Saturday, February 28, 2009

IN DEFENSE OF VHS

With digital projection and Blu-ray giving us about the most pristine picture quality we could hope for, I've been kind of wondering if there would be a VHS-throwback movement. You know, some bad tracking chic factor that makes your little indie film seem "authentic" (think of the 4-track revival of 1990s indie rock).

Recently, Pitchfork TV put up a recorded performance of the pop-hardcore band Fu*ked Up. It was recorded on a VHS camera, and I thought, "oh no, here we go"...



I guess for an indie band worried about purity and obsessed with hardcore-ness, using a VHS camera is kinda cute, but god, what if those flatline mumblecore nerds started using it???

However, there's another side to the sustained life of VHS tapes, and that's that they're the best we've got for a lot of older films which haven't been transferred to DVD yet... and may never be! Zack Carlson, a local programmer at a specialty theater here in Austin, puts it into perspective best:

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VHS is crucial, not just as nostalgia but also because it's a viable way to grow as a person who appreciates movies. Only 25 percent of the movies ever made prior to the birth of VHS were ever actually released on home video. Today, approximately 50 percent of the movies that were available on VHS are now available on DVD. So you're looking at huge sections of films that were just lost. I think there's about 90,000 feature films – besides porn – that are available on DVD, which means that there's another 90,000 movies out there that people are willing to just let fade away if they're going to forego the VHS format.


And that alone makes VHS completely valid and an integral part of being a movie fan. I want to beseech people to not throw away their VCRs – or go get one for $5 at a garage sale – because VHS is that important. (Austin Chronicle)
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I don't know if Carlson's percentages are correct, but even if they're somewhere in the ballpark, those are some frightening numbers to any hardcore movie fan. "Hardcore movie fan"... hmm. Maybe that's the problem right there. Maybe there aren't enough people around to care if small jewels like Abel Ferrara's China Girl or Jonathan Demme's Citizen's Band or Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud disappear off the shelf forever.

Moving Image Source posted an article this week about this very phenomenon of a "vanishing history":

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(Dave) Kehr worries that the movies of important little-known American auteurs—for example, Lew Landers and André De Toth—are simply "vanishing into the ether," he says. "They’re just gone from the conversation and that’s unfortunate. The younger critics haven't seen this stuff, but how could they?" (Moving Image Source)
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In that same article, Jonathan Rosenbaum worries about a movie renting future that doesn't offer the sweet Joel McCrea film, Stars in My Crown, as an option. The mentioning of that movie, in particular, stands out for me.

Six years ago, while unemployed, I would go to the same video store every two-for-Tuesday and rent six movies for the price of three. This was a time of awesome purging that is probably more responsible for my movie knowledge than anything else. I think I may have enjoyed "the hunt" at the video store as much the actual viewing of the films. When you have time on your hands you can take chances, so I would often randomly grab movies I'd heard nothing about.


I thought the box cover was goofy, but I liked Joel McCrea, so ... what the heck! I loved it, so I went back to rent another of the director's films. I picked out Night of the Demon. And so went my history lesson of Jasques Tournier. That video store is more important to me than the largest library in the world.

We also shouldn't underestimate the value of nostalgia that could be lost with the erosion of VHS tapes...

Recently, at The Dancing Image, MovieMan wrote about watching a recorded VHS copy of the animated-for-TV movie The Wind In the Willows. Not only was this a chance for him to watch something that wasn't available on DVD, but it served up a priceless nostalgic quality that no DVD transfer could ever duplicate:

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In 1987, in an event which I dimly recall, my father taped an ABC airing of The Wind in the Willows, a Rankin/Bass animated production of the Kenneth Grahame classic (I still own a lavishly illustrated edition thereof). The cartoon, watched again and again on various occasions, was woven into the fabric of my childhood and as the years passed, it became more and more a relic of some half-forgotten, romanticized era. We only taped one commercial break, but it distinguishes the entire tape with its colorful Fruit Loops spots, uber-80s scored Capri Sun bits, and claymation galore. Every time the channel is ready to break for a commercial, a claymation cowboy stands in front of a brick wall and croons, "After these messages, we'll be riiiight back," (later a 50s chorus replaces him). The juxtaposition of these once-modern, now-fondly-dated artifacts with the wistful, pastoral Edwardian milieu of Grahame's tale only adds to the impression that one is looking through some kind of portal across time (perhaps several layers of time).
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To me, getting rid of a recorded-on VHS tape like that (something we've all done) is as sentimentally destructive as burning a photo album. Did that particular videotape alter the content of The Wind In The Willows? No. But watching it/remembering it in that context is as personally valuable as me relating Stars in My Crown to a local video store.

