Saturday, March 31, 2012

112) The Breaks (1999)

112) The Breaks (1999) Dir: Eric Meza Date Released: February 26, 199 Date Seen: March 30, 2012 Rating: 

I want to be clear about why I watched this film: it's for the White Elephant Blogathon. Ok? Makes a lot more sense now, right? Well, maybe not a lot more. But still. More sense.

And right about now I am not happy with my White Elephant gifter. Nuh uh, no way. This is my third year participating in  the blogathon and I have yet to have my mind suitably nuked by a really bad movie. First year, I was assigned The Pest, which is just irritating. Last year, I got Surviving the Game, which was...yeah, same shit, different year. This year, I get The Breaks. Which is again, just aggressively bad and unfunny. Look, guys and girls, I grew up in Queens so yes, I dare say that I am familiar with ethnic humor. I even remember avidly watching the Wayans Brothers' sitcom, the show where The Breaks' "star" Mitch Mullany and co-writer got his first really big break. I went to two different branches of the United Nations International School, one in Manhattan and one in Jamaica, Queens, and then public school in Little Neck, Queens, until seventh grade. I get it and have experienced it many a time: racial tension! And gol-ly, an itty-bitty difference in skin color can be the meat for a lot of really bad comedians' routines, too.

This year, I've once again been stuck with a shitty comedy about race and this time it's a comedy about a wigger that thinks that black people need to respect his racial authoritah or something. Mullany's Derrick is a lazy, black-booty-chasing know-nothing. And that is basically the main conceit of his film. Are you ready? Here it is. Ahem: BLACK PEOPLE! ATTENTION, BLACK PEOPLE OFTHE GHETTO (YOU KNOW THE ONE....SOUTH CENTRAL)! MITCH MULLANY IS ONE OF YOU! ACCEPT IT ALREADY!

Mullany's vile and unfunny schtick is a tirelessly lame variation on that central theme. Oh, sure, Derrick makes fun of the fact that he's whiter than most white people by making stupid jokes about Riverdance and the IRA. And lookit, he's got a funny car with out-of-control hydraulics, too. But when he crashes a poetry slam and sees a black man performing a cheesy but heart-felt poem about what it means to be a black man in modern society, Mullany reveals that he's not joking after a certain point. Mullany's tired of being a black man amongst black men. So he makes a lame, off-the-cuff inversion of the black guy's poem about what it's like to be black (a friend of his periodically interrupts him to facetiously intone, "And darkness fell upon the white boy."). 

Really, guys? This is what you think is funny, to submit something this soul-drainingly stupid? Look, when it comes to race, my theory is simple: everyone sees difference, no matter what. What people do with that difference is what distinguishes a racist from anyone else. So the way Mullany insists that stereotypes, the ugliest and most salient signs of racial difference, don't matter and that we're all one big melting pot of a racial family that happen to enjoy behaving like stereotypes? It's a load of crap. It's as if Mullany watched some Spike Lee movies (Derrick is constantly talk about wanting to "do the right thing") and totally misunderstood them.

And bonus fingers-on-chalkboard points for the egregiously stupid homophobic jokes that are peppered throughout The Breaks. This culminates in a weird Pulp Fiction-style sex dungeon torture scene where two fearfully straight black men (and Derrick, too) whimper and moan in anticipation of being raped by an excessively flamboyant gay man that hisses his "s"es like a snake and hops around in Daisy Dukes. 

In conclusion: this is a bad movie. And not bad in a, "Oh, I'm having fun because it is so bad" kind of way. More like a "I Want to Meet the ##@$ that Submitted This Film to the White Elephant Blogathon and Give Them a Withering Look" kind of way. Some day, I will get a good White Elephant movie. Some day....

Friday, March 30, 2012

111) Paradise Alley (1978)

111) Paradise Alley (1978) Dir: Sylvester Stallone Date Released: September 22, 1978 Date Seen: March 29, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

Amiably cheesy. See my forthcoming piece for Capital New York.

Editor's Note: Buuuuur.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

110) The Broken Tower (2011)

110) The Broken Tower (2011) Dir: James Franco Date Released (DVD): March 27, 2012 Date Seen: March 29, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Wow, My Own Private River /wasn't/ a fluke after all. This kid's got talent! As they say. See my forthcoming Inessential Essentials piece for info (it was just filed, calm down!).

Editor's Newt: I haf dis re-view for y'all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

108) Mirror Mirror (2012)

108) Mirror Mirror (2012) Dir: Tarsem Singh Date Released: March 30, 2012 Date Seen: March 28, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Better than it would have been without Tarsem by a long shot. See my forthcoming review for Capital New York.

Editor's Note: Suck it, here's my review, fools!

107) Bully (2011)

107) Bully (2011) Dir: Alicia Dwyer and Lee Hirsch Date Released: September 30, 2012 Date Seen: September 27, 2012 Rating: 1.25/5

Pretty, pretty bad. See my generally well-liked Bully review for The Playlist.

