Jeez, just when the Cinecultist was beginning to think about the 2006 award season contenders and to field questions from friends about our top 10 for the year, Sundance Institute goes and announces their line up for the 2007 festival. There's a title-dropping article in today's New York Times listing some of the potential highlights. Of note from our quick scan through the piece: there's a whole heck of a lot of politically-minded docs screening, 12-year-old Dakota Fanning is venturing into sexually dicey material (eep!) and Hollywood offspring Zoe Cassavetes (daughter of John and Gena Rowlands) finally stops just being on those "ones to watch" lists and actually made a movie. Color CC intrigued.
Happily indieWire has recently expanded their criticism coverage to include more frequent solo reviews from their Reverse Shot contributors. However, it seems that the open comments structure of the site can lead to some cranky talk back from the review's subjects.
In this week's review from the always astute Kristi Mitsuda, she takes issue with Thom Fitzgerald's 3 Needles, an AIDs drama with a very strong cast which Mitsuda argues has suspect politics towards women and a dogmatic tone. She writes, "No one could argue against greater collective action to end the proliferation of this deadly disease, but Fitzgerald's film bespeaks a dodgy humanitarianism which demands scrutiny." In a very lengthy comment below, Fitzgerald himself tells Mitsuda essentially, Ohh no you di-n't. Going for the cowardly "well, uh, you movie critics are even more lame than filmmakers" is never pretty. He comments, "My humanitarianism is dodgy indeed. I make movies for a living, and that's about as shallow a career as one could choose (except, maybe, writing about movies?).... If Montreal is too exotic a locale for her to relate to, then really only by making yet another film about AIDS in downtown New York City would be close enough to home. The extremely narrow limitation of her point of view also demands scrutiny."
Petulant directors -- yet another reason why being a critic is fun work and why CC doesn't allow comments on our site.
While Cinecultist would never pretend to be a James Bond fan of the caliber of Anthony Lane, we do appreciate the finesse with which Ian Fleming's creation continues to draw audiences to the theaters. People understand, almost instinctually, what makes for a good Bond movie and 40 plus years on, the formula still works as evidenced by Casino Royale which CC saw last weekend. A rollicking, action-packed, sexy as hell installment, this 007 tale stars a new Bond played by Daniel Craig, and with the new lead actor seems to be an updated way of telling a Bond story.
For some reason, even though we know it's a terrible soap opera cliché, we love a romance where the couple initially hate each others guts. The disdain and then the heat! It's like cinematic candy corn for the Cinecultist. When Craig tells the brittle but lovely Eva Green, "you're not my type. Why? Because I'm smart? No, single" we knew we loved this flick. And of course that's ages after Bond has raced through a construction yard, leaping up scaffolding and hurling himself pell mell through walls. See, we're also a sucker for an elaborate chase scene as well as for barbed, sexually-charged wit.
Fortunately, this 007 also never dissolves into the easy catch-phrases of sub-par action films. Casino Royale is the first story in the Bond catalogue but this film still feels fresh. In the final sequence (which granted comes about 20 minutes later than our short attention span would prefer), as Bond and the bad dudes destroy a palazzo on the Grand Canal, we feared for a quip about Venice sinking. But, it never comes. Bravo Bondies, this jaded but hopeful moviegoer is completely reinvested in your franchise.
Just a brief note that you can now read the Cinecultist's review stylings over on The Village Voice, a rag we suppose we could call our hometown newspaper despite their current upheaval. This week we wrote about The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, a beautiful movie by the Quay Brothers that we didn't understand, and This Filthy World, a concert film of sorts with John Waters tell stories about his movies and jokes that are in very poor taste.
Yes, it's true -- our net of critical influence gets wider and wider. We'll ensnare the whole known universe very soon.
A well-balanced movie diet for Cinecultist includes both new releases and canonical classics. Hence our efforts to catch the new print of The Rules of the Game at Film Forum* a few weeks ago and renting Double Suicide on DVD last weekend. This Japanese movie from 1969 by Masahiro Shinoda is really spectacular; it gob-smacked CC. Based on bunraku puppet play, the story is about a middle class paper merchant who is in love with a renowned courtesan. He has promised to redeem her from sexual enslavement and in return she has reserved herself for him alone. Unfortunately, his wife's family doesn't really approve of their son-in-law squandering all of his money in the red light district. Jihei (Kichiemon Nakamura) and Kohura (Shima Iwashita) decide they must kill themselves in order to be together in the next life, even if they can't be in this one.
