October 08, 2006

The Trench

- Ah, an air pocket.

- Did the introduction/discussion mambo with Dark City twice, with The Truman Show and Memento as well – the three films all about God/Creation issues: Father/son stuff at the end of our last millennium. Seems fitting that this fin de siecles in our cultural history would be about existential fear and trembling. Still didn’t prepare us for 9/11 and its accompanying influx of nihilism and chest-pounding. The King Kong remake, consummated atop Art Deco’s phallic pinnacle, couldn’t have happened at a different time.

- It raises the rhetorical question re: Pleasantville (also a 1998 film) of whether the Don Knotts television repairman is God in the unknown watchmaker sense.

- The new series at the Denver Public Library is called “Black & White” and I’ve chosen five films that I think each demonstrate a certain ambiguous quality; a place between genres that defies easy categorization and analysis. We began with Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) – a film that is in many ways the precursor to Vertigo in its feminine iconography and, more, in its investment in the bestial husband’s emotional point-of-view. Most films like this (and like Vertigo) are about the girl after all. Doing the Cocteau caused me to finally track down his production diary, published contemporaneously. It’s a great read – echoes of The Jaws Log.

- Speaking of Spielberg, began the Gilpin County Library’s Spielberg series this Saturday (DPL shows every Tuesday @ 6:30pm; Gilpin shows every Saturday @ 1:00pm) with the blueprint pic Duel (1971). It’s arguable that every film after Duel was a remake of Duel just as every film after E.T., at least for a decade or so (and including Schindler’s List, is a remake at least in part of E.T..

- Next week: Frankenheimer’s Seconds at the DPL and Spielberg’s Jaws at Gilpin.

- Rest of the respective runs: M, Eyes Without a Face and The Innocents - and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and War of the Worlds.

- Went to a screening of French cartoon Renaissance and wanted to pound a nail into my forehead.

- The Cinema Club series at the DPL this month feature supplementary films to the evening series: Repulsion, Night of the Living Dead, and Bride of Frankenstein.

- Next week also finds me at the finale of Douglas County’s Sci-Fi Film Series: the freshly-minted director’s print of Blade Runner. I don’t think it’s the re-touched version promised by Scott earlier this year, but isn’t there yet another shined up release set for the street? In any case, I’m excited at the chance to finally talk Blade Runner - the film about whose production I may know the most about thanks to the remarkable Future Noir book.

- Learned this week that my mother-in-law has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease which, in antidote to the stress and time debt of recent weeks, has provided a good healthy dose of perspective on the troubles of the world. All a hill a beans, or sentiments to that effect.

- That cold splash of mortality makes me feel more able to contextualize the irritations of people making cell phone calls and text messages from the seat next to me – kicking me in the back, eating a bucket of fried chicken, bringing their children to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 7 and so on. It also makes me aware, simultaneously, that there are roughly a billion people on this blue Earth that deserve more to die.

- Here’s how the radio show works (there are now more than 10 million subscribers to Sirius Satellite Radio – how many of them listen to the Bill Press show on Friday mornings, I don’t know) I wake up at 6:15am my time, drink a little tea to lube the pipes, get the call at about 6:35am from the producer of the show and chat about what we’re going to chat about, sit on hold for about a minute, and then we’re live and off the cuff. This week, Press made a comment that he thought The Queen was about the Foley scandal in Congress – and I said something like between The Queen and Little Children, we might be heading towards a full-blown description. Hey, it was early.

- Reviews of both The Queen and Little Children, by the way, are on their way along with write-ups, sooner or on video, of Beowulf, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, Hidden Blade, Dogwalker, Keeping Mum, that new Julie Walters picture, and American Hardcore.

- Working through the first season of “Rome” and the complete “Jack of All Trades” series.

- Man of the Year is a big, giant pile of moose shit: call it “Good Morning, Beltway” and call it a day. In a lot of ways it’s just like Zaillian’s All the King’s Men. I was interested to read, by the way, Zaillian saying that he felt as though he’d been hit by a truck: referring to the critical and popular rejection of his picture. Really, though, can this have been a complete surprise?

