Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Nathaniel R. tagged me and ordered me to spread the already "goin' viral" Top 10 Favorite Movie Characters of All Time thread around a little bit more,... and I'm very glad that he did!

There's no need explaining the rules behind this...

1. Travis (from Paris, TX).

Nobody loved as long and as low and as loyally as he.

2. The Wienie King (from The Palm Beach Story)

Makes me laugh forever even though he's on screen for about 3 minutes.

3. Max Fisher (from Rushmore)

Ambition unbounded. Also had a eccentric knowledge (and respect) of (for) pop culture.

4. Raoul (from Get Out Your Handkerchiefs)

B/c he can still appear cool & smooth after knowing that a 13 year-old can please his lady more than he can.

5. Watts (from Some Kind of Wonderful)

One of the first characters I wanted to be and be with. I guess that makes me a narcissist. It also might make me transgendered since I'm a man.

6. Jimmy Fingers (from Fingers)

Kind of a scary man, but a brave man too. Like Charlie in Mean Streets, but on the nutso side.

7. Johnny (from Naked)

I often fantasize about unleashing the "bored" speech on somebody.

8. Sing (from Kung Fu-Hustle)

My kind of hero.

9. Jack (from Saint Jack)

My kind of man.

10. Robert E. Lee Clayton (from The Missouri Breaks)

My kind of weirdo.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Though it will not color my anticipation for Martin Scorcese's Shutter Island, I don't like this teaser poster at all. It looks like a marketing hybrid of J-Horror (filtered through the eyes of American producers), the Why So Serious? poster, and - in an attempt to lasso in baby boomers - a whispering allusion to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

And then you have the idea to put the production credits and release date on bricks as if they were "graffiti'd" on like the "... PATIENT 67?" message. Come on people, that's just amateur stuff... drop those credits to the right hand corner.

At least "Patient 69" didn't go missing, because that would have sparked a whole bunch of dumb jokes,... none of which would have been tolerated here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


For a film that strives to be an indictment of a viral crime syndicate with roots running centuries deep across Italy, Gomorrah feels surprisingly tame. Not that you could blame director Matteo Garrone for playing it safe (relatively speaking). Roberto Saviano, author of the book Gomorrah, was forced into hiding after receiving death threats for making the detailed practices of the Camorra mafia common knowledge among Italians who, in turn, made his book a national bestselling blockbuster. Unfortunately, Gomorrah ends up feeling like a forced foreign-indie version of Crash or Babel with it's jump-jump storytelling and tales of interconnected consequences.

Garrone's decision to go vague with Gomorrah's five interlocking stores is perplexing. I suppose if you lived in Italy and knew this historically-based information like a 24/7 news item then you wouldn't need to be fed exposition, but, personally, I was unable to discern certain specifics until I got home and did some research. Garrone's point-of-view glides in-and-out, letting his camera hover around the antics of two teenage best friends that play Tony Montana and Manny Ribera like a game of "cowboys and indians", a fashion designer, a delivery boy who gets wrapped up in mafia life (a la a young Henry Hill in Goodfellas), a mafia middleman, and a sort of mentor & apprentice/intern relationship between an old-school mafia player and an educated new-blood.

Gomorrah starts off interestingly enough, lingering on its most cinematic moment of a dark figure becoming gradually illuminated by blue light. We quickly learn that this imposing figure is simply a naked thug in a tanning booth, twisting the tone and playing a joke on our perception of a seemingly strong figure now appearing as just a flabby gangster with goofy protective goggles ("you've got a crap body!", a fellow grunt whistles at him). But Gomorrah shouldn't be mistaken for deglamorizing gangster life. Sure, the lifestyle portrayed isn't one of clothes, bank rolls, and hos, but because of the distance and stylistic choices of Garrone, there remains an element of trashy, brute chic to the lives on screen.

Not that an expose of true criminal activities and atrocities can't be accomplished by using arthouse-y applications. Tonight, I keep thinking about Alan Clarke's 38 minute film, Elephant, and the way its one-note cinema coldly and successfully damns the killings in Northern Ireland that were associated with that region's territorial and political conflicts. But Elephant is a film where the technique and aesthetic are demanded by the choice of subject and message. In Clarke's cut-too-short career, he always held a keen sense for portraying lives on the margins. A descendant of England's kitchen sink realism, Clarke understood the social codes of cliques, respected them (if not always agreeing with them), and used them as guide for his films, rejecting the selfish artist's instinct to lead with his or her own personal political agenda.

