2005/06/30

Such Sweet Sorrow (PLEASE READ)

After two months in the blog game, the Reverseblog is moving on, or up might be more to the point. We will now be hosted by our friends at indieWIRE, so point your browsers, change your favorites, and head on over to our brand new home at: blogs.indiewire.com/reverseshot

War of the Worlds, Part I: What the Bleep Do We Know?

Many of us have really taken to lambasting a couple of things that most of us know next to nothing about: Scientology as practice and theory, Tom Cruise’s seemingly ecstatic inner love-life, etc. What’s most disconcerting, or telling perhaps, is that this nearly uniform, rabid attack would seem to function only as self-defense mechanism for the devout. But it comes not only from the conservative media at large but from many corners that define themselves in strictly secular terms. Yes, the concept sounds patently ridiculous: aliens populated Earth eons ago, connecting to our souls somehow, or spirits maybe, and it is the human struggle ever since to shed the last vestiges of their being from ourselves, or something like that. It really sounds to me like nothing more than a 12-step program on a grandiose scale, a way for the less intellectually-inclined rich and famous to reconcile their own self-centeredness (and they are the center of our universe in a pretty damn literal way) with a belief system that allows for it while instilling some sense of moral awareness.

Like I said, I know little to nothing about the particulars. But what’s the difference between the "nutty-as-a-fruitcake" alien legend, and, say, some dude long ago being nailed to a cross, ascending to the skies, and subsequently returning to imbue each and every one of us with a distinct purpose, or, say, the belief that your distinct group are the "chosen people" who must return to the holy land that is rightfully theirs, and fuck everyone else. Dangling payess from our sideburns? Eating crackers and drinking wine as the body and blood of that crucified dude? Crashing low-flying planes into skyscrapers to get closer to God? Well, ok. You make the judgment call, but it’s somewhat disingenuous for the most atheist among us to lambaste something that simply represents another set of blissfully deluded principles.

But this is after all a movie blog, ostensibly, so what does this all mean for Spielberg’s War of the Worlds? Having seen it last night, I feel compelled to reject all of the already-tired-after-one-day-of-release criticisms that try to create a link between the film and the church of Scientology, and how this is somehow insidious for our culture. Jessica Winter’s Village Voice article, which proudly displays the poster next to the similarly designed Dianetics cover art, is simply a dead-end: "According to Hubbard, ailments ranging from the common cold to leukemia could be classified as merely psychosomatic; in Wells, the Martians have eliminated illness entirely. Were Wells's aliens the proto-Scientologists?" Well, uh, no. But thanks for asking.

Even worse, the question has filtered so much into our approach to Tom Cruise’s star persona that David Thomson says in his interview with Rob Nelson for City Pages this week: "I could conceive that War of the Worlds might be a very good film--even though it's certainly possible that [its star] Tom Cruise will have influenced it in profound ways." What the…? Oh oh, it must have been that time that Cruise incited a singalong prayer session onset with Kirstie Alley and that butch gal who voices Bart Simpson. God knows that Spielberg has proven himself time and again to be quite a Godless filmmaker, his films so often bereft of spirituality of any sort, why of course he’d need to fill in the gaps with Scientologist rhetoric! Michael Sragow of the Baltimore Sun REALLY has it in for Cruise: "eventually, the actor's relentless drive to be taken seriously pushes this escapist apocalypse past its tipping point, into irredeemable weightiness." Uh oh…need to be taken seriously in a two-hour film about the death of millions. And then: "Spielberg has said that he loves the ideas Cruise brought to this film, but they're lousy in essence or in execution." Does Cruise really come across as that bad an actor to Sragow (has this prick seen Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, Born on the Fourth of July, Minority Report, or nearly anything else this most passionate of American actors has been in? It’s fun to bash him for his sheer belief in his roles, but how many other check-cashing actors can you say even that about?), or does he feel the need to protect his own beliefs from this marauding Hollywood "cultist"?

