December 31, 2005

In Memorium

A note that the FFC mutha-site is going unofficially “dark” until next Saturday. The first extended blackout in our eight-year history, I think. And while this blog will be active in the interim, we’re putting a card in the window (pushing our Top Tens as well as reviews of Match Point (**1/2/****), The New World (****/****), Caché (****/****), and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (*1/2/*****) one week into the New Year): not “gone fishin’” but sort of licking our wounds.

We’ve lost a member of the family: Bill’s father passed away yesterday. It was sudden: a cancer undiagnosed for three years took mortal hold a week ago, and now before we had a chance to readjust to it all, he’s gone.

Bill’s the heart and soul of FFC – without him, the gears don’t turn. Our hearts are broken. And while movies can be a wonderful way to escape reality, sometimes reality catches us. It can be a sonuvabitch that way.

So we’re taking a week with the new updates – but tomorrow night, I’ll be here with a new Trenches – talking about the best performances of the year (take a look at Reeler’s fairly brilliant Top Ten Top-Tens – which had me until they offered up their suggestions of what should be on the year-enders instead. Stick to the snarky ombudsmanship, boys), and a little of what 2006 might have to offer the beleaguered Silver Screen.

December 26, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

Here we go into the last week of the year – no screenings really the week leading up to Christmas (there was one for The Ringer, but I stayed home – will catch up with it in the second runs) and a pretty light schedule leading up to the New Year. Most publications have gone ahead with their Top Tens, but in the interests of completion, there are a few key titles out there that I wanted to screen before feeling comfortable with making a list this year. Two in particular, Werner Herzog’s The White Diamond and Song Il-Gon’s Spider Forest have piqued my curiosity: the former a unanimous choice on Slant Magazine’s year ender, and the latter sounding like just the kind of flick I dig – and both are available on DVD through Netflix. Watched both last night – more on them in a second. I also might have a chance to catch Tropical Malady which has gotten some play both at Slant and the Onion AV Club – and wanted to try to catch that, too.

Zero Hour, in any case, is sometime in the evening of the 31st. Call it anal retentalism if I'm a little late.

A few lists that I’ve read (one, in particular, that Bill pointed me to at a particularly ridiculous film site), are comprised entirely of films that have only gotten play on the festival circuit or, as I like to say, on the side of a camel, projected by the grace of match-light and crank. (The comment on one? “I like your choices, despite the pair of American narratives” – referring to Miranda July’s Me, You, and Everyone We Know and Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale.) It’s the kind of airless stunt that defines “elitism” to me, not as a celebration of and indulgence in good taste, but as a means by which to squeeze all the joy out of going to the movies by making it a pursuit based in large part on classism and intellectual bigotry. You have Ebert on the one side, saying that a piece of shit is at least a great piece of shit, and then you have a certain faction on the other side that says anything made by an American with a story is a piece of shit. It’s the kind of person that fights too long and hard about Stan Brackhage never acknowledging that at the end of the day, avant-garde is, 99% of the time, more interesting as a theory than ever in practice. Talk to me about ninety-minutes of mushroom-prints deposited directly on film and I’m game – show it to me and my eyes roll up into the back of my head as my stomach tries to jump up and throttle my brain in self-defense.

I don’t know if these guys are kidding. But you have to wonder.

