September 28, 2008


This year marks the fifth anniversary of my dad’s death – and the fifth year that I haven’t properly mourned him. No time, no time, no time cries that little white rabbit in my head and it’s to the point now that it’s physical – something lodged in my existential craw. After Dark Knight, I physically could not write a thing for a couple of days; something I couldn’t squeeze around anymore. It’s when I realized that I wasn’t writing to journal anymore. That my shit had gotten impersonal. So I made a decision to get personal again. It’s taken a bit to get gears used to static on the go again and if you can feel the creaking, there’s the reason, but I’m back, bitches, hope I’m not gone long again.

Paul Newman’s death is shaking. I was more personally traumatized by the death of Roy Scheider, though, and I think that it has a lot to do with my not understanding Newman until I got a little older and got ahold of Hud and The Hustler and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - all those movies where he played fags and rapists and long-time losers that facilitate their girlfriend’s rape and suicide. Hardly matinee idol stuff, but that was Newman, right? One of the two or three most beautiful people to ever flicker on that luminous scrim and choosing to play assholes and miscreants (Cool Hand Luke, Hombre, and his Lew Archer and on and on and on) – that’s integrity. His films are the tumult and displacement of the sixties; he’s the sixties. Forget about bullshit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting - Newman was fucking steel, man, the s’truth unfiltered.

Anyway, I didn’t get Newman until I was well on my way to becoming an old guy. I got Scheider right away. Jaws, French Connection, 52 Pick-Up, Sorcerer, I understand Scheider – even Romeo is Bleeding, right? But Newman? Newman had to wait until I got smarter so what I feel now is intellectual. Still hurts, though.

Here’s a hypothetical. If you could have had the chance to ask Newman five questions in an intimate sit-down. No follow-ups, no groundwork, you’re in a terminus station and that guy’s waxing the floor and half the lights are off and holy crap, it’s Paul Newman in the overstuffed opposite. Five questions. Make ‘em count because it looks like he’s waiting for that eternal coachman to offer him a leg up into the coach.

Now here’s the other hypothetical – same situation with, say, Charlie Kaufman, what the hell.

Anyone here read Joe Lansdale’s The Drive-In? Movie prospects?

Suffered goddamn Nights in Rodanthe the other night – I swear to god that in between stuff like that I fool myself into believing that the world isn’t packed to groaning with assholes that like Nicholas Sparks. I really wish Lane would be in more stuff like Unfaithful and not stuff like Under the Tuscan Sun. Am I alone, too, in really liking Richard Gere? Best Gere film? That Ed Norton thing where he really, seriously, hits it out of the park without stealing the hog Ed’s carrying off to the truck.

Listening now to Loose Fur and these Radiohead b-sides that I found floating around the ephemera – anyone tried out that “Reckoner” thing on iTunes that lets you mix the song to your own tastes? Crazy.

September 27, 2008

Little by Little, the World Changes...

Paul Newman is gone.

More to say when we can.

September 25, 2008

Revenge of the Talkback (Update)

We did these pretty regularly for a spell, and with the mothersite generating a lot of content lately, now seems as good a time as any to revive the Friday Talkback--especially since everybody's pretty well-represented this week.

Review roundup:

More coverage of this week's theatricals may trickle in; until then, have at it.

UPDATE (09/28/08): Well, your enthusiasm seals it: that's the last time I try to revive this shit. Anyway, a heads-up that our Festival Index has finally been not only updated--I can't believe there were no umbrella links to Alex's Sundance coverage before this--but also overhauled; you can now find links to every scrap of coverage we've written about various film festivals since the site's infancy, a makeover project that was long overdue. (I myself tore my hair out in frustration just trying to find some of this stuff.)

Now to fix those Links and Bios pages!

September 14, 2008

Mute Witness

As threatened, a few stream-of-consciousness thoughts on Charlie Kaufman's latest...

When Synecdoche, New York premiered at Cannes, I remember being annoyed by how feeble the critical coverage on it was. But I get it now. This is a film I'm hard-pressed to describe, let alone review in depth, after just a single viewing. I can say that I see why Kaufman kept this one for himself rather than entrusting it to Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry—it's so dense and cryptic that it would be nigh uninterpretable by anyone but the source. Kaufman is a pretty meat-and-potatoes director, all things considered, but there are so many idiosyncrasies built into the material that it's stylish by default.