- Go rent Lucky McKee’s The Woods, by the way.

- As the letters these last four weeks have been uniformly, perversely positive (including a very nice note from Neil Labute), gonna’ forego the Reader Mail this time around.

- With Del Toro’s ravishing-looking Pan’s Labyrinth (Bill raves about it from TIFF) that I’m dying to see, and with this last week finding me before the failure of Renaissance and the timelessness of Beauty and the Beast, the first question I want to throw out there is “Films that Best Evoke a Fairy Tale or Dream Quality?”

- And related to that (and the work of Alekan on Beauty and the Beast and James Wong Howe on Seconds), the best black-and-white cinematographers or, even better, single works.


- Finally, related to The Woods and, soon, John Gulager's Feast: the best direct-to-video films?

51 comments:

Vikram said...

The Feast is not getting a release? And they can release See no Evil.

Tim Norberg said...

At least for American release, I'd have to say the best direct to video movie I've seen in a long time was "Blueberry", known in the sadly mismarketed american version as "Renegade", and given rather mundane boxart. It never got a theatrical release here, as far as I know, and it's simply amazing. Well, if you like hallucinogenic jodorowskyesque westerns, which I do.

Bill C said...

Speak of the devil, FFC reviews the new DVD of Blade Runner.

Alex Jackson said...

Feast did get a limited release. I saw it at a special midnight screening and it is a piece of shit. The second worst film of the year. Gulager should count his lucky stars for M. Night Shymalyan. Smartass, all and any possible subtext is bled out, badly paced and over-edited. A real ordeal.

Bill C said...

And here be Walter's two-for-one review of Feast/The Woods - http://filmfreakcentral.net/dvdreviews/feastwoods.htm

Ian Pugh said...

Feast played on one 10 PM screen for about a week in one of my local indie theaters. Glad to know I didn't miss anything. But then, I just saw screenings of Employee of the Month or Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus when Feast was playing. So no consolation, really.

Renaissance was pretty dull, but it didn't really offend me. Kind of a matter of "your point being?"

Anyone notice, by the by, that they're changing the way they market DTV releases? I remember that they used to make a big deal out of an "only on video" deal, but I just saw a trailer for The Butterfly Effect 2 (?!) and they're treating it as if it was always a theatrical release. Just a matter of "OWN THE DVD, OCTOBER 16th," as if it had always existed.

Why was All the King's Men even considered for last year's Oscar lineup anyway? If anywhere, Zaillian's sense of surprise should have come at the moment it was yanked from '05.

Favorite b&w work of cinematography: The Third Man, for obvious reasons. A lesser example of its greatness: During Welles' "cuckoo clock" speech, no one talks about how the camera creeps toward him. It's a simple move, but it's a gentler one than you're used to; it hikes up the effectiveness like nothing else.

And in other news: Dog will hunt!

Lee said...

Walter-

What did you think about "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning?"

Bemis said...

The Third Man was my first thought as well - the use of shadows is amazing. Same goes for The Haunting.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I saw the highly under-rated All the pretty horse again yesterday. I thought the pacing was off, almost felt like a compressed epic. It would be interesting to see the 3h 20m version that was denied to us by the greedy studio suits. Hope BBT does a director's cut of it.

Anyways, why I chose to bring it up is that I sensed that the Judge at the end of the film was the God figure in the film and the last half hour was Damon trying to tie the unfinished things together for himself after his death.

Jefferson said...

Fairytale/dream movies: The Company of Wolves will get you there in a hurry.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Films that Best Evoke a Fairy Tale Quality?

Shopgirl. I wanted to mention this one because I thought many people missed the tone of the film. Bill called it Lost in Translation on steroids. Even Ebert, from who I hardly expect any criticism of any "indie" films anymore, adds with a tinge of irony Shortly after they meet, Jeremy conveniently leaves town on an extended road trip with a rock band, which is led by a musician who gets him started on self-help books. Even though I can see how the coincidences in this film can be misinterpreted as bad writing or being on "steroids", to compare the film with LIT is a bit like comparing proverbial apples and oranges because I think the artifice of this film is intentional and is in it for the purpose of emphasising it's fairytale structure. I thought it was a wicked movie actually. Maybe less a fairytale and more a fable.