The media bombardment of the Cruise Crazies has really revealed a lot about a truly self-loathing culture, righteous in its own lack of beliefs yet not comfortable enough in its own skin to refrain from creating hierarchies within those accepted or dismissed systems. War of the Worlds is at its essence a film about the breakdown of all of that, its image of the facade of a city church ripped from its body says more about our tenuous connection to any shared faith than anything these uninformed yet authoritative writers can hack out.

2005/06/29

Playing In The Company of Scientologists









In the sprit of FilmEnthusiast's thought-provoking Manderlay/Mandelay post and all this Scientology/Look Who's Talking talk: one of these photos is a Battlefield Earth still of an alien with a giant package, and the other is a still from the film's premiere.

Has anyone written on this gem for RS? Maybe it's too obvious. Next symposium -- "The Cinema of Scientology". I get dibs on 1984's Introduction to Scientology, which apparently includes the following insight from L. Ron Hubbard: "Psychiatry has to do with the insane, and we have nothing to do with the insane whatsoever. The insane -- well, uh, they're insane." Take me, Tom.

look who's scientologist

interesting article concerning the connections between scientology, tom cruise, the new war of the worlds film, and h.g. wells in the voice. it got me thinking about a less high-profile, but perhaps more insidious, film with l. ron-worshipping stars and possible dianetic messages -- "look who's talking" anyone? my friend mark and i came up with this during one of those late night college shit-shooting sessions: the inimitable John Travolta and pre-obese Kirstie Alley (both scientologists) were involved in the groundbreaking project. if you recall (but who could really forget?), the film's opening gives voice to the thoughts of a sperm cell on its journey down the fallopian tube. what's creepy about this is that a tenet of scientology has the mind active even during this stage in human development, when sperm and ovum haven't even merged -- already the bad "engrams" that cause so much trouble for the individual later on in life are being picked up on by an entity conscious in some form. lord knows how many impressionable minds were twisted into accepting the scientologist view of pre-embryonic existence through this supposedly family-friendly comedy.

Ripped from the Headlines












Courtesy of some drunk intern working in layout at the LA Times.

2005/06/28

We Smell a Rat
















This shot was taken outside of the brand-new IFC Center in the West Village this past Saturday. IATSE Local 306 (the projectionists union - yes, there is such a thing) is protesting the new theatre's refusal to meet or negotiate with them. Theatre manager John Vanco is on record as saying that "We want this to feel different from going to a movie any place else" and given that most NYC theatres employ union projectionists (all of their main competition does) this is most certainly a step in the right direction. So when you check out Miranda July's Me You and Everyone We Know and the focus is soft, or a reel is projected out of frame, you can thank the undertrained, pimply NYU-undergrad who's most likely flirting with the cute hipster working concessions.

27th Annual MIFF: The Fifth Dispatch - The Rig Is On

The winners were announced on Sunday night and somehow - surprise, surprise - the only Russian film in competition won the Golden George. This despite a supposedly concerted effort to diversify the pool and attract more international industry interest in the fest. To me, this was very typical of things in Russia right now, where a big show is made of improvement or openness on the surface of things while insularity works behind the scenes so that the status quo - or the desired outcome - prevails. I can't make a good argument against giving the top prize to Dreaming of Space - it's well-made, and sensitive and wise about envy and desire. Of course it's also uncourageous and unwilling to follow through on its own themes (exploration, liberation, curiosity, flight) without finally pinning them all on the grand, nationally empowering, film-killing-obvious moment when the Soviet Union sent a man into space. Yet it was the best film in competition. How? Because most of the competing films were low-grade, cookie-cutter, "for film fest eyes only" fare, and simply lucky to be there (or anywhere). I can't say that this stacked deck was intentional - I have no idea what kind of submissions were received - but I do know that Dreaming of Space was a late addition to the fest, and that its participation was requested by someone of significant power in the Kremlin. Director Alexey Uchitel wouldn't name names, but he seemed happy to hint from how "high" the request came. If you can read Russian, the interview can be found on these pages. Though I'm pretty cynical, I can't imagine a host government of any another major international fest intervening in such a way. Yes, it's also true that 2 out of 6 jurors were Russian, and another 2 hailed from former Soviet territories, but anyone would have considered Dreaming of Space a top contender in this company. Dear Wendy deserved a certain respect, but its flaws are considerable, and the other decent films (The Porcelain Doll, The Outcome, Left Foot Forward On The Beat) are decidedly minor achievements. Ultimately, this was never about film. This was about Russian film. And about Russian film being exemplary of a resurgent Russia. That's what the government's paying for. I'm glad for the investment, because this area of the world certainly merits a major film festival. But I'd be even happier if film wasn't just another sector ripe for intervention on behalf of leaders allergic to fair competition.

