Monday, December 31, 2012

To Male Bonding By Hard Ways

312) Least Among Saints (20120) Dir: Martin Papazian Date Released: October 12, 2012 Date Seen: October 5, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

Cliched and self-pitying: no, thanks. See my Village Voice review.

Life Before and After the Sopranos

310) Grave of the Vampire (1972) Dir: John Hayes Date Released: September 13, 1972 Date Seen: October 2, 2012 Rating: 2/5

311) Not Fade Away (2012) Dir: David Chase Date Released: December 21, 2012 Date Seen: October 5, 2012 Rating: 4/5

I've yet to catch up with The Sopranos for some reason or another (I should, I know). But this interview I did with David Chase for Esquire was pretty satisfying. I rewatched a couple episodes of Kolchak, watched some other episodes of The Rockford Files...there was, in other words, a good deal left out of this transcript but I still think it turned out well. Check it out. 

Oh and yes, I knew that Chase was heavily re-written on Grave of the Vampire. It shows in the film, but I still thought it would be interesting to talk to him about it...partly because he lost creative control, actually.

Get Me Away from Jesse's Grrl.....

307) An Affair of the Heart (2012) Dir: Sylvia Caminer Date Released: October 10, 2012 Date Seen: October 2, 2012 Rating: 2/5

I actually wanted to "get" Rick Springfield as I watched this doc, but it often feels like a lead-in to his autobiography, where ALL IS REVEALED, I'm guessing. Anyway, see my review of the doc at the Village Voice.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bill Murray: Our Prima Donna

RV!: What About Bob? (1991) Dir: Frank Oz Date Released: May 17, 1991 Date Seen: October 1, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

It really doesn't hold up well in parts and while I still find it very funny, it also kind of made me think of how crazy our collective Bill Murray fetish (My Bill Murray Problem and Yours?) is. Here's a thing I wrote for Capital New York on that very subject.

Case in (Counter-)Point: More Blake Edwards Love

RV!: The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) Dir: Blake Edwards Date Released: December 17, 1976 Date Seen: September 29, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I had Blake Edwards on the mind that week, as you can see. Here's a piece I wrote on Blake Edwards, director, for Capital New York.

It Really Is

306) It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012) Dir: Don Hertzfeldt Date Released: August 24, 2012 Date Seen: September 28, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

RV!: It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012) Dir: Don Hertzfeldt Date Released: August 24, 2012 Date Seen: October 7, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

Pretty happy that I got to review this for the Village Voice when it screened at the IFC Center, and that Hertzfeldt himself saw and enjoyed my lil capsule. If you haven't seen the film, fix that. Check out my review here.

Mal Arnold Gave Me Stockholm Syndrome

RV!: Blood Feast (1963) Dir: Herschell Gordon Lewis Date Released: July 6, 1963 Date Seen: September 26, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

This clunker has only grown in my estimation since I first saw it. I now get what, on a very basic level, Lewis was trying to do. I don't think he knew how to do it, and I don't think he made a great effort to do it, either. But the grand guignol elements that he says are there can be found in the film's leering close-ups, amateurish long takes on severed gams and mutilated bodies, and yes, Mal Arnold's stilted acting. Arnold has even said that it wasn't his idea to talk like, in his words, "Bela Lugosi:" that was Lewis's direction. There is, in other words, an intelligence behind this (historically) important shit heap. And now that I've spent so much time thinking about its creators, I don't think I'll ever be able to hate it.

I rewatched Blood Feast so that I'd have better notes for the chapter of this long-gestating book on gore and the exploitation of explicit violence on film. So I'm writing about it at greater length. I'm just not ready to show off that writing as it's still in progress. More later.

Opa, Blake Edwards Style

305) The Great Spy Chase (1964) Dir: Georges Lautner Date Released: May XX, 1966 Date Seen: September 25, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

This screened at Cannes this year but I didn't get to see it in May. In my limited experience at that festival, I find it's impossible to see all of the neat-looking Cannes Classics titles that I might like to as they usually overlap with first or second screenings of competition films, or first screenings of new films showing in side-bar competitions. So I was glad that I had a chance to catch up with this goofy, Ex-lax-loose spy spoof that has precious little to do with spy movies. In that sense, I don't think a Blake Edwards comparison is inexact. 