I don't doubt the sincerity Garrone has for his subject, yet it's unclear if he is aware of how best to tackle it. I would have loved to have seen Pier Paolo Pasolini get a shot at something like this.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Chocolate is a special action film. Eh. That somehow seems to undersell it. Chocolate is a special film, period.

At this point, it's not worth bemoaning the fact that a film like Chocolate received a very slim-to-none theater run while variations on the Doug Liman/Paul Greengrass Friday night action formula continually dominates three screens on an opening weekend. Well, you're right, look at that, I am bemoaning.... bemoaning away! And so be it. I don't mind being redundant in favor of a film that should, by all rights, be taking up endcap space in $14.99 cardboard displays instead of the rotten Quantum of Solace that oozed out onto shelves last week. You can have your squished bean face of a false hero in Daniel Craig, I'll side up with Yanin Vismistananda and her clipped-banged youthful heroism any day.

Vismistananda plays Zen, a mentally disabled child/teen (seemingly Autistic), conceived from a forbidden affair between a man in the yakuza and a woman in a local Thai gang. Her mother must raise her alone when her father is exiled back to Japan in an agreement to spare her mother's life. Zen is loved, but, because of her anti-social condition, she is largely isolated from the outside world, save for one chubby little poof of a friend, Mangmoom (Taphon Phopwandee), who is an outcast himself for reasons of flubbiness and clumsiness. As Zen grows into her teens, she picks up martial arts skills through TV programs and video games. Director Prachya Pinkaew shoots Zen in mild close-ups, following her eyes as they are imprinted with ever pixelated movements on screen.

Chocolate has a bare bones story, weak character development, and below-average acting, but to swing from those hang-ups would be to miss the point entirely. In a textbox message preceding any imagery, Pinkaew displays the following words:

"This film is dedicated to children. Children who are special. I want to show them the beauty that exists in movement."

That is taken from rough memory, and doesn't do justice to the extent of what Pinkaew said, but the gist of what he's telling us is that Chocolate will be a film about a girl who finds freedom and expression through the martially artful control of her body and thus asserts herself in a society that otherwise considers her a weaker member. In one particularly striking sequence, Zen battles a young man with tourette's syndrome. Not only does Pinkaew avoid exploiting the man's condition, he elevates his tics into a higher form of fighting. Further, the powerful encounter between the two folds out like a barbaric liberation from their physical setbacks. Forget Forrest Gump sprinting through those leg braces, these two disabled fighters are winged spirits having it out above the clouds.

The purpose for Zen's ass-kicking throughout Chocolate is to collect payment owed her mother. Her mother is a former ass-kicker herself, but is sick with cancer and cannot physically stand-up for what is rightfully hers. To collect, Zen must run through a gauntlet of no-use thugs that stand in her way at an ice factory, a slaughter house, and the sides of a tenement building. This clever construction of Pinkaew's - placing Zen in environments that symbolize the essential elements of existence (water, food, and shelter) - adds another meaningful layer to a film that communicates to us through the most basic of structures.

And yet, after watching this movie, I don't know why it's called Chocolate. Perhaps something was lost in translation, perhaps I missed the obvious, or perhaps it's just plain descriptor for what Pinkaew presented to us: a sweet solution coming from a bitter source that, when used appropriately, can elevate the senses to extraordinary heights.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Hanging over the entirety of Watchmen is the long accepted acknowledgment that we humans are flawed and emotionally malleable creatures. Director Zack Snyder rolls his what-went-wrong credit sequence to the tune of "The Times They Are A Changin'", but not really, the amount of societal conflicts displayed in Watchmen (circa 1985) have always been historically and nationally familiar. It is in our nature to crave leadership, but then to also turn tide and tear down authority. We celebrate swift, sought after justice, but then distrust the mechanisms that bring it to us. However, this on-the-fence skepticism is oftentimes warranted. After learning of the many brutalities committed by The Comedian, it's no wonder "Who Watches the Watchmen??!!" graffiti adorns a shop window and "BADGES, NOT MASKS" placards pump the air of city protests.