The White Diamond is exceptional – the kind of thing that you’d call a return to form for Herzog meaning that it’s good in a way that’s so predictable that it doesn’t feel bracing. That is, if you think that genius can ever be off the cuff. I’m comfortable saying that it’s nigh indispensable viewing, but even so, I felt like the wires were showing too often in this tale of a man obsessed about building a lightweight airship to explore the rainforest canopy in search of herbal remedies and undiscovered species of both flora and fauna. Seems a colleague of his had died ten years previous in a similar experimental flight (something he retells in a haunting passage), lending the quest that air of Herzogian mania – and along the way, our favorite Bavarian madman finds a couple of supporting characters (especially a dude named Marc Antony Yahp who could be the most relaxed man on the planet) that delight with their eccentricity. When the lights go out, though, it’s Herzog eternally as the craziest guy in the film which makes his work at odds with Errol Morris in that one crucial element. Herzog is the inmate, Morris the asylum. I’m glad I saw it – I still like Grizzly Man better.
Spider Forest is an a-linear genre exercise that sort of reminds of Jacob’s Ladder and Memento, but points more to a South Korean tendency to flavor all of their films with a core humanity and genius-level of intuition about what it’s like to be in and out of love. Graphic violence, graphic sex, gorgeous cinematography, and a central conceit so simple that it would seem trite if I told it to you – it all boils down, like Jeong Jun-Hwan’s Save the Green Planet! did except with a lot of children in a montage on a street, to one scene between two children in the titular forest. Spider Forest is a David Lynch picture with the “Freud” turned down a few notches (despite the image of spider’s webs and the unconscious) – an exploration of the captured image, of television tabloid journalism, and of how to make a film out-of-time and space with heart and its share of lawless moments. It also has one of the year’s best single moments in a conversation between two kids, lost in the winter at night, and only one of their breaths is misting. Only this film industry at this time could make a sickle to the nose, business end first, the centerpiece of a heartbreaking tableau morte.

But anyway – eggnog all around, and out with it folks – best of 2005s, and the bottom, too. Overlooked films, underrated ones, too. Also curious to hear your favorite performances. Me - I'll keep mostly mum until next Saturday (or thereabouts, he says cryptically as though anyone gives a shit) but will enjoy reading guesses as to FFC's compilations. Just to keep score, there are 32 films in contention for mine. (Hint: one of them is not The Family Stone.)

I’ve already written the introduction so no fear of contamination when I ask you also to articulate what you see as the trends: macro and micro, in film this year. Also, comments solicited on the usefulness of lists including only films you’ve never heard of before and will never get to see versus films everyone’s heard of and would have to be blind in a dirt hole in Nepal to not see in some form or another in the next year.

With The Captain and Chad-E the first two winners of the FFC caption contest – we embark on version 3.0 this week with this little beauty. Good luck.

December 19, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

With under two weeks to go now until FFC’s Top Ten, we find ourselves lagging well behind Roger Ebert’s Top Ten Part of that has to do with wanting to see everything before making any kind of decision – something that’s a luxury really only for Ebert who has full access to every single thing that had an opening date anywhere in the United States in 2005. It’s disheartening to me, then, that Ebert uses that extreme ease of access to champion mainstream (or indie mainstream) pictures while relegating documentaries, animated films, and “overlooked” pictures to their own oddly equivocal categories.

When he says that Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is “one of the most delightful films ever made” – something in my gut wonders first if he’s high, but next why, if it’s worthy of that kind of hyperbole, isn’t it in the Top Ten alongside a few pictures that, presumably, were not/could not also be ten of the most delightful films ever made. Or could they? It’s not that there’s a difference of opinion so much as there’s a lack of consistency and an ideological schism wherein the best “overlooked” picture of the year is suddenly not so overlooked if Ebert would only bump a stillbirth like Me, You, and Everyone We Know or Yes off his list. How is it that Miranda July’s film qualifies for the big leagues, anyway, while Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane is ghettoized somewhere south of the tropic of who gives a shit.

I want to start with number seven, though, Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives that I’ve seen a couple of times but haven’t written on (the only one of Ebert’s ten that I’ve seen and am not on the record for) – a series of nine vaguely interlacing short films about nine different women that counts two as genuinely excellent, one as genuinely awful, and the rest filling in the gray areas in between. A good cast including Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Robin Wright-Penn, a couple of the ladies from “Deadwood” (and Ian McShane in a wheelchair), Dakota Fanning, and on and on go through their individual motions of regret and fury. Issues revolve around infertility, long lost loves, abuse, women separated from their kids, and women separated from their husbands – the best of which the same segment that Ebert identifies: a cautious, heartbroken orbit around open wounds between Wright-Penn and Jason Isaacs, that ends with one kissing the other’s belly.
In a just world, it would win the two supporting actor Oscars – if it were a film by itself, it would be one of my top films of the year. The other great segment is the first one, involving a middle-aged woman in prison, dealing with a visit from her young daughter. But, alas, there’s a lot of dross in here.

