Wednesday, April 29, 2009

YES, I STILL HATE ELI ROTH.

Because he's a hack, Eli Roth's next movie is going to be another stupid piggy-backing movie-within-a-movie like his stupid faux-trailer for "Thanksgiving" in Grindhouse.

The new stupid movie-within-a-movie, that will appear in the possibly-stupid Inglorious Basterds, is a faux-Nazi propaganda film called Stolz der Nation (or, translated in stupid as, The Nation's Pride).

Roth said this:

"I'm going to, like, resurrect the Nazi party. They are going to make me their Sarah Palin. They will be like, 'We love his movie. But he's a Jew! But it's such a good movie. But a Jew made it! It's going to really throw off all the neo-Nazi's. I can’t wait." (Worstpreviews.com)
Wow. He makes Miss California sound eloquent. Yes, Eli Roth is probably the biggest idiot to ever make it in Hollywood.

Monday, April 27, 2009

SIN NOMBRE & THE "CHIC" FACTOR

Recently, in her post on current critical "it boy" Ramin Barhani and his 2008 film Chop Shop, blogger buddy Marilyn ended her insights on that film by mentioning - while admiring Chop Shop - that she couldn't avoid feeling that a mood of "radical chic" was inserted into the film in order to give it lasting emotional power. I won't (and I can't) speak for Marilyn, but I think she's onto something with a tag such as that, and, personally, I would push the label further into "immigrant chic" as it relates to Barhani's film.

Chop Shop is about a pre-teen Latino kid busting his ass in New York City's Iron Triangle so he can earn enough money to buy his own taco truck that will allow him and his sister to make their own living away from the shady dealings of chop-shoppery. Innocent, well-intentioned, and with a performance by the young Alejandro Polanco that rivals Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, Chop Shop ultimately feels phony, a fly-by portrait of real destitution that, given a glossy lens and a cute curly-haired protagonist, makes affluent hipster couples feel good about themselves in the art cinema lobby.

This "chic" phenomenon of cinematic storytelling isn't new nor is it unique to movies about immigrants. Heck, the modern druggie film uses such romantic overglamorizations as its bread & butter. You'll see the chic factor on display in Courtney Hunt's recent Frozen River ("white trash chic"), it was all over the excruciating 21 Grams ("nihilism chic"), and it's what makes a total embarrassment out of Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries ("scumbag-fascist chic"). The intention of filmmakers who use the chic factor is to try and help audiences swallow an ugly truth, yet, ironically, this tool only ends up covering-up the truth, glossing over facts and reality for a prettier spoon-fed solution... and critical acclaim.

Unfortunately, the recently released Sundance sensation, Sin Nombre, buckles under the same indie chic conventions by riffing on the classic psychotic/tortured-soul chic in the character of Casper (Edgar Flores). Sin Nombre looks fine enough. Its opening shot of a fall exterior brings to mind the rich photography of Hong Kong cinema, and its nighttime visions of train cars escorting immigrant passengers away from a Honduran hell towards the Texas/Mexico border evokes a dreamlike mood of interstellar transport. But central to the film is the love story of gang-banger Casper and young, fellow-train traveler Sayra (the too cute Paulina Gaitan) and it's all just a little too sugar bear silly.

Much of Sin Nombre revolves around the actions and consequences of the notorious Salvadoran-based gang, MS13. For the "uninitiated", these guys are basically thug-Nazis, and while writer/director Cary Fukunaga certainly portrays them as the trash they are, he still shows an uncomfortable tendency to treat them like your average everyday boy-n-the-hood,... and that, they most certainly are not. MS13 is an international, well-funded, machete wielding crime organization whose tattooed-faced leaders would just as soon step on a baby's head than carry it around as a prop of sensitive complexity the way Fukunaga has gang leader Lil' Mago do so in Sin Nombre.

Sayra ends up falling for Casper like he's Jim Stark after he saves her from certain rape. In doing so - and in concert with earlier scenes that show Casper as a sensitive twink-boy lover - we quickly forget that this MS13 member has a past of murdering people, because, damn... he's just so cute! That tattooed teardrop beneath his right eye takes on a brooding bad-boy symbolism of sadness and seclusion that wipes out the cruel reminder of the crimes he previously committed. Yes, it's true that there are many reformed gang-bangers (including MS13 members) who end up living honorable, decent lives - and who may even become sensitive lovers - but Sin Nombre is simply another mediocre reminder that much of indie cinema is still so immature and an all too often chic magnet.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

OBSESSED

With the early box office numbers projecting a clear and easy path to number one for the Beyonce Knowles project, Obsessed, it's now safe to label this movie the worst pop cultural event of the year... thus far.