I love the Pink Panther movies, and laugh long and hard at some of the weaker ones. But those comedies obviously don't have much to do with spy thrillers. They're scattershot farces, pastiches that throw together everything from The Green Hornet to Agatha Christie. Same thing is true of The Great Spy Chase, a dopey, but sometimes very funny Lino Ventura vehicle. It's overlong, has a great supporting cast, and the better slapstick gags are usually the funniest jokes in the movie....just like a lot of Blake Edwards's movies. Also, Ventura's great here. He's not given much to work with, but his implacable let's-just-get-this-over-with glare is hilarious, as is any scene where Ventura puts his muscleman physique to good use and barrels through walls, rooms full of the worst ninjas in the world (ugh, these guys are so bad, like Enter the Ninja bad), and oh yeah, murderous double agents. It's not high art, but it's fun.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Fear For Her"

304) Demon Seed (1977) Dir: Donald Cammell Date Released: April 8, 1977 Date Seen: September 22, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Here's another VHS shoebox pick I saved for a rainy day. I only watched Demon Seed because BAM just programmed it for Halloween, which reminded me that I owned it, but had yet to watch it. Cammell's emphasis on the way Proteus performs in order to avoid detection--of all the amazing things Proteus can do, surely the most amazing is the way he replicates his human masters' voices--is very reminiscent of (you guessed it) Performance. Which is funny, since Nicolas Roeg fans usually say is more of a Roeg film than a Cammell pitcher. But, on top of Performance and Demon Seed's shared thematic concern with performance-as-reality, the latter film's 2001-inspired psyechedlia also felt like a product of the same guy that made Performance. Did Nicolas Roeg ghost-direct this one, too?! Granted, I don't know nearly enough about Performance's famously screwy production history to say just how much of that movie is Cammell's. But now I'm curious to find out. Any tips, impromptu history lessons or suggested reading is welcome.

"Christ, F^ck me If I Can Remember When..."

303) The Fourth Man (1983) Dir: Paul Verhoeven Date Released: June 27, 1984 Date Seen: September 22, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

There are a handful of filmmakers whose work I've been slowly stockpiling in the event of A) depression B) a rainy day C) days when I realize B is actually code for A. Albert Brooks, Spike Lee, Paul Verhoeven, Pedro Almodovar, Robert Altman and Richard Fleischer come to mind. Anyway, so I now own all of Verhoeven's Dutch features...or at least, almost all of them (I might be missing one or two without even realizing it). So when Event B occurred on September 22nd, I finally dug into the shoeboxes of VHS tapes I've been slowly amassing for seven years now. I'm not a VHS nostalgist, but I don't strongly dislike tapes, and there are a number of films that are still only available on VHS and/or OOP on DVD. So, The Fourth Man.

The Fourth Man strikes me as a perfectly good neo-noir but one that, like me, gets in its own way too often to be really effective. Right now, it's a very good stylistic exercise because Verhoeven's main conceit is expressed in a fairly monotonous way: a narcissistic writer with a Jesus Complex gets his egotistical bubble burst after he shacks up with a woman that he only THINKS is a femme fatale. The ego-busting in question is however only as striking as it is perversely disturbing. Meaning: I wanted there to be more stuff directly relating Verhoeven's weird Christ fetish (oh, he still has one; in fact, he recently wrote a book about Jesus!) and this particular film's abbatoir violence. I loved the film's James Cain-inspired narrative, but was a little puzzled by the film's more outre/prickly/idiosyncratically provocative themes. If you're out there, Victor Morton, it's me, Simon Abrams, and I'm all ears.

Right now, The Fourth Man is the kind of film that I hope/suspect will only grow in my mind and mutate into something startling and new after I watch more of Verhoeven's Dutch films. Stranger things, right?

Stephen Dorff: He's Saved Every One of Us

302) The Gate (1987) Dir: Tibor Takacs Date Released: May 15, 1987 Date Seen: September 21, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

Not too shabby. See my dopey capsule for The L Magazine.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hey, Arnold

300) Fish Tank (2009) Dir: Andrea Arnold Date Released: January 15, 2010 Date Seen: September 18, 2012 Rating: 2/5

301) Wuthering Heights (2011) Dir: Andrea Arnold Date Released: October 5, 2012 Date Seen: September 19, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

I'm more reluctant than ever to revisit Red Road, which I remember liking when I first saw it on DVD. But yeah, here, I wrote about what I don't like about Wuthering Heights and why I think it's partly an objection to Arnold's prevailing style. Check it oot, at the Village Voice.

