Everyone at CC's place of business is abuzz with the Sundance Film Festival. Read A.O. Scott's bitch slapping from Sunday or check out Mindy Bond's coverage via Gothamist. We like Mindy's take because it's New York centric and mostly about attending parties.
Yay for Noah Baumbach by the way, who won for his screenwriting and direction of The Squid and the Whale. We knew our oggling of his writerly self at the Life Aquatic press junket wasn't mere objectification. No trailer up as of yet, but a few images here of Anna Paquin and our Eee Vee neighbor* Jesse Eisenberg.
* We don't know where Jesse lives exactly, but we've seen him a bunch of times around the nabe with his little girlfriend, particularly near the 2nd Ave F train stop so we think we can call him a neighbor with confidence.
Seattle Maggie could not help noticing that A Very Long Engagement has been enjoying a, well, very long engagement at the Egyptian. It has playing for at least a month and a half, which seems like eons for a theater with only one screen. Luckily, this gave us the opportunity to actually get ourselves together to see it, which was much harder than it should have been for a theater that is literally just around the corner from our apartment. Inspired by the recent post of EW’s list of 2004 movies to see, we made our way to a lonely matinee; we were hoping to redeem ourselves as a serious filmgoer after an embarrassing incident in which we snickered at an inopportune moment during The House of Flying Daggers (somehow, Eddie Murphy’s tiny dragon from Mulan kept shrieking in our head, “They popped out of the snow! Like daisies!” and we couldn’t help ourselves. We are so sorry.)
A Very Long Engagement once again pairs that magical couple from Amélie, leading lady Audrey Tautou and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. In the aftermath of World War I, Mathilde (Tautou) is searching for her missing fiancé Manech, who had been sentenced to death for the crime of self-mutilation in order to escape the fighting. As no one actually saw Manech die, Mathilde becomes convinced that he is still alive and sets out to investigate, despite the fact that the last place he was seen alive was the dreaded No Man’s Land between the French and German trenches. Add a polio limp, a vengeful prostitute, a witty private investigator, an eccentric aunt and uncle, a tuba, a flatulent dog and a naked Jodie Foster, and you have a film that careens from gentle quirkiness to stark devastation with very little breathing room between the two.
We always has time for films by Jeunet, which include the midnight movie classics The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, as well as the better-than-the-third-one Alien: Resurrection. It’s always a good time playing the “Find Dominique Pinon” game, the distinctively craggy-jawed homme being one of the best character actors out there, and we do find Tautou captivating, especially once we got over her slightly creepy, beady-eyed Amélie poster. So we hope that no one will be offended if we quote Cher from Moonstruck, and say: “That was so awful.”
Like the opera, the film is so big, so powerful, so awful in its themes that it becomes more than a story. War is not just bad, it is a gray horror that whistles through the air and disintegrates hapless souls before your stunned eyes. Love is not just good, it is a magical force that transcends reason, logic and fate. This extravagant method may not sit well for some viewers. In one scene, an ill wind ripples through the wheat as the government men approach to draft a man to fight; we heard someone snort disbelievingly behind us because of the thin line that it treaded between beautiful metaphor and outrageous cliché. Seattle Maggie, however, tends to err on the side of grand gestures, and we had ourselves a good cry at the truly bittersweet ending. We were especially affected by the film’s treatment of the raw ugliness and absurdity of war. The fact that someone somewhere once thought that ordering men to run straight at a machine gun was a good idea has always rankled at our good sense. The scene in which Mathilde and a German woman meet in a café bathroom seems to encapsulate how Jeunet feels about it all; when all the explosions and haughty posturing of nations is through, all that is left are two grieving people washing their hands and apologizing for their respective countries.
Oh dear. At least this time that pert little voice in our head kept quiet until after the credits finished rolling. All we have to say is this: Maybe a dingo ate your fiancé? That’s it – Seattle Maggie is officially not allowed back into the movies until we really, really think about what we’ve done.