Recently, in the clearance section at Half Price Books, I found an old copy of the Louis Gianetti textbook Understanding Movies. Was it there b/c of it's condition, or was it there because it had been on the shelf for twenty years and nobody cared to buy it? When you get down to it, the elimination of VHS tapes by video stores is just smart business. You can't blame owners for unloading stock that is generating zero money and taking up space.

But for every movie fan out there who cares about the preservation of the art they love, it is now your duty to buy as many of those $0.50 VHS tapes as you can. Yes, your spouse, parents, or roommate may hate you for bringing all of those ugly little black rectangles into the house, but just tell them you are saving the world... and, really, who can argue with that?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

OTTO; OR, UP WITH DEAD PEOPLE

Amidst the slop-n-slurp and overall typical blandness of the modern zombie sub-genre, Bruce LaBruce has fashioned a touching gay heartbreak film in Otto; Or, Up With Dead People. Shades of AIDS, gay bashing, and fractured monogamous relationships linger over this small film that is part black comedy and part inner-circle satire, but that ends up truly being about a young gay man who decides to "go north" (the new "go west") where the climate is nicer on his dead skin. The final long shot of Otto walking down a vertical road toward the horizon hits harder than the similar open-road shots in My Own Private Idaho.

We first find Otto pushing up from the earth and roaming the streets of Berlin like a organism instinctively drawn to something without any intellect to give it reason or direction. What small traces of life left in Otto surface in flashbacks of he and his boyfriend in full, colorful love hysteria. We surmise that that's where Otto's body is leading him... to a reunion with the man he left behind when he went to the grave. When they finally meet-up by chance, Otto's ex is in military garb (was he perhaps shamefully secretive about his homosexuality?) and brings up Otto's time in a hospital over a "sickness" (did Otto die of AIDS?).

Such questions may seem judgmental or simple-minded, but when Otto takes his shirt off, and LaBruce lets the camera linger on that soft bruised chest of his, it's impossible not to ponder those kind of questions.

Since LaBruce has been making low-budget films since 1990, he must have a desire to get annoyances off his chest. Running parallel to the tale of Otto is the story of Medea Yarn, a stereotypical Euro film-school phony better at regurgitating college lecture talking points than at actually making a film. While trying to finish her political zombie-porn project, Medea's path crosses with Otto's and she instantly scoops him as the perfect muse and star for her masterstroke. On a trip through a garbage dump, Medea rants to Otto, "look at all this... it's like the mass grave of capitalism." From reading an breif interview with LaBruce, it appears that he genuinely shares sentiments such as these, yet it also seems that he's wise enough to poke fun at the absurdity and rigidity of hard line political ideology that rarely stops to crack a smile.

LaBruce doesn't totally dump on Medea as he uses her for a vessel to his own personal views and ego-centric reference points (something LaBruce does too openly and often and, indeed, can come off a bit phony in itself). Though Otto; Or, Up With Dead People breaks past what is stubbornly expected of movies that fall within the zombie sub-genre, it's not quite clear what LaBruce's total intentions are. All of the passages featuring Otto are excellent, and strong enough to carry the film, but scenes containing zombie gut-fu*king and zombie orgies leaves one wondering if LaBruce is perhaps just participating in the same trash art he chastises Medea for.

I haven't seen any of LaBruce's previous films, but in browsing his web site it appears that "trash art" may be the exact category that his earlier films fall into. It's too hard to tell at this point. After witnessing LaBruce's creation of Otto, I'm curious to find out if he stumbled onto something special this one time, or if he has a humanity in him that exists beyond one character.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

MR. AND MRS. PLAME?


Friends of mine and readers of this blog know well that I am no fan of Sean Penn. It has nothing to do with his "homo loving" (I bet I love homos more than he does), it has something to do with his "commie loving", but it mostly has to do with his smug, self-important, I'm-a-journalist-now-because-I-wrote-something-for-the-SF-Chronicle-once attitude.

So, even though I wanted Mickey Rourke to win on Sunday, this ain't no post-Oscar post with the intention of raining on Penn's parade. He won. Yay. And I'm sure if I landed in his house one day he'd grill me a nice steak and we'd talk about boobs and Brian DePalma and get on nicely for a while.

But, dude... WTF?!?:

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Fair Game the drama about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, has come together with Naomi Watts starring, Mrs. and Mrs. Smith helmer Doug Liman directing and William Pohlad's River Road financing. But the big question is whether Oscar-winning Milk star Sean Penn will close a deal to play Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
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But let's pause on Penn, for a second, and let the above soak in...

Doug Liman is making a Valerie Plame movie??? In the tone of voice and words of Enid from Ghost World, I say, "How .... totally amazing.".


