January 25, 2008

Death and Despair in the Netflix Queue

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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.

December 20, 2007

Manhattan Got Simpsons Jaundiced

simpsons_empire_state.JPG Cinecultist caught a glimpse of The Simpsons-ified Empire State building while heading home on Tuesday night and snapped this picture. If you didn't already hear, as a promotion for the release of The Simpsons Movie on dvd Dec. 18, the geniuses at Fox talked the historic building into changing the colors to Simpsons yellow. Cinecultist expects to be watching this movie at least a few times over the holidays with our spider pig lovin' little brother. Though if CC worked for News Corp. we would've already gotten a copy of the film for home viewing and wouldn't have to buy it, like some ordinary joe schmo. Boo. [More coverage of the marketing event on Gothamist.]

Other new dvds Cinecultist thinks are worth adding to the collection include the sweetly romantic musical Once, and the ultimate collector's edition of the sci-fi Ur text Blade Runner.

December 17, 2007

Just Be Glad You Don't Live in L.A.

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There aren't a lot of movies that Cinecultist has walked out of, but Robert Altman's Short Cuts is one of them. Our Dad took us, and our sister, to see it when it came out in the theaters in 1993 because it was playing at the local art house theater and M.A.S.H. was one of his favorites. But Short Cuts's a meandering 189 minute movie about a bunch of vaguely interconnected, dysfunctional people in Los Angeles, and understandably we were all bored. But as CC learned more about cinema, we'd always felt bad that we never appreciated this supposedly great Altman flick, so we put the Criterion version in the Netflix queue and finally watched it this weekend.

Fourteen years later, and with an arguably more worldly perspective, CC can see both sides of the story. Granted, it's still a long, convoluted movie. Plus with a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old in tow, it was pretty racy material for our movie going group. CC even remembers being shocked then by Jennifer Jason Leigh's bored housewife/phone sex operator dialog. No wonder our Dad was willing to leave. Then as the movie grinds on, you begin to wonder if any of these sad souls captured on screen are redeeming. They all seem so lost, depressed and mere moments from doing something immoral or illegal.

But then again, CC can see why it garnered Altman his fourth Oscar nomination for best director and won the cast a special ensemble award at that year's Golden Globes. To have that many distinct characters running around and for them all to seem like real people, not mere sketches, is quite a feat. It takes a real master like Altman was to orchestrate that much modern day malaise on screen, and you can understand why later directors like Paul Thomas Anderson so blatantly stole from his model. (Though PTA's raining Biblical frogs are obviously not as cool as RA's med flies and 7.4 earthquake.)

Maybe you have to be a certain age before "bleak" is an adjective that you can enjoy in a movie watching experience. Certainly some of our favorites from this year's roster, like No Country For Old Men, The Savages and There Will Be Blood, are decidedly unhappy films filled with unhappy characters. Or maybe CC just has more patience now at 30 for a 3 hour movie to unfold slowly and with little obvious purpose, than we had at 16. At 16 it's tough to understand why you'd want to spend 3 hours watching sad people live sad little lives in Los Angeles. At 30, it starts to look a little more like art.

November 12, 2007

Cinecultist Is...

Not dead. Promise. While we know it's one of the cardinal sins of blogging to let said blogging diminish to such a meager frequency it only consists of brief check in posts, that's what has happened to CC.

In lieu of lame apologies, some bullet points of what's been tickling our fancy lately:

* We bought a copy of the new translation of War and Peace put out by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky which the Times and the New York Review of Books have been raving about. Cinecultist promised our friend Adriane we'd set up a schedule of reading so we could discuss it, but apparently we'll not be able to beat the Bill Keller reading pace. Damn dude, you devoured 1273 pages (including summaries and appendixes) in a week, while also running the NYT? Impressive.

* Sometimes for giggles, Cinecultist tries to horrify the salespeople at Kim's on Saint Marks' with our DVD purchases. Unfortunately they're a pretty jaded bunch, but we thought we'd at least get an eyebrow raise when CC put Ratatouille and the Special Collector's Edition of Flashdance on the counter last Saturday. No dice. Both DVDs come with some nice extra features though. On Ratatouille, which is just as charming as it was in the theaters, you can enjoy a hilarious short about the history of rats as narrated by Remy and Emile. Flashdance also includes an extra disc of six classic toe-tapping, nose-blowing audio tracks. In fact as we type right now, CC is bopping along to "What a Feeling." Don't be surprised to see us decked out in leg warmers and t-shirts with the neck cut out shortly.

* If you aren't enjoying Gossip Girl on The CW already, Cinecultist suggests adding it to the DVR sched. It's surprisingly geeky and fun. Case in point, last week when the young Dan (Penn Badgley) wanted some tips when wooing experienced Serena (Blake Lively) he rented I Am Curious Yellow! References to kinky, experimental Swedish cinema from the '60s in a teen-sploitation soap? Awesome.

September 4, 2007

These Guys Make CC Laugh Out Loud

Last week Benten Films, a new DVD distribution company based in Brooklyn, put out their first title, Joe Swanberg's LOL. Cinecultist touted it as our DVD pick of the week on Gothamist and also conducted a little interview with Benten's founders and fellow NYC film critics Aaron Hillis and Andrew Grant.*

Hopefully our playful connections between Grant and Hillis's impressive critical abilities and their new endeavors in DVD production doesn't come across like a bitter hater. CC is honestly super impressed by anyone who finds time to keep their apartment clean and live their life in addition to seeing as many movies as these dudes do, let alone found a new company. Kudos! We're psyched to see the rest of their up coming releases and promise to no longer mention the "m word" in association with them.

* It's official: coming up to Cinecultist in a crowded indie film industry party and announcing "you should interview us for Gothamist" can actually get you an interview. CC is that easy to pitch (sometimes)! We're like the slutty cheerleader of NYC movie interviewers.

Posted by karen at 10:42 PM | Benten Films, DVD, mumblecore | Comments (0)

February 8, 2007

Snow, Ice and Romantic Reindeer

aberdeen.jpgSometimes what we see on screen gives Cinecultist bright ideas. In this Norwegan/British movie from 2000, Aberdeen that we watched a week ago, one of the main characters Kaisa (Lena Headey) stops by the side of the road to take a break during a hellish car trip with her estranged father (Stellan Skarsgård). Looking up, she sees a massive horned beast just above the highway and nearly falls over from fright. Laughing, Tomas says he can't believe she's so freaked out, it's only a reindeer. Even though she's a sophisticated London lawyer now, Kaisa spent much of her childhood with him in Norway and shouldn't be afraid of them. This scene has been on the Cinecultist's mind lately because we half expect to see one of those big guys in the middle of Second Ave, as we've traversed from our cozy apartment to the subway through the bitter cold. Seriously, the city should think about importing some of those majestic reindeer for the East Village, it would make this frigid weather much easier to bear.

Besides the similarities in weather from that movie and real life, Aberdeen has been nibbling on our mind ever since we watched it on DVD. It's a small movie, but it sticks with you surprisingly well. First of all, the acting by all of the cast members is really wonderful. From Charlotte Rampling, who only has a small part as Kaisa's dying mother, to the utterly humane Ian Hart, as Kaisa's reluctant romantic object, everyone is spot on. Of course those two are just small roles, the leads Skarsgård and Headey are both totally great as well. The more their story unfold, the more we can see how scarred and fucked up this father and daughter are, yet their neurosis never becomes over the top or unrealistic. As addicts (Tomas is a drunk and Kaisa sneaks bumps of coke in rest stop bathrooms), their behavior can be erratic to say the least,but that almost seems to make them worthy of the camera. Watching a great character study like this one, reminds CC that cinema is really made for the exploration of larger-than-life personalities like this family.

We fell for Skarsgård from his heart-wrenchingly brutal performance in Breaking the Waves, and this film is of a similar ilk. Add it to your rental queue, you won't be sorry. As for his lovely costar, we looked up on iMDB and discovered Headey is in the cast of 300, that historical epic-y movie about the battle of Thermopylae based on the Frank Miller comic. It comes out soon, Mar. 9 to be exact. Cinecultist is anxious to see more of her work, even if it's set in the sands of ancient Greece rather than the icy snows of modern Scandinavia.

January 3, 2007

Rabbit, Cat, Owl Creatures In The Forest

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"My neighbor Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, plays an ocarina on moonlit nights. My neighbor Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, if you should ever meet, wonderful fortune will come to you."

Leading up to the vacation, Cinecultist was feeling a little movied out. A scary thought, we know, but it does happen at the end of the year. Fortunately over the long New Year's weekend, Cinecultist got a bit of the movie yen back. Whew, right? Part of what helped get CC back on the horse was immersing ourselves in some cinema screen magic courtesy of Hayao Miyazaki and Chris Marker.

On DVD we watched My Neighbor Totoro, then at Film Forum on Monday night we went to see The Case of the Grinning Cat. Coincidentally both movies are about seeing something no one else can see and the cuteness of animals. Though interestingly, they're also both about sadness and loss, including depressing elements like mothers in the hospital or international wars.

If you need your "awww" reflex realigned, Miyazaki is your guy. My Neighbor Totoro made us want to hug everything in sight. Two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside with their Dad so they can be closer to their Mom who is in the hospital for TB. There they discover they can see forest spirits like the dust creatures that live in their house and their neighbor, Totoro, a rabbit/cat/owl looking thing that has teeth, roars like a lion, flies, and appreciates the loan of an umbrella during a rainstorm. This movie is so ridiculously charming that it even softened our usual dislike for the child actress phenom Dakota Fanning, who does the voice of Satsuki in the English version. Watching Dakota and her sister Elle, who plays Mei, clowning around during the voice recording, the Miyazaki cuteness washed over our past annoyance at their precociousness. See how powerful his movies can be?

Chris Marker also understands the power of cute to sooth. He noticed a graffiti artist in Paris decorating the city with perilously perched smiling orange cats and began filming their appearances and disappearances. Marker equates the "chat" with Parisian life, and sees that spirit as similar to the French tendency to take to the street in protest. Politics, art, graffiti, mystery and cute kitty cats are all woven together by Marker's charming observational abilities. He has such a deft touch, with the editing and the voice over, keeping his movies light but not insignificant. That's another element that he and Miyazaki have in common, being able to make their viewers feel without beating them over the head with meaning.

Posted by karen at 10:30 AM |

November 21, 2006

Abstraction, Theatrical Artifice and Dutiful Geisha

double-suicide-012.jpgA 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.

Posted by karen at 5:41 PM |

September 10, 2006

Dancing In The Streets

Ever since sitting through the lamiosity that was Step Up, Cinecultist has been thinking about all the much better high school dancing musicals we've loved. Our first favorite in this genre was probably Fame, so we popped it onto the Netflix queue. When it arrived in the mail earlier this week, we actually held off on seeing it right away so that we could savor its awesomeness on Saturday afternoon, nestled deep in the couch post morning yoga class. Ironically, Entertainment Weekly also had high school movies on the brain this week, publishing their top 50 list, with our recent rental coming in at #42.

If like Cinecultist it's been many, many years since you've enjoyed the high kicking, '80s excess of Fame, we highly recommend a re-watch. It's a bit like American Idol only with less pop gloss, as we follow a group of high school from audition to graduation at the Performing Arts High School in New York. Our two favorite characters are probably Coco, because as played by Irene Cara she has a spectacular screen presence, and Doris (Maureen Teefy), because we always love the awkward, smart Jewish girls. But of course the best scene involves music student Bruno Martelli (Lee Curreri). His proud working class papa gets a hold of one of Bruno's slammin' homemade tapes which he broadcasts from his cab on the street outside the school. The kids stream out of the doors and take their dance party to the midst of Times Square traffic, which is completely silly yet totally joyful and exuberant. See the clip in the YouTube window above.

As for EW's list, we'd first like to point out that we've seen all but 9 of the flicks listed. CC thinks that's a little bit impressive, when it comes to a pretty solid genre overview. But we don't think we'd put The Breakfast Club at the top of the heap. While it was one of the first movies we ever owned on VHS, it really wasn't ever a flick CC truly loved. It's mighty entertaining but we never identified with the characters the way we did with other John Hughes creations like Some Kind of Wonderful (which isn't even on the list) and Sixteen Candles (only #49). If we want to get analytical about why, it's probably the awkward, smart girl factor. How can CC really bond with Ally Sheedy when there's so much to love in Mary Stuart Masterson's Watts and Molly Ringwald's Sam Baker.

Posted by karen at 12:09 PM |

August 1, 2006

The Box Office Clout of DVDs

Some movies don't have Pirates of the Caribbean or Miami Vice boffo box office in the theaters, but they can still end up being winners for producers via the magic of DVD. Certain movies, whether they're cult favorites or small stories better suited to a personal-sized screen, actually become even more popular years after their release and can lead to further franchise advancement. Reading this article in Variety about the phenomenon, Cinecultist found it interesting (though not surprising) the movies they sited as examples of the trend. Here's a brief breakdown, bullet-style:

Lord of War ($44 mil. in DVD sales, over 1 mil. Netflix rentals alone)
The Notebook ($81 mil. theatrical box office, $160 mil. DVD sales)
Napoleon Dynamite ($45 mil. theatrical box office, tripled in DVD sales, now releasing a new special edition version)
The Pacifier ($112 mil theatrical box office, $116 mil. DVD sales)
The Transporter, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Austin Powers all lead to sequels from DVD sales. Also considering sequels to Van Wilder and Waiting from DVD popularity.
Actors who do particularly well on DVD: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes
And of course, Donnie Darko ("Every month thousands of them have sold," says Adams Media Research VP Jan Saxton. "It's stayed hot forever, and that's unusual.")

Posted by karen at 1:39 PM |

July 6, 2006

Watch Where You're Pointing That Thing

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There's not a whole lot that Cinecultist loves more than a smart samurai movie. A flick which is aware of its genre's legacy and yet willing to riff on the tropes to make it modern. We'd been meaning to catch Takeshi Kitano's* remake of the classic Japanese samurai character, Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, for ages and finally got around to it this past weekend.

Kitano wrote the screenplay, directed and stars in the film about a wandering ronin who poses as a blind masseur but ends up saving a village from some warring gangsters. With its quirky villagers, detached but kind hero and flashback structure to fill in character motivation, Kitano's filmmaking is obviously indebted to both Kurosawa's morally fuzzy freelance samurai and international art house directors' whimsy like Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

There's also another stylistic cross-pollination going on which a friend pointed out to us as we were extolling the virtues of this fun film--our over-rated nemesis, Quentin Tarantino. In all of the sword work, the opponent is quickly dispatched with a well-placed flick of the sharpest blade ever (it cuts through a stone lantern at one point!). According to commentary on the making of docu on the disc, Kitano thinks this is more realistic. What's not so much grounded in realism is the geysers of blood shooting out of each of the adversaries. A hand is loped off and then the fountain starts with the blood digitally set in stark relief to the background. So very Tarantino, and damnit kinda cool. Though we guess it probably wasn't such a good idea to be eating lunch in front of the TV while this movie was playing.

Despite a bunch of icky moments, the film has such a delightful sense of fun about it. More movies should seem this joyful. Also, they should have Tadanobu Asano in the cast and end with a tap dancing musical finale. That would be our recipe for more successful moviemaking.

* Everyone knows that Takeshi's nickname is "Beat" but we feel sort of dopey typing it in between his first and last name. Seems there's something lost in the translation with that moniker. So just imagine that we've acknowledged it, yet also are treating him like an ar-teest deserving of full name only respect.

Posted by karen at 10:34 AM |

June 8, 2006

Welcome to the War Zone

emira_stephen.jpgThe Cinecultist's Netflix queue these days has been a little clogged with Michael Winterbottom movies, as we're on a kick to see everything that's available from the English director. We've seen good things (Code 46) and slightly less good things by him (Nine Songs) but it's all been varied and all thought-provoking. Our most recent was his 1997 film, Welcome to Sarajevo with Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei.

We actually recall when this flick came out, probably because Sarajevo was a hot button subject at the time and we'd liked his previous film, Jude with Kate Winslet. However, we also remember we thought it sounded sorta heavy and we have an automatic aversion reaction to all things Woody Harrelson, so we avoided it at the time. Watching it recently on DVD, our initial bias wasn't too far off the mark but nearly 10 years after it's release, CC knows better what's good for us in terms of viewing habits and Welcome to Sarajevo is a thoughtful movie about an important subject.

Dillane plays Michael Henderson, an English journalist in Sarajevo covering the war. The city is under siege and his group of reporter friends (including Harrelson) are struggling to both get the real story from the war on their home news channels and to keep from getting killed. Both are quite a challenge. Henderson becomes emotionally attached to a group of orphans whose poignant stories he hopes will get them safe passage out of the war zone. He teams up with an aid worker (Tomei) to try to get one particular young girl, Emira, who he particularly feels for, in her convoy of children leaving the country. It's as much about the horrors of war, as the ways that people touched by the ordinary folks caught up in war can't help but get involved in their plight.

One of the most interesting parts of this movie came from noticing in the final title and from the credits that the young girl who plays Emira is actually named Emira and comes from Sarajevo. Actually, in the scene where the orphans tell their stories to Henderson's news camera, these are their actual lives they are recounting. In a way, you can see how Sarajevo couldn't help but touch Winterbottom and the rest of the filmmakers, even as they make a fiction film meant for entertainment. Though of course, this isn't your run of the mill entertainment then, it's a movie with a purpose. Not your usual summertime fare but certainly worth our 2 hours in front of the TV. Oh, and it's actually a pretty entertaining movie.

Posted by karen at 10:45 PM |

May 31, 2006

CC Prefers 'Evil Genius'

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Summer means no good TV so Cinecultist has been dipping into our DVD collection for entertainment. Last weekend we swooned over Paul Bettany and his champion tennis playing again in Wimbledon and tonight we fall all over again for Lilo and Stitch. This adorable animated feature from 2002 about a little orphan Hawaiian girl and her weird pet is such a classic. We remember seeing it in our local theater the summer we lived out in Brooklyn and it put such a grin on our face.

A horrible destructive alien experiment, #626 escapes from the Intergalactic Federation's troops and makes off (in the red cruiser, no less) for Earth, set on a rampage of some cities. However, he lands in Hawaii, is mistaken for a dog, is adopted by Lilo and her older sister Nani, becomes familiar with the works of Elvis Presley and must learn the importance of family before his alien captors catch up with him.

Maybe one of the reasons why CC loves this movie so much -- besides the inherent cuteness of a mean, blue, koala-looking thing like Stitch -- is how much it's indebted to post-modern reference. With allusions to Japanese cinema, particularly anime, disaster flicks, Roswell and Elvis's surf movies swirling about, it's a cornucopia of pop culture trivia. But all of this winking to a segment of the audience that may be aware of the cultural context does not take precedence over the kid's movie unfolding on screen. It's a wise animated movie that can tread that knowing yet wide-eyed, heartfelt line. The Incredibles and Iron Giant are two others that succeed in this arena as well and we're waiting with curious anticipation for Pixar's Cars out later this summer.

Next up on CC's summer trip through our DVD library: will it be skating rom com The Cutting Edge or the classic Gene Kelly musical about moviemaking Singin' In the Rain?