Monday, March 26, 2012

106) Love in a Puff (2010)

106) Love in a Puff (2010) Dir: Pang Ho-Cheung Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 24, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Editor's Note: 109) Love in the Buff (2012) Dir: Pang Ho-Cheung Date Released: March 30, 2012 Date Seen: March 28, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Pang does it again. Still waiting on my screener of Love in the Buff to arrive. But I'm looking forward to it based on how good Love in a Puff is. Look forward to writing about his style of comedy for Press Play. Watch this space.

Editor's Note: voila.

105) The Raid (2011)

105) The Raid (2011) Dir: Gareth Evans Date Released: March 23, 2012 Date Seen: March 25, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Gareth Evans is the kind of genre filmmaker we need more of. He's the kind of director that isn't afraid of being flagrantly illogical for the sake of making a better spectacle. Take the scene in The Raid where character is mercilessly beaten while trussed-up by the hands. Moments later, he joins a tag team fight with an ally to fight a dude nicknamed "Mad Dog." Flies in the face of logic almost as forcefully as that one evil henchman that gets thrown through a window as soon as he pops his head up like a Whack-a-Mole Mole. Or that other bad guy that gets used as a human shield when the film's lead good guy charges into a drug lab. 

Still, Evans's decision is based on some very simple but trusty logic: two guys versus one is a fun fight to watch. Heck, I want to see that fight, and I got to see that fight. And it was really well-choreographed and it ended with a really sickening and exciting throat-cutting. 

All of this is just to say: Evans is the kind of genre filmmaker that doesn't question the potential affect of his brusque but refreshingly straight-forward martial arts flick. He didn't do it before in Merantau and he doesn't do it here with The Raid. I had a feeling he was a guy to watch. 

104) Paganini (1989)

104) Paganini (1989) Dir: Klaus Kinski Date Released (VHS): ???? Date Seen: March 24, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

In part, this Kinski-helmed, scripted and edited starring vehicle/biopic is simultaneously more earnest and more manic than a Ken Russell biopic. But this movie couldn't exist without Russell. Granted, Kinski is an even bigger scene-stealing ham than Oliver Reed ever was. But how can one watch such a pleasingly demented one-note film as Paganini and not think it comes up short in comparison to Russell's period pieces? 

In particular, I'm thinking of the painfully protracted scenes that start the film off. Initially, Kinski inundates us with images that prove Paganini's erotic Svengali-like powers as a violin player. The ferocity of the scene where a girl tops herself all alone in a carriage is only matched by the absurdity of the intercut footage Kinski shoves down our throats of a black stallion mounting a white mare. This is set-up at its most puissantly lurid. Compare that with the way that Franz Liszt is shown in Russell's Lisztomania to be changing from one scene to the next. He's constantly evolving and bouncing off the walls while doing it. By contrast, Kinski's Paganini is a more slowly unraveling yo-yo. 

I can't think of a good yo-yo pun so I'll just end by saying: my, that horse has impressive equipment.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

RV!: Battle Royale (2000)

RV!: Battle Royale (2000) Dir: Kinji Fukasaku Date Released: December 24, 2011 Date Seen: March 22, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Some people think this movie, which was a big thing during my not-so-long-ago adolescence, is mature. PFFFFFT. See my review for Capital NY

Thursday, March 22, 2012

103) Keyhole (2011)

103) Keyhole (2011) Dir: Guy Maddin Date Released: April 6, 2012 Date Seen: March 21, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

I think I'm not being fair to this movie, which I also think will improve upon re-view. Still, I saw it for my interview with Guy Maddin at Vulture.

Editor's Note: the interview got killed. But I still want to run the piece as I filed it as I think it's good, damn it. So here, enjoy.

It’s rare that someone that can describe himself as a contemporary avant garde filmmaker can also be described as something of a celebrity, but Canadian multi-hyphenate Guy Maddin is that. Maddin (Brand Upon the Brain, My Winnipeg) is renowned amongst the international film community for his funny expressive and self-parodic silent melodramas, may of which contain supernatural, semi-autobiographical and hyper-sexual story elements. His new movie, Keyhole, follows a gangster (Jason Patric) named Ulysses as he navigates his childhood home, which turns out to be haunted by ghosts. I talked to Maddin about ghosts, sexual tuning forks, the devil in Udo Kier and the recent death of seminal avant garde filmmaker George Kuchar.

More after the jump.

102) The Hunger Games (2012)

102) The Hunger Games (2012) Dir: Gary Ross Date Released: March 23, 2012 Date Seen: March 19, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

Yessir, definitely a Gary Ross adaptation. See my forthcoming conversation with Ian Grey about this movie's failings (that's certainly what I'll be talking about) for Press Play. We both like Collins's book. So we'll see.

Editor's Note: Bif Bam Pow, I got this for you.

Monday, March 19, 2012

RV!: The Sitter (2011)

RV!: The Sitter (2011) Dir: David Gordon Green Date Released: December 9, 2011 Date Seen: March 18, 2012 Rating: 3/5

Yeah, I still have a soft spot for this one. See my forthcoming piece on it for my nascent Movieline column, "Inessential Essentials."

