Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"And Images So Strange and Foreign Came Flooding In Like Raging Waters"

I didn't want to see my grandfather die. Watching the process, such as it was, happen slowly, and from a distance, was hard enough. This was May 2005. I had just returned from studying abroad, and the still undiagnosed illness that led to my paternal grandfather's death finally overwhelmed him. The great Robert Abrams, a WW2 vet and the founder of the Levvittown Tribune, died of complications from dementia-like symptoms. Bruce Abrams, my father, told me that the immediate cause of death was pneumonia. I still remember the impatient, distracted way he said, "pneumonia."

Prior to his death, Robert suffered from memory loss for months. It wasn't Alzheimer's, but it might as well have been. Eleanor Abrams, my grandmother and his wife, lived and took care of him. But Robert was also cared for by his two children, Bruce and Beth. They put up with his mood swings, helped Robert when his body failed him, and doted on him with all the love and attention he deserved.

I was not there. There were several times when I could have been, but I wasn't. When he was rushed to the hospital for the last time, my dad offered me the chance to go (he didn't really ask). But I didn't want to go, and said as much. It hurt too much to see my grandfather in pain, confused, angry, helpless.

A year after that, my maternal grandmother, Ellie Moschou, died. Again, I didn't want to be there. I had lived with that stubborn 95 year-old Greek woman for a couple of years, though some of those years were predominantly spent at college dormitories in Manhattan. Again, nobody expected  me to help in an extraordinary way. My mother, Catherine Abrams, constantly cared for Ellie, especially when the caretakers she hired couldn't do everything she needed them to. But again, while I did as much as I could bear to, I regret not having been more present, nor more patient.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Up Jumped the Devil: In Praise of Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives"

To begin: yes, I know this blog has become the lawn that I never mow. But I have been keeping track of everything I see. With a little luck, I'll soon get back to updating Extended Cut...but only after I finish the latest phase of an ongoing project. Thanks for your...well, I don't know what.

Also: there are lots of spoilers ahead. Lots.

Only God Forgives reminds me of a Nick Cave song. It's full of pompous swagger because it's an expression of the artist's fascination with preening machismo. Think of Cave's version of "Stagger Lee." That song ends with "the bad motherfucker called Stagger Lee" getting a blow job, and blowing a rival suitor's brains out. The song's excesses are pointed. It's a half-sneering, half-celebratory destruction of the chauvnism inherent in Cave's persona. It's about a badass that is so desperate, and so unhinged that he'll make good on all of his delirious threats (50 good pussies just to get to one fat boy's asshole? You don't say...). The main difference between a Cave song and a Nicolas Winding Refn film is that Cave performs as himself. He is Mistah Staggah Lee, his own best joke. The same cannot be said about Refn's recent films. He is their primary author, but he's not immediately dabbling with his own image. Still, both artists deal in excess, and love to explore the hetero male id at its most reptilian.

Refn's latest is, to some extent, of a piece with both Valhalla Rising and Drive. As in both of those films, Refn represents the world in Only God Forgives as a surreal mix of dream, and reality. You can see that when Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) sings karaoke. Chang's singing establishes two things. The first karaoke scene suggests that the film's Bangkok is a world that exists independently of Julian's (Ryan Gosling) story. But the second scene, when Chang sings a song called "You Are My Dream" on the film's soundtrack, complicates that notion. It's the film's concluding sequence, the kind of scene a dreamer sees just before waking up. In a moment of panic, Julian's imagines/sees life without himself. Julian's dream Bangkok, a city that Chang comfortably navigates, and disappears into as if he were its avatar, has rejected him. In this case, the nightmare outlives its creator/main subject.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"There's Nothing You Can Say, You Can't Wish Me Away:" Something About Like Clockwork

For a few weeks now, I've wanted to write something about Like Clockwork, the Queens of the Stone Age's long-awaited sixth album. Despite minor reservations, I can't stop listening to it. But when I tried to write something about Like Clockwork, it sucked. It was four or five grafs of throat-clearing, "Your shoes are untied," cack. It was heavily annotated, and full of quotes from other critics. I ultimately scrapped that piece simply because I am not a music critic. The closest I've come to writing a music review is this. Not a terrible piece, really, but I think it's terrible, if that makes sense.

Which leads me to this piece. It's not a review, because who wants a review for an album that came out weeks ago? And it's not supposed to be a deeply personal cri di coeur, though it will be that. Rather, I want to relate what it's like to listen to Like Clockwork's three-hit punch of "If I Had a Tail," "My God is the Sun," and "Kalopsia." So I'll circle around something I can't bring myself to directly write about. Like the persona that Queens frontman Josh Homme presents in his music, I'm an emotional exhibitionist. I also don't like being completely transparent. In his music, Homme presents himself as a sarcastic bully, a submissive pervert, and an egocentric depressive. I like his music a lot.

Like Clockwork doesn't begin with "If I Had a Tail," but it should. My biggest problem with the album is that Homme bleeds all over the tracks. This guy has made of a career of jamming tongue into cheek. He sings about suicidal thoughts, bad trips, and strip club daymares so well that he doesn't need to make his music more overtly "personal." But still, Homme knew what he was doing when he wrote the music for Like Clockwork. On Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque piano ballad "Vampyre of Time and Memory," Homme sings, "To be vulnerable is needed most of all, if you intend to truly fall apart." By contrast, "If I Had a Tail" is a chilly, synth-heavy track with an echo chamber disco beat. It, like many of Homme's best tracks, makes you think you're riding shotgun in Homme's car while he makes donuts all over his id. "See me dance," he moans like a ghost, confirming in "If I Had a Tail," we are inside Homme's head. Maybe this is what you dream of when you're laid up in a hospital, wondering if you have the stamina to recover. It isn't a wake-up call, but a nose-dive into Nod, the land of cold sweats, and bad dreams.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

