Three days in and this challenge -- to watch a Made For TV movie every day this week -- is starting to get a little brutal. Mostly because we had to search around our digital cable to find something that counted as Made For TV and ended up on the Lifetime channel. Lifetime makes Cinecultist feel bad, not because the tear-jerker stories are so moving but that we find them inadvertently funny. Is CC a bad person for giggling when the teen jock with cancer collapses during a backyard BBQ to celebrate his football scholarship? How exactly was Shattered Hearts celebrating women? Corn-fed Luke Moldenhauer finds out he has cancer, he battles it, it battles back and somewhere in there he and his girlfriend, Julie, run off to Vancouver for the week. CC guesses the idea is that chicks like disease movies, especially ones where women stand strong and fight against adversity or discrimination and whatnot. The irony must be pretty deeply entrenched to snicker at that. But if being snarky in the face of a Lifetime melodrama of this low caliber is wrong, CC don't wanna be right.
Remainder: CC has begun contributing to Daily Gusto's new group blog format under the tag Cinecultist, though we will be probably solely writing about non-movie related topics. It may sound confusing, but head over to check out our thoughts on eating at Jean-Georges Vongrichten's Spice Market this past weekend.
As Cinecultist's harrowing challenge to ourselves to watch a Made For TV movie every day this week continues, we took in USA's Call Me: The Rise And Fall of Heidi Fleiss, a version of the Hollywood madam's career and subsequent jailing. Like any '80s/'70s excess rags to riches to rags story there are certain obligatory scenes, as the plot steam rolls to its inevitable conclusion and Call Me is no different. The obligatory sex-and-money montage with "Relax Don't Do It" playing on the soundtrack. The obligatory cut-away-to-spurting-fountain to allude to another kind of shooting. The obligatory Heidi-converts-innocent-girls-to-hooking montage. And of course as it all goes down, the obligatory torching-the-diary-on-the-BBQ sequence. Jamie-Lynn Discala, our sweet little Meadow and Broadway's Belle in Beauty and the Beast, wants us to know she's all growed up. CC has now seen Discala's coke snorting face and fake orgasm face a few too many times than is really necessary.
A few choice quotes culled from Call Me's classic dialogue:
As Heidi gestures to her honking diamond ring, "It's from the richest guy in Brazil. I like to wear it with sweatpants, it looks Arab."
Heidi: What business are we talking about here, show business or hooking?
Pockmarked boyfriend/pimp Yvan: Same thing.
Because I'm the only girl she (Russian Madam Alex) knows that can add and subtract.
Heidi on her former mentor, Madam Alex: Sometimes I really hate that fat mumu slob.
I don't hook anymore, I'm management now.
Toothless Vice Officer: There's a bull dyke in Lompoc who's just waiting to meet you.
Heidi: Stop sergeant, you're making me all wet.
Even in the fast lane, you never quite knew when you'd be pulled over.
And CC's personal favorite: If only my Hebrew school teacher could see me now.
Cinecultist wishes to apologize for the lateness of this Monday posting -- our Dreamhost servers were down all day today, hence the AWOLness of all the Cinecultist-y content you know and love. We'd planned on posting a real barrel scraping entry about I Want to Marry Ryan Banks, a ABC Family channel movie about reality tv CC had found ourselves inadvertently watching from start to finish. CC has long resisted the siren call of reality tv, even mocking Survivor and American Idol to the face of huge fans even blatantly dissing Meredith the Bachelorette when we saw here in 7A on late Saturday/early Sunday, so why the hell were we watching this fictional narrative account of the making of some Bachelor rip off?
Why, for the love of all that is good and holy, why? Because the Cinecultist likes a challenge. Our mission -- to watch an irredeemably bad Made For TV movie every day this week, preferably on less than premium cable, and write about it. Will our eyes fall out from the insult, our brain ooze out our ears from the lowering of our I.Q., or our sides split from the laughing at the stupidity? Surely.
There's something sort of fascinating about aging, former hunklet Jason Priestley and his valiant efforts to be more than the guy who was Brandon Walsh. Here he "turns his goodie two shoes persona on its head" by playing the womanizing actor Ryan Banks whose career needs the boost only image-happy reality tv can offer. Nice guy Will from Alias, Bradley Cooper plays his best friend and manager Tod Doherty who concocts the whole reality tv scenario to deal with Ryan's philandering but in the process falls for one of the contestants, Charlie (Emma Caulfield).
Even the names of the characters scream bad tv movie -- cool girl Charlie with masculine tom-boyish name, and Tod freakin' Doherty which sounds like one of the boyfriends from the Sweet Valley High series. But the oddest thing about this little film was not the dry heave reflex CC experienced every time we had to watch that cheesy "key ceremony" in the two hours, but the sense of deja 90210 vu watching Jason and Emma on screen together. Oh yeah, that's right before Emma was Anya "I Hate Bunnies" on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she was brunette Susan Keats, nerdy college newspaper editor and uptight girlfriend to Brandon! That's what Cinecultist really looks for in our Made For TV movies, correlations to Beverly Hills, 90210 plots.
Dear readers, what travesty will CC watch next? Only our digital cable remote knows.
One of the founders of Dogme95 the purist aesthetic cinema movement from Denmark and arguably one of the current international directors really pushing the possibilities of film, Lars von Trier's Dogville opens today in New York and Los Angeles. Nicole Kidman and an impressive cadre of co-stars inhabits a Depression era town where the walls and foliage are chalk outlines and stenciled signs. Intriguing, thinks the Cinecultist.
