Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Which the Heavens Reveal...

...against every possible fucking odd that you might ever have imagined, that M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water will now close 2006 as only the SECOND most psychotically arrogant, most queasily self-obsessed, most psychically misdirected, and absolute batshit craziest movie of the year. Apocalypto would be monumentally funny, and a boon to drinking-game concocters everywhere, if it weren't so truly horrifying to ponder the cultural factors and the individual mental corruption that have allowed it to exist. Even when the film wants you to laugh—and if you've never heard the ancient Mayan phrase for "He's fucked," you have now—the laughter sticks in your throat, clogged, I hope, by your disgust. The movie finally earns its premonitions of apocalypse, but more for what it is than for anything it shows or says. Full review here. F

(And thank whatever Powers might possibly still Be for the very good thing that is the Free Preview Screening, so that I could know my enemy without paying into his coffers.)

(Image © 2006 Touchstone Pictures/Icon Productions)

Labels: ,

Monday, November 27, 2006

At Long Last Love

God bless the ambitious and the brave, who still think in images and ideas instead of effigy and chatter, who risk banality and cliché in search of something communal, who see the invitations in both lightness and darkness, who permit themselves excess in service of something grand, who soldier on without enough money and derive creativity from their own (relative) penury. The Fountain isn't perfect, and its debts are obvious, but it goes a long way toward redeeming the year. More soon, and more here, and here.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Supporting Actress Sundays: 1974

StinkyLulu, that deft miner of silver linings, that veritable Mrs. Dalloway of the Supporting Actress set, manages to host an ebullient and invigorating party even when the crop of nominees is as grim as I found the 1974 vintage to be. The first of these performances I ever saw was Diane Ladd's in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and while I'm a fan of this flawed but precociously affecting movie, and while Ladd's tart, flavorful turn as Flo has grown on me over the years, I never imagined that she'd emerge as my pick of any litter. But so it is. Ingrid Bergman and Talia Shire remain as off-putting now as they were when I first saw their movies, and though I was excited for my first encounters with Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles and François Truffaut's Day for Night—two diametrically dissimilar metafilmic comedies—neither the movies nor the performances by Madeline Kahn or Smackdown winner Valentina Cortese took me quite where I wanted to go.

With Claudine's Tamu Blackwell failing to ride the coattails of Diahann Carroll's Best Actress nomination; Lenny's Valerie Perrine vaulting successfully to the lead category; The Great Gatsby's Karen Black losing an Oscar nomination after winning a Golden Globe; Young Frankenstein's Cloris Leachman losing the Funnywoman Slot to Kahn (who herself impresses more in Frankenstein than in Saddles); and critical darling Bibi Andersson barred from contention for the rhapsodically received Scenes from a Marriage, Oscar compounded the problem of the year's slim pickings by exercising some bizarrely poor judgment and tripping badly over its own arcane eligibility rules. I'd like to believe that 1974's two fêted offerings from the late, great Robert Altman, either the gambling dramedy California Split or the eccentric bankrobbing yarn Thieves Like Us, might have yielded some piquant possibilities, but I haven't seen them.

If you have your own ideas about how Oscar might have made less of a muck of things in 1974, or if you want to stick up for his chosen field of five, please leave a comment here or chez Stinky. Give some props to the formidable Ladd, who also lent some picante sauce to her brief moments in Chinatown that same year. Don't lose sleep over the fact that Bergman's asinine victory in this race very probably cost her the Best Actress statue that was so obviously due her for 1978's Autumn Sonata; the catch-22 to being overcompensated with Oscars is that you tend not to win them when you finally deserve them. And let's look forward to December's Supporting Actress Shindig, which you, YOU, YOU have the power to route somewhere interesting. For novelty's sake, since I've only seen two movies apiece in each of these years, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for 1966 or 1984, though if the electorate anoints either 1975 or 1993, I get to revisit this life-defining masterpiece or this one. L'embarrass du choix!

(Image © 1974 Warner Bros. Pictures, reproduced from DVDClassik)

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bitter "Sweetie" Is Still a Beauty

Is the image at left an unconsoling one of a slender sapling utterly constrained by its barren environment of weary, eroded concrete and cropped, disembodied (non)caretaking? Or is it a hopeful, even a cheerfully irreverent portrait of the wee tree's dogged insistence on itself: a living implausibility in a world defined for better and for worse by cracked asymmetries, where every plash of color is a sensual delight and maybe even a spiritual victory—good news for the tree, surely, but also for whomever this is, gardening (if that's the right word) against all sartorial odds in her lavender skirt, her striped black stockings, her navy blue shoes, and some suggestion of a burgundy sleeve?

I have culled this emblematically vibrant and paradoxical frame from Sweetie, director Jane Campion's first and personal favorite of her six features. It says everything about my constant, giddy awe before this admittedly inconsistent but underratedly brilliant director that a movie this brave and astonishing—a confident, eccentric debut to put even Blood Simple to shame—still takes a Bronze Medal in my own inner Olympics to her gorgeously brazen apex of modern literary adaptations and to the best movie ever made.

