January 16, 2006

Notes from the Trenches

Back on the horse with public screenings of Glory Road, Last Holiday, and Tristan & Isolde. Seat-kicker in the last one, raucous cheering in the first two, and sort of a general sense that things are only as they always have always been with the fresh offerings for any New Year – that it’s an act of extreme optimism to think that things will change after just one down year at the box office (one already equivocated to death by pundits to the point that there’s not a point anymore) – so the question of whether any portion of the status quo has been shaken by Michael Bay’s first non-blockbuster sort of lies there pathetic in the weak light of too much proximity. We’ll know more in a couple of years if we get there.

Netflix is a generous mistress, though, offering all three Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels in one glorious red-envelope (Asian-friendly!) fan in my mailbox this week. Ah so, as they say, and so I’ll blog ‘em in the next couple of days. Also watched Kenji Mizoguchi’s beautiful Ugetsu, Brian DePalma getting all mutie on our asses with The Fury, and Anne Hathaway in all her topless glory (ditto Bijou Phillips, but that’s so 2001) in the genuinely dreadful wigger morality play, Havoc.

Mid-week, I sat down with the radiant Natasha Richardson for a nice chat about legacies of film and family: her voice is Kathleen Turner-smoky and her bearing is regal and self-confident. She had interesting things to say about Woody’s Match Point. Her husband, Liam Neeson, was in-state at the same time as she was, but hours away in the mountains, doing a little wilderness retreat under the radar, as it were. He’s excellent in Breakfast on Pluto.

Traveled ninety minutes into the mountains to an elevation of about 8,200 ft. to moderate non-profit Vail Symposium’s David Cronenberg mini-festival, screening Dead Ringers and Spider on Friday and a pristine 35mm print of A History of Violence as the closer on Saturday. The resonances of the first two films on the third are varied and obvious, not the least of which the actors playing multiple roles (and fascinating to trace the nature of that duality through the three films from literal to existential to societal). This my fourth look at A History of Violence and the assembled audience still pointed out things for me to chew on. The best of which the frozen clock tower in the middle of Millbrook, and the idea that all the citizens therein are complicit in the illusion of a Rockwellian amber – one disturbed first by the appearance of the real bad guys before the suddenly chastened schoolyard bullies who are, after all, just playing out roles that they’ve agreed, with that society, to enact into eternity.

Echoes of Vonnegut’s Timequake: shot back in time and forced to relive the last couple of decades, powerless to change a thing, and eventually – as Kirkegaard theorized once upon a time – getting really comfortable with that tacit acceptance of re-enacting a known past we can never change. If you see Cronenberg as an alien anthropologist (and many did, some noting the “E” and “T” decorative cubes on a shelf in the Stall household: “Edie” and “Tom”, of course, but there you have it), dealing in this film with a collection of genre clichés and techniques to expose the lizard brain squatting in the middle of every person’s better intentions - History might be his most mechanized picture. Cronenberg’s Modern Times. It gets better, like all of his work, every time you see it. By the second time through, already, History feels like it’s half the length of the first time – the apprehension of the first trip replaced by the exhilaration of its unerringly sure hand in subsequent passes.
There’s nothing more rewarding than unraveling the concerns and techniques of a brilliant director with a group of smart, courageous people, who know enough about the possibility of the movies to eschew all the other entertainment options available to them up there – and to immerse themselves in three of Cronenberg’s late masterpieces. It’s not an easy ride, and I’ve got nothing but admiration and gratefulness for their participation. Highlight of a fantastic couple of nights at the movies? The director of the Vilar Center, the beautiful venue where we show the films, asked me “what’s next?” Bless his heart, I think I already know.

If you haven’t read them, here are our two interviews with Mr. C. One. And, two.

Appeared on a local Comcast television show live to talk about Cronenberg and being a film critic in the ’06 on Saturday morning. Went well, so I’m told.