2005/06/26

Fucked

27th Annual MIFF: The Fourth Dispatch

Saturday, June 26, 12 noon. Penultimate day of the Moscow International Film Festival, penultimate in-competition press screening, and we've got a first: the lights go up instead of down and "special presentation" music (the theme from The Phantom of the Opera, if you must know) heralds two people to the stage. First to the mike is producer Bonnie Curtis, who wastes all of five words before mentioning that she's an associate of Steven Spielberg. She then mentions that her co-producer on the film we're about to see, Lawrence Bender, is an associate of Quentin Tarantino. She pauses for applause both times. Then she introduces the director, Arie Posin, who makes a show of speaking in Russian and introducing his Russian mother who's sitting over there in the front row - stand up mom - it's her first trip back to the motherland since fleeing back in the sixties. Posin goes back to speaking English so that he can better explain how his first film, The Chumscrubber, explores the true American suburbia, showing, "the world you see and the world underneath." Oil in water promo act exits stage left, the lights finally go down, and so begins the worst film I have ever seen.

Dan Aykroyd's atrocious Nothing But Trouble pops to mind as a worthy foe, but many years have passed, I kind of miss having Chevy Chase to kick around, and Aykroyd didn't exploit his lineage to land it in a foreign festival. The Chumscrubber proves just how eco-friendly Hollywood can be, because not only is every frame recycled material, it's source material wasn't very fresh to begin with (if The Chumbsrubber is the thinnest one-ply bathroom tissue, and American Beauty a chafing, newspaper-like public school ply, then Pleasantville is a softer but too-easily torn weave, The Graduate a nice, sturdy, two or three-ply, and the stories of John Cheever are like a fucking cotton field); furthermore, screen time is found for embarrassing cameos by past-their-prime Hollywood talent, whose thrill at working on an "independent project" is as infectious as an agency roster purge. Why have I seen more than one Rita Wilson performance in my life? When did Glenn Close become Joan Crawford? (I feel I'm late to this realization.) Who owes the Culkin family this many favors, and when can we expect a concluding payment?

Star power (if Lauren Holly really qualifies) and that native language intro worked a certain magic on some in the audience (ostensibly press), as I heard shouts of "bravo!" and, "as good as Dreaming of Space!" - the actual Russian film in competition - when The Chumscrubber mercifully expired. It was confusing to hear that response, as limited as it was, and it distracted me, briefly, from my national affiliation mortificatoin. For some - and certainly for whoever decided to accept the film for the competition - a bad movie by a well-mannered son of Russian emigres, starring Glenn Close and Ralph Fiennes, was a coup for the MIFF, eager as it is to raise its international profile. And acceptance at the festival was certainly a coup for Bonnie Curtis and other folks responsible for redeeming this fertilizer. I can't decide which Moscow film fest phenomena is more cringe-worthy, the petty nationalism or the worshipping of foreign celebrity. The Posin and Curtis duet may have made my flesh crawl, but they knew exactly what and how to play.

2005/06/24

What are We Watching this Weekend?

Batman? Land of the Dead? March of the Penguins? Definitely some of the Louis Malle retro at Lincoln Center...