I remember Alex making a similar argument for Crash but that's one fairytale that you can count on giving your children a sleepless night and maybe a self-inflicted wound in the forehead by something particularly sharp.

Jared said...

Piece of flaming dogshit that it is, See No Evil is VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY funny.

shrug said...

I recall Heart of Glass feeling very fairytale.. ish. Dreamlike certainly. The last ten minutes, as I recall, punched me right in the gut even after I spent the rest of the movie with my head cocked to one side thinking "huh?"

A shame I'm too lazy/tired to pop the disc in for a spin now before throwing in my inane two cents.

corym said...

In my particular rural cultural waste land, every art house film is essentially direct to video. I did a Net search for A Scanner Darkly. No theater within a two hundred mile radius was showing it.

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter,

Sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. My thoughts are with you on that one.

I know how you're feeling about mortality as my mother died unexpectedly in August.

Anonymous said...

Fairy Tale or Dream Quality - Eraserhead. Just picked up the remastered DVD to watch in the newly minted home theater - lovely, lovely, terrifyingly confusing, lovely.

Direct-to-video Masterpiece - Ripley's Game. 'Nuff said.

Just saw TCM: The Beginning, and was thoroughly appalled. Worked through the checklist of "events that probably happened prior to TCM" in the most boring, contrived way possible, then failed to deliver on the gore quotient (what happened to the awesome conscious-face-removal scene from the trailer? That was nasty) then finishing up with one of those hilarious "unstoppable killer teleports into the backseat of the victim's car" endings (see: Wolf Creek), the whole thing reeked of desperation. There's also no subtext to speak of; as I adore the original and the 2003 remake, all I felt was suffering.

Anyone watching Heroes? Also entirely subtextless, but I'll be damned if it isn't compelling viewing. This week's ending? Phoar.

Bill C said...

If anyone's interested, Pan's Labyrinth's trailer just went live - http://media.filmforce.ign.com/media/840/840477/vids_1.html

Sorry for not reviewing it post-TIFF, but I don't have the vocab for distaff fantasy that Walter does and figured I would just end up embarrassing myself. For what it's worth, think Spirit of the Beehive ÷ Labyrinth.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Loved Departed. Jungians would have a field day with this one. Finally Scorsese finds balls to end a film the way it should end. Most of his body-work ends with undeserved easters, given the fact that his leads don't match up to Jesus. One can only hope the same for Spielberg. Then again in his case, one can also hope for hell to freeze over.

jer fairall said...

Favorite straight-to-video film, if by-way-of-cable counts: Mike Nichols' Wit (2001). How Nichols' histrionic Angels in America got so much attention to Wit's none makes no sense to me. Probably Emma Thompsons' very best peformance, by far.

Also a big fan of Rodrigo Garcia's Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her from the same year. That one might have actually done a film festival run before doing the cable/video thing, but still counts. Gotta give it up to Ebert for putting both of those films on my radar (and the former on his Top 10 list of that year).

Chris said...

The power went out tonight at the movie theater I work at, leaving a sold out crowd for The Departed stuck with rainchecks and forty-five minutes of the movie left for next time.

I was reminded of the time I saw Spider-Man and the power died right as the Green Goblin dropped Mary Jane and the tram-load of innocents off that bridge.

The best direct-to-video release? Bring It On: All or Nothing!

James Allen said...

Speaking of direct to video, I just noticed that last year two direct-to-DVD versions of War of the Worlds came out just before Speilberg's. (I have seen neither.) Public domain is a fun thing, ain't it?

Jefferson said...

Bill: Thanks for the horror film index on the main site. A nice resource for genre fans, particularly as I go about putting together the annual Halloween roundup of fright flicks for my newspaper.

Bill C said...

My pleasure, Jefferson. I only wish there were a few more canonical titles in there; expect some additions before the end of the month.

Justin said...