Editor's Note: I got dis for you.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

101) Attenberg (2010)

101) Attenberg (2010) Dir: Athina Rachel Tsangari Date Released: March 9, 2012 Date Seen: March 18, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

At the start of Attenberg, I thought to myself: I know this place. I'm a Greek-American, born in Manhasset, Long Island and raised in Little Neck, Queens by my Greek-American mother (Xios, Greece), and my American father (Some part of Long Island...Tarrytown? Later Roslyn...). And while my experience visiting Greece has been limited to my going to Greek school, St. Nicholas's Church, family gatherings and years of visits to Athens and Xios, I felt like I initially knew where Attenberg was set. 

I don't mean that literally. Rather, I felt like I knew from the place where Marina (Ariane Labed) came from. Marina's father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis) is dying of cancer. So when Marina is with her best friend Bella (Evangelina Randou), she screws around, plays games, revels in her imperious boredom. Because she comes from a desolate and slowly devolving world. 

More after the jump.

100) 21 Jump Street (2012)

100) 21 Jump Street (2012) Dir: Phil Lord and Chris Miller Date Released: March 16, 2012 Date Seen: March 16, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

I laughed my ass off. But by the time Jonah Hill does back-flips to profess his platonic love for Channing Tatum, I was ready to scream. First two-thirds, which is just pure riffing, are terrific. Final third is mostly inert and sometimes toxically stupid. That's the point when the idea of swapping one set of stereotypes for another stops being funny and starts being taken semi-seriously. Which sucks, especially since I really did laugh my ass off. Anybody got a spare, a har har?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

99) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

99) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Dir: Martin Scorsese Date Released: August 12, 1988 Date Seen: March 15, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Very moving. See my first of what I hope to be many Inessential Essentials columns for Movieline.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hong-a-long-a Ding Dong

98) Oki's Movie (2010) Dir: Sang-soo Hong Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 14, 2012 Rating: 4/5

RV!: Like You Know It All (2009) Dir: Sang-soo Hong Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 15, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Was grooving on the surfaces of Oki's Movie right up until its concluding two segments, which may or may not elevate it to must-see status. Then again, Hong's been working on a consistently higher level lately, I think. Hence I watched this and rewatched Like You Know It All to test that theory. More soon in my upcoming piece on Hong's films for Capital New York. Watch this space for a link.

Editor's Note: Yarrrr, here it be. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

97) Seeking Justice (2011)

97) Seeking Justice (2011) Dir: Roger Donaldson Date Released: March 16, 2012 Date Seen: March 13, 2012 Rating: 1/5

Real bad. Just filed my review though and that's not bad, at least. Watch this space for a link to my soon-to-be-posted piece for Capital New York.

Editor's Note: Here it be. 

Sis Boom Ferrara!

96) 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011) Dir: Abel Ferrara Date Released: March 23, 2012 Date Seen: March 13, 2012 Rating: 4/5

RV!: Bad Lieutenant (1992) Dir: Abel Ferrara Date Released: November 20, 1992 Date Seen: March 18, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Can't decide whether I'm being over-cautious with my grade for 4:44 or not.

And the censored cut of Bad Lieutenant isn't terrible, though it does cut out a lot of the more productively prickly material from Ferrara's milestone film.

I feel compelled to say that I wouldn't know what to look for or how to more fully appreciate Ferrara's latest film had I not read Brad Stevens's frequently revelatory book Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision. It's been a book on my "To Read" list for a while now and, since I'm preparing for an interview with Ferrara (which I hope still happens...), I decided to check it out. And it's so, so worth it. In any case, 4:44 is rather good and so is The Moral Vision. More soon in my interview, hopefully.

Editor's Note, the first: in the meantime, peep my review of 4:44 Last Day on Earth for Capital New York...yo.

Editor's Note, the second: here's my profile of Abel for Movieline.

Monday, March 12, 2012

95) Pornography: A Thriller (2009)

95) Pornography: A Thriller (2009) Dir: David Kittredge Date Released: April 16, 2010 Date Seen: March 10, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Normally, the idea of watching movies that were made by friends scares me. It's an irrational fear, really, since I'm normally afraid that I won't like what I see and that I'll consequently offend my friends by being, well, less than enthused. Thankfully, my real friends, the ones that actually value my opinion, all make good movies. Messy, yes, but they're definitely not, to use an image from Pornography: A Thriller, crossword puzzle pictures. They're often full of radical ideas that are sometimes intentionally alienating. Being intentionally alienating is not a merit unto itself, mind you. But the movies I'm thinking of are also not facile or empty-headed, either.

So as a word of introduction rather than disclaimer, let me start by saying that I'm proud to know David Kittredge. He wrote and directed Pornography: A Thriller and I feel it's a very strong film, warts and all. I disagree with the L Magazine's Henry Stewart, who was generally positive about the film in his review but also wrote that Kittredge's dialogue is "pretentious." Pornography's dialogue is blunt and it is sometimes groan-worthy. But that's part of its creaky charm. Kittredge doesn't want the viewer to feel totally comfortable, even though his film does evoke several older horror films, which may put viewers somewhat at ease. When I watched Pornography, I saw: VideodromeLost HighwayMulholland Drive, Kaufman's Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, too. I think viewers' ability to make such free-associative connections is, furthermore, the film's point: movies and photographs are not, as one character points out during the first of Pornography's three inter-connected vignettes, strictly the past nor are they just imaginary. They "exist," as this naif innocently denies.