J Ho calls it a personal favorite and so does Cinecultist, it's Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados. Playing for two weeks at Film Forum with a new 35mm print starting tomorrow, CC's so psyched for some brutual Mexican surrealism. A story of street children trying to eek out a life in Mexico City's slums, Los Olvidados kicks you in the teeth and you beg for more. There's a reason that Buñuel's in the pantheon and watching this "masterpiece" will further cement why.
Like Dalì's lobster telephone, which alters the way you think about shellfish and telecommunication devices forever once you've stared at it long enough, Los Olvidados does funny things to your brain in relationship to roosters. You never knew they were the birds of the subconscious, but once Buñuel plants that idea in your mind, it's tough to shake it.
PS. For a little more winterish New York-based surrealism, check out this weekend's Idiotarod. "The Iditarod is the famous long-distance race in which yelping dogs tow a sled across Alaska. Our Idiotarod is pretty much the same thing, except that instead of dogs, it's people, instead of sleds, it's shopping carts, and instead of Alaska it's New York City." The thing starts in Brooklyn and ends at Tompkin Square park in the Eee Vee, so between that on Saturday and the Hot Chocolate Festival in front of City Bakery on Sunday, CC thinks we have our weekend plans pretty mapped out.
With the release of the Oscar nominations yesterday (isn't Adrian Brody too cute it makes you a little ill?), Cinecultist feels compelled to begin our "rooting for the Oscar underdog" campaign. Looking at the best Actress category, we can't help but think it will be Annette versus Hilary (again). However, we loved loved loved Imelda Staunton's performance in Vera Drake. It makes us launch into hyperbolic statements like "she's a revelation!" With a Mike Leigh movie, you always know you will be seeing consumate actors in their element but still Staunton surprises with how deep she digs into this character.
Summing it up pretty well, Stephen Holden's Critic Notebook on the Oscars published today.
For some reason, we've got nothing today, cinema-wise. The blizzard has left Cinecultist depleated and sluggish, even though we spent part of it in an Australian bar deep in the Eee Vee drinking fruity champagne cocktails and the other part in bed reading Lemony Snicket books. Both the mother and the grandmother (not related, except by former marriage) called from California to make sure we were wearing boots. The streets are clogged with slush and we really need to go shopping for more potent moisturizers.
In the face of all of this, we bring you two shameless plugs --
° If you live in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Seattle you really should go out to see Seattle Maggie's theater group, the Pork Filled Player's sketch comedy show running from Feb. 4 through Feb. 26. The show is called "In the Mood for Lard" which is such an awesome title for an Asian American comedy troupe's performance, we can barely stand it. Our SM works as a writer/lighting designer for them and if only we hadn't just started a new job with no vaca days yet, we'd hope on the first cheap JetBlue flight out there. Tickets cost $12/$9 and can be purchased at ticketwindowonline.com. Performances at the NW Actors' Studio Cabaret at 1100 E. Pike Street.
° Please go vote for Gothamist in the Bloggies this year. The reasons are two-fold: 1) Gothamist is a great little site that we're honored to be contributor to and 2) maybe then Dobkin will stop sending us e-mails about the pending nominations.
Sigh. Remember when everything in the world seemed possible because Andie Walsh took two ugly, pink prom dresses and then sewed them together into one fabulous '80s confection? Pretty in Pink on TBS is the perfect annecdote to snowed in Sunday here in blizzard central. Molly Ringwald. Andrew McCarthy. Jon Cryer. Annie Potts. James Spader as Stef. Gina Gershon as the gum-chewing, rich girl number two in the gym. God, it's so freakin' awesome.
"I justed wanted them to know they didn't break me."
"You buy everything, Stef. But you couldn't buy her. And that's what's killing you. She thinks you're slime. And deep down, you know it's true."
