Monday, December 20, 2004

Leaving the City

Monday morning, I will leave the big city and visit my folks for the holidays. I'll be gone for about a week. With any luck, I'll check in once or twice and provide some comments to what I've been watching (in a sort of ambitious and/or sad move, the travel bag is packed with DVDs way overdue on the to-see list, like Rebecca, A Chinese Ghost Story, and Meet Me in St. Louis). Most likely scenario is that I'll just be dozing around my parents' house all week, never removing my slippers, constantly sipping on some glühwein and nibbling on various sorts of food.

Christmas time is also one of the few times in the year when I actually do some serious reading, and I have high hopes of finishing David Sedaris' Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and James Ellroy's latest, Destination: Morgue!, during the week. From one end of the literary spectrum to the other, to say the least.

In any event, have a nice week!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Scott Bradley presents Class

My good friend Scott Bradley dropped by today and gave me a brand-new mix he put together during some recent late night sessions. He's calling it Class. All 75 minutes of it.

Scott Bradley presents Class

Tracklist will be provided on request.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Small bits on Ocean's Twelve

I'm not in the mood for a proper review of Steven Soderbergh's latest heist flick Ocean's Twelve [PRO-] (plus the critical onslaught it received today on its opening here sort of drained me a bit), but I've cut-and-pasted some comments I posted on Rotten Tomatoes today and yesterday (slightly edited):

I'm a big fan of heist movies, and this is as good as it gets in the year of 2004 - postmodern, metariffic, stylish but not to hide flaws but rather to display its confidence and talent. It's also a forceful flex of the muscles, a message to all the untalented, unfocused, violent and confused "funny action" flicks being done around the clock in Tinseltown, a display of how it can be done - O12 is the jaded Martini drinker, looking on nonplussed as his younger brother is getting thrown out of the casino; and as a sequel it's the logical progression. If Hollywood insists on plowing down millions of thousands of tens of hundreds of dollars into lush, star-riddled vehicles, I prefer the money goes to productions like this. Big, stupid entertainment? Try big, smart entertainment - the best there is. Made by an expert filmmaker.


Ocean's Eleven was critically perceived as a clever, good-looking, sly piece of genre filmmaking, but the sequel gets the "what an unnecessary movie" treatment, which automatically voids it of merit and makes it inferior to any predecessor. And while it might in fact be inferior, that's not a very fair attitude to approach it with. The tone of the reviews here was of repulsion at the very idea that Soderbergh, Clooney et al had the nerve (yes!) to cruise around Europe pulling off heists that didn't make much sense, exchanging witty banter and wearing nice suits in the process - and make a movie about it! Those stupid, rich, wasteful Hollywood types. How dare they! Sort of.

Some critics also seem annoyed about the "impossible" twists and the self-serving tone, but personally, I couldn't care less about the heists themselves (in that respect O12 differs from O11, which put a much bigger emphasis on suspense) - it's the settings, the ridiculous plot twists, the never-ending cameos, Zeta-Jones' enormous wardrobe, the jokey acting, the fluid camerawork and the assured editing I get my kicks from. And those are all essential ingredients of the lighthearted caper/heist flick (like How to Steal a Million or Gambit), which is miles away from insanely detailed and grave stuff like Loophole or Adieu l'ami - and really shouldn't be judged on the same premises. While working within the same overall genre, I couldn't think of two films more different than, say, Who's Minding the Mint? and Rififi.

5x2 (Cinq fois deux)

(François Ozon, 2004)

Unspectacular but very solid slice of marital breakup drama, soberly told in five vignettes, starting with the divorce and working its way backwards to the happy days. The acting is uniformly excellent and naturalistic, with leads Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Stéphane Freiss turning in great performances as the two spouses. Not entirely clear on Ozon's reasons for the whole reversed chronology thing, but thankfully, it never felt gimmicky or annoying.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Melinda and Melinda

Woody Allen doesn't like rehearsals. Many are the actors who tell stories about how they are asked to show up on the set and simply do their lines, straight up, often without discussing neither the script nor their part with the Woodster in advance, or without having met their co-actors. Interaction with Woody is kept at a minimum. Allen admits as much himself in Woody on Allen, his interview book with Stig Björkman, and confesses to not really giving much directions to actors at all - he relies on his seasoned cameramen, his scriptwriting craftmanship, and the usually inspired cast choices (courtesy of Juliet Taylor).

And there was a time when all these things came together to form often good, sometimes great films. Back in the days of his last period of greatness - say, from 1986 up 'til 1995 or so - Allen often had recurring actors doing terrific turns with essentially recurring material in recurring settings, and while we'd seen it done before even back then, it worked cause of the actors' familiarity with the material and its writer-director-often star. Remember Crimes and Misdemeanors? Husbands and Wives? Woody was on a roll. So what happened? Where is Judy Davis, Alan Alda or Diane Wiest when you need them the most?

