June 29, 2006

Book In Progress

So, this is the revised art for our upcoming Annual. You like? Lodge Kerrigan, Steven Soderbergh, and the folks at Magnolia Pictures recently gave us their blessing to pay tribute to Keane's indelible one-sheet; this was the first cover concept that I felt captured the ineffable flavour of a year that was ultimately bittersweet for us and cinema in general.

We're aiming to have the book available for purchase by August 15th. There's more exclusive content this time around, including previously-unpublished reviews of 9 Songs, Prozac Nation, L'Intrus, and The Future of Food. Circle the date and save your pennies--but in the meantime, if you have any last-minute suggestions, speak now or forever hold your peace.

And don't forget, the 2005 edition is still on sale. (See our main page for a list of retailers.)

Last but not least, in case you missed them, reviews of The Devil Wears Prada, Eraserhead/The Short Films of David Lynch/Dumbland, and Valley of the Dolls are now live at the mothersite.

June 24, 2006

The Trench

Long, eventful week as a lot of threads came together. My coverage of the Denver Film Society’s Asian Film Festival, at least for me, closed the circle a little on the unpleasantness between myself and that organization that began with my criticism of their International Film Festival on these very pages (culminating in some sad back-and-forths between friends at the Society) – it’s not closure, exactly, but a feeling that at least for my part, I want to get on with a professional working relationship even if personal relationships can’t be salvaged.
The Asian Fest is awesome even if the films I saw weren’t all keepers. It stinks of honest intentions and that’s increasingly a rare and valuable commodity.

On a panel a few months ago at the Vail Film Festival, I was asked if it was difficult or, truly, even possible to separate myself from the people that I worked with in the industry – and of how those relationships shaped my opinions and criticisms. If you’re human with reasonable social skills, you make friends along any road you take and no less so this one. You try to maintain objectivity but sometimes you just have to take a pass. At FFC, the unofficial best practice has always been that I log a review before I go to interview someone for the first time, thus leaving the review untainted (for good or bad) by my personal impressions of the makers.

It works out fine most of the time – particularly since I stopped just taking interviews with anyone who came to town – but there were a couple of times (
Peter Hedges
, for instance, who I hit it off with well enough so that when he read my ambivalent-hostile review of Pieces of April, he fired off an angry and hurt missive to the studio requesting, among other things, that I not be allowed access when I was to discuss his film at a public screening) where me not being an asshole to someone resulted in some confusion, on their part, as to what my role actually is in this relationship. Film’s are personal things, and not just for their creators, so personal in fact, that they’re almost like psychic babies.

As to the confusion, though: join the club. The role of film critic in this society is muddy beyond muddy and not for the reasons of “what is quality” that we’ve already worked over like a tasty bit of gristle we just can’t bring ourselves to spit out. As Bill linked below, director Wayne Kramer’s (and his frantically sycophantic interviewer’s) agreement that critics should have no opinion nor personal bias but, rather, be publicists for the film, is a tiresome and troubling thing. (Even though his film, Running Scared is one that I like and will be reviewing in a few days.) More than the words of some pinhead who can’t take a hit, though, is the plain fact that the majority of people believe that critics should be objective reporters and, even more perverse, that good critics ever are. The fallacy of our news media, in fact, is this illusion of objectivity – far better to know where the writer stands than to have the reporter pretend not to have a stance at all.

It brings me to more news: a documentary series has been greenlit by the Denver Public Library for this August with me at the helm – the first time I’ve had so much say in a program offered by this branch. The lineup: Keep the River on Your Right, Rivers and Tides, Brother’s Keeper, Bright Leaves, and
and I’m excited as hell to dive into the mix. If you’re in Denver in a couple of months, it’s going to be a fun ride.

Also upcoming, a single night wherein I get to show my Laserdisc of Fearless at the Gilpin County Library.