There and Back Again: A Nerd's Half-Assed Journey

RV!: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Dir: Peter Jackson Date Released: December 19, 2001 Date Seen: December 2, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

407) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Dir: Peter Jackson Date Released: December 14, 2012 Date Seen: December 11, 2012 Rating: 3/5

I meant to rewatch all three of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptations before seeing The Hobbit. But uh, I got caught up in Godard fever. Still, I don't regret having given up on that project after rewatching the extended cut of The Fellowship of the Ring since Jackson slavishly traces over the narrative beats of that earlier film throughout The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

So: the first installment in Jackson's Hobbit trilogy is supposed to mirror the first film in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. That's annoying, and distracting, but not inexplicable. The Hobbit is a much gentler adventure than The Fellowship of the Ring: singing, and riddles are just as, if not more important than dragons and wizards. So Jackson tried to simultaneously make his Hobbit just as dynamic as his earlier film while fostering a sense of continuity between his two trilogies. 

Bilbo's earlier adventure in The Hobbit now mirrors Frodo's in Fellowship: the council of wizards looks like (and scored the same as?) the Council of Elrond; the flight from the Troll King is like the Balrog chase; and Bilbo's exit from the Shire looks like Frodo's. This narrative tracing is usually more annoying than it is thoughtful, though I did like the way Jackson made the cliff-side fight in The Hobbit correspond with the Fellowship scene where Aragorn rescues Frodo from the Ringwraiths. But that's mostly because the juxtaposition of these two scenes is a lil counterpuntal: Aragorn rescues Frodo, while Bilbo has to actively help his rescuers. These two scenes confirm the differences between the two trilogies while also uniting the two films: in both movies, this is the moment where the Fellowship really becomes a group.

That's the thing I most liked about The Hobbit: as Gandalf says, Bilbo is the most important member of his group because he is naturally more fearful and anxious than any dwarf or wizard. He is literally a smaller person than everyone else, and therefore has to try harder to be a hero. Even when he's only trying to save himself, like when he tells riddles to Smeagol (best scene in the film), or distracts some trolls before Gandalf saves him and his friends, Bilbo stumbles into heroism. It doesn't come naturally to him, and he's no Errol Flynn (he gets some good licks in during the cliff-side fight, but he doesn't single-handedly win the fight for his group). But Bilbo is inspiring, and I greatly appreciated the lengths Jackson went to to establish that conceit.

That having been said, the leering, Raimi-esque canted angles that Jackson uses throughout Fellowship also made me realize that it wasn't just the 48 FPS camerawork that made The Hobbit look ass-ugly: it was the way the film was shot. Jackson cut too many corners, and tried too hard to do too many things in An Unexpected Journey. I'm consequently not surprised that he felt he could/should make The Hobbit into another trilogy. Still, I am really not looking forward to Jackson's spin on Tom Bombadil...

Monday, May 20, 2013

Their Eyes Were Watching Max Von Sydow, I mean Romy Schneider, Shit.

389) Death Watch (1980) Dir: Bertrand Tavernier Date Released: April XX, 1982 Date Seen: November 30, 2012 Rating: 3/5

I'm not wild about this contemplative science fiction film, but I did write about it for the L Magazine. You're welcome.

Capsule Fevah, Part 2

386) Talaash (2012) Dir: Reema Kagti Date Released: November 30, 2012 Date Seen: November 28, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

387) Deadfall (2012) Dir: Stefan Ruzowitzky Date Released: December 7, 2012 Date Seen: November 28, 2012 Rating: 2/5

388) Happy New Year (2011) Dir: K. Lorrel Manning Date Released: December 7, 2012 Date Seen: November 30, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

Some capsule reviews for the Village Voice review can be found here, here, and here. You can read them!

Ray Liotta Doesn't Do Method

RV!: Revolver (2005) Dir: Guy Ritchie Date Released: December 7, 2007 Date Seen: November 25, 2012 Rating: 4/5

382) Article 99 (1992) Dir: Howard Deutch Date Released: March 13, 1992 Date Seen: November 25, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

Ray Liotta is a wonderful interview, no joke. I talk-ed to him for Esquire.

Capsule Fever, Part 1

381) The Athlete (2009) Dir: Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew Date Released: November 30, 2012 Date Seen: November 25, 2012 Rating: 2/5

383) Certainty (2011) Dir: Peter Askin Date Released: November 30, 2012 Date Seen: November 25, 2012 Rating: 2/5

Man, these movies just can't catch a break. See my capsule reviews for the Village Voice here and here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Yet More Odds and Ends: Cult Fun Edition

RV!: The Cable Guy (1996) Dir: Ben Stiller Date Released: June 14, 1996 Date Seen: November 24, 2012 Rating: 4/5

385) Penn and Teller Get Killed (1989) Dir: Arthur Penn Date Released: September 22, 1989 Date Seen: November 27, 2012 Rating: 4/5

392) Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012) Dir: John Hyams Date Released: November 30, 2012 Date Seen: Decemer 2, 2012 Rating: 4/5

The Cable Guy: Wow, this holds up really well. Jim Carrey's performance is inspired, maybe the best among his '90s comedies. And the film's dialogue is generally on-point, and rarely so ostentatious, or so clunky that I felt alienated by its immodest ambition. Still, this, like the two other films in this round-up, is a very strong cult film. It's a black comedy that thankfully follows through on its premise, but that premise is so myopic in its appeal and scope that I can't help but feel that stumping for its canonization is a fool's errand. I don't know if I want to be that fool, is what I'm saying. I do however think The Cable Guy is very funny in that cynical, but infantile way Ben Stiller used to do so well.