Er--just how positive was the letter from Neil LaBute, anyway? Did he say, "Good point, Walter, I really am incapable of focusing on anything other than my own misogyny?"

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - no - Mr. Labute is extremely gracious. More along the lines of - "You take the time to think about the film even if you didn't like it. Thanks for that."

I thought TCM: The Beginning was grim and nihilistic in a way that I don't respond to. Departed, for instance, is nihilism that I do respond to. That's an interesting question to dissect, isn't it, what's "good" nihilism?

Occurs to me that my fave bit of B&W cinematography might be Howe's work on Hud. Though Man Who Wasn't There (Deakins?) is a lovely modern example of the art. Anyone know if that one was digitally B&W'ed?

Walter_Chaw said...

PS - seems as though Eraserhead fulfills both the best B&W cinematography and most-dreamlike categories. I'd like to offer up the director's cut of Legend, by the by, while Ridley Scott's in the air. Nothing beats Belle's first entrance into the Beast's lair in the Cocteau picture, though, it's f'in orgasmic.

Also, the opening of Taxi Driver with the rattle of percussions and then the parting of the steam curtain. The B&W of Raging Bull is pretty rapturous as well.

Anonymous said...

Nihilism with a point? That has something to say about the world, and why the world is the way it is? I didn't even bother with the subtext for The Beginning; my main gripe is just that it's a terrible movie, contrived and nonsensicle and rushed and flaccid. Even those who hated the TCM remake can't deny that it's effective.

Your review of the new Doctor Who (which, despite myself, I can't help but enjoy) is fantastic, dead on. I'd very much like to see a redo without Russell T. Davies, retaining Eccleston, and done seriously in the old serialised format. None of this slanderous "it's camp!" shit. However, I can't get behind The Woods at all. I'm a big fan of all of the obvious influences (Argento, Raimi, etc.), and it seems McKee's film wastes every opportunity it has to do something new or fresh. At that one point towards the end, it looks like the whole thing has been an exercise to get Campbell kicking ass with garden machinery once more, but it even squanders that. I don't understand the admiration...

Scott said...

Best straight-to-video?

Got to be SURF II: THE END OF THE TRILOGY...

B. Earnest said...

The Man Who Wasn't There was shot in color. You can find pictures online, and apparently there was a color DVD released in France or some place.

Re: Man of the Year review -- So I think I disagree that voting machine fuck-ups (or more realistically, heists) aren't a worthy target. Sounds like the crime of this movie (which I haven't seen and don't plan to) is its trivialization of the issue. Can you elaborate what you mean about electronic voting machines being a "pathetic target." If you read around a little bit on ES&S and Diebold and campaign contributions and proprietary code and the ease of internal hacking, etc, it comes clear quickly that electronic voting machines are the fulcrum by which this country was turned down the dark path we're crawling today. And these machines still spread like a virus, with local election commissions distributing marketing disinformation on their behalf. It's a big fat juicy issue -- the only issue, finally: whether or not we really have anything left of a democratic republic.

Alex Jackson said...

Hmmm. The evidence does look convincing against electronic voting, but I'm remaining skeptical; too much of the backlash has the foul odor of the technophobic grass-and-granola crowd. If there is a problem, and there very well might be, I still don't that it is inherent in electronic voting itself but in the monopoly of ownership and present design flaws et cetera.

James Allen said...

Sure, electronic voting can be corrupted, but not anymore than any other form of vote tabulation (and it's not like there will ever be some centralized national voting system, it will still be isolated at a local level). I agree with Alex in that it sounds like a more of a technophobic gripe, because no matter how we choose to vote or count votes, we, as citizens, need to be vigilant in making sure things are done right, if not, districts will become corrupted no matter if they use computers or slips of paper.

And it's that vigilance that is lacking in many places, and the problem is not so much voting machines but people being so disillusioned with politics that they don't care who wins (they're all corrupt) and they don't vote at all.

