Sunday, April 10, 2005

"Is that all you got, ya pansies?"

Remember me?

Damn, it's late. And I am lazy, and no one cares (boo hoo), so I am just going to re-post what I just posted at the OFCS site. I would like to get some feedback from others about Sin City. Maybe some of you liked it, or have more insight into what it's supposed to mean than I do. I just felt embarassed for my gender while watching it, and reading all the laudatory reviews. In any case, here's what I just wrote:

It's late, and I am about to ramble on semi-coherently, so be forewarned. I pretty much hated the movie. I have enjoyed most of Miller's work (Dark Knight, Batman: Year One (was that the title?), Ronin, Elektra: Assassin, and his work on Daredevil) but I never got into Sin City. I haven't had much use for anything Rodriguez is done since, I dunno, maybe his segment of Four Rooms or Desperado. Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the worst movie I've ever seen with the words "Once Upon a Time in" in the title. I would not have paid to see Sin City, but the trailers did look amazing, starting with that opening segment with Hartnett, which I watched online a few months ago. I would rather watch the trailer 50 consecutive times than see the entire movie again.

Whatever the comic's relative merits, I agree wholeheartedly with Wayne Proctor that reading the comic book is a completely different experience. Still images that you can put down and return to later, and well over a month's wait (if I remember correctly) between stories works better than jamming three loosely related stories together like this, because they are too similar (at least the Marv and Hartigan stories) and the relentless brutality (along with the voiceover) becomes monotonous and numbing. Reading can also be a more pensive experience than watching a film that seems in an awful hurry to get us to the next cheap thrill.

I also find the film (and I guess the comic as well--it's been a while) very misogynistic. This seems completely self-evident to me, though from what I understand, the actresses disagree. I read somewhere that Alba compares her relationship with Willis to that of Bogie and Bacall. Um, ok.

Look at the imbalance in the casting. Bruce Willis, Benicio del Toro, and Clive Owen vs. Jessica Alba and Brittany Murphy? The female cast members are extremely lightweight--ingenues whose purpose is to look sexy while being slapped around, tortured, murdered. There's not an ounce of depth or complexity to any of these characterizations. None of them get to be subjects. They are fantasy figures, and I guess the fantasy does not appeal to me. Though it might have when I was 14.

Of course, the ugliness is the point, Sin City is about misogyny and the brutalization of women, the level of exaggeration makes it clear that none of this is to be taken literally. Those mounted heads are symbolic, Nick Stahl is a manifestation of Bruce Willis' subconscious, and look at how all the "bad guys" get castrated. (It's kind of like the "extreme" version of that award-winning short film from the Simpsons with the guy getting hit in the nuts with the football.) And blah blah blah. But it's all presented with such inane sophomoric glee that it's clear that I'm supposed to be having a blast, that Rodriguez and Miller mean to shock me into some state of overstimulated joy and not revulsion. So, even with tempered expectations, very disappointed.

End quote.

Since there aren't as many fanboys reading here, I can point out that if you really get off on this shit, you may have seriously have a problem. I'm here to help.

Monday, February 28, 2005

"No, I'm not gonna take my time. I wanna get off the stage."

This is just to let everybody know that Charlie Kaufman winning makes this the best Oscars ever. Or Best. Oscars. Ever. if you insist, you fucking blogaholics. Lisa wanted more violence during the telecast (two offscreen gunshots were not sufficient, I guess), but I told her, that one award is the only thing that matters this year. I would be remiss if I did not also mention Kaufman's co-victors, the two guys who wrote, "What if you could erase your memory of a bad relationship?" on a cocktail napkin five years ago.

Chris Rock was ok. A lot of those intros were weak non-sequitur type deals, but he protested on behalf of those short doc people when the music cut them off. His suggestion to have a drive-thru pickup window for the "minor" awards next year was amusing, too. Also, I applaud him because if you're going to tell a Michael Moore fat joke, at least come up with a new twist. The Super Size Me tie-in was much funnier than Russ Smith's classic line, "If he cares about poor people so much, why is he so fat?"

Beyonce didn't sing too great in English. I guess now the French understand how we feel when we hear the Scorpions doing "Rock You Like a Hurricane." No wonder they hate us. So, they don't let the actor, Minnie Driver, sing her number from the movie, but then they don't let that Jorge Drexler guy sing his own song from the pretty Motorcycle Diaries, so that an actor can sing it. Drexler was apparently so thrilled with Antonio Banderas' rendition of his song that when he won the Oscar later, he sang it himself in lieu of an acceptance speech. Like, "Okay, this is what the song is supposed to sound like."