So says A.O. Scottin last week's Sunday NY Times:
"Dogville belongs in the company of other European dreams about America — Kafka's Amerika, of course, but also Bertolt Brecht's plays set among the gangsters of Chicago and films like Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas and Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabrikie Point. To call these various works dreams is to caution against taking them too literally, and also to suggest that they may be most interesting for what they reveal about the dreamers."
Also see, Stephen Holden's review from when Dogville played as part of last year's New York Film Festival. Back in October, Josh also saw it and posted this insightful, concise review on Cultivated Stupidity:
"Holy shit Dogville. Holy shit I was 5 feet away from Nicole Kidman. Holy shit Dogville."
A reminder from Cinecultist that yesterday began the 33rd New Directors/New Films series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center which runs through April 4. Featuring films from around the world, this annual series co-produced with the MoMA brings a unique view to current international cinema. The films screen at MoMA Gramercy Theater, Alice Tully Hall and Walter Reade and there are even $8 student rush tickets available the day of with valid ID, for those of you out there on the cheap. $12 general admission and $10 member tickets are also available at the venue box offices.
Read brief reviews of the films by the Village Voice critics staff to figure out what you need to make time to see.
Cinecultist didn't want to overload our readers with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind postings, but we did see the film this past weekend after much build up. And we loved it, not to fear. All of the expectations were met and there were no lingering feelings of overrated buzz.
But what to say now about said lovely, luminous, melancholy film that either hasn't been said by other critics or doesn't seem like general consensus retread? (Other than of course, "run don't walk to the theater to see it.") We knew all along that we would love it, and that was based on the preview. It made CC bop in our seat. It made us happy to be at the movies. We hadn't felt this elated watching a few minutes of edited footage since first seeing the trailers for Rushmore and Lost in Translation. Sometimes a film speaks to you bout how you feel about your universe, that seems to take a part of your imagination perhaps you weren't even consciously aware of and puts it on the screen. Eternal Sunshine is one of these kind of movies and we're not sure we can think of a more thrilling film going experience.
Below we offer a non-IMdB Eternal Sunshine photo harvested from the web for your viewing pleasure.
Remainder: If you haven't been over to Daily Gusto in a while, you should check out their hot new redesign. And we're not just saying this as a former, and hopefully future, contributor -- Jennifer and Harry, the blogazine looks good on ya.
Browsing the movie news this morning, Cinecultist found the following lead graf in an article about last weekend's international box office receipts from Variety.
After mourning their compatriots who died in the March 11 terrorist bombings in Madrid, Spaniards sought solace in escapism last week by catching "Hidalgo," an exotic adventure where a U.S. cowboy beats comic infidels, and feel-good comedy "Along Came Polly." The weekend B.O. dropped by 20% to its lowest level this year as cinemas shuttered during the day March 12, when 12 million Spaniards took to the streets, and on the evening of March 13, but exhibs had feared a much worse falloff.
There's something sort of unsettling about this business as usual attitude to the obvious financial concerns following a disaster, that CC can't quite put our finger on. Though granted, following the World Trade center attacks CC does remember quite a bit of talk about whether people still wanted to go to the movies and what they might want to see. Of course people always want entertainment and some escapism, there's nothing frivolous about that. But still. Maybe it's the idea that Spaniards saw Along Came Polly and Hidalgo as that needed respite. We haven't seen either of these ourselves but they seem to represent to CC all that sucks about Hollywood's cultural imperialism. All those empty costume extravaganza and hairy nipple sight gags hardly seem like salve to the aching soul.
For some reason, Josh of Cultivated Stupidity found it imperative that Cinecultist watch Dawn of the Dead this weekend, despite our well-known aversion to the horror genre. We made plans to meet at Union Square for the 4:30pm showing on Saturday but a phenomenal amount of human congestion on the subway in SoHo (since when does the platform fill up between trains so that you can't move on a weekend afternoon?), resulted in a very late Cinecultist and a very pissed off Josh. After much shoving, waiting on line and other such Manhattan annoyances, we caught up with him finally in the balcony about 25 minutes into the picture. "What happened so far?" we whispered. "There are zombies. Now they are in a mall," Josh whispered back. And strangely, that was all we really needed from those missed first act moments to understand the plot of this formulaic and disappointing re-make.
We've said this before, but Cinecultist is very susceptible to the structures of suspense in movies. The music cuts out, the character on screen drops their guard or does something stupid like opening a door that clearly has zombies on the other side and CC can't help close the eyes and cover the ears. This does not make for an enjoyable movie watching experience, feeling compelled to look away when what we are there to do is watch. Dawn of the Dead is filled with these suspense-leading-to-total-ick moments with zombie babies, hay wire chain saws and bloated old lady zombies who get fire pokers through the head. Blech, entirely unnecessary. In addition as Josh pointed out, the film doesn't have a consistent mythology which really seemed to get in his craw. What makes you a zombie, the blood or the bite? Is the super-bleak final credit denouement really possible? Shouldn't Canadian indie queen Sarah Polley being in this movie automatically make it infinitely better than it was? Basically, if the goal of the afternoon was to convert CC to a finer appreciation of the pleasure of horror films, this was not the picture to try to do it. No funny, no witty just icky -- no thanks.
A Tribute to Marco Bellocchio, one of the more important voices of Italian cinema in the '60s and '70s, kicks off at the BAMcinematek today and runs through March 28. He was a part of what P. Adam Sitney calls a "vital crisis" in Italian cinema of that period and what commentator/filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini depicts as "neodecadent and neoformalist" which "anticipated the renaissance of the Italian neo-avantgarde."