And speaking of The Brood, Brangelina is pregnant. I mention this not because it’s a scoop, but because I’m hoping the spawn will bless me with its ridiculously beatific visage, freeing me of all sin and giving me the gift, however briefly, of breath smelling like a brick of gently mulled honey-wine. Is it too much to hope that Angie’s dad Jon somehow impregnates his beard, Diana Ross, with another Skywalker?

Anybody investigate the “Book of Daniel”?

or Oprah’s non-Franzen folly: A Million Little Pieces? Is there a scarier media pundit than Oprah, by the way? It seems only right to me that her company’s name is “Harpo”, not for the Marx Bros. connection, but for the idea that in turning her name into a palindrome, she’s managed to make herself this ourobosian leviathan, coiling back into herself into a self-sufficient, endlessly-renourishing and regenerating eternity. Case-in-point a Christmas episode, an annual tradition apparently, wherein she shows people what all her celebrity friends bought her. I wonder if you get a foldout wish-list in the December issue of her magazine so that you can, if you desire, mortgage your house and buy La O a little something for the bungalow. Oprah’s Book Club = 4th sign of the Apocalypse (Dr. Phil is #5). We’re up to, like, six now, right?

Here’s wishing you the fortune not to be accused of a crime that Oprah can arbitrarily, and self-righteously in her position as Midwest-appointed godhead, ruin your life for on national TV.

And speaking of which, finally getting around to Freakonomics this week.

Here’s this week’s capture:

Bill provides DVD errata on In Her Shoes and Travis unearths the recent past in one a glut of white perspective'd South Africa guilt pics occurring simultaneously in the late ‘80s: A Dry White Season.


Jack_Sommersby said...

Screenshot: Dark Obsession? (I only guess this because the guy from the backside resmebles Gabriel Byrne.)

Chad Evan said...

Re: "Book of Daniel:"
I tuned in to watch it last week, only to be greeted with a voice saying "Previously, on Star Trek..."
Yep, that's right, I live in one of the four...FOUR...areas in the country that chose not to air it. Thing is, the local NBC spokesperson said they were inundated with complaints, but everyone who has phoned in or even looked for an e-mail adress to voice the other side has found the person very hard to catch, which leads me to believe that the complaints were non-existant. The only good news to come out of this is that the angry letters to the editor that appear every day are overwhelmingly on the right side, and the priest at my church got an ovation for saying he was sick and tired of people trying to determine for him what he can and can't watch. There is hope, even in this most backward of regions.

Chris A said...

FW Murnau's Sunrise?

Walter_Chaw said...

Bravo, Chris A, Murnau's Sunrise which may be, hyperbole and all, one of the two or three most important, if not also best films ever made. There's a scene where two lovers take a carriage ride and never look at one another. Every frame is astonishment. A shame that Murnau's best known for Nosferatu - a picture that, I recoil in anticipation of informed and outraged dissent - just never worked for me. I do love Herzog's version, though.

And yeah, re: "Daniel" and the flock - I actually have a lot of faith in people to surprise you. The only thing I've heard about the show is that it's totally innocuous.

Walter_Chaw said...

wait - can I amend that to read "never entirely worked for me"?

Jack_Sommersby said...

Way to go, Chris!

Chris A said...

Re: Sunrise
A masterpiece to be sure, and a film that, here in Australia, was until recently available only as a "Bonus DVD Gift" when signing up for 20th Century Fox's DVD club, or some such nonsense.
Thankfully an independent (and now sadly defunct) cinema in Sydney had access to a print which they screened from time to time.
The film is jaw-droppingly spectacular on more than one occasion, and safe to say, one of the most memorable films I've seen.

Oh, and I'd be on Sunrise's side of the fence against Nosferatu anyday.

Seattle Jeff said...

Don't get me started on the "Book of Daniel"

Let's just say I wrote a script last year for Bravo's "Situation: Comedy" (Bravo is owned by NBC) competition that very, very, very closely resembles that show.

Not saying that they stole it from me, but I do find it interesting.LOL

Bill C said...