Did anyone else cry when Sean Penn so bravely stood up for poor little Jude Law? Someone has to stand up for the underdog, and I guess now that the whole Iraq thing is over, Sean has found a new cause to champion: overexposed millionaire movie stars who are gently ridiculed in public.

New Directors/New Films looks like a strong lineup, as usual. I will go to as many of the press screenings as I can, and will try to find time to post some thoughts here.

I had time to win another buck sit-and-go poker tourney between the Oscars and posting this, but now I'm too sleepy to continue. Tomorrow I will finally crack open my Alan Clarke box set, I think.

Friday, February 25, 2005

"I'm ashamed of myself that I want them to need me, but I do."

So, dear friends, now that you've either seen Memories of Murder, or, far more likely, not seen it, I can admit that it was a bit melodramatic of me to claim that either Jang Jun-hwan or Bong Joon-ho is a visionary after seeing all of one film from each. Time will tell. I only hope that they both continue to make films, and that I am somehow able to see their work, and not just the American remakes of same.

I've been missing screenings left and right because of this here cold. I can only watch poker on TV and work at the video store and sleep. I can only eat chicken soup and tea with lemon. For real. Oh, and bagels. One of my online poker buddies (pathetic, I know) hipped me to this Airborne stuff, which I guess is supposed to boost your immune system with an effervescent combination of vitamins and herbs. I took some today, but I'm not ready to reccomend it to you all yet. But if any of you have heard it's toxic or something, let me know. Don't just post it as a comment here, either. For something like that, you could email me, or even call if you're one of the lucky ones that knows me that well.

I kind of want to check out Constantine. So you might as well let me know the bad news about that, too, before I blow ten bucks on it. I'm just so sick of these "horror" films that they slice up so they can get a stupid PG-13 rating. Not that they all suck, but most of them do, and the decision to cut out all the good parts is so clearly driven by demographics and not by any kind of artistic consideration. I still didn't bother with Imaginary Friend from Hell, or whatever that Robert DeNiro/Dakota Fanning thing was called, but as a grown-up, I am considering rewarding the makers of Constantine for their artistic integrity by going and paying my money to see it. Okay, that came out sounding funnier than I meant it to. Whatever. I read the comics when I was in college.

Monday, February 21, 2005

98 Problems

Neighbors won’t shut up. Got a bad cold. Broke, as always. Writing getting terser.

So, I saw Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance at the Walter Reade. The Film Society of Lincoln Center do an excellent job programming that theater, and Film Comment Selects is always a highlight of my movie year. Anyway, it’s a solid revenge flick, very well executed, but it doesn’t measure up to Oldboy, let alone Save the Green Planet! or the haunting Memories of Murder, despite the welcome presence of Song Kang-ho (Murder’s overzealous country cop) and Shin Ha-kyun (Green-haired would-be Green Planet savior). Oh! And the lovely Bae Doo-na from Take Care of My Cat as the most interesting, if underdeveloped character in the film, Shin’s anarchist girlfriend. Park Chan-wook is a meticulous director with a keen eye for depravity. In both Oldboy and Mr. Vengeance, he delays the violence much longer than expected, and when it does come, it has real visceral impact. He has a knack for capturing those tense, quiet moments before all hell breaks loose. His characters often seem to pause as if interrogating the very reality of their situation as they do horrific things to each other. They are understandably aghast, and we wish they would stop, but they never do. They always seem to go a little bit further than necessary. In both films, revenge predictably amounts to a zero sum game. But the aggrieved move inexorably forward, with a terrible kind of calm, like the inappropriate smirk on a certain president’s face as the nation fights a horrible and unnecessary war. Mr. Vengeance is a good, solid, nasty piece of work, but it is not as inventive or as psychologically resonant as Oldboy. Both are exemplary genre pieces.

I would say, from my exposure to their work, that Park Chan-wook is a master craftsman, while it’s possible that Jang Jun-hwan and Bong Joon-ho are visionaries. It’s easier to speculate with Jang, because Save the Green Planet! is so cracked, and works (or doesn’t work, depending on your point-of-view) on so many levels. It’s a maddening mess of a film that still manages to come together and deliver a surprising emotional impact. It’s possible that there’s a genius at work here, but his ideas and his mode of expressing them haven’t quite coalesced yet. Also, it’s kind of a brutal viewing experience. It gets extremely ugly, and its mix of comedy, horror, and pathos is often unsettling. It’s not something I’d recommend to my mother, for example. She wouldn’t last long enough to find out if poor, crazy Lee Byung-gu finds redemption.