I’ve had it with Fanning, though – I mean, she’s preternaturally creepy and all, but that doesn’t mean that she should be shoehorned into anything just because she’s available. There are limits to the best of actresses and if I have to hear that forced giggle (make up your mind, either she’s a middle-aged woman trapped in the body of an eight-year-old, or she’s an eight-year-old – you can’t have her doing her alien shuck and then ask her to act all silly – the only thing that Fanning can’t do is act her age) again, I’m going to get up quietly, and leave the theater. Enough’s enough. If I had to rate it, I’d go for 2.5/4 – it’s like the Rebecca Miller flick that never was which means that it’s just good enough to make you wonder why it’s not better.
But more on that ideological schism: I question, seriously, if these picks reflect the ten films that Ebert thought were the best of the year or the ten that he thought were the best for him, politically, popularly, to choose. More troubling, maybe his top ten are films that he believes you need – which would be fine except that he so underestimates “us” that it’s insulting. The write-up on Crash, in particular, mentions Asians and homosexuals in the film’s pantheon of fabulized minorities, but unless he’s talking about a different film than the one I saw, the only Asians in it were horrible pastiches denied redemption. (Rent, another film whining about equality and acceptance, has as its only Asian a glimpse of an Asian businessman in a strip club.) You can make an argument about 2005 being the year that gays got a lot of positive exposure – but unless you’re talking about the mess around Memoirs of a Geisha, the slants got the shaft again. In any case, Crash was a lot of things, but it wasn’t a battleground for these two groups and so, in the writing, I do begin to question the progress of the essay.

The suggestion, though, that Syriana is “apolitical” is close to the mark though nothing to be proud of; but then I have to confess to being flummoxed by his suggestion that “Syriana argues that in the short run, every society must struggle for oil, and in the long run, it will be gone.” I don’t agree. Well, I agree, but I don’t agree that Syriana is about this at all – from what I could tell, Syriana uses some ideas as a backdrop to the central issue of family that becomes the beginning and the end of the discussion. I don’t know if it’s liberal or conservative to say that you should spend more time with the kids, but that’s all that Syriana seems to be saying. (Also, Matt Damon "sells" his first son for $75m not $100m - it's the second son that gets the century mark.)

When you read Ebert’s review
he tells you that he doesn’t understand how everything fits and then proceeds to make suppositions about what he thinks the film might be “saying” about the amorality of the oil business. There’s a quote in the sidebar, it’s a speech from the film about the role of corruption in world affairs and it ends with the line “Corruption. . . is how we win” which a lot of people have equated with Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is good” – one such person mentioned it in Ebert’s Answer Man column and so Ebert transcribes the speech in its entirety on his site. Have to say that the phrase is as good for describing this administration as the other was for the Reagan, but see, that’s me being a liberal sort of guy writing a liberal cheap shot about a middling review for a film that is, yep, apolitical. It is, and here’s me making a supposition, another film that Ebert thinks will make people better for having seen it.

Just like Crash, which is essentially apolitical, too.
Just like Brokeback Mountain. First thing (after “gay cowboy”) that people say about this film is that it’s beautiful. Well no fucking shit. Give me a camera and a day in the American West and I’ll come home with a goddamn postcard collection. It’s just not very good and only the fifteenth, twentieth film I’ve seen sort of like it (though it’s surely the prettiest). The only reason it’s a breakthrough is because the zeitgeist is ready to wonder how it is that Bush Jr. won another election (besides the fact that he was running unopposed). Pick up Prick Up Your Ears or My Beautiful Laundrette - or, as Bill suggested to me the other day, the Rimbaud flick Total Eclipse starring Leo DiCaprio and David Thewlis, buggering one another in the altogether instead of discretely, and in beautifully-worn denim.

