* No more complaining about not being able to see all the top films of the year. At AMC movie theaters around the country on Feb. 23, watch all five of the best picture Academy Award nominees back to back for only $30. Your pass allows you to come and go, plus you get free popcorn all day. It's time for a movie binge, baby.
* Last night, Cinecultist caught the pre-backlash-to-the-backlash, record release performance of Vampire Weekend at Bowery Ballroom. We trotted out our snarkiest remarks and our most cutting observations about the super enthusiastic 16+ crowd, but the fact of the matter is this young foursome plays a catchy, danceable tune. The nostalgia for Paul Simon's Graceland pulled strong on our heart strings and their earnest rocking made us want to cut class and lay out on the grass on the Quad. Expect to see VW freakin' everywhere really soon.
Matthew Baldwin over at the excellent blog Defective Yeti has created an Academy Awards ballot function and we've set up an official Cinecultist Oscar Pool. Log in*, pick your favorites (at random if you like, sometimes these awards are total crap shoots) and then they'll be emailed to CC. After the awards are announced, we'll tabulate the winner. It'll be fun! Yay, betting! And as a further incentive the top dog will get a mailing of random DVDs from the Cinecultist's collection or a congratulatory drink, whichever you prefer. Plus bragging rights, of course.
If the above DY link doesn't work, you can search for our pool under #4042.
His list includes some great downloadable cinema tunes including work by Johnny Greenwood from There Will Be Blood, that lovely Oscar nominated song from Once "Falling Slowly," and the classic collaboration of the band Toto with the legendary Brian Eno on the soundtrack for David Lynch's Dune, one of Cinecultist's most beloved cult flicks.
Gawd, CC sure does love Dune, it's so unabashedly weird. Just listening to those synthesizers wail makes us want to watch it again right now.
We hate to admit it, but it's sort of been stagnant city on the Cinecultist Netflix queue lately. Do you ever do this? Put a movie you know you should see in the queue, move it down the list as long as you can, and then once it comes in the mail, leave it to sit, unwatched, for weeks on end? That was CC with The Seventh Seal and Cranes Are Flying which have been at our house for nearly three months. But in a fit of mid-winter cleaning, we watched both of them this week. It was a real triumph over laziness.
The two films don't really have much in common, in terms of country of origin or story line, but Cinecultist was struck by their use of stunning black and white photography. Even without color, there's so much richness in each image. Check out that still above from Cranes, as our tortured Veronica contemplates throwing herself Anna Karenina style in front of a rushing train because she's betrayed her soldier lover Boris. It's a really evocative and intense moment. You can practically feel yourself rushing headlong down the snowy street with Veronica, the camera work is that good.
Both discs are out on Criterion Collection so you know the transfer looks great too. 1957 was obviously a good year for international cinema. Although if CC had to choose a painful ye olde era we had to live through, the plague in Sweden seems to have been much worse than World War II Russia. Whenever you see production stills from The Seventh Seal, it's always of that iconic tableau of Max Von Sydow playing chess with Death. But we found the images of self-flagellators parading their desiccated bodies past the fearful kneeling villagers equally as memorable. To live in a world without the security of logical science explaining most things would be really scary.
Also, on a less serious note we'd like to mention that young Max Von Sydow was h-o-t-t, in a freakishly tall, Nordic sort of way. We used to just know him from his middle-aged The Exorcist or Hannah and her Sisters days, when he'd already become a kind of parody of the pretentious Swede. But as an intense young man struggling with issues of love and faith, he's just great. We've already added a bunch more of his films made with Ingmar Bergman in the '60s to the queue. Hopefully, we'll still be inspired to watch them when they move to the top of the Netflix list.
"Sischy, Brant Resign at Interview" from Women's Wear Daily.
Rumors and speculation had been swirling that the company was up for sale, so Cinecultist is not surprised to see both women step down from running the magazine. It's still a little sad though, oddly enough. We'll be very curious to see Ingrid's next projects. She's a smart (albeit unconventional) cookie.
For an older, but still intriguing, look at Ingrid's career and relationship to the art world, track down a copy of Janet Malcolm's brilliant New Yorker essay, "A Girl of the Zeitgeist." You can find it in her collection, The Purloined Clinic.