What's so arresting about this film is Shinoda's visual flare. The movie begins with a scene inside a theater, a director has some last minute consultations over the phone as performers prepare for a puppet production in ominous looking black costumes. But rather than fading away when the movie transitions to live action, the puppeteers remain as extra-textual elements reminding the movie audience about the story's artificiality. Shinoda also has an intriguing "double" theme running throughout, with Kohura and the dutiful wife Osan being played by the same actress and a mirrored opening and closing reference shot of the dead lovers stretched out on a reed mat. Also the refracting of the actors with wooden slats, screens and other architectural elements is really beautiful. You can tell each shot was painstakingly composed.
On a Great Movie high, CC decided to scan through the Criterion discs available on Netflix but quickly got waylaid in the riches. Sheesh, there are a lot of them out there and dauntingly, the company keeps producing more. Guess, that's what a whole life's worth of movie watching is for.
*BTW, Rules has been held over at Film Forum, so get your butt down there to see it.
PS. RIP for Robert Altman, the beloved director who passed away on Monday at 81. His film Shortcuts is one of the few that Cinecultist ever walked out of, though in our defense, CC was only 16 and our Dad and sister Laurie weren't into the film. Maybe now is the time to add it to the rental queue for a rewatch, it is available on Criterion after all.
Excitement! Today, the Cinecultist comes to you live from a jury room on Centre Street, courtesy of our trusty laptop and a $6.95 per day internet feed. Like all good civic New Yorkers, CC has registered to vote, paid our outrageous city taxes and signed up with the DMV, despite the fact that we barely contemplate driving a car but once every six months, and have thus been thrown into the jury pool. So far, it's a bit like adult study hall. Sigh. But rather than catalogue our boring experience (read Choire Sicha's great Morning News essay from a few years ago or watch that Sex and the City ep with SJP's movie kiss on the court steps if you want the skinny), we'll talk about the movies.
Or more specifically, the trailers at the movies. CC went to our Union Square cineplex on Sunday for the first time in ages and were treated to the delightful ritual of audience trailer judgement. At a sold-out screening of Casino Royale, the jaded New Yorkers cheered and clapped for one movie advert and chuckled with derision at another. The two trailers in question were Spiderman 3 and Rocky Balboa and the general consensus was that over the hill Rock = silly and evil Spiderman = awesome.
Two other forthcoming movies which had CC at "hello": Will Smith as a struggling single Dad trying to get a job as a stock trader in The Pursuit of Happyness and the fluffy, cute girls swap houses and then meet cute boys comedy The Holiday. Their marketing departments have successfully convinced the Cinecultist that these movies will be uplifting and hilariously romantic, respectively. Bring it on holiday movie deluge, CC's ready for you.
Even though Cinecultist has already recommended Iraq in Fragments to our Gothamist readers, it has become our default response lately to "What's good in theaters right now" and so we mention it here. You have until next Tuesday, Nov. 21 to catch this heart-felt and beautifully shot documentary at Film Forum. Consisting of three stories from around the war-torn country, this documentary stands out to CC because of its lack of experts and talking heads. Instead it consists of lushly, complexly told lives from the mouths of those living them. Particularly the young Kurdish boy at the end who wants to become a doctor but his father wants him to go into the clergy broke our heart. His expressive face has really stuck with us. For our money, this film gave us the most interesting picture of the effect of American foreign policy, and that's with all of our efforts to stay up on our Jon Lee Anderson and the New York Times coverage.
Also of note, Iraq in Fragments is on the 15 doc short list for the best documentary award at this year's Oscars. So it's not just CC who thinks it's worth a watch.
On Monday, Cinecultist had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Kirk and Julianne Nicholson while they ate lunch in a Tribeca restaurant. Our conversation is now up on Gothamist, and their movie, Flannel Pajamas is now out in New York theaters.
For being so good in such a sad, and intimate movie about how love can die, Justin and Julianne are a pretty silly pair (see our extended discussion of Justin biting Julianne's ass in the trailer). CC can see why they said they had such a great time on the set of this locally shot indie. During our talk, in addition to the movie discussion, we hear a little bit about their respective TV shows (Weeds and Law and Order: Criminal Intent) but unfortunately it slipped our mind to ask Justin the most important question: Where the heck is the 2-season DVD of his WB program, Jack and Jill? Cinecultist totally hearted that show because it was unbelievably cheesy. Plus, look at the careers most of the cast members like Jaime Pressly, Sarah Paulson, Amanda Peet and Ivan Sergei, have had! (We'll just ignore Simon Rex, 'kay?) Surely, this show deserves a home edition box set.