Still, Sweetie is an absolute corker, genuinely unnerving and reliably hilarious, and also a movie that was practically invented for the Pause button, since each and every frame has been so wittily, punctiliously composed. Campion's estranging perspectives, her appetites for the alien bloodstreams inside domestic bodies and spaces, and her affinity for mannered performers and unlikely faces make her an especially glorious heir of photographers like Diane Arbus—although, much more than certain audacious but addled "imaginative portraits" I could name, Sweetie's exaggerated visual ideas and its proclivity for psychic binarisms writ garishly large actually dictate the look, rhythm, and structure of the film at all levels, instead of jittering inside an implausibly but increasingly commercial narrative structure.

For more of my enthusiasm about Sweetie—encompassing not just the film but the delicious and exquisitely detailed new DVD package from Criterion—I invite you over toward the website of Stop Smiling Magazine, which has generously farmed out another plum reviewing gig to me. Let this stand as partial proof that I am still writing somewhere even as I neglect this poor blog—which perhaps sees, in that trapped and stunted sapling, a pitiable image of its current condition. And by all means, rent or buy the DVD. I can attest first-hand that if you've only seen the catastrophically cropped and miserably color-timed VHS, you haven't really seen the film. Sweetie might unnerve, frustrate, or agitate you—indeed, it's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't at times feel goaded and tested by this piece—but unlike virtually any movie that has opened on any American screen this year, it bespeaks a major artistic talent and it demands a complex critical reckoning. (Come back to the 5 & Dime, Janey C, Janey C!)

(Images © 1989 New South Wales Film Corporation, reproduced from DVDBeaver's glowing review of the DVD and from the Criterion Collection.)

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, November 10, 2006

Getting Tagged, Treading Water - Completed!

From my conscious mind all the way down to my wee mitochondria, I am struggling to acclimate to the accelerated pace of the academic quarter system. The voice I hear in my head is Judy Davis' from Husbands and Wives: "Metabolically, it just isn't my rhythm." I feel like the term just started, and we're already racing to the finish? Have I even taught anybody anything yet? How have I read so many books in so little time, and how do I still have so much to catch up on? Sorry that posting has been light, especially after that energetic spurt at the beginning of last week. More to come soon, including a full rundown of capsule reviews of all those Fall 2006 releases for which I haven't yet explained my grades, from the delicious Departed and Old Joy to the underseen A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints to the overhyped The Queen to the god-awful Little Children. (Kate, Jackie, Jennifer, it isn't your fault, but Mr. Field, you are officially dead to me.)

Also, the elections are tomorrow, and you know I can barely handle the stomach-churning nerves. (Edited to add: YAAAAYYYYY!!!)

For now, just to register a reassuring blip on the cardiogram of this blog, I'm responding to a tag from Nathaniel, who apparently didn't have a great day. It won't help that I just dogged Little Children, but then, part of how cineastes show love is to gently bait each other, as Little Mr. Anti-Frances well knows. Here, according to his own meme, are some other things that Nathaniel probably knows about me, but which you might not:

1. Popcorn or candy? Neither. I'm all about soda, which in the last couple of years, I've started buying at the cinema instead of sneaking it in. I figure, hey, the multiplex owners have to eat, too, and maybe I can forestall the inevitable (i.e., the total evanescence of the cinema as a form, i.e., the end of life as I know it) by drinking way too much Coke (no ice!) out of waxy, oversized pails adorned with confetti, corporate insignias, and/or animated characters.

I will say that in Hartford, CT, about 200 yards away from the big 18-plex was a shop called the Tas-tease that sold tiny, two-inch-wide donuts in a deranging array of flavors and colors. Sure, you can guess the familiars, but pineapple? Blueberry? PB&J? Heath bar? They cost 50¢ apiece, and at that price, who could resist? Nathaniel can back me up here, as these doll-sized donuts helped us work our way out of a post-Flightplan funk pretty handily.

2. Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever I'll give you four: on my annually revised but never fulfilled list of New Year's viewing resolutions, I seem to be dallying in particular on Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux, Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, David Cronenberg's Fast Company, and Sam Fuller's The Steel Helmet, despite every encouragement that they'll be terrific (or, at least in the case of Cronenberg's early paycheck effort, kind of interesting).

3. You are given the power to recall one Oscar: Who loses theirs and to whom? Later, I will want to change this answer, but I'll have to go with my first response: send Art Carney back to the bullpen and call up Gene Hackman for The Conversation, who didn't even get nominated for my favorite male performance of an incredible decade of American film, give or take Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. Even more galling than Carney's win is that Hackman got squeezed out of the nominees' circle by Albert Finney, who, as StinkyLulu has recently rediscovered, is just awful in the elephantine Murder on the Orient Express.

4. Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe. Which will it be? I have actually already done this. For $11, I bought a cotton-polyester, bright orange hoodie that is straight up Clementine Kruczynski. Even more embarrassing than how often I wear it is how fully I imagine I am communing with Kate Winslet while wearing it. (Though, obviously, I need to wear it even more often and commune even more intensely to save her from the kind of sicko double-whammy of disappointing movies she's had this fall.)