Saw Superman Returns at a closed screening and cried through a lot of it. Saw Click at a regular matinee and, ditto, though not for the same reasons. Have a screener of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance that’s burning a hole in the back of my head; watched Underworld: Evolution and. . . really liked it; watched Aeon Flux and. . . really didn’t; and watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof three times back-to-back-to-back one late, late night because it’s actually just that good. In a roundabout way, it spurs the question of the F/X moments in film that you found to have the most positive impact in terms of atmosphere, story, even character development. For me, I still love the giant cardboard ball from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first kill in Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the tractor beam matte and dual suns in Star Wars, Vermithrax Pejorative in Dragonslayer, and the genius-level splatter in John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly.

Hosted a screening/discussion of Howard Hawks’ Ball of Fire, speaking of underseen/ill-revived: the story of a stuffy professor (Gary Cooper) who finds love in the arms of a tough-talking dame (Barbara Stanwyck). It’s an inversion of the Snow White myth (and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves can be seen on a theater marquee in one brief background), and an inversion of the Pygmalian myth, too. Shot by Greg Toland (the year he did Citizen Kane) and written by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett as their last assignment as just a writing team (Wilder sat on the set to observe Hawks’ style during the shoot as a kind of training camp), it’s a collision of legends in one of the great years (1941) in Hollywood history. Doesn’t make it a masterpiece, but it ain’t chopped liver, sister.

Here’s this week’s screen capture (I’ll tally the totals next time around):

Hot off the presses (62606)
Superman Returns
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
and Alex rides wild

June 23, 2006

The Most Uneventful 100th Post Ever

Sorry for the radio silence on FFC's end this week. Speaking for myself, I've been toiling away on the book, putting the finishing touches on an upcoming David Lynch omnibus, and re-watching the entire John Hughes canon for reasons to be elaborated upon at a later date.

But it's business-as-usual at the mother site, with Walter's coverage of this year's Aurora Asian Film Festival finally going live, Tennesse Tuesdays continuing apace, and Travis slaying Click.

Off-site, everyone's buzzing about THE ONION A.V. CLUB's recent list of "Classic Movies It's Okay to Hate." Some truly sacred cows tipped therein, though nothing that sent my blood pressure through the roof. I hope this becomes a recurring feature there, otherwise we might just have to steal the idea--not that the designated classics have ever had a free ride at FILM FREAK CENTRAL.

Aw hell, let's steal the idea informally: what piece of IMDb Top 250 bait can you just not get behind?

June 14, 2006

The Trench

Monday found me and the family on the Georgetown Loop railroad, an old, narrow-gauge steam-line running about an hour outside of Denver that takes the scenic route up a 4% grade to Silver Plume. Reminding me a lot of my affection for the HBO series “Deadwood” and a lot of my father, too, who used to love to drive up to Georgetown to fish in some pond or another; usually with my sister because I was too busy doing whatever it was that I did. At the risk of getting maudlin all over the joint, the jaunt was in honor of Father’s Day, grabbed while I had a few free hours because there was no guarantee that I would later in the week (shades of dad, again, I’m afraid). At the hale old age of 33, I do assess a lot what’s going right and what’s going wrong in my life – after all, if I follow in my pop’s footsteps, I only have twenty-one years left to do whatever it is that we do.

Did a speaking gig at the tiny Lone Tree library this last ten days, introducing and discussing the lovely Italian film I’m Not Scared. I wrote when I saw it first a few years ago that it was a remake in spirit of Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter and watching it again, I’m left with a similar feeling. The theme of the blog today seems to be fathers and sons. For my part, my boy is having a tough time with colic so I’m not sleeping much – it melts the days into the nights into the dreams into the realities. I’m in the uncomfortable situation all the time now of wondering if I dreamed a conversation or had it: completed a piece or just fantasized that I had.

By the time I finally pound out a review of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ later tonight, it will have been, no kidding, the third time I’ve written it in my head. You’re not going to be able to tell.

Went to a screening of the abominable Lake House last night with a crowd that had it all figured out in about five minutes, flat, which should be all the warning any sentient being needs – went to a screening of Nacho Libre today where a guy in a Mexican wrestler’s outfit, spewing pidgen Spanglish, threw t-shirts and posters into the crowd. I was offended before the film started, in other words, and then 80 minutes of caveat for little white kids to start saying retarded things in Pancho and Cisco accents. I’m sick of fighting this fight – the film’s not even funny.