Penn and Teller Get Killed: Having never really been a Penn and Teller devotee, I was pleasantly surprised by this cult comedy. I particularly dug its creators' blithely arrogant assumptions about narcissism, and suicide. Essentially: once you start to invest serious thought into the delusion that somebody's out to get you, you start to fantasize about killing yourself. I also love that the film's conclusion mocks/exaggerates the snuff film's intended effect: you see someone die, your own sense of self is destabilized--and then you want to die. Then the next person that sees you die, dies. And so on. Again, Get Killed is a strictly for-fans-only proposition. But how will you know if you're a fan unless you give it a go, right? My grandpa used to love Penn and Teller; he recorded Bullshit! off of TV all the time. I wonder if my grandma still has his old tapes...I doubt it, but maybe.*

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning: I think this is as dementedly kinetic, and delightfully unclean as I remember, but I could be wrong. I really dug Hyams's virtuosic direction, and appreciated the hyper-serious-ness he brought to an otherwise unglamorous gig. That having been said, I wouldn't care if Hyams wasn't so good at being heavy-handed. I agree 100% with Richard Brody when he says that the film is immediately intriguing because of how hard Hyams tries to show us what's going on inside his characters' heads. Hyams mostly succeeds, I think, and Day of Reckoning is consequently a darkly comic (that POV brain surgery scene is a doozy!), and even well-choreographed action movie. Also, hey, I cared about a JCVD movie. How'd that happen?

*Gah, I did it again, writing about a movie that I already blurbed up here. Still, the above blurb is probably a better blurb than that earlier one. So, meh.

Odds and Ends: Underwhelming Monsters Edition

378) Godzilla Raids Again (1955) Dir: Motoyoshi Oda Date Released: May 21, 1959 Date Seen: November 23, 2012 Rating: 3/5

379) Old Dracula (1975) Dir: Clive Donner Date Released: The Fuck if I Know Date Seen: November 24, 2012 Rating: 0.75/5

380) We're Going to Eat You (1980) Dir: Tsui Hark Date Released: *shrugga* Date Seen: November 24, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Godzilla Raids Again: I shouldn't be surprised that Raids Again, Gojira's first sequel, is as underwhelming as it is. It's not directed by Ishiro Honda, or scored by Akira Ifukube, so that's two strikes already. Raids Again also doesn't have the same alarmist zeal, or even a compelling human story. Still, I got my kaiju-fightin'-fix, so I'm OK.

Old Dracula: This was something of a holy grail acquisition that I lost interest in once I got my hot lil hands on it. I knew it'd be dreadful, but I didn't know it'd be BORING. I mean, really boring. I'm giving the film 0.75 stars only for David Niven swanning about as a terribly bored, and yes, not-young Dracula. But otherwise: eesh. In the film, Dracula turns  his Transylvanian estate into a tourist attraction, so he's also a relic in the film, and boy, does it show. The jokes aren't funny, the set pieces aren't compelling, and the filmmakers are clearly out to lunch half the time. Oh, and Teresa Graves gets to do nothing as Drac's ingenue. I mean, holy shit, man, how do you fuck up so badly that not even Teresa Graves and David Niven can make me care? There is this trailer, and it's the best thing about the film. Otherwise, avoid avoid avoid.

We're Going to Eat You: By Hark's standards, this is pretty sedate. There's some weird Texas Chainsaw Massacre cues in it, and some funky fight scenes, but a lot of the humor in this clangs. And I say this as a Tricky Brains fan. So, like, whoa, watch out. Still,there's enough endearing weird-ness here to make Hark's cannibal spy spoof worth a look. I'm not wild about it, and I wish I were, is all.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Odds and Ends: You Don't Belong Here Edition

375) Katie Tippel (1975) Dir: Paul Verhoeven Date Released: September 25, 1976 Date Seen: November 21, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

RV!: Rollerball (1975) Dir: Norman Jewison Date Released: June 25, 1975 Date Seen: November 22, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

377) Face (1997) Dir: Antonia Bird Date Released: ???? Date Seen: November 23, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Katie Tippel: This is easily my favorite of the handful of Verhoeven's Dutch films I've seen so far, though I still have a number still to go, including Soldier of Orange, and Turkish Delight. Katie Tippel has all of the ghoulish venom, and delightful cattiness that I've come to associate with its director. Here, Verhoeven giddily mocks the evils of capitalism by following a voraciously hungry, and totally nubile(!!) young waif's rapid ascent up the social ladder. Monique van de ven's titular Tippel magically transforms from a slave laborer, burning and bleeding all over hot laundry, into an immodest socialite, eating oysters, and riding in carriages with a young Rutger Hauer(!!!!!). I like this movie most when it's a black comic precursor to Masterpiece Theater (I don't really care about the film's relatively sober finale, though it's fairly negligible). Come for the sexy stuff, stay for the Dickensian squalor.*

Rollerball: This is my comfort food. I used to be nuts about this movie; showed it to the science fiction club I was head of, and really thought it was the apogee of American existential '70s scifi movies for a while. Then I saw Soylent Green and Silent Running, and boy, does this not look so special anymore. I've written before about why I think Jonathan, and Jewison's other rebels are interesting. But this time around, I found Rollerball to be sometimes unproductively slow. I do think Jewison's pacing is right on more often than not though, and I do appreciate that he seems invested in the idea of Jonathan's world as a slow-to-destruct city on the edge of nowhere. The rollerball scenes are still fleet and brutal, and I love to watch James Caan mope around. I am still smitten with Rollerball, even if it doesn't hold up very well.

Face: After seeing Ravenous, I thought Antonia Bird could do no wrong. So when I bought Face sight unseen, I expected more than just a competent Danny Boyle knockoff. Face is fine enough, so I was never that bored watching Robert Carlyle try to finger the crook that stole his gang's money. Face has got a good ensemble cast (including Ray Winstone and Lena Headey), and Bird's direction is OK. But I can't really see myself revisiting this anytime soon. *shrugga*

*I just realized that I technically didn't need to write about this one again since I already recommended it here. But well, whatever.