Forget the poor film making for a moment (director Steve Shill is a veteran TV director, and it shows), for as a product, Obsessed is that rare thing, a misogynistic thriller-drama aimed toward a female target audience. And yes, you may blame Beyonce and her father, Matthew, for this abomination. The talented pop singer has previously proven herself to be a not-so-bad actress, but Obsessed is simply a vehicle, pushed by herself and her father, to let the megastar's "crazy bitch" flag fly in the film's final ten-minute free for all.

In fact, "Dumb, Crazy Bitches" would have been a more fitting title for Obsessed. The movie's other leading lady, Ali Larter (the Joey Lauren Adams of the '00s), plays Lisa, a nympho-sociopath with an alpha male itch to scratch upon temping for the ladder climbing hunk, Dereck (Idris Elba ... this guy needs a new agent: in the last year he's been in Prom Night, The Unborn, and Obsessed, all zeros) at a hedge fund firm. Meanwhile, Dereck winds up in the middle of a Jerry Springer-esque love pickle, making beau coup duckets by the bucket while "dumb bitch" Lisa and "crazy bitch" Sharon pull hair over the handsome guy. To make matters worse, Dereck didn't even do anything to warrant Sharon's crowd-pleasing, ghettofied "get out my house!" rant. This moment only aids in reinforcing black female stereotypes, and nothing else.

What a rotten spectacle this rotten movie is for the young ladies of America to set their eyes upon. Yep, somehow Obsessed scored itself that box-office tripling PG-13 rating. Well, we know how and why it did, but if the irresponsible marketing of such high-grade trash to our pre-teen youth doesn't tick you off, then the fact that movies like Happy-Go-Lucky, The Fall, or Adventureland waste away in two-week-run hell with their R ratings ought to. What's more infuriating (and disappointing) is that Beyonce has had a record of putting out fun, feet-friendly, female-empowering singles from "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Say My Name" to "Irreplaceable" and "Single Ladies". Yet with Obsessed, she seems privy to put on a "Ruffneck" persona.

I suppose a rental of this movie with a lover or a friend might bring for some casually enjoyable mocking or makeshift drinking games, but there truly isn't even a redemptive so-bad-its-good quality to Obsessed. Some may feel the urge to say that Obsessed recalls the early 90's "obsession" movies of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle or Single White Female, but even while it's been fifteen years since my pre-critical brain saw either one of those movies, I feel comfortable giving the gas face to that type of comparison. Plus, Ali Larter just poofs dry clouds of anti-sexuality throughout this movie. Even a bizarre looking Glenn Close can achieve a raw sexiness by channeling some creepy crawly come-ons, but Larter still preens like the shaving cream girl from Varsity Blues.

The only joy I got from Obsessed was a recurring personal giggle from the name of one of the characters, Joe Gage. That may mean nothing to you wholesome folks, but Google El Paso Trucking Co. privately at home, one day (definitely AT HOME, not at work), and you will understand. Sure, I've gone completely off the tracks here with this review, but it's only in staying loyal and in line with the spirit of the film. Would you rather I type out more plot points? Or do you really need to know why Jerry O'Connell gives the best performance in the film? Well... by all means, don't trust me, go see Obsessed. Go see it and report back to me so I can pad my comments. But at least believe me enough to bring a scratch pad or wear loose pants so you can diddle with your balls once the boredom sets in.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

MOVE OVER IRON, BAT, AND SPIDER ... HERE'S NO-IMPACT MAN!


(CLICK TO ENLARGE)

If you want to manage a self-sustaining garden, twist in those curly light-bulbs, and ride your bike to work, more power to you, but do we really need another green super-hero a la No Impact Man? (What happened to Captain Planet, or Smokey the Bear, even?).