So... the dude that made Jumper and Go is making a movie about an interwoven web of connections that lead to a CIA leak? Does this mean there's gonna be a rave scene with Joe Wilson and Dick Armitage talking about yellow cake as they snort lines in a chillout tent? Is Rachel Bilson gonna play Judith Miller, and will there be a sex scene between her and that fat guy from TIME? Will Rob Corrdry reprise his Ari Fleisher role from W.? Will Hayden Christianson play Patrick Fitzgerald "jumping" between D.C. and north Africa looking for clues and evidence?

Good grief. What is wrong with Hollywood?!?!

Look, I'll go see any movie, so I'm not a good barometer for public taste, but who outside of the political blogger arena really wants to see a movie about Valerie Plame? Actually, as I write this and think through this at the same time I'm starting to make sense of it. This is gonna be Doug Liman's Oscar play. He's making his Ron Howard move. No more teeny-bopper movies for Mr. Liman! No sir. He wants some respect!

Honestly, I think Liman should stick with a "teen theme" for Fair Game. Everyone in Washington behaves like high schoolers anyways (and that's probably being too generous). It could work on two-levels, y'know? Critics will use words like "metaphor", "allegory", and "symbolism" in their reviews, and then Charlie Rose will have Liman on for a self-important interview where he sports a hat and a beard and fiddles with a coffee cup and says nothing interesting. (Did you see when the cast of Doubt was on? Their roundtable discussion turned into an instant sequel called Tedious.)

Man, I should be a producer.

Monday, February 23, 2009

THERE IS SOMETHING AMBIGUOUSLY GAY DUO ABOUT THIS PICTURE


And I don't just mean that because Hugh Jackman is obvioulsy gay, but because his makeshift Batmobile kinda resembles Ace and Gary's Penismobile (especially when they would do wheelies to erect it).

Also, I would have appreciated the "recession theme" more if the broadcast had just been cardboard cutout props of the presenters and actors instead of actually having them there. Now that woulda been funny (and speech free).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

WENDY AND LUCY

When Mickey Rourke accepted his Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, he said, "Sometimes, when a man's alone, all he has are his dogs", to a sprinkling of chuckles from the audience (obviously these people were never dog owners). Recently, a friend of mine said, "I pretty much like dogs better than people." Those weren't cynical words, they were words of love and loyalty. Being a dog person myself, perhaps I expected something that I shouldn't have from Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy. I anticipated a love poem to human/canine bonding. After all, the film's poster captures one of man & dog's most intimate moments: the "stick tug-o-war".

Since I do my best to go into a movie as naked as possible, all I knew about Wendy and Lucy was that Michelle Williams played a girl who lost her dog. But the film isn't really about that. Like Reichardt's previous film Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy is a continuation of Reichardt's meditation on the directionless floating of late-twenty to early-thirtysomethings. Lucy simply represents another part of Wendy's life that is flaking off as she makes her desperate dash from an old home in Indiana to a new hope in Alaska (where, Wendy says, "they need people"). We know little of Wendy's past. She has a bandage on her right ankle and a brace around her ribs (was she fleeing abuse?). She calls her brother-in-law and speaks to him awkwardly and intimately (was she having an affair with her sister's husband?).

Whatever the case, Wendy and Lucy works better for us not knowing, because the glow of uncertainty around Wendy helps shed light on the personal experiences she has in the small Oregonian town her car breaks down in. But this is both Wendy and Lucy's strength AND weakness. In Old Joy, Reichardt kept the focus almost entirely on the solemn but intense interactions of Daniel London and Will Oldham where, even in the film's short running time, we were able to deem a great deal about the past, present, and future of their male-to-male relationship. But in Wendy and Lucy Reichardt shows a desire to cast an eye upon a wider social arena... and it doesn't work.

Most cringe-worthy is Reichardt's handling of a scene in a grocery store where Wendy is nabbed shoplifting some dog food. The store's clerk - clean-cut, white, and with a shiny cross around his neck - escorts Wendy to the manager's office and proceeds to get off some high & mighty moralizing before calling the police over items that total less than five dollars. Later, while out searching for Lucy, Wendy crosses paths with the clerk again. With his "straight and narrow" Christian ethics already established, we see the clerk neglectfully stride past Wendy and get into his car as she desperately yells out Lucy's name. The moment is yet another tired and easy slap at small-town Christianity; the clerk's religious-born charity is useful only when it's self-serving. Reichardts too talented to play that cheap game.

Yet it's Wendy's acceptance of charity that really needs examining. Outside of a rude auto mechanic and her friendship with a Walgreen's security guard, Wendy casts an impatient and semi-sore eye on the town she's just "passing through". Thankfully, Reichardt avoids dipping into any "why me?" wah-wah disaffected young-adult panting, and Wendy does largely seem to take ownership of her hardships, but there still lingers a sense of young generation entitlement that tends to corrupt that sentiment.