Thanks should go to fellow bloggers from MTV's Movie Blog, the Reeler, Matt Dentler, and Tom Hall for their perspectives and excellent reporting on the festival. Hopefully next year, we'll be wading through the snow banks with them.
On Saturday, Cinecultist and Matty attended an afternoon screening of Cloverfield at Kip's Bay. Obviously it was the activity for your group of bros, about 10 dudes were all in a line in the row next to us and smatterings of other groups dotted the theater. But that's not surprising since producer J.J. Abrams and his crack marketing team have been working overtime the last few months to get as many bodies into the theater as possible for their star-free, DV monster movie.
However this chick wasn't as enamored with the mayhem we saw on screen as other movie geeks have been. The "found video tape" structure of the movie and its lack of compelling characters hobbles it unnecessarily. Cinecultist doesn't want to watch YouTube videos for more than a few minutes, so we certainly don't want to spend 84 minutes with an action movie indebted to a shaky cam, amateurish YouTube aesthetic. Any visceral thrill just gets completely overtaken by annoyance.
Unlike other entries in the city stomping monster genre, such as Godzilla or The Host, Cloverfield gives us characters without any agency. Rob and his party-going friends can't do anything to fight back against the monster that's invaded their city, they can only run around midtown scared. But, because the camera (toted by Rob's buddy Hud) is showing the story entirely from their point of view, the viewers spend the duration of the film forced to either align ourselves emotionally with these clueless, freaked out morons or distance ourselves, declare it "just a movie" and revel in the "coolness" of seeing New York City decimated without reason. As a person who moved here in the fall of 2001, that's a tough place to choose to be in, even six plus years later. Ultimately, neither of these reactions to the movie were satisfying and the whole mess turned us off. In fact, we could hardly wait for the unidentified monster to eat the stupid 20 something characters. Hopefully that chatty one, Hud, didn't give him indigestion.
We'd also like to mention that we've been pleased to discover Grady Hendrix's contributions to The Sun's movie coverage. As one of the programmers for Subway Cinema, he's a voracious movie watcher and a good writer to boot. Case in point, a selection from his excellent review of Cloverfield:
"At a brisk 90 minutes, Cloverfield is too fast-paced and well-produced to completely exhaust our enthusiasm for major monster mayhem, but it doesn't take long for the lack of story to become tiring. Like some tourist from the Midwest, once the creature stumbles into Manhattan and visits Central Park and the Empire State Building, there's nothing left for it to do but knock around aimlessly, getting in trouble and making a mess on the sidewalks."
Over the years, Cinecultist has spent some very enjoyable hours wandering around that part of the village connected by the L train, Williamsburg. Recently, we hung out with author (and our friend) Jami Attenberg and discussed her nabe, which is featured prominently in Jami's new book, The Kept Man, for an article on Metromix. Be sure to click through to the excellent accompanying slide show featuring more of our interview and wonderful photographs by Jori Klein.
Cinecultist didn't include this in our article, because it was more a feature than a review, but we really liked this book. The story—about a former nightlife girl married to a big shot artist who has been in a coma for six years—is one that lingers. Jami has a great observational eye, she sees things with her prose in interesting ways. Also, Jarvis isn't a wholly sympathetic protagonist. She's the kind of girl that knows she has an effect on men, and struggles with wanting their friendship and yet also wanting them to want her. She's complicated, and in a good way. Jami mentioned that there's been some interest in perhaps turning the book into a movie, which we'd love to see. Williamsburg circa 2005, just the big waves of gentrification hit, would make for a good movie setting.
Jami will be reading from her book a bunch of times over the next few weeks, so if you can attend one in New York or further afield, we highly recommend you do.
Cinecultist can't tell which of the totally hackneyed lines from this trailer for The Other Boleyn Girl we like best. "Sisters, and therefore born to be rivals" is great and so is the use of the word "besotted." Maybe the ultimate is Portman's histrionic plea that ScarJo is her "only hope!" *Snicker* Regardless of the winner, describing this horrendous trailer the other night over dinner to Lisa, our partner in horrible movie watching, Cinecultist was practically giddy. Frankly, February 29 can not come soon enough. We can hardly wait to throw popcorn at the screen and giggle at Eric Bana's tights.