First of all, this dude better watch his back for trying to take the "saving the world" mantle away from Al Gore. The former VP verbalizes like a pussy, but he's a pretty large thang. Anyway... what I'd really like to know is how "no impact" our new hero truly is if he's gonna have his movie playing in theaters that will be pumping electricity through air conditioners, projectors, light bulbs, etc.

You may be saying, "lighten up, asshole... what have you ever done to save the world?!?!?". Well, I do write TRACTOR FACTS, but that's a fair point on your part nonetheless. Thing is, No Impact Man boasts about his no-electricity-livin' on the poster, and yet, he has... a blog???

Ohhhh, No Impact Man (sigh)... what a complicated contradiction you are. For, you also say - on your poster - that you "stopped making garbage", yet from the brief clips below I think you may have made a big pile of one with your upcoming documentary:



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

FIGHTING

Now that Jason Statham is finally getting the credit he deserves as an actor (for a shift away from the way you know him, check out Statham in the 2005 film London), there is an open space in that claw vending machine of under appreciated and underrated actors. It's arguable that Channing Tatum was already in there pressed up against the fiberglass, but with his first true top-billing role in the new Dito Montiel film Fighting, the kid is like an athlete hitting on all cylinders while the pro scouts take notes quietly in the stands.

In She's the Man, Tatum was adorable. That same year, he showcased his versatility as Tyler Gage in the physically demanding girlie-film Step Up and in the "Chris Chambers"-channeling role of Antonio in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (Montiel's debut feature). On a roll, Tatum next stole the show with a brief five-minute cameo in Step Up 2 The Streets, and was the best thing about Kimberly Pierce's not very good Stop-Loss. Tatum is a physical actor, using his well-built body to evince masculinity while also flexing the powerful physique of his neck and chiseled face to suggest the subtlest of sensitivities. In two dinner table scenes opposite co-star Zulay Henao, Tatum cannily uses his grin and gaze to layer the character of Sean.

As Sean, Tatum plays a Brooklyn via Birmingham street-table hustler of bootleg books and movies, your average Hollywood bad boy with a heart of gold who just needs a few good breaks to scrape his way out the gutter. But after an old-school ticket scalper, Harvey (Terrence Howard), sees the way Sean can throw them 'bows after bare-fisting his way out of an orchestrated street scuffle, the two pair up like Warren Oats and a rooster and hit the underground fighting circuit to make some money. [NOTE: Because of the bizarre, mixed-ethnic and possibly mentally unstable performance of Terrence Howard in Fighting, I couldn't help but think of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy]

The generic sounding, straight-forward title of Fighting is actually wholly appropriate, because, as if looking up that word in the dictionary, every sequence in the movie is the F-word as action, event, or description. It is Harvey doing his respectable best to impress a clique of former associates who have shamed him. It is Zulay raising a daughter and supporting a grandmother on an eleven dollars an hour salary. It is Sean bare-knuckling with others so he can pay for a night's hotel stay.

But this is no boo-hoo boho flagellation fest like the overrated and out-of-touch Wendy and Lucy which some critics quickly rushed to anoint as "The New Depression"'s Bicycle Thieves. In fact, Fighting is refreshingly recession proof in its aversion to whining and a much more honest portrayal of street-survival than the goofy white trash-chic of Frozen River. This is working class American Dream revitalization. More than once, Montiel frames characters next to or in front of a replication of the Statue of Liberty, and he does so in moments of pride and forthrightness.

With only two films under his belt, Dito Montiel feels like the comfortable heir to that classic trio of Big Apple-underbelly filmmakers: Martin Scorcese, Abel Ferrara, and James Toback. Like those three, Montiel is in love with his city, displaying an affectionate and ebullient coloring to the cultural differences within such wide-ranging sectors as The Bronx, Koreatown, and Wall Street. There is no class-warfare here, no segregation or separate casting of stones towards stereotypes, just a new day melting pot of people getting up off their knees and swinging at whatever may be in their way.

Monday, April 20, 2009

TOERIFC # 4: THE SERPENT'S EGG (1977)

What are you doing here? You should be at Bill's place, The Kind of Face You Hate, discussing Ingmar Bergman's weirdo horror/mystery/David Carradine movie The Serpent's Egg!

You've already missed out on 70 + comments, so hurry on over and get involved!