Yeah, No.

299) Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson Date Released: September 14, 2012 Date Seen: September 16, 2012 Rating: 2/5

What happened to the trashy-fun but not particularly good Paul W.S. Anderson I used to know? And who is this imaginary Paul W.S. Anderson whose work is so daring and clean and visionary and whatever-the-fuck? I don't see that guy in any of the Resident Evil movies or The Three Musketeers, and I really wish I did. I don't even see the guy that's slavishly replicating video game choreography in his fight scenes. I see a guy that really likes the Matrix movies, particularly their "bullet time" style but forgot to get somebody like Wo-Ping Yuen to actually CHOREOGRAPH HIS FUCKING FIGHT SCENES. This drives me nuts because it makes me feel like I'm not giving Anderson a fair shot. But I am and have been following his work slavishly trying to see what so many vulgar auteurists have excavated from thin air: Paul W.S. Anderson, visionary/misunderstood filmmaker. Sorry, but this guy films bodies in motion like dancing sacks of meat. These are not people fighting each other but rather objects that happen to be people. I can't think of a single action scene in Resident Evil: Retribution that impressed me with a basic attention to detail or presence of mind. And no, I don't think the opening scene, where Alice (Milla Jovovich, still not acting in these films), falls from the sky in backwards slow-mo, is especially clever or even that cool-to-look-at. I just don't see it. Make mine Soldier, Event Horizon and Mortal Kombat.

Scream if You Want It

RV!: House of 1000 Corpses (2003) Dir: Rob Zombie Date Released: April 11, 2003 Date Seen: September 8, 2012 Rating: 3/5

RV!: The Devil's Rejects (2005) Dir: Rob Zombie Date Released: July 22, 2005 Date Seen: September 14, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

RV!: Halloween (2007) Dir: Rob Zombie Date Released: August 31, 2007 Date Seen: September 15, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

I maintain that Zombie's only gotten better as a filmmaker as he goes. Then again, my favorite of his films is still probably his most flawed: House of 1000 Corpses is a hoot, even if it does fall apart at the end. I interviewed Zombie at Toronto for the Village Voice. But I think we're gonna have to wait for The Lords of Salem to come out for that interview to come out. More soon.

The Wachowskis and I...and Tom Tykwer, Too!

285) Cloud Atlas (2012) Dir: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski Date Released: October 26, 2012 Date Seen: September 8, 2012 Rating: 3/5

RV!: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) Dir: Tom Tykwer Date Released: January 5, 2007 Date Seen: October 5, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

RV!: The Matrix (1999) Dir: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski Date Released: March 31, 1999 Date Seen: October 6, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

RV!: The Matrix Reloaded (2003) Dir: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski Date Released: May 15, 2003 Date Seen: October 7, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

RV!: The Matrix Revolutions (2003) Dir: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski Date Released: November 5, 2003 Date Seen: October 8, 2012 Rating: 3/5

So I may be down in the dumps this week, and with good reason...reasons, actually. But hey, I did do this interview with the Wachowskis for the Village Voice. Cover story, even! Highlight of my year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Toronto 2012: The Reckoning

Day 1:

275) Looper (2012) Dir: Rian Johnson Date Released: September 28, 2012 Date Seen: September 6, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

276) Motorway (2012) Dir: Pou-Soi Cheang Not Yet Released Date Seen: September 6, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

277) Anna Karenina (2012) Dir: Joe Wright Date Released: November 16, 2012 Date Seen: September 6, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

278) Thale (2012) Dir: Aleksander Nordaas Hopefully Never to Be Released Date Seen: September 6, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

Day 2:

279) Dredd 3D (2012) Dir: Pete Travis Date Released: September 21, 2012 Date Seen: September 7, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

280) Hotel Transylvania (2012) Dir: Genndy Tartakovsky Date Released: September 28, 2012 Date Seen: September 7, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

281) Something in the Air (2012) Dir: Olivier Assayas Not Yet Released Date Seen: September 7, 2012 Rating: 4/5