Tonight found me at the Denver Public Library’s central branch, introducing and moderating a discussion of a lively screening of Howard Hawks’ you-have-to-see-it-with-a-crowd, Bringing Up Baby. Howling laughter throughout, making it a grand experience and the conversation afterwards, with a clips show that I’d had the rare (for me) foresight to prepare beforehand, going deeper into the particulars of the film. We even touched on the Darwinian theories of the piece – far above and beyond the basic “How’d they get the leopard to fight Asta” stuff. In preparation for the event, I did listen to Peter Bogdanovich’s commentary on the Warner’s DVD which, between his bad imitations of Grant and Hawks, proved only minimally-edifying. His crowing about how much Hawks liked What’s Up Doc made me want to stomp a mudhole in his ascot.

Had a brief conversation with friend and colleague Tom Delapa before the Lake House screening, incidentally, about Godard’s
Week End while offering a few comments to an audience member after the I’m Not Scared screening about Bunuel’s Viridiana - leading me to ask the question of which film that you love do you find that elicits the most mystification? Not horror and repulsion, but just big giant question marks and demands for clarification (like me standing like the RCA puppy before Napoleon Dynamite’s giant cult of personality).

Dead Man is the one for me: that seems in large part to be one where you hear the music or not.

Here’s the capture:

Hot off the Presses (61606)

Hey. Got a mention in the
Hollywood Reporter. Anybody got some shades I could borrow?

June 05, 2006

The Trench

A slow week in between speaking engagements coupled with the opening of just one major film (the bleak The Break-Up) offers a lot of time for me to catch up on my DVD queue as well as screen six films for Denver’s Asian Film Festival. It’s something (the fest) that’s shaping up to be pretty special: a small program to be sure, but the place to be in this state’s capital the last three years or so for progressive cinema. The International Film Festival couldn’t/didn’t get Kim Ki-Duk’s Hwal, but the Asian Fest did, and if it’s not as great as Kim’s other films, it’s also being judged to a higher standard to begin with. My expectations are higher when I see a film by a favorite, even an admired, director. I never claimed to be objective. Who can?

The festival selections this year didn’t blow me away otherwise, but it’s got its heart and mind in the right place. The battle between art and commerce has been decided for years now – especially in the programming game – but the honesty with which this one’s been put together is heartening.

Watched and finally wrote a longish piece on David Lynch’s Eraserhead – every time I see the film reminding me of the first time I watched it a couple of decades ago, now, as a young pup not knowing what he was in for. For the longest time, my conversation about the film went hand-in-hand with The Evil Dead as pictures that affected me mysteriously. The refuge of youth was deriding the production values and the “stupidity” of the products – the reality of it was that they both kept me up at night, grabbing the sheets and sweating it out. Each time I’ve come back to the film (about once every couple of years), it’s been with a different eye and watching it this time with two kids, a mortgage, and a scary sleep debt, it finally clicked for me what it’s all about. Again. Amazing piece of work – and available in an excellent, finally widely available, DVD.

For leisure, watched Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s astonishing Pulse again after finding it at the markout bin of the local vid store for $3.99. If you haven’t seen it, it’s got a lot of thoughts in its head; finding good company in K. Kurosawa’s roster of brilliant, existential horror flicks. “J-horror” has become a devalued term lately with all the remakes and such, but look up Kurosawa’s stuff for a glimpse at what it means to be a culture where the worldview is so unremittingly nihilistic that Hello Kitty! is the only thing mutant cute enough to offer respite. A few images of the picture are indelible (SPOILER) the airplane going down behind a building, the cozy communion with the black streaks on the walls – the ludditism elevated to religion and why not? Technology hasn’t done the Japanese any favors. The ultimate suggestion of the film is that it hasn’t done any of us any favors. With films like these in the world, it does make one wonder what the hell one’s doing sitting in front of Cars and Da Vinci Code on a Saturday night. It’s scary, sure, but it’s scary because it’s smart – and more, it’s filmed with real tension and patience. This isn’t a picture that relies on jump scares: it’s a picture that relies on the placement of objects within the frame, the use of translucent scrims to cut off parts of the screen, the angle of cameras placed just so that a hallway receding into a near distance can be watched by the audience but not the characters.