Saturday, April 18, 2009

CRANK : HIGH VOLTAGE

Crank : High Voltage hits the ground rollin' precisely where the previous film had left off. Instant cult movie icon Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) opens his eyes after hitting the pavement from bouncing off the hood of a car... from falling hundreds of feet in the air out of a helicopter. Writing & directing partners Mark Nevelidine and Brian Taylor quickly re-establish the absurdity and ridiculousness of this situation - and the 86 minutes that are to follow - by retelling this plot point in an 8-bit animated video game sequence that furthers the movie-as-video game notion the first Crank so convincingly argued for.

Statham's Chev Chelios, though more gruff and foul-mouthed, is every bit the professional man among twats, thugs, and fu*kheads as is Statham's Frank Martin in the Transporter movies. But the underworld landscape of the Crank franchise isn't so glamorous. This is a world of Mao-loving Chinese organ traders, white-trash strip clubs, black s & m gay bars, scuzzy backroom doctors, South American crime lords, Latino whorehouses, degenerate gamblers, striking pornstars, over-sexed psychiatrists, racial mockery, and boobies. But all of that would mean squat were it not for Neveldine and Taylor's unchained promulgation of all these sub-cultures and sub-humans through a witty lens and sly sense of humor that is more Godardian pop aware that Tarantino.

For instance, check out the subtle nod to Gnarls Barkley's "Who's Gonna Save My Soul" in a climactic scene where Chev climbs a power line tower that is shot from below to look like an installation of Jesus on the cross. Or the moment that immediately follows, when an engulfed in flames Chev takes down the last man standing, hallucinates a loving embrace between he and Eve (Amy Smart), and throws his hands to the sky to the sounds of REO Speedwagon's "I'm Gonna Keep On Loving You". This isn't moronic, ironic sideshow humor a la Todd Phillips (god, I hate that guy), no, this is fiery and fun cinematic dadaism that walks to the screen and confronts the standards and expectations of a movie culture that has to put up with the probably stupid Russell Crowe/Ben Affleck political thriller playing in the theater adjacent.

The supporting cast is outstanding. Amy Smart and Efren Ramirez give breakout performances by displaying the exact amount of fun an actor should be having in an off-the-grid movie such as this, and Bai Ling sheds the limiting slinky sexuality she's been moaned after for for too long and plays a yipping 80 pound pussy-powered force of life who fixates on Chev ("you're my shiny lunch box", she tells him) after he saves her from a 400 pound gang banger. "He's my Kevin Costner and he's gonna tap your ass!" she tells a pair of oncoming hoods in her mistakenly-mangled slang that runs as a recurring joke throughout the film.

In a movie industry that tells us the summer-fun movie season begins in May with a sure to be three-course vomit meal of more Wolverine, Star Trek, and Terminator movies, Crank : High Voltage cock blocks them all and takes the premature prize.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ON DVD: VINYAN

Fabrice Du Welz's Vinyan is a very welcome shift away from the dunce cap depravity he pushed through the art house-horror circles with Calvaire, a stupid film as stupid as House of 1000 Corpses that won illegitimate praise because it was shot by the adept Benoît Debie and had a cast of French speaking actors. Du Welz is Belgian and so are his films, but Calvaire clearly rode the early aught tide of French horror created by the unfortunate success of Haute Tension. Like the rest of that French nu-wave, Calvaire's sole goal was to out marquee the sadism of the notorious film that preceded it. (Calvaire raised Haute Tensions skull-fu*king with some pig fu*king, but then Sheitan trumped them both with some canine hand jobbing!)

Ahh... but as Du Welz has apparently moved on, so shall I. Vinyan's time frame is six months after the six figure death toll tsunami that devastated Indonesia and neighboring countries in 2004. The imagery starts devastatingly enough as we get a long take of air bubbles under dark waters. It's an image we instinctively and ordinarily associate with sodas or champagne, but as distorted screams and red light (and possibly strands of hair) slowly mix into the frame, we feel helplessly bumped out of our comforting frame of reference. From here, we're quickly introduced to Jeanne (Emmanuelle Béart) and Paul (Rufus Sewell), a European couple whose son has either drowned or been kidnapped during the tsunami hysteria that coalesced while they were vacationing in Phuket.