Third Dispatch From The 27th Annual MIFF

Eight days down, two to go. More postings of substance will follow, but right now I'm choosing five hours of sleep over four hours + blogging. Thankfully, the last two late night screenings were well worth the sleep deprivation - Claire Denis's The Intruder and the Dardennes The Child, though why Denis and her film were relegated to an 11pm weeknight screening was a mystery, especially considering her very high profile (locally, of course) presence on the jury. Nevertheless, she anticipated the restlessness by gracefully promising, "if you don't like the film, it's only my fault."

The in-competition films have improved, thank God, with Peter Gardos's Hungarian folk tryptich, The Porcelain Doll, being the most pleasant surprise. The sole Russian entry, Dreaming of Space, received a distracting amount of attention - from the press and from the hordes of pensioners that somehow qualify as press and eat loudly from loudly rustling plastic bags at 9am and demand aisle seats to stretch their aching joints and...where was I?...yes, Dreaming of Space - but considering director Alexey Uchitel's last film, The Stroll, was a revelation at MIFF 2003, some of that attention was deserved. The new film is highly accomplished and merits more attention, but it takes a right turn - and I mean right turn - at its conclusion, sinking it beneath the new patriotism of apolitical nostalgia; an ending far more disturbing, after ninety minutes of sweetly somber ambiguity, than Von Trier's Manderlay (selling out all week at the Gala Screenings sidebar), which shocks only in the time it takes to belabor every one of it's two or three points, and in the degree to which it apes The Village.

Until next time, some quotes from Peter Greenaway, in town to introduce the "Russian Version" of The Tulse Luper Suitcases:

I have no truck with mysticism. Tarkovsky is not my favorite director. I am a rationalist. I believe in civilization.

There's more religion in my little finger than there is in the pope. But no, I don't believe in God. I am an athiest. A Darwinian evolutionist.

I am Welsh by birth, English by education, and European by nature.

I acknowledge Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. They are prostlytizers of English socialism preaching to the converted and telling us what we already know. Cinema is best served away from documentary neo-realism. I come from a tradition of post-post-Italian neo-realism in England, where we've produced the best television in the world. But to paraphrase Truffaut, the English have no visual imagination.

It should be noted that Mr. Greenaway was never asked, at any point in the press conference, to define himself.

The Real Deal: Art-cinema force Ramon L. Posel, 77, dies

Most of you won't recognize the name Ray Posel, so I've excerpted heavily from a great piece that ran in today's Philadelphia Inquirer (its well worth reading in its entirety - I would link to it, but you need a login). I only know him only through a handful of phone conversations, legend, and his terrific theatres (to which this Southern Jersey shore lad would trek to regularly come summertime), so I leave things to someone who knew Ray well.

By Carrie Rickey
INQUIRER MOVIE CRITIC

Ramon L. Posel, the film showman and real estate developer who cultivated community at his Ritz Theaters and shopping malls across the region, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at his New York apartment. He was 77.

A tenacious man with the physical presence of Russell Crowe, the intellectual force of William Rehnquist, and a pompadour that looked good only on him and Ronald Reagan, Mr. Posel gave the impression that he could outmuscle any comer.

When naysayers told him he'd lose his shirt trying to bring quality retail to North Philadelphia or quality movies to Center City, he persevered, turning a forlorn parcel into the bustling Station Center at 2900 N. Broad St., and the Ritz Five into a local chain that Sony Pictures executive Tom Bernard ranks as "one of the best in the country."

In 29 years, the Ritz has become as irreplaceable a Philadelphia cultural institution as the Museum of Art. "He revolutionized the moviegoing experience in the region and developed the audience," said Juliet Goodfriend, president of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

Robert Frost thought that good fences make good neighbors; Ray Posel thought good theaters make good neighborhoods.

....

In the days before 1976, Philadelphia was a film wasteland with a handful of derelict movie houses. That Bicentennial summer, Mr. Posel built the Ritz Three (now the Ritz Five) on Walnut Street near Second, developing an audience for independent and international cinema.

"Before the Ritz, I had to go to New York or Chicago to see art films," said Bernard Watson, chair of the Barnes Foundation. The Ritz took Philadelphia from a film-illiterate burg into one of the five top-grossing American markets for off-Hollywood movies.