This opening segment of Pornography will later be repositioned as the most naive portion of the film. The beginning of any character's story is, after all, the part of their stories where they lay out their incorrect assumptions, the ones that will be challenged as their stories progress. This didactic conceit becomes abundantly clear during the film's third segment, when Matt Stevens (Pete Scherer), a semi-established gay porn star, tries his hand at screen-writing and winds up accidentally channeling the life story of Mark Anton (Jared Grey), a porn star from back in the early '90s (How weird it is to think of the '90s as the past!). Anton's the lead character of Pornography's introductory segment. Stevens, when telling a colleague about his script about Anton's life, explicitly says that Anton is introduced to us as having a naive perspective. Or, to put it another way, Anton is still in denial since he spends most of the film's first vignette trying to impress his ex-agent that he's now too cynical to be wrangled back into show business again.

But Anton is fundamentally naive. After all, he still believes in the organizing power of crossword puzzles. At a coffee bar, Anton bumps into a boy that he takes a college-level photography course with. The stranger, who gracelessly gives Anton the opportunity to declaim that he likes the neatness of crossword puzzles, additionally tells us what he likes about photography: it's imaginary because it's not the present and hence is not existence as we now know it.

The underlying assumption behind this statement, which thankfully remains the subtext of Pornography, is that this boy is, just like Anton, wrong. The past is just as valid as the present. The tape/DVD/VOD/avi file/streaming video you watch is affecting you even when you're not watching it. So when Stevens later asks (no one in particular) when does something we watch become real to us, the answer should be: the simultaneous now that messily conflates the present act of watching, the past of what you're looking at and the future of reflecting on a film after you've watched it.

That's what's squirming underneath my friend David's movie. So in spite of some chintzy performances and blunt dialogue, I can't help but really admire Pornography. It's got a sense of humor that I really appreciate, like in one scene where three guys are having a gangbang on a couch. And it looks like it's just a video recording when in fact the three guys in question are actually fucking opposite the television monitor we first see them screwing on. I don't think you can, in good conscience, write such a movie off. Because for every scene where Pornography looks too square and self-serious, there's another scene or two that points to a slippery, De Palma-style sense of humor. And because I know David and his love of De Palma movies, I know that that's probably not unintentional. I can confidently say that many of the things I responded negatively to in Pornography are meant to be alienating and hard to swallow. But they're the building blocks for something really interesting, namely a thesis as heady as, 'Passive spectatorship is an elaborate form of denial.' That should be Pornography's tagline, actually.

For example, during the film's middle segment, where aspiring writer Michael Castigan (Matthew Montgomery) talks to his boyfriend about why he's writing a book about the history of pornography, you start from the notion that Michael is also naive and in denial. He refuses to acknowledge that his interest in pornography is founded in personal interest. It's not just a cultural history and he's not just a disinterested historian: he likes what he's looking at. Which is why one shadowy character, dressed up in a hokey domino mask, forces Castigan to admit that, yes, he does likes to watch (Where's Chance the gardner when you really need him?!). Even Stevens, who is presumably the most self-aware character of the film's three protagonists, is naive enough to not immediately realize that the screenplay that he's writing, the one that is actually literally writing itself, is coming from outside of him. Eventually, Castigan comes to terms with the idea that participating in a porn (ie: acting in it) is just as much an act of active exhibition as it is a kind of passive reception of projected assumptions and desires.

What I'm trying to say is: I'm very glad I gave Pornography a chance. I'll be experiencing it for some time to come, I think....

92) The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

92) The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) Dir: Werner Herzog Date Released: October XX, 1975 Date Seen: March 8, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Generally speaking, I'm still feeling my way around Herzog's early body of work (teeheehee). I mainly know his more recent movies, of which I'm most partial to Rescue Dawn and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I'm a neophyte when it comes to Herzog's filmography though. I have yet to find the picture that will really break open his filmography for me. I'm looking for his Irma Vep, basically. And granted, I haven't seen Aguirre, Fitzcaraldo, Nosferatu the Vampyre (which I own!) or others. But hey, I'm working on it. 

Case in point: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser was pretty impressive. I'd initially read about Hauser in Paul Auster's New York Stories. And I'd heard that Vincent Gallo is in a new Italian version of Hauser's story...starring as his own doppelganger...and that it's shot in black-and-white...and there's a UFO, too?!

Anyway, this teaser prompted me to watch Enigma, which has been stuck in the bowels of my Netflix queue for a while now. I quite liked it.

What, you want more than that succinct and totally accurate summary? Sure, ok, fine. 

While Herzog's clearly champing at the bit to make a terror-stricken Hauser /the/ emblematic individual that gets persecuted by a thuggish smaller society simply because he's different, that's probably not what impressed me about Enigma. What did it for me was A) Bruno Schleinstein's performance, which clearly came from a strange and tortured place* and B) some of the film's barely subdued dream-like elements. I especially think the latter impressed me. Because generally speaking, Enigma is a sleepy film. 