On the other hand, I would have no problem recommending Memories of Murder to just about anyone who can stomach a little violence. The more I ponder the film (and I look forward to seeing it again when Palm puts it out a Region 1 DVD), the more I think it may be the best policier I have ever seen. Of course, I can’t put two films that I saw in 2004 in my all-time top ten, but if such a thing were remotely conceivable, I would think about it. I have more to say, but I’m too tired to go into it right now. It’s just as well if you don’t know too much when you go to see it at the Walter Reade this week. So just go. Trust me.

Memories of Murder screening info is at this link. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. Screening times are Monday, Feb 21 at 7 and Wednesday, Feb 23 at 1 & 9.

Here’s a couple links to stuff I enjoyed reading:
James Wolcott on Michael Medved on M$B
David Poland on Drudge on Chris Rock

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day

This is not for my sun-eyed, coral-lipped, rose-cheeked, earth-skimming distracted soulmate, but just cuz I like it.

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

I should have realized, when this turned out to be my favorite of Shakespeare's sonnets (yeah yeah, and Sting's favorite, and probably every other idiot's), that I was destined to be a critic, and not a writer.

Monday, February 07, 2005

lazy blarger

Hi, if my brain was even on 9% right now, I might try to post my thoughts on Oldboy or something. Since it isn't, here is a song lyric from the Fastbacks:

Used to be afraid of what I liked
Used to be afraid of what was right
Never thought I'd get too far in life
Never thought I'd last another night

And then
Morning came and with it, a new light
I'm telling you, it wasn't all that bright
But it helped me to perceive all that I might
Put off for so long that I lost sight

Of the
Reason why I started this, to write

Why is it so hard sometimes to
Feeling sorry for myself and finish ruining my life?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

"You know, I was just gonna torture the song, and now you're murdering it."

Well, that line alone, as delivered by Samantha Morton, is enough to bump Code 46 from my "Wish I'd seen it" list to "Honorable Mention" for 2004. Plus there was that Mick Jones cameo. Please don't ask which Mick Jones. Ok, thanks. Who knew there were two good films in which a man and a woman fall in love, only to find that her memory of him has been erased? I'm telling you, amnesia is the new black(out?).

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

I was thinking about my overuse of the word "lugubrious," which pops up in about half of the reviews I linked to in my top ten post. I wrote those reviews at different times over the course of about two years, sometimes under tremendous um, deadline pressure, and I guess I never realized how much I dig the slow pacing until I saw them all gathered together in that post. At least please admit that it's a fucking great word. For now, it's going into the "do not use" pile. But you will not take "verisimilitude" or "at its core, the movie is..." until you pry my cold dead fingers from the keyboard.

Speaking of lameass film criticism, one of the better online film critics is Vern. And if you are not familiar with his work, you should click on that link immediately. He is just the funniest guy writing about movies, and definitely has his head on straight in terms of a worldview, as well. His review of Collateral not only acknowledges Michael Mann's extreme overratedness, but it contains a hilarious parody of a certain type of film reviewing that is thankfully one I do not indulge in often, though lord knows I have my own indulgences, like a sickening penchant for alliteration. (I swear, it happens by accident every time, and I only leave it in because it occurs naturally, like homosexuality in nature, so it would be almost homophobic, in a way, to edit it out.)

Anyway, I just wanted to comment briefly on the Oscars. I'd rather write about the other big film thingy that's going on out in Ohio or wherever right now with all the celebrities and gift bags, but no one sent me to cover that.

So Paul Giamatti got robbed bad, didn't he? Does anyone not recognize that Sideways is no big deal with any other actor in that role? So when was the last time someone who had never been nominated before was nominated for Best Actor for playing a schlub. Maybe, you could make a case for Steven Rea in The Crying Game (1992), but I think Fergus was too charming, good-looking and manly to qualify. Robin Williams was schlubby enough in The Fisher King (1991), but he had already been nominated for non-schlubby roles in Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. So I'm going to have to go with Bob Hoskins in Mona Lisa (1986!), but he had the added advantage of being British (there have to be at least three or four British acting nominees every year). So I'm discounting him. Seeking a North American actor who had not established himself as an awards contender, Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl is the next possibility, same year (1977) that Woody Allen was nominated for Annie Hall, so obviously it was a banner year for schlubs and an anomaly.

I forgot what the point is, but obviously Giamatti is out in the cold because he is not one of "the beautiful people." I don't understand why Leo gets a nod when there are at least a dozen young successful actors who would have been more interesting in that role. I know it's the Oscars, and we don't expect the nominations to reflect any real measure of quality, but here the Academy fails even by its own lax standards.

