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Film Dribble
Saturday, 3 December 2005
Blog News
Now Playing: We would like to interrupt Film Dribble's unscheduled hiatus to announce that Film Dribble is going on hiatus.
Keep watching my main site and the other blog for news as it happens.

That is all.

Posted by hkoreeda at 10:38 AM EST
Wednesday, 12 October 2005
The Dialogue Meme- now concluded by (un) popular demand
Now Playing: A little game for the ones who are still around.
Well, it's all over but the crying. Below are all the answers to my Dialogue Meme, so you can slap yourselves in the forehead for not placing the quote, or slap me for using you folks as guinea pigs.

So what do the ten films quoted below have in common? I didn't expect you to guess that, since it's fairly arbitrary- they are ten of the films in my "next 25" list that I plan to make as an addendum to my top 100 of a couple years back. For the rest of the 25, stay tuned to this site.

1. "Ah yes, she was a Communist too. She believed in free love. At the time it was all I could afford."

1A. "I reserve the right to be ignorant. That's the Western way of life."

- from THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1965, Martin Ritt)

2. "Sorry, I'm a bit of a stickler for paperwork. Where would we be if we didn't follow proper procedures?"- from BRAZIL (1985); answered by Vadim.

3. "You're hypnotized by this place, all of you. It's so bright and nearly wrapped you don't see that it's a prison too."- from DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978); answered by Jason.

4. "They think if they piss high enough they're gonna come across the monkey with the beard and the crap ideas and it's like, 'oh! There you are, captain! Are you busy, because I've got a few fundamental questions for ya'? You with me?"

4A. "What about the old diminishing pachyderm formation there?"

- from NAKED (1993, Mike Leigh)

5. "It was wonderful, he thought- how such depths of feeling could coexist with an absence of imagination."

5A. "I can't have my happiness made of a wrong to somebody else."

- from THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993, Martin Scorsese)

6. "Two more double bourbons. Make 'em nice and big."- from TOUCH OF EVIL (1958); answered by Tosh.

7. "This promises to be quite a trip. Personally, I don't intend to miss a meal."

7A. "My line? My most effective one is to tell a girl she has hair like a tortured midnight, lips like a red couch in an ivory palace that I'm lonely and starved for affection. Then, I generally burst into tears. It seldom works."

- from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953, Howard Hawks)

8. "The fine line that runs from ear to chin is not as obvious anymore, but it is etched there by your easygoing, indolent ways."

8A. "Wednesday the third of September-- The tang of autumn fills the clear still air but it's mild and fine."

- from CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972, Ingmar Bergman)

9. "Well, you know music, and you can count. All the way up to two."- from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968); answered by Tosh.

10. "We have a saying in Brazil- he says to go up- it says, 'Deus e Brasilero,' which means, 'God is Brazilian.' So you see, we have no worry in the world. Of course, you have to worry some. That's the way of life."

10A. "Well, Cinderella. I was beginning to think you'd never come for your shoe."

- from POINT BLANK (1967, John Boorman)

Posted by hkoreeda at 11:17 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 5 November 2005 10:06 PM EST
Monday, 10 October 2005
Hello... is there anybody out there?
Now Playing: Catch-up mini-reviews for the few people still around.
First, some spoiler-ridden remarks on A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (***1/2) and MANDERLAY (***).

And now, a bunch of comments about movies I've watched since we last got together, which was almost a month or so ago. I can't say they'll be all that useful, but there will be plenty of them. It's like a church pancake breakfast- the food isn't that great, but you get a lot and the price is right.

THE NAVIGATOR (1924, Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp)
Good: Keaton the performer and Keaton the director, obviously. He's one of my absolute faves.
Bad: Not QUITE one of Keaton's true masterpieces, mostly because it's not quite as clever as, say, SEVEN CHANCES. Which is really the worst I can say about it.
Moment Out of Time: When Keaton and the girl first search for each other on the ship, it's a wonderfully sustained bit of visual comedy.
Rating: ***1/2.

SICK (1997, Kirby Dick)
Good: Bob Flanagan, a quixotic subject who is too caustic too be a "hero." Luckily, the film is smart enough to take its cue from him.
Bad: If anything, it's too short. I wanted more Flanagan. Can't remember my other objections- should probably update more often.
Moment Out of Time: Whe obvious choice is "Hammer of Love," but I keep thinking back to Bob's girlfriend holding up a jar of fluid, saying "this was in Bob's lungs." Harrowing stuff.
Rating: ***.