Maudit, Mais Pas Mal

374) Heaven's Gate (1980) Dir: Michael Cimino Date Released: November 19, 1980 Date Seen: November 20, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Like Showgirls, I kinda see both sides, and don't really feel too strongly one way or the other. It's great! It's terrible! It's both! You're welcome! Some stuff at The Playlist.

Jeez, Santa, What'd I Ever Do to You?

RV!: Black Christmas (1974) Dir: Bob Clark Date Released: December 20, 1974 Date Seen: November 16, 2012 Rating: 4/5

First time I saw this, I felt like I was missing something. Now, I got it. For the L Magazine!

Mental Acuity and Romance at Your Local Arthouse

365) The Normals (2012) Dir: Kevin Patrick Connors Date Released: November 16, 2012 Date Seen: November 14, 2012 Rating: 1.25/5

371) Ex-Girlfriends (2012) Dir: Alexander Poe Date Released: October 20, 2012 Date Seen: November 19, 2012 Rating: 2/5

For work! See my reviews for the Village Voice.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sexytime Odds and Ends, Zzzzz-What-Hell-Was-That Edition

364) Breaking Dawn--Part 2 (2012) Dir: Bill Condon Date Released: November 16, 2012 Date Seen: November 14, 2012 Rating: 2/5

368) The Baby (1973) Dir: Ted Post Date Released: March XX, 1973 Date Seen: November 15, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

370) Hercules (1983) Dir: Luigi Cozzi Date Released: August 26, 1983 Date Seen: August 26, 1983 Date Seen: November 17, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

Breaking Dawn--Part 2: I had originally wanted to interview Condon, and ask him what the fuck is up with his previous horror movies. But somehow, I could not get more than 10 minutes to talk with the man. So I have yet to achieve my dream of discussing Le Cinema Psychotronique with the dude that co-wrote Strange Behavior and directed Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. Anyway, I went to see Breaking Dawn--Part 2 because a friend invited me, and I was in an especially masochistic/down-in-the-dumps mood. I still haven't seen Breaking Dawn--Part 1, but at the time, I had already seen the other three Twilight movies (and reviewed two of them!). Thankfully, skipping Part 1 wasn't much of an impediment as the plot of that film is rehashed throughout Part 2. For the most part, Condon's conclusion is a more technically accomplished Twilight movie (though Part 2 is also drippy, creepy, and moronic in the usual Twilight way, too). But when the movie got to its ridunkadunk concluding battle royale, I got what I came for. It really is everything you've read and more. Everyone's heads--ripped off! Michael Sheen--over-acting up a storm! Ice caps--melting! Twist ending--is a twist ending! It's nuts, but the rest of the movie is pretty whatever.

The Baby: Ted Post's now-infamous whatsit is also mostly sleepy, albeit in a more inviting, made-for-TV domestic psycho-drama kinda way. But then the big twist hits, and it's all WHAAAA GOOOOOOOO NNNNNNNN WWEEEYYYY. If someone were to rhetorically ask me if I've ever seen a movie where any one part is sufficiently screwy enough to make up for the middling whole, I'd cite The Baby's twist. When I was watching this thing, I was waiting, and waiting for the much-hyped crazy to kick in. And as I waited, my interest gradually flagged, but I was still OK. Yeah, yeah, whatever, this isn't the crap-fest I was promised, but it's OK, I'm OK, I'm falling asleep, but it' OWHAT THE FUCK, HOW THE SHIT-A-BRICK! And that's The Baby.

Hercules: This one is a bit more uniformly butt-slut-nuts, to use a favorite Carlson-ism. It's as if Cozzi saw Clash of the Titans, and decided he could do better by making his pantheon of Gods more petty and over-sexed (They love each other! But they hate each other!), his hero more beefcake-y (Oh, Lou Ferrigno...), his monsters more screwy (giant mechanical bug-thing!), and his special effects more dated (Lasers, everywhere!). Hercules consequently makes no sense, but it's like The Manitou's space-battle-in-a-janitor's-closet scene was turned into a whole movie, and while that has its drawbacks (ie: you can't sustain that much crazy, Captain, there's just too much pressure, she's gonna blow eventually!), all I remember was being all, mimimimiWHATWHATWHATmimiWHAmWWWOOOOOOO. Just ask Bill, he'll confirm that I'm exaggerating within my means.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Great, Russian

362) War and Peace (1956) Dir: King Vidor Date Released: August 21, 1956 Date Seen: November 13, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

366) Le Notti Bianche (1957) Dir: Luchino Visconti Date Released: May 28, 1961 Date Seen: November 15, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Based on the Great Russian Et Cetera. I wrote about these two films, and Two Lovers, Morphia, and The Brothers Karamazov (1958) for The Playlist.

Bad Idea Podcast #17: '90s Star Vanity Projects

354) Battlefield Earth (2000) Dir: Roger Christian Date Released: May 12, 2000 Date Seen: November 9, 2012 Rating: 0.75/5

355) Last Dance (1996) Dir: Bruce Beresford Date Released: May 3, 1996 Date Seen: November 10, 2012 Rating: 1.25/5

356) Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages (1916) Dir: D.W. Griffith Date Released: September 5, 1916 Date Seen: November 10, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

359) Hudson Hawk (1991) Dir: Michael Lehmann Date Released: May 24, 1991 November 11, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5...either that or 1/5. Though really, I loved it/5

360) Excess Baggage (1997) Dir: Tommy Wiseohwaitnosorry...Marco Brambilla Date Released: August 29, 1997 Date Seen: November 11, 2012 Rating: 0.5/5

One of these films is not like the others....listen to Steve and I discuss all these films and more on the Bad Idea Podcast.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sundry Odds and Ends: Disturbing Other People Edition

353) Lincoln (2012) Dir: Steven Spielberg Date Released: November 9, 2012 Date Seen: November 9, 2012 Rating: 4/5

361) The Golden Child (1986) Dir: Michael Ritchie Date Released: December 12, 1986 Date Seen: November 11, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