While watching some raw video footage, Jeanne thinks she sees their son and is spun off into an obsessive familial finding mission with odds of success that are right up there with cliches about needles and grains of sand. Vinyan takes the not-without-my-daughter (son, in this instance) storyline and extends the stubbornness far out into the far-est desolate islands off the Burmese coast. Playing off the ghost-river imagery of Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Apocalypse Now, Du Welz not only paints a world without borders, but a region completely off the edge of existence.

The further up the coast the searchers go, the dimmer the reflection of the modern life becomes. The islands appear to be inhabited by boys, and boys only. Boys of the pre-teen variety. Boys around the age of Jeanne and Paul's son. All of these boys appear to be healthy, vibrant, and content and it's inexplicable why they would be, but Du Welz makes it work by slowly unraveling the feeling that whether Paul and Jeanne are in some dreamy third world beyond that fourth wall or not, they're already too far gone to ever come back.

Ultimately, Vinyan is a horror film crafted around the dynamics of a marriage in the face of losing a child. The film begins with distorted screams, but over its end credits there is the sound of laughing children. A careful listen reveals, what sounds like, the laughter of Jeanne alongside them. Taking in this audio right after taking in the evocative image that closes out Vinyan, you're left with an odd mix of maternal relief and creeping kiddie doom. Whether that's what Du Welz was aiming for or not, I don't know, but it's an impression I'd rather leave with than one of more backwoods gang raping.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

CRITICS + ARTISTS = BFF???

Last week, a theater critic for The Guardian UK was going through her Facebook account, saw a handful of friend requests from artists whose work she often writes about, and was then forced to ask herself the question: "What is the appropriate relationship between the artist and the critic?"

It's a personal question, yes, and there should be no definitive answer (imagine, in the future, some well-intentioned moron pushing legislation to restrict it), but I think it's a topic worth mulling over in an age where most of our art criticism has gone online and is "print-worthy" within a blink of an unedited moment.

If a writer has the intention of taking a publicly-critical look at an artist's work, then my quick answer to the above question would be "none; no relationship". That's easier said that done, of course, but it seems to me that the relationship between artist & critic should be similar to that of politician & journalist. No, I don't mean deep probing or investigative research or on-the-spot questioning of just another private citizen, but, as is the case when journalists become too close with public servants, the critical blinders can go on and the tough things that must be said can get swallowed.

Take Roger Ebert. Recently he gave the new Alex Proyas movie, Knowing, a four-star rave. Big deal. He loved, I didn't. But the first thing that popped into my head was "Hmm... Roger Ebert did the commentary track on the DVD for Proyas' Dark City. They must have some kind of friendly relationship, yes?". The point is, I couldn't help but wonder if Ebert's reading of Knowing was somewhat skewed by him knowing Proyas. To be fair, Ebert hasn't given Proyas' career a four-star pass (he was critical of I, Robot), but for a movie that seemed to be getting universally ripped, Ebert's lone positive voice noticeably stood out.

Look, we all have biases, and I'm not saying artists and critics shouldn't be friends or lovers or etc. That's silly. But I DO think - as industry professionals - both parties should try their best to not swap spit when it comes to their jobs. And in the age of online movie criticism, the "job" of movie critic is becoming ever more blurred. Sites like AintItCool, Cinematical, Indiewire, SpoutBlog, and Bloody-Disgusting are some of the most frequented film sites, yet the reviews on those sites seem to be more promotion-driven than insight-stirring. Some of the writers for those sites even seem to get pretty buddy-buddy with the filmmakers they end up reviewing movies of.

"Who cares!"... "what a waste of breath!"... "loser", some of you may be saying. I get that. I understand, that to some people, the role of movie critic may be on par with that of IRS agent, but it's something I love and it's something I think is worth keeping as pure as possible.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

OBSERVE AND REPORT

Jody Hill's Observe and Report proudly feels like the writer/director's logical next big step from his 2008 overnight cult hit, The Foot Fist Way. Both films center around an unlikable underdog with unchecked ego and ambition. Unlikable, yet not unsympathetic. Both men (Fred in The Foot Fist Way and Ronnie in Observe and Report) are the products of disastrous and neglectful homesteads so, in turn, they have chosen professions that offer up prospects of authority and control. Fred's dojo is his kingdom, as is the mall to Ronnie.