Films that Polanski would make if he were young and Japanese.

Also watched Uwe Boll’s jaw-dropping Bloodrayne which comes packaged with the PC-version of the Bloodrayne 2 video game which I’m declining to play, having seen the film. I thought a long time about the obvious comparison of Boll with Ed Wood, but have decided that the critical difference is that at least Wood thought he was making great films.

Nanny McPhee is a surprise; a few more Tennessee Williams adaptations managed to stun (Richard Brooks deserves a serious critical revival – but Jose Quintero, not so much). Has there ever been a gayer non-gay film than The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone? That’s not a bad question to pose this week, come to think of it. Warren Beatty as an Italian gigolo reminds that there but for the grace of god goes George Hamilton. His turn in Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass that same year is seminal stuff for all its melodrama – I can’t wait to write about Mrs. Stone. Anybody have a good lead on a laserdisc for Mickey One, by the way?

Also watched Anthony Hopkins in Magic (prepping for it by watching the Von Stroheim-starring 1929 weirdo flick Gabbo the Great), and Jennifer Grey in the “Tales from the Crypt” remake of I Walked with a Zombie, Ritual. One’s surprisingly good. No fair peeking.

Bookmark Alex's review of
Irwin Allen's '70s disaster cycle
, by the way.

Here’s the screen capture – David H., your prize package has been delayed, but will be on its way by Tuesday: I promise it won't have been worth the wait:

Hot off the Presses (666):

Our Tennessee Tuesdays continues with John Huston's bazoom Night of the Iguana while we sort of mourn the death of F/X godfather Arthur Widmer, the inventor of among other things, the blue-screen process. I was sadder to learn of the passing of character actor
Paul Gleason
who, no matter all the roles he played throughout his career, will always be Principal Vernon for me.

Hot off the Presses (686):

Pixcars, get it? Yeah, me neither.

Internet Video Roundup

I admit, I have a weakness for musical montage. One of the earliest things that I learned about filmmaking is that you can’t have set piece after set piece. Take away nothing but the high points and you’re left with a plateau, which is the very definition of boring. Put in some breathers in-between the screamers and whatdyaknow the screamers retain some of their original punch. I take this sharing of internet videos fairly seriously, this is my chance to play with VJ-ing and show you something cool and when I did something like this back in February, I intentionally attempted to space out the musical numbers just a tad. Here I’m afraid, I just didn’t find anything non-musical that really jumped out at me. Any of these as part of a proper piece would work great, but here I’m afraid all the musical stuff will wear you out.

I briefly entertained the idea of including a hard-core hidden camera sex video I saw on Fuct.com; but honestly most of the stuff on Fuct.com is too far down the rabbit hole even for me and it was boring to watch anyway; much too boring to support the meager point I wanted to make in including it. Same with the Steven Colbert roast, which you’ve probably seen already. Other than that, this is pretty much it.

commercial for the Italian beer Peroni remakes Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, filters out a lot of the irony, even recasting the fleshy Anita Ekberg with your typical stick-of-supermodel, and works terrifically anyway. That works on levels I guess, an unironic remake of La Dolce Vita as a beer commercial; but I suspect madness awaits anybody who skips down that road. As is, let's just admit that they got those titles just right.

Fake movie trailers have become en vogue ever since The Shining Recut, most of them really dreadful. The fairly well-done but stupid Brokeback to the Future created a whole series of imitators, skipping over themselves to make fag jokes about the presumed gay subtext in some of the new classics. However,
Ten Things I Hate About Commandments, a trailer that repositions The Ten Commandments as a silly high school comedy a la Never Been Kissed, is the first to really challenge the crown of Shining Recut. There are moments near the end that embarass with their stupidity, but generally speaking this trailer is too sophisticated to go for the easy bait of the film's blatant homo-eroticism. Instead it spins the gayness into a celebration of the boyishness that has become a sexual ideal in the 21st Century. And of course on some level it acts as a fairly on-target critique on DeMille's dialogue and Candy Land cinematography.