363) Skyfall (2012) Dir: Sam Mendes Date Released: November 9, 2012 Date Seen: November 14, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Lincoln: I'm not fond of one or two would-be iconic scenes in this film, particularly the opening, the ending, and the battlefield survey. I'm also not nuts about Sally Field's Missus Lincoln subplot (gratingly shrill, though that's her role). But otherwise, I was drawn to Lincoln because it's a superior legislative drama, and I love legislative dramas (Advise and Consent!). Part of this is a matter of direction, scripting, and virtuosic acting, especially Tommy Lee Jones and Daniel Day-Lewis. But I'm also struck by screenwriter Tony Kushner's idol worship. To Kushner, the film's subjects were flawed men that, to some extent, knew they were carrying the burden of change.They knew that they needed to resort to rigorous politicking if they wanted to make a difference. I like to imagine Kushner's own activism influenced the way he shows characters like Jones's Thaddeus Stevens or Fields's Mary Todd Lincoln heroically making ethical compromises for their own personal reasons. If activism is going to work, everyone has got to find their reasons, and they do, in the end. 

Kushner was smart to narrow the scope of his drama so that it mainly concerns the steps needed to pass the 13th amendment and the people that took those steps. This means Lincoln is almost exclusively about white people, which is theoretically distressing, but works practically sincethese men consider slavery in a conceptual light. Sure, they all have slaves, and in Stevens's exceptional case, slaves are more than just property. But the consequences of the legislators' actions are abstracted to the point where it's all about bodies on a battlefield, visitors in a gallery, and votes that need buying. I'm most comfortable with Kushner's approach when Lincoln is all about buying allegiances because that's when the film's drama is most dynamic. But I'll probably rewatch this in a year or three and not have any reservations.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Too Late, Perhaps!

352) A Late Quartet (2012) Dir: Yaron Zilberman Date Released: November 2, 2012 Date Seen: November 8, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5 

Again, not so bad, but not very good either. See my review for The Nashville Scene.

My Godard is An Awesome Godard

350) Vivre Sa Vie (1962) Dir: Jean-Luc Godard Date Released: September 23, 1963 Date Seen: November 6, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

369) Les Carabiniers (1963) Dir: Jean-Luc Godard Date Released: September 27, 1967 Date Seen: November 15, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

371) Weekend (1967) Dir: Jean-Luc Godard Date Released: September 27, 1968 Date Seen: November 16, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

376) Sympathy for the Devil (1968) Dir: Jean-Luc Godard Date Released: April 22, 1969 Date Seen: November 22, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

384) Le Petit Soldat (1963) Dir: Jean-Luc Godard Date Released: April 20, 1967 Date Seen: November 27, 2012 Rating: 4/5 

I Didn't Know He Left

347) The Return of Lencho (2010) Dir: Mario Rosales Date Released: November 8, 2012 Date Seen: November 4, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

So this one wasn't too bad, just kinda not good. See my Village Voice review, maybe?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

More Odds and Ends: End of Reality Edition

346) Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) Dir: Werner Herzog Date Released: April 3, 1977 Date Seen: November 3, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

RV!: eXistenZ (1999) Dir: David Cronenberg Date Released: April 23, 1999 Date Seen: November 3, 2012 Rating: 4/5

351) Detropia (2012) Dir: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady Date Released: Date Seen: November 7, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

Aguirre: The Wrath of God: I confess, I'm still slowly making my way through Herzog's canonical films, having only recently "gotten" on the same wave length as his films (first breakthrough was Rescue Dawn, then Cave of Forgotten Dreams). I certainly liked this one, and appreciated the way Herzog expresses his pet themes ("The clouds, they are slowly creeping down the mountain, like so many ignoble dreams of conquest on their way to dissipate on the valley below. Climb, little conquistadors, soldier on to your inevitably inexplicable fates! Life is but a dream, so row, row, row your boat, distractedly down that stream!"). And while I greatly admire the lengths he went to make this film, and was often fascinated by the film's dreamy (ie: Herzogian) atmosphere, I also don't think I'm in love with this one, or as fascinated by it as I am by, say, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. Maybe I should check out Nosferatu the Vampyre next....

eXistenZ: After interviewing David Cronenberg, I'm more convinced than ever that this film is a clever, though infrequently under-developed (ex: what the hell's going on with Gas?!) riff on Demonlover more than it is a prototype for The Matrix. Since Cronenberg is a mostly literal-minded (though advanced) thinker, virtual reality just happens to be the way he looks at the next step in corporate espionage/indoctrination. Video games are the future according to this film because they turn tutorial learning into role-playing. So when the goal of the game is revealed to be murder and sabotage, it's not especially surprising: as in any other video game, you learn as you do in eXistenZ. The difference here is, unlike video games that prompt you with knowledge throughout your quest, you only acquire a greater appreciation of your objective at the very end when you've already been manipulated into doing something you maybe didn't want to. Corporate brainwashing, Playstation-style. Of course I like it.

Detropia: Accomplished alarmists Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the co-directors of Jesus Camp and 12th & Delaware, make great docu-horror movies. I've yet to watch one of their films, and not be a little suspicious of their intentions, or the sometimes unsettling ways that they express concern for their subjects. In Detropia, the weakest of the three films I've seen by them, Ewing and Grady push a lot of buttons all at once by enumerating  the various community members effected by Detroit's long, steady financial decline. 

Basically, I was frustrated by Ewing and Grady's sprawling, quasi-symphonic approach to turning their subjects' respective experiences into a collective story. Admittedly, Detropia is the first of Ewing and Grady's films that I've seen after finally watching (most) of The Wire, so that could be informing my opinion. But to my mind, Ewing and Grady tackle a complex situation by establishing, but never fully developing various tenuously connected characters. I want to know more about the union members, more about the self-absorbed hipster artists, more about the opera house patrons...I mean, who are all these people, and what motivates them beyond their sloganeering goals? Detropia succeeds as an artfully arranged collection of disquieting, context-less footage of a severely depressed part of America, but that's about it, for me. Scary, yes, but not very compelling.

