Friday, November 6, 2009


The Headless Woman (2008, Martel): Nebulous, creepy, formally masterful. Must see more Martel. Not especially satisfying, but I suspect she doesn't want it to be.

The Steel Helmet (1951, Fuller): A blunt instrument, wielded with passion and integrity.

Yi Yi (2000, Yang): Sprawling familial drama, about as good as anything Robert Altman ever made. Yang's style is different from Altman's though, more consistently elegant, and never cynical. A tracking shot is an event here. Also profound, and very funny.

A Serious Man (2009, Coen): A laff riot, certainly, but even bleaker than No Country for Old Men. Maybe the Coens' humor here doesn't give us the same distance that Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic austerity does there, or maybe it's the movie's unsettling rhythms that do it. Either way, dig that tornado.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Jonze): Sad rumpus, good rumpus. While it's true that this is a mopey adult's vision of "authentic" childhood, it's still an affecting and strange experience.

Russian Ark (2002, Sokurov): It's often overwhelming and sublime, but sporadically dull, too. The latter perhaps an inevitability given the nature of the stunt being attempted, the former cause for much celebration.

The President's Last Bang (2005, Im): Dense, bloody, and funny, but all three qualities seem slightly disjointed from one another, at least on first viewing. Context helps.

Paranormal Activity (2007, Peli): This is a pretty excellent creepout. Not much else is going on (don't really buy the domestic violence reading floating around the film blogosphere). Does there absolutely have to be? If we can't appreciate a well-executed scare, and this is a long series of them, we've lost touch with something primitive but essential. The animus some of the movie's detractors have directed at the leads is misplaced. They're probably the most credible protagonists in any of these horror faux-docs.

Pickup on South Street (1953, Fuller): There's profundity in Mo getting her head blown off. In the fights, too, and those proto-Pickpocket subway scenes.

Stray Dpg (1949, Kurosawa): Postwar J-noir, underrated or at least under-discussed in AK's oeuvre. More alive and lived-in than some of his later masterpieces. Flawed by a couple off scenes and the usual preachiness and sentimentality, yet there are many stunning sequences, like cop Toshiro Mifune's long, dissolve-heavy and plot-slowing wanderings through the Tokyo underworld, and the gorgeous climactic standoff in the swamp.

Martyrs (2008, Laugier): Half the nastiest (if not the goriest) horror movie of the aughts, half audacious subversion of the tenets of hardcore, torture-heavy cinema. One's mileage will vary based on whether you can reconcile these two halves (and of course if you can stomach it--most won't be able to). The director, who in his introduction to the movie and the fairly extensive and unvarnished documentary about its making seems genuinely uncomfortable with having made the thing, might be going places, more interesting and ambitious ones than fellow Gallic gorehound Alex Aja. Might write more if I can bring myself to, as there's a serious dearth of adequate critical writing about it.

Cat People (1942, Tourneur): I wasn't exactly spooked, but quite a lot of it is breathtaking and haunting in ways most horror isn't interested in being these days. Saw and liked Paul Schrader's remake years ago and I sorta want to return to it now.

Martin (1977, Romero): Jagged brilliance, on par with Dawn of the Dead, at least. Perhaps my favorite vampire movie. In his prime, George Romero's command of montage is dazzling, and here, at its most fractured and subjective, it maps out Martin's psyche so compellingly that even the more awkward, lo-fi moments are subsumed into the movie's frenzy.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1993, Lynch): I liked this still undervalued and powerful entry in the Lynch canon slightly less this time around, as I became more conscious of why it was panned so badly upon release. It's completely inaccessible to Peaks neophytes and the relentless darkness and obscurantism and beyond disjointed structure of it can put off some Peaks acolytes, too. By that same token, the parts I was never particularly crazy about, namely the whole opening chapter with Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland, which is essentially a straightfaced parody of the show, are now hilarious to me. It's a strange world.

Zombieland (2009, Fleischer): Almost totally witless, if watchable. Unlike with Shaun of the Dead, the people behind it don't seem particularly passionate or knowledgeable about the genre, and they aren't clever, either. I wouldn't be surprised if Shaun's the only zombie movie they've seen. Calling this the American equivalent of Shaun is almost an insult to American comedy. Woody Harrelson's performance and Bill Murray's funny but over-celebrated cameo are the highlights. Okay, and the sight of Abigail Breslin blasting ghouls.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992, Coppola): If this were a silent film, it would be one of The Greats. Alas, there is sound, so we have Keanu and myriad stinker lines and misjudged scenes. Very enjoyable camp. Not coherent, but incoherent in an interesting way.

Friday Night (2002, Denis): A completely immersive one night stand in Paris. Playful subjectivity: ambiguous, unheralded fantasies, a smiling pizza and a dancing S. Denis knows how to shoot skin, this I knew, but here I learn she knows how to shoot traffic and pinball machines. In a three-way tie with 8 1/2 and Weekend for Greatest Celluloid Traffic Jam.