THE FOG (1980, John Carpenter)
Good: The Carpenter-ness of it all, attempting to craft a supernatural thriller out of fog machines, some shadowy stunt men, and some rather prosaic shock devices (car alarms, etc.)
Bad: Not really all that scary, and feels fairly thin.
Moment Out of Time: John Houseman's opening story really sets the tone for the story, a kind of cinematic campfire spook tale.
Rating: **1/2.

THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005, Terry Gilliam)
Good: The visuals, naturally. Ledger just gets better and better, and Damon's having lots of fun too.
Bad: Doesn't really get cooking for nearly an hour. Stormare and Pryce overdo the ethnic comedy.
Moment Out of Time: Having trouble choosing between the cat scene (you'll know it if you saw it) and the mud-beast.
Rating: **1/2.

Good: Kickass music, foxy babes, heaps of melodrama, and verve to spare.
Bad: Gets a bit rushed toward the end, but the real tragedy is that the psychedelic rock camp melodrama never became a full-fledged genre.
Moment Out of Time: The Carrie Nations' disastrous talk show appearance springs to mind, as well as Z-Man's immortal "black sperm" line.
Rating: ***1/2.

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE (2005, Tim Burton and Mike Johnson)
Good: Delightful stop-motion. Animation feels much more accomodating to Burton than live-action, in which the people seem to hamstring him.
Bad: Simplistic characterizations (good= pointy chins; bad= fat chins). Forgettable musical numbers.
Moment Out of Time: Mayhew's demise- the film's most successful attempt at gallows humor.
Rating: **1/2.

THE ERRAND BOY (1961, Jerry Lewis)
Good: Occasional inventiveness- when it's on, it's great.
Bad: WILDLY inconsistent. Grabs at sentimentality fall flat (e.g. the puppets). I prefer Lewis-as-na?f (LADIES' MAN) to the idiot Lewis here.
Moment Out of Time: Jerry mimes to Count Basie's "Blues in Hoss Flat" while alone in the studio's boardroom.
Rating: **.

2046 (2004, Wong Kar-wai)
Good: The highly-awaited return of idiosyncratic Wong, riffing on In the Mood for Love. (Heresy alert!) I think I actually prefer this one. Gorgeous cinematography, iconic Tony Leung, jumbled chronology, and a seemingly endless array of hot Asian babes (Gong Li, Faye Wong, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, and Ziyi Zhang playing an adult for once).
Bad: The Zhang Ziyi storyline was a tad conventional compared to the rest.
Moment Out of Time: Either the scene of foxy Robot Faye gazing out the window of the train, or the part when the title card flashed up on the screen before the Gong Li flashback and the old ladies behind me exasperatedly sighed "Jesus, there's MORE???"
Rating: ***1/2.

LADY VENGEANCE (2005, Chan-wook Park)
Good: Park's visual style gets more elegant with each film. Choi Min-sik rules, obviously.
Bad: Park claims to problematize revenge here, but I found very little evidence thereof within the film itself until the final ten minutes or so. Making Choi an irredeemably evil villain was a miscalculation, considering Park finds time to humanize everyone else.
Moment Out of Time: Nothing springs to mind, considering this was the first film of a long weekend at NYFF.
Rating: **.

A VISIT TO THE LOUVRE (x2) (2004, Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet)
Good: Great art is always a pleasure to see, even if it's on a movie screen. I'm curious to see more Straub-Huillet. Since there are two different versions, part of the fun is finding differences.
Bad: No subtitles, so I had to rely on handouts given to the audience and my limited memory of French.
Moment Out of Time: Narrator (reading Paul Cezanne) getting audibly pissed off at the end of version #2.
Rating: *** for both.

BLUE MOVIE (1968, Andy Warhol)
Good: The sex is certainly notable, not least because it's presented in one continuous shot, without the insert shots common to today's porno. Often visually beautiful, and the pillow talk that comes before and after is sometimes entertaining...
Bad:... and being Warhol, it's often indulgent as well. There's a reason most adult movies are short, and I don't think Jack Horner would see this as his dream project.
Moment Out of Time: The sex, obviously, but also a gorgeous shot of the backlit stars sitting in by the window as the sun sets. Plus Viva is a real character in person.
No rating. BLUE MOVIE transcends "good" and "bad," and simply exists as an object.

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO (2005, Neil Jordan)
Good: Cillian Murphy is ideal for this role, and he doesn't disappoint. Stephen Rea and Brendan Gleeson are awesome in their supporting roles. Cool 70s-era music.
Bad: "Troubles" subplot doesn't feel organic as it did in THE CRYING GAME. Kitten's search for mother is less than compelling.
Moment Out of Time: Murphy and Gleeson's misadventures in theme-park employment.
Rating: **.

