Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Quick Round of "Yea or Nay" (while he's away)

(Above: Bureaucracy at work in Playtime).

I was thinking of writing about each of these topics, but figured I'd clear them all out of the way now, as I'm clearly bursting with other ideas for this blog (*cue nervous laughter again*):

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – YEA. Maybe the best post-apocalyptic scenario I've ever encountered; Bleak but riveting. Also an unusually quick read for a McCarthy book. I finished it in two nights.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried – YEA; This book is a rare case where it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed.

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – NAY; He had me, then he lost me with all the sci-fi genre dabbling. He just comes across as a dilettante, in my opinion.

Playtime, directed by Jacques Tati – YEA. Amazing-looking film and utterly singular in tone, although it definitely won’t appeal to everyone. Imagine if Kubrick, at his iciest, had directed a Buster Keaton movie and you’d be on the right track.

Street Fight – YEA; Tough doc about the 2002 mayor’s race in Newark, NJ. A great glimpse at how dirty politics can get on the local level. The incumbent’s staff pretty much openly harasses the challenger, his people and the filmmaker in plain sight. Makes the election on The Wire look like a pillow fight.

I’m Alan Partridge series 1 – YEA, and it’s finally on dvd here in America. Steve Coogan as one of the funniest characters in recent times – an obnoxious, tacky, talentless ex-chat show host, now living in a Travelodge in Norwich and working as a very-early morning dj on a show primarily heard by farmers. Alan’s alienating behavior was clearly a big influence on The Office. Even better if you’ve seen the previous Partridge series, Knowing Me Knowing You. Need convincing? Here's a clip of Alan locked in a heady debate about intensive farming with Chris Morris.

Anti-stem cell research ad in response to Michael J. Fox – Clearly NAY, and while everyone in it is a complete sphincter, I have to single out the Passion of the Christ guy, Jim Caveziel (sic), who not only bookends this ad sitting in front of a statue of Jesus but spouts some Latin or something at the beginning just to be really irritating. Did anyone not see this guy’s apparent delusion coming? News flash, Caziel (sic): John Turturro played Jesus too, and you don't see him acting like an idiot. Maybe you should talk to, say, Andrew “Dice” Clay about the perils of confusing your character with reality. I bet Dice knows more Latin too; and since I’m linking to a YouTube clip:

All YouTube comments ever, especially for popular clips – NAY; Truly the dregs of humanity on display.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I know something is happening but I don't know what it is

If you're a Bob Dylan fan but thought the only remotely gay thing about him was that eye makeup he wore during the Rolling Thunder tour, here's an interpretation of one of his most ubiquitious songs that may change your mind:

Looks like that line about "the jugglers and the clowns" put some very twisted ideas in someone's head. Sadly, their even peppier performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” during the commercial break apparently wasn't recorded.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sick's a sort of metaphor for the way these people lead their lives.

Posted for no real reason, other than that Brass Eye should be seen by everyone on the planet but still has never been released in America. Pity how little has changed in Cowsick since '97:

Disappointed OLDBOY fan wanders into wrong film, fights off gang of ushers with a hammer.

(Above: Guess which of these three characters is the most entertaining in Old Joy).

In a recent post on the Onion A.V. Club blog, Scott Tobias wrote, concerning Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation and Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy: “If you care at all about American independent films, you’re required to see these movies.” Well, here’s a slightly less hyperbolic rejoinder: if you’re reading this post you’re required to treat that statement with extreme skepticism. I haven’t seen Mutual Appreciation, as both the praise and derision I’ve read concerning Bujalski’s two films make them sound like something I’d prefer not to endure, but I did see Old Joy and while it mostly accomplishes its very modest goals, they amount to so little that asking you to spend $9.50 watching Portland hippies on an uneventful camping trip is a tough proposition, even if your right to call yourself an independent film fan is apparently at stake(?).