Ok, now I really got some 'splainin' to do, huh? Though I could be wrong and the prison scenes could in fact have a louder scene, I feel like the loudest confrontation in the film was Kaspar's conversation with a logician, a pedantic academic that comically elaborates a logic puzzle that he then incorrectly solves. The logician says that an inhabitant of a town of liars will reveal himself by speaking using a double negative...which don't make no sense, man.

 But when Kaspar poses a similar question that he thinks will delineate who represents a town of liars and who represents a town of truth-tellers, he follows the logician's lead and poses an equally inane question. It's exactly the same kind of question, too, but the logician gets mad and insists that Kaspar doesn't get the exercise. The scene's take-away is: if Kaspar were to have implicitly trusted this man, which he seems incapable of doing for most other members of the Nuremberg townsfolk, he would have repeated the mistake of this so-called expert.  

But basically: an uptight, over-educated guy yells at a severely autistic guy and it's a sign that society in general is intolerant. This works for me because, as is sort of my watchword, context is key. Herzog's Nuremberg is inhabited by quietly exploitative and meekly sadistic people. Enigma isn't really one of a number of films that woefully try to impress us with the banality of evil however. Instead, it's a story where people that are reactively afraid of change decide to imprison a stranger, sell him to a traveling circus to help pay off their communal debt and then try to re-integrate him back into society when they think that they can impress a dandy-ish aristocrat. The Nurembergers will sell Kaspar out between household chores and afternoon tea simply because they don't have the ethical skill set to reason: 'Hey, that's fucked up. Maybe we shouldn't be doing that.'

So yeah, that I like.

*Note: I just read that this guy was actually deaf? And a pain on the set because he would, like, scream a lot? Or something?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bad Idea Podcast #12: Happy Madison and a Year of Bad Ideas

90) Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) Dir: Steve Carr Date Released: January 16, 2009 Date Seen: March 8, 2012 Rating: 1/5

91) Grandma's Boy (2006) Dir: Allan Covert Date Released: January 6, 2006 Date Seen: March 8, 2012 Rating: 3/5

93) Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005) Dir: Mike Bigelow Date Released: August 12, 2005 Date Seen: March 9, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

94) Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star (2011) Dir: Tom Brady Date Released: September 9, 2011 Date Seen: March 9, 2012 Rating: 2/5

96) Blissfully Yours (2002) Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Date Released (DVD): May 8, 2007 Date Seen: March 11, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

97) Jack and Jill (2011) Dir: Dennis Durgan Date Released: November 11, 2011 Date Seen: March 11, 2012 Rating: 0.75/5

A good episode, I think, though hopefuly all three of our listeners will be the judge of that....check out the forthcoming 12th episode of the Bad Idea Podcast for more (recorded today, will be released a week from tomorrow, I think).

Editor's Note: I got the hook-up, holler if you hear me (Wut?!).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

89) Crulic: The Path to Beyond (2011)

89) Crulic: The Path to Beyond (2011) Dir: Anca Damian Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 8, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

I really liked it until it started to be ABOUT something. Feh. See my forthcoming L Magazine review, in which I sarcastically paraphrase The Real World's tagline.

Zulawski, Zulawski, Lema Sabachthani?

87) The Third Part of the Night (1971) Dir: Andrzej Zulawski Not Yet Released?! Date Seen: March 7, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

88) Devil (1972) Dir: Andrzej Zulawski Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 7, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

"Michal is the first of Zulawski's many male protagonists to contract a demented form of womb envy and willingly become a host for intense and all-consuming psychic maladies. But with illness comes clarity." -from my piece on some of Zulawski's predominant themes, for Capital New York.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


86) Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

86) Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) Dir: David Gelb Date Released: March 9, 2012 Date Seen: March 5, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

Mostly pretty interesting but damn, that score really is annoying. See my review for The Playlist.

85) A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (2009)

85) A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (2009) Dir: Yimou Zhang Date Released: September 3, 2010 Date Seen: March 4, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Why wasn't there more of a fuss about this one when it came out? There are obviously a number of things about this movie that are directly lifted from Blood Simple, though exactly to what extent I hope to see for myself when I rewatch the Coen brothers' stellar debut.* For instance, I can't help but be irked by the Noodle Shop screenwriters' direct lift of Blood Simple's unforgettable hand-through-the-wall bit.

But A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is also very much its own thing. It's a bit more uptight and also a bit more surreal than Blood Simple (though perhaps it's just surreal in its own way). The virtually dialogue-free scenes and the weird camera tricks, mostly using negative image filters, that Zhang had his DP use here are put to great use in the film's unique panoramic desert scenes. So yeah, the combination of flamboyant costume and surreal setting did a lot to offset the implicitly square and highly moral character of Zhang's update. It's a curious experiment, one comprised of weird disproportionate parts. But I liked it, mostly. Not really sure what to make of it though...One thing I can say for sure: I don't think I'll be able to soon forget that one shot of the back of the then stone-dead cuckold's head.