The film itself suggests an X-ray of a self-loathing artist's soul (he wrote without any intention of qualifying it). A miserable theatre director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) receives the MacArthur Genius Grant and what he does with it transcends mere navel-gazing: he erects an exact replica of his life in a cavernous warehouse, eventually hiring actors to shadow him and his inner circle. (Synecdoche, New York reaches some mad crescendo when the boundaries between representative and actual realities have blurred such that doubles for the actors themselves start cropping up.) Once Kaufman started taking his games off court, so to speak, for instance by casting Emily Watson as Samantha Morton—the two are often mistaken for each other offscreen, and are certainly doppelgangers here—I found myself wondering if even Kaufman/Hoffman was a planned coincidence. That’s the kind of insanity this movie breeds.

The term “Lynchian” is bound to come up a lot in reviews of the film and for once it's not inappropriate (and moreover not an insult to Lynch). Yet I suspect it will still be misapplied to Synecdoche, New York's surreal humour when it more accurately describes its existentialism; the picture is nothing less than a distaff Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire, climaxing in a quiet apocalypse worthy of Week-End's closing title declaration: "END OF CINEMA / END OF WORLD." This is not to accuse Kaufman of making a pastiche—indeed, he might be the only other American filmmaker to whom these nested narratives come naturally.

Bottom line: Synecdoche, New York is hilarious, heady, intoxicating, heartbreaking, and more than a little maddening.

I saw another film at this year's TIFF that I feel woefully unprepared to write about without a second look, Astra Taylor's Examined Life. A rebuttal of sorts to What the Bleep Do We Know!?, it may be too broad for its own good (Taylor literally asks a handful of noted philosophers (Cornel West and Judith Butler among them) to spout ten minutes of arbitrary rhetoric apiece and calls it a documentary), but it's as compulsively watchable as its animated counterpart, Richard Linklater's Waking Life. It's also so linear and compartmentalized that it feels like the first filmed blog, with viewers destined to take its scene transitions as unconcious prompts to complete the cycle of interactivity in public forums afterwards.

(This post dedicated to the memory of David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008.)

September 07, 2008

TIFF File (Up Up and Away'd)

The stars don't tell the whole story, of course, but for quick reference purposes, here's a rundown of everything I've screened so far @ this year's TIFF, followed by brief commentary:

    • Gigantic (d. Matt Aselton) - **
    • Synecdoche, New York (d. Charlie Kaufman) - ****(?)
    • Adoration (d. Atom Egoyan) - *
    • The Wrestler (d. Darren Aronofsky) - ***1/2
    • Not Quite Hollywood (d. Mark Hartley) - ***
    • Examined Life (d. Astra Taylor) - **1/2
    • Two Legged Horse (d. Samira Makhmalbaf) - **1/2
    • Rachel Getting Married (d. Jonathan Demme) - **
    • 35 Shots (d. Claire Denis) - ***1/2
    • Gomorrah (d. Matteo Garrone) - ***
    • Lorna's Silence (ds. Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne) - ***1/2
    • The Girl from Monaco (d. Anne Fontaine) - **
    • Derrière moi (d. Rafaël Ouellet) - **1/2
    • A Christmas Tale (d. Arnaud Desplechin) - ***
So far I appear to be in the minority on Rachel Getting Married (the praise-by-way-of-Altman comparisons must have Altman turning in his grave) and Lorna's Silence (pretty much said it all in my capsule). On the other hand, I'm slowly coming around to the positive consensus on Cannes Grand Prix winner Gomorrah: its title a play on the Camorra, better known as the Mafia, the picture is about the trickle-down effect that organized crime has had on an industrial Italian city not unlike "The Wire"'s Baltimore. But if "The Wire" too often betrayed its gritty authenticity with platitudes and contrivances (in the show's defense, I think viewers ascribed a documentary realism to it that the creators themselves, telling a modern Greek tragedy, never actively pursued), Gomorrah is told at such a clinical remove that it actually made me feel a little sociopathic for how frequently disengaged I was by it all. And yet, I'm finding it has a half-life greater than almost anything else listed above. Go fig; just wish I could find a way to articulate that paradox.

Feel free to discuss "True Blood" in this thread, by the by; seems to be the non-TIFF highlight of the week. Viva Anna.