Coincidentally, our current default iPod playlist contains a cover of "If You Leave," the OMD classic, done by Nada Surf. How our generation loves the ironical covering of classic pop tunes from the late twentieth century. By the way, CC thinks we'll try to start using the phrase "let's plow" in our regular conversations just to confuse people. And because everything Jon Cryer does in this movie as Duckie is just too cute for words. Geeky devotion in rolled sleeve blazers and suspenders with wing tips? So totally hot.
Sigh. There's not much good coming into the theaters this weekend, and that's because it's mid January. Assault on Precinct 13 versus Are We There Yet? Oy. You'd think that trying to traverse the frozen tundra that is Manhattan's city streets this week would be enough of a downer, but no! You've got to add the pain of no decent movie releases to the affliction of our vaguely frost bitten limbs.
To be honest, Cinecultist is mostly trying to catch up on our end o' year viewing, as we're sure you are as well. This weekend for us: Ray. We will brave the Quad Cinema, where we broke a seat one time, in search of Jamie Foxx's lauded performance. But that's not all that exciting, very un-news worthy, barely worth a report. The fact of the matter is, we'd love to spend as much of the next few days curled up under the duvet with a good book as possible. Sadly, as the new Day Job is currently on deadline, that's not to be.
Perhaps we'll just post this link to the Postal Service video directed by Napoleon Dynamite's Jared Hess, "We Will Become Silhouettes," courtesy of one of our new co-workers, Sarah, to pep ourselves up. If Ben Gibbard in acid wash jeans and a turned up collar polo shirt can't warm your toes through, then perhaps you have no feeling at all.
If the merits of a movie could be based on the number of weird and vaguely hysterical telephone calls the Cinecultist felt compelled to make after watching it, Hotel Rwanda would deserve a special award. After we caught a screening a week or so ago with the Capn' and lovely Jori, we walked home in a daze, still wiping the fresh tears out of our eyes. In this emotional state, we felt it necessary to try to call random family members promising we'd protect them from the machete.
This may sound like a silly response to a mere movie, but there's something extremely resonant about this character's experiences. Oddly, Hotel Rwanda despite capturing the experience of one man and his family during genocide in a remote African country, felt incredibly immediate. Obviously, this has huge part to do with Don Cheadle's stand-up-to-cheer acting performance as Paul Rusesabagina, the real Rwandan hotel manager who saved over 1000 people from massacre.
But the most amazing thing about Paul, as depicted by Cheadle, is how ordinary he is. He lives this enviable but mundane middle class life. He holds a good job, knows the right people, and thinks of himself as a rational man living in a rational world. However, all of these "truths" can not protect him from the upheaval across formerly European imposed racial lines as he witnesses his countrymen at war with each other in the most brutal fashion. The fact that Rusesabagina risked his own life to save so many other lives is incredibly inspiring, but to also see him make mistakes and at times doubt his decisions, is incredibly affecting.
Even though the film ends happily for Paul's immediate family, the journey they take during Terry George's film is so exhausting and emotional, CC couldn't help but desolve into tears during the final reel. Hotel Rwanda is a movie which unsettles our routine as it thrusts us into this horrific, real world experience. This may not be a feeling which lasts, and in some ways, it just wouldn't be possible to maintain that level of empathy through the day to day grind. Yet as an object of artistic expression, Hotel Rwanda appears to be one of lasting importance.
What better way is there to spend a snowy MLK Day evening than watching an Irish romantic comedy in the East Village? This is Cinecultist's way of saying this is what you should be doing tonight heading down to the Millenium Theater (66 E. 4th St. between Bowery and Second Ave) for an evening with the Reel Roundtable, where CC was invited to screen a film and participate in a Q&A with Elizabeth Carmody about movie blogs.