Onibaba (1964, Shindo): Sweaty, languid, racy, funny, and unsettling, with the most omnipresent reeds in the history of movies. That might sound like an insignificant distinction for a movie to hold, but it isn't after bearing witness to this. Viddied at The Auteurs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


A few months ago, the trailer for Werner Herzog's non-remake of Bad Lieutenant was released, and flummoxed the film world with such sights as Nicholas Cage hallucinating iguanas and ordering someone to shoot a dead guy because "his soul is still dancing."

Now, there's a trailer out for his David Lynch collaboration, My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done, and it's about as inexplicable.

I don't know whether it's the overwhelming amount of crazy these trailers pack into a couple minutes or their curious direct-to-video aura, but they're fascinating, and in a not entirely positive way. Here's hoping that once the films are released, these will simply show how unmarketable they were, rather than be accurate reflections of their quality.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


"Touched by a masterpiece, a person begins to hear in himself that same call of truth which prompted the artist to his creative act. When a link is established between the work and its beholder, the latter experiences a sublime, purging trauma. Within that aura which unites masterpieces and audience, the best sides of our souls are made known, and we long for them to be freed. In those moments we recognize and discover ourselves, the unfathomable depths of our own potential, and the furthest reaches of our emotions."
--Andrei Tarkovsky

"On the last day of shooting, I pulled my pants down, threw my sister through a plate-glass window, vomited in a yellow bucket, and someone stabbed me with a little red army pocket knife. Two days later I woke up and the film was done."
--Harmony Korine

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

MUSIC YOU DON'T LISTEN TO (2 shots for your day)

Saw this dastardly thing yesterday. Good times.

Monday, August 10, 2009

MORE FOR FLOW THAN FUNCTION (a collation of my short HALO-17 writing stint)

Last year I was enlisted to write weekly movie reviews for a little up and coming site. So I did, for a couple months, before academic obligations more or less forced me to jump ship. In that brief window I think I did some good work, and some bad work, too. Here, in chronological order, is all of it:

The Dark Knight (second review down)
Step Brothers
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Death Race
Burn After Reading (top review)
Miracle At St.Anna

The first two went through some editorial changes, some of which were necessary to make them readable, some of which ended up putting words in my mouth I didn't want there. Readability in general was a problem. I was perhaps overly infatuated with long, creaky sentences and sometimes found myself choosing adjectives because of how they sounded rather than how 100% apt they were. There are turns of phrase I still like, and others that are extremely clumsy. I regret my review of The Dark Knight, wherein I just jumped on the bandwagon and didn't jump very gracefully. I still really dig that movie, but I think I took the wrong angle on why. And I regret the snarky, mean tone of my Mummy review, for which I was chastised by one of my readers. But on the whole I think it was an OK first go, outright embarrassments kept to a minimum.

Friday, August 7, 2009

VERY LITTLE MAMBOING, THOUGH UNDOUBTEDLY MILLENNIAL (a fleeting impression of a pretty but fleeting thing)

As silly as the feeling is, it's nonetheless rather frustrating to come upon a movie you merely sort of like while exploring the work of a filmmaker you love, even more so when that filmmaker demands and usually rewards as much as Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Millennium Mambo has some compelling scenes, and its elliptical, seemingly intuitive structure is intriguing, but the cumulative effect is dissatisfying, even a bit suffocating. The directionless ennui of the Shu Qi character is maybe transferred to the viewer too well, with not enough attendant insight. It begins (see above) and ends strongly, though, and Shu Qi is an undeniably charismatic and beautiful subject for Hou's roving eye.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


This well written piece in the Chicago Tribune paints a really kinda creepy portrait of an Illinois Netflix warehouse. As to where the creepiness comes from, it seems to be a combination of the outward secrecy and the way a working day inside bears a passing (only passing, mind you) resemblance to life in some dystopic bureaucracy. Wonder how many copies of Brazil they have.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Just when schlock purveyor Uwe Boll's career seemed like it couldn't get any more ridiculous and loathsome, he makes a movie about Darfur. Here's the recently released, 8-minute promotional trailer.

Note the presence of Bloodrayne costars Billy Zane and Kristanna Loken, the de rigueur handheld camerawork and the same mournful but exotic vocals on the soundtrack that seemingly every mainstream movie set in the Middle East or Africa has had since Gladiator, and the obvious dramatic ineptitude of it all (the latter apparently the result of Boll utilizing an improvisatory, method-acting-type approach with just about the last actors you'd ever want to see try out method acting). I was repulsed even before I read this interview with Boll, which is really quite appalling, even more so when you keep in mind the fact that he made Postal. Choice excerpt:

We all saw Hotel Rwanda and it shocked us all and everybody after the Rwanda massacre said this should never happen again. And the same in Yugoslavia and now we have the same situation in Sudan and we close our eyes again and you think, “what’s going on with us?” I’m normally not pro-military intervention but the reality is this is not a civil war, this is a massacre. If you know people are getting raped and children are getting hacked to pieces on a daily basis…NATO should have no other choice to protect (these people). I think we should go in there with helicopter patrols and stop the genocide. A movie like this can definitely create awareness for that.