*Let's ignore Crimewave, please and thank you.

84) Fireworks Wednesday (2006)

84) Fireworks Wednesday (2006) Dir: Asghar Farhadi Date Released (DVD): April 22, 2008 Date Seen: March 3, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I see some parallels between this film and A Separation, specifically in terms of how the plots of both films revolve around on the extent of two couples influence on each others' lives as couples. But I found A Separation to be a much more fulfilling melodrama. Would it be too obnoxious to say that it's, uh, a more mature work? Oh, well, I just did. 

Still, for what it is, Fireworks Wednesday is jarring and moving when it counts most and is mostly pretty involving. I was especially shocked by the big slap. It felt genuinely violent. As in, when I watched that scene, I felt like the blow had an emotional impact to it. I instinctively recoiled, is what I'm trying to say.

RV!: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)

RV!: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001) Dir: Shinichirô Watanabe and Hiroyuki Okiura Date Released (dubbed): August 30, 2002 Date Seen: March 2, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

It's got its problems. But relaly, this is a pretty fun, albeit padded, addition to the Bebop canon. Speaking of which, you can read my review of the movie at the AV Club here and find a complete listing of my Cowboy Bebop reviews here. Thank you to everyone that read and commented CONSTRUCTIVELY. 

RV!: Harold and Maude (1971)

RV!: Harold and Maude (1971) Dir: Hal Ashby Date Released: December 20, 1971 Date Seen: February 29, 2012 Rating: 4.75/5

One of the best American comedies? Possibly. I kind of prefer Being There. But yeah, pretty great. See my review for Capital New York.

83) The Salt of Life (2011)

83) The Salt of Life (2011) Dir: Gianni Di Gregorio Date Released: March 2, 2012 Date Seen: February 28, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I heard some people didn't like this one. Sucks...for them! See my review for Capital New York.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Serial Killer Movie, Qu'est-ce Que C'est?

79) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Dir: John McNaughton Date Released: September 1990 Date Seen: February 25, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

81) Maniac (1980) Dir: William Lustig Date Released: December 26, 1980 Date Seen: February 27, 2012 Rating: 4/5

82) Frenzy (1972) Dir: Alfred Hitchcock Date Released: June 21, 1972 Date Seen: February 27, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Regarding Henry: Pretty disquieting and directed with a consummate eye for subdued squeamishness. And Michael Rooker's great in this, yes, indeed. So while I feel like there wasn't really much to this bleak serial killer pic, I respect that it's probably as good as the subgenre can get without becoming a totally different animal. 

But I want the subgenre to become a totally different animal. I want it to become From Hell, basically, and if you have to ask whether I mean the comic or the movie, you can just...just sit on it! 

Anyway, I could see the limitations of Henry but still appreciate it for what it is. Which is more than I can say about most serial killer pitchers. So hats off to John McNaughton for that. 

Which I guess is a nice segue to this piece I wrote about the serial killer on film for Press Play and the main stumbling block that kind of movie has, in my not-so-humble opinion. Enjoy; I think it's a good piece.

78) Howard the Duck (1986)

78) Howard the Duck (1986) Dir: Willard Huyck Date Released: August 1, 1986 Date Seen: February 25, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

See, based on the 1.5/5 I'm giving this film, you can probably tell that I wasn't either scandalized or particularly impressed by this supposedly epic failure of a film. It's pretty much exactly what I'd expect from a film made by people that clearly were trying hard to capture a sensibility that couldn't quite grasp. It's a totally honest mistake made on a very big budget! Pretty disappointing, yeah, but nothing I'd write home about. I love Steve Gerber's duck but this just didn't move me either way. It's pretty bad, sure, but so what? I can see the filmmakers' flop sweat as they try in vain to get Gerber's, ahuhuh, particular kind of absurd humor off the page and onto the screen. I can see it! In the fucking movie! Ok?! So I don't really think much of this other than: "Oh. Oh, that's not very good, is it? Yes, I'll do another shot with you and I hope you burn in hell!"

77) Shocking Asia (1976)

77) Shocking Asia (1976) Dir: Rolf Olsen Date Released: No Fucking Clue Date Seen: February 25, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

I normally give a movie a bargain basement low score of 1.5/5 when that film is basically at the threshold of suckiness that many terrible films peter out at. So, within the context of whatever it's trying to be, a film with a 1.5/5 score is a film that is a failure at whatever it's trying to be. It's totally inept but it's competent enough that it's not a fire-shooting-out-your-ears kind of failure. To wit: Shocking Asia is a mondo documentary about all the wild and weird things lily-white (and I do mean white) viewers can see and do while in...ASIA. Yeah, totally textbook mondo doc whose components were broken down so thoroughly by Eric Schaefer in his Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! A History of Exploitation Films from 1919-1959 that I feel kinda bad for initially taking such umbrage with the sometimes sweeping nature of Schaefer's narrative. These mondo docs really are all the same after a point! The introductory square-up spiel! The pretense of education! The numerous signs of canned drama! The surgical footage! I feel like I'm singing the sleaziest variation on the Green Acres theme that you'll ever read! Gah.

