Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Now Fuck Off and Die"

Two more 2004 notches for my gun today. First up the painful but numb directorial debut of Nicole Kassell, The Woodsman [mixed], starring Kevin Bacon as a child molester just released from prison. His struggle to re-establish himself into society is predictably difficult - his family doesn't want to see him, his parole officers keep him under constant surveillance, he gets the evil eye from his lumberyard co-workers - all the while resisting the urges to approach the children at a nearby school.

Just like the equally well-played but disappointing The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The Woodsman is an intense character study rather than a conventionally realized drama, and from that perspective, it's good - not great, but certainly worth seeing for the acting. However, it never really gets off the ground the way it would've had to in order to promote itself as something else, and combined with such a bleak premise, it ultimately falls short of being that engaging. Also worth mentioning: the mighty Mos Def turns in another subtle and impressive performance as Bacon's parol officer. Good year for Mos the actor, less so for Mos the MC.


There's a couple of great scenes in Closer [mixed+], the Mike Nichols-directed adaptation of Patrick Marber's play, and they all involve the phenomenal Clive Owen. His bitter and bold dismissal of Julia Roberts, as they argue over the graphic details of her infidelity, is an instant classic, on par with the best scenes in Nichols' battle-of-the-sexes shoutfests Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Carnal Knowledge. Owen is no stranger to this drama - he played the Jude Law part in the stage version of Closer, and that familiarity with the characters shows; his towering performance ironically upsets the balance of the movie, since no-one else matches him in acting chops. I have no real beef with the movie as it stands, but seeing that it is such a tightfisted emotional drama, with only four principle actors on the screen, a lot has to be demanded from these actors. And Owen can't do it all on his own.

Reading some of the criticism against Closer, I am a bit tempted to raise my rating for it, just for the hell of it. It's the same old criticism that arises whenever someone has the nerve to write a screenplay that features a) unsympathetic characters, and/or b) dialogue that sounds unnatural, "stagey", as if movies were "real". As a fan of the theatre, and movie writer-directors like Hal Hartley and Neil LaBute, I have absolutely no problems with either of those gripes.

It's strange that we (and by "we" I mean film critics and the movie-going public in general) still, in this day and age, need those "sympathetic" characters in order for us to feel the drama, the notion that we need to root for someone in order to get something out of the movie experience. I think it's bullshit, always have, always will. I don't need to align my emotions and attitudes to the ones of the characters on the screen or on the stage - if I feel it, I feel it, and that's all there is to it. And I'm glad I feel that way - otherwise my life wouldn't have been enriched by the likes of Strindberg, Ellroy, Tjechov, Lars Norén, Ionescu, Paul McCarthy, Charlie White and David Mamet. Thanks, y'all.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Hit the Road, Hack

By pure coincidence, I happened to watch two Oscar-baiting biopics more or less back to back the other day: Ray [mixed-] and The Aviator [pro]. It prompted some inevitable comparisons, none of which work in Ray's favour. Because they do have a lot in common - they are both finely crafted, detailed period pieces, led on by charismatic leads (Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively). They both depict personal ups and downs of iconic Americans for some 150+ minutes each. But whereas Ray, helmed by Hollywood craftsman Taylor Hackford, goes for a by-the-numbers, cradle-to-the-grave approach, leaving no stone unturned and basically making Ray Charles' fascinating life story look like a boring and predictable fairytale triumph, Martin Scorsese, director of The Aviator, proves that for whatever he's lost in the way of choosing projects and drifting towards mainstream Miramax dramas, he's retained a personality, and a keen eye for Cinema.

Rather than presenting The Howard Hughes A-Z, Scorsese subjectively picks defining moments in this enigmatic innovator's life, and excels in the details, the snapshots, camera flashes, stopwatches and colours. Leo is as good as ever, and after getting over the first burst of Hepburnian swagger, Cate Blanchett is also reliably good. It's a piece of work, but the James Ellroy fan in me silently fantasizes about how amazingly awesome it would've been if Scorsese had used Ellroy's masterful American Tabloid as blueprint for his portrayal of Hughes; imagine Leo, the manic, paranoid junkie hermit sitting isolated in his lair, looming over Las Vegas and the clean Nevada desert, while henchmen and doctors provide him with drugs, porn and hush-hush info on Tinseltown talent rivalling Hoover's stash of sinful secrets.

The devil's in the details.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

In Other News...

...this is driving me crazy.

But I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. A couple of more weeks, then it's over.

Also, I noticed that the settings for making comments were all messed up. You now positively don't have to register to make comments. Sorry 'bout that snafu.

Bru Ha Ha

I had a great movie experience the other day, one of those exhilarating, knock-the-winds-outta-ya moments you live for as a movie buff - and it hit me at a time when I least expected it.