Here’s another liberal take: the Democrats would stop getting mudholes stomped in them if they quit massaging the “apolitical” pump. I don’t think the democratic leadership are “flip-floppers”, I think they’re a bunch of fucking pussies.

Then there’s Yes which posits the theorem that the projection of film imitates the function of the eye while presenting everything in rhymed iambic pentameter. It gives people so inclined a lot of room to thrill to it, but at its essence it’s a class piece about the “invisibility” and wisdom of the working class (and the gentle mysticism of the Lebanese), Millions, a British fable about a dim child and the Catholic pantheon of saints, ends in Africa somehow with our heroic child relieving drought and famine – and then there’s Munich - a film I haven’t seen but now worry about. Even more worried than I was already, even. So five (maybe six) of the Top Ten are obvious middlebrow equivocations to hot-button topics that they pretend to address and the sixth is directed by Steven Spielberg.

Crash is a race melodrama using racial stereotypes that, regardless, reserves its harshest punishment for African-Americans;

Syriana is a modern intellectual potboiler about the oil trade that never mentions Iraq or the current administration (the head of which got his start in a couple of failed oil businesses that, mysteriously, turned tidy profits);

Brokeback Mountain is a gay cowboy movie that treats homosexuality like a chaste situation comedy;

Yes is pompous orientalism of a more discrete kind than Memoirs of a Geisha;

and Millions, besides being inspid and over-directed, is ultimately horrifyingly paternalistic;

And all of them, presumably, are films that Ebert believes you’d be a better person for watching. Thank you, Roger. Of what’s left, I’ll show my hand and say that Ebert and I are going to agree on at least one of these films (Munich’s the wild card) – and that I really liked Junebug, too, especially Amy Adams who’s good enough in it to deserve a look during awards season.

I do wish that he’d clarified which scenes he thought to be so risky that the “tightrope might break” – but maybe taking that tactic would have alienated the very audience he presumes and so condescends to. Populist, middlebrow, and after a while, I’m the one who’s an idiot for being disappointed year after year.

We talk a lot about Ebert around here, but the question I want to pose is what compulsion governs us when we recommend a film to someone else? Is it the desire to improve them as people? Something else, altogether? For me, it’s the desire to examine an experience and to learn through conversation and debate about that examination, more about myself and how I perceive myself in the world through the prism of art. Recommendation or not, in fact, just the act of writing on a film (if the film is really thought-provoking) provokes in me a kind of introspection that feels like a good therapy session. It is, in other words, essentially selfish. So is that better or worse than Ebert’s proudly-worn evangelical altruism?

Watched the original Producers on its new DVD last night and it’s just all kinds of sucks. I remember liking this a lot when I was twelve – but I’m just old enough to hate it now and not old enough to like it again. It’s stupid, reductive garbage, and this from a guy who not just loves Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety, but respects them, too. That the update is that much worse says volumes about how miracles are still happening every day.
Also watched the first season of “Project Runway” in one compulsive sitting: it’s the first reality show since the first season of “The Apprentice” that I actually enjoyed without a lot of guilt and, when all’s said and done, I think it’s better. It’s a show about product, and sweat, and inspiration instead of twelve monkeys in a glass cage with one banana. I believed it was about a functioning meritocracy – maybe I was duped – I’m going to assume that I wasn’t.

I thought of a lot of ways to handle a three-way tie with one to go in the event that one of the three doesn’t get the “tiebreaker” – but I’m thinking what we’re going to do is call it “first to three” – good luck, freaks, and let me just say that I’m not just a little bit impressed and intimidated that after that first screen capture, I haven’t had to give out one solitary clue.