Some of our favorite performances of the year are getting Golden Globes right now, but Cinecultist is sitting through an hour with Billy Bush and the crack reporting team from Access Hollywood to find out the results. Congrats to Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Longford, Jon Hamm and Mad Men, Glenn Close, Extras and La Vie En Rose's Marion Cotillard, who Billy astutely pointed out is more attractive in real life than she was as Edith Piaf. Thanks Billy boy for the freakin' newsflash. Gawd, Cinecultist loathes him. So. So. Much.
What movies are appropriate for children? is the subject of A.O. Scott's well-written essay in today's New York Times. This very topic has been on the Cinecultist brain lately too, between hanging out with our 11-year-old brother and 14-year-old sister over the holidays and writing reviews for Kaboose.com, a parenting website. "If it's PG-13, should we write a review about it?" is often a discussion between CC and our editor.
When Cinecultist thinks back to the movies we loved as a child, a huge chunk of them were not children's movies per se. As Scott writes, it's great for kids to feel challenged by their entertainment. Why does everything have to be so sanitized and stripped of all points controversial? Surely there are bloody, disturbing movies like No Country For Old Men out in theaters now that should be avoided with a kid in tow, but something like Persopolis would be perfect for my politics-minded little sister.
When CC, our 27-year-old sister and her boyfriend wanted to take our little brother to the movies over the vacation, we all went to see National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It seemed safe for him and entertaining enough for us. During a few of the more suspenseful moments, CC turned to look at Mark and noticed he had pulled his feet up onto his seat and had his fingers in his ears. Smart strategy: he didn't want to hear the explosion that was about to happen but he wanted to know the outcome. Despite a few of those anxious moments, Mark totally dug the movie and all the way home was asking us if he could become a treasure hunter. When we all encouraged him to let his imagination fly, he seemed a little skeptical but still excited about learning more about his own ancestors just like Nic Cage's character does. Movies do have the power to thrill and inspire, especially for children. They don't always have to fluffy and G rated.
And speaking of CC's Kaboose reviews, you can read our opinions of Water Horse: Legend of the Deep and The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie on their site. Regarding the Veggies, it was perhaps one of the more boring flicks we've reviewed but at least the angry Cheetos were cute.
Last week in his email column, New York Times technology writer David Pogue sounded off against the misleading nature of some movie trailers, particularly National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Basically, Pogue was miffed that scenes so prominently featured in the teaser were no where to be found in the final $11.75 product and thought it amounted to false advertising.
This week he published some of the responses that email column got, including an interesting one from National Treasure's director Jon Turteltaub. Cinecultist enjoyed his trenchant response so much that we thought we'd quote it (especially because the column isn't up on the NYT site yet). We like mental image of Turteltaub watching a trailer for a movie he made and panicking that maybe he'd cut out the best parts. Poor directors, yet another thing to obsess over when trying to control your film.
“Yeah... the trailer issue is a weird one. At some point, we all wonder if there’s something misleading in the advertising if the scenes shown aren’t in the movie... but apparently, the studios and all their lawyers feel it’s not a legal problem.
“Basically, what happens is that as we film a movie, the ‘dailies’ are sent to the marketing department. They cut together the trailers LONG before we have had time to cut the movie together. The first trailer for Book of Secrets was finished when we were only halfway through the filming!
“Then, as we cut the movie, they get revised scenes and try their best to use what we give them, but often, the ship has sailed. They’ve finished a fun, great trailer without knowing whether the scenes will end up in the movie. Plus, scenes can get cut out at the last minute for all sorts of reasons... running time, they test badly, or they just don’t fit.
“What’s funny is that the filmmakers do exactly what you do. I was watching the final trailer for my movie, saying what you said: ‘Ummm....that’s not in the movie, that’s not in the movie, THAT’S not in the movie.’ But then I respond by saying, ‘Uh oh, did we cut out all the best parts???’
“The fact is, what works in a trailer isn’t necessarily what works in the full feature. Dialogue that is really blatantly clear and ‘explainy’ is GREAT in a trailer. Profound statements like ‘Let’s find that treasure!’ work in a 30-second commercial, but come out pretty lame in a real dialogue scene.