I watched three movies in one day, starting with the lame Team America [con], a fart-and-puke fest vaguely disguising itself as a political satire. If indeed it can be considered a political movie, it's a political movie made by idiots who hate politics, and it wouldn't be as pointless and redundant if Parker/Stone had actually adhered to some sort of funny anarchism à la the most inspired moments of South Park, instead of lazily slugging out their nihilistic worldview left and right. Of course, that would be fine - or not so much of a quibble - if Team America was funny. Which, for the most part, it isn't. Making parody of action flicks like the ones made by überproducer Jerry Bruckheimer is not only pointless, it's been done to death - many times by Bruck's movies themselves (however accidentally).

Next up was the dreary literary adaptation A Love Song for Bobby Long [con], about a girl catching up with her family in the lower-class parts of New Orleans; a deceptively unassuming film which hides its pompousness as convincingly as the scenery-chewing Oscar hopeful John Travolta portraits a college professor. It's left to Scarlett Johansson to carry the film, and despite her efforts, it's a drag. Still, amazingly, there were a couple of scenes between Johansson and Travolta towards the end of the film that managed to squeeze some emotion out of me - out of fatigue or not, we will never know.

So, drained and desillusioned after two bad movies back-to-back, it was not with much enthusiasm I went into Kung Fu Hustle [PRO], the latest outing by Hong Kong stuntman-actor-writer-producer-director-madcap Stephen Chow. I enjoyed his previous Shaolin Soccer, a whacky soccer slash martial arts movie that despite some crappy CGI was very entertaining, thanks to a breakneck energy and visual style that, literally, took the ball and ran with it. In Kung Fu Hustle, the cross-culture element of Shaolin Soccer is gone in favour of a more traditional martial arts tale set in the 1950's, albeit with a fair share of quirkiness and odd characters. It's not so much a parody of the genre as it is a loving and exaggerated celebration of it - an insanely paced 90 minutes of unbelievable stunts, CGI-enhanced kung fu, retired shaolin masters, neighborhood uprisings, axe-wielding gangs, and young hoodlums trying to rise up the crime ladder. A familiarity with the genre is a major plus, admittedly, but as a pure action vehicle it beats the shit out of everything - East or West - from the last year or so.

Maybe my garde was down, maybe I was too tired to counterattack Chow's visual farce. But there's just nowhere to hide from this bad boy. Thinking about it now makes me nearly breathless, and I can't wait to see it again. This is what it's all about.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Band, Let Me Hear You Say Something

Wow, that was one crazy, rambling post, wasn't it? This will be much shorter. Look, I need comments to my posts so I know I'm not just sitting here going insane all by myself. It's really easy, you don't have to register or anything, just click on the comments thingy below this post, and send me some love. Do it now.

I have also have this to say:

Shark Tale [con]
Mostly truly horrible - uninspired, bland animation coupled with a lame storyline (which is surprisingly, and unexplicably, ghetto-fied) and an embarrassing admiration for the lead voice talent, leading to asskissing sequences galore, especially in the case of Will Smith, who is showstoppingly awful. A few small sequences, some jokes, and a funny Martin Scorsese saves it from all caps.

Raving and Ranting and Rating

Dagens Nyheter is the only remaining Swedish newspaper to still shun movie ratings - even Sydsvenskan introduced it hesistantly a while back, much to the dismay of my Film International colleague Michael Tapper, who writes film reviews for them. Tapper, not a stranger to clashes with the DN culture section, sees DN's stubborn refusal as "typical" and self-centered, but they will have to bow down eventually, he thinks - Swedish film criticism today is at such a low point that even the big, respectable media giants will be forced to speak the language of the tabloids in order to stay interesting to the commercial forces that run this show: quick snippets, a 1-5 rating, something to prep the ads with. Personally, I don't really like ratings, and I hate using them myself, even if I often do (when participating in the CDDB project). There's something inherently impatient and unsympathetic about handing out 1-5 stars (or whatever outrageous rating system you may use, like the popular 1-100 point system used by Gabe, Derek and other confused young individuals). I see the point, and I'm not rambling (even though I am), so what the hell has this got to do with anything? I'm not really sure.

But I was going to mention an article (Swedish) in Dagens Nyheter by Kerstin Gezelius this past Saturday. Gezelius is as uneven a critic as most others at DN, but she has her moments. In the article, which technically is to be considered a book review of J-Ro's new book about film canon, Essential Cinema, she discusses both her own fascination and fears about film canon aswell as Rosenbaum's. While she agrees that canon is complicated and difficult to write books about - where do you start? Do you have to pay respect to convention? etc - she has a strange way of shifting between admiration and attack of the Chi-Reader critic.