The authority and protectorships that attempt to govern and guard our lives can give good reason for cynicism. Take the Watchmen, a group of righteous for-the-greater-good vigilantes started by ex-cops who had witnessed one too many scumbags run free. Within that small cell of good-intenders eventually awakens a corruptible power structure, the same as with any united group. Good intentions give way to celebrity, jealousy, and rage. In my opinion, any type of extreme, across-the-board cynicism and misanthropy is harmful and intellectually lazy, but despite what Watchmen may present on its surface (especially in Rorschach's bitter, resentful verbal journal entries) this isn't a film that wallows in nihilism.

It's interesting that a film which takes place in an alternate reality (we've won the Viet Nam war, Richard Nixon evaporated term limits and is still our president ... The Fat Toad of Venezuela must be proud!) can elicit so much cultural emotion from us. Spiderman 2, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man all tried to bank on heroism in the face of politically familiar enemies (the military industrial complex, terrorism, techno-spying) but their way of relaying it to an audience was shallow. Well, how is Watchmen any different? Because Snyder's film touches on historical events and figures that provoke a reaction in us no matter our individual depth of knowledge. Shows like The McClaughlin Group, names like Lee Iacocca, developments like the Soviets in Afghanistan, have all crossed our ears, yet may not be fully understood by any of us. Watchmen plays off of that cultural consciousness.

I enjoy Zack Snyder as a director (I think he's improving with each film he makes), but watching Watchmen made me shifty in three specific moments:

# 1 In the opening sequence, The Comedian throws his whiskey glass at the door, knocks off the 1 on his room number of 3001, and presents the audience with a "300" (as in 300) in our faces. Eek... silly self-referencing for such a young director.

# 2 I don't like the way Zack Snyder directs sex. The romp between Nite Owl and Silk Specter was eerily similar to the overwrought sex scene between Leonidas and the Queen in 300. Neither of them are erotic, they are both filmed coldly like soft-porn, and they are superfluous. And nothing should excuse Snyder's decision to have the aircraft, that the two lovebirds are humping in, shoot flames as they achieve orgasm.

# 3 Despite what I read/heard from some friends and critics, I liked the pop-music Snyder chose to use... except for one. The muzak version of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" playing in Ozymandias' [NOTE: thanks to Ed for the correction] office as he threatens fat cats with corporate buyout power was not clever, and the fact that Snyder tried to do it subtly simply made it worse.

True, the above are minor complaints, but I felt that they couldn't go without mention. To me, Snyder comes of as director with ambition and smarts, so it surprised me a bit to see him make such awkward decisions.

I'm an admitted outsider when it comes to the Watchmen source material of Alan Moore's and all of the admiration and fanship that surrounds it. As far as dialogue accuracies, the loyalties in character portrayals, and story lines matching up, I couldn't tell you, and, to be honest, I couldn't care at all. But from what I hear, the graphic novel of Watchmen is dense, and the fact that Snyder's film is dense in itself, I think, should please fans of the graphic novel. Though not great, Snyder's Watchmen is an encouraging example of a comic book movie that goes beyond the mask.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Things happen annually. SXSW happens that way. To most pop-culture fans, those four capital letters bring to mind visions of bands playing in not-as-easy-to-get-into-as-you'd-think venues across Austin, TX. But running parallel to the music festival is the SXSW film festival. For years, the festival ran off of the reputation of the music conference, searching for a shtick that could give it a much sought-after niche.

Well, in 2005, festival programmers saw their window-of-opportunity with the films The Puffy Chair and Kissing on the Mouth. From those two buzz-building, low-budget productions and the assistance of a few others, the so-called "mumblecore" scene was birthed. Since then, and without fail, every year at SXSW presents another three to five more mumblecore films. To form a negative opinion about them is costly if you desire to run in circles with people who think Karina Longworth is the Pauline Kael of the aughts. For when Amy Taubin dared to declare the so-called scene a foregone fraud, former SXSW programmer Matt Dentler (and all his friends) nearly blew his (their) top(s). That bickering will work itself out (Dogme 95 is now a punchline...).