And in the multiplex age, when most new theaters sport a Naugahyde 'n' neon casino aesthetic, Mr. Posel took care to build chrome-and-halogen chapels with the streamlined elegance of an ocean liner. "Cunard Modern," he called their style.

"He was very passionate about quality and taste, both in the physical facilities as well as the product," said fellow developer Ron Rubin. Mr. Posel personally programmed the Ritzes - where She's Gotta Have It, A Room With a View, and Pulp Fiction enjoyed long runs - developing a clientele who loved his theaters as much as the movies. It is not uncommon to see patrons buying a ticket to "whatever movie starts next."

....


The son of Russian immigrants, he was born in August 1928 at Second and Morris Streets, next to the Lyric Theater, one of seven movie houses owned by his father. Mr. Posel had two theories about his moniker: Either his mother named him after matinee idol Ramon Novarro or could not spell Raymond.

Mr. Posel grew up watching movies in the family theaters, working his way up from cleaner to cashier to usher. By the time he was at Central High, where he was both a football and academic star, he was working in the projection booth. He preferred jazz clubs to movie houses, said his friend Arnold Roth, the political cartoonist.

As a youth, Mr. Posel dismissed movies because they lacked the resonance of novels. He studied English at Swarthmore, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1950 and on whose board he subsequently served, and at Columbia University, where he was awarded a master's in 1951.

While attending Harvard Law School, he saw Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief and was converted.

....

"People used to go to the movies as they now watch television - not to see something but to see anything. We're trying to select . . . features for those who want to see something."

"Ray was never motivated by the bottom line," Rubin said. "He got pleasure in showing offbeat product in the best possible environment."

The Ritz Five, which has a pre-feature slide show celebrating the work of area artists, premiered M. Night Shyamalan's 1992 debut feature, Praying With Anger, and local filmmaker Susan Rosenberg's experimental shorts. Mr. Posel hired local architects Bob Geddes for the Ritz Three (rechristened the Ritz Five in 1985) and Jerry Cope for the Bourse and Voorhees theaters.

Given its current status, it's hard to believe that the first Ritz took seven years to turn a profit. By 1990, when Mr. Posel opened the Ritz at the Bourse, a chic art-plex at Fourth and Ranstead Streets, he had developed an audience so insatiable for independent films that the Bourse was in the black in less than a year.

He was vigilant about protecting the Ritz's exclusivity, said Sony's Bernard, who characterized him as a formidable negotiator.

Perhaps years of eluding extortion demands made swimming with movie sharks seem easy.One legend about Mr. Posel, confirmed as fact by two Philadelphia lawyers, is that in the 1970s when a New Jersey mobster told him to use the mobster's vending machines or else, Mr. Posel looked him in the eye and shrugged, "You'll just have to kill me." The thug folded.

...

Hopefully someone will come along and carry the torch for Philly.

Match, Point, Set

Woody Allen has a pretty interesting, fairly troubling, and memorably insightful rebuke to all those who criticize his films for seemingly existing in a so-called post 9/11 New York City. In an interview with Der Spiegel , Woody says:

"As a filmmaker, I'm not interested in 9/11. Because, if you look at the big picture, the long view of things, it's too small, history overwhelms it. The history of the world is like: he kills me, I kill him. Only with different cosmetics and different castings: so in 2001 some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now, some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other. Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral, not important. History is the same thing over and over again."

Myself being somewhere in the middle on Melinda and Melinda, a film which literally invites such on-the-fence reactions through its very structure, I had criticized it openly for its candy-colored Golden Age homage, its luxurious decor, its spacious Manhattan apartments inhabited by unemployed actors, and its twentysomethings grumbling about not having enough money whilst clutching stem-glasses of crisp Chardonnays. Yet Woody's comment here, and others in this insightful interview, show that not everything is perhaps as black-and-white in his films as many speculate. Is it wrong to take Allen to task for not presenting a New York City as we see it through our individual perspectives? Isn't it somewhat self aggrandizing and nearly puerile to bemoan Woody——the director of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, and Zelig, for God's sake——for a lack of critical distancing?