Hot off the Presses

Bill tackles the DVD write-up on the mercurial Fox's screener of Transporter 2 and I tackle, with no little squeamishness, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Back from a screening of Munich and I like the words but not the music. Somewhere along the line, I felt like I stopped learning anything and in a film this didactic, that's poison. The idea that it's a bad thing to trample our ideals in the defense of them is, obviously, especially given the week or two we've just had in national politics, a topical one - and as far as it goes, it's better at saying what it has to say than Syriana - but it finally succumbs to its doubling tropes and matching shots. I mean, the weight of them is friggin' huge - you'd have to be Atlas not to be crushed beneath their aggregate compulsion. It's a movie that I sort of respect, I guess, but I wanted to be enthralled, captivated, outraged - I wonder if it's the film's fault that these little revelations start to feel mundane.

Not even an oblique little reference to The Conversation won me over.

Bill does DVD heavy lifting by actually watching Must Love Dogs just to see how it looks and sounds in your living room, and Travis is a Godzilla fan. Gozilla: Final Wars.

Hot off the Presses (12.20.05)

Two new releases, two new disasterpieces: Jim Carrey's desperate and useless update of Fun with Dick and Jane and Adam Shankman's Cheaper by the Dozen 2 - both of which with a shot at a certain end of year list, but getting a lot of heat from my realization that with one star, I may have tragically, tragically over-rated The Family Stone.

Hot off the Presses (12.22.05)


Plus, Travis' love for The Jazz Singer is on the rocks. I do appreciate his quotation of J. Hoberman's brilliant Vulgar Modernism (which we haven't reviewed, but is well worth a blind buy). Hoberman, by the way, also didn't like Munich - here's his review.

Hot off the Presses (12.24.05)

The tweaked and twisted, pulled and taffied drive-in double-feature of Wolf Creek and Hostel - two films that I'm beginning to suspect are heralding a new subgenre of the slasher flick. More than just the traditional "raped by nature (or the naturals)" movie, these films (along with Open Water) seem to have something else on their minds. We'll be watching with interest to see if this develops into something to chew over - just the Saw series by itself might perpetuate the trend. In a real way, these are the children of The Blair Witch Project.

And, of course, I'll be curious to see what QT and Robert Rodriguez come up with next year with their own double-feature of atrocity.

Travis, meanwhile, tackles The Nutty Professor: the one Jerry Lewis picture that I've seen more than a few times, and the one that's always given me the ever lovin' heebie-jeebies. Even before I knew who Dean Martin was.

Hot off the Presses (12.24.05 late)

Another reason to stay home this Christmas: The Producers. See, if they were going to just film the stage production but pretend it was a movie, you should sit about a quarter of a mile away and use opera glasses. It's a nightmare.

December 13, 2005

The Most Insipid Poster of the Year

In preparing templates for upcoming reviews, I came across this, which has to be the ugliest one-sheet for a romantic comedy since Runaway Bride's. Completing the desexualization of America's Sweetheart (can Mannequin 3 be far behind for the now navel-less Jennifer Aniston?), it conveys nothing so much as contractual obligations of the 'Kevin Costner's head must be ⅜ bigger than Mark Ruffalo's' variety. And it commits the cardinal sin of reusing the film's title in the tagline. The colours, the composition--looking at it genuinely makes me nauseous.

Hot Off the Presses (12/14)
A double-dose of the Chaw with his takes on Syriana and the barely-released (for good reason) The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

Random Shit
This entry marked The Film Freak Central Blog's 50th post.

Hot Off the Presses (12/16)
Travis Conquers the Martian, Part 6: The Errand Boy. Walter does the hat-trick from Hell: The Family Stone, Loggerheads, and The Dying Gaul.