We'll be watching When Brendan Met Trudy, a favorite of our from 2000, about a young school teacher and film fanatic, Brendan who meets a mysterious girl, Trudy in a pub one night after choir practice. Filled with film references visually and in conversations between the characters, WBMT is a great jumping off point for talking about movie love. There's a little wine reception starting at 7:30 pm, the movie starts at 8 with the Q&A to follow. Tickets cost $5 and can be bought on the premise from Elizabeth's high tech cash box.
There's some really fabulous film blogging happening lately on the web, as evidenced in our sidebar at left, which will hopefully make for a lively discussion tonight. If you haven't already been lingering over at the Conversation, you really should be. A group blog between some of the most stellar cinema voices on the web, Out of Focus, the cinetrix, Filmbrain, David Hudson of GreenCine Daily and Liz Penn, they've been dialoguing on the Golden Globes and other end of the year topics. We suggest clicking over asap, so you don't end up like CC, caught like a rabbit in headlights during an IM convo with your buddy Aaron, completely unaware of his faboo new project. Bad CC, bad!
This weekend is the Golden Globes telecast, that hallowed awards ceremony wherein Hollywood stars of movies and television receive awards from the H'wood Foreign Press Association. Other people with a better knowledge of probability than Cinecultist have determined how frequent the winners of Golden Globes go on to receive Oscars at the Academy Awards, but let's just say it's a lot. So we should be excited about watching the telecast on Sunday, and yet CC's having a tough time getting into it. It all seems too much like business as usual for the movie making machine and really there's no underdog movie we feel we have to root for against any Big Bads. Have we become too jaded too soon?
Since the recepients and presenters will be living it up Beverly Hilton Hotel at this 62nd annual event, ie. getting drunk off their asses since the event is a sit down dinner in a ballroom not just an awards telecast in a theater, CC thought we might come up with some ways to drink along with the stars.
• Each time Joan Rivers on the red carpet jokes that she's going to swoop in on the newly single Brad Pitt, drink something.
• Every time they call anyone of the following a "Movie Legend" take a drink:
Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Mike Nichols, Joel Schumacher or Robin Williams.
• Every time they show that blasted clip from Sideways with Paul Giamatti instructing Thomas Haden Church how to properly consume wine, swig something.
• Each time they cut away to Renee Zellweger's pursed little face, drink something quick.
• Anytime you see a cast member of "Desperate Housewives" contorting herself into a glamorous pose, pour yourself another tall one.
PS. We meant to link to it earlier in the week but be sure to check out Manhattan User's Guide's year long guide to the film festivals. What an awesome resource. Now there will be no excuses. Write it in your calendars, set those Outlook reminders and get on that ticket buying in time for good seats to good reperatory cinema.
Last night, Cinecultist attended the second film screened by the Asian Cinevision as a part of their continuing Asian and Asian American film showcase at the Cinema Village of the 2003 Japanese film, The Hunter and the Hunted. If all of the films are going to be of the caliber displayed in Izuru Narushima work, you can expect to see CC there every month without fail.
The title sounds like it could be for some sort of thriller or action drama, but instead it's a whimsical, heart-felt comedy with a few dramatic elements — one of our favorite kinds of foreign films. There's a cute kid, an awkward romance, a deepening professional friendship, a noble father, a sincere childhood flashback and some bubbly montage in the Japanese spring time. If only it were possible to plug in these elements to any film, and like circuits on a breaker, make the whole thing spring to light. No, we know there's much more art to it than that, thanks to the subtle art in Narushima's direction.
A word also on Kôji Yakusho, who stars as Jin the noble father and detective who is the hunter to Akira Emoto's Neko who is the hunted first class thief. This man knows how to act! He's fabulous. We loved him in The Eel (1997) [rent it, you won't be sorry] and we're heard wonderful things about his performance in the original Shall We Dance. Imdb says he's going to be in the adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha, which also stars Gong Li, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh. Sounds like it's going to be a sweet cast, now we're really excited to see it released.