Fear and Self-Loathing in William Friedkin's Other Controversial Gay Panic Drama

345) The Boys in the Band (1970) Dir: William Friedkin Date Released: March 17, 1970 Date Seen: November 3, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Boys has grown on me a little since I first saw it, so it's a good thing that I only recently compared it with Cruising for the Village Voice.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Assorted Odds and Ends: Poor Decisions Edition

340) Transylvania 6-5000 (1985) Dir: Rudy de Luca Date Released: November 8, 1985 Date Seen: October 31, 2012 Rating: 2/5

342) The Dentist (1996) Dir: Brian Yuzna Date Released: October 18, 1996 Date Seen: November November 1, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

343) Every Which Way But Loose (1978) Dir: James Fargo Date Released: December 20, 1978 Date Seen: November 1, 2012 Rating: 2/5

Don't look at me, I was depressed, and bored. Currently, I am depressed, and unmotivated. Big difference. Anyway!

Transylvania 6-5000: This is the kind of no-brow comedy that is so stupid that I hope, for the sake of the dignity of the people involved (yes, even Michael Richards), that the jokes were as improvised as they seem...same goes for the plot...and the characters....and the direction...and the production. Look, what I'm trying to say is, I loved Jeff Goldlbum's schmoozy schtick, and was delighted by how tone-deaf Michael Richards's "performance" is. But apart from some satisfyingly goony gags, this is a fuckin' mess. Still: Geena Davis in a cut-rate Vampira outfit, hubba hubba.

The Dentist:This horror film (it's not a horror-comedy) is weirdly straight-forward for a Brian Yuzna film called The Dentist. Yuzna's movie semi-seriously adheres to a basic B-noir stock plot: Corbin Bernsen's driller killer (aha, I slay me, aha!) tries to get away with murdering his wife, and, well, spoiler alert, he doesn't. Ken Foree, wearing some ree-dick-ulous glasses, investigates. The Dentist is accordingly...well, bland, really. Did Yuzna blow his wad of crazy on Necronomicon? I hope not, because there's some stuff he's made since then that I would like to check out (Return of the Living Dead 3, I'm looking at you...some day...maybe...).

Every Which Way But Loose: This high-as-a-kite-concept comedy is so dull that I kept waiting for some good quips to sustain me, just one or two Stallone-level quips, that's all, really. And this movie couldn't even deliver that! How do you fuck this up: Eastwood, a guy that oozes charisma, and an ape sidekick: how is this not at least a memorably insult to my intelligence? 

This movie is so boring that, during the ages-long stretches between forgettable orangutan-related jokes and sleepy bare-knuckle brawling scenes, my mind wandered. I started to wonder about the sanity of the people that wrote this thing. Like, who expects the American public (because this film was clearly intended to get people off on heartland Americans' feisty, won't-back-down self-image) to believe that there are people--real, actual people--that would try to make money fist-fighting Clint Eastwood? Who says, "Gee, that feller? I kin take 'im?" I'm thinking especially of that last guy, the fat, mouthy dude in the meat-packing plant. Who is this guy? What's his story? Is he brain-damaged? Does he have a doctor's note? Was he always that stupid? Why, after giving and taking trash talk from Clint Eastwood, does this man say, "Hot dayum, I'ma win me some moola?"*

I'm not saying this is a line of questioning one should pursue when watching Every Which Way But Loose. But the fact that I was pursuing said line of questioning as, ahum, vigorously as I did is a good indication of how bored it made me. BORING BORING BORING.

*Note: He does not actually say this. I am paraphrasing him in a comical manner.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Oh, Mr. Postman...

RV!: Jacob's Ladder (1990) Dir: Adrian Lyne Date Released: November 2, 1990 Date Seen: October 30, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

I fucking love this movie. See my lil cap on it for The L Magazine.

I Had a Dream, Joe

338) This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967) Dir: Jose Mojica Marins Date Released: ???? Date Seen: October 29, 2012 Rating: 4/5

"This night," was the night of Superstorm Sandy. I was nervously puttering around my Bay Ridge apartment, listening nervously to the wind howl, and trying not to let the constant, threatening noise bother me. My roommate Bill and I tried to overcome our cabin fever by running across the street and ordering from Domino's. For some reason, Domino's was still open, though they didn't take credit card (they did have electricity though, so it must have been a computer thing).

 I don't know if any of this is significant. I make a note of it now because I think the storm is part of my viewing experience. The mediocre pizza certainly tasted better because of it. Then again, I was also probably less receptive to Marins's second Coffin Joe film than I could have been. I could have sworn that our building was swaying a little...

Still, while I unreservedly love Corpse's famous Hell set piece--glitter, rainbow lighting, oatmeal sores make-up, copious bare flesh, and lotsa pained, pseudo-erotic groans really does it for me, I guess--the rest of the film struck me as a fine enough variation on At Midnight, I'll Take Your Soul, a movie whose sheer misanthropy is indelibly thrilling. Midnight was made by a sleaze artist on the verge of a major breakthrough while Corpse is a repeat performance of that same meltdown, albeit with some obvious improvements (there really is no beating that Hell sequence). Bound to rewatch it at some point...

More Holiday-Appropriate Fun

335) The Mutations (1974) Dir: Jack Cardiff Date Released: September 25, 1974 Date Seen: October 28, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

336) Night of the Comet (1984) Dir: Sharon Farrell Date Released: November 16, 1984 Date Seen: October 28, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Don't have much to say about either of these two Halloween-appropriate picks. The Mutations is a goofy, fun monster movie, though its more novel ideas are mostly under-developed, and its pace is kinda all over the place. Still, Mutations is worth seeing if only for Donald Pleasence's characteristically excellent performance. Night of the Comet didn't do as much for me, possibly because I was distracted and/or drinking, and it's a dialogue-centric film. Some lovely visuals, though, and I do like that a film like this exists. Meaning: girls are allowed to be girls: they can split hairs, fight over boys, go shopping, be tough, and oh yeah, end of the world stuff, too. In other words, just because it's a movie for teen girls, doesn't mean it's a de facto frivolous film. While I found the film too light for my taste, I did appreciate that the film's melodrama was heavier than I feared it might be. I think I may need to rewatch Comet.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Drink, Drink, Drag Me Down!