Cinecultist previously saw and found fascinating his first feature, Fists In His Pocket (I pugni in tasca) (1965) which will screen on Wednesday, March 24, about epileptic, incestious siblings with a violent streak. If you think The Dreamers is a freaky family story, you haven't seen any Bellocchio. The man himself will be available for a Q & A next Saturday after a screening of Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno notte), his most recent film from 2003. CC will be at a screening of Henry IV tonight because we want to expand our understanding of this intriguing director and because it has Claudia Cardinale. A full life really can not have too much Claudia C. in it.
A final link to some more freaky stuff, Trey Stone and Matt Parker's Princess cartoons are available on the Trio website. Princess reminds CC of the evil penguin Feathers from Wallace and Gromit, so much can be said in a simple blink of expressionless eyes. However, be warned cinecultists, "the sexual content was so extreme that production on the 'webisodes' was halted early on and have never been seen in any medium. Until now." Not to be watched at work with the speakers up very loud, in other words. [via Fleshbot, who will clue you into a login]
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So excited. So very excited. Can't. Stop. Reading. Reviews. Of. It. This may overwhelm Cinecultist's very high expectations into an unreachable place where fantasy about the ultimate movies lie. Or perhaps not, since we are one of the few people we know who actually liked Human Nature (the first Kauffman/Gondry collaboration about evolution and sexual impulse. We thought it was charmingly weird). Join us in the review reading binge, it will make us feel better about our obsessive tendencies.
Peter Travers in Rolling Stone says, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind chases so many ideas that it threatens to spin out of control. But with our multiplexes stuffed with toxic Hollywood formula, it's a gift to find a ballsy movie that thinks it can do anything, and damn near does."
J. Hoberman in the Village Voice says, "Shot through with intimations of mental illness, Eternal Sunshine is scarcely as cheerful as its title suggests (although an Ingmar Bergman remake might be truly sidesplitting). It's playful and a bit grueling—like love itself—and there's a sad shabbiness unlike anything in current American movies.
Anthony Lane in the New Yorker raves a little less than one might expect, but he's British, so we can discount him a bit. "In truth, when one looks back on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one realizes how little of the movie has been devoted to the business of loving, let alone of making love. We get a double helping of first dates, and a bunch of barking arguments, but this is a romance assailed by time, and the promise of uncluttered bliss that is proffered by the title is held witheringly at bay."
Update: Even Aaron of Out of Focus has seen it and offered his astute but fawning opinion! "In an era when people are confusing Mel Gibson with God and a Janet Jackson performance has become known as "nipplegate" while sending shockwaves through the broadcasting industry, I just wish that we could spend more time focusing on a film which proves that not all movies are just popular entertainment but great works of cinematic art still can be."
Damn. Must See This Movie. Must See It Soon.
Doing a little mid-week housekeeping, Cinecultist was verifying our contact information at Netflix.com and realized we've rented just over 80 DVDs from the mail based service in the last 14 months. That's a healthy hunk o' time spent in front of the DVD player when you break it down to the bare numbers. CC likes that we can keep track of our varied viewing, it's all very consumer feedback. When the company receives your most recent selection back, they send you an e-mail asking you to rate the film, so they can better tailor their recommendations for future viewing. Cinecultist likes this feature of the service because it only takes a moment to click on the stars from one to five and we like to think that our equal parts interest in art house and popcorn flicks confuses the hell out of their statistics. Following is some highlights from our best and worst screenings in the last year.
Monsters, Inc. -- Pixar animation
Croupier -- English gambling movie with Clive Owen
Happy Together -- Wong Kar Wai baby
I Am Curious: Yellow -- Swedish sex movie from the '60s
Under the Tuscan Sun -- Diane Lane goes to Italy
Wild Strawberries -- Ingmar "the Man" Bergman
Husbands and Wives -- Woody Allen oldie but goodie
Shanghai Noon -- Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson kung fu western hybrid comedy
My Wife is an Actress -- meta moviemaking French film with Charlotte Gainsbourg
Ratcatcher -- Scottish masterpiece from Lynn Ramsay
One and Two Stars:
Real Women Have Curves -- HBO produced Latina feminists harp about each others bodies
Italian for Beginners -- Dogma '95 tries to do Rom Com
Chinese Box -- Jeremy Irons mopes in late '90s Hong Kong
Unfaithful -- Diane Lane cheats on Richard Gere
Clockstoppers -- Jesse Bradford mugs in stupid kiddie sci fi
The Story of Adele H. -- CC fell asleap during this Truffaut picture
The Cat's Meow -- Orson Welles obsessed Peter Bogdanovich shouldn't direct Kirstin Dunst
The Rookie -- Dennis Quaid as an aging baseball player, snore.
Cinecultist never could be a ballet dancer, the feet are much too leaden and the idea of only eating fish and salad sort of depresses us. But apparently former child television actress Neve Campbell always longed for pointe shoes and she has the chance to show off her considerable dancing talent in Robert Altman's newest, The Company. Starring the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, as well as Malcolm McDowell and James Franco both in non-dancing roles, the film alternates between elaborately staged dance sequences and a fiction following a young dancer (Campbell) becoming a principal at the Joffrey.
This kind of story is perfect for Altman's pseudo-documentary style, as his camera sort of spies on the characters, pulling in closer for us to hear the juiciest gossip and then swooping away to follow other action occurring out of frame. There's also the requisite gentle mocking of the subject Altman is so obsessively following, but unlike in Pret A Porter where that ribbing deteriorates the fiction because the object is so ridiculous, in the Company the expectation that the bizarre ballet we've seen coming together will flop, is turned on its head by the beauty of the dancing despite those odd costumes and painted faces. Campbell brought the film's concept to Christine Vachon's Killer Films, created the story, worked on the script with writer Barbara Turner and stars in some of the most rigorous dances of the film -- begrudgingly Cinecultist may have to forget her obnoxious whine from "the Party of Five" and even shelve in our mind the insult that was Two to Tango in favor of respect for her co-authoring/creating of this film with Altman. Dammit, another seemingly rational blind judgment overturned!