A pair of local critics have put Wendy and Lucy within the context of our country's current recession. That works, but then making the leap in comparison to Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves is where one starts to rattle off the rails. Reichardt's film effectively taps into modern anxieties in a scene where a drifter (played staunchly by Larry Fessenden) sneaks up on a sleeping Wendy by the side of the road, but then quickly turns into bad poetry in a sequence where Wendy scatters items of clothing around town in order to attract Lucy by scent. This stretches the symbolism of Wendy's "shedding" a little too far, and frankly, when she left her pink panties draped over a branch, it all became a bit too precious for me.

Coincidentally, during Wendy's final ride - a fitting visual bookend to the film's opening tableau of stationary rail cars - some of the grocery store clerk's declarations seem to ring exactly true.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

THE DEATH* OF DON JOHNSON

*As witnessed in the 1993 Sidney Lumet film Guilty as Sin




uh oh...

The turning point...


This is my favorite shot in the film. Reverse of power... sexually too.


Check out that great wrestling move by Rebecca DeMornay






Hardcore bitches rule!


REWIND:

Check out the blood pack behind D.J.'s head...


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TOERIFC # 2 : THE TIN DRUM (1979)

Last month, at least a dozen of us met up at Ferdy on Films and had it out over Jennifer Baichwal's documentary The True Meaning of Pictures. It was all that a "film club"/film discussion should be, and there are 176 comments leftover to prove it.

Today is round 2, and the movie is Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum. That's all I'm gonna say about it here at TRACTOR FACTS, because Jonathan Lapper is hosting a day(s) long discussion about the film over at his Cinema Styles blog.

So come on over and join in on the discussion, or ... just watch. Either way, you are guaranteed to get a comprehensive analysis of The Tin Drum that has never been done before in the history of America! AND IT'S FREE! Screw that $40 Time Out Film Guide! The TOERIFC team is your recession-era sanctuary for film criticism.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

PUSH

The poster for Push is misleading. We see Chris Evans on an empty downtown street using his telekinetic powers to "push" a person, a sports car, a machine gun, and a fourth indistinct object up and out of his personal comfort zone. Agreed, after typing that out, the image doesn't sound so enticing in itself, but for someone who's decided to go and see the movie anyway, you'd at least expect to see the maximum amount of flying objects smashing & crashing for whatever silly reason the filmmakers saw fit.

Instead, writer David Bourla (director of those "____thumb" movies that people thought were funny... is that how you get a Hollywood gig these days!?!?) envisioned an action film with a sequence where a guy walks into a shootout with guns hovering by his side instead of gripped in his hands. I guess Bourla, and director Paul McGuigan, thought this would look "badass", or something... but it really doesn't. If you're getting flashbacks of last year's Rachel Bilson vehicle Jumper right now, you're not far off.

And in fact, Evans' character, Nick, isn't a "pusher" at all, he's a "mover". Reluctantly, Nick belongs to a paranormal Hong Kong underground of de facto rebels aiming to take down a black-op based U.S. government agency that wants to bottle their powers for military usage. (In the title sequence, we're told that the Nazis started this attempt at eugenics-style power grabbing back during WWII). Along with the "pushers" and "movers", there are also "sniffers", "watchers", "bleeders", "stitchers", "shifters", and "wipers".

Those slang-worthy and self-explanatory descriptors - along with a slim plot - sets Push up to be a passable teen fiction sci-fi flick, but McGuigan ends up by-passing the movie's one sustainable and entertaining idea (mind control as substitute for action-movie standard) and loses himself up a twisty-turny nonsensical plot. Push quickly becomes a film where your emotions and attentions fall out at midpoint only to give way to internal daydreams such as "Why did Djimon Hounsou's agent think this was a good idea?" and "Is this the last straw for Camilla Belle?".

For her part, Dakota Fanning does a fine job in the transitional role of Cassie, but there is something questionable about the way the filmmakers chose to photograph her in specific scenes. Coming off last year's Hounddog controversy perhaps I'm being ultra-sensitive here, but Fanning is costumed in a way-above-the-knees skirt that the camera seems just a bit too uncomfortably comfortable lingering upon. No, it doesn't reach a Larry Clark or Gus Van Zant level of creepiness, but it makes you wonder why an young actress, already gifted with expressive range, wasn't given more actorly respect. I guess I'll leave that question lingering alongside those other thought bubbles still floating in the theater.

Friday, February 13, 2009

FRIDAY THE 13TH

In today's USA Today, My Bloody Valentine 3D director Patrick Lussier drew lines between the current revival of 80's slasher icons Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers to the all-time, classic horror institution that is Dracula:

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Iconic bad guys, filmmakers and analysts say, are like memorable action heroes. When you find one that works, you stick with it.