75) Demonlover (2002)

75) Demonlover (2002) Dir: Olivier Assayas Date Released: September 19, 2003 Date Seen: February 25, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

I fucking loved it, right down to the weird X-Men references, which are presumably Assayas's weird way of saying that the lead heroine's conception of herself as a superheroine are, as she eventually discovers, totally unfounded. She's an X-Man (she winds up dressed-up in a blue-and-yellow uniform in the end and is even described by that young Hellfire Club user as Storm). But she's also an attraction in the Hellfire Club. I love that! I love that the subtext of this movie is basically: heterogeneity is a giant fucking smoke screen! ARRRGH, love it.

73) Gone (2012)

73) Gone (2012) Dir: Heitor Dhalia Date Released: February 24, 2012 Date Seen: February 24, 2012 Rating: 1.25/5

Blecky. See my review for The Playlist.

72) Time Masters (1982)

72) Time Masters (1982) Dir: René Laloux Not Yet Released (??!) Date Seen: February 23, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Hyper-chouette, as the Gallic kids say. See my forthcoming L Magazine capsule appreciation. Watch this space. Again.

Editor's Note: I got dis for you.

RV!: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

RV!: Big Trouble in Little China (1986) Dir: John Carpenter Date Released: July 2, 1986 Date Seen: February 22, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Still not in love with this one, though I do really like it. At Capital New York, I explain why a little bit.

71) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

71) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) Dir: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor Date Released: February 17, 2012 Date Seen: February 21, 2012 Rating: 3/5

I wanted to rate this higher than I did. But generally speaking, it's not much more than a passably quirky film; low stakes will do that, I guess. Neveldine/Taylor bring a suitably wonky polish to an otherwise straightforward but unremarkable David Goyer-scripted pic. I mean, realistically, it had just enough skate-punk style and enough bratty charm to look like a flaming skull graffito on the side of a black pedo-van. 

But while Cage does get a lil Cagey, we don't get to seem him get too Cagey. And likewise, we don't get to see Neveldine/Taylor be themselves too much, either. I chuckled, didn't really get any belly laughs. But yeah, the giant flaming chainsaw and the fiery piss were both fun. 

69) John Carter (2012)

69) John Carter (2012) Dir: Andrew Stanton Date Released: March 9, 2012 Date Seen: February 20, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I just finished writing about this one for Capital New York. Watch this space.

Editor's Note: here you go.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Made-for-TV Marvel Comics Movies

66) Nick Fury: Agent of Shield (1998) Dir: Rod Hardy Date Released (TV): May 26, 1998 Date Seen: February 18, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

68) The Amazing Spider-Man (1977) Dir: E.W. Swackhamer Date Released (TV): September 14, 1977 Date Seen: February 20, 2012 Rating: 1/5

70) Dr. Strange (1978) Dir: Philip DeGuere Date Released (TV): Septembr 6, 1978 Date Seen: February 20, 2012 Rating: 2/5

Woof! See my piece for Press Play on the crappy Marvel movies of yester-year.

65) F for Fake (1973)

65) F for Fake (1973) Dir: Orson Welles Date Released: February 25, 1977 Date Seen: February 18, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

I love this film because it seems to have been exclusively been assembled by Welles's hulking ego. It's such an ego trip, such an absorbing long con. I can't help but admire its intricate and far-flung free associations. Werner Herzog and Banksy both wish they could make a speculative essay-doc that's this great.

61) This Means War (2012)

61) This Means War (2012) Dir: McG Date Released: February 17, 2012 Date Seen: February 14, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

Pretty, pretty bad. See my review for Capital New York.

Film Comment Selects 2012 Round-Up

58) Transfer (2010) Dir: Damir Lukacevic Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 13, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

59) Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972) Dir: Adrian Maben Date Released: August 21, 1974 Date Seen: February 13, 2012 Rating: 4/5

60) Headhunters (2011) Dir: Morten Tyldum Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 13, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

62) Seconds (1966) Dir: John Frankenheimer Date Released: October 5, 1966 Date Seen: February 15, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

63) Mortem (2010) Dir: Eric Atlan Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 16, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

64) My Own Private Idaho (1991) Dir: Gus Van Sant Date Released: September 29, 1991 Date Seen: February 18, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

67) My Own Private River (2011) Dir: James Franco and Gus Van Sant Probably Never to be Released Date Seen: February 19, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

74) Cargo 200 (2007) Dir: Aleksey Balabanov Date Released: January 2, 2009 Date Seen: February 24, 2012

76) The Stoker (2010) Dir: Aleksey Balabanov Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 25, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

80) Almayer's Folly (2011) Dir: Chantal Akerman Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 26, 2012 Rating: 4/5

I wrote about some films in the 2012 Film Comment Selects for Capital New York and I wrote about the production history of My Own Private River for The Playlist. But below are some thoughts on the films themselves....

Transfer: Geez, what's with these German filmmakers and liberal guilt, eh? This scifi drama is kind of a riff on Seconds but not really. Very empathetic for the most part but the filmmakers' never sufficiently develops any of their provocative ideers about class, age and least, not enough for my tastes.