Ray, meanwhile, was nominated for Best Picture over Eternal Sunshine, which of course is wrong. Ray isn't a bad film, and Jamie Foxx certainly did a superb job, as did most of the cast, but at its core, the movie is a very routine biopic. I have a unique theory about why the Academy's response to the film is so out of proportion to its merits. Kevin Spacey and Lions Gate promoted the hell out of Beyond the Sea, going all out to earn it nominations, and after seeing and hearing THAT, Academy members were probably putty in Ray's and Foxx's perfectly capable hands.

Here's a little P.S. after reading Vern's reflections on the Oscar nominations. I, too, was incensed that Story of the Weeping Camel, a film I really enjoyed, was nominated for Best Documentary, despite the fact that it is mostly staged and fictitious. But I was thinking I was the only one who felt that way, and was ready to concede that I did not understand what a documentary is, until I read Vern and my sanity was fleetingly restored. So thanks again, Vern.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

"I was born out of time."

Okay, so here goes nuttin’. I am unprepared to do this, as always. So I’ll include a list of films that I haven’t yet seen that I most likely would have considered, based on what I’ve heard from reputable sources. Other viewing suggestions are welcome. I see an awful lot, but I am limiting my selection to 2004 theatrical releases. Otherwise, I would have included 1) the brilliantly cynical Korean serial killer film Memories of Murder, which I saw at the excellent NY Korean Film Festival this year 2) the gruesomely funny, sad, weird Save the Green Planet! which I saw at the same festival, and which Film Forum is showing soon 3) Jia Zhang Ke’s gorgeous best film to date, The World, which I saw at the New York Film Festival, and which I’m sure will make its way to theaters at some point (if not one near you), and 4) Johnny To’s goofy and spooky Running on Karma, which mostly just continually surprised and entertained me. I’m not posting a bottom ten, but The Passion, Beyond the Sea, and Van Helsing would have made the cut. On a purely aesthetic level, putting aside (for one moment and with no small difficulty) its ugly offensive content, The Passion is cheesy and overblown, from the apparent werewolf and the demon children that attack Judas, to the scene where Satan gets his/her wig blown off. But on that level Beyond the Sea is an even worse film. Spacey should have called it Beyond My Talents (rimshot!) as neither his Bobby Darin nor his Orson Welles impression is at all convincing. Nominate him for all the Golden Globes you want, but smart people recognize this for what it is, and I think even fewer good scripts are going to be finding their way to him. (Forget American Beauty and The Usual Suspects; dude was in The Ref, Glengarry Glen Ross, and L.A. Confidential before he lost control of his ego. Right now, I’m more interested in what Robin Williams is going to do next. Oof!) Fans of me, and there aren’t any, will wonder at the omission of Before Sunset from my list, because if they existed, they would know how much I liked Before Sunrise. I’ve grown and changed a lot since then, and before I could be enchanted by Jesse and Celine’s wistful, happy reunion, I needed to see some evidence that they had, too. I tried watching it a couple more times. The thrill is gone. Anyway, here’s my top ten, etc:

1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This was by far the best film of the year, and as I read other top ten lists, and found myself getting extremely disappointed and even annoyed that other critics, some good ones, were listing it at 3 or 6, or even giving it an honorable mention, for crying out loud, I began to realize that it is one of my favorite films ever. I am a great equivocator, but in this case, the film hits me in such a unique and deeply personal way that it strains my ability to communicate how I feel about it with mere words (see my AMG review). By the time Joel tells Clementine he’s going to Rockville Centre (my hometown), I’m already completely sold on the movie’s deeply gloomy, wounded, gloriously washed out, achingly romantic (without a hint of sentimentality), and intrinsically cinematic spell. And don’t think that in 2004, a movie about the dangers of willful amnesia doesn’t have a trenchant political subtext. I know what this is. This is what we talk about when we talk about love.

2) Blissfully Yours
Sweet, gentle, understated, but very connected to the real world and its woes. Weerasethakul structures his narrative inventively, but he doesn’t go off the deep end and completely lose me, as he disappointingly did with his follow-up, Tropical Malady.

3) Crimson Gold

4) I Heart Huckabees
I go back and forth about how much I like this movie, but at this point, I’m thinking it’s funny and clever enough to make up for the fact that it may not be as smart as it thinks it is. Mark Wahlberg is a damn good actor, if you hadn’t learned that by now.