282) Berberian Sound Studio (2012) Dir: Peter Strickland Not Yet Released Date Seen: September 7, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

283) Seven Psychopaths (2012) Dir: Martin McDonagh Date Released: October 12, 2012 Date Seen: September 7, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Brian De Palma: Voyeur, Hard Science Fiction Enthusiast

RV!: The Phantom of the Paradise (1974) Dir: Brian De Palma Date Released: October 31, 1974 Date Seen: September 3, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

RV!: Dressed to Kill (1980) Dir: Brian De Palma Date Released: July 25, 1980 Date Seen: September 4, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

274) Hi, Mom (1970) Dir: Brian De Palma Date Released: April 27, 1970 Date Seen: September 4, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

287) Passion (2012) Dir: Brian De Palma Not Yet Released Date Seen: September 9, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Oh, boy. I got to talk to the cranky man in the safari jacket. Oh, boy. Interviewed him for Press Play and wrote a lil capsule on Phantom, my favorite of Mr. DP's movies, for the L Magazine. Enjoyee!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Rent a Shitty Shark Movie

273) Bait 3-D (2012) Dir: Kimble Rendall Date Released: September 9, 2012 Date Seen: August 30, 2012 Rating: 1.25/5

Yup, this is....this is pretty bad. See my review for the Village Voice.

Demme Docs

272) I'm Carolyn Parker (2011) Dir: Jonathan Demme Date Released: September 12, 2012 Date Seen: August 30, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

275) The Agronomist (2003) Dir: Jonathan Demme Date Released: April 24, 2004 Date Seen: September 4, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Glad I got to write this piece as it gave me the opportunity to think about what it is that I don't like about the frustratingly myopic perspective of Demme's political docs. See my review for the Village Voice for more.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Yeah, We're Back.

RV!: The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) Dir: Blake Edwards Date Released: May 21, 1975 Date Seen: August 29, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I still laugh like a maniac. See my pro-Edwards piece for Capital New York.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Depressive Laughter: Performative Recognition and Disbelief in "The Master"

308) The Master (2012) Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson Date Released: September 14, 2012 Date Seen: September 23, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

RV!: The Master (2012) Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson Date Released: September 14, 2012 Date Seen: September 28, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

You can't take the world straight, can you?" -Peggy Dodd-

The first time I saw The Master, I was totally awed by P.T. Anderson's characteristically virtuosic storytelling. I didn't have much to write about the film, let alone much to say. But then I re-watched it at the Ziegfeld with a particular line, or more accurately a specific motif, in mind. Something about Lancaster Dodd's (Philip Seymour Hoffman) emphasis on laughter got to me. "Laughter is good," he tells a drawing room full of curious listeners. He even says, "The secret is laughter," just before Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) irrevocably loses his faith in The Cause at its 1st Congress. The color drains from his face when he realizes that Dodd, as his son asserts, is "just making this shit up as he goes along." 

I fixated on laughter in The Master for a couple of reasons. Firstly, while watching the film first time around, I heard best bud Steve Carlson helplessly laughing in fits and spurts, like when Quell drinks rocket fuel or paint thinner. Secondly, laughter has come to mean something entirely different for me personally in the last couple of months as I've dealt with bouts of lingering depression. Laughter isn't in other words just a symptom of happiness.When depressed, I sometimes find myself thinking of something shameful I've done or something absurd that happened to/because of me, and I'll let out a mirthless little guffaw. And I won't be able to control my laughter, but it just sort of wells up in spite of me. In fact, the mute, self-mocking braying of Jerry Lewis came to mind as I watched Phoenix's Quell the first time around, though I'd hardly go as far as to say that Quell is a Lewis-like character. Still, both Quell and a typical Lewis character have one thing in common: they both often laugh out loud as a means of simultaneously laughing at themselves and others. And that's because I think there are two kinds of laughter: laughter that connotes recognition and laughter that signifies disbelief. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Two Parts of a Sublime, Lonely Triple Feature

266) Samsara (2011) Dir: Ron Fricke Date Released: August 24, 2012 Date Released: August 24, 2012 Date Seen: August 25, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

268) Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) Dir: Joe Dante Date Released: June 15, 1990 Date Seen: August 25, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Imagine my disappointment when I watched Compliance between the two aforementioned films, eesh. 