As it seems that Japanese horror is all the rage these days, Seattle Maggie would like to take this opportunity to point out that Koreans can be scary, too. We’ve got the hottest food, the kicky-est martial arts, and the most bad ass grannies on the planet (you try getting on an elevator in a Seoul bargain basement – those little old ladies will plow right over you with their push walkers). And we don’t need our Homegirl Margaret Cho to get us started on our moms. So, move over J-Horror, and bring on the K-Horror! When we heard that the Varsity was showing A Tale of Two Sisters, we hustled our kim-chee lovin’ buns over to catch a screening. If you chose to click on the link to the movie on the Tartan Films website, you may be surprised to hear that we survived the screening with our hearts un-shredded and our eyeballs un-seared. We were also treated to a few truly creepy moments, an Ah-Ha! plot twist and some genuine bittersweet emotion that is often lacking in horror films.
Sisters Su-Mi and Su-Yeon have returned from an unspecified stay at the hospital to their father’s remote house in the countryside, only to greeted by their aggressively cheery stepmother. There are some hints that things are amiss: the house presses in on the sisters with claustrophobic Victorian patterns; their father is full of nervous silence; their mother is mysteriously absent, presumed dead; their stepmother careens from manic to depressive at the drop of a hat. As the dark and shadowy house begins to produce more solid horrors, the sisters cling to each other as the only remaining bastions of trust and hope. When the final secret is revealed, it is the sisters’ love that remains the ultimate tragedy, tainted with unspoken regret, traced in the single tear on a young girl’s cheek.
It’s official: Seattle Maggie is putting our foot down about twitchy female apparitions with the long, tangled hair. Enough, already! We’ve seen it so many times before that it is more likely to make us shrug rather than send a shiver up our spines. Another appearance of a disheveled black wig, and we’re already bored. But we did like the nerve-tingling mood of the A Tale of Two Sisters, especially the intense wallpaper prints and aggressively patterned fabrics that brought to mind Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s crazy-making short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Also, the narrative itself was a strong player – even if the horror element was removed, the story would stand well on its own, plying the themes of family, death and guilt into a coherent story line. We did feel that the movie started out a little slow for our tastes (as evidenced by Boyfriend Todd leaning over halfway through and whispering, “You got some ‘splaining to do”) but it managed to wrap up in a satisfying rush to the finish (BT, as the credits roll: “Oh. Never mind.”)
This is not director Ji-woon Kim’s first foray into horror; we were tickled to recognize his work from the horror trilogy Three, in the segment entitled “Memories”. His other film, The Foul King, the story of a bank clerk turned professional wrestler, was not in the horror genre, but did turn out to be an underground favorite at the 2001 Seattle International Film Festival. We look forward to more horror films from Kim and our other Korean brethren, but please – salons exist for a reason. All those ghouly ladies need a trim.
Another meeting of the Gael Garcia Bernal fan club of two (aka Cinecultist and the Real Janelle) occured last week at a screening of Pedro Almodóvar's new film, Bad Education at the Sunshine on Houston. Fueled by some tasty wings and happy hour beers, we were so ready to take in some equally tasty Bernal. But of course, an Almodóvar movie is so much more than cute guy oggling (though surely the director wants us to indulge with him in this healthy past time too). At once a comedy of errors, a pastiche of noir elements, a biographical musing and a compelling narrative, Almodóvar's movie is a stunning work.
We'd been anticipating seeing this movie for a few years now, ever since Almodóvar came to town to promote the screening of Talk to Her at the New York Film Festival. At the time, CC had been working in the trenches of downtown cool at Paper magazine as an editorial intern, and one day glanced up from our fact checking to see the adorable Spanish director standing in front of our computer. He wanted to know where the restroom was. We pointed in that direction. He said thank you. It was a thrilling moment, no question about it. Almodóvar is a long time friend of Paper's publishers and conducted a long interview over lunch with their film editor, which CC had to transcribe a few days later. He spoke about his personal connection to his up coming project (ie. Bad Education) and the potentially shocking material in the story about priests and their students. From a transcriber's point of view, Almodóvar's accent is a little tricky to say the least, but from a film fan's his deep film love is easy to understand.