Consider, for example, how she takes the time to identify the near impossibility of compiling (as J-Ro has) a top 1000 list of your favourite films - a feat so absurd that a book like Rosenbaum's can reasonably only be seen as a suggestion, an argument in the Big Forever-Ongoing Debate of Film Canon, wood for the fire - and then turns around and criticizes J-Ro for including this or that movie, like the "good" and "bad" movies are set in stone. This after explaining in length how she understands the complexities of canon! Think again. She complains that Rosenbaum includes the recent movies Spider, Femme Fatale, and Down with Love - "turkeys!" - and moans about how he didn't include Amores perros, Mystic River or City of God.

And what she does right there, and I get so tired of it that I'm gonna stop now, is that she, better than I ever could in this post, flagrantly displays her unwillingness to break free from the canon of cultural newspaper sensibilities, to look beyond what her friends at DN or at other rags around Sweden (Stockholm, to be exact) are thinking and writing and expressing on the subject of film. culture. today. And as long as critics like her refuse to see the merits of a Femme Fatale or a Down with Love - and keeps knee-jerkingly salute arthouse exotism like City of God or Tarantino derivates like Amores perros, Swedish film criticism will not progress one fucking bit.

You know what else? The article is riddled with typos. Suckas!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Here now some irrefutable proof that I really need to get my shit together and buy myself a digital camera, cause no-one's gonna do it for me, and I really need to chill, instead of constantly getting fits over my crappy camera every time I develop something. Anyway, enjoy these (slightly edited) photos.

Splicing It Up: Lulla and Heidi at our kräftskiva, way back in September

Miles Ahead: Heidi and Totto

Bunch of Flowers: one classy guy calling it quits

Packing the Pipe: Hector receives life lessons from his Godfather

Sofa So Good: snapshot from New Years Eve

Monday, January 03, 2005


Had a predictably amazing New Years Eve, c/o Jenandy, the most gracious and friendly of hosts. Bubbly, wine, more bubbly, food galore, dirty dancing and rooftop celebrations all up in that joint. This following a slow but soft Christmas week at my parents', which contained few surprises: Mom still makes great food, watching movies is a drug, and red wine is the bane of my existence. Much to my nephew Hector's relief, Santa had time to stop by and literally bury him with presents. And there was much rejoicing.

Some noteworthy films seen lately:

Eight Men Out [pro] - Conventional but thoroughly enjoyable period piece slash sports drama, ripe with do-or-die moments but sans any overbearing layers of sentimentality, which is a credit to screenwriter-director Sayles. Sort of puzzling that an über-indie fella like Sayles gets involved in a thing like this, but he does it well, just like with the other period piece based on real events he did the year before, Matewan. This film doesn't bear the personal marks of Sayles' more intimate, contemporary-set relationship dramas, but it's solid filmmaking all the way through.


Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow [pro] - I anticipated I had to "get over" some initial reaction of something, related to the masturbatory use of green-screen technology; instead, I was surprised at how effective, true to form and genre, and to the point it was (what the point was is pretty redundant, but the flick moves with considerable grace and agility to get there, and fast). Rather than spending the entire film building exposition, the concept of the Sky Captain is more or less just there, obvious and unexplained, like an "of course there's a guy called Sky Captain and of course he's protecting us from evil! duh!" kind of thing. An admirable attitude, surprisingly rare these days, and mirrored to even greater effect in another even greater movie seen lately - The Incredibles [PRO].*


The Saddest Music in the World [pro+]- I've seen more or less every short film and every feature Guy Maddin has done up to this point, and I must say that his short films are where his anachronistic, surreal genius really shines. His features all suffer to various degrees from shifts in tempo that often makes them uneven, and he's yet to crank out truly great performances by his actors. Still, while I would say all of his shorts are PRO or pro in my book, his features don't come far behind (the only dud is of course Twilight of the Ice Nymphs). No matter how this phrase has been beaten to death: Maddin really is a unique voice in contemporary cinema.


Riding Giants [pro] - Stacy Peralta goes from one board to another. After the very impressive Dogtown and Z-Boys, he's turned to the sea, catching up with the history of the surfers, with an emphasis on the big wave surfers from Greg Noll up to Laird Hamilton et al. Fascinating stuff, much better than the sap-filled yada-yada that was Stepping Into Liquid, but the genre itself - self-congratulatory sports documentary - has its pitfalls, and Peralta steps in a few. Not as self-indulgent as Dogtown and Z-Boys was (as Peralta isn't himself a principal character, even though he narrates), but still sentimentally swooning after the legends, the mavericks, the daredevils and innovators. It looks great though - exquisitely shot and edited.

More stuff - and New Years pics! - tomorrow or something.

* which, when all is said and done, really is one of 2004's great movies, and almost predictably so. I had some doubts going in whether Bird's keen eye for detail, period, and humanity, so evident in The Iron Giant, would be contained, or if he'd be sucked up in Pixar's relatively carefree and perfect happyland. Thankfully, it looks like they've just open up the door (and the wallet) and let Bird have his way with this piece of work. It's probably not a disadvantage to be interested and easily amused by the world of superheroes and their impossible logics - guilty as charged.