Anyway, I spent the evening at the Landmark Sunshine recently. I was mostly alone, though I did see some friends a few rows ahead of me at Samsara, and was lucky enough to meet up with some others for Gremlins 2. But it was a lonely night at the movies, sitting in crowded auditoriums for two films and then a fairly empty one for a final third. It was also great fun, if that makes any sense. 

It probably doesn't, so let's go with that assumption, and explicate from there, or whatever.

Samsara is fairly similar to Baraka except that Fricke's sophomore feature is much more about the slow, encroaching effects of time on man-made stuffs. Sky-scrapers, sculptures, subways, all of the monuments we make to artificially pay homage to nature: all of these things age. The subtle cracks in the eyes of humanoid statues, the slow trickle of rainwater down a leaf, the fault lines in a rock-wall, the intricate works of spiritual art we ritualistically make and then undo--it's the cycle of life, according to Fricke. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Simon's Introduction: American Horror Story 1.5: "Halloween, Part 2," Part 1

Dennis Cozzalio and I are going to recap American Horror Story's first season at our respective blogs. Each Monday, one of us will will start the discussion and we'll go back-and-forth on our respective blogs. I am posting my first post on "Halloween, Part 2" here, but you can also follow along with our conversation at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Read on for some more of my thoughts on the fifth episode of season one.

Oh, hullo, Dennis.

So, as promised, I've finally started to come around on American Horror Story. I've kept with the show because I've hoped it would get as good as and then better than the standard set by "Pilot." Now, I think "Halloween, Part 2" is probably the best episode of the series thus far. Granted, we're only five episodes in, but shut up, that's why. 

Anyway, I rewatched "Halloween, Part 2" so that this introductory post would be a little more detailed than my previous plot synopses have been. And as I rewatched it, I got a better handle on what I liked about this episode and why it mattered more to me than what I disliked. A good part of what I liked can be credited to episode director David Semel, who not only paces "Part 2" with great care, but also shoots it with an eye for negative space, and an artful use of natural lighting and extreme close-ups. 

Generally speaking, I also found the way that various characters' arcs were immediately resolved in this episode to be satisfying. Addy's dead, so now Constance can, to paraphrase Manohla Dargis's review of Premium Rush, let a little light into her storyline (ie: be more than an ostensibly complex but mostly just lovably catty old crone). Thanks to Hayden, Ben is forced to accept that he can't superhumanly hold his family together. And thanks to Violet's increased interest in him, Tate's past is revealed just a little more. All of these revelations would not be as satisfying as they are without Semel's direction, I think. He's got my vote for MVP of "Halloween, Part 2," easy.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Relative Truths

267) Compliance (2012) Dir: Craig Zobel Date Released: August 17, 2012 Date Seen: August 25, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

274) The Tall Man (2012) Dir: Pascal Laugier Date Released: August 31, 2012 Date Seen: August 31, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

I joked on Facebook that some intrepid film programmer (cough, I say cough) should pair Compliance and The Tall Man together in a double feature that's guaranteed to please nobody. I feel like if you like one of these two films, you're bound to hate the other. Just a hunch I have. Anyway, I myself hate Compliance, but am intrigued by The Tall Man. Look, I'm not that stupid: I know that they're two essentially different film, but they do both provoke their audiences with loaded questions about the relative morality of human behavior. 

Also, both Compliance and The Tall Man begin with Kubrick-ian intertitles that state unequivocally: these events are true. They are true in Compliance in the most tediously literal sense: what viewers see is a dramatization of events as they transpired. Between hatefully stupid scenes where shots of a deep fat frier are used to relate just how tense events are, we see an incredibly cruel (but true!) prank play out at great length and are left to judge whether or not we, as one character suggests in the film's last scene, would in fact behave similarly under the same circumstances. The Tall Man also nakedly asks viewers in its concluding scene to weigh in on its central provocation. Does kidnapping a child and whisking them away from their abusive biological family a good thing when you consider that the child's surrogate family is loving, well-to-do and can provide for them in ways that their biolgoical family cannot? 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bad Idea Podcast #15: I Scream, You Scream

264) Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972) Dir: R. Winer Date Released: WHO KNOWS Date Seen: August 24, 2012 Rating: 0.25/5

265) Ice Cream Man (1995) Dir: Paul Norman Date Released (DTV): May 9, 1995 Date Seen: August 24, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

269) The Moderns (1988) Dir: Alan Rudolph Date Released: May XX, 1988 Date Seen: August 26, 2012 Rating: 2/5

270) The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1998) Dir: Stuart Gordon Date Released: SERIOUSLY, WHO Date Seen: August 26, 2012 Rating: 3/5

The proverbial mixed bag. See the next Bad Idea Podcast for some seasonal, ice-cream-related fun.

