February 28, 2007

M.I.A. on D.V.D.: "Two for the Seesaw"

Now that I've finally received my boarding pass to the 21st century (i.e., the Canadian bastardization of TiVo), I find myself habitually trolling the airwaves for anything noteworthy that hasn't been released on DVD in North America. Hoping to make this the first of many mini-reviews of absentee films, but we all know how that usually turns out.

*1/2 (out of four)

st. Robert Mitchum, Shirley MacLaine, Edmon Ryan, Elisabeth Fraser
sc. Isobel Lennart, based on the play by William Gibson
dir. Robert Wise

Less a movie than the connective tissue between Robert Wise's West Side Story and his The Haunting, Two for the Seesaw begins like the former, with baroque urban vistas that diminish the normally imposing Robert Mitchum against Manhattan skyscrapers and various Modern Art monstrosities. The city is curiously ghostly, almost post-apocalyptic, and from this we extrapolate the Mitchum character's lonesomeness--though maybe, just maybe, Wise has an ulterior motive for all that negative space, since the movie permanently headquarters itself inside suffocating tenement buildings thereafter. (It does grimly feel, in retrospect, like one last stroll around the courtyard before a stay in solitary.) Based on a William "Not the Guy Who Coined the Term Cyberspace" Gibson play that's allegedly a comedy, Two for the Seesaw eventually pairs off square Jerry (a self-consciously miscast Mitchum)--a lawyer, we come to learn, from Nebraska--with archetypal Greenwich Village pixie Gittel (Shirley MacLaine, who exacerbates comparisons to The Apartment, especially once Gittel falls ill). They bond over a tentative phone call Wise shoots in splitscreen by sandwiching the two sets together and dollying out--a visual that, however clever (it probably cinched veteran cinematographer Ted McCord's Academy Award nomination, as it really exploits 'scope's potential in a world increasingly inhospitable to roadshow spectaculars), unfortunately clamps the material to its stage roots, albeit while foreshadowing the parlour tricks of The Haunting.

Despite overtures, though, I don't think you can call the ensuing relationship a romantic one: for starters, Jerry and Gittel never, to my recollection, kiss; for another thing, Jerry is less a lover than an overprotective father, infantilizing Gittel so much that you half expect him to burp her. (According to MacLaine's autobiography, her dynamic with Mitchum was just the opposite offscreen.) The obvious age gap between the two actors doesn't help, nor does the natural polarity between bureaucrats and bohemians, nor does our newly-conditioned sensitivity to the stalkerish manner in which Jerry conducts himself (he makes a habit of spying on her and even backhands her when she attempts to stoke his jealousy), which retroactively transforms Two for the Seesaw from ersatz Billy Wilder into a primordial New York, New York. If anything definitively sinks the movie, however, it's the tediousness of Jerry and Gittel's club-footed pirouettes around their True Feelings, which seem disingenuous to begin with. Two for the Seesaw is, quite frankly, one for the cinematic dustbin.

Next time: The Private War of Major Benson

February 23, 2007

Friday Talkback (02/23/07)

FFC fiddles while Britney burns:
Hard to believe the Oscar (whoops, am I allowed to use that word?) telecast is just days away. I suppose we should talk about them, but for some reason I'm feeling more apathetic about the whole circus than ever before.

February 15, 2007

Friday Talkback + "What Goes Around Comes Around"

Extra! Extra! Read all about:

Finally some Fellini, huh?

In the meantime, has anyone seen the despicable video for Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around ...Comes Around"? Another sweeping epic from "Wake Me Up When September Ends" faux-teur Samuel Bayer complete with opening titles (the credit "written by Nick Cassavetes" might as well read "not written by John Cassavetes," given the pathetic attempts at Papa John's verisimilitude), this 9-minute X-ray of Timberlake's petty little head single-handedly justifies every knee-jerk bit of vitriol I've wanted to spew at him. Here's the premise: claiming to have already met her no-talent assclown quota for the evening (she motions to her "date," Shawn Hatosy), a blonde, noirishly-attired Scarlett Johansson--on whom one-time fan Glenn Kenny recently closed "the iron door" for this betrayal of her gender--spurns Timberlake's advances; proving he is the true inheritor of Vanilla Ice's mantle, Timberlake basically tries the drop-the-zero-and-get-with-the-hero approach, which, though the chronology is difficult to parse, apparently works, as just a few shots later he's making out with her. Scarlett subsequently does what any sensible woman would do after coming in direct contact with Timberlake and submerges herself in the nearest body of water, an act of Karen Silkwood self-preservation that JT immediately annuls by jumping in the pool after her.