Posted by karen at 9:52 PM |

January 29, 2006

We Like It Madcap Around Here

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A few months ago in the process of doing some research about Shirley MacLaine for le Day Job, Cinecultist discovered that she and Jack Lemmon and director Billy Wilder had teamed up again three years after the making of the Apartment to do the madcap comedy, Irma La Douce. The Apartment is one of Cinecultist's all time super in love favorite movies, so we promptly put Irma in the Netflix queue and finally watched it this weekend. While it's no where near the masterwork that the Apartment is, Irma's still a lot of silly fun and worth a rental for the serious Wilder fan.

Based on a popular musical play, Irma is the story of a French streetwalker who falls for an honest cop who loves her so much he concocts an elaborate plan to keep her from sleeping with any man but him. Lemmon and MacLaine's delightful chemistry keeps this ridiculous plot afloat as his sweetness is perfectly matched by her sexy honesty. MacLaine also makes her character's green accented wardrobe look completely fetching. CC may need to find ourselves some bright green stockings just so we can emulate her style. There's also some very charming physical comedy in the picture, particularly a great fight scene in the local bistro which involves a pool ball in the mouth, a lamp to the head repeatedly and then the destroying of a pinball machine.

According to our Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe book, Wilder never thought this movie worked despite its Oscar win (for best score and a nom for MacLaine) and its hit status at the box office. Wilder told Crowe he didn't think actors should ever "play foreigners in a foreign country with an American accent." Coming from the man who co-wrote Ninotchka, a foreign characters comedy that really zings, we'll believe him. Though really in CC's opinion, you shouldn't let Wilder's artistic bias against one of his lesser films keep you from enjoying the nubile Shirley in those snazzy green tights.

Posted by karen at 12:21 PM |

January 24, 2006

Don't Go Into The Lights

MaborosiWhen tragedy and disaster happens either of the "your office burns down over the weekend" variety or the "your husband and the father of your 3 month old son is hit by a train" ilk...actually, it's entirely unfair to compare the Cinecultist's feeling this weekend discovering that our Day Job office building has sustained a major fire and the experience of Yumiko in Hirokazu Kore-eda's Maborosi. That experience took her years to bounce back and really CC and our fellow staff members are mostly fine but for the annoyance of working off-site for a few days. There's really no equivalent.

More so even than his lovely and affecting later features After Life and Nobody Knows, Marorosi is like a painting on screen. Meditative shots of city walk ways, seascapes, children running through green-lit tunnels and a father with kids and a dog playing on the beach become an interplay between space and form. Like a Japanese wood cut painting of a mountainside and one tree, Kore-eda's obsession with symmetry is hypnotic as the figures more from one part of the screen to the next. What may seem slow or ponderous at first glance about the not much of anything plot (woman widowed, woman remarries) leaves more than enough room for the cinematography to shine.

Towards the end of the film the depressed Yumiko tells her new husband she can't get over the idea that her suicidal husband looked into the abyss and gave in, even with herself and their young child as a teether to this world. In response, he tells her a story from his fisherman father of seeing lights on the sea's horizon which calls to you. There is a moment then, when all of us can choose whether to acquiesce or not. There's something excessively sad about that thought and yet it seems to cheer Yumiko. She's heard the maborosi calling but she does not heed them. The possibilities of life are too strong. We can rebuild again.

Posted by karen at 8:54 AM |

January 16, 2006

This Headline Could Be: A Ho, Fo Sho (For DVDs That Is)

On Saturday night on the way home from a dinner party in Brooklyn (thanks again Matty and Jori, mucho tasty salmon!), Cinecultist stopped in to Kim's Video on St. Marks. We'd got it into our head to watch again one of our favorite movies from last year, The 40 Year Old Virgin and so wanted to pick up a DVD copy. Kim's is usually movie fanboy central much to our glee, but on a Saturday night at 11 am, it's particularly so.

However, Cinecultist didn't have much of a chance to oggle any fanboys in one of their natural habitats because we were too distracted by the fact that Kim's has changed their DVD categorizing since the last time we'd browsing. Those Kim's employees are so clever, for instance they put Francis Ford's film's all together but the movies by his progeny, CQ, The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation by Roman and Sofia respectively are grouped just under "Coppola Children". Heehee.

Though the more we thought about it as we wandered, we couldn't remember the last time we'd gone a browsing and buying at Kim's. In graduate school, any spare bit of money not devoted to food, rent or drink was earmarked for film screenings, DVDs or movie books. "Research," you understand. And Kim's was our local pusher of choice. We knew it was bad for us to go there, but we reasoned we only needed one more hit to tide us over. In fact, now that we think about it, our entire DVD collection (all 100 plus beautiful discs) was acquired since we've moved to NYC four and a half years ago. We only got a disc player when we moved here, so all of these DVDs cluttering our tiny apartment came from an obsessive need to possess certain films. We loved them, so they had to be ours.

Yet, as we wandered the aisles, lingering longingly in the Japan and Korea sections, we realized that impulse seems to have (mostly) faded. Funny, where did that obsession go? Sure, we still heart the movies with a love that grows more and more each day, but we don't feel the need to have them all at our fingertips. The fact of the matter is we have DVDs in our collection that we've not even watched yet, let alone more than once which was our old litmus for plunking down the credit card. Also, it seems that the spare cash we do have lately goes towards different kinds of luxuries like taxi cabs, dropping off the laundry rather than doing it ourselves, pedicures during the summer and more dinners out with friends. Guess that's what they call cha-cha-changes.

And by the by, 40 Year Old? Not quite as funny as when we saw it in the theater but still pretty darn good. Though the chest waxing scene does get more hilarious with time. Good luck at the Golden Globes tonight, Steve Carrell and all our other favorites!

Posted by karen at 9:02 AM |

October 30, 2005

We Could've Gone As A Hipster

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Too tired from a long work week and a few too many beers at Orchard Bar last night, Cinecultist stayed home Saturday sans Halloween costume with a VHS of Whit Stillman's brilliant, The Last Days of Disco. Des, Jimmy, Josh, Alice and Charlotte may not dress like the Misshapes kids, but it all felt eerily similar for some reason. Scary. Josh's (Matt Keesler) final impassioned plea for the beauty and longevity of disco also cracks us up.

Disco will never be over. It will always live in our minds and hearts. Something this big, something this important and this great will never die. Maybe for many years it will seem passe and ridiculous, caricatured and sneered or worst, even ignored. People will laugh about John Travolta, Olivia Newton John, white polyester suits and platform shoes and going like this! But we had nothing to do with that and still loved disco. Those who didn't understand will never understand. Disco was much more and much better than all that. Disco was too great and too much fun to be gone forever. It has to come back someday. I just hope it will be in our own lifetimes.

Sorry, I've got a job interview this afternoon and I was trying to get revved up. Most of what I said believe.

Die yuppie scum. Viva la disco nouveau wave, lower east side hipsters!

Posted by karen at 12:52 AM |

October 12, 2005

Can You Dig It? Cinecultist Can

Cinecultist received an advance copy of the new special edition DVD of the 1979 film, The Warriors in the mail and finally last night got around to watching it with a little Chinese take-out at the Capn's Brooklyn abode. After properly freaking him out by correctly identifying both the guy who plays Richard Wright from Sex and the City and then Oscar-winning actress Mercedes Ruehl from the film's cast, Matty still agreed to discuss the kitch-tastic film with Cinecultist. Here goes.

thewarriors.jpgCC: All right, so then. The Warriors.
Matty: Warriors.
M: rawr.
CC: so i found out from my coworker today that as we suspected, what is added in this special edition dvd version is the comic book interludes. other than that, it's the same movie.
M: gotcha.
CC: i don't know if this makes the new version more cohesive, but i can understand why the director thought no one would get those references (as he says in his commentary track) because other than what was added, i didn't see it in the original footage. what did you think? upon a little more reflection was it too cheesy for words or good wholesome, gang-related fun?
M: It didn't hit me the way I'd hoped. Certainly, it was entertaining and "Warriors, come out and plaaa-aaay!" will be stuck in my head for all eternity, but the characters weren't memorable enough.
CC: yes, it's a movie that relies mostly on cliche, rather than characterization. cliche and really weird costumes.
M: i think i might be a fury for halloween. Either that or the guys with the purple vests. So hot.
CC: any one of those weirdo costumes would make great outfits for halloween, except for maybe the orphans. there was something so downtrodden and hang dog about them, i don't think anyone would want to be pretending to be in that gang. i also thought one of the other kitchy fun bits of the film was the soundtrack. serious synthesizer for the closeted williamsburgher in us all.
M: definitely. The composer talked about that in the special features. Apparently synths were pretty new and he was really excited about it. You may remember his work from the Exorcist III. A true classic.
CC: really, who can forget that soundtrack? if they've seen it. which i think i might have -- in the 6th grade.
M: I jest, but I did like the music. It was the glue that kept this film together. That and the animated sequences that were added for the directors cut. E III, it was one of the defining moments in my life. That and learning to walk. They're neck-and-neck for importance. Were you down with the whole Greek battle/myth thing the director was going for?
CC: well, it's one of those things where i guess i see it, if i squint my eyes and turn my head slightly to the left but mostly, it seems like a stretch. a stretch to make this movie seem more like a "classic." why can't it just be kitchy fun that is totally of and for it's era? what's so wrong with being that?
M: I'm with you there. The fifteen minutes on the "phenomenon" of the Warriors was ridiculous. All of the actors are telling us how this film was the defining moment of their careers. Of course it was, because most of them went on to do bit parts in various crappy movies. Then again, maybe we would feel differently if we had actually seen this when it was released. People do seem to be mildly excited about this release.
CC: People in my office knew about it right away, when I mentioned it today. It's a thing, apparently.
M: So, we lack that personal connection. You can't call something a classic if it doesn't resonate with snarky twenty-somethings a couple decades later.
CC: i concur. we should be considered the litmus test on snarky and twenty-something.
M: Litmus is my maiden name. (Not really, but it's more interesting than middle.)

Posted by karen at 6:23 PM |

September 6, 2005

When Even A Rom Zom Com Doesn't Help

Cinecultist has been in a bit of funk lately, even with the leisurely long Labor Day weekend barely behind us. We feel a little like Chicken Little, though instead of calling out the "sky is falling" to our neighbors, we've been huddled for the last week over our laptop reading the New York Times hurricane Katrina coverage obsessively. It's glum work, we don't have to tell you.

Shaun plays zombieOn Friday night we had the rom zom com, Shaun of the Dead in from Netflix and we thought surely the defying of genre conventions and droll British wit would perk us up. Except, like the time we rented Moonlight and Valentino with our friend whose Dad had just died and we realized too late it was a comedy with Jon Bon Jovi noless about death, a movie about the zombie apocalypse seemed a bit too close to home. Looting, shot gun use, vainly trying to save one's Mum can all be very cute if it's not happening but a few states south of your little apartment.

Granted, this is a darn clever movie with good acting and a bright premise. Ordinarily we would've enjoyed it very much and found it's joking tone and good-natured but reverent ribbing on the zombie movie conventions quite diverting. Instead, a ranting call from our Mom put the movie on extended pause and once we got off the phone, we spent a good 20 minutes glued to the television Nightly News. Sigh. The zombies looked much less threatening than what was happening in New Orleans.

Dude, even Thomas Crowne, er Pierce Brosnan is coming out to say the whole kit and caboodle has been poorly handled. At this point in time, even escapist movies can't help us keep our fingers over our eyes. We need to do, and then after that we can go back to the regular daily business of art-making.

Posted by karen at 11:25 PM |

August 23, 2005

What Took You So Long?

Coincidentally enough, with the arrival last week of this year's New York Film Festival's line-up, Cinecultist had finally got around to watching on DVD the opening film from last year, Agnes Jaoui's Look At Me just last weekend. This is such a great little movie, we can't believe it took us this long to watch it. Like a Gallic-Bridget Jones's Diary only less silly, the movie follows an unlikely heroine, the overweight daughter of a famous novelist.

If you've ever wondered what kind of complexes Sofia Coppola must have had before she was an Oscar-winning director and style icon, when she was merely a daughter with a famous name, a struggling clothing line and an interest in photography, Look At Me might shed some light. The parent-child relationship is one of the most complex ones we ever have. The desire to live up to their expectations, to compete with them or even surpass their accomplishments but also to feel validated and loved by them. Then throw in some body images issues and a step-mother who is your age, only thin and blonde, and you can understand why our main character, Lolita (the wonderfully natural Marilou Berry) is a bit neurotic.

Always fearing that her friends or boyfriends only like her for her famous father's connections, she's still a person accustomed to getting what she wants by association. Even Lolita's singing teacher Sylvia (played by the director) is initially drawn to helping Lolita because of Sylvia's admiration for the father tienne Cassard's work and the way he can help Sylvia's husband Pierre's struggling writing career.

The complexity of these characters and their relationships, as well as the simply human ways they react to various situations, really sneaks up on you while you're watching the film. You don't realize how much you've come to care for them and how strongly you are rooting for a just or fair resolution. This is where Jaoui and her long-time writing as well as life partner Jean-Pierre Bacri (who plays Lolita's father) really succeed. The movie ends just as you would hope it would in your most sappy Hollywood-ish fantasies and yet it feels as naturalistic as the rest of the picture. That's a precarious and delicate balance to achieve, and the product of a real narrative master.

Review from the Reverse Shot folks on indieWire back when it had theatrical release earlier this year and an indieWire interview with Jaoui.

Posted by karen at 8:45 AM |

August 15, 2005

The Upbeat Bergman

Two cute kids named Fanny and Alexander.In case you haven't noticed, there's a lot of movies out there. Even if you spend quite a bit time like the Cinecultist going to the movies, renting movies, boring perfect strangers at parties with movie talk, there's bound to be a few classics that slip through the cracks. One of those was Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander which CC is now happy to have in our "seen" column. Well, "seen and loved" actually.

The story of the Ekdahl family in the early 1900s Sweden, it meanders over a number of years as the extended family celebrates, mourns and supports each other. Part costume drama, part childhood nostalgia piece, part psychological character study, the movie has a richness and depth you don't see very often. Watching this movie feels like snuggling down with a good long book. Clocking in at three hours in the theatrical version (Bergman also created a 5 hour television cut), there's plenty of time to really fall in love with these characters like you can with a novel. Of course, now we have to rent that 5 hour version that's in the other part of the Criterion box set.

As an aside, Fanny and Alexander is a movie that our friends, the newly married Adriane and John have been trying to get CC to watch for ages and we can't believe we waited so long to do it. Just goes to show, when you have friends whose movie opinions you trust, you should always take their rental advice sooner rather than later.

Posted by karen at 9:04 AM |

July 28, 2005

Enough About Me, Let's Talk About Me

There's something about the autobiographical impulse that is so darn appealing. Not for the audience always, but surely for the artist. Because really, is there anything more fascinating than ourselves and our neurosis? Certainly not says the essayist, memoirist, blogger and autobiographical documentarian.

Cinecultist watched tonight Sherman's March by Ross McElwee, a movie from 1986 about McElwee's travels through his native South following the route of Sherman's March to the Sea and about McElwee's search for a wife. The film won best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival that year and it's not hard to see why, as it's an incredibly compelling navel gazing that runs over 2 and half hours long.

It sort of feels like a Nick Hornby book on screen with less pop culture references and is much better than like minded ilk such as that dreadful 50 First Dates* or My Date With Drew (which CC hasn't seen yet but just looks sucky). There's a fine line between self-absorbed and universal in it's miniscule examinings. Fortunately this movie stays on the good side of the law.

We particularly loved the looks everyone's sporting without any self-consciousness. 1986 was a fashion minefield, people -- if you don't recall. High waisted jeans, huge sunglasses, feathered hair and roller skates as the height of sporty chic. Ye-ouch. Also, McElwee is a bit obsessed with Burt Reynolds in the movie, after one of the girls he's dating who's an actress thinks meeting Reynolds would help her floundering career. CC kept picturing the old guy in promo pictures for Dukes of Hazzard wearing Tom Wolfe's white suits but in '86, Reynolds was hot stuff especially to Southern women. He's like their Brad Pitt, but with a mustache.

Despite the dating of the material with these silly references, Sherman's March is wonderfully human and engaging. Trying to find lasting love, and hopefully yourself in the process, is a subject that doesn't get old even if the hairstyles and celluloid hunks do.

* We're thinking not of the Sandler/Barrymore rom com but that documentary from 8 or 9 years ago where the guy filmed all of his first dates and then met a nice girl and settled down? Is this ringing a bell with anyone? Please email if so. Update: readers Kristi and Josh clued us in that we mean 20 Dates (1998). Thanks guys!

Posted by karen at 11:20 PM |

May 3, 2005

Can You Pick Out A DVD With Chopsticks?

If you think Cinecultist plays the movie geek online, you should see us at the Day Job. We're positively "that's Cah-yay d-oo Cin-eh-ma, you neophytes!" annoying. But occasionally, the co-workers put in a specific recommendation request and following our recently wrapped Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto-themed issue one of our favorite but soon-to-be-departed c.w.s, Miss Chiaki Bates, asked for an Asian film tutorial. Here is our list for her, most of which are suitable for a quick click thru to your Netflix queue for simple adding.

Mainland China: Red Sorghum -- Sadly, Zhang Yimou's first feature and one of the film's that made the world sit up and say "hey, they make movies in China!" in the mid '80s is only available on VHS. However, having to drag your dusty tape player out of storage is no reason to by-pass this gorgeously shot historical drama. Anyone who caught Zhang's recent Hero or House of Flying Daggers knows the guy loves to use bold colors in his shot composition but Red Sorghum, a tale of a young peasant bride as recounted by her son, even has the signature hue spelled out conveniently in the title. If you're anything like CC, and Zhang for that matter, this movie will trigger a long love affair with the stunning Gong Li who was the It Girl of the 5th Generation. [Psst: Each group of Chinese filmmakers educated by their government is dubbed a generation and the '80s wunderkinds were called the Fifth.]

Korea: Chunhyang -- We're a sucker for a well-made historical drama and this retelling of a famous Korean folk tale by director Im Kwon-taek is completely gorgeous. A courtesan is wooed by a handsome, young scholar but will he stand by their secret relationship when the local magistrate wants to claim her? The film cuts back and forth between this world imagined by the filmmaker and a modern Korean audience listening to a traditional folk performer singing the old tale. Like we know the end to Cinderella, these listeners already are certain how the story ends yet the film's viewer can see the power of this man's voice still brings them to tears. If a story makes you weepy on the five millionth listen, imagine how it could blow you away the first time.

Taiwan: The Hole -- Jumping forward from the past to the uncertain future, Taiwan's Tsai Ming-liang composed his idea of what 2000 might look like for a French television series commissioning films before the turn of the millennium. In this future dystopia it will not stop raining and people seem to be coming down with some sort of weird disease that makes them act like cockroaches. In a quasi-abandoned Taipei apartment building, an isolated man and woman are still trying to eek out a day to day routine, going to work, making noodles, trying to fix the leaks, that sort of thing. A handyman creates a literal hole between their apartments floor/ceiling but it also opens up a metaphorical connection between them. But where that plot description might make this film seem like it might be logical or causal, it's artistic and moody and delightfully confusing. Modern malaise tempered with musical interludes, imagined perhaps. Awesomely weird, this movie is.

Hong Kong: Days of Being Wild -- It has the perfect HK triumvirate of Cheung-Leung-Cheung (aka Leslie, Tony and Maggie) and it's directed by Wong Kar Wai, a filmmaker whose use of Christopher Doyle's stunning cinematography with Wong's trademark measured pacing makes movies for savoring. Sure, Chungking Express, In the Mood For Love, Happy Together and hopefully, 2046 are all essential viewing at some point too, but D.o.B.W. has a freshness and a wit that tempered by the pathos and all of that freakin' typhoon-level rain makes it a wonderful intro to this national cinema.