“For me, the biggest problem that comes up is when the trailers and TV spots don’t reflect the essence of the movie they are selling. You see that a LOT. The studio often feels that the movie they made isn’t a movie they can sell... so they sell it as a different movie. That can help fill seats on opening weekend, but it usually backfires. Personally, I think that’s what happened to Sweeney Todd. Perhaps they didn’t want anyone to know it was bloody, gory and a musical. So they hid that. What happens is that the wrong audience sees the movie on opening weekend, and the word of mouth is all wrong. Great movies can get lost because of this.”
Cinecultist with an empty DVR and only reruns on primetime is a sad Cinecultist. On Sunday we even found ourselves back at the Union Square Virgin Megastore this afternoon trolling the $10 sale bins, after already dropping quite a tidy sum there just before the holidays. Fortunately, there was a little new programming on the boob tube that night to distract—the season premieres of The Wire on HBO and a series preview of Cashmere Mafia on ABC. It was a mixed bag, but it at least it was something. Damn you media conglomerates, sit down and hammer out a deal with the writers union already!
The good news first: we think we could fall for The Wire. Despite the fact that the critical consensus for a while now has been that this show is one of the best on television (some even say, best show ever) Cinecultist never got hooked on this Baltimore cops/drug dealers/politicians/media show. Fortunately HBO offered a series recap program before the new episode, so that whet our whistle and filled in a few character arcs. All of the talking heads on the special, from the series regulars to critics, are over the moon for writer/producer David Simon's creation. With that much love showered on this program, and the "Dickensian" adjective batted around, CC will record it for the season. Though the zillions of characters and at times confusing, jargon heavy dialog in the first episode was daunting.
The bad news: Cashmere Mafia, Cinecultist knows our Sex and the City and you madam, are no Sex and the City. Sure, the program has four beautiful, high powered women stalking around Manhattan, tapping away on BlackBerries and plotting affairs, but the dialog and plot is so wooden its laughable. Also, the director has taken a page from Aaron Sorkin and has the cast practically sprinting around the sets. It's off putting. Not to mention that in the face of The Wire's social agenda, a show this fluffy and done badly no less, seems insulting. CC doesn't mind fluffy, in fact we like it, if its done with original characters and just a few witty lines. During the commercial break as we washed the dishes, Cinecultist felt compelled to coin a new (nonsensical) phrase to describe this show: kstupid. So insipid and annoying, that it's beyond stupid into kstupid. Avoid at all cost is our advice, even if you have a soft spot for Lucy Liu and the concept of an Asian romantic lead on TV .
Frankly, it wasn't an encouraging evening for Cinecultist's TV loving heart. Here's hoping one of three things happens—the strike ends soon, Jon Stewart can return funny without his writers tonight or that new Gabriel Byrne series In Treatment which starts in a few weeks is worth regularly watching. Cancel that, Cinecultist is an optimist, let's hope all three things happen.
The ever-enjoyable and thought-provoking Dana Stevens at Slate has called the annual Movie Club to order. First topic of convo: David Fincher's Zodiac and fellow debaters Nathan Lee, Wesley Morris and Scott Foundas's obvious Fincher love. Funny, Cinecultist and our fellow Fincher admirer Ilana were just discussing our love for Zodiac last night over beers at The Smith.
Stevens writes that "David Fincher has always seemed like a niche director to me, an expert spelunker into remote corners of the male psyche who never brings back quite enough from his travels to justify the descent," (ha) but CC disagrees. Or rather, the thing we found most intriguing (and ultimately resonant) about Zodiac is the way Fincher seems to be interrogating the very project of investigation and the thriller genre. By refusing to make one character the ultimate mystery solver and by scattering the movie's action across decades, he seems to be laughing in the face of our ability to catch evil-doers. Law and Order's Jack McCoy may be able to get the killer to confess in 50-odd minutes, but in Fincher's world, it's not so easy. And this from a director who was made famous by his tidy crime solving movie Se7en. Now he wants to spend 2 and a half hours exploring a story without a tidy conclusion, and that seems worthy of admiration and predictions of cinema history placement in our book.
Please keep clicking through at the above link for the other critics' responses, they're all quite well written. (BTW, Morris agrees with CC's opinion on Zodiac but we heartily disagree with his worship of Southland Tales. That Kelly mess put CC to sleep, literally.)