Since I didn't take in any of this years' films I thought it could be appropriate to share some thoughts about a mumblecore film I recently watched on DVD: Joe Swanberg's 2006 film, LOL. As the fortune of conversation would have it, blogger buddy MovieMan beat me to the punch and wrote up LOL himself earlier this week. We disagree about the film (MovieMan likes it), but being the quality critical thinker that he his, I think he sells his case well and you should check it out.

Upon arrival at a friends' basement home, Tim (Swanberg) is asked to let himself be "recorded on video camera making sounds with your mouth". Had this been a self-referential comment on the mumblecore scene itself, it would have been a brilliant joke, for those words will make for a fine capsule definition of the scene in the inevitable history books of new cinema. Indeed, Tim proceeds to mumble, gurgle, bleep, and blurt for his friend's digital camera until he is interrupted by the ring of his cell phone. And thus, the crux of LOL : modern men are easily distracted and unhealthily obsessed by their twenty-first century palm technology.

There is also Chris (C. Mason Wells), a soggy man who complains to his girlfriend on how her nudie text message pics don't get him hard enough anymore, and Alex (Kevin Bewersdorf), a poor found sound electro-collage musician that aims to scheme his way into random sex via e-mail. Acting as pseudo-title cards, Swanberg occasionally inserts excerpts of Alex's music for punctuation. Sure, there's room for another joke here, the urge to draw lines between Alex's amateurish sound pieces - elementary melodies and rhythms constructed from the verbal nonsensical noise recorded off his friends - and those of the men with the movie cameras, but for a film that's already down, I'll refrain from anymore kicking.

The men in LOL may not be likable, but they're harmless. They're also irrelevant. Many defenders of mumblecore attempt to do so by likening the film's aesthetics and sensibilities to the work of John Cassavetes. That's just lazy. Yes, in line with the work of Swanberg and his compatriots, Cassavetes' camera moved with the pulse of real life, but his characters had weight. As yet, there has been nothing in a mumble-pic within seeable reach of the spousal dynamics and familial pain in A Woman Under the Influence, the trio of under performing husbands in Husbands, or the blocked loved and fulfillment performances by Gena Rowlands, John Marley, and Seymour Cassell in Faces.

In comparison, the men and women of films such as LOL, Quiet City, and Yeast are simply reflections of the everyday mundane that we ache to break away from when we consume art or entertainment or both. Fu*k... if I felt the cultural urge to observe the interactions of such people, I could simply go to a coffee shop, a house party, or perhaps even look at myself in the mirror. Ben Gazzara was a real man... an actor such as Justin Rice comes off like daddy's little boy.

On a positive, I've really enjoyed the two films of Andrew Bujalski's : Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation. Not only a gifted writer, Bujalski is a fine actor with nerd-comedic instincts that have the potential to place him in between the styles of a young Woody Allen and present day Michael Cera. I hope he breaks away from the label that - in my opinion - weighs around his neck like an albatross, and someday gets his shot at Hollywood.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


She also likes dogs:

She's amazing...

Monday, March 16, 2009


I can't believe it's TOERIFC time again! But it is, so get on over to Coosa Creek Cinema and join in on the discussion of Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved From Drowning, because nobody knows Boudo like we do!

P.S. If you DON'T show up and at least take a glance at the discussion then that means you hate movies.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Wes Craven's original The Last House on the Left was garbage. The fact that the updated remake of that 1972 film is not, should serve as testament to why Hollywood remakes aren't always such a surefire thing to moan about. Not a snuff film, but supremely snuff-y in nature and aroma, the earlier Craven version of The Last House on the Left took pleasure in both the ritualistic killings performed by Krug and company on two teenage girls, and the vengeance later enacted upon those scumbags by one of the girl's parents. Considering the era of immoral American horror we've been locked in this decade, I expected a modern remake of TLHOTL to be but a carbon copy (albeit, slicker and shinier) of the original... a first quarter movie business decision to cash in on a film culture that will easily bump Saw VI to the #1 spot when it opens in October.