Over the opening credits - with Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" playing over top containing the lyric, "had to be held down by big police" - Ronnie surveys the wide corridors and wide ranging customers in the suburban mall where he is head of mall security. But it isn't the mall patrons that Ronnie is most concerned with in asserting the power he has behind that six pointed star on his chest (one point too many to make a proper Sheriff's badge), it is in his peers, and his co-workers that he wants to leave a legacy-like impression on. Ronnie is delusional in thinking that they (outside of a couple of his fellow guards) care or are impressed by his uniform, but he presents an amazing facade of self-confidence for someone who grew up in an abusive home.

The pitch black comedy of Observe and Report is a timely rejoinder to the godawful "dark comedy" of Sunshine Cleaning in that the former is dark in substance and execution and not just in surface topicality like the later. I also imagine that some of the violence and filth and drug use in Observe and Report will shock moviegoers expecting Knocked-Up in cop uniforms. But Observe and Report operates in somewhat of an alternate universe that has more in common with someone like Wes Anderson (albeit a very demented Wes Anderson) than the "true-to-life" comedic takes of Judd Apatow. Most of Hill's characters are soft-caricatures and that helps alleviate some of the blunt force of the actions onscreen.

One thing for sure, Seth Rogen seems naturally at home here in a multi-leveled character of anger, honor, ambition, and torment than in the one-note pot smokers he's known for from Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up, Zak and Miri, and - most horribly - Pineapple Express. While Rogen is definitely still banking on the delivery of foul-mouthed one-liners in a gravely voice, here he shows a sensitivity that was lacking in previous roles. It's the best performance of his career. Also interesting is the goofball antics of the underrated Michael Pena, an actor who continually stands out by appearing in a lot of crap (Shooter, Crash, Babel). Pena is fun to watch, but his character is one of Observe and Report's weaker aspects. Hill seems to dump his riskiest and most extreme ideas on a creation that seems unevenly sweet and sinister.

Further down the troubled line, Observe and Report has already kicked up a bit of controversy over "the rape scene". If you haven't seen the movie or even heard about the scene in question, here it is, briefly: Seth Rogen is seen on top of an apparently passed out Anna Faris, grinding away. He then notices that she is unresponsive and stops. Faris replies (eyes closed, drooling) "what are you stopping for??!?". I don't think the scene is making light of date rape, but admittedly, I was shocked when I first saw the image. I can't speak definitively for my wife, but she seemed to take her offense to that scene into the lobby with her, and writers such as Nikki Finke have already weighed in by saying that everyone involved with Observe and Report should be "ashamed".

Personally, I think there are nuances to Ronnie's character that cancel out any despicable intentions of rape. But it's the image that lingers and holds power. It's the mix of vomit and drool on Anna Faris' pillow, it's the passed out look and the vacant expression on her face. Jody Hill could have easily filmed drunken sex between Rogen and Faris without giving the icky quick sense of a sexual crime taking place. It seems to me that he knew what he was doing when he set up the frame this way. So, is an image like that excusable in a film that is deeply, darkly comic? Could it even possibly add a bit of depth to Ronnie's character? Or, is it wholly irresponsible? At this point, I've entertained answers on the side of all three of those questions.

Interestingly, I think that scene is just but a small example of how deceptively complex a movie like Observe and Report is. I look forward to digging into the bucket of reactions to this movie, and I hope readers of this post will weigh in with comments as well.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

ON "OLD" DVD : A HOLE IN MY HEART (2004)

Lukas Moodysson's A Hole in My Heart is an easy target for a critic's rage. That's not to say that some of said rage wouldn't be justifiable. It would be impossible to not experience extreme emotions while being confronted with images of labia surgery, borderline emitophilia, and a pasty fat man with his unwashed cock-n-balls. Heck, just writing that feels like a taunt. There's no doubt that Swedish director Lukas Moodysson made A Hole in My Heart to provoke, but it is my opinion that that provocation was not of the hit-and-run variety.

Though I do feel hit - also stunned, disgusted, and a bit moved - after watching this movie. A Hole in My Heart deserves a second viewing from me, but I couldn't fathom watching it again so soon. So, for now, I'm keeping it in a brain box alongside Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie and Koen Mortier's Ex-Drummer. Typically, I feel comfortable proclaiming whether I liked a movie or not immediately after seeing it. Sometimes it might take a couple of hours to mull over, but rarely do I find myself on the fence. However, with those three aforementioned movies, that is indeed the case.