"Dracula has been revisited more than any character in cinematic history," says Valentine director Patrick Lussier. "There's something about these characters that stick in our consciousness."
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Though I see the point Lussier is trying to make, I think that comparison is a bit silly. Dracula is a much more layered character than Jason. First of all, he has a voice (he speaks), and secondly, the character of Dracula has been (re)interpreted in a multitude of ways over the years. Jason Vorhees is pretty much a one note character, a brick house body with surprisingly accurate archery and ax throwing skills. Meaning, he's not exactly the kind of character you can sink your teeth into.

Still, Lussier is onto something, because one thing missing from the latest wave of post-Blair Witch horror is any recognizable and tangible horror icons. Perhaps there is Jigsaw from Saw, but even then, I've seen three of those movies, and I couldn't tell you if that namesake belongs to the old man or the clown-doll-tricycle-thingy. Who else?? The long-haired Japanese dead lady? Eh, that's kinda vague. Truly, there's nothing.

So, it would be easy to be all cash-cow cynical towards Michael Bay and Marcus Nispel's remake of Friday the 13th, but, and as odd as this sounds, there's a sizable segment of movie fans who have a connection with Jason. Is it simply childhood nostalgia? Yep. But that's some pretty powerful emotional capital right there, even if - as all of my Friday the 13th completist friends have told me - all the movies "suck".


Strangely, the new Bay produced Friday the 13th doesn't suck! No, it's not good, or even pretty good, but it's kind of, uh... fun?

What Bay and Nispel tried to do with 2003's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (one of this decade's worst film experiments) was to give Tobe Hooper's goofy original a serious-minded makeover. They brought in a mildewy aesthetic and a jaundiced color scheme quite similar to the style of the modern French-sadists. The TCM remake was a disaster. Did Bay and Nispel even take the time to watch Hooper's more fully realized, and superior sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, where he really lets his weirdo latex-comedy fly?

Good and/or passable horror doesn't need to be aggressive, "boundary-pushing", or cruel horror. Luckily, Bay and Nispel realized that that wasn't what attracted Vorhees devotees to the Friday the 13th series in the first place, and wisely decided to let their new remake experiment veer off into the ridiculous. There are endless scenes with "spectacular" (with "perfect nipple placement") boobies, baby-oiled boobies, topless skiing boobies, sex, pot, boners, dick jokes, jack-off jokes,... and murders. Easy formula, even easier to not screw up.

But like most franchise slasher flicks, Friday the 13th bored me quickly. The first fifteen minutes are the film's best, and I would even argue that that extended-intro of a sequence makes for a far superior short-film version of the entire ninety-seven minutes. Everything Friday the 13th gets right is jammed into its first section, including a chance to see Jason actually running for once! Cinematographer Daniel Pearl catches Derek Mears in a below-angle, ground-level shot running towards a fallen victim, and the image is actually quite visually arresting.

But getting back to Jason in the context of an all-timer horror icon, there was something human to the way final girl Whitney (Amanda Righetti) tempers Jason with a locket photo of his mother. He tilts his head puppy-like at it, and even though he's just slaughtered ten people, you kinda go "awwwww" for a second. And how about that questionable ending in Freddy vs. Jason where Jason saves a girl from some five-fingered-Freddy-death? Is Jason more complex than I thought? Nah, I doubt it... but he's more human than most American horror characters we've come across lately.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

ON DVD : SIMON OF THE DESERT (1965)

The devil is a woman. This we know. And while Josef Von Sternberg beat every other envious filmmaker to the punch by giving such a caption to the face of Marlene Dietrich, Luis Bunuel has convinced me that if "the evil one" were to ever take seductive human shape on earth, it would be in the form of a young Silvia Pinal. Sure, Dietrich can fling you across the floor with those eyes after already knocking you to the ground with those lips, but Silvia Pinal had the kind of full-figured and fancy free va-va-voom confidence that could make a man go pigeon-toed in an instant.

And see... I've already let her corrupt this post of mine that was supposed to focus on Luis Bunuel's Simon of the Desert not the voluptuous female figure. Yes, Pinal does play a large part in that brief, forty-five minute comedy, but Simon of the Desert is packed with so many absurd jokes, Catholic satire, and mixed-message humanity, that if you can't shake Pinal's recurring sexuality out of your head...

... then you just might miss out on the total whole. Knowing Bunuel, that was probably deliberate.

The conflicting ideals of self-purity vs. self-interest are at the heart of Simon of the Desert. Simon (Claudio Brook looking like a stern-browed Richard Burton), has given up the pleasures and pleasantries of waking life in order to touch god. He does this by propping himself up on a cement pillar for six plus years, rejecting material possessions and the temptation of tasty food and drink. This is a joke in itself. Bunuel pokes fun at the irony of a man who claims self-sacrifice, yet still has the ego to hoist himself up upon a pedestal for passers-by to fawn over.