A TALE OF CINEMA (2005, Hong Sang-soo)
Good: The film's bifurcated structure is highly effective, with the second "real" half simultaneously contrasting, problematizing, and correcting the first. Nobody writes self-important dufuses like Hong.
Bad: Nothing much, really.
Moment Out of Time: The final scene, which calls into question exactly how "real" the second story actually was.
Rating: ***1/2.

THROUGH THE FOREST (2005, Jean-Paul Civeyrac)
Good: Impressive in the formal sense, with Civeyrac crafting a successful narrative film from only ten self-contained shots. Fascinating acting debut by Camille Berthomier.
Bad: Again, nothing much. The ambiguity of the film wasn't so much bad as another compelling reason to see the film again.
Moment Out of Time: Civeyrac uses camera movements and theatrical-style colored lighting to turn a single shot into a kind of modified montage that encompasses a number of weeks.
Rating: ***1/2.

CAPOTE (2005, Bennett Miller)
Good: Hoffman's accolades are justified in my opinion, and Keener (as Harper Lee, the film's conscience) is very good too. The film's limiting itself to the IN COLD BLOOD years was a wise decision, eliminating the need for many biopic clich?s...
Bad:... which make the ones that are used (text at the end, the one-dimensional concerned significant other played by Bruce Greenwood) all the more glaring.
Moment Out of Time: Capote drunkenly revealing his agenda to Harper at the TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD premiere.
Rating: ***.

SCARECROW (1973, Jerry Schatzberg)
Good: Hackman and Pacino, obviously. More importantly, Hackman and Pacino together, giving their characters a unique rapport that makes the journey memorable. A classic for the first 45 minutes or so, as we mostly just follow them on the road.
Bad: Once they get sent to jail, the plot kicks in, which is invariably disappointing in a film that depends so largely on the comic interplay between the stars.
Moment Out of Time: The fellow travelers' first breakfast together.
Rating: ***.

GO WEST (1925, Buster Keaton)
Good: Keaton again, of course.
Bad: Probably the least of the Keaton features I've seen, though still lots of fun. Final cattle rampage through LA goes on entirely too long.
Moment Out of Time: Keaton finds a way to lure two escaped cattle back into the pen.
Rating: ***.

DARK STAR (1974, John Carpenter)
Good: Carpenter wouldn't be this gleefully cheesy again until THEY LIVE. That his "alien" is obviously a giant beach ball with hands and feet is one more reason to dig this movie.
Bad: Carpenter can't quite sustain the madness, even over 80-some minutes.
Moment Out of Time: Doolittle trying to talk sense to Smart Bomb #20.
Rating: ***.

A TOUT DE SUITE (2004, Benoit Jacquot)
Good: The middle third, in which our heroine (Islid Le Besco) is marooned in Greece and has to find her way. A fair amount of female nudity, for those so inclined. Based on a true story, which adds emotional specificity to the narrative.
Bad: The first and final thirds of the film aren't as good as the middle. Digital video gets distracting after a while. Le Besco's performance gets repetitive after a while.
Moment Out of Time: The four fugitives (two male, two female) put on pantyhose in which to hide their stolen loot.
Rating: **1/2.

THUMBSUCKER (2005, Mike Mills)
Good: Solid performances, not only from lead Lou Pucci but also from Vincent D'Onofrio and Tilda Swinton- he as Pucci's dad (afflicted with low self-esteem) and she as his mom (immature and star-struck). Not as quirky as I'd feared- the weirdness mostly feels in character with the story rather than being tacked on for quirkiness' sake. The first film I've seen recently that takes the issue of Ritalin seriously, here as part of a larger examination of a symptom-seeking self-help culture.
Bad: Ends about two scenes after it should. Storyline with Keanu Reeves feels too resolved, and the one with Vince Vaughn not resolved enough. Plus I hate the Polyphonic Spree, which makes the fact that their song from this movie has been stuck in my head all day all the more annoying.
Moment Out of Time: Pucci and the debate team party in the hotel room.
Rating: **1/2.

Posted by hkoreeda at 1:45 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005 1:46 AM EDT
Thursday, 29 September 2005
One for the road...
Now Playing: a little something to tide you over
Well, leaving for NYFF tomorrow. I ended up finding a ticket to THROUGH THE FOREST but I'm still not sure whether I'll catch HAZE.

But before I go, I leave you with the year's best trailer. Kudos to whoever put this one together.