Our movie club, Cinema Ahh*some will be screening an early Almodóvar this week, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! which we're excited to see and discuss with our film buddies.
With the bright yellow box exclaiming "25 Movies To See Before Oscar Night" on the cover of Entertainment Weekly this week, Cinecultist anxiously flipped through the magazine in search of this list. Not that we really expected to be surprised by anything they could've come up with but maybe there was a glaring omission in our screening schedule? No, no we've been good. Deep breaths, CC. We've read the reviews, looked at the glossy spreads in magazines, scanned the critic circle's awards lists and we feel confident we will see the award winners before March.
Our two major misses: #8 Ray and #9 Vera Drake. We don't know what happened there. Cinecultist usually will sit through the bio-pic without too much fuss and we lurve Mike Leigh after studying his films, particularly Naked, while abroad in England during college. With this kind of buzz for Jamie Foxx and Imelda Staunton's performances, respectively, we really got to get on ball with those two. But do we really have to watch #17 The Door In The Floor? We appreciated LA Confidential and you have to love The Dude, but there's something creepy about Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges with their yuppie marriage dissolving out at the Hamptons that we didn't think we'd want to see. Same goes for The Woodsman. Love Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon but we wary about a pedophilia movie. That's not totally weird, is it? Can we get some kind of waver for the excessive creep factor when it over takes award-buzzed movies?
After the jump is the full list, re-typed by your Cinecultist because not everyone has access to EW's subscription only website. Then, please let us know in the comments if you think we have to see any of the pictures in Bold. Are there also flicks being lauded by critics that you know you should see, but can't bring yourself to attend?
2 The Aviator
3 Finding Neverland
4 Million Dollar Baby
7 Eternal Sunshine
9 Vera Drake
10 Hotel Rwanda
11 Maria Full of Grace
12 Before Sunset
13 Being Julia
15 The Incredibles
16 The Motorcycle Diaries
17 The Door in the Floor
18 Kill Bill — Vol. 2
19 Imaginary Heroes
20 House of Flying Daggers
21 Bad Education
22 A Very Long Engagement
23 The Sea Inside
24 The Woodsman
25 Phantom of the Opera
We were surprised by how incredibly affecting Penn's performance in this movie. Not that Penn isn't often really great, but it was unexpected how fully he inhabits this deluded loser. When he finally breaks down and hijacks the airplane with the intent to fly it into the White House, killing the supposed source of his problems, Richard Nixon, we can almost see how his passions led him to this conclusion. All the performances in this film are top flight, in particular Michael Wincott who plays Sam's Orthodox tire salesman brother. The scene between these two is one of the most arresting of the year. And you know that's saying a lot, in this Oscar hopeful season.
* We're hoping to do more of these interviews for Gothamist with film people, directors but perhaps also other film professionals. If you are one of these folks, or represent one with a new project coming up, please drop us a line so we can arrange a chat. Thanks!
A few ideas from the Cinecultist, so as to not let the winter mix* invade your soul the way it's invading your socks from through your shoes.
1) Read the New Yorker's brief ode to Susan Sontag, who recently left us, written by Joan Acocella. Remember, Cinecultist was a big fan of the Craig Seligman Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me book, so if you haven't read this yet, think about picking it up. Or better yet, some of Sontag's originals like Against Interpretation which contains the brilliant essays on camp and photography. "To her, reading and experience were not just mental events; she received them as flaming darts. Without her, New York City seems a colder place."
2) Buy the Believer issue for December/January 2005 devoted to the visual. It contains a free DVD with short films by a number of artists, including Guy Maddin, a Cinecultist fave. The issue includes a hand written fax to the New York Times from David Hockney regarding the use of early cameras in painting, an essay on the film critic Manny Farber's paintings**, a visual representation fo the Genealogy of the Supermarket and other sundry wonderful weirdness.