On its surface, A Hole in My Heart (replete with that cardio-damaging primal scream of a title), is a like an ungnashing scream toward a world that's "fucked up, man!". Moodysson himself has said this about his film: "In a perfect world, this film would not be made." If you just rolled your eyes, I completely understand. Well, Luke, in a perfect world we probably wouldn't have film (or any art) at all. So does "imperfect world" = "nihilism" to Moodysson? Other reviewers have read A Hole in My Heart's debauchery as an anti-capitalist rant, and seeing as how Moodysson is a devoted far-leftist, that isn't a theory with bad aim. But I don't see it so succinctly.

First, my own reactionary charge that A Hole in My Heart is a nihilistic film. Thinking about that, there are simply too many moments of on-screen human vulnerability for me to feel comfortable with that kind of label. Though some will disagree, I found Moodysson's previous film, Lilya-4-Ever, to be a much harder film to sit through and much more belonging to a nihilist creed (though Moodysson ends Lilya with some "angel wings", that wasn't enough to lift it out of 24/7 hell). In comparison, I would argue that A Hole in My Heart is fighting for this world. A recurring image in the film is of Eric (the most ethical character) leaning against a poster of the Earth that's pinned between the corners of the wall. Dwarfing the photo of our world, it's as if Eric is its protector, shielding it from the grotesqueries going on outside his room.

Outside his room is where Eric's father, his father's friend, and a young woman are shooting some hardcore amateur porn. The time sequence is unclear. The way the film is edited, moving between the apparent past and present, we could be witnessing the passage of four hours or four weeks. Somewhere within this wormhole, Eric and Tess (the young woman) become intimate friends. "Close your eyes and tell me what you see", Tess says to Eric as they face each other and nod off on white sheets. This gentle, non-sexual command from Tess opens and closes the film, bookending the sometimes incomprehensible barbaric behavior on screen, and putting the thought in ones head that perhaps this was ... a dream????

Eh... I don't know. Tough to say. But I like that better than the theory of A Hole in My Heart being a left-wing political screed. Sure, the interpretive door is open for that, for an appeal towards an authoritarian social-engineering call to arms to wipe out "evil consumerism", but I refuse to believe that a movie which has lingered with me for so long could be devoted to such simple-minded intentions. If so, then Moodysson probably would have called his movie My Heart on My Sleeve instead of the much more inward and intense title that he gave it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

SUNSHINE CLEANING

There is something disturbing about a film whose characters find fuzzy enlightenment by way of the violent and tragic end of others. Sunshine Cleaning doesn't mean to be mean, but it is. Blame poor film making talent, not cruel intentions. Indeed, if this comedy had had a purposeful black heart at its center in the vein of an In Bruges or The Ice Harvest, then it may have at least felt coherent. Instead, Sunshine Cleaning feels like a cracked shell of an idea (a dysfunctional sibling crime scene clean-up crew) given rise simply because of the indie star power of its cast.

In an accidental way, Sunshine Cleaning's avoidance in addressing the humanity of its characters in the face of shocking death is yet another example of our growing desensitivity to violence. After her first day on the job scrubbing blood-splattered walls in a trashy bathroom, Rose (Amy Adams) excitedly tells her homicide beat boyfriend about the details as they undress for some infidelity intercourse. Sure, Amy Adams looks cute in her undies and Steve Zahn has obviously been keeping in shape, but wouldn't a moment of Rose making sense of her dramatic career shift (she used to clean-up the homes of the living, now she cleans-out the dens of the dead) have been much more prudent?

The absence of those kind of scenes feels stark especially since Sunshine Cleaning so wants to touch on the lifestyle of single-mother-hardtime-survivin'. Rose makes the decision to go grim for the green in order to provide for her son, but the fact that she's a mother never touches her while she's surrounded by so much mortality. In fact, when Rose's sister Norah (Emily Blunt) finds photos of one of the deceased client's daughters, it is she who feels compelled to seek out the young woman and inform her of the mothers demise, not Rose. Rose is still hung up on hiding from the wife of her lover and the status rankings of her High School peer group.