Japan: All About Lily Chou-Chou -- You might think we'd recommend to little Chiaki something from Japan perhaps starring her namesake that has some ass-kicking or manga-style. However, the lyrical loveliness of Shunji Iwai seems like it could be up her alley and if you haven't seen Chou-Chou, we urge you to watch it as well. Based on a fictional pop star the director invented, created a web community for and then recorded the postings of her rabid teenage fans, All About Lily Chou-Chou treads in the very stuff of Japanese modernity, juxtaposing shots of endless rice paddy in a Tokyo suburb with obsessive text messaging and an electro-pop soundtrack.

By the way, don't be mad that we left out films from India or Thailand or Singapore or any of the other amazing Asian national cinemas finally tickling our shores. These are just a few flicks to get started with, hopefully a sampling like this will encourage the more casual movie renter out of the well-worn new release aisle at the video store. Stop the Hollywood hegemony! Oops, sorry. There goes our virtual megaphone when we just wanted to offer a few friendly suggestions.

Posted by karen at 11:00 PM |

April 25, 2005

Can You Make Pizza Out of Matzo?

matzos.jpeCinecultist's favorite part of Passover is the bitching. "I can't eat bread or rice or pasta or various other things with leaven for eight whole days," we whine. "Feel sorry for us, our people were afflicted." and "mwah, all we really want to eat is a measly piece of pizza." Doesn't that sound fun? Okay, maybe not for the people around us who are listening to yet another discussion of salad for lunch but there's something rejuvenating about getting back to our kvetching roots.

However, on the way home last night from Passover seder in Queens with the Lifshitzs' (thanks for the brisket and Gus's gorky!), we started thinking about all of the classic Passover cinema. Well, actually we couldn't think of any Pesach movies. Does Ten Commandments count? We've never actually seen it but we think there are plagues in there. Although if that's the deciding criteria, we might also call Magnolia a Passover movie, what with the falling frogs and all. Sadly, the self-imposed food restrictions keep making Cinecultist think of Mystic Pizza, the anti-Pesach flick.

All of this mental grappling for Jewish themed movies reminded CC of a Sunday School favorite, The Frisco Kid. For some reason, when our synagogue pedagogues ran out of material on Tu BiShvat and the founding of Israel, they'd turn to the Gene Wilder oeuvre for time-filler. This flick features Wilder as the worst rabbinical student ever, sent West by the council of Rabbis to Gold Rush era San Francisco, where he's supposed to meet his betrothed and his congregation. However, various Wild West hijinks ensue when he meets a hunky, young Harrison Ford who's robbing Wilder's cross country train (if we remember the plot correctly). Anyhow, Ford is a bad guy who later becomes good once he gets to know Wilder, and we recall being highly amused by a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-ish scene where the two jump off a cliff into a rushing river together. Ford yells "oh shit!" as he goes over, while Wilder screams out "oy vey!" Also, we think we recall a scene wherein Wilder tries to catch a chicken by promising, "I doesn't want to hurt you, I just want to make you kosher." Jewish comic gold, people.

With this in mind, Cinecultist has decided that we're going to mark every Passover with a screening of The Frisco Kid. So just picture us every spring, curled up on the couch covered in matzo cracker crumbs, swigging Dr. Brown's kosher cream soda and guffawing loudly at nebbish little Gene.

Posted by karen at 8:36 AM |

April 5, 2005

CGI Spurting Blood and Cutsie Manga

Murakamii.jpeCinecultist is turning into a bit of a Japanaphile lately. We've been cramming our Netflix queue with various horror and action flicks we've never seen and have been devouring articles and prints related to artists like Takashi Murakami, who's contributing to the Japan Society's exhibit "Little Boy" which is opening very soon (this Friday to be exact).

Battle_Royale.jpgA film we've been meaning to see for ages and finally did over the weekend, the first in our personal mini-series "Japanese Films CC's Been Meaning To See," was Battle Royale. We think perhaps CC may be using this phrase so much that we'll wear it out over the next few weeks but here it is: "This movie is really fucked up and totally awesome." It's not so much conventional horror, with monsters or supernatural mayhem, but rather people thrust into a horrific situation. We're in post-apocalyptic Japan where violence in schools is ranging so out of control that the government has passed the BR Act. This law allows for a lottery to choose a ninth grade class which participates in a Survivor/Lord of the Flies To The Death game. Armed with an array of weapons, from guns and hatchets to fans and soup pan lids, only the last teen standing is allowed to go home.

With all of the witty ultra-violence, it's easy to see why Quentin Tarantino loves this movie and cast Chiaki Kuriyama (who plays one of the particularly brutal girl contestants) as the assassin Go Go in Kill Bill.The combination of satirical humor, spattering blood, expansive classical music on the score and the teen emotions so familiar from any show on the WB is very Tarantino-esque. Or perhaps it's just very Japanese or very Kinji Fukasaku-esque as he's been making movies since the '60s.

If you want to get into these questions of artistic imperialism or the Western market capitalizing on a new-found fascination with a foreign national cinema, it can get quite hairy. What looks so new to our eyes is perhaps something they've always been doing or has intrinsic roots in the culture. But white movie-goer guilt aside, Battle Royale is surely worth a viewing for the sheer fun the film seems to be having with moviemaking. It's as though Stanley Kubrick or Joss Whedon were Japanese and perhaps spent way too much time playing shoot 'em up video games. An incongruous but unique mash-up to be sure.

As coincidence would have it, Battle Royale is the Dekk Restaurant Superfilm movie night this week so you could head down there at 7:30 pm tonight. Also, in terms of the exhibits at the Japan Society, their film on Friday at 6:30 pm, Otakus in Love about two manga artists who meet cute sounds like it could be quite fun.

Posted by karen at 8:51 AM |

March 29, 2005

Third Time's The Charm, Or Is It The Fourth?

As we mentioned briefly on Friday, Cinecultist bought with childish glee the DVD of the Incredibles last week. After an incredibly (pun intended) long work week the week before, a few computer generated supers was about all CC could handle on a Saturday night. We intended to leave the house, honest, but instead we just sat on our ass watching all of the DVD's extras on the second disc plus the full film on the other one.

Highlights included the much advertised "Jack Jack Attack" short film constructed from deleted scenes detailing the time the surprisingly powerful baby Jack Jack spends with the unaware babysitter Kari, a visual essay with the voice of Violet, writer Sarah Vowell and extensive making-of documentaries.

While these documentaries are geeked out and detail oriented to the nth degree, the do give the casual viewer a real sense of the undertaking involved in making this film. With footage from the very first day Brad Bird set foot on the Pixar lot, through to concerns about the script, composing realistic hair and water on computer, down to details about set design and lighting, it's clear this was a massive project. Making movies are always collaborative efforts but from the docus this movie seems like the experience was closer to that of building a city than making a piece of entertainment. Which we suppose makes it all the more incredible that it's so darn good.

But you don't have to take our word for it. Just ask CC's brother Mark, age 8 who got the DVD too as an Easter present and promptly made our family all sit down to watch it together. So here's the score if you're keeping track at home -- Cinecultist has now watched the Incredibles once in the theaters, a second time on our new DVD two weeks ago, a third time on the airplane to California on Friday night and then again on Sunday because the excitement in Markie's eyes was just too freakin' cute to ignore. Also, he finds our impression of Edna Mode, designer for the supers, pretty amusing and always chuckles when we say "machine washable, dahling, that's a new feature" or "it's a hobo suit, dahling." Gotta love that. And in case you were wondering, the movie just gets more charming and appealing with each viewing.

Posted by karen at 9:02 AM |

March 15, 2005

Swashbuckling!

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Over on Chutry Experiment the other day, Chuck and his readers were having a discussion about movies which are cinematic comfort food. Cinecultist found this quite coincidential as we devoted the last Sunday to a little apartment cleaning, a Chipolte burrito and some cozying in with a rental one of our hibernating movies, La Reine Margot (1994).

However, our big clue that perhaps this flick isn't the most obvious choice for a weekend afternoon curled up on the couch occured when CC's Dad called mid-movie.

CC's Dad: What are you doing?
CC: Oh, just watching Queen Margot again. I rented it from Kim's. It has Isabel Adjani and Daniel Auteuil in it.
CCD: Oh, they're good. Sorry to interrupt.
CC: That's ok. We're to the part where they kill all the Protestants.
CCD: Uh...

Yes, that's right -- two and a half hours of pretty people in period costumes set against the backdrop of religious war and massacre in Renaissance France! The definition of fun fun, right? Actually, all self-mockery aside this movie is really fantastic. Based on the Alexandre Dumas historical novel about Catherine d' Medici's four children and their struggle to maintain the throne, this film won director Patrice Chreau and his cast a number of awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the French Oscars that year. It's one of those movies that can't help but spring to our mind when you discuss the golden age of Miramax, the American distributor that released the picture here.

Adjani's really spectacular as Margot, not least because the actress is 38 during filming playing a 20 something historical character. She does haughty, and she does passionate. She can do it all. But let's not forget Vincent Perez as her lover and protector, La Mole, who's birth and religion precludes a real relationship with the Catholic princess. Zowie, that Perez is h-o-t-t. Distracting, he is. The sweeping vistas, the brutal sword fights, the vast court scenes, the violent death of a very young Asia Argento caught in a palace intrigue, Queen Margot is epic filmmaking at its peak.

This movie is so great, it makes us hopeful for Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven merely because it's of the same genre. Now that's a movie hope that really springs eternal.

Posted by karen at 11:30 PM |

March 8, 2005

Umm, How You Say, "Break Out Role"?

Cinecultist's newest film fascination, via the day job, is in the search for the hot young thing on screen. How to find these ephemeral figures about to burst onto the scene in that moment just before everyone else does? Our self-tutorial includes going back to watch the break out works of some currently over-played inhabitants of the mainstream. At least that's how we're spinning the realization that we spent Saturday night watching a war film directed by Joel Schumacher with our buddy Ilana.

Too sick still to navigate the E/V trains over the water to the G then to god-knows-where Greenpoint for what was surely a lovely housewarming get together, CC and Ilana ate Japanese food in the West Village before on Ilana's suggestion, taking in some Colin Farrell goodness via his first American role as Bozz in Tigerland.

Farrell has on display his very considerable talents in this film, and when we say "talents," we want you to imagine our most lascivious tone accompanying that euphemism. Damn, girl. What a physic on that one. Yet his performance and the buzz which surrounded it upon the film's release is more than just the sum of his looks. Farrell has the charisma only true screen stars can exude on film. A swagger punctuated with a tenderness and even an reluctant intelligence in his Vietnam-era bad boy army soldier character. What a surprise when a part could be just one note, particularly in these "war story as told by a sensitive, outsider writer type" movies. The war film isn't a genre which usually piques our interest, so when a film holds our attentions beyond the yelling and shooting it's a mean feat indeed.

Interestingly, this movie was also co-star Matt Davis' first film role in addition to being Farrell's first major part in US movie (before that he was probably most known in the UK for a role on the soapy "Ballykissangel" tv program). Davis went on to be the boring but hunky boyfriends in Legally Blonde and Blue Crush but has yet to really "break out," in that magazine buzz parlance. Davis is certainly good in Tigerland as the sensitive buddy but he doesn't have Farrell's magnetism. Is it only the really extraordinary who can escape the strictures of their good looks? Farrell may be in some pretty bad movies but you couldn't ever describe his characters as good looking but boring. Maybe the moral of the story is that it's not enough to have the physic of a Ken doll. Or maybe it's just that some people got it, and some don't, kid.

Ok, we're going to stop now before CC turns into some demented Robert Evans.

An Aside: Apparently, Anthony Lane can actually write less than totally snark-filled reviews. His talents are so demonstrated in his comments on Head On in this week's New Yorker [link not the perma kind so click now, while ye can]. He invokes the new German film in the same sentence with Lukas Moodysson's Lilya 4-Ever, so now we have to go see it.

Posted by karen at 8:54 AM |

November 22, 2004

Maggie Cheung Done Gone Cra-azy

Even before this article in the Times magazine last week, Cinecultist has been on a kick to watch all the Maggie Cheung available DVDs on Netflix. It's not such a daunting task in the face of her whole career's output, we suppose in these small cases its an advantage that the US doesn't import all of the Asian movies to our region's players. There's 26 of them and CC's now seen half, what with our Friday evening rental, Farewell, China.

This movie was brutal, we wouldn't necessarily recommend it to those who like to see their Maggie upbeat, preferably kicking ass in black latex, or even looking longingly at Tony Leung in a vintage cheongsam. Actually, Maggie does pine for a Tony Leung is in this movie, though it's not the one that CC usually thinks of when we think TL goodness. It co-stars Tony Leung Ka Fai, who was also in Ashes of Time and loads of other stuff according to his profile. He's very good in his own right, but he's not TL Chiu Wai just so you know.

Anyhoo, Tony confusions aside, this movie is about the process of illegal immigration to the states from China. A young wife finally gets a student Visa and leaves her husband and aborable chubby son to seek her fortune in New York. However, when the letters start being returned unopened, the husband sneaks into the country as well via South America and searches all over scummy '80s Manhattan and the outer boroughs for her. When he finally accidentally discovers her after a protracted journey and an introduction to the underbelly of poverty, the rendezvous is bittersweet. Living all alone in a foreign country has done something to her and it's not good. We don't want to give away the upsetting ending but let's just say CC loves Maggie even when she's nutso and wielding a screwdriver.

13 more to go on the list, and we're loving every minute of it. Next up: exhausting the extensive collection Kim's Video!

Posted by karen at 8:31 AM |

November 18, 2004

A Full Time Job

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In preparation for the upcoming House of Flying Daggers release (Dec. 3 in NYC and LA), Cinecultist has been on a little bit of an Andy Lau kick. We don't want our first love, Tony Leung to be jealous or anything, just sometimes CC needs a little variety in our HK viewing. Recently, we rented Fulltime Killer, a movie Lau made with director Johnny To in 2001. To be honest, we couldn't remember when we put this flick on our Netflix queue, the queue got a little unwieldy there for awhile, but when it arrived it was a lovely little surprise of ass-kicking cinephilia.

Lau plays Tok, an upstart assassin who wants to be known as the best hitman, but he has to battle O (Takashi Sorimachi) for that illustrious title. Kelly Lin is their shared love interest, she runs a video store and cleans O's apartment for a little extra cash. Tok capitalizes on her movie love to win her over, in a weird little scene he shops in the store in a variety of rubber American President masks, just like the bank robbers in Point Break. She agrees to go on a date with him, even before she sees his face, so we see this adorable bookish Asian girl holding hands in the cineplex with one of the ex-Presidents. Bizarre and cute, all at the same time.

Later, when Tok reveals his plan to Chin asking her if she'd like to be a hitman's girl, he takes her to an abandoned building to learn to shoot. He thinks his moves are too smooth for words, but Chin pointedly tells him that she knows this scene is from The Professional. CC's a fan of anything smartly self-referential from the outset, but this movie's transformation of a simple hitman rivalry actioner into something more by its cinephilia is great. Could this be because Johnny To gets tired of churning out the same shoot-em up plots? Or is the savvy HK audience in need of a little meta infusion to get through the day? All interesting possibilities for us.

Two other Hong Kong cinema bullet points of note:
* If you love HK film, you should bookmark LoveHKfilm.com into your favorites list, it's quite the compendium of info with reviews, features and loads of photos.

* Also, Kino is having its Christmas sale, 25 to 30 % off, on their DVD catalog right now -- including some stellar silents and the Wong Kar Wai lovelies. Want to make a cinecultist happy this season? The Kino Ultimate Box Set Collection in the Chrismakkah stocking is sure to do the trick.

Posted by karen at 8:30 AM |

October 26, 2004

10 Years With Kevin Smith

The sacred promise of the indie filmmaking scene from the '90s was that this rarified artistic and commercial product could be made by any shmo with some credit cards to max out, a semester or so of film school, former employment at a video store and a dream. No one in our current glutted category of "American Auteurs" typifies this as well as Kevin Smith. Sitting down with the three disc anniversary edition of Clerks this weekend, Cinecultist got to thinking about our long and tumultuous love affair with the films of Mr. Smith and generally the last ten years of indie films. Sure that's a dauntingly large topic, perhaps the stuff for a book, but here's a few stabs at it by way of Kevin Smith fandom.

The news that Smith plans to make a sequel to Clerks, titled The Passion of the Clerks, isn't really such a surprise what with the nostalgia overload kicking in on the DVD. What made Smith's persona and whole back story so damn appealing initially was his every guyness, and the DVD extras really celebrate that aspect of the film. Here's a chubby fellow in a trench coat from a small town in Jersey who spends one semester in film school and then spends a year writing and making a movie about what he knows dead end jobs in backwater Jersey as told by sex and pop culture obsessed buddies. Everyone loves these formation stories, how the young filmmaker came to be (see the current buzz about Tarnation). Especially when they can report on how he made the movie with but a ball of twine for a budget, the sweat from his ass as film stock and his five best buddies from pre-school as the cast.

Despite the ease with which it was tout Smith for his humble beginnings, he still had such an accessibility and was a vocal proponent for it that CC always forgave him. When Smith came onto the scene he was like that guy you knew from high school who was always so funny, but spent a few semesters in community college, still lives at home with his folks and doesn't seem to be going anywhere in particular. CC knew loads of people like that growing up in the 'burbs and Smith's subject matter plus his rise to fame made him their poster boy of what could be.

What's interesting on the DVD's documentary, "Snowball Effect: The Making of Clerks" is how much Smith seemed himself to be in awe of those who'd gone before him (like Richard Linklater's Slacker) and how important it was to him to give back once he succeeded. From the docu, you'd think Smith funded every pipe dream and half-baked movie project his buddies ever had. And goodness do they love him for it. The other thing abundantly clear on listening to the commentary track while watching the original version screened at the IFFM at the Angelika in '93, is that Smith has to go back to doing low budget, talky comedies. The film looks like crap, even he jokes that his most innovated shot formation is a two shot, but still it's so compelling.

Any idiot could have made Jersey Girl, all formula and no substance. That's the problem with indie cinema, in that it became the establishment and morphed into something completely overblown. Kevin, we beg of you, go back to writing what you know. And here's a suggestion that maybe you don't want to hear you're a writer, a pretty good writer, but you're not really a director. Let someone else imagine where to put the camera while you come up with the dialogue and the scenarios.

Then you could have something even more lasting on screen, beyond the fading schtick of Jay and Silent Bob. Cinecultist thinks he has it in him, do you? Leave it in the comments.

Posted by karen at 8:35 AM | | Comments (3)

October 22, 2004

Questions Answered

In case you were wondering what exactly ace pilot Xander Barclow says to Carmen Ibanez as he approaches her on the flight deck with a calming cup of tea in Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, it's something like, you think you're so great with the star maps, now that "You Licked My Navs." Cinecultist knows this because we watched it on instant replay for about 5 minutes with Matty and Jen last night. We weren't certain actor Patrick Muldoon accused Denise Richards of taking her tongue to other nether regions, but it sure sounded like it.