December 12, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

With the end of the year about three weeks away, time is tighter than my top pants button and I’ve been getting a few emails from studio reps wanting to know when the drop-dead date would be for me to screen a film for end-of-the-year list consideration. Which tells me, if nothing else, that folks are paying attention and so let’s spend the next couple of weeks here on the worldwide blogosphere, working our way to the New Year’s Eve unveiling of FFC’s annual top ten list. Haven’t seen Spielberg’s Munich yet, the last film that I’m genuinely curious about – and I also haven’t seen Transamerica which represents the last, best hope for a solid Best Actress prospect not only because I really like Felicity Huffman, but because she plays a man. Should be a shoo-in. This time of year, there almost aren’t any small movies that screen for us anymore: screens are suddenly in short supply, see, so a lot of the arthouse hopefuls might as well be mud in the middle of the country for all the attention they’ll be getting. Squeezed out, as they say. Still, managed to watch screeners of the excellent Touch the Sound and the, let’s say not so excellent Loggerheads - the latter a film I’ll probably write with The Family Stone which I also have not seen but get a little gastric just thinking about.

Thanks to Alex for mentioning Ebert’s “thumbs down” for Memoirs of a Geisha on his show. Didn’t stop it from doing gangbusters in limited release this weekend, however – and the article in this week’s Entertainment Weekly interviewing all three of the main actresses, successfully glosses over any hint of a controversy with one, dismissive, sentence. Chronicles of Narnia also did excellent business (close to 70 million, I think). Anyone see it? Save your money for King Kong.

Let’s start with the top ten moments of the year which occur irrespective of whether or not the films that they belong in make the Top Films cut – also without me having seen everything of course and with me having the habit of forgetting shit. Brain like a sieve, swear to god. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for some time now – thinking, in particular, of a scene of Samantha Morton dancing in Code 46 that has stood out in my head as something I wish I’d had a place to go on about independent from the review. Wish there was room for Stephen Chow dipping the little mute candy girl in front of a Top Hat poster in Kung Fu Hustle.

10. The Steamer crash and T-Rex and Bronto and Snake Pit and Kong capture and Empire State sequences from King Kong
9. A walk through a picnic ground by Dina Korzun in Forty Shades of Blue
8. The train on fire from War of the Worlds
7. The montage detailing the hero’s life of humiliation in Save the Green Planet!
6. When Choi Min-Suk eats a live octopus in Oldboy
5. Wes Studi touching a piece of topiary in The New World
4. Amy Adams masturbating and about 9 months pregnant in Junebug
3. When our heroes finally make love in 3-Iron
2. Steve Coogan putting a hot chestnut in his pants in Tristram Shandy
1. When Damian Lewis takes Abigail Breslin to the bus station in Keane

While we’re at it, let’s do the bottom ten, too:

10. When Obi-Wan Kenobi turns his back on his “best friend” Anakin as Anakin lies, dismembered, burning, and very much alive in Episode III. So much for the grace and forgiveness of the light side – the weak sisters earned everything they got – and Lucas finishes shitting all over his legacy.
9. When Terence Howard’s lovable pimp soul-kisses one of his bitches in Hustle & Flow
8. When the kid lives and when the cop sees the wife in the car in Crash
7. When Heath Ledger closes a closet door containing the fetish object of his secret love in Brokeback Mountain
6. When Bambis attack. Ring Two.
5. When Susan Sarandon launches into her soft shoe, post-boner joke, at her husband’s wake in Elizabethtown
4. Mimi’s resurrection from Rent
3. When Anton Yelchin pulls Tea Leoni’s plug in House of D in the easiest, most suspect and consequence-less euthanasia since Million Dollar Baby’s
2. The can’t rape the willing scene from Derailed.
1. When gramps and granny and, honey and sonny boy show up on the steps of that goddamned Boston brownstone. War of the Worlds.

Not much time to read this week, but been listening to a lot of John Lennon to commemorate the old boy’s passing. Lots of Leonard Cohen, too – especially the song “A Thousand Kisses Deep”.

Here’s capture six of seven – we got a tie here between Jack S. (2), Chad E. (2), and Tim R. (1). Not too late, but it’s getting there.