[Not So Confidential to Peter Howell of the Toronto Star, an Altman movie indie 'nough for you? Just because CC is of the Eee Vee doesn't mean our taste has to be high fallutin'. We do the High and the Low -- and we are enjoying ourselves, thanks for noticing.]
Men with perms. Barry Manilow on the soundtrack. Girls in terry cloth short shorts and knee high socks. Pimp-tastic suits all around. Is this all that is needed to make jokes about the cultural oddities of the '70s? According to the recently released movie version of Starsky and Hutch starring Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller, this should be enough to put us in stitches. But sadly, S&H is more of a funny movie in theory, rather than practice.
When CC first heard that Wilson and Stiller were going to be in a movie version of the popular buddy cop show, the first question which popped into our head was, "Do we really need a Starsky and Hutch movie?" But to see the comedians dressed in their tough guy garb walking down an alley in slo-mo, the connection makes sense. However just because it seems like a good premise, doesn't mean that the filmmakers will execute it into a compelling full length feature. Even though it never was a SNL sketch, that's sort of what these two hours feel like, a comic sketch stretched to its limit. All of this is not to say that there aren't elements to like -- Stiller and Wilson's undeniable buddy chemistry, Vince Vaughn's bat mitzvah throwing bad guy, and Snoop Dogg in general. Now talk about star presence, that Dogg has it in spades. But in general, CC only had a few audible chuckles through the whole thing, and that's not a good sign.
Ranting aside : What's up with IMdB.com lately? The flash movie previews, the rerouting from the page requested to a full page ad for an HBO movie, are so very annoying. There's commercials for a captive audience and then there's overkill. Time to look for another movie info resource...
All week, Cinecultist had been looking forward to seeing a movie at the tiny West Village coffee shop, Jack's Stir Brewed Coffee with our WV friend, Ilana. Tuesday nights, they feature live music in the West 10th St. space and Thursdays are devoted to movies, with last night's screening of Frankenstein. That's what we intended to do, honest.
We got as far as walking past a bit after 8 pm, when the film was set to start, but the smallness of the place, the potentially uncomfortable hardness of those wood benches set up in front of the sheet tacked to the front window, and the age of the crowd made us move on. It was a nice night for walking around and talking and eating a vanilla cupcake from Magnolia Bakery, since we were right near there.
The moral of the story? Even the Cinecultist needs to take an evening off every now and again to enjoy the non-movie related company of a good friend and a cupcake. Happy weekend cinecultists, we'll be back next week with more movie-related obsessing.
Elf 2 Congratulations to Will Ferrell and wife Viveca on the birth of their son, Magnus Paulin Ferrell 8lbs 12 ounces Sunday. Dare we hope for a comedy dynasty? [via the AP]
Who'ffleck, What'ffleck? Ben "Back Peddling" Affleck is trying to reconnect with what made him a stah-r -- Miramax, Harvey and Kevin Smith. Making a statement last night at the premiere of his new movie, Jersey Girl, he apologized for agreeing to be involved in Peter Biskind's book Down and Dirty Pictures, the exposé on Miramax. In addition according to the Post, "spies said he met up with several women in a West Village bar last Saturday night, "bought them all rounds of shots and then took them back to Matt Damon's apartment where he is staying." Affleck himself did not drink." Ah, to have been a fly on the glass at that Da Silvano-ish place.
Saliva Swapping In the "Apparently This Counts As News" category, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have both been getting lots of colds on the set of their new movie, Mr and Mrs Smith, where they play married assassins trying to kill each other. According to the Post and its sources, "part of the problem apparently stems from extensive shooting of love scenes where the two share saliva." That clears it all up for us.
Movie things to do tonight if you are downtown in Cinecultist's nabe:
* Today begins the New York Underground Film Festival screened at Anthology Film Archives on 2nd Avenue. In its 11th year and running through March 16, the festival features premieres of new documentaries, features, shorts, experimental works, installations and live music & multimedia shows. The full list of filmmakers (including CC favorite Guy Maddin) and their works screening available on the NYUFF site. Tickets cost $8.50 or 10 ticket punch cards for $50 and are available at Anthology. [via Flavorpill]
* Wednesday nights are Movieoke Night at the Den of Cin on Avenue A. Starting at 9 pm, act out your favorite movie scenes against the backdrop of a large screen dvd projection. Don't worry, beer and wine to fuel your Pacino impression will be available. The evening is created and hosted by Anastasia Fite and you can read more about it on this Fox News article. [via CC reader Lisa]
Update: CC and the NYT on the same brainwave -- honest, we didn't know this article was appearing when we wrote this posting. Eeoowww, creepy.
Faced with the need to stay home at least one night this week but the dearth of Monday television options, Cinecultist decided to chose at random a film from the Collection for re-viewing and commentary. Thus launching our new On DVD series to answer the question -- Cinecultist owns it, but why? To kick things off, we offer five reasons why CC owns While You Were Sleeping (directed by Jon Turteltaub, 1994).
1. It's set in Chicago. It is easy enough to film a rom com in some city, shoot some cityscape footage and call it a day, but it's more of a trick to offer the texture of a place in the film. Working class Lucy (Sandra Bullock) toils for the CTA in that decidedly unglamourous vest. She orders a daily hot dog, even though the vendor can't remember her usual. They seem like throw away details but they flesh out the comedy.