Because Luis Bunuel so frequently used Catholicism as the target for much of his own on-screen humor and aggression, what is often overlooked is that the director was never vain enough to exclude himself from those criticisms, nor was it his philosophy that Catholicism be held singularly responsible for many of the social inequalities portrayed in his films. Bunuel was raised a Catholic, so that was simply his personal religious frame of reference. And though he often referred to himself as an atheist, Bunuel was so enamored of the rituals, teachings, and customs of religion that it wouldn't be surprising if some kind of spiritual connection existed in his heart the day he died.


Simon of the Desert itself contains many examples of the double-sided regard Bunuel held for religious teachings. In one instance, Bunuel is teasing about the chastity of a young priest who incidentally finds himself awkwardly tempted by the full, bulging teat of a goat, while in another, he shows the unflinching generosity of Simon when a fellow priest tries to engage him in a tricky game of material ownership. These contrasting, lighting-quick scenarios never let up, which is why Simon of the Desert - even at such a short length - is so topically dense.

My favorite thing about Simon of the Desert is the way Bunuel knocks down religious myths without crushing them. So often, either through Biblical teachings or in a King Vidor movie, we're taught that religious figures are more regal, proper, and ethically balanced than the rest of us. But Bunuel bucks that notion. In an arms-outstretched profound moment, Simon is seen forgetting lines to a divine prayer; after a miracle is performed, a crowd disperses as if the show is over and it's time to go home; a quartet of priests discuss how they really don't feel like praying with Simon even though they know that they should.

In other words, Saint Christopher picked his nose and farted just like you and I do. And, you know what, if the holy Saint Simon happens to sneak a peak at the boobies of Satan, he isn't being unchaste, he's just being a man.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

CORALINE & THE 3-D DEMONS

For the first time in my life, yesterday, I saw a movie in 3-D. It was kind of fun... but then I didn't care. I wanted to watch the rest of Coraline in 2-D. But I couldn't. I took off my glasses and the scenes were going in-and-out from regular to blurry 3-D perspective. It was distracting. This whole "3-D Experience" was kind of a chore.

True, that was my first time, but aside from the fun, party-game shtick of it all, I don't see the point. Does 3-D really enhance the cinematic quality of film, OR, does it actually subtract from the art of it by simply making it a more marketable form of entertainment?

The thing is, when I took my glasses off and caught Coraline in a sequence of typical 2-D, the colors were vibrant, loud, and more alive than when the images were able to lift themselves off the screen. I'd put my glasses back on, and it was like a shade had been placed over the lens of the projector. In my mind, Coraline lost much of it's visual grandeur in 3-D mode.


Yes, I'm sure there is plenty technical wizardry that goes into turning an animated film like Coraline into a 3-D experience, but much like a David Fincher movie, technical wizardry doesn't necessarily equal impressive art.

Nor does it automatically make for enjoyable entertainment.

Before Coraline began, we got hit with 3-D trailers for other upcoming 3-D features, but we also were told that the NBA would soon be available in 3-D. Um... please, please no! Actually, I don't care about basketball, but I could live my whole life without ever seeing a baseball or football game in 3-D. High-def is nice, now please STOP! If networks can give viewers the option of watching games in either 2-D or 3-D, then fine, but I really hope 3-D never becomes standard.

As for film and the upcoming 3-D surge? Well, I won't jump to any conclusions based on one viewing of one animated film... but I'm very skeptical, and worried, at the moment. Do people like James Cameron see 3-D as "the next step" for cinema, or just the business of movies? I mean, certainly someone like Henry Selick isn't fine with his movie not looking as nice with glasses on, right? I guess it's shamefully possible that he doesn't.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

THE LITTLE MOVIE THAT WILL





I want action figures!

Friday, February 06, 2009

EXCLUSIVE 2009 TEASER POSTERS!!!

Here are two hot-off-the-presses teaser posters....
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... wanna know what they're for????

Well then click on over to The Film Experience Blog and check out the WE CAN'T WAIT 2009 Movie Countdown!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

I think it hit me when wife April (Kate Winslet) says to husband Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), in the middle of one of their many marital spats, "We only moved out here because I got pregnant, and we only had a second child to prove that the first one wasn't a mistake!". It was then that I thought about new American immigrants and what they must think when watching a scene like this. Heck, extend that view of new immigrants into the overall perspective of your typical working-class American. This must be comedy to them. It was comedy to me. Here you have a healthy, white, upper-middle class couple, with opportunities galore, money, children, and a house, and all they can do is whine, complain, and whine.