And by the way, the fantasy of some comedic "truth-teller" being the thing that will bring voters out of the doldrums is so smugly self-satisfied. It's the wet-dream of Jon Stewart fans who don't know any better. And to portray it using Robin Williams tired act (Monica Lewinsky jokes! How fresh!) shows that the people who made this film have no sense of currency whatsoever.

Chad Evan said...

Essential reading alert:
Everyone should check out Paul Schrader's excerpt from his abandoned book on the cinematic canon in the current issue of Film Comment. Although in the introduction he engages in some of the trendy "future of audio-visual entertainment" predictions that are so common these days, the essay itself is learned and highly informative. Based on Harold Bloom's book The Western Canon, he discusses the history of canon formation and eventually arrives at the question of comparative worth (based on Bloom's criteria of beauty, strangeness, and endurance in the face of passing time and repeated exposure) that I feel is of paramount importance in film criticism (and any criticism, really.)
As an index, the canon itself is listed--sixty films, one per director, divided into gold, silver and bronze levels--twenty films each. There are many of the usual suspects, as is expected, and the list is wide open to the typical anti-canon criticisms (only white and Asian male directors, for instance,) but there are also a couple of pleasent surprises, including Huston's film of Joyce's The Dead, The Big Lebowski.

Stephen Reese said...

I always feel uneducated offering comments here, but obvious dreamlike and fairy-ish choices for me are:

most Lynch
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
eXistenZ
The Hunger
most Miyazaki

Legend, of course...

And jeebus: the new Scanner Darkly, for sure. I felt so disoriented coming out of that film it took almost three days to lose the dislocation and paranoia.

tmhoover said...

You want dreamlike? Then Sergei Paradjanov is the man for you. Anyone who sees Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors or The Colour of Pomegranates will be transported, all right, into the mondo bizzaro world of a crazy Armenian dude who rewrote the rules of filmmaking to create phantasmagorias unlike anything else in cinema. Be there or be square...

Andrew Tracy said...

A valiant effort there, Travis, but I don't think that the Paradjanov Express will be picking up any passengers at this particular station...

Bill C said...

Um, whatcha tryin' to say, Andrew? That FFC stands for Filistine [sic] Freak Central?

Jefferson said...

Tuvalu weirded me out too, in a good fairytalesque way.

Ian Pugh said...

Just saw Man of the Year.

"If you tell a joke that stinks," Williams says, "and you put a laugh track over it, it's still a joke that stinks."

Wow. Self-criticism at its most unconscious.

On the contrary, though, Walter and Anon, I thought there was something very frightening, and very intelligent, about the grim nihilism of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. If the "backseat-of-the-car" ending could be considered an inevitability, hell, couldn't the entire film be considered an inevitability? It's a prequel, after all. Although I'll start things off with a SPOILER WARNING just to be safe, I don't think it would be spoiling anything to say that none of the Hewitt family dies, and that none of the victims of The Beginning survive.

However, I think that inevitability is what makes The Beginning such a tragic film. To slightly regurgitate what I said about the film in Alex's Scorsese post, while Hooper's Sawyer family is forced into human slaughter and cannibalism because killing is the only way they know how to support themselves, the Hewitts discover that killing people is how they find their grand-scheme "purpose." The destruction of their hometown is practically a blessing to them. After all, while its opening minutes (the 1939 prologue) are definitely overdone in its attempt to staple some origin stories together, it still shows its setting as something that has always been brutally disturbing. Perhaps the slaughterhouse closing and the fleeing populace put the final nail in the coffin, but that Texas town was always cut off from the rest of humanity. Even if Leatherface had not been picked up by the Hewitt family, how "normal" could he have possibly been?

(More "pertinent" spoilers ahead.)

It makes me think that its final moments, when Leatherface finally chainsaws the final girl, and the car goes plowing into the highway cop -- that's the most contact with "civilization" that Leatherface has ever had, and the furthest he's ever gone away from his home and the family unit. But the danger of the outside world -- a fear of the "Other" applied to the typical Other -- proves too much for him. Everything calls him back; his mind, his family, hell, even the very fact that his future has already been writ in stone by the existence of the original remake. There's something saddening and frightening about its final shot, then -- of Leatherface slowly marching back to the deep black comfort zone of his family, and his insanity.