2. Michael Rispoli. As Joe Jr., the deluded, creepy goomba-esque neighbor, CC loves this character from that first ass crack shot to the last tearful agreement that he could be cheered up by trying on Lucy's shoes.
3. She falls in love with his family.She's not a liar, she's just lonely! Rom coms need us to like the heroine but there's no plot if they don't act in a little bit of anti-social, screwball way. Here the story gets to have it both ways, in a organic manner.
4. The "touchstone" is the Florence snow globe. Lucy longs for a man who will give her the world, Jack buys her a snow globe; it sounds the ultimate in cheese to describe it here but the movie sells it as charming and believable.
5. Peter Gallagher's eyebrows. We're not sure we would fall in love with him from afar, but he's quite funny as the shallow lawyer who wakes up to discover he's engaged to Sandra Bullock. Some career advice from CC to Peter -- Comedic roles like the O.C. = good, "dramatic" turns like Center Stage = baaad.
Remainders: Lindsayism (aka That Lucky Bitch) already saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind last week. CC is so excited to see it, we're recommending it already at left.
In Germany, the title of the film Death to Smoochy is Tötet Smoochy (another film Michael Rispoli appeared in) which translates literally into Smoochy Kills. Robin Williams as a children's entertainer is so horrific, it may kill you.
After a long week at The Day Job, Cinecultist was in serious need of some cinematic silliness and thus Friday night took in a screening of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights with our friend Lisa. After seeing The Best Movie of 2004 with Lis a month or so ago, it was hard to imagine we could enjoy Havana Nights as much as Chasing Liberty, (and when we say "enjoy," we mean "laugh our asses off at") but we did. Between the appearance of Patrick Swayze, the smarmy good evilness of Jonathan Jackson (Lucky, son of Luke and Laura from Days of Our Lives!) and the oddly modern '50s Cuban pop music sung by Mya, this is a classic in the making. A classic train-wreck that is.
Romola Garai stars as Katie Miller, a do-gooder over achiever who moves to Cuba with her family right before THE CUBAN REVOLUTION (caps intended to convey the gravitas the movie tries to grant this political upheaval in the midst of dirty dancing in cute costumes). They move into a fancy hotel where she tries to blend in with the pool lounging richies but is more drawn to the street music and the sweaty delight of Diego Luna (the slightly less hot one from Y Tu Mama Tambien). The Swayzack makes his appearance as the phenomenally well-preserved dancing instructor in the hotel who teaches Katie to feel the music, and there is no moment when he's on screen that Cinecultist wasn't totally creeped out. The man has been bathing in formaldehyde and while he seemed to be knowingly mocking himself in Donnie Darko, here he's trying to play it straight. There's nothing like a former beef cake sex symbol swirling an awkward ingenue around the dance floor to induce the snickering.
And boy did the snickering spread through the audience as the film began to wind down to its inevitably tragic conclusion. Their love may be over, but they'll always have those Havana nights, etc etc. CC might like to think that it was our irony that rose the audience's consciousness but really the dialogue in the last 20 minutes is so horrid, it would make the most dedicated Dirty Dancing fan roll their eyes. Best moment during the screening? When a particularly cheesy and yet quiet moment enabled the entire theater to hear the audible *thwack* of Lisa smacking her head in disbelief. Havana Nights -- so best.
With the continuing controversy over the issuing of marriage licenses to gay couples (a valiant fight for civil rights, by the way), it's fitting that Cinecultist watched recently on DVD Stanley Kwan's Lan Yu (2001), a story about a love affair that should have been a one-night stand but became more. Beijing business man Chen Handong (Hu Jun) is quite the playa, and he thinks when he takes home Lan Yu (Liu Ye), a young architecture student who's looking to earn a little money, that there will be the simple exchange of cash for sex. But a bond develops between the men despite Handong distancing assurance to Lan Yu that "when people get to know each other too well, inevitably they part."
In many ways similar to Wong Kar Wai's gorgeous Happy Together, this tragic love does not end happily, though its poignant conclusion is beautiful in its own way. The lingering final shot of movement -- Happy Together's train window view and Lan Yu's gaze out a car window at a blurring construction site -- generates that real feeling of loss in the viewer. Intriguing that both directors would connect that loss to a view of modern detritus, as though our automated lives keep us from experiencing emotion so viscerally except in these special circumstances. If you live on the wind swept steps of Russia and you wear fur hats and look like Julie Christie or Omar Sharif, then sure, it makes sense your love life would be tragic. But really these visionary directors, Wong and Kwan, bring out the humanness of love affairs even in the far reaches of modern Asian of South American cities, even between two some might call unlikely lovers.
We first met in a crowded bar in the East Village at a Gothamist/601am Happy Hour. We were both carrying clutch purses. That's how Cinecultist knew she'd found a kindred spirit in Meghan Stier, aka Megastyles and the online editor of fashion bible, The Daily. The night after the Oscars, Megastyles and Cinecultist sat down over IM while watching the Fashion Police -- Joan and Melissa Rivers cutting up the stars on E! -- to discuss Charlize's tan, Uma's stylist's immanent firing and why fashion and film go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
Cinecultist: boy, I forgot how much Joan’s voice makes my skin crawl and this music may give me seizures. I love it already!
Megastyles: oh there's a little Joan in everyone. Love it. She’s like the Mommy Dearest I never had. She actually looks ok, if she doesn't turn to the side.
CC: What is up with her Botox? That is some serious face frozen action there.
MS: She needs the Botox to keep her cheek implants from moving. What's Thanksgiving like at that house? Does Leon come over?
CC: A nightmare I'm sure.