Well, certainly not here, in Melinda and Melinda, Woody's latest filmic rehash of well-situated people falling in and out of love in Manhattan. Framed in the same way as his great Broadway Danny Rose, where a bunch of elderly comedians sat around a delicatessen and talked about the miserable failure Rose, Melinda and Melinda starts out with a group of people sitting in a bistro, rather quasi-intellectually discussing comedy versus tragedy, and whether or not both moods can be applied to an anecdote one man in the group just told. Wallace Shawn, never having left his seat from My Dinner With Andre (1981), claims the anecdote is the stuff of comedy, while another man only sees the tragedy of the whole affair. Cue parallell storylines, offering two sides of the same coin: Melinda (played in both stories by Radha Mitchell), a troubled young woman, descends on her unsuspecting friends in New York, and open up cans of worms like people put on pants. The "fun" supporting cast include Will Ferrell and Amanda Peet, while Chloë Sevigny and Jonny Lee Miller add some drama to the tragedy (except for Mitchell, there is no cast crossovers between the two stories). Structural similarities aside, the two stories don't have much in common; while one version of the story is a comedy and the other a tragedy, a lot of the comedy is not funny and the tragedy is never heartbreaking, so you're left with a big shrug. But if it weren't for the very pronounciated cuts between the two stories (ie always following a cut to the other story by showing the supporting cast, and not Melinda, as to avoid confusion), it might have become an interesting diffusion of two worlds, questioning things like identity, duality and origin. But this isn't Lynch or Altman or Bergman, and thus the two stories live their lives, cross cut but clinically separate. Too bad.

So who escapes unscathed from this flawed romcom/tragedy hybrid? Will Ferrell in the Woody part is at least given the best lines, and is quite apt at playing the straight man with a fair share of Allenisms, without succumbing to Branaghesque Woodster-channelling. Chiwetel Ejiofor, so good in Frears' Dirty Pretty Things, is solid as one of the very first African American cast member in an Allen movie not playing a servant or a hooker - it's not his fault that his character is a bit of an odd presence in the film: the Harlem-dwelling black man cultivated and neutralized for a white, upperscale Manhattan crowd. Chloë Sevigny barely makes it after a disastrous first half, but picks up at the end, and Radha Mitchell as Melinda x 2 is also passable, though her Aussie tone is a pinch unfitting for someone who supposedly grew up on Park Avenue.

But Woody doesn't escape unharmed. While it could be argued that he's run on empty for years, he's always managed to bounce back - not triumphantly, perhaps, but just so he could make it to the surface for a breather - with something amusing or at least semi-interesting. But when watching Melinda and Melinda, it strikes me how sloppy he's become. Yes, Vilmos Zsigmond's camerawork is fluid and flattering, but the editing seems to be slightly off-key all the time; a couple of frames here, a missed beat there. The pace, the rhythm of the dialogues - just not there. The acting is unfocused, rehearsal-like. If I hadn't seen it in a theatre, I might have guessed I was watching a workprint.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Wong Kar-Wai's 2046: A Film by Wong Kar-Wai

Just got back from a screening of 2046. It's a piece of work, no doubt, but let's not get crazy. I was very enthusiastic about the first hour or so, when it acted on all the things In the Mood for Love never did - the emotions, the lust, the passion (albeit fleeting and sometime shallow) - and that was a big relief. Tony Leung is a cool cat, and Zhang Ziyi only confirms (again) what a formidable presence she is. She couldn't save House of Flying Daggers, but then who could? Anyway, I stick to my guns, she is a carnal actress if I ever saw one. And the Leung-Ziyi part of 2046 is by far the most impressive in all the areas where WKW regularly excels: the set design, the costumes, Doyle's camerawork. The acting is also top-notch.

However, I can't help thinking that the long-spanning production of the film (over five years in the making, and WKW fans still argue about what, if anything, WKW had to trim to get the film ready for the 04 festival circuit - it was originally supposed to be done for the 03 one) made WKW lose focus somewhat. The last act or so - the Singapore/casino part - is decidedly weaker than the others, and it feels like lots and lots have been shot, edited, twisted around, and ultimately left on the cutting room floor. Hints of characters, plots, moods and settings pop up all the time, but many are left untouched, merely brushed upon.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Those Who Wait

What, huh? No updates in a long time? OK.

As if anyone gives two cents about my capsules page, I've added some new, crucial information to it, essentially explaining what's going on, or rather what's not. Read all about it here. In short, it tells you where to go - back here.

What will happen here in the future? Hopefully, less politically-themed posts (we got the Rude Pundit, Tom Tomorrow, The Smirking Chimp, and other insightful smartypants for that), and more movie-themed posts.

Back in a bit.