Look, I know that affluence doesn't equal happiness, and that a committed relationship between two people is one of the most difficult things that all of us will encounter, but with Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes' sole objective is to show how marriage came to birth that old cliche of "the ol' ball and chain". What's curious is that Mendes actually thought, by simply hiring a talented cast & crew, that he could somehow transform that remedial vision of his into a profound work of art. Shoot, all you need to do is watch the ridiculous trailer for Revolutionary Road, and you've seen the full-length film itself. Granted, it isn't as insulting and juvenile as Mendes' collaboration with Alan Ball in American Beauty (and thanks to the photography of Roger Deakins there are even a few moments of visual clarity), but, in the end, as with every Mendes film to date, Revolutionary Road is just as inconsequential.

The silliest spectacle in Revolutionary Road is the character of John Givings, played by Michael Shannon. John is the voice of reason. He's been through thirty electro-shock treatments, doesn't know how to brush his teeth, and is borderline insane, yet he can see the truth that the sane married couples of Connecticut cannot. He sees the "hopelessness and emptiness". In fact, that revelation is how Frank and April end up bonding with John. During a stroll through the woods, an automatically skeptical John sees fireworks when Frank admits that he and April are moving to Paris because they can't stand the emptiness of their 9-to-5 American lives anymore. "Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness", says John. What rot.

The role of John Givings is an unfortunate one for Michael Shannon. The talented actor was outstanding when he played an actual human being in last year's Shotgun Stories, but it appears Shannon took Kirk Lazurus' "looking retarded, acting retarded, but not being retarded" advice and scored himself a Best Supporting Actor nominee. Yep, he sure did. Because, you see, John Givings isn't your regular retard, he's a clairvoyant retard. In a scene that probably got the Academy idiots all wet, John calls Frank out for accepting a promotion with his company and then accuses him of getting April pregnant on purpose so it would be easier to convince her that they need to stay in Connecticut.

Kate Winslet's portrayal of April is a chore as well. It's telling when you watch her scenes opposite DiCaprio, specifically the most emotionally charged ones. DiCaprio (along with Kathy Bates, the only actor that delivers in Revolutionary Road) sweats real feeling, while Winslet emotes in the way that actors are trained to. It's a grand bore. You can see DiCaprio working, grinding through decisions and instincts in his head, while Winslet just refers back to that "how to" reference guide in her brain. Add to that the fact that April is one of the most despicable female characters to hit screens since Margot in Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding. She resents her children, mocks her husband's hard work, and fakes effort only when there is something that she craves (ie moving to Paris). Astoundingly, Mendes gives this worthless woman a spiritual send-off by shooting her, in blood-spotted skirt, before an open floor length window in a phony transcendental moment as if she's come to a beautiful decision of self-sacrifice.

But Sam Mendes saves his snarkiest moment for Revolutionary Road's final scene. We are in the home of Helen and Howard Givings (parents of John). Helen is the local real estate agent, and she's going on-and-on to her husband about the new tenants that moved into Frank and April's old house. Helen thinks they represent an ideal that she's always envisioned for her community. The camera then slowly pans to Howard. He's sitting opposite Helen in a comfy chair, looking in her direction, appearing as if he's interested. Calmly, and without a change in expression, Howard moves his hand up and turns the volume of his hearing aid down to zero. Silence. Dead sound, dead face. Cut to black. The message: marriage is prison. Yawn. Revolutionary Road is like a "ball and chain" around your brain.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

WE CAN'T WAIT: A CELEBRATION OF IMPATIENCE OVER AT THE FILM EXPERIENCE.

On a daily basis, Nathaniel R. (that "R" stands for Reinhold, son of Judge) represents the fever of Hollywood idolatry better than anyone else I know. That's why I love him. I've often thought, "Geez, he's bound to run out of Michelle Pfeiffer material one of these days, right?", but nope... his is a bottomless heart of devotion that just keeps springing inspiration.

Well, Nathaniel kindly asked four other film bloggers to join him in a round table discussion of The 20 Most Anticipated Films of 2009. I'm honored to be one of them. The other participants are:

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JA from My New Plaid Pants
Whitney from Dear Jesus
Joe from Low Resolution
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The actual countdown of The 20 Most Anticipated Films of 2009 begins tomorrow at The Film Experience Blog, but as a pre-game treat, Nathaniel asked us to comment on a few of the films each of us voted for but that didn't make the collective list.

Here are three of mine:

Ondine - written & directed by Neil Jordan; starring Colin Farrell and Stephen Rea.

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IMDb lists the plot as: "The story of an Irish fisherman who discovers a woman in his fishing net who he believes to be a mermaid."

OK. Fine by me. You're probably immediately thinking of Splash or Aquamarine. I just love Neil Jordan, Colin Farrell and Stephen Rea.

Serious Moonlight - written by Adrienne Shelly; directed by Cheryl Hines; starring Kristen Bell, Meg Ryan, Justin Long, Timothy Hutton.