First, I must admit that despite living in the DC area for nearly two years this was the first film I’ve seen at the swank-ish AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring. I was one of six people in the theater for a 5:15 showing, which made for a slightly awkward introduction by the guy who encouraged us to spread word-of-mouth for the film (yeah, sorry). The movie observes two longtime friends, Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham), who reunite at Kurt’s suggestion after some time apart to check out a hot spring in the Oregon woods. While Kurt is an unemployed, perpetual flake who’s taken to wandering the streets at night, Mark and his very pregnant wife – who’s understandably wary of Kurt -both have unspecified careers which apparently monopolize most of their time. I should note the movie is acutely observed. Oldham is convincing and not overbearingly quirky as the sort of annoying, faux-esoteric bullshitter seemingly stuck in an unending post-grad phase - but hey, says he’s “in a really good place right now” - whom one should take great pains to avoid in life. Reichardt portrays the trip exactly as it would likely occur, meaning there’s no showy confrontations over long-buried tension; no whiny, vapid “soul-searching” and no torturous, allegedly witty patter of the sort that plagues films about professionally aimless 20/30-somthings. For the most part, they simply drive up, listen to Air America (thank God not Randi Rhodes) in the car, get lost, find the place, hang out in the woods, in the meantime there are a couple of telling, subtle moments (literally, there’s maybe a couple), and when it’s over they’ll likely resume their prospective courses.

Old Joy uncannily has the feel of a glacially paced contemporary Asian art film where you basically have to fill in story and meaning in your head based on the largely subtextual info on screen. Can we stop pretending this is some kind of inherently intellectual style of filmmaking? Often in my experience these films end up as an emptily pretentious dawdle whose main worth is as a cudgel for smug would-be cineastes to use against the rubes who surely “should stick to Adam Sandler movies” if they “don’t get it,” as if detractors can only be entrenched in one possible camp. But I digress. Admittedly the Pacific Northwest is one of the most fitting spots in the country to transplant this meditative style, but the constant nature shots aren’t exactly of Terrence Mallick-like grandeur (the film apparently wasn’t shot on video but manages to look like it). As for the characters themselves, Mark seems vaguely worried about Kurt’s deteriorating mental and professional state, but otherwise we know too little about him to get a read on him and he makes disappointingly little impression other than as a guy killing time on a meandering weekend. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times writes that during the centerpiece scene at the hot spring where Kurt describes an anxious dream that contains the film’s summative line – “sorrow’s just a worn-out joy,” Reichardt “finds perfect cinematic expression in a stunningly moving close-up of Mark’s open, surprised and now-joyful face.” I found the whole thing a bit more inscrutable; if he’s supposed to be experiencing some sort of genuinely euphoric moment (has this ever happened to you when you’ve heard people ramble about their stupid dreams?) rather than relaxing in a toasted haze it doesn’t come across and feels a bit unlikely and unearned, even if that line does cut to the quick of the characters’ current relationship. I do like the film more in retrospect, but its thin, 76-minute story simply doesn’t add up to much, and as one commenter on the AV Club blog noted, to call it “one of the finest American films of the year,” as the Times review does, is to raise expectations that likely won’t be rewarded - although then again, this has seemed like a fairly unremarkable year so maybe they will.

So yeah, this post has been a long, rambling way of advising, “wait for the dvd.” But if you need an immediate Oldham fix you can always check out this cameo appearance from "Wonder Showzen," where he indulges in some down-home hijinx with Zach Galifinakis and David Cross... and no, Cross' familiar attire in this segment is surely no accident.

UPDATE: Remember how I said I liked the film better in retrospect? Well, I find myself liking it even more now. I still think the muddy characterization is a huge flaw and the overall hippieness of it a tad irksome but I appreciate more the way the film eschews on-screen obnoxiousness that you can find in a zillion other sources for a calmer, more assured approach. Hey, I'm entitled to modify my opinion right? That's one of the perks of being an amateur nobody - that and not being deluged with pesky praise, professional respect and scads of promo materials. Who needs all that anyway?!? *cue desperate laughter*

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hey NBC, how about a complementary Jason Lee moustache comb for the trouble?