Rewinding and leaning into the DVD player, ears wide open still didn't resolve the query. Thank goodness for the subtitle feature on DVDs. Though, when exactly they included the word "navs" into the english language we're not sure.

Also thanks to Michelle for IMing the answer to our Samuel Pepys inquiry yesterday. "Pepys was the Earl of Sandwich's secretary and he did stuff for the navy and wrote in code. That first part was from our head by the way, but then we caved and Googled him. Now I'm reading his diary because it's more fun than work and more uplifting than the economist article about Darfur." CC's always glad we can help to distract people from their work day!

Posted by karen at 8:40 AM |

October 21, 2004

Diagnosis: Brain Cloud

What is this gentle breath of fresh air, this tendril of a breezy caress? No, thats not the onset of the red-gold autumn chill. That would be Seattle Maggie waving buh-bye to The Man, at least for the time being. Yes, we are now officially unemployed, having finally come to the end of our tether with office politics, administrative drudgery and wacked-out bosses who make sweeping decisions about the future of their employees, yet cant for the life of them adjust the brightness on their monitors. On top of that, when our CEO was canned because he had the temerity to come down with a bad case of cancer, and replaced with a backslapping frat boy with typos in his cover letter, we thought perhaps it was time to move on before we came to work one morning with a flamethrower and a quest to purify the place.

So, for the time being, we are coasting along on our savings and our rescued sense of self-respect. Is there life outside the cubicle? Seattle Maggie hopes so. While we know that ending up back by the water cooler may be inevitable in this day and age, we feel we have struck a small blow for our own sense of decency and intelligence by putting our proverbial foot down. In celebration of this, we turn our investigational eye toward what else? the movies. Apart from the classic Office Space, which quite literally everyone and their mother has seen thanks to a near-constant run on afternoon Comedy Central, all you desk jockeys out there can rejoice in several other very fine films celebrating the inane and soul-shriveling nature of modern office culture.

haikutunnel.jpg For those of you suffering trouble with commitment, give Haiku Tunnel a try. Based on monologuist Josh Kornbluth's one man show, this light n entertaining film explores the trials and tribulations of a temp worker turned perm. While Kornbluth is entertaining in a shaggy-dog sort of way, the movie does get a little exasperating as the plot concerning the unsent letters drags on and on (just stamp 'em and post 'em, dude, it's not rocket science). However, it is almost worth the price of the rental just to watch Kornbluth have voluptuous fantasies about his bed, which coyly peels its covers open before him like a shy concubine. Seattle Maggie confesses that our bed has the same allure.

Also on the temporary career path is Clockwatchers, starring some of our favorite indie female talent. A quartet of temps, including Toni Collette, Lisa Kudrow and brash young thing Parker Posey, form an unlikely bond in an office full of permanent employees. When things start disappearing around the office, the lowest members of the proverbial totem pole are blamed, and the temps begin to turn on each other in an attempt to save their already uncertain jobs. This is a great movie for anyone who has ever suffered the anonymous indignity of temporary work, and the elevator music soundtrack is sure to wedge itself in your unused brain cells for a good long while.

bartleby-poster2.jpg Perhaps one of the weirdest movies we've seen in a long time was Bartleby with Crispin Glover, the man who defines quirk. While Seattle Maggie did plow through the original story by Herman Melville in Freshman English, we found it was not necessary to appreciate the modern film version. With every firm, soft-spoken repetition of Bartleby's mantra "I would prefer not to" we found ourselves growing amused, then irritated, then concerned, then desperate to understand the reason behind the words. We, too, would prefer not to. Add in a blink-worthy color scheme and an excellent supporting cast of office misfits, and count yourself rescued from another long afternoon of Judge Judy and Pokemon reruns.

Last, but not least, is Seattle Maggies all time favorite anti-office, up-with-the-people movie, Joe Versus The Volcano. Tom Hanks is everyman Joe Banks, beaten down by the endless rote of his joyless life, but indirectly rescued by the diagnosis of a brain cloud. Meg Ryan, pre-Sleepless in Seattle, stars also as the various women in his life. This modern fable, scribed and directed by one of our favorite playwrights John Patrick Shanley, always lifts our spirits, and we long to find our own volcano to conquer. As it is, to have our time back, even for this short while, is indeed like gold in our hand. Seattle Maggie is giving that forbidden valve a good turn, and who knows on what fabulous shores we may wash up on.

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Posted by seattle maggie at 9:49 PM |

October 19, 2004

Sexxy Vampyres From Olden Times

maddin_dracula2.jpgAfter having the Guy Maddin* DVD of Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary for over a month from Netflix, Cinecultist finally took a Monday evening of poor television offerings to watch it. Now, we're smacking ourselves upside the head, yelling, "what took youse so long?" Sexy and weird and arty and intriguing and beautiful are not too shabby adjectives to describe a movie we'd been meaning to see for ages but only just sat down to watch, practically under duress.

So much of what Maddin does that's so delightful to a cinecultist like ourselves, is the foregrounding of moviemaking. He wants you to know it's a movie, in other words, and he uses the silent film techniques of melodrama, tinting, iris transitions, fish-eye lenses and a host of other gee gaws to constantly make the viewer aware of his game. While this adds quite a bit to the artistic intentions of his project, it also prompts such ruminations for CC best kept to ourselves like, "why don't more filmmakers use inter-titles?" and "nobody does good spot color hand tinting these days!" You'd think we were Peter Bogdanovich with these fancyings for ye olde silent film prompted by Maddin's work.

But if the techniques seem old fashioned, the sensibility is completely modern (in the sense of presenting "now" on screen, rather than the turn of last century). You can watch a zillion and one Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes and get that horror conventions are yet another metaphor for the fear of female sexuality, but Maddin's staging of this Royal Winnipeg Ballet's production makes it all so real once again. See, it's like, the Virgin Lucy writes in the pages of her diary that she really longs for the Vampyr just as she wants to possess all three suitor, and Harker's diary entry detailing his stay in Transylvania gets Mina all hot it's all so obvious when you see it danced out in front of you.

Zhang Wei-Qiang, the actor/dancer who plays Dracula, with his eyes spot colored in blood red hypnotizing us from the screen is on par with Murnau's Nosferatu framed in a round doorway. It is not a horror image easily forgotten.

*Canadian experimental film director. Not to be confused with the guy named Steve who makes shoes.

Posted by karen at 8:30 AM |

September 30, 2004

Blue Wig and Sideburns Like Brillo Pads?

One of the more anticipated DVD releases is out now in stores, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Eternal Sunshine is the sort of movie that even while Cinecultist was watching it in the theater, we were imagining it in our DVD collection already. We imagine it will only ripen with further viewings. You can read our original ecstatic review here.

If you're a regular reader of Lindsayism.com, like Cinecultist is, you may recall that she loved the movie so much last March, that she said she was going to be Clementine for Halloween. Personally, having met Lindsay a bunch of times now, we think she would be a rockin' Clementine, she has all of the quirky, bubbly, goofy prereqs. And like CC, she also has much younger siblings, so the thought of planning the Halloween costume in March isn't really as bizarre as it sounds.

However, we probably wouldn't have remembered that off the cuff statement if she hadn't blogged just this week, that now she plans to be Joel Gion for Halloween, after having seen the docu DIG! about indie rock band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. How's that going to work exactly? Blue or orange wig, zipped up hoodie and glued on brillo pad sideburns? (We think Gion's the one with the 'burns, as we haven't seen the blogosphere's favorite movie yet, but we hear they're into the facial hair.) Now that's an outfit we have to see.

Any movie or movie character inspired Halloween costumes for you? Leave them in the comments. (Don't worry, we can talk without reproach about Halloween now, as tomorrow is October. Crazy, no? Where did the summer go?)

Posted by karen at 8:40 AM | | Comments (2)

September 13, 2004

It's The Callbacks That'll Get You

audition.bmpWe all know that curiosity killed the cat, but Seattle Maggie could not resist temptation. It had been taunting us from its shelf at Video Vertigo for a long time now, the lurid image of a woman in black vinyl gloves coyly wielding a wicked syringe. Yes, it was Takashi Miike's infamous Audition, a film that reaped as many accolades from film reviewers as dire warnings about gruesome made flesh on screen. We had been been tempted by this film ever since its US debut at the 2000 SIFF, where the tantalizing rumor was that some unfortunate festival goer had stumbled from this screening into the theater lobby and either puked, fainted, or both. We wondered what could be so bad as to inspire public regurgitation and/or swooning, then immediately wondered if we really, truly wanted to know.

Seattle Maggie is into the horror genre, but we do not have a taste for gore. The most disturbing thing we had seen to date was an accidental screening of Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which included illegal kidney transplants, graphic scalpel stabbings and a horrifically explicit electrocution torture scene - we say accidental because we were lulled by the beautiful but emotionally-wrenching Joint Security Area the year before and had expected something along those lines. We still can't get some of the images out of our head, and we weren't sure we wanted yet more disturbing cinematic experiences crowding out more useful bits of our brain, such as the quadratic equation, or our social security number, or Hamlet's soliloquy.

We turned to the experts for help. Rob, the nice chap behind the counter at Video Vertigo, had these words of wisdom for us: "If you don't watch the last ten minutes, it's just like a John Hughes movie." Huh. Intriguing. And still the question remained: what on earth could possibly be that awful? With our finger poised and ready on the stop button, we ventured forth into Audition.

Well, as it turns out, Rob was right. Audition is the story of an middle-aged Japanese widower who decides to remarry after seven years of mourning. In order to find the perfect mate, he holds a phony audition for a fake movie, giving him the chance to screen many young and beautiful women. An ex-ballerina with a shy smile catches his fancy, and he decides she is the one for him. They bond quietly over dinners, drawn to each other by past disappointments and tragedies. During a romantic weekend getaway, the widower decides to propose...and this is where John Hughes goes out the window and into a giant threshing machine. We won't ruin the shockfest ending for those of you with a taste for the macabre, but we can say it was brutal, sickening, and strangely compelling. Let's just say that once the piano wire came out, we had to resort to the fast forward button for a bit. And while we did manage to keep a hold on the contents of our stomachs, we admit that the bowl of chili we were going to have for dinner no longer had a lot of appeal. Audition packs a punch that some may not be able to handle, but Seattle Maggie squeaked through, peeking through our fingers, and now we know what all the fuss is about. At least we have a newfound appreciation of our feet - Trust us, after this, you will too.

Posted by seattle maggie at 9:24 PM |

September 7, 2004

In An ABBA Sorta Mood(ysson)

together.jpegCinecultist's friend Ilana has a few directors, nay auteurs, that she considers in the "pantheon." Alfred Hitchcock. Jean Renoir. Jean Vigo. Michael Bay. (And you thought our taste was ecclectic!) Of course, there is also on that list, Lukas Moodysson, the Swedish director whose heart-wrenching film Lilya 4-Ever was on Cinecultist's top ten from last year.

His 2000 feature, Together has sat in our Netflix to be released queue for ages but while at Mondo Kim's on Saturday, we discovered it's already available on DVD. It didn't take much to convince Ilana to add it to her already impressive collection, as he is in the pantheon, and then loan it to us straight away. Lordy, it's good to have cinecultist friends who are so easy to influence for our self-serving purposes.

The collective house in Stockholm 1975 called Tillsammans, meaning "together," seems like the kind of place the girl from I Am Curious: Yellow would have lived in a few years later when she wanted to raise a family. The residents have all of that youthful intensity and idealism still but with a touch more pragmatism and compromise. In fact, the dramatic arc in the film follows how the partipants must learn to compromise to live as a group and if they can't, they either leave or are kicked out. Without wanting to give away too much of the plot intricacies, ie who sleeps with whom, because the discovery of the story as it unfolds is one of this movie's great charms, we'll just say it ends of a very upbeat note. That's quite a change from Lilya which is equally as powerful but more of a movie to slit your wrists to, rather than something which reinvigorates your belief in human being's ability to connect.

Like the ABBA song which plays over the credits, Together wants to send out an SOS, telling the audience we need each other in order to go on. Maybe Cinecultist isn't such a cynic afterall, if that sentiment delivered with so little guile is enough to keep us smiling long after the credits finish rolling.

Posted by karen at 8:42 AM |

August 5, 2004

CC Has To Visit Mrs. Murphy

So Cinecultist inadvertently rented the most popular film of 1950 this week, Cheaper By The Dozen from Netflix. Well, renting the film wasn't by accident, it's been on the queue since we saw the Steve Martin film of the same title last year (notice we didn't call it an update or an adaptation as it was neither). CC just didn't set out to see the most watched movie in the year 1950. That sounds like the most square movie-watching endeavor ever, doesn't it? Like proposing to make your own ice cream with a hand crank ice cream maker on a Saturday night or suggesting knitting socks for the soldiers overseas in your free time.

This factoid about the film came courtesy of an extra on the DVD, a short newsreel film where the president of Universal Pictures and Ernestine Gilbraith Carey, the co-writer of the book Cheaper By the Dozen about her childhood growing up the 20s and 30s, are awarded some sort of prize and $5,000 for making such a lovely family film. The most watched film of 1950 is a designation they place on the film, and maybe CC is too trusting but we believe them, despite being unable to corraborate it with the expert help of Google.

The thing we find most intriguing about the popularity of this movie in 1950, real or trumped up by folksy pre-PR spin, is that even in 1950, an era our politicians love to fetishize as innocence personified, they too were nostalgic for an earlier era. Cheaper By the Dozen tells the "real story of an American family" which is apparently a beautiful cinematic fantasy of democratic family meetings, a self-sacrificing wife and a charming but kind brood of rugrats. But even in 1950 this pure family couldn't exist in their present day, it had to be imagined from their past, as a representation of an idyllic childhood recalled. It's an example of movies as our collective unconscious of what we wished was, not what was actually there.

If like Cinecultist, the novel Cheaper By the Dozen was a part of your idealized childhood, we strongly recommend seeing the 1950 version and leaving the 2003 one to the fans of Hilary Duff Duff, Ashton Kutcher and stupid, formulaic Hollywood filmmaking.

Posted by karen at 10:02 AM |

July 30, 2004

Movies Seen Lately: An Unrelated List

Quickie reviews on three movies Cinecultist watched this week, which when put next to each other have no obvious relation other than their proximity of viewing. Any connection inferred would be entirely of your own doing.

Dead Ringers (1988) -- Cinecultist finds David Cronenberg intriguing but we'd never had a chance to see this feature, despite having read a bunch about it. Jeremy Irons gives such a bravura performance as the twin brother gynecologists, we're definitely going to be creeped out through next week just thinking about him and those tools for mutant women. What puts Cronenberg above and beyond your usual horror director is his sense of aethetics in terms of production design -- their futuristic examining room, the all red operating clothes, the lush appointments of their favorite restaurant all could not be more perfect. An excellent example of mid-80s technological paranoia, we highly recommend this movie if you can catch it on tv as we did or add the Criterion version to your Netflix queue.

Donnie Darko: Director's Cut (2004) -- As Josh Cultivated Stupidity and CC walked out of this movie we turned to our budding director friend to say, "Now let that be a lesson to you to know when to leave well enough alone." "Yup, sometimes less really is more," as Josh said. We still really admire Richard Kelly for producing this high quality film on a first outing and Jake Gyllenhaal still totally cute as ever, but the obviously added effects and the quotations from The Philosophy of Time Travel do nothing for the picture as a whole. Honestly, more explanation did not make for a more pleasurable viewing. CC still recommends catching it on the big screen in a midnight screening but be sure it's the old version rather than this director's cut. Unless you're a die-hard Jakie fan (and we know you're out there, we've seen our stats) and must consume all things Jake G.

Shaolin Soccer (2001) -- Our biweekly movie group (it's like a book group, only we watch movies), Cinema Ahh*some met this week to watch Matty's pick, the Chinese kungfu soccer comedy directed by and starring Stephen Chow. We know we've implied this before but now we're going to say it out right -- Miramax sucks. They purchased this movie for distribution ages ago, they sat on it and then released it as a dubbed version in the theaters for about two seconds. And it's hilarious. You really should see it if you haven't and you even just a little bit like kung fu movies. Although sadly, when you see it you probably won't get the patent-pending Cinema Ahh*some running commentary to enhance your viewing experience. If CC could bottle up some Fiona giggling and ship it to you with a copy of this DVD, we totally would.

Posted by karen at 7:53 AM |

July 20, 2004

Scare Yourself Chilly

It's hot these days in Seattle - that's right, we said HOT. While Seattle Maggie knows that she would probably be instantaneously reduced to a puddle of goo by one tiny whiff of NYC summertime humidity, the fact that the temperature hovers in the 80s is enough to make her droopy with heat. While we have been reduced to periodically sticking our head in the freezer and going to sleep splayed out on the floor like a water buffalo, nothing beats the heat like a little shiver up the spine.

below.bmpWhile surfing our beloved Encore channels, we came across Below, a good old-fashioned supernatural thriller. While we were originally drawn to it from catching a glimpse of Scott Foley in the previews, aka Noel from Felicity (yes, once again, the WB rears its perfectly coiffed head), we were pleasantly surprised to find a gripping story and one or two inadvertent yelps of surprise. Below takes place on the American submarine USS Tiger Shark during WWII. After a long seven weeks at sea, the crew is instructed to pick up three survivors of a recently torpedoed British hospital ship. Once the survivors are aboard, among them a lone female nurse, the obligatory strange and creepy things begin to happen. As the bodies and the questions begin to pile up, the claustrophobic confines of the sub and the dark water around it presses in, unrelenting. It is a neat set-up, and it works for this movie. There are several nail-biting moments, including a depth charge sequence so exquisitely excruciating you will only realize you have been holding your breath once you let it out.

With an impressive creative team, including director David Twohy (Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick), writer Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), and some great character actors including Olivia Williams (Rushmore) and Dexter Fletcher (the reluctantly crazed chef from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), it is a shame that this movie basically slipped by without notice.The tone and style of this movie really makes it a winner, with a supernatural evil in the movie that is definitely present, but not all up in your face with a chainsaw. It is refreshing when a horror film makes the your skin crawl without resorting to all-out bloodfests, in the style of the much-abused Blair Witch Project and the masterful films of M. Night Shyamalan. Another great film we can't recommend enough (also ignored in the box office) is Session 9, with the creepy, yet compelling David Caruso in an abandoned insane asylum filled with asbestos. If anyone is looking to beat the heat on either coast, take a chance with these chills n' thrills - but don't blame us if you need to sleep with the lights on.

PS Seattle Maggie was so inspired by this film that she paid a visit to a real live Russian submarine docked at Pier 48 - All we can say is, we really hope all the sailors were short, as even our squat Asian stature didn't get us out of bashing our noggin on various pipes and valves on more than one occasion.

Posted by seattle maggie at 4:04 PM |

July 13, 2004

Home Movies of Cinephiles

Henri LangloisAs CC suspected in our previous Doinel posting, the extras on the Stolen Kisses DVD did inspire Cinecultist to wax a little poetic on Henri Langlois, founder of the French Cinemathque and inspiration to the Nouvelle Vague and many other cinephiles. Stolen Kisses began shooting just days before the French government fired Langlois from his post, as well as ousting a bunch of his loyal underlings, and sending the French cinema going community into a tizzy. They took to the streets, protesting outside of the cinemathque mobilizing an otherwise insular group into social action. As the revolutionary spirit of May '68 swept Paris, this group of cinephiles moved to act by their love for Langlois, spread their idealism to shutting down the Cannes Film Festival that year in solidarity for striking workers in the capitol.