3) Read the new Reverse Shot online devoted to the Taiwanese auteur, Tsai Ming-liang. Rent a few of his films, if you feel so inspired. CC loves The Hole (We're not trying to be dirty, that's the name of one of his films! It's great! Leave us alone!) They also covered the NYFF AND a bunch of new releases. Try not to be depressed by how many films there are out there, and how little you've gotten around to seeing. That bums us out too.
Our buddy Kristi Mitsuda contributed a review of the Machinist to this issue and she also has a new weekly review blog up, Artflickchick, so be sure to add that to your bookmark list too. She has her Top 10 up there now, and like CC she loved Before Sunrise.
4) Go see In Good Company (out in one theater in New York on the Upper West now, open wider on January 14) and buy the soundtrack (on January 11), because it rocks. We came home and bought 4 tracks from iTunes that are in the film, and in particular have been enjoying the Iron & Wine song, "Naked As We Came." CC posted on Gothamist today regarding the film, it's worth a watch, especially if you were a fan of About A Boy as it's also from Chris and Paul Weitz. Topher Grace and Denis Quaid are both top notch in it, and neither are hard to look at, so that's an added bonus.
* This is what New York weather guys call the unpleasant combo of rain and wet snow. This is not sleet, which is freezing snow. No, this is extra damp coldness. Winter mix, thy name is the bain of our existence.
** The exhibition devoted to Farber's visual work at P.S. 1 will be up until January 10, so you may want to head out to Queens to catch that before it closes.
Don't let the winter mix keep you down. Viva la cinecultists!
Fighting off the post-holiday blues? Seattle Maggie hears ya. While we admit that we like to scoff publicly about petty commercialism, we always feel a pang of sadness once the whole thing is over. All the pretty lights go dark and festive sweets cease to be an everyday occurrence; all we have to look forward to is cold January drizzle and the sinking feeling that another year has begun and we still have no clue as to what our ultimate purpose in the universe is.
Do not despair, my friends! Seattle Maggie has just the thing to help you shake off that lingering scent of desiccating Christmas trees and stale gingerbread. From a long time ago (well, 1978 actually), in a galaxy far, far away, we submit the Star Wars Holiday Special. Our good friend Spygirl had told us about it back at Thanksgiving, and slipped us a bootleg copy while we were home for Christmas with the following warning – “It’s bad. Not even funny bad, just head-explodingly bad.” We never were one to crumble in the face of fear. Armed only with our new popcorn air popper, we slipped in the tape (cheerfully labeled “I’m Sorry. I’m So Sorry”) and pressed Play.
Some Cinecultists may have heard about this special, or may remember seeing it in their youth. We were particularly intrigued with the rumor that George Lucas personally destroys any copies that he comes across, and we could soon see why. It’s Wookiee Life Day, and Chewbacca is heading home to spend this diplomatically non-denominational holiday with his family: hulking wife Malla, scrappy son Lumpy and slightly pervy dad Itchy. We wish we were making this up. Chewy is running a little late; in the meantime, the Wookiee family frets, whips up some yummy Bantha stew, shops online for presents, and gets a visit from those pesky Imperial troopers – amazingly similar to our own holiday experiences.
There are guest appearances from Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Jefferson Starship, a Boba Fett animated short, and endless scenes spoken only in Wookiee (and NO subtitles – however, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easily “Nrrragh! Nwah! Mwah!” translates to “I told you to take trash out, dammit!”). Also, we are treated to all of our favorite Star Wars characters, including a freakishly fey Luke Skywalker, a grumpy yet huggable Han Solo, Droids a-plenty, and a glazed-over Princess Leia, who proceeded to sing the Life Day anthem, even as we clutched our heads and begged her not to. The special concludes with an inspiring Chewbacca “How I Spent My Year” montage.