Posted by hkoreeda at 10:15 PM EDT
Sunday, 18 September 2005
Festival Express
Now Playing: But don't be sad, 'cause one out of two ain't bad.
I wasn't able to make it to TIFF this year, and I had actually planned to. Alas, the guy I wanted to share a hotel room with had to back out (family business), and I couldn't find anyone else to split a room with. Maybe next year.

However, I was able to find someone to split the cost of lodging for the New York Film Festival this year. Or, at least, one weekend of the fest, which is a good start anyway. Kevin and I will be in town the weekend of September 30. At this point, here is what I plan to see:

Friday, 9/30:
6 PM - Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
9 PM - Manderlay

Saturday, 10/1:
10 AM - A Visit to the Louvre [x2] (Views From the Avant-Garde program 1)
12 noon - Views From the Avant-Garde program 2
2:15 PM - Views From the Avant-Garde program 3
5:30 PM - Views From the Avant-Garde program 4
8:30 PM - Blue Movie (A-G program 5)

Sunday, 10/2:
12 noon - Breakfast on Pluto
3:15 PM - A Tale of Cinema

If anyone knows where I could get a ticket for the 10/2 screening of THROUGH THE FOREST, it'd be much appreciated. Also, if anyone knows if I should bother getting a ticket for the midnight showing of HAZE, let me know.

Anyway, should be fun.

Posted by hkoreeda at 12:09 AM EDT
No excuse for this sort of behavior, really:...
Now Playing: Or, How Not to Fit a Month's Worth of Viewing Into a Blog Posting
First off, a few double features:

OTHELLO (1952, Orson Welles) with FILMING 'OTHELLO' (1978, Welles)- I'd never seen Welles' take on the Moor, which was all the more fascinating after hearing Welles' take on it a quarter-century later. In the earlier film, Welles' visual sense is typically sharp, which is amazing given the conditions under which the film was made (shot over four years, crucial killing scene basically improvised in a Turkish bath, etc.). Michael MacLiammoir's Iago is the best interpretation of the character I've seen, largely because he doesn't pin down the character's motivation (Shakespeare's ballsy gambit with Iago was that he was, quite simply, evil) without making him a cartoon. As for FILMING 'OTHELLO', I geeked out. I only hope that the world can see FILMING 'THE TRIAL.'
OTHELLO: ***1/2.

FINGERS (1978, James Toback) with THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005, Jacques Audiard)- Audiard's film isn't so much a remake as a Variation on a Theme By Toback, which works out fine, since Toback's film is pretty story-light, giving Audiard plenty of room to be creative. Many similar plot points, but what sticks out are the differences- e.g. in Toback's version, we encounter the protagonist (Harvey Keitel) first as a pianist, whereas it takes over a reel to get Audiard's antihero (Romain Duris) at the keyboard. One of the key elements in both films is the relationship between the protag and his controlling father, and I think Toback has the edge here, since Michael V. Gazzo is so much more charming and friendly as the dad, which makes his manipulations all the more sobering. Forced to pick one over the other I'd choose the 2005 film, largely because Toback wasn't (still isn't) as good a director as Audiard is (dig the photography and the use of music), but both films are good enough that one needn't choose.

THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005, Fernando Meirelles) with LORD OF WAR (2005, Andrew Niccol)- a key theme of both of these films is the way the superpowers have turned their backs on the Third World- primarily Africa- leaving it wide open to exploitation by unscrupulous opportunists. But the films play off this theme much differently, one as tragedy, the other as black comedy. GARDENER is most effective as a postmortem romance, in which Ralph Fiennes' wussy diplomat learns to love his wife more after her death by piecing together the mystery of her life. LORD OF WAR is ballsier, following an unapologetic money-grubber of an arms dealer (Nicolas Cage) for two decades as he supplies dictators and despots worldwide. Both films succeed primarily by virtue of their lead casting- Fiennes adds righteous indignation to stock character of the withdrawn Brit, and Cage is even better in his role, lending it an ironic spin without which the film's tone would be impossible to sustain. Kudos also to both films' supporting casts, notably Rachel Weisz and Danny Huston in GARDENER and the positively chilling Eamonn Walker in LORD OF WAR. Word of warning for prospective LORD OF WAR watchers- don't arrive late.

And now, the rest (in short):

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA (1928, Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich)- where did this get its reputation? The cutout animation is pretty cool, I suppose, but now this mostly feels like a waste of time. No rating- short film.

MENILMONTANT (1926, Dimitri Kirsanoff)- Nadia Sibirskaia without a doubt has one of the most incredible screen presences I've ever experienced. And the movie itself is awesome too. No rating- short film.

RHYTHMUS 21 (1921, Hans Richter)- so eerily close to my idea for an opening credits sequence for a movie I want to make that I now need to go back to the drawing board. No rating- short film.