Editor's Note: found it!


263) How to Survive a Plague (2012) Dir: David France Date Released: September 21, 2012 Date Seen: August 23, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

I got a lot out of watching France's doc, especially since I'd read a number of his articles before watching it. This was in preparation for my interview with Mr. France, an investigative journalist that I'm profiling in an upcoming issue of the Village Voice. More to come...

Editor's Note: I got the hook-up.

Simon Insists: American Horror Story 1.4: "Halloween, Part 1," Part 4

Dennis Cozzalio and I are going to recap American Horror Story's first season at our respective blogs. Each Monday, one of us will will start the discussion and we'll go back-and-forth on our respective blogs. I am posting my second post on "Halloween, Part 1" here, but you can also follow along with our conversation at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Read on for some more of my thoughts on the fourth episode of season one.

Hey, grrl, hey.

Again, I agree that in theory, Constance's actions make sense given how she has so far been defined on the show. It's in her character to show her love in that way. But that doesn't mean I need to appreciate it on said level. Constance's identity is so loaded with portentous bathos, the kind typified by the tacked-on Southern Gothic atmosphere provided by the "Stay away from my boy toy!" sub-plot in "Halloween, Part 1," and earlier in the AHS's second episode. The crude way that Constance is established as a monstrous parent are just cheap enough to be in a Charlaine Harris novel. 

I admit I'm making the Harris connection so I can go back to the Alan Ball-esque quality to American Horror Story that I find so risibly obnoxious. Falchuk and Murphy have this nasty habit of tonally front-loading their material so we know exactly how we're supposed to feel all the time (hence the declamatory speechifying). If we're meant to jeer at certain characters, they pour it on thick, and if we're meant to like a character, they pout it on equally thick. And in the case of Constance, that thick-ness is a prime example of why more is not more. More specifically: I disagree that there is as much of an interior life to Constance as you imply. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dennis Fights Back: American Horror Story 1.4: "Halloween, Part 1," Part 3

Dennis Cozzalio and I are going to recap American Horror Story's first season at our respective blogs. Each Monday, one of us will will start the discussion and we'll go back-and-forth on our respective blogs. I am posting Dennis's second post on "Halloween, Part 1" here, but you can also follow along with our conversation at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Read on for some more of Dennis's thoughts on the fourth episode of season one.

Whew. When they called it Labor Day they weren’t kidding. Oh, wait. The holiday is intended to be a break from work, a tribute to those who work their asses off all year. Yet unless I actively contrive to take some time off, it inevitably turns out to be a ludicrously busy weekend for me, work-wise and otherwise. On top of that, a family wedding-- a far happier priority, by the way—is taking precedence over everything else. So there’s not going to be a huge window of time to respond to your thoughts on “Halloween, Part 1,” but I’ll do my best.

Of course I’m disappointed that you didn’t care much for the episode. But in reading your post, and seeing the episode again for what now must be the fourth or fifth time, I was struck by how much of your reaction—specifically in regard to the general tone of (some of) the dialogue and how overwritten it tends to be at times, in this episode and in the series in general—I agreed with. I’d have to go back and look to be sure, but if I didn’t explicitly complain about it to you in one of the “Pilot” posts, this has been a sticking point for me from the beginning and at the risk of being slightly off-topic (or at least off-episode) I’ll bitch about it now in the hope of illuminating the current episode as well.
In interviews Ryan Murphy is understandably proud of his cast and likes to promote their talent and agility with the material, and I’ve heard him crow about how the vicious argument scene between Ben and Vivien that immediately precedes their passionate screw (the one we don’t see, which itself precedes the deeply disturbing screw Vivien has with the Rubber Man, which we do see) has been used in acting classes and how it wouldn’t be as effective without the element of emotional vitality that Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton bring to it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Strange Apparition