Last week's premiere of 30 Rock, Tina Fey's new sitcom apparently based on the backstage goings-on at Mad TV, was funny enough that I'll be watching again this week. Unlike that Aaron Sorkin thing with the same basic premise that I haven't seen, this show does not appear to treat sketch comedy with the same we're-walking-here gravitas of national politics. No, thankfully here you've got my hero (even though he really seems like a jerk) Alec Baldwin effortlessly busting Tina's balls, and Tracy Morgan giving bizarre line readings about the government putting AIDS in chicken nuggets. Try it (Wed @ 8), you'll like it.

I was a little hesitant to post a positive note about this show as I don't want to look like I'm doing viral marketing for NBC or am trying to land one of those "reputable influencer" gigs that my fellow blogger litelysalted was offered. Not because I'm against it, but because I'm already doing viral marketing for The CW, that new WB/UPN merger channel. Take a look at this awesome mid-season replacement show I'll be promoting across the interweb in a few months:

- Llama; Capitalizing on the House and Shark trend of shows about unorthodox, charismatic, high-powered professionals with pithy names, Bob Hoskins stars as the latest incarnation of His Holiness, the Dalai Llama (spelling changed to the animal name for "fierceness"), and he's shaking things up along the path to enlightenment. A firm believer that "the character-building of suffering" should be a Fifth Noble Truth, Llama isn't afraid to crush some toes to bring Buddhism into the 21st century and save Tibet from shadowy Chinese agents. Viewers will be riveted by Llama's unusual methods, as he opens a high-tech Buddhist hospital with some seriously dramatic karma in Los Angeles; berates visibly shaken guest star Richard Gere; and dropkicks a depressed monk square in the chest to awaken him from a "nap of ignorance" (production of the series was suspended for several months while Hoskins recovered from this stunt).

This show will also be available via video podcast or sent to anyone who follows the Noble Eightfold Path on their cellphone.

(Above: Dharma and Bob - Hoskins running shit as Llama).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Extra! Extra! Mittens the Cat Stumbles Onto Bizarre, Symbol-laden, Psychological Netherworld!

In a way, blogs are kind of like those toy presses that let kids print out a "family newspaper" about the latest goings on in their overly precious households. So basically instead of writing cutesy headlines like "Mayer Family Adopts New Puppy" for the amusement of 4 people, adults like me are writing little, made-up, Onion-like news stories best described as "Man Enjoys 'The Wire' Immensely" or "Loud Target Customers Disrupt Sock Purchase," or "Self-diddling Ends in Tears Again" (wait, pretend you didn't read that last one), for the amusement of... 4 people. Same principle.

So with that in mind, here's a link to a news story that will affect Daddy's future movie-going plans: David Lynch will be distributing his new movie INLAND EMPIRE himself in the US (an unusual move for a name director, to say the least), and it should be in theaters by the end of 2006 in its full, three-hour version.

(Above: Dancing prostitutes + digital video x confusing narrative = Oscar)

Also, for those interested in such things, here's a YouTube link to a trailer for the upcoming Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez "double feature," Grind House, featuring a cast straight off of the USA network @ 3 A.M.

I'll continue to keep you updated on further developing stories, such as the nuclear situation in North Korea and dangerously rising hermitude levels in my apartment. Courage!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Best use of Dropkick Murphys songs in a police thriller?

(Above: "Woah, so did Faye Dunaway really throw a cup
of piss in Polanski's face?")

With his new, really-good-but-not-quite-great movie The Departed, Martin Scorsese – you may remember him as the director of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video - is “back”… sort of. While I liked The Aviator (although not so much that I’ve felt the need to sit through it again), it was an oddball epic about OCD that struggled to fashion a clear cinematic narrative out of Howard Hughes’ life. Gangs of New York was a mess that seemed to have escaped from Scorsese’s grasp at some point, or perhaps it was simply afflicted with Harvey Weinstein’s bad mojo. As for Bringing Out the Dead, the less said the better (ok, one positive – the title always reminds me of one of the early scenes in Monty Python & The Holy Grail). None of these films lacked Scorsese’s typical kinetic energy – at 64 his grittiest films are still vividly hyperactive, although he’s proven he can adapt to other styles as well (to quote Christopher Moltisanti: “Kundun – I liked it!”). Now however, comes a leaner, stripped-down, more impersonal tale that benefits from finding Marty (I call him Marty. We hang out on weekends watching old Howard Hawks movies) fully in his comfort zone – even if the film is knowingly a tad on the illogical side.