While there's no overt political message in Stolen Kisses, Truffaut made the film alternating between his work in defense of the cinemathque and shooting footage for his movie. The extras on the DVD are ostensibly home movies made by participants at the rallies and at Cannes, then narrated by historians, otherwise known as someone else who had been standing there in the crowd. It's the kind of organic history that's so fascinating to Cinecultist, giving you a tiny glimpse of how it must have been at that moment. That youthfulness and vitality are certainly a part of Stolen Kisses, even if politics aren't, as Doinel tries to keep a number of different jobs after being discharged from the service, including as an investigator for a private detective firm. It's a pretty fluffy film to be honest, as Doinel seduces a married women and gets fired from one job after the next, but its creation within this historical context is intriguing.

But what about Langlois, how does he fit into all of this excitement and youthful intensity? He was the conduit for their initial cinephilia and it is his work as the programmer for the cinemathque, screening the American and other foreign films, along with the mentorship of Andre Bazin of course, that led to the New Wave in the first place. As you can see from his picture, Langlois wasn't the kind to hog the spotlight, especially when there were guys like the outspoken Godard and Truffaut around (both quite cute as young men, by the way). But from the footage on the DVD, you can see so clearly how they all revered him and how much his tastes in movies, everything from Chaplin and Louise Brooks to the Russian masters, influenced them. The ability to guide another's movie viewing is a powerful thing, from the littlest suggestion or review to planning a full-blown film series and educating your audience about the films' interconnections. To see films out of one kind of context (the studio system juggernaut) and in another (as art forms to be studied) can be a mind-expanding experience which leads to new discoveries about the film at hand.

Posted by karen at 7:53 AM |

July 7, 2004

A Week With Truffie

Cinecultist doesn't know about you but we own a few DVDs that we've never watched. Mostly this comes from the lure of the Criterion collection "our own personal collection would just not be complete without this title in it," we argue to ourself in the video store. The biggest offender is The Adventures of Antoine Doinel box set which CC purchased for ourselves as a graduation gift from cinema studies grad school over a year ago and has sat forlorn on the shelf since then. This week during the vacation from the Day Job, we've vowed to watch one film each day from the set and also to explore all of the extra features. It will be a daunting but enjoyable task four full length feature films, two shorts dozens of made for television features, newsreel footage, promotional spots, trailers and then a 72 page booklet. It's like a mini-Franois Truffaut festival on our home DVD player.

5_box_348x490.jpgIn the last few days we've done all of disk one, which includes the 400 Blows and the short film Antoine and Colette, read the relevant pages in the supplement book plus watched interviews with Jean-Pierre Laud as a kid after the film screened at Cannes, a slightly older but still precocious Laud at the release of L'amour vingt ans, interviews with Truffie and Truffie's life long friend and inspiration for the character Ren, Robert Lachenay for French television. It's a cornucopia of Nouvelle Vague information and frankly, it has made Cinecultist a bit giddy. So much wonderful late '50s French goodness fills up the movie-viewing soul. It's the perfect antidote to the summer blockbuster malaise we've been edging into of late.

Antoine Doinel is the character Laud plays in this series of Truffaut films starting when he was 14 through his 30s and his fictional experiences are a sort of composite of Truffaut and Laud's lives. The 400 Blows (1959) in particular details a number of Truffaut's biographical details from his difficult childhood including being sent to reform school by the police. Laud then contributed his own dialogue phrasing to these events, as Truffaut would dictate the scenario, some of the blocking and the camera placement but leave the actors to improvise the words. Everyone comments on and it really is remarkable, the freshness and immediacy Laud brings to Doinel. What an amazing thing to really get to see a young person grow up on screen. It's the most natural thing in the world, maturing to adulthood and falling in love, but it is so rarely captured in such a singular way as Truffaut does here.

After seeing Antoine and Colette, CC is now anxious to watch the rest of L'amour vingt ans (1962), an omnibus Truffaut contributed to which has five short films about love at 20 from five different countries. It's easy to see how much Bertollucci borrowed from this 30 minute short, what with the young lovers meeting at a concert, the depiction of an insular Parisian family life, the production design of a romantic young man's hotel room apartment, and even the two shot using a mirror. Colette stands in the doorway and tells Antoine lounging in bed, who we see reflected in a mirror next to her, that doesn't want to continue their relationship. Shades of the Dreamers, anyone?

Stay tuned for our impressions of Stolen Kisses, wherein Doinel becomes a private detective and has a series of misadventures (according to the back of the DVD). We'll also probably be compelled to rhapsodize about Henri Langlois because the extras on disc two feature him very prominently.

Posted by karen at 10:34 AM |

July 6, 2004

Accidental Movie: What, No Horses?

Horses.bmpIt is a truly strange and rare phenomenon - seeing a great movie without actually meaning to. Seattle Maggie has only happened upon this a few times, usually in a film festival-ish setting (let's face it - watching movies at a film festival is like picking chocolates out of a box blindfolded on a moonless night) but when it happens, it is truly a wonderful event. The last movie SM can remember this happening with outside the SIFF was an out-of-the-blue screening of When Brendan Met Trudy with our good friend CC, of which neither of us can remember exactly why we went to in the first place. There is something about watching a movie knowing nothing about it and letting the story surprise and entertain you without the benefit of previews, reviews or directional Thumbs that makes it so much better, thus elevating it from a good movie to a great experience, a happy accidental discovery of the unknown. This is all understandable, as it is rare that someone will pay good money to rent or walk into a film without the slightest assurance that it will not be a complete waste of time. However, it was my good fortune to discover They Shoot Horses, Don't They? on video this weekend, completely by accident.

First, some background - Ye Olde Boyfriend Todd has recently become quite good friends with local Seattle jazz legend Hadley Caliman. When Mr. Caliman mentioned that in his youth he was hired to be in a band for a movie, YOBT promptly ran out and rented it. However, as YOBT has no TV or VCR, Seattle Maggie was cajoled into watching it on her TV and VCR. Hence, the "by accident" part. (By the way, if anyone is interested, Mr. Caliman is the 2nd saxophonist from the left in the front row - apparently he had sported a magnificent Afro back in the day and was asked to cut it for the film.)

While YOBT promptly proceeded to doze off, as he is wont to do during late-night video watching, Seattle Maggie was captivated by the film's powerful, almost brutal story. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? takes place during a Depression-era dance marathon, at which that SM immediately showed her pop-culture saturation by exclaiming over and over, "It's just like that episode of Gilmore Girls!" Er, sort of. Instead of a 24 hour charity event, the dance marathons of yore were grueling affairs that would go on literally for weeks and even months, with the contestants trying to be the last ones standing in order to win a cash prize. With the Depression knocking on everyone's door, this might mean the difference between eating and starving. Presiding over all is Rocky, the emcee, who is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to keep the audience rolling in. Jane Fonda plays the tough, brooding Gloria, a girl with nothing left to lose, who is paired with wide-eyed innocent Robert, Michael Sarrazin, who has wandered into the marathon on chance. As the contestants become more and more disheveled and desperate, you are drawn in by the inhuman lengths at which they push themselves - swollen limbs, 15 minute rest breaks, the endless hours of monotony - and as Gloria becomes more and more disillusioned by what is going on around her, you feel that the movie can only end in tragedy.

Interestingly, we could not help noticing similar this event is to the influx of Reality TV that we have today. SM is known to take in an episode of Fear Factor every now and then, and we admit to the guilty pleasure of watching others compete and win for our entertainment, rooting for those we deem "good" and booing those we deem "sucky". However, a few minutes of choking down horse rectum is nothing compared to the hellish 10 minute Derby Sprints endured by the hapless dance marathon contestants - all those reality show tax accountants and bartenders would have departed crying to their respective mommies in an instant. At the end of the day, the Fear Factor folks go back to their 9 to 5's with a few scrapes, while the only thing that faces the marathoners is unemployment, homelessness and starvation. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? shows facets of the human condition that we often do not consider in this day and age, and it was enlightening, frightening, depressing, and a really good film. But don't take my word for it. Check it out yourself, hopefully by accident.

Posted by seattle maggie at 11:09 PM |

June 18, 2004

Let's Hear A Holla For Dads

There's a few key people whose movie opinions have shaped Cinecultist's own viewing practices, but none more so than CC's Dad. In honor of Daddy-o Day this Sunday we bring you a top three recommendation list for DVD viewing if our Dad always had the reigns on the DVD remote control. Happy Father's Day!

mycousivinny.jpeg My Cousin Vinny (1992) Except for perhaps Spirited Away (which has been CC's little brother's favorite movie for the last 6 months and thus on heavy rotation in our house), My Cousin Vinny could be CC's Daddy-o's most watched movie. He love the courtroom set up, he loves the cultural disconnect between the Brooklyn lawyer with the Southern setting and he loves that Joe Pesci. Though its plot is firmly entrenched in the three act structure, on a re-viewing its all too easy to get caught up in Vinny's narrative undertow. And its also tough to deny the incredible chemistry between Pesci as the imported Yankee lawyer and Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei as his supportive spandex-wearing girlfriend. CC's not sure that "positraction" is a real word, but it sounds great coming from Tomei in that climactic scene.

newleaf.jpg A New Leaf (1971). Speaking of amazing comedic chemistry, it doesn't get much better than the sparks between Walter Matthau and Elaine May in this comedy about a broke playboy who marries the first rich woman he can find and then plots to kill her. CC bought this flick on VHS a number of years ago as a gift and then spent the afternoon with our Dad watching over and over again certain scenes just to catch the look on May's face when she delivers particular lines. There's a drink her ditzy scientist millionairess character loves which has the most baroque name and sounds like it tastes just terrible, May can barely keep a straight face as she discusses it. If you're not already a fan of hers and Matthau's, A New Leaf will surely convert you to our side.

paperchase.jpg The Paper Chase (1973). Apparently, the first year of law school is just like the depiction of the first year in this movie. At least that's what CC's Dad always insisted when we'd watch Paper Chase together. We always thought our Dad just identified with Timothy Bottom's massive moustache as it sort of resembles the 'stache sported by our otherwise very stylin' father through the late '70s and much of the '80s. Despite the dated styles in this production, this is a really stirring movie, one that's sure to inspire you if you're at all interested in the law or dating your stern professor's daughter.

Posted by karen at 8:03 AM |

May 7, 2004

Don't Forget About Mama

Perhaps all of those diamond ads on television have clued you in, as they have Cinecultist, that Mother's Day is this weekend. CC also received recently in honor of the holiday, in addition to the increased Send Flowers e-mail spam, two lists of Mother themed movies from the good folks at Variety.com. Usually our purveyors of box office news, industry brewings and an endless source of made up nouns (a "laffer" describes a comedy, a so and so "starrer" for a star vehicle, etc.), Variety felt it necessary to provide a viewing guide of Good Mom and Bad Mom movies this past Monday to our inbox that we found a bit suspect.

On the side of Good:
1. Terms of Endearment
2. Freaky Friday
3. On Golden Pond
4. Rambling Rose
5. Aliens

Aliens?!? While the rational for the inclusion of this flick seems in the description of the movie to be that the relationship between Ripley and the little girl she saves at the alien space station is maternal, we can't help but recall the horrifying image of the alien pod field and the fact that the scariest alien is the mother. We always thought from watching Aliens that the writer had at least some serious mother issues, if not problems with women in general from this depiction.

Considered Bad Mom (if you were curious):
1. Cinderella
2. The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleading-Murderer Mom
3. Mommie Dearest
4. Psycho
5. Bloody Mama

And then an e-mail with even more Mom themed movies arrived yesterday. Because we need two of these messages? Some of the titles included All About My Mother, Big Momma's House, I Remember Mama, Serial Mom, and Throw Momma From The Train. Cinecultist might also throw on there Albert Brook's Mother, Postcards From the Edge and Stella Dallas but once you start trying to think of these lists it can be difficult to stop.

Posted by karen at 8:41 AM |

May 4, 2004

Watch It Because It's Good For You

okladka.jpgThere are certain films which Cinecultist considers "vegetable movies" (as in, watch them, they're good for you) and we definitely count the Danish director Lars von Trier's work in that category. The only caveat we like veggie movies in theory, we know we should watch them but often we have a difficult time sitting all the way through them like von Trier's Medea (1987) produced for Danish television from a script by Carl Th. Dreyer.

Cinecultist borrowed this DVD from our veggie film loving friends Adriane and John after a discussion a week or so ago of Dogville, a movie CC knows we should see but hasn't gotten around to it yet. Adriane has her reservations about Dogville (Brechtian goodness but a muddled tone), but recommended highly Medea as an example of von Trier's superior early work. That's the thing about veggie films, they sound really appealing in the abstract, especially if you get someone passionate about the picture describing it to you.

The DVD only runs 76 minutes and CC once sat through all 190 minutes of the Birth of Nation, that's over 3 hours of Klan fun, so we figured this wouldn't be a problem. On a Tuesday night, we popped the DVD into the player. Moody, grainy, washed out video stock captures well the marshlands and castle where this Greek play is set. The actors are very expressive, and von Trier captures this confidently with a Dreyer-esque emphasis on facial close up. The drama is compelling even though we know where it's going, Medea will kill her kids to spite Jason but when and how? Despite all of this, 35 minutes in, Cinecultist is stretched out on the couch fast asleep. CC thought we were coming down with the flu or something, our exhaustion came on so suddenly. A day or so later, we're waiting to go to dinner with a friend so we try to watch the end. Again we couldn't finish the film and it put us into a total depressed funk. We've now removed the DVD from the player and put it back in the pile of things to return to Adriane and John. Our health and well being just couldn't finish it.

Maybe it's too moody a movie, Cinecultist is a sensitive sort. Maybe CC just doesn't like von Trier even though we think we should. We're not certain but Cinecultist wanted to share our struggles so the next time you can't make it all the way through some veggie movie you know you should like, you won't feel quite so bad.

Posted by karen at 8:35 AM | | Comments (2)

April 15, 2004

Hipster Detritus

Making this kind of admission is always difficult, but Cinecultist believes in full disclosure to our readers. That's right, we admit it. Cinecultist is a hipster. We live in a hip neighborhood. We like to do hip things. Having hip taste matters to us. And we wear good looking shoes. Whew, now that wasn't as difficult as we'd thought it would be! Need more evidence that CC has become one of those dreaded New York hipsters? We rented The Work of Director Spike Jonze DVD from Netflix this week and really enjoyed exploring all of the extras and commentaries on Jonze's music video oeuvre.

This is a video available for sale at Urban Outfitters for goodness sake, it don't get much more obnoxiously hip than that. But Jonze is so winning, as is evident in his manic performance in the Fatboy Slim "Praise You" video, and so excessively talented, it's easy to loose one's lingering self consciousness about liking his work. Bjrk's video inspired by the Umbrellas of Cherbourg and inspiring to Dancer in the Dark "It's Oh So Quiet" is always worth a re-watch and don't miss Norman Cook's commentary track on "Praise You" which ends with a shot of him narrating from a hot tub. That's so hip it hurts.

Hipper Than Thou Remainder: What About Bill Murray? series at BAM began last night and runs through next Wednesday. Hell, if the cinetrix lived in New York she would've been there, so you know the crowd is going to be way too cool for school.

Posted by karen at 8:31 AM |

March 17, 2004

You Are What You See

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.

Five Stars:
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.

Posted by karen at 8:01 AM |

March 9, 2004

New Series: Cinecultist Owns It

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 Ttet 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.

Posted by karen at 8:32 AM |

March 5, 2004

Was The Tragedy In Loving You?

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.

Posted by karen at 8:14 AM |

February 11, 2004

A Little Sun Bathing

4976.jpgIt may seem strange to those novel adaptation purist out there, but Under The Tuscan Sun, released on DVD last week, actually benefits as a movie by not sticking to the book its story is based upon. Cinecultist read the memoir/cookbook by Frances Mayes of the same name while on vacation in Tuscany a few years ago and it was fun to read her descriptions of the village of Cortona, the foods she cooked and the seasons changing in the countryside while there. But it's one of those seemingly unadaptable books, with no real story line just musings and impressions and recipes.

Fortunately here, filmmaker Audrey Wells creates her own story from the loose premise of Mayes's life -- that she moved to Tuscany and renovated a villa there -- and casts the delightful Diane Lane to be Frances, a divorcee trying to create a new life for herself in Italy. Another highlight of the film is the performance by Sandra Oh, who brings texture and nuance to the role of Frances's pregnant lesbian best friend. But the real star of the film is the Italian countryside with its fields of poppies and sunflowers and the picturesque villages clinging to the Amalfi Coast. We hope you won't mind if Cinecultist takes a few weeks off to ride a vespa through Positano sipping red wine and be romanced by a smooth Italian we meet on the street in Rome. If Diane Lane gets to do it, its only fair we all get the chance, no?

Posted by karen at 8:14 AM |

February 5, 2004

A Filling, Without The Novocaine

secret_lives.jpgFilms about dentists are hard to come by. There was the black comedy Novocaine in 2001, which featured, among other oddities, the slightly disturbing pairing of Steve Martin and Helena Bonham Carter, a Kung Fu-crazy Laura Dern and a teddy bear with dentures. The latest periodontic delight to catch PCC's interest is Alan Rudolph's The Secret Lives of Dentists, just released on DVD. While Novocaine was definitely a comedy, albeit a deranged one, Secret Lives is a meticulous drama, for adults and about adults. It stars Campbell Scott (the son of George C. and Colleen Dewhurst who just gets better and better with age) and Hope Davis (rivaling Patricia Clarkson for the title of Indie Queen) as married dentists living in upstate New York with their three young daughters.

On the surface, everything in the Hurst household is perfect: adorable children, a successful joint dental practice. But as the story unfolds, we learn that Scott and Davis are drifting apart as a couple, to a point that Scott sees (or does he?) Davis in the arms of another man backstage before a community opera performance. What follows is one man's battle to both confront and escape from his fears of marital infidelity. Denis Leary, in an uncharacteristically toned-down performance, plays Slater, a surly patient of Scott's that the dentist begins to imagine as the "devil" on his shoulder.

The pace is slow, but we come to understand that it matches Scott's intense dislike of any kind of confrontation. At times we want to shake him and shut him in a room with Davis so that something, anything, will be communicated. But at the same time, when the time comes for Scott to take action, the result makes you ache as you realize it couldn't have happened any other way. The performances Rudolph gets from his two leads are amazing. Scott, whose production company Holedigger Films also produced the film, is wonderful as a man who is lost in contemplating what his life was supposed to be like, terrified to confront the reality of how it really is. His interactions with his children are some of the best scenes in the film. He doesn't appear to be "playing" a father in the effortless way he molds his body around the extra weight of his youngest who can't stand to be separated from her daddy.

Even though the story is told through Scott's point of view, Davis creates real, sympathetic character in Dana Hurst. It's painful to watch her eyes fall when her children, especially the youngest, prefer the company of her husband. Both Davis and Scott have a wonderfully dry, almost sarcastic, style of delivery that melds perfectly with each other and makes us wish, despite all their problems as a couple, that everything will work out in the end.