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii: Considering when this film was made, I think I may have over-emphasized  the bits of this film that suggest that the film is grounded in the band's own morbid self-interest. But hey, it's there. Generally speaking, the musical performances have really stayed with me. Kinda wish I was able to see the band perform back when they were in their prime. Sigh. I was born at the wrong time, magn.

Headhunters: Ok, at this point in the night, I was sloshed. I was killing my fifth beer of the evening and while I could basically follow the plot by that point, my opinion of this film is...well, it's mostly worthless. But I liked what I understood. Shit pipe!

Seconds: The more I think about this film, the more I love the feeling of disorientation that it gave me. Can't get it out of my head. That feeling of bobbing along, of being totally drunk without having touched a single drop of booze. It felt like I was watching a live-action cartoon dredged up from the id of a seriously depressed animator. This is why people idolize the '60s all out of proportion: films like Seconds give us the impression that it was a period that can be neatly re-imagined as a renaissance of radical American film art. The amount of creative freedom that Frankenheimer was given to make Seconds now seems uncanny. Another time, another world...but maybe not so much.

Mortem: When I started watching this partly endearing and wholly ridiculous art film, I thought it was a variation on the kind of half-baked, pseudo-intellectual, Sapphic-centric mindfucks that Jean-Claude Brisseau has recently cornered the market on (see: Exterminating Angels and A l'aventure). Brisseau is, after all, a Film Comment Selects darling. So this could easily fill the spot that a new Brisseau film left open. But then Atlan really started to lose me. Eventually, he just repetitively drove home the same couple of points, proving that he wasn't as self-aware as I originally thought he was. This is the kind of bratty, arty-farty movie where the revelation that sex is just masturbation with another person is supposed to be provocative. But it looks great and the softcore lesbian sex is kinda nice...but hey. HEY. NO.

My Own Private Idaho: This definitely feels like several different films were crammed into one narrative. Because that's what happened (three scripts, to be exact). Don't care about the lumpy and uninspired Falstaff/Hal stuff. And really resent how over-protective Van Sant is of River Phoenix's character. It's like the way that Scorsese tried to shield us from seeing Travis Bickle at his lowest point by panning the camera away during that one phone conversation in Taxi Driver. Except in this case, that kind of defensive logic determines Idaho's pace. The whole narcolepsy thing is a cop-out and a lame way of trying to summarize a young gay hustler's way of life. But I'm especially bummed to see Van Sant enforce that kind of the-kids-are-all-right BS logic in the way he edited this ground-breaking pitcher. He pulls every punch he throws here. I get it, but no, thanks.

My Own Private River: Now this is more like it. Franco did a great job of getting into the film and creating an alternate narrative out of several unused but wholly singular, never-before-seen sequences. These expressive new scenes tell a much more moving story than Van Sant's original film did. Franco really did his homework and the shorter cut he made (there's a six-hour cut...just FYI) is pretty extraordinary.

Cargo 200 and The Stoker: There's something about Balabanov's semi-whimsical but mostly bleak sense of humor that I find really appealing. Fuh intance, his fascination with fairy tale-like narratives that revolve around symmetry and doubling is pretty interesting. In The Stoker, two fathers and their two daughters wind up at each others' throats without even realizing it. In Cargo 200, there are two criss-crossing stories, one that follows a rich industrialist and his equally affluent niece and one that follows a poor prole and his middle class nephew (wearing a t-shrit that says USSR, no less!). 

There's also a seething cruelty to Balabanov's sense of humor, too, as is abundantly clear from the way that Cargo 200 careens to a stop with a rotting corpse in bed with a screaming girl that's only wearing a garish pair of heels. Oh, and by the way, the girl in question is chained to a bed while the guy that abducted her reads love letters that were originally written to her by her dead fiance. Also, her fiance is the rotting corpse. Something tells me Balabanov is a student of the Tobe Hooper School of Sadistic Horror. And I'm totally ok with that. 

The Stoker is very similar to Cargo 200, though it's perhaps a bit more straight-forward in the way one event leads to the other. Both films are perversely charming dark comedies, though The Stoker is a bit troubling, after a point. There is a semi-seriousness to Balabanov's advocacy of the title character's need to get revenge. The historical climate that Balabanov is satirizing in Cargo 200 (just before the changes that marked the end of the USSR kicked in) seems to necessitate its victim-of-circumstances' demise. But, possibly as a sign of our amoral, post-Soviet modern times, the victim in The Stoker is allowed to get revenge. Balabanov doesn't let us totally enjoy the stoker's revenge. But his revenge is depicted with a kind of self-righteousness that isn't 100% parodic. Balabanov's cruel but he's not that cruel...which is kind of disheartening, actually.

Almayer's Folly: Baby's first Akerman. Uh...I liked it! Akerman's style of long takes didn't always work, as in some of the scenes of the moon reflected in the water or the very last scene. But in general, I was pretty charmed by this one. I think she found a way into the story that was mostly dynamic and I was pretty absorbed throughout...don't have much else to say about this one, unfortunately.