5. Your favorite film franchise is... The Alien series, no question, especially the middle two. But even when the whole thing gets certifiably nuts with Alien: Resurrection, I'm so impressed by the producers' willingness to gamble on a truly interesting director with a spectacularly bold conception every single time out of the gate. I was about to ask 'Why won't more franchises do this?' but then I remembered the box-office grosses for Alien³ and Resurrection.

6. Invite five movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them? I was going to say, I would invite Shohreh Aghdashloo, Patricia Clarkson, Marcia Gay Harden, Holly Hunter, and Titus Andronicus, and, with a mad assist from my pal Titus, I would feed them Renée Zellweger. I assume this narrative requires no explanation, but perhaps an answer that isn't a joke or a compound felony is a bit more comme il faut. So, I will crack the lid on an actual, 100% dream scenario and invite Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Julie Dash, Amy Vincent, and Christine Vachon to dinner, to give a project pitch on my screenplay adaptation of Gayl Jones' novel The Healing. Over a meal of whatever the hell these people wanted, I would try to entice Angela to play Joan Savage, the multilingual, volatile, perpetually touring rock singer; Alfre as her more superficially centered but mysterious and potentially duplicitous manager-assistant, Harlan Jane Eagleton; Julie Dash to direct the joint, because even though I've had the gumption to write it, I do think a black woman should direct it; Amy Vincent to photograph it, because in Eve's Bayou and Hustle & Flow, she actually thought about how to light black actors on screen, and made two terrific-looking pictures in the process; and Christine Vachon to produce it, because she'd make us do everything for scale but she'd make the movie we wanted.

Now, having admitted this in the semi-public of this blog, don't be stealing my idea, y'all. I will get you, and when a fan of Gayl Jones' fiction says something like that, you might want to worry about what exactly I'd have in mind.

7. What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cell phones in the movie theater? Clearly, they should die seven days later, amidst terrorizing visions and fronds of wet black hair.

Honestly, though: why don't we have ushers anymore? The answer, obviously, is that the theater industry literally can't afford to turn away or alienate a single customer, even the awful ones who ruin things for other patrons. But, if I ever owned a cinema, I would pay someone to hang out in the back or in the aisle and remove the talkers, phone-callers, and other rowdykins. Call me a schoolmarm. Go ahead, do it.

8. Choose a female bodyguard: Ripley from Aliens. Mystique from X-Men. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2. The Bride from Kill Bill. Mace from Strange Days. My answer to #6 has already neutralized the surprise factor here, but Mace all the way. Memories might be meant to fade, they might even be designed that way for a reason, but as a famous black lesbian once said, she don't fade. Angela Bassett puts me in touch with my own inner black lesbian. Doesn't she you?

Plus, I don't really like the alternatives. Ripley is amazing but too ornery for me, unless we're counting that spunky, funky, half-alien Ripley from Resurrection, who seemed pretty up for a good time. I'm too chatty for Mystique, and I'm too actressexual to hang out with Linda Hamilton or Uma Thurman, who just aren't interesting or accomplished enough performers to sidle up to me. (Sorry, boys.) Bodyguarding, in the case of this question, is clearly less a question of having my life saved than of being entertained and awed into hero-worship, though let's not undersell Mace's fierce bodyguarding skills. She does have that kicking bulletproof limo, plus those pistols in her garter belt. What's a Hattori Hanzo when you've got (it like) that?

9. What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie? Unless you count the entirety of An Inconvenient Truth, which you should, the only cinematic vision that ever truly wormed its way into the nightmare factory in my mind was Zelda, the scoliotic sister who so deeply disturbs the female lead in Pet Sematary. She freaked out my brother and me for a good long while. Rrrraaachelllllll...

10. Your favorite genre (excluding comedy and drama) is? Why are we excluding drama? So few are made anymore, especially contemporary ones, and compared to the number of comedy, horror, musical, and action fans out there, I think dramas need all the fans they can muster. I'd rather watch Jessica Lange save her farm or Josh Waitzkin learn chess or Mary McDonnell get her groove back or Emma and her mommy reconnect with each other than watch horny American teenagers get julienned abroad or watch Fred and Ginger dance. I avoid bad musicals and bad action films and most bad horror films (though not all), but I often go to dramas that I know will be bad.

11. You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power? Movies made by and about women, employing female directors, writers, cinematographers, editors, actors, composers, production designers... and, especially, offering full creative license, adequate funds, and marketing that isn't braindead so that women who really dazzled us with their early breakout successes but have no Coppola or Miller royal bloodlines get the second, third, or fourth chances they deserve but usually get denied. And so that interesting and prodigiously talented women who still have to fight for every project wouldn't have such an uphill climb for at least a year.

12. Bonnie or Clyde? Bonnie. Sorry, Nat. It's the clothes.

13. Who are you tagging to answer this survey? Tim, Ali, and Goatdog.

Hooray to finishing what one starts, even when it takes a week!

Images © 2004 Focus Features; © 1974 Paramount Pictures/American Zoetrope; © 1997 20th Century Fox; © 1995 20th Century Fox; © 1989 Paramount Pictures; and © 1999 Milan Records

Labels: , , , ,