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Cheryl Hines takes Adrienne Shelly's script and honors her late friend by making a movie from it. Let's set aside, for a sec, how much that makes my heart melt, and remember how Waitress unveiled the quirky, down-home humor of actress Adrienne Shelly. So, as a tribute to Shelly and as a continuation of her loving little vision, I look forward to Serious Moonlight.

Fighting - written & directed by Dito Montiel; starring Channing Tatum, Terrance Howard, Luis Guzman.

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It's true... watching the recently released trailer for Fighting makes one think of a Fight Club meets Step Up mash-up, but those who saw Montiel's debut, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, recognized that Montiel has the potential to bring his own version of the spiritual-streets-of-New York (a la Who's That Knocking at My Door) to the modern era. Will Fighting be Montiel's Mean Streets? I wouldn't excitedly go that far... but it's definitely got me wondering.

**DON'T FORGET to visit The Film Experience Blog from February 4th - February 13th (not that you shouldn't visit TFEB outside of those dates!) and read our round table discussions about 2009's upcoming films. Leave your comments there as well!

Monday, February 02, 2009

TAKEN

Since 2004, or somewhere around that general time frame, excitement started bubbling over a new wave of French Horror. Briefly, this sub-genre may be summed up as international art-snuff for hipsters. Professionally lit, skillfully shot, and emotionally uncommitted, films like Haute Tension, Inside, and Martyrs are more physically brutal, unreasonably sadistic, and sexually exploitative than their American counterparts. Yet, the same popular film sites that will (rightfully) deride the work of a Rob Zombie or Eli Roth end up excusing the bad habits of a Xavier Gens simply by misplacing phony allegory upon a film that is so straight-forward in its stupidity. (Not that the tradition of American horror film hasn't had its own share of silly apologists. I found most of the over-intellectualizing in the IFC doc American Horror to be laughable).

To fight that, I'm gonna play cultural commentator myself and offer up the theory that new film critics feel much more comfortable championing a cinema full of nihilism, dread, and soft-cynicism rather than pulling for a more emotionally complex cinema of heroism, honor, and happy endings. Because, and also since 2004, another troop of Frenchmen (Louis Letterier, Luc Besson, Pierre Moral, Gérard Krawczyk and other...) have been grinding out quick-plotted, morally direct films that truly visually smack like that other, true French new wave. In fact, Letterier was the reason last year's The Incredible Hulk emerged as the first fully acceptable comic-book film of the modern era.

Not comic-book related, but far superior to the junk-action graphic novel puke of Angelina Jolie's Wanted, the new Pierre Moral film, Taken, stretches out the familiar rescue/vengeance "not-without-my-daughter" plot into the first good film of 2009. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former special-ops military stud and high-security body guard that recently retired from his high-risk occupation in order to live near his already grown-up seventeen year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). Because Taken is a B-movie, its set-up is ridiculous. Kim wants to go with her friend on an unescorted trip to Europe. Initially Bryan says no, but, eventually, he folds. Almost instantly, the girls are kidnapped and thrust into the underworld of the international sex trade. Off goes Superdad to Europe, taking his badass reflexes and hound dog-like instincts to rescue his sweet thing daughter.

The unexpected casting of Liam Neeson as suburban action hero is great. His tall, lanky, and slightly hunched frame give his character an experienced wisdom that makes you feel confident about his strong promises. This is a refreshing contrast to the puffy-muscle grunting of Stallone, the spray-tan sexuality of Daniel Craig in the Bond movies, or the asexual buzz-kill that is Jason Bourne. Neeson knows how to balance a father's sensitivity and patient understanding with the rigid methods of a scourned man with tunnel vision and purpose. Neeson's calm, steady temper allows him to pull off masculinity in scenes where it would otherwise (with other actors) seem damn near impossible.

I haven't read the reviews of Taken yet, but I'm suspecting that many newspaper critics will express concern over a particular scene where Neeson tortures an Albanian sex-trader in order to obtain the location of his kidnapped daughter. Yes, the scene is particularly suitable for a discussion about the use of torture as interrogation technique, but to do so would miss the larger point of the sequence, which is the important distinction between personal desperation and instructed procedure. I truly doubt that many people, faced with the window-of-opportunity dilemma that Neeson does, would end up acting any differently than he chooses too.

Taken has its holes, and it would be unfair of me to excuse them away simply because of its B-movie status, much in the same way critics excuse away nastiness in French horror simply because they sense a broader social context. Still, there's enough satisfying meat here to feel positive about. Film goers may think Taken is skippable because it was slated for a 2008 release only to get pushed back, but they would be doing a disservice to themselves to hang on to such a thought. Quit making dates to go see all the Best Picture Oscar noms and go see Taken instead!