But director Dennis Iliadis and writer Carl Ellsworth roll their version of TLHOTL back to the initial simple premise of the original (the idea of which Craven lifted from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring), and ended up getting TLHOTL's crucial third act almost exactly right. For those unfamiliar with this film in any of its variations, here is the basic plot design (stick figure-style!): two teenage babes venture into "the woods"; gang of scuzz buckets rape, beat, kill, and humiliate the girls; gang coincidentally crosses path of girl's parents and receive their comeuppance in the form of vigilante street justice. In the roles of writer & director, Craven treated that final section as an opportunity to jump on the trendy 1970's revenge porn bandwagon, making for a fine night of casual viewing if you're having a couch party with some friends, but observed as carefully picked apart piece of art, it's a total zero sum zero of a movie.

Because of circumstances in the new TLHOTL (no phone, no car) the parents are given justification to kill, not just fetishistic carte blanche to slaughter-at-will for a gore-thirsty audience. This reawakens the frightening question every audience member has asked them self on the limits in which they would go to in order to protect their family or loved ones, thus furthering internal debates over the issues of deadly self-defence and capital punishment. At its heart, Iliadis and Ellsworth's film is about familial preservation. In fact - and this ain't no bullshit - I even teared up in a scene where Mari's parents lay her out "operation style" on the family room table in a desperate attempt to save her life. Monica Potter, as Emma, is especially believable (and excellent) at juggling the maternal duties of nurturing and protection while up against the most extreme kind of challenges.

Watch how Emma and John use appliances and tools from around the house in order to keep their family secure. Their weapons of choice include the sink, firelog poker, fire extinguisher, hammer, and wine bottle, objects that have domestic practicality on a peaceful day, but on a day of survival, they flip-flop into battle accessories. It's a brilliant plot conceit by Ellsworth: using the home to protect the home. And in Idialis' best moment, he juxtaposes the lifeless bodies of three scuzz buckets with an image of Mari opening her eyes. It's a 10 second visual argument on the need for war.

But The Last House on the Left has its problems. I've spent most of my time praising the films' final section, but the first two thirds are a drag, a nearly lifeless hour of cinema existing solely to set-up the worthwhile conclusion. I continue to be perplexed about the length of some of these movies. The Last House on the Left is 110 minutes long... but why?!?!?! There is no logistical reason for it. The film could make its points (specifically highlighting the best ones) by being no longer than an 80 minute film. Also, I really want to know whose idea it was to tack on the ending... the very, very ending. As it stood, after the showdown at the Collingwood house, we see parents and daughter and newly acquired "son" sail away on a boat. But then the film hits us with one final splatter scene which threatens to wipe away the provocative section we just witnessed. It's so bogus, and it so defines hackery. I must know who did this. Time for research... but I suspect it was Craven being counterproductive in that producer role.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Well... not according to that cute, silly little fella to the right of the sack grabber:

But whatever gripping technique our red sweatered friend used on Jackman (I'm guessing it was "the Tokyo drift"... a personal favorite of mine), it must've worked, because - as you'll see below - Hugh totally jizzed in his pants:

And how about our red-sweatered friend?? Talk about your bold pick-up move.


RSF: Hey. Hello mister X-Man Hollywood man. I want please to make you jizz hard and good.

HJ: G'Day young Hiroki. Whoa... AHHHuhhhaHHHuhhh ohh... CRICKEEEEEEEEEEEY!!

RSF: You date me now three years.

HJ: Ok. Hey... do you like boomerangs and Peter Weir?


Man, man, man... I freakin' love the Japanese. They're pretty much my favorite type of people ever.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


New sub-genres in the nearly dead American horror industry are always welcome, and while being socially aware can have its perks (the post-9/11 flight anxiety in Wes Craven's Red Eye), it can also come off as ham-fisted (the global warming-horror of Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter). Is Raimi now aiming for some economic mortgage crisis horror???

What immediately struck me about the new trailer (below) for Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell was the apparent lack of fun that was so noticeably present in all of his pre-A Simple Plan movies.


Man... I like Sam Raimi, and I was looking forward to his return to horror, but I don't now about this one. I just pray that the tagline isn't something like: You're Being Evicted.... TO HELL!