It seems to me that, regardless of what he's "aping," or perhaps appropriating for American consumption, Woody imbues his accessible films with more questioning and rejection of normative resolution than any other famed filmmaker in this country. Why isn't Tarantino criticized for his own recycling? Because he trafficks in the disreputable, something most mainstream critics don't feel protective of...Chekhov, Bergman, and Fellini are untouchable, while chopsocky kick-flicks and EC Comics are industry "fair game." It may sound odd to many, but I can't imagine an American cinematic landscape that doesn't include Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters, or Another Woman.
Here's hoping that the buzz on Match Point is reliable and true, and that this very important voice in American cinema is back in full swing while he's got some solid years left.

Weekly: NY Times Title Game

Hit it.


1. Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said
2. Trying to Update the 60's, Just a Twitch at a Time
3. Under a Bridge, and on Top of the World
4. Adulterous Romance in a Fractious World
5. New EBay Service Aims to Stem Merchant Exodus
6. At Your Request, a Bespoke Adventure
7. Lord Love a VW Bug That Knows Its Mind
8. An Affair of Their Art
9. The Lives and Loves (Perhaps) of Emperor Penguins
10. U.S. and Europe Differ on Testing Athletes for Rare Heart Ailment

2005/06/23

It Just Keeps on Growing

Though there may be no finer or nobler pastime than reviewing those films that may or may not exist, or those better left unseen, I'd like to draw your attention to some boring shit: theater consolidation.

After Regal gobbled up UA, Edwards, and the remnants of Hoyts a few years ago, I suppose this latest was only a matter of time. Though "analysts" referenced in the article describe this as "as a show of faith in moviegoing," it's certainly not a show of faith in moviegoers as this merger will most likely result in more theatre closures and a more centralized control over programming. That AMC is, in general, much less friendly circuit-wide to "specialized" films is cause for serious concern, though it remains to be seen how much of Loews' film buying staff will make the transition to this new behemoth.

The reason for this: Continued sagging revenues. It seems Hollywood's having its worst run since the 1980s. But as usual, the NY Times frames the crux of the issue without even realizing it:

"I do not go to a theater," said Gail Cornelius, a 27-year-old Internet analyst waiting outside the AMC Empire 25 on West 42nd Street. "I follow the movie."

The problem is, that the principal suppliers for these major chains (Hollywood studios) are providing fewer and fewer movies worth following. The same thing is happening in the recording industry--why pay for disposable crap when you can download it and throw it out (or wait for it to arrive at Blockbuster or On-Demand)?

The only upside might come for the Landmarks and more established indie theatres, though not without additional costs. When Loews engagements play a major role in the success of a larger "indie" film like Lost in Translation, the theatres who stick their necks out for tougher fare get hurt. But if they're now able to fill screens with Sofia Coppola, where does that leave Tsai Ming-liang?

Pawlikowski pulls one off!



Caught this gem this weekend on video, even though it’s still playing down at the Landmark Sunshine on Houston and 2nd. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, hearing all the rave reviews. Also surprised that it got a wide release, but since I found out my favorite Euro film stars were appearing, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. Pawel Pawlikowski truly is an up and "comer."


P.S.- Isn’t it time we started reviewing the films we all REALLY watch?

Batman Begins: A Movie Review of a Movie I Haven't Seen

We all have our little despised truisms; for my part, I’ve always found a huge fallacy in that familiar chide “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” This just isn’t, in my experience, always the case, for better or for worse. Truth is, you can often garner a pretty good idea of someone’s personality from their tee-shirt, get a pretty accurate idea of a movie from its trailer and, yes, get the gist of a book from what’s on the jacket.

Which brings me to my latest innovation, a revolution in film criticism that is sure to shake that esteemed literary tradition to its very foundations: reviews of movies I haven’t seen! Think of the time we poor scribes of the screen will save by not thanklessly ruining our eyes absorbing Hollywood waste product! Why, given the phoned-in—no, fuck it, telegrammed-in nature of most contemporary criticism, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this technique is already widely practiced!