I watched "The Book of Daniel"'s pilot solely for Alison Pill. Alas, she's saddled with trying not to emulate Lauren Ambrose's character from "Six Feet Under" in a role that does nothing but riff on same. The guy who plays Jesus you'll recognize as Wild Bill's killer from "Deadwood" (and the idiotic but utterly addictive Canadian primetime drama "Leap Years"), but even with a better CV he doesn't stack up to "Rescue Me"'s Jesus. And whenever they go to commercial the screen morphs into a stain-glass snapshot, which forces the actors to contrive a religious pose roughly every 13 minutes.

As for the content, it's "Seventh Heaven" for hipsters. Aidan Quinn is the titular minister, who has a gay son (played by Neve Campbell's brother)--not that there's anything wrong with that, although he arranges a date with a woman for the kid to keep up appearances around homophobic grandpa. Daniel also has an Asian foster son who fornicates more or less guilt-free with all the hot white chicks in the neighbourhood, even going so far as to hit on Pill (who plays his adoptive sister), saying, "Technically we're not related." Oh, and Jesus repeatedly disparages the New Testament.

It's all such a transparent purple-nerple to the red states that it brings new meaning to the term bully pulpit. If it were usefully subversive (like, say, the underestimated "Joan of Arcadia"), I suspect affiliates wouldn't be dropping it like a hot potato.

Chris said...

As far as I can tell, nobody's ever mentioned Six Feet Under in this blog or on the FFC site until now.

Walter, Bill, company? I'd be eager to hear this community's thoughts on the show.

Bill C said...

Big giant fan of "Six Feet Under", particularly the odd-numbered seasons. I think it did come up here once before, when I was struggling through a review of the last two box sets, which I've since decided to table until the final season comes out on DVD. Still haven't seen the series finale, but I'm genuinely afraid of it considering how gruelling the regular season-enders are.

Nate said...

In a world with Pat Robertson and George W. Bush, I think it's a bit unfair to rate Oprah's book club up there with other signs of the apocalypse. I've always appreciated the fact that she gets non-readers to pick up books now and then, though I must confess I don't keep up on her recommendations. A Million Little Pieces is on my shelf waiting to be read, though not because of her. Speaking of Franzen, The Corrections blew me away. Only book that's ever made me cry.

Right now I'm reading an insanely well-written British conservative diatribe on how "liberal intellectuals" create the underclass and thereby destroy the very fabric of our society. I figured I should try to understand the other side, but it's kind of depressing.

The Captain said...

I have! Me me me me me! I absolutely adore Six Feet Under (at least the second season onwards, I haven't seen S1 in a while) I think it's astounding, the best TV series of our times. The final season ends it wonderfully - although not the best of the five, it's a great conclusion with the best and most fitting finale I've seen yet on a TV series. (And everyone take in that incredibly dreadful opening to A Coat of White Primer a few times - that's amazing stuff.)

Also the biggest fan of 24, which just started again with a fantastic season opener featuring the Whedonesque murders of at least two main characters, killed in a heartbeat. Gripping and applicable, this beast is. I love it.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Has anyone ever had a transaction with this site deepdiscountdvd.com ? Their prices are 30%-40% off but I don't know if they are legitemate. While we're at it, anyone know any site which is reliable and has cheap books ?

Dave Gibson said...

Checked out “Ebert and Roeper’s worst of 2005” show last night. I’ve always felt that “Worst” lists tend to be needlessly petty and trite, especially when the critic concentrates only on what Jay Scott referred to as “the merely bad” rather than “the ambitiously bad”. Without providing any cultural or industry context, the whole exercise turns into the sort of snotty skeet-shooting that critics are so often accused of playing. This is not to say that any of the films mentioned were any good—just a predictably safe collection of dumb superheroes and puerile comedies. I didn’t see one failed drama or laughable “prestige” picture in the lot and man, what the hell… did Jenny McCarthy humiliate Ebert in a past life or something? There’s something unnerving about a wealthy, powerful celebrity “Critic” like Ebert ladling such hatred on what was essentially, a direct to video release with a tiny burp of mainstream play. Weird paternalism coupled with creepy old guy lechery cropped up a couple of times in his initial review of “Dirty Love” which makes me wonder why this forgettable little bit of junk has stuck in his subconscious and merited so much of his time. I’m sure Rob Schneider has already hired her for his next gig.