Posted by jordan at 1:38 PM |

February 2, 2004

Feeling A Litte 'Vague'

"My story ends here, like in a pulp novel at that superb moment when nothing weakens, nothing wears away, nothing wanes. An upcoming film will reveal, in Cinemascope and Technicolor, the tropical adventures of Odile and Franz." Jean-Luc Godard is the ultimate cinecultist, he puts the rest of us to shame. His middle name even is cinema -- or at least that's how it looks in the title sequence of Band of Outsiders when his director's credit flashes on the screen, a DVD CC rented recently from Netflix.

This is a lovely movie filled with charming and poetic moments -- CC laughed in delight at the three characters whirl-wind visit/race through the Louvre -- and a great quality DVD. Ze storie is zis: Young man and petty gangster in training Franz takes his buddy Arthur to meet his new girlfriend Odile (the incomperable Anna Karina) who lives on an island with her aunt and a rich old man. Arthur fixes his bad boy stare on innocent Odile and she will do anything for him, including helping them arrange the robbery of the old guy's cash. Godard provides the commentary voice-over as these young people act, elevating their silliness to a literary pretension. Funny and witty and poignant and beautiful, Band of Outsiders is all of this and an entertaining little story.

Criterion, a DVD company known for their extras and charging for it, does do a wonderful job filling that part of their DVDs with features beyond the usual trailers, links to the official website and the self-indulgent director's commentary. The Loot includes:
Visual Vocabularies -- catalogues all of Godard's references and quotes in the movie.
Part of a documentary about the Nouvelle Vague which includes an interview with Godard in 1964 and some "behind the scenes" footage of the making of this movie.
Interview with Anna Karina (the original hottness, now an adorable older woman still very fond of Jean-Luc) in 2002 at Brasserie Lipp.
Cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who supervised the transfer of this film, discusses the film and his involvement in the French New Wave.
Short comedy film made by Agnes Varda, included in Cleo from 5 to 7, which features Anna and Jean-Luc called Les Fiances du Pont Mac Donald.
And trailers, the original and the one from the rerelease of this new print in 2001.

Finally, a Quote for Today on Jean-Luc's propension for quotation: "People in life quote as they please, so we have the right to quote as we please. Therefore I show people quoting, merely making sure they quote what pleases me." Jean-Luc Godard, Cahiers du Cinma, December 1962.

Posted by karen at 8:30 AM |

January 12, 2004

Not Your Average Love Story

166774.jpg

After a recent re-viewing of Lisa Cholodenko's excellent film Laurel Canyon, starring Christian Bale and Frances McDormand, PCC decided that it was high time to rent Cholodenko's first film, High Art (no pun intended). A love triangle with a twist, High Art stars Ally Sheedy as Lucy Berliner, a once-famous photographer living the reclusive bohemian life in New York City with her washed-up German actress lover, Greta (the always wonderful Patricia Clarkson). Lucy accidentally meets Syd (Radha Mitchell), an assistant editor at a prestigious photography magazine, Frame, when Syd's notices that her ceiling is leaking and comes to investigate the apartment above her, where Lucy lives with Greta. The two immediately hit it off, though at first the attraction appears to be platonic, especially since Syd lives happily downstairs with her straight-laced boyfriend, James (Gabriel Mann). The relationship between the two women starts to become more than friendly after Syd slips into Lucy's hipster world of drugs and parties, convincing her new friend to come out of her self-imposed retirement. The love that grows between Syd and Lucy is complicated by the jealous Greta, Lucy's drug habit and the pressure to produce a cover piece for Frame worthy of Lucy's obvious talent. Without giving away the ending, suffice it to say that this is not a love story where everyone walks away happy.

While the actual story of the film, which was written and directed by Cholodenko, isn't especially brilliant and at times even feels contrived, the dimension the actresses bring to their characters elevates the film to a whole new level. Sheedy in particular is brilliant in her portrayal of Lucy, whose emotions seem to boil right under the surface. Equal parts angry artist disgusted by the corporate machine and caring lover, Sheedy's Lucy strides so confidently through the film- the epitome of heroin-chic with her boyish frame and thin, veiny arms- that you are almost convinced that she's really as tough as she claims. But her subltle mannerisms, especially the nervous flicking of cigarette ash, allow us to see a woman torn between a comfortable, yet self-destructive existence, and the promise of a fresh start. Mitchell's role isn't as demanding or layered as Sheedy's, but she plays the seemingly naive, passionate Syd with great ease, never letting herself slip into the role of a child in awe of the "grown-ups" (i.e. Lucy and Greta) around her.

The other cornerstone of the film is Patricia Clarkson's name-dropping Greta, who mentions the late German director Fassbinder every chance she gets. Her love for Lucy is obvious, but so is the control she holds over her younger lover, manipulating her through guilt and just a touch of masochism in the form of excessive heroin use. But even in her drugged haze, Clarkson makes Greta feel real, not a charicature or a figure for comic relief. We know that Lucy can only fall with Greta, but part of us feels sorry for the deluded redhead who likes to remind us how Fassbinder would have done it.

Posted by jordan at 2:36 AM | | Comments (1)

December 30, 2003

Freaky Good Remake

Another holiday vacay activity that Cinecultist always enjoys is cozying up with the CC sisters for a few videos. Though with ages ranging from 26, 23 and 10, it can sometimes be difficult to decided on a DVD the three of us will all want to sit through ("Little House on the Prairie!" "CSI, Second Season!"). Fortunately, CC's littlest sister Jordan received in her stocking a copy of the new Freaky Friday remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan which we could all agree we wanted to see.

A fan of the Jodie Foster original, CC had her doubts about this Lindsay Lohan chick (previously of the Parent Trap remake -- sacrelige!) stepping into the role as Anna, the petulent teen in need of some empathy training. But actually she's quite cute as the uptight Mom, and not in a bland Hilary Duff sort of way, as well as being able to hold her own against Curtis's amazing rebelious teen in a middle-aged woman's body. Although we will warn you that the scene where Chad Michael Murray (He's greasy! He's dreamy! He's the WB's Great White Hope!) wooes Curtis over coffee with indie rock talk is not for the faint of heart. Shades of Mrs. Robinson that some find appealing but sort of makes CC squirm. All in all, good family fun and worth a rental.

[Ed. Note -- Creepy, Lindsay of Lindsayism.com also watched this movie with her 10 year old sister while on vacation. And she also likes Lohan over Duff. Double creepy, dude. Blogging synchronicity at work.]

Posted by karen at 8:17 AM |

December 11, 2003

The Devil Made CC Do It

Cinecultist likes to play a little auteurist forensic game. Tracing back through a director's history, we can begin to think that a particular film may be a literal crime on human nature after a career of very pleasing law-abiding behaviour on screen. The match up of director Ang Lee with writer James Schamus has resulted in so many top notch flicks (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, the Ice Storm, the Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman) that when they made the oddly stinker-tastic the Hulk this year, we wondered what was up.

Since Ang has blocked our calls lately and we can no longer ring him up to say, "Ang, dude, what happened with the Hulk? Did you direct Nick Nolte to chew the scenery like that?" We thought we'd take a look at one of his other famously flop-alicious film, Ride With the Devil. Consensus? Ang and James have no excuse for Hulk, even Devil is a fascinating movie.

If you need refreshing, Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich are good ol' Southern boys fighting for the Rebel cause during the Civil War, riding through the countryside shooting people. Skeet meets pop princess Jewel, Tobey befriends a Black Man (Jeffrey Wright currently in Angels in America on HBO rockin' a hard core beard here), they sack Lawrence, KS etc.

The intriguing thing is the way that Ang and James make these crazy, violent racists sort of likeable as the main characters even as they spout seriously un PC epithets all over the place. The brain says it makes complete sense for the context but it's still surprising and a tad shocking. Despite this, the film is worth a viewing for this one gorgeous crane shot as the rebels surge over a pale green hill into Lawrence. Also of note here, Jonathon Rhys Meyers as a the swishiest, creepiest rabble rouser ever. What exactly does he want to do to Tobey with that double barrel gun? Just don't say we didn't warn you about the 2 plus hour running time.

Posted by karen at 8:08 AM |

December 1, 2003

What About Catherine?

julesjim.jpgIt would be easy assume that Cinecultist's singular taste sprung free-form from the head of Zeus or something. But even CC has to build on the filmography, over time ticking off the classics, finally watching some films that even we're surprised we've never seen. Franois Truffaut's Jules et Jim is one such movie that had been on the Cinecultist Netflix queue for a while now and we finally sat down to watch this weekend.

Although now that we've seen it, what might Cinecultist say about it? As a classic of the French New Wave, there's no shortage of criticism on it and no small amount of fetishization by worshippers of the European art cinema cannon. If you haven't seen it, CC can't really tell you to run out and watch it, because you probably already know you should. Even to post the above still from the film is besides the point, you've seen this image before and are familiar with this picture standing for a particularly joyous moment recorded on film. All of this makes CC begin to question whether it's even possible to have a real personal communion with these types of movies after all that's been said and thought about them before. Other than to say, "everyone is right, that's a pretty good movie." So there you are, Jules and Jim a pretty good movie. All the hype about Truffy? Well deserved. You heard it here first folks, remember that.

Posted by karen at 8:17 AM |

November 17, 2003

More Purposes for the DVD

When DVD first came out as a format, it was difficult to find all of the content you wanted. But now, this is no longer the problem as nearly everything to grace the big screen no matter how popular is now getting a special super duper sweet edition. Things like the Indiana Jones trilogy box set (out a week or so ago) have sold like gangbusters, though Cinecultist would argue not because of particular extra footage on the discs but because people just love those movies and want them as a part of their home collection.

One of the most wonderful side products of the marketability of DVD release is the second life certain television programs have seen. That's how CC first saw Sex and the City on a rented DVD and we also know loads of people converted to the cult of the Sopranos by its availability for rent or purchase. Less Emmy-lauded product also can garner broader audiences this way too, as programs like Freaks and Geeks (to be released sometime next year after a grass-roots Internet campaign) hit the cancelation fan but still can be seen by their devote followers. Cinecultist has been on a kick to purchase all of the discs in the Muppet Show series and this weekend acquired the episodes with Mark Hamill, Paul Simon and Raquel Welch. CC needed some Wocka Wocka, if you know what we mean. Might we also recommend for the discerning viewer who does not yet call themselves a BBC American, the Office and Coupling which have Season 1 and Season 1 and 2 out currently. They're baudy, witty programs that are best consumed before they get ruined by NBC. If you aren't in love with Gareth or understand the full ramifications of the giggle loop, CC suggests you run don't walk to your nearest DVD proprietor. That is all.

Posted by karen at 7:56 AM |

October 9, 2003

Deliver Us From (Netflix)

Just because we haven't mentioned it in awhile, doesn't mean that Cinecultist isn't still madly in love with Netflix. CC Heart those DVDs in little red envelopes delivered right to our door, especially since we've been crazy busy lately working for The Man. This last weekend CC watched Deliver Us From Eva which we expected to merely add to our extensive list of rom coms (a "seen it, check it off") but instead we found it delightful, a smart rip on Shakespeare's the Taming of the Shrew with two top notch performances from Gabrielle Union and LL Cool J.

gabrielle union and ll cool jImagine if you will, a Kate who needs to be tamed because she's obsessive compulsive, a germ-phobe and a busy body. And she works as a restaurant inspector. It may seem trite, but Gabrielle carries off Eva's ticks and bitchiness with comic flare. She really can give a performance, rather than just standing in as Hottie McHotHot #2 (after Eva Mendes' #1) as she did in this summer's Bad Boys II. She certainly is beautiful, and in particular the shots of the four sisters strutting to their theme song are case in point, but this girl has a screen presence that belies her looks. We also want to add LL, aka James Todd Smith, into our pantheon of favorite rappers-turned-actors with Ice-T (on Law and Order: SVU) and Ice Cube (in Three Kings not Anaconda). Sure we've seen this character arc before, the player who wooes the girl for cash but then really falls for her, but weirdly James makes it believable. He matches Gabrielle well in terms of confidence on screen and they're both so likeable, CC could forgive them any sort of predictable plot turn. Except for perhaps that buying her the horse bit at the end, and then riding off on it into the sunset. Literally. That was a little much even for CC.

Other African-American cast romantic comedies we recommend (Okay, fine. CC also owns them on DVD. 'Cause they're damn good. Honest.): Love and Basketball with Sanaa Latham and Omar Epps as basketball playing sweethearts, Love Jones with Nia "I'm a photographer" Long and Larenz "Look, I'm a poet" Tate as arty lovers in Chicago, and Brown Sugar again with Sanaa, this time paired with Taye Diggs, who love each other and hip hop.

Posted by karen at 7:50 AM |

September 4, 2003

Multi-Region Madness

In The Village Voice this week, the Mr. Roboto column covers an important issue for collectors of DVDs, particularly those that are produced outside of the US, how to get around the region codes. A point not mentioned in the article is that you can purchase DVD players without region coding, at stores like Kim's Video here in New York and set them up yourself. Kim's is also a wonderful place to buy foreign DVDs, as is Chinatown and Ebay. CC's former roommate Lauren did this with little fuss (there's a program to download from the web, burn onto a CD and then load onto your region-free player) so that we could watch a copy of Amelie before it was released here. For those cinecultists in search of obscure titles from far flung places, this might be a worthy investment.

Posted by karen at 8:10 AM |

August 29, 2003

This is Not an Affair, It's a One-Night Stand...Except it Happened Twice

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PCC is always wary about proclaiming a film to be the 'best' of anything. That's the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' job and look what a fine mess they've made of it lately (A Beautiful Mind, anyone?). That said, PCC is going to go out on a limb and say that Australian director Ray Lawrence's debut film from 2001, Lantana, is one of the best films PCC has seen in a long time. This is not the first time PCC has viewed Lawrence's film, but, like the proverbial fine wine, it only gets better with age. Anthony LaPaglia (currently the star of CBS' excellent show Without a Trace), Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey head an amazing ensemble cast in a story that is as tangled and prickly as the flowering Australian shrub of the title.

A simple plot summary is not only difficult to come up with, but is also a disservice to the richly layered script, adapted by Andrew Bovell from his play 'Speaking in Tongues'. On the most basic level, Lantana weaves together the stories of Leon (LaPaglia), a police detective in Sydney who's having an affair and Valerie (Hershey), a missing American psychiatrist living in Sydney with her husband, John (Rush). In addition to these principal players, throw in Leon's wife Sonya (Kerry Armstrong); his secret lover Jane (Rachel Blake) and Jane's neighbors (Vince Colosimo and Daniella Farinacci), who may or may not be involved in Valerie's disappearance. But Lawrence's film isn't just a mystery/thriller; far from it. Instead, it is a meditation on the circular nature of love- how we move from passion to betrayal, and often grief, and how we're all desperately trying to reconnect with that love we may have lost.

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The primarily Australian cast, as well as the American Hershey, is superb. LaPaglia is the perfect match for the brooding, self-described 'numb' Leon. We know he has flaws and yet, while we don't want him to go unpunished, LaPaglia's perpetually downturned lips hiding beneath his hooked nose and his sad, dark eyes make us root for him, even as Leon makes choices that we know will hurt him in the end. Rush, a charismatic performer in most of his other film roles, is decidedly understated here, and it works to his advantage. There is hardly any emotion on his face, even when he's confronted with the fact that his wife has gone missing late at night from a deserted highway. Rush's John is the kind of man you can't decide whether to slap or hug, and would gladly do both if the situation permitted. Hershey, in contrast, is a wonderful emotional counterpart to her stone-faced husband. You can't help but feel for the woman as she tries to connect with John emotionally, and yet at the same time try to maintain the professional, intellectual distance she has perfected as a psychiatrist.

Overall, this film is for all of us who need more than a straight-forward dramatic romance, police procedural or mystery, because Lantana has a little bit of everything. And more.

Posted by jordan at 9:43 PM |

Sweetness Follows

Last night, for the first time in years, CCC chose to not fall asleep listening to music. Instead, we popped in Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. This beautiful film is one of our top three, and C3 implores you to rent it if you've never seen it, or rent it again if you have.

sweethereafter.jpg One of the rare Canadian films to capture the world's attention (barring anything made by Cronenberg), The Sweet Hereafter is, simply put, the tale of the devastating effects of a school bus crash on the inhabitants of a town.

But that's simply put. Egoyan makes masterful use of a mixed chronology, fracturing events and people throughout the film so that we see both the before and after before we see the crash, the quiet centerpiece of the movie. The Sweet Hereafter is a meditation on guilt, revenge, and the clarity that can come when tragedy strikes.

Featuring ridiculously good performances from Alberta Watson, Ian Holm (replacing Donald Sutherland at the last minute!), Gabrielle Rose, and especially Bruce Greenwood and Sarah Polley, The Sweet Hereafter started CCC's obsession with Atom Egoyan, Canadian film, and Sarah Polley.

Posted by josh at 1:30 PM |

August 25, 2003

Call Me Mommie Dearest

Just to put things in perspective -- when things feels low remember, at least your mother isn't Joan Crawford. Cinecultist thanks her lucky stars that her own mother/daughter relationship is free of powder cleanser, mixing drinks for her "uncles" and banishment to convent schools. Watching Mommie Dearest this weekend, CC realized her own mini-dramas pale in comparison to what Christina Crawford put up with on a regular basis.

Good mother/daughter melodramas can be an excellent catharsis. Weep your way through a few boxes of Kleenex while watching a DVD and everything else seems so much lighter in comparison. Also, the high camp melodrama is always good for an ironic giggle. CC amused herself all evening arching her eyebrows and trying to do her best Faye-Dunaway-doing-Joan-Crawford impression while screeching "No More Wire Hangers!"

Here's a list of some of Cinecultist's favorite Mother/Daughter Movies:

Stella Dallas -- The original weepie with Barbara Stanwyck will leave you bawling as she peers in at her daughter through the window and then walks away.

Terms of Endearment -- The little kid sobbing as he watches his mom, Debra Winger dying of cancer kills us every time. Shirley MacLaine does a legendary freak out at the on call nurse in her daughter's hospital, that you must see at some point to complete your cinema education.

Stepmom -- Even if you're not a child of divorce, this movie is charming modern example of the women's picture. Susan Sarandon makes a good film mom, too bad she has to get cancer.

Postcards from the Edge -- Does it get much better than Meryl and Shirley? These women play off each other like the consumate professionals they are. Funny and sad.

The Joy Luck Club -- CC just reread the Amy Tan novel this film's based on and the intersecting stories of four Chinese immigrant mothers and their Americanized daughters is really wonderful. This movie reminds us that Wayne Wang used to know how to make a solid movie before he sold his soul to the devil (see Maid in Manhattan for evidence to this effect).

Steel Magnolias -- Another movie with Julia Roberts, fiesty women characters and illness although technically most of the movie focuses on the friendships between the women. We just think Sally Field makes a good mom, pushy but tender.

Gypsy -- In the movie version of this hit Broadway play, Rosalind Russell is the penultimate stage mom. Nathalie Wood is her kid, the burlesque star with a heart of gold.

The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom -- Holly Hunter stars in this originally aired on HBO movie that's worth a rental for it's wicked campy goodness.

Imitation of Life -- Douglas Sirk directs a story of two mother/daughter relationships with Lana Turner as a dysfunctional mom/former actress and Sandra Dee as her daughter, who meet an African American mother/daughter team also high on the dysfunction scale.

Hard, Fast and Beautiful -- About a tennis stage mother (Claire Trevor) who wants her daughter to have everything she never had. Directed by Ida Lupino, it is exactly what the title advertises.