Then the blind chimpanzee holding the camera has fun with the incongruity of au courant Timberlake--whose co-opting of black culture is so comprehensive that he's annexed LL Cool J's lip-licking tic--in a Carnival of Venice mise-en-scène and the AVID stutters out that Scarlett and Timberlake have become an item, that Hatosy is actually a close acquaintance of the two, and that Scarlett is a chubby-chaser with eyes for Hatosy. Timberlake is livid when he discovers his best friend and his best girl snogging in a stairwell and tries to beat up both until Scarlett, through the magic of lazy editing, manages to get in her car and drive away. The jealous Mouseketeer pursues her in a high-speed chase that ends with Scarlett spinning out of control into a flaming wreck Bayer oh-so-cleverly match-cuts with some fire-eaters back at the club. As Timberlake surveys the scene and cops a feel of Scarlett's corpse, the song's titular refrain adopts a malicious chuckle--and starts to conspicuously sound, in its passive-aggressive way, like an O.J.-ish warning to JT's on-again/off-again paramour Cameron Diaz. (Again we see that no black icon is sacred to Timberlake.) Indeed, this video confirms he was far too juvenile to be dating a woman ten years his senior in the first place; if nothing else, the hermetic seal of fame only seems to have made him less accountable since he commemorated his Britney Spears break-up with a stalker's lament ("Cry Me a River"), the video for which has him trashing an ex-girlfriend's pad in bullet-time then spying on her as she takes a shower. I've really had enough of this dick in a box.

February 08, 2007

The Trench

Fresh from a screening of Norbit.

You know what I think? I think that Indiana Jones 4 (release date now set for May 22, 2008) finally coming to fruition isn’t a result of David Koepp finally coming up with something good enough for Spielberg/Lucas/Ford to agree on but rather the result of age and the leaden aggregate of encroaching dementia intersecting in this perfect storm of complementary senility. It’s the plateau on the line graph where the blue line of functioning grey matter junctures with the red line of filthy lucre. How about Indiana Jones and the Money Tree. I want to be proven wrong – which of course makes me the stupid one.

There was a Hannibal Rising screening in Denver and I wasn’t invited to it. There was a time that I would’ve been stung by this instead of grateful.

It does clarify something though in regards to how studios are starting to feel about critics. After 2006 which set some kind of record for the number of films that went unscreened – 2007 starts with “exclusive” screenings that filter out guys like me who just write for a website and talk on a radio show (combined audience: about 4 million). We also have two books in print. It makes me wonder what the criteria is, now, for being “official” enough to merit an invite to this jewel in MGM’s February crown. So is it more hubris to think that it’s personal or that it’s not?

Into Season 4 of “Six Feet Under” and it just rocks. Reminds me that I did an interview with Lili Taylor a couple of years ago that never was transcribed.

Did speaking engagements in conjunction with screenings of Streetcar Named Desire, Baby Doll, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for the Denver Public Library’s Tennessee Williams film series. As part of the overarching program of The South, also did a seminar on early Black film (James Whale’s Show Boat, Song of the South and Edge of the City). Coming up: Suddenly Last Summer and Night of the Iguana. Lamentably, no Boom!.

Best time? Seventh Seal at another library. This Friday will see me doing 3-Iron, this Saturday will see with Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood - then Breathless, Blow Up, and Aguirre: The Wrath of God. Also doing the Russell Crowe The Sum of Us. Busy couple of weeks.

The Seventh Seal, besides being the best Bergman film (Persona a close second), is also where the wife and I got the name for our daughter.

Sitting in the audience with a bunch of yahoos doubled over at the spectacle of Eddie Murphy fucking himself while Thandie Newton (how many Oscar winners/nominees are in this thing?) and Cuba Gooding Jr., further debase themselves. Something you wouldn’t have thought possible after so close an association with Pauls Haggis and Hogan, respectively. Norbit is like a Madea picture. It’s so hateful towards Asians that most of tonight’s audience didn’t know a joke was intended. Murphy plays a chink in this one, too, by the by – how wonderful that he’s resurrected his career.

I hope someone shoves his Oscar up his ass in a couple of weeks.