5) Time of the Wolf
After Funny Games and The Piano Teacher, I never thought I would like a Michael Haneke film, so I’m glad I gave this a chance. It bears repeating: “You really don’t know what’s going on? Or are you just stupid?”
The order of the last five (and my honorable mentions, for that matter) changes daily. But for now, this is it:

6) Springtime in a Small Town

7) Million Dollar Baby
Corny, old-fashioned tearjerker, and well done all around. Beautiful performances from Eastwood, Freeman, and especially Hilary Swank. A thoughtful, entertaining script that condensed a bunch of anecdotes into a flowing narrative. Tom Stern’s daringly dark palette makes this Eastwood’s most visually interesting film yet. Despite its cardboard villains, I think it’s easily his best work since Unforgiven. Er, make that A Perfect World.

8) The Clay Bird
This is a film about the Muslim world that Westerners need to see.

9) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Don’t really understand what all the grousing about. This is funny, genuinely quirky, and sad in every way a Wes Anderson film should be. I guess it would have gotten better reviews if it took place at a prep school or on the Upper West Side, but I think he should be allowed to expand his horizons a little.

10) Fahrenheit 9/11
Sure, it cost the Democrats the election in the minds of gloating conservative columnists and DLC nitwits. In real life, there was enough truth telling, righteous indignation, and wit on display to compensate for Michael Moore’s usual flaws. I vacillated between this and The Corporation for the last spot on my list, so I guess this is just frontlash, or whatever you call backlash against the backlash.

Honorable: The Corporation, The Manchurian Candidate, Distant, Blind Shaft, Maria Full of Grace, Sideways, Primer, Infernal Affairs, Raja, A Tale of Two Sisters, Main Hoon Na, Red Lights, and Kinsey. I almost forgot that one, but I thought it was great. It may be a conventional (if well executed) biopic, but this year, its subject matter hit home with tremendous power.

Sorry I Missed: The Return, Zatoichi, Secret Things, The Dreamers, Osama, Broken Wings, Lost Boys of Sudan, Noi Albino, The Agronomist, The Saddest Music in the World, The Brown Bunny, We Don’t Live Here Anymore^, Mr. 3000^, Tae Guk Gi, Birth, Tarnation, A Fond Kiss, Born Into Brothels, Deserted Station, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Code 46*, Ghost in the Shell 2

^=finally seen and downgraded
*=finally seen and upgraded

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"I wanna see you squirm, just a little, and when you smart me, it roons it."

I've changed the settings on this here blarg so that even people who are not "registered users" can post their comments. I'm all for the free exchange of ideas and all that crap.

I won't be able to come up with a clever and/or thematically appropriate quote for each post, so don't get your hopes up. As if, right?

I have decided to call this a "blarg" both because it is pirate-y sounding, and because onomatopoeically speaking, it evokes a cartoon character vomiting. So that seems appropriate. Top ten list, any day now. Turns out I will never see every film released in 2004. Better luck in 2005, I suppose.

Friday, January 07, 2005

"Right now, I really like that you're nice."

Hello strangers,

I am not a superhero. I am an oh so mild-mannered struggling writer, a perversely dedicated part-time video store manager and ex-boyfriend. I've been writing about movies professionally for over ten years now, and I am still trying to understand what it takes to be a successful film critic who contributes to our culture. Reading this ( doesn't really help. I have always liked Edelstein, but I really don't know what is going on here with Stephanie Zacharek, Charles Taylor, or Armond White. None of the films they slag so viciously (along with, by extension, the critics and viewers who enjoy them) is worthy of their contempt. Certainly not Million Dollar Baby and Sideways, with their sharp scripts and pitch perfect performances, and not even Dogville. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a bit of a mess in many ways (both The Corporation and Hijacking Catastrophe were better political documentaries), but it gathers together enough pertinent information and displays enough righteous anger to move me. But maybe I am too soft-hearted to make it in this business. A filmmaker really has to go out of his way (Hello, Andrew Repasky McElhinney! What up, Mel Gibson! Hiya, Tony Scott!) to offend me. I mean, even Beyond the Sea didn't offend me, but then I'm not much of a Bobby Darin fan. I just can't summon righteous indignation at imperfect filmmaking. Obviously, it's hard to conceive a cinematic masterpiece. Charlie Kaufman is a damn genius, and it took him several tries.

This is my blarg. I plan to write here about the films of the cinema, and other things that I know little to nothing about. I hope you enjoy reading it far more than I enjoy writing it. At least so far...

What makes my blarg different from all the other film blogs out there. I'm not sure. We both know that I am emphatically and empirically not you. But what I know, and you may not know, is that I am also not that other guy.

Soon, I will post my list of the best films I saw in 2004. This is an Arizona Jim! exclusive, and so it's very exciting and eventful for me and for all of my readers, even the ones that only read me because they love to hate me. You know who you are (Me!).