After you see Flannel Pajamas, you will realize the amazing restraint of the Cinecultist for not mentioning Justin Kirk's (very impressive) full frontal nudity scene to him while he was enjoying his pasta with mussels. We are a lady with tact.
Our friend Matty pointed us to this article from last weekend's New York Times magazine where 22 various funny performers and artists listed their 5 desert island comedy DVDs. As Matty noted, these kinds of lists are fun for comparing the listers with the items (is David Cross being hipster ironic when he calls the musical Rent a comedy?), and for adding to your Netflix queue.
For our Jane blog post today, CC came up with what would be the Cinecultist's Five. They include:
* Annie Hall -- This Woody Allen classic about mismatched love won the Oscar for best picture the year CC was born, but that's not the only reason it's on the list. From the lobsters behind the fridge to the subtitled first flirtatious conversations, Allen and Diane Keaton capture so memorably and hilariously the way couples fall for each other. It's a movie that every time we see it we see something new, a definite prerequisite for any Desert Island-worthy movie.
* All of Me -- It's tough to go wrong with early Steve Martin comedies, but this one from '84 which co-stars Lily Tomlin always leave us in stitches. Martin's prowess with physical comedy shines as he plays a lawyer possessed by a selfish, millionairess. Plus, the tender ending makes us a little teary too.
* A New Leaf -- (pictured above) Our Dad first introduced us to this Walter Matthau and Elaine May movie from 1971, and it never gets old. Matthau plays an aging playboy who's spent all his money so he needs to marry rich. He picks a doddering botanist (May, who also wrote and directed the film) with a penchant for sparkling sweet wine, then plots to kill her. As J. Hoberman points out in this Village Voice essay, May is one of the real comedic greats and worth exploring if you're unfamiliar with her work.
* When Brendan Met Trudy -- Cinecultist has forced whole audiences of people to sit through this Irish comedy from 2000, and we've never heard one complaint. Written by renowned author Roddy Doyle, it tells the love story of a nebbish school teacher who's obsessed with the movies and the irreverent, blonde thief he falls for. This movie can be tough to find but it is available on DVD, maybe request it from your local store that has a good selection of foreign films.
* Coming To America -- A big factor in our decision making process for this list was how many times CC could sit through any given movie, and this one starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, we've probably seen about 30 times. The plot is a little silly (an African prince wants to marry for love and travels to Queens, NY to find his bride), but all of Murphy's ability with characters and crazy makeup jobs are in tip top shape. Also, the scene where Murphy sings drunkenly on the streets of Queens after a great night with his lady love (and the New Yorkers subsequent responses) is just delightful.
Vincent Gallo, our favorite exhibitionist/hack/auteur/provocateur, has been a little under-the-radar since the release of his last movie, Brown Bunny in 2003. Shortly after that flick came out, Cinecultist attended a musical performance by Gallo at the blessedly-now-defunct Rothko on the Lower East Side and found him to be as self-aggrandizing on stage as he is on screen. And this was all before Better Than Fudge's Josh pointed us to his eponymous website the other day and Gallo's hilarious email submissions guidelines.
However, what tickled our fancy about Gallo's site is the merchandise section, particularly his Vintage Posters section. For a mere $200, plus $3 shipping and handling, you too can own a poster Vincent has owned, folded, stuck pins in and enjoyed for many years until he decided to sell it online! Not surprisingly, Gallo's collection contains posters for In the Realm of the Senses and other such X-rated classics. Sounds like VincentGallo.com could be your new holiday one-stop shopping spot.
* If you missed the Simpsons last night (or if like our friend, Brian, you've taken an ethical stand against sub-par, late era episodes of the long running cartoon) they aired a teaser for the feature length Simpsons film during a commercial break. The nature of a teaser is that there's no actual plot of the movie involved, just planned imagery and mood, thus the segment was pretty sparse on actual news about the movie. However, hope springs eternal when it comes to something as beloved as Matt Groening's work. CC is still holding out that something this long in the works will have some early Simpsons caliber smarts behind it.
* Oscar-winner and on-screen gunslinger Jack Palance (pronounced PAL-ance, not pa-LANCE, according to the New York Times obit) passed away over the weekend. News you can use courtesy of the NYT: In addition to being able to do one-arm pushups, Palance also wrote poetry and did pen-and-ink drawings.