First, if you’re like me and thought the trailer made this film look like a disappointingly rote police thriller, you may also agree with me and find that Marty (“Hey buddy, it’s Chris. Have they flown in that rare Ball of Fire print from France yet?”) and screenwriter William Monahan utilize a full bag of tricks – including clever use of cell phones as a plot device – to revitalize the genre, although bear in mind I haven’t seen Infernal Affairs (a stupid title for a movie, but then again so is My Bloody Valentine for a band), the Asian film on which this one is based. The plot, in brief: undercover cop (Leo) infiltrates mob, while mob boss (Jack) grooms a rat (Matt) in the police dept. Both rats spend much of the film trying to find out each other’s identity, and by fantastic (to put it mildly) coincidence they both become involved with the same police shrink, who has the same role most women have in cop movies: a shitty one (unless they’re made to be improbably ass-kicking). I don’t quite know what it is Scorsese sees in Leonard(o) DiCaprio that he keeps casting him in such unlikely lead roles, but get ready for their next apparent collab, with Leo playing – I shit you not – Teddy Roosevelt (I'd sooner believe him as Teddy Pendergrass)! I give Leonard credit though for challenging himself with each film and possibly causing permanent damage to his brow with all that furrowing. He’s working hard again here; playing a character with lots of unconvincing and underdeveloped emotional baggage that doesn’t quite come across. I thought a scene where he unloads during his first visit to the shrink fell particularly flat. We’re never quite as invested in young Leonard coming out alright so much as we are in seeing Matt Damon’s slimy character get his. Damon is put to his most effective use I’ve seen to date (other than having him wander around the desert for 90 minutes, of course), and he should consider playing more weasely roles, as he's talented but too capable of being terminally vanilla elsewhere.

As for Jack, he gives a restrained, almost dour performance as an introverted nebbish… in The King of Marvin Gardens, 34 years ago. Here, he’s practically in full-on Joker mode. Initially, he balances the charisma level just about right, as he has to project a suitable aura of power in his role as boss/father figure to Damon. Plus, it'll always be entertaining watching him make lewd remarks to waitresses. By the film’s later stages, however, his performance is practically in another universe. We see him MAKING RAT FACES while ruminating over the rat in his gang and licking his hand after squashing a bug. Another scene finds him cavorting with two hot bimbos while wearing a leopard-print robe (guess whose idea that was) and throwing coke around like a ninja tossing a smoke bomb, which would be okay if the film took place in Newbridge, but it just seems silly here. No, the real scene-stealing actor in The Departed is Alec Baldwin, who, along with Mark Wahlberg as a belligerent fellow cop, dishes out all of the film’s best, shamelessly entertaining insult humor. In fact, Baldwin is such a great presence now as a doughy supporting actor that if William Hurt can be nominated for an Oscar for his slim but entertaining turn in A History of Violence then a similar nod for Baldwin wouldn't be undeserved.

Which brings us to the Oscar speculation that inevitably accompanies any Scorsese release. While his last two films overtly felt like Miramax-driven campaigns for a gold statue, this smaller, less ambitious but more entertaining and effective film might ironically represent Scorsese’s best shot at the award yet, particularly since competition this year is so paltry. After all, they can’t give it to Eastwood again… can they? Then again, maybe Brett Ratner is the new Golden Child. Whatever the case, every filmmaker knows that one’s career is not complete without a Best Director Oscar… which is why the films of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick are now hopelessly lost to obscurity while this year’s trophy is being replaced with a bust of Ron Howard that shoots fireworks. Now... tell me who’s Bad.