[Ed. -- Thanks to Rabecca, Sanjit, Jeff and Mai for the assistance compiling our probably incomplete list!]

Posted by karen at 2:36 PM |

August 23, 2003

Sinking Like a Stone

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In theory, damning reviews aside, PCC had high hopes for Ed Solomon's latest film, Levity, starring Billy Bob Thorton, Holly Hunter, Kirsten Dunst and Morgan Freeman. It seemed like the perfect cast- Thorton as a recently released murderer, Hunter as a tough single mother harboring a dark secret, Dunst as a party girl who isn't as strong as she seems and Freeman as a preacher. But even a stellar cast couldn't save this film from deteriorating into a mess of disparate characters, repetitive voice-overs and puzzling messages.

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Thorton- who has made a career of playing quiet loners with dark secrets- plays Manual Jordan, a recently parolee who killed a teen during a robbery 23 years ago. He is obsessed with the boy and has kept a newspaper article about the crime in his cell. Somehow, he thinks that by 'helping' (we're not quite sure what this means, even after the film is over) the dead boy's sister (Hunter), he'll somehow be forgiven. But here's where it gets tricky. In one of many rambling, overly philosophic voice-overs, he explains to us that he read a book detailing 5 steps to salvation/redemption/forgiveness...but he doesn't believe in these steps or in the God who will supposedly forgive the sinner after the completion of said steps. So what exactly is it that Manual is seeking?

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Hunter does the best she can with an underdeveloped character, but even her considerable acting skills aren't enough to flesh out the improbable caricature of Adele Easley. What is perhaps the most irritating aspect of Hunter's character is the complete lack of plausible motive. Why would she, a single woman living in a rough neighborhood (Solomon goes to great pains to show us that the action takes place on the 'wrong side of the tracks'), allow a creepy looking man like Thorton, who's been following her no less, into her apartment? And, without spoiling the ending (though there isn't much to spoil), why would Hunter did make the final choice she did concerning Manual's 'situation' with her son, Abner?

Dunst and Freeman are completely extraneous characters who add nothing but confusion to the narrative. In theory, they are supposed to provide 'examples' of redemption. But we don't care about them. They have no backstory, no real traits other than the stereotypical girl-who-parties-to-escape-her-homelife and the strange preacher that no one seems to listen to, but whose message somehow pervades the film. Perhaps that's the glaring problem with this film: there is a heavy-handed message flashing in figurative neon lights in every scene. But we're not sure what exactly it is and why we should care.

Posted by jordan at 11:07 AM |

August 18, 2003

DVD Killed The Video Star

This weekend the Times ran a special section examining the wonderful world of DVD and its influence on current moviemaking. In the front piece, Elvis Mitchell discusses some of Cinecultist's own favorite features of the medium -- letterboxing, commentary tracks and the Criterion Collection.

But the question remains, are there really more film geeks (or cinecultists) just because the products to consume film culture are available in brightly packaged rows at your local Virgin megastore? As someone who came by film culture through academia, CC is still skeptical of the pretension which springs up from these self-educated video store clerk cineastes. Certainly we do know some amazing self-educated filmmakers, like our new friend John Walter who uses extracted stills from movies by Antonioni or Godard to get ideas for shot composition and editing. But for every John there's a Quentin-wanabee or Kevin Smith-has been and those guys bug, plain and simple.

More DVDs does mean it's easier to rent all of the Scorsese filmography over and over again from Netflix but perhaps we could just excise all unnecessary pretention from cinema consumption? Although perhaps that dream is like hoping that Michael Bay would stop calling himself an auteur -- completely wishful thinking.

Posted by karen at 12:01 PM |

August 7, 2003

Water, Water Everywhere

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Beware of the water. And Venice. And dwarves. And little red macs. These are important lessons PCC learned after watching Nicolas Roeg's beautiful, yet haunting, 1973 film, Don't Look Now. Starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as John and Laura Baxter, Roeg's film chronicles the couple's new life in Venice following the accidental drowning of their little girl, Christine back in England. John buries himself, almost literally, in work restoring an old Venetian church, while Laura tries to adjust to life without her child.

After meeting two strange British sisters in a restaurant, one of whom informs Laura that she has 'seen' Christine, despite her blindness, Laura emerges almost a new woman. She is cheerful, strangely calmed by the pyschic's vision. John, on the other hand, is skeptical and tries to convince his wife that Christine is gone. Depending on whom you belive, the couple either spirals further into madness or begins to shake loose from its grips. Since it would be a crime to reveal the ending, PCC urges you not to get discouraged by the deliberately paced plot and stick around for the shocking final scene.

Let's get the sex scene out of the way first. Please refer to CCC's earlier entry on Belle du Jour for an interesting commentary on celebrity nudity and the like. It's true, the love scene between Sutherland and Christie is amazingly realisitc, with full nudity for both. But what makes it fascinating to watch is that it doesn't feel extraneous, like many modern-day scenes of hoppping in the sack. There is an element of fear that is evident as their hands move up and down each other's body, holding on as if the alternative is too terrifying to contemplate. This isn't sex for sex's sake: it's survival and connection and safety in contact.

Apart from the truly creepy plot, adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier (the literary source of several Hitchcook films, including Rebecca) story, the combination of Anthony Richmond's cinematography and Graeme Clifford's editing is a story in and of itself. The repeated use of water, from the pond where Christine drowns to wine dripping off the table after Laura faints to the Venetian canals themselves, is gorgeous. The audience never feels hit over the head with the imagery; it isn't merely added to remind us that 'hey, remember, the little girl drowned!' The dripping and pooling and flowing of the various liquids adds another layer to already dream-like quality of the film.

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Finally, a note on the acting. Always a fan of Donald Sutherland (though he seems to lose his cinematic children to water accidents a bit too often for comfort- remember Ordinary People?), PCC was thoroughly impressed by his performance as a grieving parent. There's something in his eyes that can signify more pain than sobbing ever could. A new member to the Julie Christie fan club, PCC wonders why she never joined before. The woman is both subtly talented and not so subtly gorgeous. We completely buy the notion that she has really lost a child and is trying desperately to hang on to her rapidly vanishing husband. And as an acting pair, Christie and Sutherland have the audience utterly convinced that they really are married, they are that compatible and seemingly effortless together.

Posted by jordan at 8:12 PM |

August 5, 2003

A Romance on the Brink of Reality

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It's always painful to watch someone do a lackluster impression of the great physical comic from the silent era, Buster Keaton. One has to wince when it becomes apparent that there wasn't a whole lot of 'prat' in the prat falls. On the other hand, watching someone- be it a stand-up comic or an actor- execute a flawless cane twirl or practiced flip of a top hat is mesmerizing. Luckily, Johnny Depp's performance in 1993's Benny and Joon falls into the latter category. Depp plays Sam, an illiterate but sweet social misfit who is used as betting fodder in a poker game and as a result moves in with brother and sister Benny and Joon (Aidan Quinn and Marty Stewart Masterson). Benny has been caring for the mentally unbalanced, but brilliantly artistic, Joon since their parents' death 12 years prior.

Luckily, Benny and Joon avoids the tired cliche of the protective, sacrificing older sibling who cares for a handicapped brother or sister, while wanting nothing in return. Benny and Joon feel like real people: Benny worries about Joon's safety, but also longs to be able to play poker with his friends without dragging his sister along. The pair obviously love each other, but they fight like real brothers and sisters do. Benny isn't the perfect caregiver and Joon isn't a model patient. But that's what makes them interesting.

And then there's Depp's Sam. The extended sequences of physical comedy are truly amazing. Even simple things like rolls and forks in the town diner are put to comedic use by Sam, who makes little legs and feet out of the food and utensils and dances them to the background music. It's one of those things that look easy, but admit it, when was the last time you made your food dance?

Joon and Sam's romance is tentative and touching at the same time. We want them to be together, but we also understand Benny's concern for his sister. We root for Joon to become independent, but we worry about her penchant for starting fires. In short, director Jeremy Chechik paints characters that come alive for us and who we genuinely care for. And it doesn't hurt that one of them is the supremely talented and versatile Mr. Depp.

Posted by jordan at 10:45 PM |

July 26, 2003

Full of High Sentence, But a Bit Obtuse

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In keeping with her newfound fascination with Australian cinema, PCC rented the little-publicized, limited release Till Human Voices Wake Us. Directed by Michael Petroni, who also wrote the screenplay for 2002's The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, the film centers around a morose psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Franks (Guy Pearce) who grudgingly returns to his childhood home in Victoria, Australia to bury his father. Along the way, he meets a mysterious woman (Helena Bonham Carter), whom he saves from drowing after she falls off a railroad bridge. Sam learns that the woman has some form of amnesia, and as he tries to decipher her identity, he must confront his own form of self-imposed amnesia about his childhood. The scenes of the adult Sam and 'Ruby' (the name the mysterious woman thinks perhaps belongs to her) are intercut with those of a teenage Sam and his childhood love, Sylvy. As Sam gets closer to discovering the truth about his mysterious patient, the audience slowly learns what happened to Sam as a child.

Now, PCC immediately gives this film points for attempting to bring one of PCC's favorite poems, T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, to the screen. The title takes it name from the last line of the poem, "till human voices wake us, and we drown". That said, the film itself is rather predictable and is too wrapped up in not bastardizing Eliot's work that it neglects to portray fully rounded characters. Pearce's Sam is so cold and withdrawn that it's wonder that the audience has any sympathy for him at all. Bonham Carter- with whom PCC is strangely fascinated, and not only because she resembles the odd lovechild of a monkey and a ferret- has a rather two-dimensional part, without much room to develop her character into anything more than a mysterious amnesiac. The scenes between the young Sam (played with exquisite hesitation by Australian newcomer Lindley Joyner, who PCC hopes to see more of in the future) and Sylvy (Brette Harmon) feel much more real and alive than the interactions of Pearce and Bonham Carter. This is not to say that Guy and Helena did a poor job in the roles; rather, the film doesn't give them any room to grow and change. If this were a silent film, it would be amazing, since the cinematography is gorgeous, with several beautiful underwater scenes and brilliant uses of washed out greens, blues and browns to represent the Australian bush.

But although the narrative felt somewhat predictable and the characters weren't fully formed, PCC can't help but applaud a film the incorporates such a difficult poem into its story, even if the final results are a bit lacking.

Posted by jordan at 5:30 PM |

July 13, 2003

Repeat Viewings

In an article in this Sunday's Times, Emily Yoffe looks at the way young children will watch a video over and over again as a way to completely digest the plot, have satisfaction knowing the next story point and play at being the characters. Cinecultist realized we understand this desire to watch the same thing more than once all too well when we found ourselves (sort of) watching You've Got Mail and The Wedding Planner on TNT this afternoon. (See the humiliating things CC will reveal to our readers?)

Cinecultist knows there are people out there, perfectly cultured and engaging people mind you, who might only own 2 DVDs and one of them might be The Matrix. In this universe with a zillion on demand channels, Netflix and a packed cineplex, why would we want to own movies let alone watch the same ones repeatedly? Especially since we're not toddlers, unable to grasp the complexities of character or plot the first time we watch that Meg Ryan comedy. But those other responses elicited by a familiar story, the comfort of knowing what's next, laughing at familiar jokes or discovering a new aspect to a well-known character can be very soothing and pleasing even to jaded adults.

The first video tape Cinecultist bought was Cameron Crowe's Say Anything, purchased with a gift certificate the year we were 13, after having seen it in the theater with our Dad that spring. CC used to make little check marks on the back of the box to keep track of the number of times we watched it and also had quote contests with our friend, Sarah Stanek, to see who remembered the most dialogue. Thinking about it now, it's not surprising that CC needed a little comfort, a little repetition at this confusing time in our life, when we were starting to figure ourselves out. Lloyd Dobbler and his trench coat, Diane Court and her toothy grin, that Peter Gabriel track these things still feel familiar like sheets washed more times than you can count.

Movies can thrill and take us to new places, or they can be old friends who come out once and awhile just to hold our hand.

Posted by karen at 11:36 PM |

July 9, 2003

La Bte dans la Belle

belledejour.jpg It was so hot and so humid Monday night that CCC, taking advantage of a roomie at work, decided to strip to his skivvies and cool down with a cold beer and an icy blonde. C3 had bought Bunuel's Belle de Jour last summer, but didn't have a enough free time to watch it (yes, yes, life is a fast moving stream of soon forgotten moments). It must be said, firstly, that CCC did not find Belle de Jour, apparently one of cinema's erotic classics, remotely erotic. Secondly, CCC is not into sado-masochism (despite a desire to read Venus in Furs), so that may be the explanation for the non-sexual feelings towards the movie.

Deneuve, however, was quite brilliant. She manages to make a slight smile into a shriek of delight. Said smile usually occurs after someone has been a little rough with our oui French maiden, but the heart's desire cannot be governed by society. Deneuve's performance, along with a recent viewing of Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now, made CCC wax nostalgic on the good ol' days of yore when real celebrities would shed their clothes and take on interesting roles that maybe, just maybe, their target demographic of 18 to 49 year-olds might find a tad bit off-putting. The only other current example that I could think of where one or more major stars engaged in a sex scene that was most clearly about more than sex was the one between Halle Berry and the BBT in Monster's Ball. A quick glance here just seems to prove C3's point (Mulholland Drive does not count, because, admit it, you had no clue who the hell Naomi Watts or Laura "Torpedo Boobs" Harring were). Of course, this breaks out a whole new woeiscinema discussion about everything that's different now. Too bad CCC is too lazy and stupid to write about it. You, however, can feel free to write in the comments on sex scenes between one or more established celebrities that you feel compares, or a movie where an established celebrity took a role like Ms. Deneuve's in Belle de Jour.

Posted by josh at 8:03 PM | | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 28, 2003

What Would You Risk For Love?

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After somehow missing its theatrical run last year, PCC finally got a chance to see Tom Tykwer's latest film, Heaven, starring Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi. Since PCC is a fan of a)Cate Blanchett (who isn't?) b)Tom Tykwer c)the few Krzysztof Kieslowski films PCC has seen and d)the rather odd, but strangely appealing Giovanni R., PCC had high expectations for this film. This is a dangerous thing, since such films often don't perform to PCC's satisfaction (case in point: Karen Montcrieff's abysmal Blue Car). But Heaven was different; for 96 minutes PCC was glued to the screen. As CB explained in a segment of "The Story of Heaven", the story is simple, but its subtle philosophical and poetic depths are what cause us to take a closer look at the characters, and by extension, ourselves.
The simple story, though PCC wants to re-iterate that simple here is a good thing, is complimented by gorgeous, sweeping cinematography by Frank Griebe, who also worked on Tykwer's Run Lola Run. Griebe's ability to blend the actors into the landscape, and vice versa, is truly amazing. An especially beautiful sequence occurs near the end of the film, when CB and GR are facing each other on a hilltop in the Italian countryside. They are filmed from quite a distance away, so that all the audience sees are two almost identical black silhouettes against the rising sun. Slowly, they come together and merge into a single shape. It's incredible. Griebe was nominated and won several German cinematograpy awards for his work on Heaven.
Finally, a note on the acting. Cate Blanchett is perhaps one of a handful of extremely talented actors that could pull off what she did in Heaven: make a woman who bombed a building, killing four people, and shot a man in cold blood look sympathetic to the audience. We root for Philippa, even though we know what she has done is wrong. Perhaps what makes her so compelling is the fact that Philippa herself does not pretend that she should go unpunished for her deeds. She tells Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) that she cannot live with what she's done, that she knows she must pay for her crimes. Giovanni Ribisi is equally compelling as a young carabinieri (policeman) who falls in love with CB during her interrogation. GR mixes just the right amount of puppy-dog devotion with genuine love in his portrayal of the seemingly weak and mild-mannered Filippo who risks everything for love.

Posted by jordan at 2:25 PM |

June 26, 2003

Life as a Temp

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Despite PCC's feelings of revulsion for the Sprecher Sisters latest film, 13 Conversations About One Thing, PCC decided to give their first effort, Clockwatchers, a shot. The first thing that much be mentioned is the fact that this is not a comedy. Yes, there are amusing bits here and there, but nothing knee-slapping, shelve-it-in-the-comedy-section funny. It's sad, depressing even. Instead of a routine write-up on the film, PCC has decided to take this opportunity to provide readers with a must-see list for one of Australia's most talented, yet under-appreciated actresses- as well as the star of Clockwatchers- Toni Collette. Since Australia seems to be PCC's nation of film-viewing choice lately, here are 5 Toni films, both Australian and American offerings, that one should see [listed chronologically]:

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Muriel's Wedding (1994). Collette plays Muriel (and sometimes Mariel), a young Australian woman stuck in the dead-end town of Porpoise Spit. A die-hard fan of ABBA, Muriel decides that the only way she'll fit in with the popular girls who routinely reject her is to get married. Family tensions and a desperate search for a husband ensue, with touching, often hilarious, consequences. Don't miss Rachel Griffiths in her film debut as Rhonda, Muriel's quadriplegic new friend.

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Velvet Goldmine (1998). Though TC doesn't have a major part, she shines as Brian Slade's (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) ex-wife, Mandy. Gotta love Haynes' homage to David Bowie and Iggy Pop (and of course, who can resist J R-M and Ewan McGregor?).

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The Sixth Sense (1999). Collette received her first Oscar nomination (hopefully the first of many!) for her role as the over-worked mother of that kid who saw dead people. She covered up her Aussie twang with a Philadelphia accent and held her own against Bruce Willis and little Haley Joel.


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About a Boy (2002). In one of PCC's favorite films of 2002, TC plays the depressed, occasionally suicidal hippie mother of 12 year old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Or, in the words of Hugh Grant's Will, she's a 'barking lunatic'. Labels aside, Collette is brilliant as a mum who truly loves her son, but doesn't always understand him, or herself. [Be sure to read Nick Hornsby's book of the same name, upon with the film is based]

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And finally, The Hours (2003). While she only has a supporting role, TC's Kitty Barlowe provides a crucial arena for the audience to learn more about Julianne Moore's Laura Brown (and yes, she gets to kiss JM, which prompted PCC's friend L to exclaim 'oh god, more lesbians!'). Collette is perfect as the vulnerable, yet wary woman who seeks more than friendship from Moore, but isn't quite ready for what she receives.

Posted by jordan at 7:33 PM |

June 23, 2003

New Ali DVD

The Criterion collection will release a new DVD of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul on Tuesday, and Cinecultist knows a few Fassbinder fans who are pretty excited about this. The Sunday New York Times ran a nice long article about the film this weekend that's worth checking out. ali.jpg

CC seen this movie a few times, and it really gets better with each viewing. In particular the formal elements, such as the obsessive framing of the doomed lovers by doorways, staircases and other physical intrusions, illuminates the film's themes beautifully. As the Times article points out, Fassbinder was a troubled guy, but watching this movie makes one realize that being fucked up can actually help artistic expression. It is as though through the haze of their unhappy lives, they can see the world more clearly. If you're in a mood to do so, CC would also recommend watching All That Heaven Allows (also on Criterion), the Douglas Sirk film that Fassbinder based Ali on. That's the way CC watched it the first time and it does really contribute to understanding Fassbinder's intentions in his movie.

