November 29, 2007

The Beginning of a Screamin' Mad Odyssey

So I've been leaving a lot of "Drafts" across the THE FILM FREAK CENTRAL BLOG 's administrative pages lately, trying to cobble together some cohesive thoughts to instigate discussion. But I've come up flat in the last few months--a particularly messy endeavor was trying to form cohesive thoughts about "Final Fantasy VII" and its undeniable link to Vertigo. When I find the time, I'll probably just play through the game again and give it the old college try. Until then, however, allow me to announce my intention to embark on a self-reflective odyssey in the form of a short diatribe.

I just saw Southland Tales, shortly before the box office plans to perform its mercy killing. Long story short, it just strikes me as all so much non-directional bile. The problem isn't that it doesn't make sense, it's that everything's so freakin' clear in its complete and utter contempt for the movies, for the avant-garde, for art in general, for philosophy, for itself, for its audience, and for anything else that comes within fifty feet of it. After a lot of self-conscious blather vaguely related to philosophy, sex, media, politics, literature and poetry, its one ultimate truth seems to be that "no one rocks the cock like Krysta Now [a porn star/media darling played by Sarah Michelle Gellar]," apparently the coda for humanity at the apocalypse. Because those words come from a smarmy, omniscient voice at the tail end of a cocktail party, it might be seen as some hyper-absurdist satire if it weren't for another piece of omniscient narration (from none other than Mr. Dick-in-a-Box himself) that quotes from the final lines of The Hollow Men; "whimper" and "bang" switch places in such a way that seems to imply that even the bangs themselves are ultimately whimpers. "No one rocks the cock" becomes an entirely earnest statement--none of it matters, metaphors are useless, and everything is so fucking stupid, so why bother trying to figure anything out?

Southland Tales' greatest crime in this regard may be how its plot and cast contrivances (an awful, nonsensical script that serves as the figurative and literal stand-in for the film; hiring washed-up actors to play washed-up actors-turned-political activists) act as ironic-cum-nihilistic reflections on the accepted conventions of "art" and "indie" films (non sequitur and dreamlike scenarios; the tendency to cast unknowns and b-listers). In doing so, it ignores any other directions that these "genres" have taken, and boils "good" and "bad" to immutable, objective concepts--in this case, it only recognizes and defines "bad." Immerse yourself too deeply into those immutable, objective concepts and you won't be able to see anything beyond those strict parameters. Encompassing yourself in irony comes at a price, after all, and you can't help but think about how this mentality has already creeped into societal acceptance. How would a kid raised on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" respond to a film of dubious intentions like Red Dawn? Counting myself as a member of that misbegotten generation--and not having been old enough to care when the Soviet Union collapsed--well, I'm still not entirely sure. But after I saw Southland Tales, I started wondering if my own relationship to cinema was capable of that brand of reductive hostility, and I found a concept to discuss in my long and storied history with Nicolas Cage.

You may have guessed by my throwaway mention in the "Shark: Season One" review that I have a particular affinity for Cage's batshit-nuts performances--but ask any of my friends and they'll tell you that "Screamin' Mad" Nicolas Cage is a recurring topic of discussion and fairly reliable running gag. Dude screams, dude grimaces, dude is hilarious. I'm not sure where all of that started, precisely--might've been after The Wicker Man, when that out-of-context "comedy of the year" clipshow started circulating on
YouTube; maybe it was when I saw his manic, arrested-development performance in Ghost Rider; or maybe it didn't really gain momentum until I found his Japanese pachinko commercials. I've long considered these examples as hilarious for essentially the same reasons and never thought twice about it--but, of course, Wicker Man was intended as a thriller and the commercials were meant to be silly and a little unhinged. Contemplating that clipshow, I'm forced to wonder if these (mis)interpretations have had an adverse effect on my ability to properly discern Cage as anything but some knowing/unknowing avatar of wackiness. The guy won an Oscar some twelve years ago, but it's a lot easier to just pigeonhole him as a pleasant nutjob and leave it at that. I watched Face/Off again recently, and man, Cage is just wonderful in it. But is my admiration just post-ironic hangover?