Monday, March 09, 2009


The titles of Douglas Sirk's 1950s color-popping melodramas have an elegant sweeping swoosh to them : All That Heaven Allows... Written On The Wind... A Time to Live and Time To Die. It's like your tongue is doing a waltz across the top of your mouth when you sound them out aloud. But there is no more fitting title to a Sirk film than that of Magnificent Obsession. Sound it out: Mag-nif-uh-suhnt Uhb-sesh-uhn. Just saying it will force flowers to bloom, fences to paint themselves white, bangs to be drenched with sad rain, and, most importantly, Rock Hudson to grab you in his arms like a doll he wants to slap and kiss at the same time.

The 360 degree love story behind Magnificent Obsession is one that must be experienced to be believed. Rock Hudson, as the devil-may-care rich boy Robert Merrick, opens the film in hotdog fashion, speeding in a speedboat on a lake with a lady. One hundred and five minutes later he's performing brain surgery on Jane Wyman, the widowed woman he fell in love with after he indirectly made her a widow. But... before he falls in love with Wyman, he indirectly makes her to go blind, furthering along Magnificent Obsessions' bizarre mix of pay-it-forward propaganda and "if a butterfly flaps it wings..." philosophizing. And guess what??? The whole goddamn thing works! Beautifully... romantically... Mag-nif-uh-suhntly!

Sometimes DVD releases of classic films arrive at opportune times in our film culture. They can act as palette cleanser, mind-refresher, eye-opener, or gut-puncher. But anytime is an appropriate time for a Sirk film the quality of Magnificent Obsession. A film such as this is a stone artifact because nothing quite like it will ever be recreated. Sure, melodrama of the more depressive kind, of the Bergman kind, of the existential kind will always play on because negativity and pessimism are easier emotions to lean against than positivity and optimism. This is why soap operas and romance novels get mocked so readily (yes, your right, it also has to do with their poor acting and writing). It's why Twilight is brushed aside as a hormonal phase and why John Hughes has never been taken seriously. Romance ain't hip, MAN!

Right now, one of you may be on the verge of saying, "well, Todd Haynes made Far From Heaven!". Yeah, well you've forgotten that that movie sucked, because Haynes' bitterness canceled out all of the essential enchantment that existed between Ron and Cary in All that Heaven Allows in order to solely focus on a social agenda. Haynes foolishly thought that all he needed to tap into the spirit of Sirk was to recreate a technicolor shell of a set reminiscent of 1950's melodrama. He forgot about everything else. In his own remake, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul Rainer Werner Fassbinder proved that you didn't need to display visual splendor (or be a copycat) in order to understand, and pay homage to, a source of inspiration.

And, oh yeah, the cafe table scene between Ali and Emmi in Fassbinder's film is more socially charged and significant than all of Haynes':

But the truest reason why Magnificent Obsession wouldn't successfully play to crowded theaters today, is that it's just too earnest for its own good. Audiences would collectively laugh at a blind Jane Wyman feeling her way around a veranda, knocking a pot of the ledge, and sobbing into her palms. To reference Bergman again, I remember a friend telling me how hard it was for him to watch Persona because the style had been spoofed and parodied so much. That's true, but it's our responsibility to work through that. Which leads into another great reason to celebrate the release of Magnificent Obsession on DVD: you can watch it at home, alone, and away from the hipsters' snickers and scoffing, temporarily slipping into a time that is permanently gone.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


The title to this post is the headline from an article on the Guardian UK's web site. More befuddling is the sub-headline:

The one-time enfant terrible of indie comedy has finally taken the corporate dollar. And nobody seems to mind.


Uh.... if Kevin Smith was seriously ever considered an "enfant terrible" then movie culture is in worse shape than I thought it was

And what of the "(Kevin Smith) has finally taken the corporate dollar" comment???

If no corporate dollars have ever touched the stained fingers of Smith's with a list of acting, writing, directing, producing, and overall celluloid molesting credits such as these... then I need to reeducate myself on what "corporate" means.

Here is the entire article/blog post if you wanna read it. I stopped after reading the headlines, so, let me know if that whole thing ended up being satire, OK?