All of that said, I would like to inaugurate what I’m sure will soon become a Reverse Shot institution with my thoughts on Batman Begins, a movie whose overwrought grayness and 140 minute runtime will almost certainly bar me from ever, ever setting foot into a theater where it’s playing. So; A Movie Review of a Movie I Haven’t Seen. For the purposes of bemusement, I have written in “sarcastically fawning” mode:



Batman Begins
“Batman has always managed to tow an uncomfortable line in the comic book universe; he’s a superhero who looks like a supervillain. There’s a blessing to this; that badness makes him easier to fully root for than, say, a lily-white all-American do-gooder like Superman. It’s what makes Bruce Wayne work, and it’s what Joel Schumacher mucked-up with his two neon nails in the coffin to the Batman franchise. Tim Burton, that mad master of brooding set design, made Gotham a glossy deco nightmare; Schumacher made it a pinball machine.

Enter Christopher Nolan, the wildly inventive young Brit director responsible for the devilish puzzle-box Memento, who wipes the slate clean. When he’s done with the Bat-legend, you feel like Guy Pearce in the aforementioned movie; the short-term nightmares of Schumacher’s missteps have disappeared! Gone are lantern jawed caped-crusaders like Clooney and Kilmer; you can’t tell if nouveau Bruce Wayne Christian Bale even has a jaw, masked as it is under a wiry beard.

Yes, this movie is dark, bearded leading-man dark, the dark of glistening mean streets’ concrete, the dark of all-night Edward Hopper diners, a hyperbolic uber-noir dark that will leave you squinting when the house lights come up. It was so dark that this critic often wasn’t quite sure what he was looking at, only sure that he loved it! Serious isn’t just for Dostoevsky anymore; with Batman Begins, Nolan makes a passionate, grimy argument for comic books as the novels of the 21st century (would that make video games our new movies?), and it would take a self-serious fuddy-duddy to ignore the importance of this tough, broody material. Who will soon forget the moment when Wayne reveals his true identity to Katie Holmes, the sight of the new, bulky, all-terrain Batmobile skipping across rooftops, Last Samurai’s Ken Watanbe (Toshiro Mifune v.2.0, as I’ve taken to calling him!) solemnly filling Bale’s mind with mysterious Eastern mysticism and fighting techniques, or that show-stopping final battle between our dark knight and the supervillain that he fights? Not I, and not, I suspect, many viewers--the idiot who said that American lives don’t have second acts obviously didn’t count on the resilient modern mythology of Batman.”


So, how’d I do, Batfans?

2005/06/22

AFI (A Fine Idiocy)

"Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor.  Don't you forget it.  You're going to get back on that horse, and I'm going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we're gonna go, go, go!" - Katharine Hepburn as Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond (1981).

Yes, folks, it's that time of the summer again, when AFI trots out another not-just-pointless-but-actively-stupid list populated by the same 33 titles of American movies in rotation. Didn't get enough of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? in 1998 when you rented it to satisfy an unnatural urge brought on by the AFI claiming it as one of the 100 best movies ever made in this country? Well, then odds are you'll get to see it again some time, when AFI releases its list of 100 Best Reaction Shots, 100 Best Closeted Gay Movie Stars, or my favorite, 100 Best PG-Rated Films with Pedophilic Undertones.

The quote above, one that's constantly on many a movielover's lips every day of the calendar year, is a touching moment from the climax of the indelible, certainly-not-dated-at-all On Golden Pond, although I would have probably gone for young Doug McKeon's explaining to Henry Fonda's Norman Thayer what it's like to "cruise chicks and suck face." And if that didn't work, why not Fonda's aching struggle to find the words when he gets lost out picking blueberries in the backyard. I mean, if we have to go the Pond route.