Bill C said...

H-Man: No worries, DDD is completely legit.

Bill C said...

Hit send too soon. I had the same reaction to their worst-of, Dave, though I will admit that it caused me to briefly reevaluate my own Bottom 10, which seems anti-intellectual by comparison. (I have documentaries on there, etc.) There's only one movie I had in common with Ebert, and it's one of the only ones in any danger of becoming a cult hit.

Catch Roeper's impression of Keanu? I found it interesting in that his "dumb guy" voice is indistinguishable from his normal speaking voice.

Jefferson said...

I think I just added Mr. and Mrs. Smith to my bottom 10 of last year, after a first-time viewing on disc. I can't really see any appeal to it beyond the pretty, pretty people and the bullet ballets which aren't even all that well choreographed. Doug Liman's visual style still reads nicely, even if it's listing Fincheresque here, but I couldn't find anything else to hang onto. Brad and Angie are supposed to be in love, except maybe not, but then they are ... yet as far as I can tell, these two "really in love" actors failed to craft any kind of emotional depth for their characters' relationship. Does this film serve any artistic function beyond celebu-porn? A forensic study of perfect, perfectly lit cheekbones and jawlines?

PS: Do I come off as jealous?

Chris said...

Thanks for the comments on Six Feet Under, guys. Good to know that there is a review in the works, Bill, I'm looking forward to it. The series finale is absolutely devastating - I still haven't recovered.

As for for 24, I think it was you, Bill, who described it as televised crack? I've only seen seasons one and two, and I'm working my way through three. And that is the perfect description of it.

Seattle Jeff said...

I watched "The Book of Daniel"'s pilot solely for Alison Pill. Alas, she's saddled with trying not to emulate Lauren Ambrose's character from "Six Feet Under" in a role that does nothing but riff on same. The guy who plays Jesus you'll recognize as Wild Bill's killer from "Deadwood" (and the idiotic but utterly addictive Canadian primetime drama "Leap Years"), but even with a better CV he doesn't stack up to "Rescue Me"'s Jesus. And whenever they go to commercial the screen morphs into a stain-glass snapshot, which forces the actors to contrive a religious pose roughly every 13 minutes.

As for the content, it's "Seventh Heaven" for hipsters

They ruined my show!

Not that they stole it from me.

I should just do myself a favor and take credit for Seinfeld.

Ian Pugh said...

Awfully brave of you to be going through the Massacre sequels, Walter. Did that myself; I've already discussed my love for the second, but the later films are pretty gag-worthy.

Expect absolutely nothing from the third film; it being so desperate to escape the tone of the second film, it gives an offering to the gore-hounds and throws in a pre-prestige Viggo Mortensen doing up a cowboy hick accent. (Name's "Tex," natch.)

The fourth film was apparently butchered for home video (the DVD title is The Next Generation, changed from Return of TCM), so its only available form comes across as pretentious art-school nonsense mixed in with a half-assed conspiracy theory. So a lot of screaming -- specially from Matthew McConnaughey -- along with extended subplots (the government shows up or something) and individual shots that go nowhere... and pre-prestige Renee Zellweger. There's always a feeling that there's something in that film waiting to burst out and shock us all; perhaps it can be found in the original cut.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Somebody ... please put Miss Congeniality 2 on your worst list. Had to see some of it on a flight. Only if i knew skydiving...

Seriously though, how does something so aggressively incompetent get made ? There is sitcoms that are funnier then that movie.

Jack_Sommersby said...

I, admittedly, am a huge fan of the original, and found the sequel just godawful beyond belief. Didn't elicit so much as an iota of a chuckle from me, with the most interesting shot of the entire film that of a frigging parking garage. Ick.

The Captain said...

Hey, is there any chance you guys can capture and upload that video of Walter talking on the Comcast TV show for the site? I'm sure I'm not the only one here who would love the chance to watch that..