MS: Does Joan slap Melissa if she reaches for pie? Oh Charlize.
CC: Can no one pronounce her name?
MS: Rivals Angelina as "most beautiful woman in the world."
CC: She does look great. Everybody hates Uma's dress.
MS: Some stylist hates Uma.
CC: How could that have seemed like a good idea?
MS: Maybe she was thinking, like, couture artsy? Might have worked with much less clothing.
CC: Diane Keaton there's no need to still dress in men's wear. It was your signature in the '70s. Move on baby.
MS: People don't get it so now they have to accept it. Still sick of it. Nicole *yawn* Holly Hunter! J'adore!
CC: Lovely. Sexy. Meow. How do you feel about Zac Posen, in three words or less?
MS: Ok, Kelly Lynch (who wore one of his designs) insisted on saying "po-Zen" at the awards. Three words? Ov-er-rated. You?
CC: Fair 'nough. Infant terrible, over—it.
MS: Zac Posen is for elves and wood fairies.
CC: Angelina was my favorite look. She's scary and hot.
MS: I love her in anything. Did you know her designer did that horrible Toni Braxton toilet-paper dress?
CC: So the big question is, do any of these looks seem familiar to you from the runways? That's been the big pre-Oscar news, how the change in the ceremony messed up everyone's schedules.
MS: no, nothing looks familiar really. All the big girls, Charlize, Nicole, etc. I’m sure had their dresses custom made. The big thing was there was supposed to be so much color, but the end result was really muted, neutral tones… Joan really is so much better than the actual Oscars.
CC: I was surprised how everyone seemed to be in white or beige. Look at that Joan -- she can't even wink!
MS: yes -- I was expecting more blues, aquas, and yellows. Ack! I can't stand Jennifer Garner. None of the dresses work because she's...a man!
CC: I like when she's kicking ass on Alias, but her body is sort of strange.
MS: I think it's great she's so athletic, but she usually wears such floaty waify dresses that don't go with her body. This one actually did. She looked better than usual.
CC: Do we care about men in their suits?
CC: Good, what a relief. That look on Marcia [Gay Harden] freaked me out. Bad hair nightmares for weeks.
MS: I know, but what can you do? She’s got contractions on the brain, not couture. She gets a free pass.
CC: Sigh. I guess so. She just looked so beautiful when she won for Pollack.
MS: She really did. She’s beautiful in a very handsome way. Oh blah, Sofia Coppola.
CC: Of course Sofia wore Marc (Jacobs). Did we expect any thing else? Sofia's still my girl though.
MS: Really? What’s the appeal? Part of me thinks I don't like because I’m secretly envious of all the free Marc she gets.
CC: I don't know. The expectations as a kid were so low (scary robot performance in Peggy Sue Got Married, the Godfather II debacle, etc.) but as she grew up, she blossomed. She always looks quirky-smart-interesting.
MS: Overall, how were the Oscars, fashion-aside? From a cinematic point of view.
CC: Predictable. There were no big surprises from the nominations to the awards. I like it when there's something shocking and unexpected and then we get to see some actor or filmmakers give some exuberant acceptance.
MS: Monique Lhullier is the new red carpet designer to watch.
CC: Jamie Lee is growing old very gracefully.
MS: Diane Lane is doing it better though...
CC: Diane Lane is always amazing looking.
MS: Women of all ages would kill to look like that. I have to say; the nice thing about Joan is that she never mocks what people say on the red carpet, only what they wear. Like, if you spit while you talked or something, she wouldn't make fun of you. As long as you looked hot.
CC: It's the only place where Joan holds back. She knows she can't really throw stones when it comes to wit. So whose look was all the buzz at your office?
MS: Everyone loved Nicole, but I really thought Charlize was the standout. There’s no comparison, right? And, it turns out I am the only person in America who likes Renée pre-Bridget Jones.
CC: Charlize used to be a model. She knows how to work it. Oh no, you liked her as the skeleton woman? Talk about giving me nightmares. Renée looks great right now. I wish she would stay just like this. Love it girlfriend. Love your chipmunk cheeks!
MS: What can I say? Renée works the ano-chic look. But she's no Lara Flynn-Boyle. Thank god. Julia Roberts: so great looking.
CC: So great. Scarlett is doing that Mena Suvari, “look ma I’ve won critical accolades now I must dress like I'm 35 years old!” thing.
MS: I don't get Scarlett Johansson. Can you explain her to me?
CC: She's a child. She's a woman. She wears pink panties. Guys like that kind of thing.
MS: I always wonder how they choose the special guest on these shows. Like, where's "The Fashion Guy?"
CC: Who is that exactly?
MS: He's this fashion guru but nobody really knows what he's done. He’s like a VH1 talking head that goes by "The Fashion Guy."
CC: Like he's self nominated? I am a guy. I know fashion. Deal with it.
CC: That's awesome! He is his own pr machine.
MS: I know, and look how far it got him. He’s a regular Joan guest.
CC: All the way to E!
MS: We should all be so lucky. [Enter Judge Henry Roth from Style Court] Oh please, who is this joker. Style Court is the worst show on TV.
CC: He's the style judge. He has a degree in style.
MS: A legal degree. Leon is right about Liv: the hair was a killer.
CC: Liv Tyler's hair was like a bad joke from Edward Scissorhands.
MS: Hey, this is kind of like the Oscars fashion Queer Eye. I feel like Thom and Carson are going to burst into my apartment.
CC: This is like QVC. Can I purchase all of this jewelry Joan and Melissa are showing us at a convenient 800 number?
MS: Yes you actually can. Joan is QVC all the way.
