels just right, right now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Day 3 was a good day...

****** Fish Story (Yoshihiro Nakamura)

Until I could check the director's resume afterwards, I thought maybe I was watching another film by the director of Linda Linda Linda. Like that under appreciated film, Fish Story rides the wave of a catchy song for its entirety. It has to be a good song, because the fate of the world is resting on its shoulders. Sounds ludicrous, and it is, but in the way that many Japanese filmmakers are able to stretch the unimaginable and impossible into the heartfelt and triumphant, Fish Story will have you smiling (and maybe crying) as its encore takes into the credits.


Morphine (Aleksey Balabanov)

The director of the grim and brutal Cargo 200 returns with a creaky and stylized period film about Russian small village medicine, malpractice, and misappropriation. There is something interesting about the way Balabanov narrowly goes about dissecting the past of his country, but - like Cargo 200 - there is a cracked heaviosity to it that just rubs me raw. The last shot seems to be channeling the ticklish tough times of Sullivan's Travels... before our guy blows his head off. Meh.

Breathless (Ik-June Yang)

I initially thought this film was overlong, but then perhaps it needed to be so we could marinate with the character of gangster debt collector Sang-Hoon long enough to see his whole picture. Breathless is reminiscent of Kim Ki-Duk's Bad Guy, but with depth and a wider range of notes. Slow reveals give the audience a wider scope of characters that pretty much walk the same lines throughout. Since family drama is at the core of this emotional film, I suspect Hollywood may scoop this one up for a remake. Try to see this version before that happens.

****** Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn)

I wasn't expecting this. I'd read what Bronson was about, but watched no trailers. What I saw was a artful rendering of chiseled masculinity more in line with Derek Jarman than any kind of Guy Ritchie-ness. I was pretty much blown back. Refn has an intelligent eye and a playful palm for setting up scenery. Tom Hardy must have been a joy to photograph. Puffed-up Greek physique and all, the man delivers a performance from his toes to the skin of his head. I think I saw spit exit his mouth about twelve times during the film.

****** The Human Centipede (Tom Six)

After a solid day that consisted of three strong films, I made the mistake of choosing to see this piece of garbage. By far, The Human Centipede is the worst film I've seen all year. I have no idea why the programmers of Fantastic Fest decided to program this outside of the fact that it "pushes the envelope". Well, if you want your envelope pushed, you can always debase yourself at the easy click of a mouse. When I'm in the theater, I want to see a film. (Actually, I don't even want to say that this film pushed any envelopes... because that could be interpreted as a compliment, something that The Human Centipede should never receive by any fair-minded person). The worst student film ever conceived of is more watchable than this! Come back Macabre, all is forgiven. You are a masterpiece next to The Human Centipede, 2009's biggest piece of shit.