Another example: just about everyone I know died laughing when they saw Nic play Fu Manchu for Werewolf Women of the SS--despite the fact that we all knew that it was coming. Why did we think it was so funny? Because it was just another example of Cage's madness? Because he had found the perfect outlet for appeasing a projected image to the masses? For all intents and purposes, Cage is the halfway point of Grindhouse, smack dab between the tiring post-modern sarcasm (Planet Terror) and the genuine post-modern self-analysis (Death Proof)--and by the same token comes the uneasy task of categorizing and understanding Cage's craziest performances.

Trying to figure this man out, then, has challenged my critical faculties, and I need to step up to the plate. So over the next few weeks, I'll be watching some of Nic's films--Raising Arizona, Vampire's Kiss, It Could Happen to You, Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Adaptation., Ghost Rider, and more--and discussing them here on the blog through the prism of his performances and his career as a whole. Stay tuned.

November 12, 2007

The Trench

So – fighting a flu that’s had me tits up for about six full days now. Get your flu shot. My productivity took one right in the pants.

Got in trouble a little with the local publicists this week over our posting of an I’m Not There review before its limited (?) release on the 21st. A quick check revealed that the embargo I was breaking had already been broken by Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Ebert’s website, Time, The New York Observer, Movie City News, the Brussats, Rich Cline and so on – making me wonder, specifically, what the fucking point of it all is and what was being threatened exactly. I half expect to receive a screener of it in the next day or two, making me wonder even more fervently who’s penalizing whom and for what.

In other news, the Denver International Film Festival is running this week and we’re not covering it. It’s not pique, it’s sort of a general lack of interest. The kind of lack of interest that’ll kick me in the balls if the DIFF ever gets stuff I’m really interested in down the road, but with the centerpiece guest being Norman Jewison (Norman Jewison) well, I just couldn’t bring myself to manufacture ten capsules – especially with deadlines looming left and right on our new Annual. Opening night is The Savages; closing is, gulp, Robin Williams’ August Fire. In between? Juno I think, Jason Reitman’s newest. Good luck to the DIFF and all – hope we hook up again somewhere down the road.

No hiding the fact that 2007 is shaping up in my mind as a watershed year in pictures. Still a few more, There Will Be Blood high amongst them, before it’s all in the can – but I’m chuffed, man, it’s been great.

RIP Norman Mailer.

Did anyone see Lions for Lambs or Bee Movie or, better yet, Martian Child?

Watched Being John Malkovich again for the first time since seeing it multiple times in the theater and, man, it’s fucking amazing. I’d forgotten more than I’d remembered. Kaufman is like this amazing alien intelligence. Good festivals could be made of his stuff; Ashley Judd’s, and Wes Anderson’s too. It’s given me an idea of a new book of critical essays. Think I’ll run it by Bill.

Anyone have a lead on the theatrical cut of Blood Simple on DVD?

Been watching a lot of Disney classics lately what with a four-year-old needing “good night shows” and all and have come to the conclusion that most of them are psychotic when they’re not just garden-variety homicidal – they are almost to a one not useful in any significant way in dealing with conflict, preaching the idea that the best way to deflate The Shadow is to stick it with a knife. Tie in the racism and general misogyny and marvel no longer that Michael Bay’s flicks make bazillions. To suggest that there’s not a tie-in here to what we consent to as a society with what’s wrong with us as a society is blinkered and moronic. I hate Cinderella with its cat/mouse filler and I despise Peter Pan with its “they’re not as smart as us, but they’re cunning” – but I do like The Fox and the Hound and The Jungle Book for their social intelligence and native nihilism. I love the second Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Toy Story and of course Ratatouille - can’t wait to screen The Iron Giant for them. Brad Bird’s a fucking genius.

Reading Proust nowadays – along with Lee Server’s biography of Ava Gardner. Weird how it jibes.

Looking forward in a sick-to-my stomach way to I Am Legend - missed, to my dismay, a screening of The Mist. One of the last long-form stories I’ve liked from Stephen King. The ending, I remember, is especially bleak. King at his best for me captured a sort of winsome melancholy – like that story “The Reach” that’s all about remembrances of things past – and of course “The Last Rung on the Ladder” and “The Woman in the Room”.

Here’s a lunchtime quiz: best Stephen King stories not yet translated to film.