CC: She's shameless. And that's why you got to love her. [Joan and Melissa discuss their accessories that they wore on the night before] That's the thing I find the most odd about fashion mag coverage of the Oscars. As though you could capture the look of the celebs on the red carpet with your knock off accessories and the right up swept do. They employ people to dress them. If I employed people to dress me, I would look like a million bucks too.
MS: Half of it is just lighting and good makeup.
CC: Unless I employed Uma's stylist. Is that person fired for that look, do you think?
MS: He's very unemployed today. Fired and skewered with stilettos by the fashion mob. Not pretty.
CC: Someone gave Johnny Depp a haircut, that person deserves an award. Much better than his usual crazy guy look.
MS: *applause* Melissa’s outfit confuses me. She’s all black tie from the waist up, denim from the waist down. But like, Sunday afternoon denim, not Friday night denim.
CC: She's mixing it up. She's being all downtown. She's wearing a ring that she made Vera Wang take off on the runway and give to her on the spot. She's that annoying girl from junior high who always borrowed your hairbrush during gym class and you had to disinfect it afterwards.
MS: And then you hate yourself for giving in.
CC: Would she have a career if her Mom weren’t such a catty bitch? Is Joan really even a comedian any more?
MS: She'd never make it anywhere but the red carpet, but then again, where else does she want to be?
CC: Nowhere, which makes me want to cry.
MS: Oh, best and worst dressed! Charlize: too orange? I didn't mind the tan.
CC: She all around a little much for me. I keep catching her on TV in terrible, terrible movies and I hate her a little bit more every time. Sweet November. Devil's Advocate. *Shudder*
MS: Question: what did people say to Uma's face when they saw her? What could you say? "Look at youuuuu."? Ok Cinecultist, let's have a star rating for Joan and Melissa, scale of 1 to 5.
CC: They crack me up, even as I know they are the Horsemen for the Apocalypse. Five stars. Stupid, good fun.
MS: Agreed. 5 stars.
CC: Megastyles, fashion and movies -- why do they go together like peanut butter and chocolate?
MS: Because when you put them together, you forget about everything else. It’s the ultimate distraction. Do I know what's going on in Haiti right now?
CC: Something about Aristide. And Colin Powell. And troops. But I do know that Hollywood glamour is back in a big way!
MS: Glitter! Sparkle! Glamour! It's back. Again.
It's a tough thing to be friends with Cinecultist. Sure, you get to hob nob with the glamour and the wit swirls around like so much magical detritus but there's no mere "let's go to the movies." There's nothing so simple when you're friends with the Cinecultist. A simple movie date with CC? Forgetaboutit.
CC had been wanting to catch The Dreamers for awhile now and Sunday afternoon seemed like a good time, a really lovely spring day in the Eee Vee. But is a NC-17 movie about cinephilia and Paris in May '68 really the best thing to watch on a first date? Of course not. All of this absurdity aside, CC did enjoy the film if only from the love of cinema surging from Bertollucci's movie. The reconstruction of famous movie scenes and the quotation are meant with such devotion, the Cinecultist can't help but be touched by this fellow feeling for the movies. Eva Green does even have a touch of the Anna Karina to her (so obviously implied by the threesome allusions to Band of Outsiders), and we were tickled to see Jean-Pierre Leaud reconstructing his famous speech before the Cinematheque Francais inter-cut with footage of him as a young man. That playing with time and commentary on the process of historical reconstruction was quite interesting.
But there is the lingering feeling that this is a weird weird movie. The way the characters react to things, so accepting of their anti-social tendencies and sexual anomalies, is completely unsettling to the point of nervous laughter. It's not that anything they did on screen was so shocking, but that they had no awareness within the narrative that their romantic intricacies aren't the end all be all. There is a tinge of Romance to this film, the belief that all of this emotion is truly epic, that seems to be too sincere to be accepted.
Last week, Cinecultist caught a screening of Osama and then sat down with Doug French of Filmington.com via IM to discuss the Taliban, the camera as character and how CC is going to single-handedly make ankles the new cleavage. Following is the a reprint of our conversation, published yesterday on Filmington.
DOUG Welcome to Filmington’s Religious Zealotry Week! After all, what better way is there to kick off Lent than a back-to-back smack of man’s inhumanity to man, all in the name of devotion? We’ll get to THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST soon enough, but first we have OSAMA, an insider’s view of life under Taliban rule. And with us once again to discuss this Golden Globe winner is Cinecultist’s Karen Wilson.
KAREN I too thought of this film’s relation to Ash Wednesday with its fixation on sin and redemption. Watching it last week reminded me how happy I am to be a young Manhattan Jew who can enjoy working and doesn’t have to wear one of those olive green burkas. OSAMA is a beautiful and moving picture with thoughtful things to say about the state of women in the Middle East, but it’s not particularly upbeat or fun-loving.
DOUG Them Talibansters weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs. We’ve all read that the Taliban were a rare breed of religious hotheads who subjugated women to the point of nonexistence. But from OSAMA, written and directed by Afghan filmmaker Siddiq Barmak, we learn that a lot of this stricture comes from a deep fear of temptation. Sins of the flesh, and all that.
KAREN It’s interesting how the Taliban rhetoric, as depicted in the film, implies that women just can’t trust men to control themselves—which is why women must be covered and curtailed—and then shows that men are motivated by lust to do despicable things. One of the film’s most evocative shots is the close-up of a pair of a woman’s ankles as she rides the back of a bicycle. Her feet are so delicate in those utilitarian sandals, but just as we’re admiring them, she is told to cover them up to avoid arousing some passing man. OSAMA succeeds because it allows these moments to be visual and subtle, rather than purely melodramatic or histrionic, while still driving home that sense of injustice.