Now, of course the only thing worse than something forgettable like the quote above, is the indeed eminently quotable list provided otherwise. Still on their, as they say on their official site, "mission to reignite an interest in classic American cinema," the AFI has summarily whittled cinema down to a few touchstone movies, and now, reduced it even further to a few extractable sound bites. Of course, the criteria being movie dialogue that "viewers use in their own lives and situations; circulating through popular culture, they become part of the national lexicon," how could we expect anything more than the most degraded of self-aggrandizing social activities in list form. For anyone who has either been disgusted by (me) or been (me) one of those people who can't stop quoting The Big Lebowski, or is sick and tired of the AFI monopolizing American film experience with endless rehashes of On the Waterfront and It Happened One Night, I offer up an alternate list of the stupidest quotes from one of the stupidest movies in recent memory.

All of the following culled from the Best Picture-winningAMERICAN BEAUTY, the CASABLANCA of bad movie quotes:

"Remember those posters that said, 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life'? Well that's true about every day but one: The day you die."

"It's just stuff!"

"I will sell this house today!"

"Oh yeah, well at least I'm not ugly!" "Yes you are. On the inside."


Please, everybody, join in the fun! Take it from the AFI, and let's reduce American films even further!

Some Thoughts A Propos of Mr. Tom Cruise's Recent Erratic--Dare we Say--Scandalous Behavior Before His Viewing Public



Nah, that's okay, Reverse Shot isn't going to step up to that bad Scientologist juju... Shit is freaky.

We're behind you 101% Tom! :)

Hidden Treasures, Volume I

SCHMATTY’S MILLIONS

"Monsieur, surely I can't be blamed if this safe opens ITSELF!?"

Why this little delight is so wildly overlooked is one the great mysteries of this rabid cinephile’s quarter-century. Existing somewhere in that nebulous zone between post-Stolen Kisses French New Wave doldrums and the emergence of the Hollywood Brats, Remy Mastodon’s neat little crime caper undoubtedly managed to pull off a stunt all its own. Anthony Lane, in one of the first reviews he ever wrote—first scribbled onto the back of a pearly white dinner napkin—for his hometown paper, The Delouth Crimson, called Mastodon’s film: "A charmer; not only does it make you thrilled to be in a darkened room all by yourself with nothing but the images on the screen wafting off like the vapors of a stringent bloody mary but it also makes you realize that film as an art form shouldn’t really be taken that seriously in any context." Touchez, monsieur! When I first stumbled upon Schamatty’s Millions, I have to admit what caught my eye was the presence of a not-as-pretty but not-quite-ravaged Alain Delon of 1971 pitted against that most bovine-featured of odd British-Hollywood crossover stars, Glenda Jackson. Fresh off her Oscar win for Women in Love, Jackson certainly brings some of her D.H. Lawrence-inspired randy insouciance to her role as Bethany, a safe-cracker who’s as stone-hearted as she is savvy. Quickly falling under the spell of wayward police officer Thierry McFarland (Delon, sexier than mid-period Paul Newman but slightly more of a real-life prick) after she is caught with her pants down (literally) in a scenario too wonderfully hazardous to explain, Bethany slowly in turn seduces Thierry to the dark side. With a muddied, downtrodden L.A. landscape reminiscent of Demy’s Model Shop and a jazzed-out, intentionally nauseating score (much of it lifted from The Pawnbroker), Schmatty’s Millions really keeps you on your toes, every twist is like a sharp left-hook jab. The scene in which Delon trains Jackson how to use a shotgun while she masturbates furiously is as shocking now as it was then. The stellar supporting cast includes a crestfallen Anna Karina as the titular Schmatty, a proletariat socialite (imagine the contradictions!) whose fortune seems to be up for grabs, and Sal Mineo as Crip, Thierry’s eternally pissed off brother—though Mineo’s attempt at a French accent leaves a lot to be desired, his propensity to disrobe and show off his Who Killed Teddy Bear-honed physique more than makes up for his dramatic limitations. I heard through the grapevine that a DVD release is scheduled for some time in 2007…hopefully it will be soon, or it will fast become more sought-after than The Leopard and The Conformist put together.