* One of our favorite essays so far on Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette is David Mendelsohn's analysis in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. Mendelsohn nicely picks out the running thread through all of Coppola's work ("spirited young women chafing at social restraints") and the autobiographical nature of preoccupations in his article.
"The final silent image in this movie, so filled as it is with striking and suggestive images, tells you more about Coppola, and perhaps our own historical moment, than it could possibly tell you about Marie Antoinette. It's a mournful shot of the Queen's state bedchamber at Versailles, ransacked by the revolutionary mob the night before the Queen and her family were forced to leave, its glittering chandeliers askew, its exquisite boiseries cracked and mangled. You'd never guess from this that men's lives—those of the Queen's guards—were also destroyed in that violence; their severed heads, stuck on pikes, were gleefully paraded before the procession bearing the royal family to Paris. But Coppola forlornly catalogs only the ruined bric-a-brac. As with the teenaged girls for whom she has such sympathy, her worst imagination of disaster, it would seem, is a messy bedroom."
Just between Cinecultist, you and the internet, we kinda love Amber Tamblyn. Sure, she was a child soap star, and she writes super earnest poetry, but she's a lovely young actress. Even before she took the reporter at Nylon magazine to a magicians' clubhouse in LA for their cover story interview, we suspected she was actually kinda cool. After all she's a self-professed feminist, when most women in Hollywood just want to be ingénues and her new movie Stephanie Daley, about a teenager who leaves her newborn to die, sounds seriously intense.
You can read the entire November issue of Nylon in a downloadable pdf format, flipping through the pages and zooming into the images fancy pants style. CC still loves the feeling of a hefty, glossy magazine in our hands, but the more content archived and easy to access on the internet the better. We hope more and more publications adopt this technology, it's pretty versatile and potentially exciting. Imagine the possibilities for dynamic links.
In other magazine news: We'd also like to thank our editor Julie at Janemag.com for inviting us to Sarah's birthday party last night. CC is very happy to be even a small part of a women's magazine that throws parties with free drinks, pizza AND cupcakes for their guests. Sweet!
Cinecultist just finished watching today's episode of Gilmore Girls, and we have to comment that it's almost as though the writers got an advance copy of Virginia Heffernan's smack-down in the Times today. The banter was definitely back up a notch from previous episodes this season. As a major fan of this show since the first season, we can understand Heffernan's almost slavish devotion to Amy Sherman-Palladino's role as creator. We too have been second guessing the current producers and writers decisions at ever turn so far this season. 'Is that really what Lorelai would say? Would she really reference that particular, quite mainstream, film?' (See Lauren Graham's recent rant against Snakes on a Plane. A S-P's Lorelai probably would've dug Samuel L. Jackson and his motherfucking snakes.)
But all over-analysis aside, we do agree with Heffernan's thesis that Lauren Graham is a brilliant, brilliant performer who is underutilized in Hollywood. Good news on that horizon though: She costars with the ever side-splitting Steve Carell in Evan Almighty, the sequel of sorts to Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty. It doesn't come out until this coming June, so for now CC will continue to weigh each new GG episode carefully, keep watching old eps in syndication, and begin a quiet but insistent grassroots campaign for Lauren Graham's big Hollywood recognition. That girl deserves a break, she works her cute butt off.
Semi-related: CC really enjoyed this interview by Terry Gross with Sherman-Palladino on Fresh Air last year.
[Pictured: Graham (at left) with GG co-star Alexis Bledel.]
Lately Cinecultist has been on a bit of an inadvertent Christian Bale kick, though it's been a welcome close-up on this seriously Method thespian. It seems that with every role he takes on, Bale sinks his teeth in and refuses to let go. We can always expect scary but fascinating work from him.
Over the weekend, CC watched on DVD his particularly freaky performance in The Machinist. A Memento-esque psychological thriller directed by the always excellent Brad Anderson with Spanish funding and shot in Barcelona, this will always be known as the movie where Bale lost so much weight for the part, he looks like a concentration camp victim. It's really phenomenal he can even lift his head or move across the set, let alone give the powerful performance he delivers. After seeing the movie, CC had so many ideas swirling around in our head that we went back to reread our friend Kristi's review in Reverse Shot when the film came out. Not surprisingly, she nails the idea that the movie's structure and Bale's performance are incredibly deliberate, leading not to a surprise ending but a "shrewd" and "quiet culmination." Bale shows very realistically--in a hyper-stylized movie--how insomnia and guilt can lead a robust man into insanity.