This is the same man who just a couple movies ago played rape and the slaughter of children for yuks. I have no quarrel with tasteless humor, but there's a very good reason why you don't see Tromauteur Lloyd Kaufman attempting to make serious dramas about ongoing genocides.

The documentaries about Darfur like the Devil Came on Horseback or Darfur Now are great but nobody shows the massacres. With a feature film you can do that, you can show the rape, you see what they do with babies and so on. I think it will be hard and shocking but everything we show in the movie happens every single day there. I don’t think we can close our eyes, we have to say we can stop that. From this point of view it’s kind of a genre movie with a realistic approach behind it.

So apparently what dissatisfies Boll most with extant Darfur-centric cinema is its lack of tactlessly graphic atrocity footage. If any good comes out of this, it might be that, in much the same way that Boll's awful videogame adaptations bring the emptiness and inanity of their more competently executed, Hollywood-backed counterparts to the surface, Boll's Darfur might make plain just how misguided and patronizing the White People Witness Human Rights Abuses In Africa and Learn Something genre--and Boll's right, it's a genre--is.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Today's the official release of the putatively light, fun, and (relatively) clear-cut new novel by Thomas Pynchon, with whom I'm fascinated. I'd be more outwardly enthusiastic about this if early word on it didn't suggest that it's the literary equivalent of an hors d'Ĺ“uvre from a man literati expect to deliver a feast each time. I'm not nearly well-read enough to consider myself even a fledging member of the literati, yet I've read and enjoyed enough Pynchon to have similar expectations of him. Nevertheless there's something kinda cool about the idea of a Pynchon anybody can pick up and read.

Even cooler is that on the Penguin page, there's a video featuring what appears to be an early and pretty funny passage from the book being read by somebody who sounds suspiciously like Pynchon, if his Simpsons appearances are anything to go on.

Monday, August 3, 2009

FOUR TIMES AT THE MUSEUM (a few thoughts about Hiroshima Mon Amour)

Diving into the deep end, here:

It's been about two days since I saw Alain Resnais's Hiroshima Mon Amour, and in that time Jean-Luc Godard's description of it as "Faulkner plus Stravinsky" has been striking me alternately as apt and, like most attempts to sum up a truly singular work with a simple a+b formula, a little inadequate, as it doesn't really account for the movie's historical resonance (though it's made me listen to more Stravinsky). In one of the interviews on the Criterion disk, Resnais talks about the impossibility of confronting the horror of Hiroshima directly, but in the oft-celebrated opening passage of the movie, he gets awfully close to doing just that.

[the sequence in question continues until around the 5:30 mark]

(As a side note, it's interesting how Resnais's stuff doesn't lose all that much when transposed into the small, pixilated world of YouTube. I've seen this sequence from Hiroshima and the entirety of Last Year at Marienbad in YouTube format, and they don't lose their mesmeric pull, because their visual and editorial construction are so dazzlingly precise. This formal precision also seems to be why, like a lot of Stanley Kubrick's work, they haven't dated at all, barring a few melodramatic flourishes in Hiroshima lead Emmanuelle Riva's performance. Hiroshima's also surprisingly accessible for a film that spends a third of its 90 minutes on its two lovers talking in a restaurant, managing to be both verbose and deeply cinematic.)

After giving us Hiroshima at the outset, Resnais then gives us Mon Amour. But the sheer weight of the former is always pressing down on the latter. I noticed late in the film that the door of the lovers' hotel room has a knob at nearly neck-height. It's as though the city and its past literally dwarfs them*. This is not to suggest that it trivializes or diminishes the characters and their pasts, per se. It manages to deal with and even draw links between personal heartbreak and collective apocalypse without solipsistically equating the two.

I was compelled today to pick up my copy of Pauline Kael's For Keeps to read her review of the film again, which I remembered as being fairly negative, and indeed she is pretty down on it. But like a lot of her takedowns of arthouse faves from those days, it's rather nearsighted, too focused on undercutting its otherwise ecstatic critical reception and poking a finger in the eye of the demographic that was digging it. Part and parcel of being an iconoclast, I guess, but it's a little yawn-inducing, 50 years removed.

*Note that this impression could just be my ignorance of Japanese doorknob height talking. Yet it seems like the kind of thing Resnais would do, and several Googlings of "Japanese doorknobs" returned largely irrelevant and sometimes disturbing results.