262) The Apparition (2012) Dir: Todd Lincoln Date Released: August 24, 2012 Date Seen: August 23, 2012 Rating: 0.5/5

At first, the utter incompetence of this sub-Paranormal Activity knockoff* seems like it might be just intentional quirkiness. The film begins with a seance and then rapidly fast-forwards to a seemingly unrelated suburban scene. Then events keep unfolding at a hurried, though not necessarily urgent, pace. This is mostly because The Apparition was apparently edited with a hacksaw and Todd Lincoln has never spent talked to a living person. His tin ear for human speech, his cast's oddly unmotivated performances, and the slapdash chain of events that lead to an unearned pitch-black finale all make Lincoln's flick a  giant digital dooky of a film. In that sense, it reminded of The Devil Inside, another PA ripoff that is just as nakedly opportunistic and free of the generic ambition that made Oren Peli's film at least immediately compelling. Also, like The Devil Inside, the film is a shot-on-digital flick that tries and tries and FUCKING TRIES AGAIN to replicate the AV violence inherent in VHS home movies. And it especially fails on that level. What a piece of poop. #2 worst film of the year, for my money (Devil is worse).

*Note: Yes, I know that horror movies exist prior to PA. But this film is explicitly a rip-off of the trend revitalized by said film.

'Eep Arp Urp Ahh Ahh' (That Means: 'I Love You.')

RV!: Lawless (2012) Dir: John Hillcoat Date Released: August 31, 2012 Date Seen: August 22, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

Still mostly engaging, maybe even a squinch more than last time. But yeah, the women, oh, the women. See my review for the Nashville Scene for more.

Editor's Note: it's up, it's up, it's up, it's in my heaaaad.

Get Behind Me, Jean Seberg

260) Bonjour Tristesse (1958) Dir: Otto Preminger Date Released: April XX, 1958 Date Seen: August 18, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

261) Breathless (1960) Dir: Jean-Luc Godard Date Released: February 7, 1961 Date Seen: August 18, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

This was a great double feature, one of the handful of reasons I'm very glad I got to go to DC two weekends past. I'm not nuts about Bonjour Tristesse, mostly because of Jean Seberg's voiceover (ARGH, NO, SHUT UP). But I do love the sea-side resort atmosphere of that film (reminds me of Xios, the Greek island where my mother is from), and I also rather enjoy, as Victor Morton put it during our brief post-screening discussion, the film's Sirk-ian melodrama. But yeah, eesh, that voiceover! 

Seberg is much more impressive in Breathless, a film that I'm very glad I got to see sans the academic expectations that cinema studies classes would require. Now I can quietly groove on the superficial but expansive pleasures of, say, the interview junket scene where Seberg musters up the courage to talk to Jean-Pierre Melville's sagacious authorial wind-bag.

Then again, my lack of knowledge is clearly a double-edged sword. I don't have as much of the historical context I'd like to fully process either film, y'know? So while I luxuriated in both of their anything-goes narratives, I was only totally immersed in the latter film during its final half hour, when the dragnet really starts to tighten around poor Jean-Paul Belmondo. That (probably) famous shot of Seberg explaining why she chose to rat on her lover is especially incredible, as is Belmondo's long scramble down the rue as he dies. I got similar feelings of visceral joy watching Seberg chase after her stepmother in Tristesse, trying in vain to prevent her from discovering the infidelity she helped to facilitate.

What I'm trying to say is: that was nice. Really hit the spot.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Simon's Cri di Coeur: American Horror Story 1.4: "Halloween, Part 1," Part 2

Dennis Cozzalio and I are going to recap American Horror Story's first season at our respective blogs. Each Monday, one of us will will start the discussion and we'll go back-and-forth on our respective blogs. I am posting my first post on "Halloween, Part 1" here, but you can also follow along with our conversation at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Read on for some of my thoughts on the fourth episode of season one.

Hiya, Dennis:

To begin, a confession: I skipped ahead and watched both "Halloween, Part 1" and "Halloween, Part 2." This is partly because I wanted to see how the two-parter ended and partly because I realized, with the Toronto Film Festival coming up next week, I'm probably going to have to skip ahead at some point to get all my required viewing in (I still need to get my computer issues resolved, alas. Word of advice: don't use Tekserve for your repair needs). That having been said, I did not find "Part 1" to be as compelling as you did. I know, I know, I'm no fun but I at least agree that the show starts to pick up soon. I just think it only returns to the standard of quality established by "Pilot" in "Halloween, Part 2."