Our other encounter with Bale recently was in his forthcoming film, Harsh Times which comes out this weekend. Again, this is a role where Bale is not playing someone glamorous or attractive, his character Jim Davis is highly flawed. A former Army Ranger back from the sands of Iraq, Jim is trying to get reestablished in Los Angeles, find a job in law enforcement and bring his Mexican girlfriend over the border. However, a familiarity with the underbelly of LA and a destructive friendship with Mike (Freddy Rodriquez from Six Feet Under) keeps leading Jim back to the wrong decisions.
Bale's character is not one we'd like to meet in a dark alley. Even his ever changing accents from homeboy patois to Army speak formality, barely mask his menace. When CC saw the nonfiction film The Ground Truth earlier this year, it was clear that life in war for the soldiers is a true hell but Bale's searing performance brings it more home than even a documentary can. He's incredibly brave to exhibit himself that nakedly on screen. Harsh Times isn't an easy movie, but it's powerfully upsetting.
All of this Bale goodness has CC thinking about trying to catch his performance in The Prestige before it leaves theaters and anticipating his part in Todd Haynes' Bob Dylan movie I'm Not There. Obviously directors like Haynes, Anderson, Christopher Nolan, David Ayer (Harsh Times as well as Training Day) know they're getting the goods when they cast Bale in their movies. Now if only the Academy would figure that out too.
* Yick. Maya Rudolph had bedbugs at an apartment she rented in SoHo with her boyfriend and is now suing the condo management company plus their broker for damages. (Related: Did you know Maya and director Paul Thomas Anderson have a kid together? Where the hell has CC been on that one?)
* Lindsay Lohan continues to insist upon an association between her and Liz Taylor by starring in a previously unproduced Tennessee Williams screenplay called The Loss Of A Teardrop Diamond. Guess who plays her aunt? Ann-Margret, LiLo's other purported muse, of course.
* Speaking of sitcom stars, HIMYM's Barney only plays a womanizer on TV, in real life he came out to People magazine! Good for Neil Patrick Harris. This announcement makes him look a) look someone who's quite well-adjusted and comfortable with himself and b) a really, really good actor. Suit up!
One of Cinecultist's favorite movies from this year's New York Film Festival was definitely Pedro Almodóvar's newest, Volver, which hits theaters this weekend for limited release. It's a real Almodóvar movie in all of its melodramatic, stylized, lush glory. Also, Penélope Cruz gives an amazing performance as Raimunda, the daughter and mother at the center of this story. Almodóvar lovingly and fetishistically photographs Cruz in the film, particularly her lush décolletage. There's one straight down from the ceiling shot that'd be almost pornographic, if it wasn't so hilariously stylized.
It's no surprise then that Almodóvar admits in the press notes for the film that he's totally obsessed with his muse's form. [Please note, all of those exclamation points in the following quote are Pedro's.]
"The Strength and Fragility of Penélope Cruz. And her beauty. Penélope is at the height of her beauty. It's a cliché but in her case it's true. (Those eyes, her neck, her shoulders, her breasts!! Penélope has got one of the most spectacular cleavages in world cinema). Look at her has been one of the great pleasures of this shoot....Penélope Cruz is a strong minded actress, but it is the mixture with that sudden, devastating emotion which makes her indispensable in Volver."
CC would second that Pedro, she really rocks and deserves all the recent Oscar buzz about her work. However, someone should clue Cruz into the fact that she should just stick to Spanish language projects. For some reason in English, she comes off not as well as she does in all of the films from Spain we've seen her in.
If you're like Cinecultist and peacefully enjoying your total conversion to a red envelope way of renting DVDs, you may have completely forgotten about movie rental chains like Blockbuster. Going to an actual store to pick out a film, then bringing it back there? It's behavior that's become very alien.
However, your local video clerk has become quite lonely, and to counteract their ebbing subscriber base Blockbuster announced a new initiative today called Total Access. According to this Reuters article, Blockbuster customers can now return DVDs rented online to a stores with a free in-store rental bonus. Also, Blockbuster says when you return in-store that your next rental in the online queue will get to your home a day faster.
But, the beauty of online rentals in our mind is the ease of returning by mail. It's like have a friendly video drop box on every corner, a completely genius concept. While CC does still have our membership to Kim's, because it can be fun to visit a specialty shop with
obnoxious well-versed employees, for new releases we just wouldn't bother with Blockbuster anymore. Best go back to the drawing board B-buster folks. Maybe a free snacks with every rental initiative?