DOUG And that’s ingrained into us from the very beginning, as a brave troupe of women (still covered from head to toe in the desert heat) dares to protest their inability to work and is violently dispersed with hoses and gunfire. It’s a great motif, since the waves of sky-blue burkas offer the only color in an otherwise grim palette of gray, beige, and black.
KAREN The other thing I loved about that sequence is the way the camera becomes a character in the scene. How could we be glimpsing this dramatic moment as these women take to the street? Why, if there’s a foreign journalist with a VHS camera there, of course. It reminded me a bit of RUSSIAN ARK, in which the narrator becomes a character, as we later see the grave consequences of that foreigner watching the actions of the “holy” Taliban. Beautiful and scary, that’s what this movie is the whole way through.
DOUG ARK is a spot-on appropriate reference, since Barmak trained in Moscow. But I hope you mean “beautiful” in the stylistic sense. Because though OSAMA is delightfully unassuming in its blunt character portrayals, its settings are arid enough to make you feel like you’ve stuffed about a billion saltines in your mouth.
KAREN The camera work is very assured, and the women’s complete resignation to their lot in life based on their gender is quite depressing. But because even the thought of rebellion is so foreign to the women, OSAMA is not the sort of plucky feminist movie you might see Hollywood make (about a blonde female boxing promoter, say). The mother and grandmother must either disguise the daughter as a boy or starve. It’s not as though the girl longs to be a boy—in fact, she must be convinced every night to keep up with the charade. To be talked into having hope, now that’s a bleak life to be living.
DOUG The truly inspired turn is Barmak’s casting of Marina Golbahari, who has a fragile Natalie Portmanlike look about her, as the girl whose real name we never learn. (What would be the point?) Rather than fit in easily, she stands out as girlish and awkward, and worse still, she seems aware of it enough to look over her shoulder at every turn.
KAREN All the actors are fabulous in a Italian Neo-Realist “look at the diamond in the rough we just discovered!” sort of way. I wonder, though, how much of what they’re doing on screen is actually a performance, or just being lead by a skillful director to project what they already have experienced in their own lives.
DOUG Yeah. Maybe it’s an Afghan BEST IN SHOW. The you-are-there POV is enthralling, but about halfway into the charade I began to wonder if some of these plot escalations were a bit contrived. If gangs of boys are pestering her and saying she’s a girl (and the assertions are understandable, given her high voice and slapfighty defenses), why not check under the hood and be done with it?
KAREN You think those thugs are afraid of some ankle but will make some random little “boy” drop trou on the moment’s provocation? The audacity of what she does is obviously unusual, otherwise wouldn’t all of those protesting women also be impersonating men so they could work? There wasn’t any part of the plot that I found unbelievable, mostly because the injustice of the whole lifestyle is so jaw-droppingly horrific. I give this movie a resounding recommendation, though it’s not for the faint of heart or the easily upset. $10.25. I’d pay full NYC price for sure.
DOUG Healthy plaudits for a worthy film, but it ain’t worth Filmington’s first $10+ rating, in my view. I felt for “Osama,” especially as she navigated the genital-washing seminar from the old mullah/perv, but she remained oddly flat to me. I suppose that’s the point, since the real “Osama” was probably no one that special: just a girl who did what needed doing. It’s great enough that OSAMA was ever even made, and all the more gratifying that it was made so well.
KAREN OSAMA is the rare kind of movie experience that gives you an intimate look at a new universe and also makes you feel blessed to be only looking in from afar. I don’t think I could see it again soon, but like some of my favorite films from last year—such as LILYA 4EVER—OSAMA was very emotionally gripping. Maybe that’s why I appreciate movies that depict religious zealotry or injustice. I can look at the women in burkas without having to wear one myself.
DOUGOoh, yeah. Show us them ankles!
Usually Cinecultist is all over the full Oscar coverage and finds all the jokes about the length of the show unnecessary whining but not this year for some reason. Was it the predictability of the decisions? The (much deserved) sweep of the Lord of the Rings in all of their nominations? Or the fact that CC hadn't been to bed the night before until 4 am? But either way CC was in the pajamas by the time Blake Edwards and Jim Carrey were joshing around on stage and somehow fell asleep right after the award of best original screenplay to our girl Sofia Coppola. We woke up again with a start at 1 am, the television still blaring and all the lights on, with the deluded thought that perhaps the show will still going on.
The two scariest moments of the evening that we caught -- the cut away to Marcia Gay Harden in the monstrous bee hive and electric blue cleavage bearing caftan during the award of best supporting actor to co-star Tim Robbins. She looked like a very bad Elizabeth Taylor impression. Jack Nicholson passing on his "magical cool" sunglasses to host Billy Crystal in the opening montage. Does he look more and more like the crypt keeper to anyone else in these public appearances of his? Is someone just dehydrating him a bit at a time like a piece of beef jerky? Runner up: Michael Douglas wearing wrap around sunglasses in doors. Granted, this is in La La land but on a February evening at an awards ceremony? Why? Why?
Looking totally hot -- Angelina Jolie in that satiny white goodness with the arm tattoo. So scary and so very smoking at the same time. Renee Zellwegger, also in white, looking well-fed and utterly pleased to have won finally. Her acceptance speech was neatly folded inside her sparkly purse which CC found utterly charming.
Looking not so much -- There's Jim Carrey! He has no hair! He's speaking in gibberish! Wha? Peter Jackson, so much talent and so much shlubby geekiness oozing from him even his surely expensive suit couldn't cover it up. We love the guy but he's no fashion plate, that's for darn sure.