RV!: Factotum (2005) Dir: Bent Hamer Date Released: August 18, 2006 Date Seen: October 28, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

334) The Lost Weekend (1945) Dir: Billy Wilder Date Released: November 16, 1945 Date Seen: October 28, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

RV!: Leaving Las Vegas (1995) Dir: Mike Figgis Date Released: October 27, 1995 Date Seen: October 29, 2012 Rating: 4/5

337) Days of Wine and Roses (1962) Dir: Blake Edwards Date Released: December 26, 1962 Date Seen: October 29, 2012 Rating: 4/5

339) Barfly (1987) Dir: Barbet Schroeder Date Released: October 16, 1987 Date Seen: October 16, 1987 Date Seen: October 30, 2012 Rating: 3.7/5

What a depressing bunch of movies to watch all at once. But they're so good, so I don't mind. Check out my list for The Playlist on Best Alky Dramas.

Halloween 2013: Meh

331) Chillerama (2011) Dir: Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Bear McCreary, Adam Rifkin, and Tim Sullivan Date Released: October 14, 2011 Date Seen: October 27, 2012 Rating: 3/5

332) Invaders from Mars (1986) Dir: Tobe Hooper Date Released: June 11, 1986 Date Seen: October 27, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

333) Dracula 3000 (2004) Dir: Darrel Roodt Date Released (TV): August 9, 2004 Date Seen: October 27, 2012 Rating: 0.75/5

Three-fourths of this year's annual Halloween Movie Marathon (the missing film being Horrors of Malformed Men, briefly mentioned here). I can't take credit for picking either Chillerama or Dracula 3000 (those are Bill Best picks!). But I did sadly pic the Invaders from Mars remake. Because I don't really know better. So, basically:

Chillerama: This Troma-inspired horror-comedy anthology is pretty stupid, and totally reliant on high-concept gags that are vigorously run into the ground. But I mostly enjoyed these shorts' one-note jokes. Still, loopy performances from Joel David Moore (Adam Green's "The Diary of Anne Frankenstein," probably the best short in the bunch) and Ray Wise (Adam Rifkin's "Wadzilla") are what you should watch this portmanteau film for. Because honestly, who thinks "I was a Teenage Werebear" is an inherently hilarious idea? Don't answer all at once.

Invaders from Mars: like Lifeforce in that director Tobe Hooper and Dan O'Bannon seem to be grinding their gears hard without accomplishing much, though Invaders mostly blah while Lifeforce is just deliriously stupid. Also like Lifeforce, Invaders' juvenile, pseudo-tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, particularly during the alien scenes (it's all about sex, kids, look, even the aliens look like giant, evil gonads!), is consistently uninspired. The same is true during Invaders' relatively expensive-looking military scenes, which are just boring. Still, I can't say no to any movie that gives me so much sexy Karen Black goodness. Because wahoo, sexy Karen Black, be mine!

Dracula 3000: Has one or two preposterously bad moments of note, including Udo Kier's video diary log from the Daedalus, and a scene or two with Coolio in it. But yeah, I have nothing good to say about this film except that it ended.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Thus Spake the King of Comedy

309) Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) Dir: Elio Petri Date Released: December 20, 1970 Date Seen: October 4, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

324) The Human Tornado (1976) Dir: Cliff Roquemore Date Released: October 2, 1976 Date Seen: October 21, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5*

RV!: Wolfen (1981) Dir: Michael Wadleigh Date Released: July 24, 1981 Date Seen: October 26, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

330) Horrors of Malformed Men (1969) Dir: Teruo Ishii Date Released: October 31, 1969 Date Seen: October 27, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

341) Cannibal! The Musical (1993) Dir: Trey Parker Date Released: August 30, 1996 Date Seen: October 31, 2012 Rating: 4/5

344) Pootie Tang (2001) Dir: Louis C.K. Date Released: June 29, 2011 Date Seen: November 2, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

375) Katie Tippel (1975) Dir: Paul Verhoeven Date Released: September 26, 1976 Date Seen: November 21, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

385) Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989) Dir: Arthur Penn Date Released: September 22, 1989 Date Seen:
November 27, 2012 Rating: 4/5

390) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) Dir: Hayao Miyazaki Date Released: June XX, 1985 Date Seen: December 1, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

398) Sharky's Machine (1981) Dir: Burt Reynolds Date Released: December 18, 1981 Date Seen: December 8, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

406) First Name: Carmen (1983) Dir: Jean-Luc Godard Date Released: August 3, 1984 Date Seen: December 11, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

I made a list for Bob Freelander and these films are on it. You can see that list with better poster art and some brief writing on each film at Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

*Trying something new on for size: I feel Steve Carlson is right in saying that the whole, "So bad it's good" mentality is BS. If I were to objectively rate this movie, my rating would be really low. But I had a great time with it, and think that matters more at this point. So yeah, B+.

The Horrors of Subjectivity and Feminism

328) Sexykiller (2008) Dir: Miguel Marti Not Yet Released, Thank Jaysus Date Seen: October 26, 2012 Rating: 1/5

329) American Mary (2012) Dir: Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska Date Released: May 31, 2013 Date Seen: October 26, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Sexykiller and American Mary were the first two films I saw in a mostly disappointing triple feature. The films were almost ecertainly paired together by Film Society at Lincoln Center's annual "Scary Movies" series because they both follow empowered female protagonists. The latter film is considerably better than the former however because its creators at least had an icky, disquieting, and yes, cogent vision for their anti-heroine. 