Watched, @ home, Trust the Man and The Last Kiss - I had to take an hour-long shower after. I wished I had a brillo pad and Lysol. I wished, irrationally, geekily, that a Monty Python foot would take care of either Zach Braff or Paul Haggis or Julianne Moore’s asshole auteur husband or, in a concession towards economy, just me. Anyone have an idea of what to call this genre of overwritten, smug, skeezy, adult contemporary pap?

(the punchline, of course, is that our daughter is named "Augustos Bloch")

Finished Dan Simmons’ The Terror today. It’s astonishing. Immediately ordered his Ilium and Olympos from Half.com. I sort of knew Simmons about ten years ago when he and I frequented the same little bookstore of horrors in Arvada. I still have a nicely-engraved Song of Kali from that period – who knew that a pristine copy of it would fetch a pretty penny now – at the time, all I knew was a neat story that Harlan Ellison told at the writing seminar I took from him about discovering Simmons at a different writing seminar that he taught and that this Simmons guy, who liked to name his short stories after lines from Eliot, was a guy that I liked a lot. I hope and fear that they make The Terror into an HBO mini-series one day. If you have a quicksilver couple of days: pick it up.

Currently reading a Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams to augment my upcoming speaking engagements: Currently listening to The Good, The Bad, and the Queen’s first album, Shawn Colvin’s dazzling cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, and a lot of Emily Haines.

Watched Babel again to make sure that I didn’t miss something the first time.

Glad we didn’t do a Bottom Ten list because it was due before I had seen Trust the Man and The Last Kiss.

Bart Freundlich - that’s that bastard’s name.

February 06, 2007

CanCon Confidential #1

In an attempt to raise the profile of Canadian film just one iota more, I hereby begin regular reporting on the films I've been screening at the Film Reference Library and from various alterna-video sources. Feel free to chime in if there's a title you'd like me to hunt down.

ONE MAN (Robin Spry, 1977) ** 1/2
The first fully-fictional film from docu-hybrid director Spry (Prologue), this makes a shaggy dialectic of NFB social conscience and tax-shelter era sensationalism. Len Cariou is a TV newsman who runs around chasing gun-toting gangsters; he stumbles onto a story when a nurse reveals the slow poisoning of her children's hospital by the polluting factory across the street. This naturally occasions some chasing, some manly soul-searching and a variety of threats and payoffs from the company at fault. One can see the documentary background in the unbroken takes and uncontrolled mise-en-scene, as well as the awkwardness with Hollywood tropes; still, it gets points for trying, plus there's Jayne Eastwood on hand as the long-suffering wife.

WHY ROCK THE BOAT? (John Howe, 1974) ***
This is straight-up, non-radical filmmaking all the way, but it's surprisingly polished and seems to know wherof it speaks. Stuard Gillard is the virginal greenhorn who gets a nonunion job at "the worst newspaper in Canada"; he then must navigate the meanspirited publisher, the macho reporting staff, and his crush on Tiiu Leek, a communist who writes for a rival paper. Based on a novel by Montreal Gazette veteran William Weintraub, it has a firm footing in its postwar milieu and seals the deal with its well-drawn (and somewhat coarse) characters.

WHY SHOOT THE TEACHER (Silvio Narizzano, 1977) ***
Another straight-shooting memoir movie (this time from Max Braithewaite), Teacher features Bud Cort as the naive schoolteacher who gets sent to rural Saskatchewan during the depression; not only do they refuse to pay him in anything other than food and IOUs, but the kids prove, shall we say, rather alienated from their lesson plans. Well-shot by Narizzano, and with a nice sense of see-sawing sympathy from Cort for the townspeople he at once hates and feels for. With a nice turn by Samantha Eggar as a war bride going stir-crazy.

SKIP TRACER (Zale Dalen, 1977)***
This could very easily have collapsed into imitative camp, but Dalen has a sense of his own vision rather than Hollywood's. David Petersen knocks it out of the park as a debt collector who's having a crisis of conscience; he's been the agency's biggest earner for several years running, but he's sick of the racket and the constant plaintive cries of the people he victimizes. Things go downhill when he tries to teach a younger charge the secrets of the business and turns him into a heartless prick. Wobbly in spots, and that apprentice sure has big hair, but the film has real charge thanks to Petersen and a genuinely acid sense of capitalism and its discontents.

Next: past masters discussed.

February 02, 2007

Friday Talkback (02/02/07)

Déjà vu all over again. This is one of those rare weeks where all of us have submitted something for your reading enjoyment:
Next week: the final lap of Alex's Sundance coverage.