I just wish that the current internet banner ads weren't marketing this like a sadist's paradise, citing a quote from The Los Angeles Times which describes the various body parts hacked away in the film.

Rich said...

I'll be taking that Paradjanov train - gonna give Shadows a shot.

Ian Pugh said...

Oh, and The Color of Pomegranates finds its place on my Netflix queue, for I have been intrigued. Thanks for the tip, Travis.

tmhoover said...

Good to see a few people aboard the Paradjanov Express. Next stop: cinema bliss!

Andrew Tracy said...

I happily stand corrected. All aboard, you lucky mofos!!

Jack_Sommersby said...

Walter,

My deepest sympathies to you and your family over your mother-in-law's ill health. May she kick that ailment's ass in spades.

Ian Pugh said...

Hear hear, Jack. All the best to the family, Walter.

Nice Marie Antoinette review, by the way. Seen Flags of Our Fathers yet? My reaction reminds me of yours on Marie -- although the autobiographical slant seems to lie in how sick Eastwood is of being called Dirty Harry.

Anonymous said...

As much as I like the site, you're going to start losing the faith of the readership if Walter insists on analyzing every film down to the atom and deciding the quality of a work almost solely on its intangible, in many cases obscure, subtext. I've seen both Little Children and Tideland; one of those movies is intelligent and recognizable, and one of them - at least Walter admits is - is unwatchable. Tideland jaw-droppingly boring, falsely languorous bullshit. A little perverse, too. And although I appreciate Walter's guessimate that screenwriter and director are, in some unspoken way, at odds with one another, to watch the movie you wouldn't read that at all (nor do you read In The Bedroom as a satire of tear-jerking melodramas).

There comes a point when a reviewer can't reconcile all that he/she has to say in 1,500 words, and ends up loading all the analysis paralysis on us, instead of a sense of: Does the movie work? Tideland doesn't work at all, nobody I know who's seen it thinks so, other critics don't think so, and I doubt Walter will ever see it again. So does it really matter what template it fits, or how subverts its own laws, etc? Walter really needs to become something even more valuable: A film essayist or historian.

Bill C said...

With regards to the influx of "anonymous" replies: don't be afraid to sign your posts, even if you're being critical of FFC.

Seattle Jeff said...

To the anonymous post, a spin on Obi-Wan...

Who's more critical? The critic or the critic who criticizes the critic?


I wish I could say that's one of my unfunnier posts.

Andrew said...

I agreed with Walter's review of Marie Antionette; I thought it was a very good comedy until it began to take itself too seriously and subsequently lost steam.

I also saw the Prestige. While I thought it was a more interesting movie than the Illusionist, it ultimately falls into the same fate by condescending to the audience in the end and explaining the trick. It really makes you wonder who is responsible for the ending and beg for a director's cut (perhaps ending when the ball rolls under foot before the final explanation).

The Captain said...

Slither review isn't loading for me - anyone else having any problems?

I usually log in as Anonymous because I'm at work, though I'm not the one responsible for the criticism up there, and I can't comment not having seen any of the movies. However, I did just see Alfonso Cuarón's new movie, Children of Men, which got an earlier release around the world than the US, and I'd say not to get any hopes up.

Walter, any chance of either a Saw III review, or some comments on the blog later this week?

Bill C said...

Slither review should appear now, thanks for the heads-up. Been having upload issues all day.

As far as the Anonymous thing goes, that's exactly why it helps if you at least sign your posts. Otherwise Anonymous becomes one giant, contradictory, antisocial consciousness. I think Matt Seitz over at "The House Next Door" started moderating comments in part to keep the unsigned ones out of his blog.

I wouldn't get your hopes up about a Saw III review, but who knows?

Alex Jackson said...

Well, of course if we didn't have the anonymous option it's likely that nobody would ever criticize anybody out of fear of the repercussions.

On the other hand, said repercussions are not really that severe. I've found that we're a decidedly forgiving and forgetful group. I've managed to keep my neck out of the hangsman's noose so far anyway.