Posted by karen at 1:27 PM |

June 21, 2003

Australian Identity Crisis

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For her inaugual NetFlix DVD viewing, PCC chose the little-known, but charming Australian comedy Me Myself I, starring one of PCC's favorite actresses at the moment, Rachel Griffiths. The plot is nothing new: successful career woman wonders if she made the right choices in life, i.e. deciding not to become a wife and mum, and then gets to experience how life might have been. What saves the audience from boredom and the face-scrunching puzzlement of 'haven't I seen this before?' is Griffiths' dual performance as Pamela the successful career woman and Pamela, mother of three and wife to Mr. Right. She mixes just the right amount of confusion and resourcefulness for her portrayal of Career Pam who suddenly finds herself being called mum. This is especially apparent in an early scene when, forced to drive her son Douglas to rugby practice, she goes the completely opposite way, but manages to cover up her mistake by asking Doug which way his father usually goes. Hilarious.
PCC was pleased that the film didn't take a stance on which life was 'better'. Over the course of the narrative, we find that Career Pam and Mum Pam are both missing something in their lives. Instead of sending the message that a driven career woman and a mother of three are mutually exclusive, the two Pamelas discover that the two lives can co-exist. All in all, a very sweet, funny film. Another success for the immensely talented Ms. Griffiths. [And with an all-Australian cast, PCC's love of accents was fulfilled!]

Posted by jordan at 6:59 PM |

June 20, 2003

Netflix Wish List

Cinecultist has been noticing lately that a lot of bloggers post their Amazon Wish Lists (such as the lovely So Much Modern Time). Except that if you've followed the above link, you can see Cinecultist hasn't worked on her wish list in a while (we already own copies of Pride and Prejudice and 10 Things I Hate About You, just in case you were looking to send us a gift. Hinthint.). As for the Netflix Queue, now that's Cinecultist's recent online obsession du jour and more fitting for Cinecultist.com public airing. Here's a few films soon to be sent to Cinecultist eager DVD player (is it too strange to write in third person and anthropomorphize your electronics?).

Irma Vep (a second viewing of Maggie Cheung in vinyl catsuit. Meow.)
Butterfield 8 (Liz Taylor fest continues)
Happy Together (Tony Leung, *sigh*)
The Straight Story (David Lynch as a G-rated director? Intriguing)
Andrei Rublev (always wanted to see it)
The Lady From Shanghai (Orson, do it to me one more time)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australian new wave)
Heavenly Creatures (More Australian auteurism)
Mommie Dearest (No More Wire Hangers! Need to see the whole thing through after catching the end on tv)
Faces (Cassavettes classic that's still on the to see list)

Cinecultist thinks she's left years of her life in the aisles of Blockbuster wandering around figuring out what to watch. Now, we have a handy-dandy way to keep track of what we've been meaning to see and it arrives in our mailbox, no less. Not to be a commericial for the service or anything, but we love it. Check it out if you haven't yet.

Posted by karen at 11:31 AM |

June 18, 2003

Hark, Hark I Hear a Narc

Dirty clean cops, strung-out straight cops, cop killers and killer cops all seem oddly at home in Joe Carnahan's explosive debut film, Narc. Jason Patric, with scruffy hair and an ever-present knit cap, plays Det. Nick Tellis, an undercover narcotics officer with the Detroit PD who is assigned to a cop killing after screwing up a drug bust while high on assignment. 1011_04.jpg
Patric is investigating the murder of Mike Calvess, also a narc, and is partnered with the dead man's partner, Henry Oak, played by Ray Liotta (or Liotta plus a little extra: the actor reportedly put on at least 25 pounds for the part of a beefy detective and it shows!). Without giving away the ending, PCC will only say that each of the twists and turns are believable, lulling the viewer into feeling superior for piecing together the puzzle until...wham! new evidence is discovered and you're back on the edge of your seat, scrambling to keep up.

Carnahan, who is helming the third Mission: Impossible installment as well as a film about the life and crimes of Pablo Escobar, has a surprising ability to balance quiet moments, such as Patric's interactions with his infant son, and in-your-face police violence with amazing ease. The editing, reminiscent of the quick cuts used in the crime flashbacks in Se7en, is extrememly fast, yet somehow avoids coming off as the cliched spawn of an MTV music video. The mini-flashbacks aren't showy: they're effective and keep your eyes glued to the screen.

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Overall, PCC was thoroughly impressed with Carnahan's directing, as well as the acting. Always a fan of Mr. Liotta, regardless of size, PCC thought his portrayal of a cop on the edge was excellent, even though PCC would run like hell if she encountered said cop in a dark alley. Mr. Patric (yes, the one who ran off with Julia after she dumped poor Keifer at the altar) was also an excellent choice for Tellis, a good cop who couldn't always keep it together, yet could never really admit he'd lost it.

Posted by jordan at 3:58 AM |

June 10, 2003

By Brakhage -- An Anthology

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Following closely on his passing in March, the Criterion Collection releases today a compilation DVD of some masterworks by avant garde visionary Stan Brakhage.

Good things about a Criterion release -- extra features. The two discs include an interview with the director, and an essay by Brakhage expert Fred Camper along with 26 films remastered. Bad thing about Criterion -- price. But if you're a Brakhage fan, CC supposes that wouldn't bother.

For those like CC who've seen a few select films, this seems like a good tutorial in the ways of this New York icon as a rental. It includes his hand drawn and hand painted works like Mothlight and also, some of CC's favorites his psychological black and whites such as Dog Star Man. Maybe it seems sort of wrong to objectify a dead artist, but hey, CC does it to the young Orson Welles (we're thinking Orson as the young Charles Foster Kane circa the tabloid newsman days. Yum)! Stan has the same appeal, clean-cut beatnik in white button down and skinny black tie. It is a look that works for CC. For those who've seen Window Water Baby Moving, in which Stan graphically films his wife giving birth, they might find it difficult to find a cute a man who'd do this to his poor birthing wife. But that's all still up for debate.

[Ed. note -- For now By Brakhage does not appear as a selection on Netflix, but should be coming soon. Until then, check out Kim's Video or your local indie acquivalent.]

Posted by karen at 1:43 PM |

June 6, 2003

Does Misery Really Love Company?

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PCC isn't quite sure why she rented Misery. Perhaps it was a subconscious desire to see the talented Ms. Kathy Bates in something other than the previously railed upon "comic tragedy", Love Liza. Perhaps it was because of the previous night's viewing of AFI's wonderfully mindless '100 Heroes, 100 Villains' special, where Bates' Ms. Wilkes ranked number 17 (amusingly paired with Mr. Clint's 'heroic' Dirty Harry). Regardless the reason, PCC sprawled on her couch in her un-airconditioned house in the 90+ degree heat and watched crazed Annie torture poor James Caan for two hours. If PCC was a)employed in 1990 when the film was released and b)working in Hollywood writing taglines for films, she's pretty sure Misery's would have something to do with Kathy Bates, remote cabins and a big ol' can of whup-ass. Sadly, at the tender age of 8, PCC was not in the running for any jobs other than perhaps manning a lemonade stand.

While Misery focuses on an obsessive fan of romance novels, PCC would hazard a guess that there are just as many film nut-jobs out there today plotting ways to get their favorite actor/actress/director to arrive, bruised and beaten, on their doorstep, where they could then "nurse them back to health". Sure, most of us cinephiles are normal folk, with the occasional star crush or favorite director of the moment, and we wouldn't dream of hobbling our own personal Adrien Brodys or Martin Scorseses with a sledge hammer. But PCC bets that on the fringes of the land of imaginary star boyfriends and girlfriends lurk those people who would, at a moment's notice, turn their spare bedroom- in the backwoods cabin they were saving for just such a kidnapping moment- into a prison for their favorite star. Of course, these weirdos are a small minority of the film-going public. But if PCC ever becomes a famous [fill in the blank], she will steer clear of any slightly frumpy middle-aged women proclaiming to be PCC's "number one fan".

Posted by jordan at 2:49 AM |

June 1, 2003

Everything is in its Proper Place...Except the Past

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While wandering through the aisles of the video store last night, PCC came upon one of those films that always prompts the normally shy and non-confrontational PCC to jump up onto the nearby counter, a la Sally Field in Norma Rae, and demand that everyone in the store drop whatever they have in their hand and rent the film PCC is waving above her head (almost the same as demanding a union, right? uh huh.).

PCC thinks that she is the only person she has ever met who has a poster of Ordinary People (all the way from Canada no less) proudly displayed on her wall in college. Of course, PCC likes to be unique and all, but she would gladly join the masses if said proletariat would agree to rent Robert Redford's amazing 1980 film. Very rarely is PCC completely satisfied with a film adaptation- consider Jonathan Demme's bastardization of Toni Morrison's Beloved- but Alvin Sergeant's (Unfaithful, Paper Moon) treatment of Judith Guest's novel is undeniably deserving of the Oscar.

In Guest's novel , first person narration grants us access to Conrad Jarrett's pain, but the film avoids a voice-over, instead allowing us to experience the uncomforatble detachment that permeates the Jarrett house along with Conrad. As Conrad, Timothy Hutton is perfectly cast. For a story with such potential for soapy melodrama, Hutton's performance keeps the film painfully real. One of PCC's favorite scenes in the film, which doubles as one of the most wrenching arguments- on the same level as the plate-smashing screaming match between Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson in In the Bedroom- is the fight between Mary Tyler Moore (surprisingly successful so far away from Minneapolis and Rhoda), Hutton and Donald Sutherland. Non-confrontational PCC wanted to simultaneously hide underneath the covers and cheer the Jarretts on for finally saying what needed to be said.

PCC understands that not everyone is in the mood for a depressing film about death, guilt and family turmoil. This is understandable. BUT...Redford's film is a must. Watch it in the middle of the day when the sun is shining. Couple it with something mindless and entertaining like Zoolander (PCC is not bashing Mr. Stiller or his film, merely using it as a point of genre comparison). But watch it, with plenty of Kleenex, and remember it's a good thing when a film can make you feel like the floor just dropped out from underneath you.

Posted by jordan at 2:07 AM |

May 29, 2003

A Comic Tragedy? Ha.

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As an avid fan of Mr. P. Seymour Hoffman, CC's Portland correspondent (PCC) finally got around to renting Todd Louiso's Love Liza. Taking a cue from Brooklyn CC's earlier entry on Mr. Martin and the out-of-sight-out-of-mind disaster that was Bringin' Down The House, PCC is trying to willfully erase Love Liza from her memory and concentrate on the brilliance of the perpetually rumpled Philip Seymour in Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999).

PCC is especially disappointed by Love Liza since it had so much going for it:
1. Not only did it star the aforementioned PSH, but it was written by PSH's brother, Gordy. One would think two Hoffmans would be double the fun. Wrong.
2. It was a 2002 Sundance darling, winning the Waldo Salt screenwriting prize (always of interest to PCC-the-fledgling-screenwriter) and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.

So what went wrong? To begin, PCC felt absolutely no sympathy for PSH's Wilson Joel. While she empathized with the overwhelming pain he must have experienced after his wife's suicide, PCC felt as though she spent the entire film in some sort of gasoline-induced haze, never really getting close enough to the action to experience any real compassion for the characters. And speaking of gasoline, PCC was left utterly in the dark as to why Wilson decided to begin huffing gas and model airplane fuel in the first place. The quick shot of WJ catching the whiff of gas from a taxi's open fuel tank after his impromptu vacation did not logically merit the next hour or so of film, consisting of Wilson burying his face in a grimy, gas-soaked rag at any opportunity. PCC has experienced her share of gasoline fumes at the gas station, but she doubts that, even if her spouse commited suicide, she would make the jump from grief to huffing.

PCC feels that she must lastly address the film's tagline, proclaiming Louiso's film to be a "comic tragedy". Perhaps PCC is dumber than she once thought, but after sitting through 90 minutes of an increasingly doped-up and dirty PSH sniffing gas and crying, PCC failed to find the comic elements of the film. Is PCC overly sensitive or are suicide, grief-induced huffing habits, unemployment and overall hopelessness more aligned with straight-up tragedy than "tragicomedy" (PCC apologizes since she hates the phrase 'tragicomedy' almost as much as she despises 'dramedy', but the situation seemed to merit its use)? Perhaps if PCC took up sniffing gasoline herself she might find more humor in Louiso's film, but after a sober first viewing she encountered only hazy tragedy.

Posted by jordan at 8:51 PM |

May 21, 2003

Lynne Ramsay fetish continues

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After much ballyho, Cinecultist watched Lynne Ramsay's first feature length film, Ratcatcher and loved it. Like Movern Callar, her other film released last winter which CC thought was one of the best thing she'd seen all season, Ratcatcher shows us a slice of working class Scotland, this time set during the garbage collector's strike in the '70s. Like Kubrick, Ramsay was a photographer before she became a filmmaker and it really shows in her exquisite shot compositions. The one where the young protagonist jumps through a window and runs out into a field of dry grass reminds CC a bit of Citizen Kane, only better, as the color just swallows you up. A word to the wise though, watch the film with the subtitles on. This seemed to be the default from the Criterion copy CC rented from Netflix but despite the film being in English, its necessary with the characters thick Glaswegian accents. Everything little is wee in this film and such forth. CC prides herself on being able to understand Brad Pitt in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but Ratcatcher would have been an unintelligible mess with out the subtitle translation. A beautiful mess but a mess nonetheless.

Posted by karen at 1:45 PM |

April 26, 2003

So Sweet, not Lowdown

Sweet and Lowdown (1999, Woody Allen) Such a delightful movie, I sort of cant believe I missed it in the theaters. I remember that both Sean Penn and Samantha Morton were up for Oscars but the Woodman hadnt been so up to snuff on his recent pictures, that I think Id avoided it during its release. But now with my renewed obsession for Morton (in the could watch her read a phonebook for two hours category) aprs Morvern Callar, I decided to go back to watch it. Wow. A sort of jazz afficianados reminiscience, Allen brackets the film with historians and himself waxing poetic on the merits and outrageous behaviors of Emmett Ray, the second best jazz guitarist in the 30s. A complete egomaniac with a paralyzing fear of Django Reinheart, the only other guitarist Emmett considered better than himself, Penn plays Emmett as a twitchy genius prone to irrational breakdowns but lyrical musicianship. Penn really is great, though I suppose its easy to forget this about him when he seems to drop of the face of the earth and insist upon being a director and whatnot. Unlike less confident actors dropped into an Allen period piece, he constructs a completely credible character out of Emmett, rather than relying on the clich Allen-esque mannerisms for depth. Morton does not speak, as Emmetts mute girlfriend Hattie and potentially his great love, but who needs her to, as her eyes can say it all? The soundtrack is a joy, as is par for the Allen obsessively and lovingly researched course, and tinkles along with just the right amount of familiarity (All of Me) and unusual gems (such as various Reinheart recordings). From scanning the musical credits, which conspicuously lack any performances by an actual Emmett Ray, the inkling dawned on me that the film is really about Allens thoughts on how an artist might be plagued by the thought that he always played in the shadows of a gypsy musician from Spain. Is the film an aging cinematic genius questioning his own contributions or just an excuse to spin a few good yarns?

Posted by karen at 3:55 PM |

April 12, 2003

Card Dealing God

Croupier (1998, Mike Hodges) is one of those movies with all the things you really need already in the mix sexy man (Clive Owen: check), intriguing world to inhabit (croupiers, ie. Professional dealers of black jack, etc.: check) as well as various sexual pairings (with Alex Kingston of ER, Gina McKee from Mike Leigh movies: check and check). Also, it is probably the least annoying use of voice over Ive heard in a long time. As viewers familiar with Brian Coxs rendition of McKee in Adaptation know, voice over as an explication device in films is supremely frowned upon. However, Croupier has this noir-esque quality that comes across as entirely earnest, perhaps largely through the stellar portrayal of Jack by Owen, and thus the voice over feel entirely warranted for the movies mood. To give a brief gloss of the plot, if its not familiar from the stupendous amount of press it received on its release through The Shooting Gallery, a touring indie mini-festival in various cities, Owen plays Jack, a struggling novelist, whos father calls from South Africa encouraging him to take a job as a croupier at a local casino. As fodder for the book and as a way to support his retired cop girlfriend, Jack returns to his old profession as a dealer divorced from emotion observing the world of the casino through dispassionate eyes. The movies distanced and ironic point of view reminded me very much of Alain Delons 60s detective movies like Le Samoura, all mood and ennui and detachment. Where all the characters are too damn sexy for their own good, and while this may lead to complications, the protagonist can still walk away from it all, a cool man in control of his own destiny. It may be all mood, but its a really appealing mood.

Posted by karen at 3:43 PM |

April 4, 2003

Coppola Seeks You

Jeremy Davies does well with these socially awkward, and sexually timid yet still intriguing young men characters. Id just recently seen his lovely and strange performance in David O. Russells Spanking the Monkey and was pleased to see him in CQ (2002, Roman Coppola) as well. Unfortunately, his pleasant presence and the over the top stylishness of this movie cannot save the film from its lack of a compelling core. Theres something about movies, which depict self-indulgent young artists questioning their own existences, that leads to annoying levels of self-aggrandizing in the film proper. Coppola falls into this trap in his directorial debut and never climbs out. Who cares about this guys existential despair over the hotness of Angela Lindvall and his artistic pretensions and his French girlfriend who just doesnt understand? These movies always make me surmise that if I had a penis, I might, but I presume probably even then, I still wouldnt. Also, someone should speak to Sophia Coppola and remind her that behind the camera, good, in front of the camera, like a stick figure from hell. She turns in the most consistently bad walk on performances in Hollywood. Her cousin, Jason Schwartzman, on the other hand, is completely adorable. I fear for his musical and artistic pretensions (see his recent release, Spun, a drug film directed by a music video director) but his blustering short man bravado charms me every time. In summary, Roman knows his way around a camera and gets the intriguing juxtapositions available to the director thoughtful about film history, but needs to get someone more adept at screenwriting on board next time.

Posted by karen at 3:29 PM |

March 30, 2003

Perfect Love?

Today was the day of the cinematic masochism. I began with a DVD of Perfect Love (1996, Catherine Breillat) from Netflix, since a month or so ago, I re-rented Romance and decided I needed to see the rest of Breillarts films available. Her films kick you in the head, but I think her depiction of female sexuality is one of the most progressive in film now. Perfect Love is an interesting picture, although it isnt a particularly fun movie. It tells the story of a May-December relationship between an eye doctor and her young lover who murders her. The film begins at the crime scene, as the man, reinacting the details of the crime for the detectives shortly after his confession, and then cuts away to an interview with the womans daughter, who basically implies that her mothers coldness brought on her death. I can no longer really watch the budding of romances in French films without an intense sense of dread, because for the Gauls, this lying around in bed and taking long walks along the surf while holding hands never ends well. Such is the case in Perfect Love, as Christophe (Francis Renaud) gets increasingly more belligerent to Frdrique (Isabelle Renauld), in particular regarding her disparaging of his heterosexuality. All of this baiting of his masculinity finally results in him sodomizing her with a broom handle in the kitchen. As one would expect in a Breillat movie where the womens sexualities are a bit insatiable, she is at first impressed by his prowess, until she turns back and realizes he still cannot get it up even in this most violent and sexually-charged moment. So she laughs at him. Mistake, because he then grabs a kitchen knife and stabs her over and over again in the back, completing his aborted attempts to penetrate this older woman. The brutality of the ending lies, not in the details of this murder, but the way that Breillat holds the camera on Renaud plunging the knife in much longer than we need for recognition and into a realm of perverse fascination and revolting repetition.

Posted by karen at 1:27 PM |