Speaking of gays and the Bible, my one calm bit in the storm is this
Hannity and Colmes interview with Shirley Phelps Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps who leads the Westboro Baptist Church of Godhatesfags fame. They put her on the air because her church is protesting at soldier's funerals saying that this is how God is showing America that he is displeased. Setting aside questions of how valid this is theologically (if God is showing his wrath by killing soldiers what is Hell for), Roper seems to believe deeply in her cause and is considerably more at peace with herself than either Hannity or Colmes and thoroughly humiliates her interregators. I'm reminded of Oliver Stone's comments about the Geraldo Rivera interview with Charles Manson. If anybody's belief about religion can be proved empirically wrong hers can; but both Hannity and Colmes are too vapid and plastic of talking heads, too full with vanity as to the rightousness of their position, to ever engage her on her level. She comes off as nuts no doubt, but Hannity and Colmes don't have the moral intelligence to provide a viable alternative. God forbid the Antichrist ever have to schedule an interview on the Fox News channel.

And speaking of talking heads and the end of days, this
video editing George Bush sidebites into the lyrics of John Lennon's "Imagine" might be the coolest thing I've seen on the Internet in some time. Lennon's fairly straight-forward peace song is transformed into a tragicomic tone poem of nihilism. There are no possessions and no religion in the post-apocalyptic wasteland Bush envisions for America. The video plays like the nation's final twitch of the death nerve. Brilliant protest cinema.

Faces of Meth is just plain heartbreaking; showing before and after photos of those who found themselves in the lure of the white man's crack. Exploitive toward those photographed, no doubt, but if you place morality of viewing over what can be gained by experiencing it, you've come to the wrong place. What really gets at me is that these aren't attractive people to begin with, but they had something in them goddamit, that's nonetheless destroyed forever. I've always thought it as being a bit of an antidote to pessimism of the Bush Remix video; it's saying that no matter how far down you've gone you still have something to lose to despair.

I apologize for the speed of Ebaums and the political ramnifications of using them. Most other sites hosting the video include a really stupid chaser that always killed the mood for me.

June 02, 2006

A Hazy Friday Evening

So I'm sitting here struggling to cast my despair over the appalling Date Movie into words when I look over and see a couple of David Lynch DVDs, some Bill Wellman westerns, and a box set of Robert Altman rarities in my short stack. It dawns on me that I have bigger fish to fry before I fuss over any in the barrel.

But I have to ask: is the fat suit the new blackface? It seems like whenever we want to make a point about obesity these days, whether it be derisive (see: all those "Friends" flashback episodes featuring a bloated Courteney Cox) or empathetic (see: Tyra Banks' hilariously narcissistic investigative reports in which she went undercover as a fatty), we'd prefer to transform a slim young creature into a sumo wrestler than show honest-to-goodness corpulence. (It's the less threatening option because it allows us to think of fat chicks as a mythical, costumed menace, like one of the Universal monsters.) Of Date Movie's countless crimes against humanity, the one that sticks out in my mind is an early sequence in which the shameless Alyson Hannigan (left) bounds around town in a fat suit to the beat of Kalis' deafeningly ironic "Milkshake" while various horrified onlookers all but harpoon her. For millions of overweight Americans, Hannigan is now Al Jolson--and this is their "Mammy."

And speaking of rotund redheads, correct me if I'm wrong, but the following exchange from Harry Knowles' interview with M. Night Shyamalan about the upcoming Lady in the Water needs no annotation:

KNOWLES: ...I’ve heard that you have a film critic-type character that’s living in this apartment complex. Is that true?

SHYAMALAN: Yeah, the movie’s about how we relate to this story that’s being told and there’s a very kind-of cynical person in the building who relates to it on that close-minded level.

KNOWLES: Somebody that I talked to told me that he’s somebody who’s always trying to second guess where their story is going, and it just sounded fun to me. The playful poke at some of your critics out there.

SHYAMALAN: (Japanese school girl-esque laughter) Well, let’s say this, I’m definitely not playing it safe in this movie (more laughing).