Friday, March 06, 2009


Over a minimal opening credit sequence, the jangling sound of keys unlocking a prison cell plays overtop. These audible cues are intercut with images of Juliette (Kristen Scott Thomas) sitting in an airport cafe, indirectly informing us that she was the one who experienced that freedom from those steel bar doors; perhaps Juliette is even recalling these sounds as she daydreams on her cigarette. Next, as the plucking strings come in, Juliette flits her eyes-upward, implying a spiritual connection of some sort. Cut to the title card "I've Loved You So Long" (or, Il Y A Longtemps Que Je T'aime) hitting the screen, instantly establishing sympathy for this troubled protagonist.

Even if you don't know the gist of I've Loved You So Long prior to seeing it, writer/director Philipe Claudel wastes little time laying things out for the viewer. Juliette was in prison for fifteen years after being convicted of the murder of her six-year old son. Nobody knows why she killed him. Not her sister, not her parents, not even her lawyer. We learn from a social worker that Juliette remained silent during the trial. This dangling secret and overhanging mystery of how?, when?, where?, and - most importantly -why? aren't resolved until the film's final five minutes, making I've Loved You So Long a sort of bizarre cliffhanger/character study that hinges on... the killing of a child???

Yes. That's a pretty twisted hook for an art house entertainment film to run on, but Claudel isn't a director with cruel intentions, just one with poor judgment and a misguided approach to exploring social ethics. Once we've been made aware of Juliette's crime, Claudel intentionally places her in situations that put us on edge: alone in a room with her six-year old niece (where she verbally loses her temper over a poem); sitting next to her niece at the piano, secretly teaching her how to play; hovering over her niece after she's fallen asleep. No, Claudel doesn't lay on a The Hand that Rocks The Cradle suspense soundtrack in order to manipulate, but the intention is clear. Also, the fact that Kristen Scott Thomas plays the role with a modest and mostly zipped-mouth straight face for 117 minutes just adds to the anxiety.

For her part, Thomas does a fine job of portraying a woman that's held her tongue for fifteen years on the facts about her sons death. But, again, - and this isn't Thomas' fault - I'm left scratching heads (my own, my cats', and anyone elses head nearby...) over why this performance gets lauded and adorned with nominations while other 2008 performances by Juliette Binoche, Melonie Diaz, and Amy Poehler continually got overlooked. I know, I know, painting bags under your eyes and staring out a window is a quick route to recognition, but come on.... yeah, so what if I'm digressing... suck it!...

The in-a-nutshell conceit that Claudel plays with in I've Loved You So Long is yet another twig on the "one shouldn't judge a book by it's cover" (or, an ex-convict by her sentence) morality branch. That's not such a bad social tenet to be reminded of, but Claudel's lunge for humanism feels out-of-reach when the ball finally drops and we learn of the reasons behind the death of Juliette's son. Thankfully, Claudel avoids lingering on any Million Dollar Baby brow-beating weepiness, but the final sister vs. sister showdown lacks the passion one would expect after fifteen years of secrecy and not knowing get smashed in an instant (not to mention the films' two hours of dramatic build-up).

I've Loved You So Long isn't so bad. The performances by the variety of professional and established foreign actors make the film much more watchable than it deserves to be, but like so much Oscar season fare, "over-hyped mediocrity" (ILYSL is way more of a minor work than critics will lead you to believe) again feels like the appropriate category to file one of 2008's spotlight movies in as the meat of Movie Year 2009 starts to show.


Tonight, while eating pizza, I re-watched the first thirty minutes of I've Loved You So Long with dubbed audio instead of subtitles. I did it just for kicks, but man-oh-man did it ever remind me of the barriers which are raised when someone watches a foreign film with dubbed audio. So, so much is lost in the verbal intonations if you don't use subtitles.

Kristen Scott Thomas did Juliette's overdubs, but the rest of the characters sound like hack line readers without a days worth of acting instincts. I can't imagine Philipe Claudel being fine with this. Do directors have any say on who does the dubbing for DVDs???

Hmm... anyway... just had to get that out.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


*As witnessed in the 1978 Brian De Palma film The Fury


Amy Irving was so adorable!