Or is she? That's the problem with Sunshine Cleaning, nothing feels of a whole mind. Nobody is anybody. Every character is a Sundance cliche, quirky enough to get the Indiewire staff text-blogging about it on their iPhones immediately after a screening, but lacking enough depth to survive in the minds of your average serious moviegoer. So, that begs the question: does the festival hype-machine breed this kind of half-assed fare? Yes. Because, forget if this movie is well-made or not, it's got three bankable stars with enough weight to anchor a schmoozy, co-sponsored American Apparel/Facebook party.

Which is fine. I respect the patterns of business, I just resent the mindset that somehow this IFC/Cinematical world is so much more pure or "about the art" than bigtime Hollywood is. They're the same. In clearer terms, Sunshine Cleaning is simply the Sundance equivalent of Bride Wars.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

ADVENTURELAND

When I saw Be Kind Rewind at the theater last year, rows of seats were packed with bodies of the 14 to 19 year-old persuasion. When the movie finished, many of the young ones quietly booed and hissed at having to impatiently sit through something that never paid off. My guess is that they were expecting another Jack Black riot fest along the lines of Orange County, School of Rock, or Tenacious D. Instead, they got a sensitive offbeat film about movie love sprouting from the shelves of a corner video store.

That same kind of frustration is likely to occur in theaters across America this weekend as teens and young adults rush to see the new comedy Adventureland, a movie that's been misleadingly marketed (for about 4 months now) as a kind of Superbad 2. And not for odd reason. Greg Mottola is the director of that 2007 male-centric teen sex neurosis comedy (and yes, very possibly misogynistic comedy... I would accept that). The first 30 minutes of Superbad were fueled by a more-accurate-than-critics-gave-it-credit-for foul stream of obnoxiousness dialogue that nailed the sex-obsessed mind of a 17 year-old. Internal porn site deliberation and strapping down your boner with the elastic band in your underwear were funny because they happen.

The use of the Violent Femme's "Blister in the Sun" in Adventureland's trailer is equally misleading with its bouncing carefree sexual glee-lyrics about masturbation. Adventureland's teens are of a mind set already past the discovery of that curious perversion. Instead, Mottola's film truly hangs on the songs of The Replacements, Big Star, and The Velvet Underground. And not just "songs" by those bands, but the top-shelf lovesick trophies that those groups have cemented their legacies on: "Unsatisfied", "I'm In Love With a Girl", "Here She Comes Now". And while it's a little more than ridiculous to see Jesse Eisenberg sipping whiskey at a bar after punching in "Pale Blue Eyes" on the jukebox, you'll forgive the illogic of it because its drama is appropriate.

A movie like Adventureland is labeled a comedy simply because no other genre label fits it. Sure, there are plenty of laughs, but this is a comedy like Almost Famous is a comedy. In fact, Adventureland could be called the anti-Superbad. Seth and Evan wanted to become "Iron Chefs at pounding vag" while James (Eisenberg) passes up sex because of a personal dilemma brought on by a Shakespeare sonnet. Working with his own script this time, Mottola carefully observes the star-crossed relationship at an age when our brains aren't sophisticated enough to deal with it. It's a matter of the mind questioning the heart when mind is still pretty stupid. This is what Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist should have been.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

MUSIC VIDEO : "IF I HAD A HEART" - FEVER RAY

Coming on like a mash-up of Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Andreas Nilsson's video for the Fever Ray song "If I Had a Heart" sure gives me the creeps. That's significant, because few full-length films ever do that to me anymore. (I think the last time I felt it was during the tightest parts of Vacancy.)

By now, I've watched this video many times. I've created my own stories & plot possibilities from the images, and, from that, even more movie references have popped into my mind: Children of the Corn, The Night of the Hunter, The Lovers, The Emerald Forest, Walkabout. Are these legit connections? I seriously doubt it. They're probably just memories triggered from the music, from the boat, from seeing a native black man with white kids.

There's an argument that videos can ruin songs as much they can enhance them. For example, can I hear "If I Had a Heart" on the stereo and not think of its video? Not anytime soon, no, but I've never bought the Eddie Vedder post-"Jeremy" argument that videos cheapen the experience a listener can have with a song, nor the more cynical take that a music video is simply "a commercial". Any regular moviegoer can tell you of a favorite movie moment where song and screen merged and created a separate joy.

"Joy" is the wrong emotion to bring up at this moment, because at this moment I say watch the video:





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