Perhaps the best part about the whole experience was the cool 1978 commercials, especially the hilarious newsbite in which the perfectly serious anchorman says, “Fighting the Frizzies, at Eleven!”* Remember the days when all we had to worry about was fighting the frizzies? We’re not sure that we were old enough to have actual hair in 1978, but we can still appreciate that simpler time and snicker at all the funny pantyhose commercials.
It was bad. It was weird. It was badly weird. But somehow, it was a fitting end to our year. If you ever come across a copy, Seattle Maggie suggests you approach it with care, and the dregs of a good, stiff eggnog. May the Force be with you in 2005, Cinecultists!
If only Cinecultist had the technology capabilities or know-how or clearance rights of a commercial movie review website, we'd love to post little wav files from Clint Eastwood's new movie, Million Dollar Baby, so you could hear these outrageous accents put to celluloid. For a flick that appears to be set in LA (based on the surfboards and beach front restaurant), everyone is totally down home, y'all. We've been doing impressions of the classic lines all weekend. "I don't train girls." "Maryann, they laugh atchoo." "Mo Calackalacka!" Ok, fine. We can't remember how they actually pronounce the Gaelic phrase on the back of Hilary Swank's green silk robe, but it's something along those lines.
Hilary plays Maggie Fitzgerald, a young woman boxer who's trash (so says Morgan Freeman's ever present voice over) but she's got a dream. She just needs to be trained by Frankie Dunn, the curmudgeon of a cutman, who owns the Hit Pit Gym and has some powerful guilt over the deterioration of the relationship with his daughter. After some prompting from his half-blind and former fighter gym assistant (Freeman), Frankie trains Maggie to the pinnacle of the welter weight. That is until tragedy strikes. Oh right, that pesky tragedy which always seems to intercede.
We suppose if you've been making movies as long as Clint has, you're bound to become a cliche of yourself. Some might find his growl, craggy face and irreligious banter with his priest comforting (ah that ol' Clint, back at it!) but CC just found it sort of silly. At times, his growl even seemed to overpower the growling of the 6 train underneath the Anjelicka theater on Houston. The plot also can be read in two ways — lyrical fairy-tale or overly simplistic, depending on whether you're caught up in the training of Maggie and the redemption of Frankie. Either way though, CC found the plot backed into an impossible corner in the third act. Without giving it away, the movie gets to a point where there can be no happy ending and the come uppances seem half assed based on these stakes.
Swank delivers the goods in these scenes, and we won't be surprised to see all three stars on the Oscar rosters this year. If only we could have had that final scene with Eastwood and Swank, with all of that vague inklings of romance and filial devotion intermingled with such exquisite complexity, minus the lemon pie, poor white trash relatives and Danger the skinny white boxer underdog junk. If only Oscar contenders could be striped of their fluffy trappings and we could pay the $10 bucks for pure performance in a bite sized, chewable caplet.
And without further ado, the Tenner from your Cinecultist. Happy New Year!
2. The Incredibles
3. The Motorcycle Diaries
4. The Twillight Samurai
5. Before Sunset*
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
9. Sex is Comedy
10. Super Size Me
Honorable Mentions: Stage Beauty, Imelda, Fahrenheit 9/11, Goodbye Dragon Inn, Saved!, Kill Bill: Vol 2, Infernal Affairs, Hotel Rwanda, The Dreamers, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland, Garden State, Hero, I Heart Huckabees, The Life Aquatic, Mean Girls, Ocean’s Twelve, Team America: World Police, Closer, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, The Bourne Supremacy
This Year's Guilty Pleasure: Wimbledon
* We realize we wrote some preview post on seeing this movie, and mentioned seeing it after hearing Ethan speak at the 92nd St Y but never wrote a more concrete review post. Hmmm. Well, it topped the ranking of the Village Voice's Take Six, that counts for something, right?