There are a couple scenes in American Mary, the Soska sisters' festival hit that remind viewers that we are seeing events from a cold, deliberate, and highly subjective perspective. I'm not really sure if we're sutured into the film's subject's POV, or a not-quite-omniscient third-person's, but without spoiling anything, there are one or two of decisive jump-cuts that suggest that allow time to elapse in such a way that our anti-heroine's pain is indulged (OK, FINE, SPOILER: like when her grandma dies, and we find out via voicemail; there's another earlier jump cut that bugged me, but I can't think of it off-hand. May have to rewatch). That's why I don't like American Mary more than I do: first it's too easy to sneer at one-note misogynist baddies, then it's impossible not to balk at the downward, irrevocable turn Mary's story takes. Revenge isn't sweet, it's icky, but it's also basically justified, and that's kinda lousy. 

Sexykiller, by contrast, is all-lousy. Irony-slathered, post-Scream (ie: po-pomo) horror-comedy where the titular lady murderess winks at the camera and constantly blabs about how subversive she is for turning chauvinists' expectations against them by becoming a, ahem, killer. Imagine that, a self-described bimbo killing a bunch of dudes, including some jocks! Ugh, toxically quirky.

Would You Like to Fly/In My Beautiful Private Hell?

327) Flight (2012) Dir: Robert Zemeckis Date Released: November 2, 2012 Date Seen: October 25, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Been a while since I saw Flight, but I was rewatching it out of the corner of my eye when my family rewatched it. My sister's negative reaction to the film made me realize just how much I love Flight (ie: I characteristically got defensive). Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins's vision of an agnostic's toxic combination of alcoholism and survivor's guilt is exciting because it's not as clear-cut as it seems. This is the kind of character study I love, the kind that doesn't let its hero off the hook too lightly, but rather shows us events with some much-needed perspective, while not being entirely sympathetic to its subject's plight. Still, I get it: the creative decisions that rankle many of my peers' nerves are some of the film's most boisterous, and therefore the easiest to misinterpret. For example, when "Sympathy for the Devil" accompanies the entrance of Harling Mays, John Goodman's sleazy supporting character, it's not a celebratory moment. When Harlin's introduced, the music is an expression of his self-fashioned/inflated ego, so of course it makes him look like temptation incarnate. And the second time "Sympathy for the Devil" plays, Harling's come to rescue poor, strung-out Whip Whitaker (an equally impressive Denzel Washington). These music cues are not pat endorsements.

In fact, I'd go farther and say that that kind of self-deflating music cue is as cruelly funny as it is because the joke is, in a small way, on the viewer. Harling's only admirably diabolical if you ignore the consequences of his actions. Sure, Goodman's character is suave and lovably shrill enough to be charismatic, but well, he's also a drug dealer. It's worth belaboring that point since so much of Flight is about remaining committed to one's own decisions. This is why Zemeckis has no love for Whip's co-pilot's religious zealotry. Religion isn't a bad thing in Flight, just when it's taken to such an extreme that prayer becomes a substitute for personal responsibility. Doubt, on the other hand, is very spiritual, and you see that in the way that Whip looks at a stewardess that he tries to get hustle (while she's at church, no less). Whip's desperate, but the film's lithe tracking do a great job of replicating the wide berth that Whip's fairly cushy position in life has afforded him. Zemeckis shows us how much rope Whip has to hang himself. Whip's allowed to do so much and go to so many places because he's been afforded so much responsibility (even if he ignores his duty, to his passengers, his son, his wife, himself, etc.). Zemeckis does a fantastic job of visualizing the freedom that Whip has been granted: when Whip boards his plane, or when he's surveying the crash from a hydraulic stage, or when he's in a huge airplane hangar, and is told that nobody could do what he did, not even while sober.

The circumstances that leads to Whip's actions are simultaneously mysterious and explicably frustrating because they are and they aren't entirely just his problems. I like that when he falls off the wagon before testifying, the door to the hotel room that's adjacent to his wafts open on its own. But from that point on, Whip's decisions are his own. I also like that Zemeckis makes us gasp when Whip grabs a bottle, and lets us fear the worst about hero for a couple seconds before rejoining him hours later. It's not a dirty trick if it's effective, and Zemeckis does a good job of pulling the rug out from under his audience, making a shocking personal decision that much more shocking. I don't think that this jump cut makes Whip look like a monster, and I don't think that the abrupt-ness of this cut makes Whip's decision any less worthy of viewers' empathy. Quite the contrary, I think Zemeckis's selective brusqueness makes Whip's story that much more traumatizing: the door to the next-door hotel room wafts open gracelessly, and Whip's grasping hand also closes with a bump. Flight is moving because it is essentially ambiguous, save for the happy ending Whip earns for himself. There's typically a considerable amount of weight to characters' actions, because there's almost always a catch.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sheer Khan

326) Life of Pi (2012) Dir: Ang Lee Date Released: November 21, 2012 Date Seen: October 24, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

348) Thank You (2011) Dir: Anees Bazmee Date Released: April 8, 2011 Date Seen: November 5, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

349) 7 Khoom Maaf (2011) Dir: Vishal Bhardwaj Date Released: February 18, 2011 Date Seen: November 5, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

353) Paan Singh Tomar (2010) Dir: Tigmanshu Dhulia Date Released: March 2, 2012 Date Seen: November 8, 2012 Rating: 3/5

354) The Warrior (2001) Dir: Asif Kapadia Date Released: July 15, 2005 Date Seen: November 8, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

359) Rog (2005) Dir: Himanshu Brahmbatt Date Released: ??!?!? Date Seen: November 10, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

360) Hisss (2010) Dir: Jennifer Lynch Date Released (DTV): December 28, 2010 Date Seen: November 10, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

In praise of the mighty Irrfan Khan, I wrote a feature profile of the man for the Village Voice.