On the muthasite, check out Bill’s DVD addendum of Joss Whedon’s Serenity while Travis assaults the soon-to-be-remade Fun with Dick and Jane and, in case you missed it, finds something to like in Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man.

Hot off the Presses (12.12.05)

Alex struggles with Shirley Temple - marking him as human - and her Curly Top, Bill adds a DVD addendum to Valiant (to what? precisely) and here's the review for Peter Jackson's awesome King Kong.

December 04, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

Somewhere in the minutes before the screening of Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana, I leaned back, smelled the smell of stale popcorn, looked around at the half-dozen or so local press assembled, took a sip of the eyebrow-melting coffee provided us, and had one of those rare moments where the clouds clear and you realize how lucky you are. The gig is undignified for an Internet writer: we’re afforded a minimum of respect from the studios, the movies tend to be bad, and the audiences that we’re asked to sit with too often show themselves to be rude. But what I really dislike is feeling angry and red, like an exposed nerve.

Film Freak Central is a comfort – but with this last little blowup between myself and the Denver Film Society over their 28th film festival has inspired me to begin to look into projects locally that might actually change the things that I bitch about around here all the time. Your friends only listen to you whine for a while, after all, before they start handing you quarters and therapists’ business cards. I realized that part of what was bugging me so much this year was that I was waiting around for the Film Society or something like it to give me a call and they never did. But why should they?

So in that spirit, took several meetings this week, called in a couple of favors, made a lot of phone calls, and I’ve lined up several different lecture/teaching gigs with various non-profit organizations around the state in the next month and for the remainder of 2006. That means I’m spending a lot of time tonight putting together programs to appeal to wildly divergent audiences. It’s the most fun I’ve had in months. I can’t change the world, but I can shut up about it long enough to introduce some organized film appreciation where there wasn’t any before. What the hell, right?

Between the stuff I’ll be doing and the stuff that the Denver Art Museum does with their film series (programmed by pal Tom Delapa) and Howie Movshovitz’s monthly Tattered Cover film series – the dream is that in Denver, there’ll finally be an option at least one night every week of the year.

Stay tuned to FFC in the New Year, too: team strong like bull.

What kills me about Syriana is that Clooney almost eats himself to death packing on the pounds so that he looks like a slovenly, middle-aged schlep, and his body looks just. Like. Mine. So on the one hand I can finally say that my body looks like Clooney’s, but on the other hand, I’m putting the Eskimo Pie back into the freezer.

The film itself is overstuffed, too – I’m reminded of a very nice Anne Sexton poem called “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator” that I’ll reference here instead of the review so the vocal segment of FFC’s casual readership that hates it when I reference poems won’t have their heads boil and pop like zits. This is the last stanza:

The boys and girls are one tonight.
They unbutton blouses. They unzip flies.
They take off shoes. They turn off the light.
The glimmering creatures are full of lies.
They are eating each other. They are overfed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

It’s hip, it’s got a beat, and you can’t dance to it because it’s onanistic liberalism. Lots of targets, all presented pretty well in a shorthand, flip sort of way (and lots of speechifying, too) but at the bottom of it is this message that says “give up” and “be nice to your family because it’s the only thing that you can control.” The penultimate scene in Traffic is the Michael Douglas family going to an AA meeting, right? Most of the criticism of this film has been along the lines of it doesn’t have a heart – bologna – there’s a dead kid, a broken marriage, a reconciliation, an absentee father and an emotionally-vacant son, and on and on, woven in and out of all the broadsides at macroeconomics and the very fundamental non-secrets of how the world works when no one thinks that you’re watching. It’s got plenty of heart, it just doesn’t have any surprises.

Wrote the Memoirs of a Geisha piece finally – it’s long. Disturbed a little by Ang Lee’s recent comments on it – disturbed about his comments on Brokeback Mountain, too, come to think of it.
His thoughts on Geisha are essentially “who cares, the girls are good” – and while I’m not saying that he’s wrong, I’m sort of wishing that a Chinese-American as visible as Mr. Lee would offer at least the illusion of having spent more time coming to his opinion. I’m also not pleased with his takedown of Stephen Chow.