There were a number of little things that bugged me about "Halloween, Part 1," and generally contributed to my dislike of the episode. For starters, again, the tone of the show is still too kitschy, for my money. I think this is even true of the declamatory way that Constance addresses Addy in the speech you highlighted where she mentions sharing men with Addy. If this were a habit of Addy's that I felt were more than just a tacked-on means for Constance to fight with Addy before her big accident, I'd be fine with this scene. But apart from a winningly vitriolic tirade from Jessica Lange, I just don't buy this scene. 

Dennis's Kickoff: American Horror Story 1.4: "Halloween, Part 1," Part 1

Dennis Cozzalio and I are going to recap American Horror Story's first season at our respective blogs. Each Monday, one of us will will start the discussion and we'll go back-and-forth on our respective blogs. I am posting Dennis's first post on "Halloween, Part 1" here, but you can also follow along with our conversation at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Read on for some of Dennis's thoughts on the fourth episode of season one.

2010. Images of earthy domestic bliss as Chad (Zachary Quinto) bakes pies and meticulously carves pumpkins in anticipation of Halloween. But those images are tarnished quickly as Chad’s partner, Patrick (Teddy Sears) comes into the kitchen and the tensions between the two, based on Chad’s suspicions of Patrick’s promiscuous infidelities and their dire economic straits, explode. They are the previous owners of the Murder House now owned by the Harmons, and after Patrick stomps out in anger we see the event that Marcy was obligated to disclose when selling the house a year later. Someone appears to Chad in the kitchen dressed in the rubber suit that Vivien and Ben discovered in Episode 1. Chad of course assumes it’s Patrick, but we’re not sure— Patrick was none too happy when he left to get ready to go to the gym, but was he angry enough to jam Chad’s head in a bucket meant for bobbing apples and then snap his neck? Unlikely, as Patrick walks in on the assailant seconds later. Marcy, remember, mentioned in her description of the “murder/suicide” something about one of the victims having a poker shoved up his— But we don’t see any of this (yet), as the scene cuts away to the main titles.

(Is Marcy just passing along the conventional wisdom about these deaths being a murder/suicide, or does she know something and is just covering up? Because no coroner would conclude from a snapped neck and a death-by-fireplace-poker that one of the assaults was self-inflicted.)

Here Be Dragons

259) Dragon Inn (1967) Dir: King Hu Date Released: ??? Date Seen: August 15, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

271) Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011) Dir: Tsui Hark Date Seen: August 27, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Great! And then good! See my piece on the latter film, in which I allude to the former film, in the Village Voice.

Editor's Note: eeeyeeeeeah.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Revisiting the Ludovico Technique

RV!: A Clockwork Orange (1971) Dir: Stanley Kubrick Date Released: February 2, 1972 Date Seen: August 17, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

I hadn't rewatched Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange since reading Burgess's book in high school. I fell in love with the novel but I also seem to recall thinking that Kubrick's film was fine but unfulfilling. I, admittedly, had a relatively unrefined sense of taste when I saw Kubrick's adaptation (there's a reason I jokingly call my adolescence, "My Pre-Taste Period."). So greatly preferred Burgess's novel to the film that Kubrick made by the same name. This is partly because because I had seen the film first and then devoured the book. Last week, I rewatched Kubrick's film projected at the AFI Silver's biggest screen with my friend Victor Morton. Victor is a big fan of Kubrick's film; it's his #1 film of all time. Now, I can certainly understand why.

Kubrick's film has the kind of flinty cynicism I originally admired in Burgess's story, but it also has the subtle grace to deflate its character's sociopathic perspective. As Victor and I discussed after the film, A Clockwork Orange's narrative appears to be predominantly told from the perspective of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), right down to the voiceover narration that drove me up a wall in the first few scenes (mainly due to McDowell's performance). Where Victor and I disagree, I think, is just how deeply embedded we, as viewers, are in Alex's POV. I maintain that the film's world cannot just be read as Alex's subjective view of events.