In a case of the world shrinking, this very blog has gotten mentioned in places like Variety’s website and IFC’s, too, for weighing in on this Geisha business.

Working on a piece on Edward Scissorhands to coincide with its fifteenth anniversary, and it’s kicking my ass. Still, I should be done before the Chinese make their moon landing. There’s something going on in that flick with the casting of Anthony Michael Hall as the bully: it’s an interesting, heartfelt piece of work.

Watched Asif Kapadia’s The Warrior: a film about faith and blood set in feudal India, the best scene in it one where a man has a vision in the desert and, when he comes out of it, we see that there is snow packed in his footprints. It’s not bad. There were moments, in fact, that I felt like it was on to something truly holy in its extended silences and bottomless, heartbroken implications. Miramax bought the rights to this film four years ago and it’s just now finding a very limited release in the United States. Also finally caught up with Ong Bak: Thai Warrior which is, oddly enough, the second film this year I’ve seen about Muy Thai Boxing. Some of the stunts and the fights are pretty amazing. Not so amazing is a Thai motorcycle-taxi chase and the thin plot, dialogue, and performances.

Was sort of cruising Box Office Mojo’s ytd charts
and noticed that Chicken Little has done terribly overseas. Why would that be, do you suppose? I just can’t get my head around this shit. Guess I’d be a helluva lot richer if I could.

Read Bill’s DVD write-up for Cinderella Man and my not-very-good-but-there-you-have-it review of Dario Argento’s classic The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

Jack S. has two, Chad E. and Tim R. have one apiece, making this screenshot important. And #5/7 (2.5):

Hot off the Presses (12.5.05)

Read Travis' outstanding take on Powell/Pressburger's Tales of Hoffman and rejoice as FFC finally enters the Criterion age.

Watched the highly-anticipated Outback slasher flick Wolf Creek today and, fellas, it stinks. It's got the vibe of High Tension, but without all the nasty subtext that I felt redeemed Aja's flick to some degree. It didn't make it "okay", but it made it worth a conversation - but shockingly, Wolf Creek doesn't even have any kind of sexual undercurrents. There might - just might - be something in here along the lines of the transgressions of city mice in the land of the country mice (Deliverance, Hunter's Blood, Southern Comfort, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn and so on) - but even that's so undeveloped that it lands as more of an accidental afterthought than anything else. Best comparison is to Open Water - only without the gratuitous full-frontal nudity.

Hot off the Presses (12.6.05)

Here's my review of Memoirs of a Geisha and a new DVD addendum for the packed Lion's Gate 2-disc uncut edition of The Devil's Rejects.

Hot off the Presses (12.7.05)
Long day: saw a screening of Terrence Malick's The New World and. . . wow. Gonna' have to sleep on it, but I loved it, all 160 minutes of it. Farrell isn't the star so much as Q'Orianka Kilcher is and then she's only the star so much as she's an evocation of Malick's omnipresent nature. I was offended at first by the old Noble Savage shuck and jive until I realized that it was Malick reflecting 16th century attitudes and that the truth of what he was representing betrayed a different truth. . . Anyway - gonna have to sleep on it.

Also saw Eli Roth's new film, Hostel which is a lot like Wolf Creek, but more sadistic. Puerile, pointless, and artless: it's homophobic, misogynistic, and just as dangerous and juvenile as a fraternity hazing - it's a depressing time for slashers. All this the night after watching and addendum-ing The Devil's Rejects which is, no kidding, really beautifully done - especially by comparison.

Here's the review for The Chronicles of Narnia 1.

Hot off the Presses (12.9.05)
Just saw King Kong. Big, operatic, sometimes stunning, always heartfelt. Kong is king, baby.

feed the beast (the beast is hungry) - buy Film Freak Central's 2005 Annual
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