VORMITTAGSSPUK (1928, Hans Richter)- deviant art rules. Looks like I'm getting the Kino A-G Cinema of the 20s and 30s as soon as I get some money. No rating- short film.

DISTANCE (2001, Hirokazu Kore-eda)- slow moving and not especially perceptive, but bridges the gap between the ethereally-inclined Kore-eda of MABOROSI and AFTER LIFE and the more corporeal director of NOBODY KNOWS. The restaurant meeting between the salaryman and his cult-member wife an hour into the film is easily the highlight. Rating: **1/2.

THE POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE (1998, Hong Sang-soo)- Chris tells me that you need to see a few Hong films before you really get him, and while I loved TURNING GATE on the first viewing, I think it's going to take more than one for this. Still, pretty good. Love the "Clementine" singalong. Rating: **1/2.

THE LADIES' MAN (1961, Jerry Lewis)- the French are right. Lewis' filmmaking here is endlessly inventive, from the intricately choreographed introduction of the house full'o'girls to the third-act twist of the house being overrun by the TV crew. Plus it's hilarious, and "Herbert Heebert" is lots of fun to say. Rating: ***1/2.

MA MERE (2004, Christophe Honor?)- the point of this seems to be that the fun of sex comes from the transgression, but no one seems to be having fun (this makes sense for the seen-it-all Isabelle Huppert, but what about the kids?). Huppert excels at this character, but frankly she should give it a sabbatical, since she's too great to be typecast like this. Still not sure about Louis Garrel as an actor, but he's certainly game, and he and Huppert are well-matched physically. Rating: *1/2.

THE UPSIDE OF ANGER (2005, Mike Binder)- went down somewhat from the first viewing. May still be overrating it, since the film's flaws (Terry's rage is too over-the-top, too much sitcom dialogue, fantasy sequences break the reality) become more glaring on the second go-round. Allen and Costner still shine. Rating: **1/2.

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002, Chan-wook Park)- having seen only OLDBOY and JSA, I was surprised how slipshod this felt, with little of the former's propulsive energy or the former's thematic interest. Park goes out of his way to problematize the idea of revenge- problem is, there have been so many takes on revenge in the past few years that there are few interesting angles left. So perhaps it's as much bad timing as anything else that made this one a disappointment. Rating: **.

SARABAND (2003, Ingmar Bergman)- minor, but only by Bergman standards. One of the first things that struck me was how uncinematic much of this felt- which makes sense, given that this was made for television. I certainly wasn't expecting it the first time Liv Ullmann made an aside to the audience, but the surprise wasn't unpleasant. The centerpiece sequences naturally belong to Ullmann and Erland Josephson- the other scenes feel almost like afterthoughts by comparison- but Julia Dufvenius and Borje Ahlstedt (who I didn't recognize as Carl from FANNY AND ALEXANDER) are nearly as good as their eminent costars. And is it just me, or is Gunnel Fred made up to look like Ingrid Thulin in a late scene? A worthy send-off for a true master.Rating: ***.

JUNEBUG (2005, Phil Morrison)- not quite as good as many critics have made it out to be, but still worth seeing. I was annoyed by the way George (played by Alessandro Nivola) was written- he arrives at his family's home, new wife (Embeth Davidtz) in tow, then disappears for much of the film, only to resurface at dramatic moments. Particularly irksome was the way he took his wife to task for missing (SPOILER) in order to chase down a potentially lucrative artist for her museum, after he'd avoided the family for most of the movie. The cast is somewhat inconsistent- Benjamin Mackenzie isn't actor enough to suggest shadings to his stoic character, and can Celia Weston play anything other than meddlesome matriarchs?- but two stand out. Amy Adams has the film's plum role as the sweet, talkative, and largely pregnant Ashley, who takes a shine to her new sister-in-law, and her performance is worth all the ink that has been spilled over it. But where's the hype for Scott Wilson, who is as wonderfully understated as Adams is open-hearted, and suggests volumes just by the way he leans over the kitchen table to eat or searches in vain for a lost screwdriver? Rating: **1/2.

Posted by hkoreeda at 12:00 AM EDT
Thursday, 25 August 2005
3 tomatoes are walking down the street
Now Playing: Catching up in a rather half-assed manner
Let's try one sentence apiece for everything I've seen since I last updated. I'll understand if you don't stick around. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother, which kind of sucks considering I'm doing this for the fun of it. But I also feel obligated, lest I lose both of you for good.

COOL HAND LUKE- vivid depiction of a charismatic con who refuses to stay within the system; Newman and George Kennedy are both excellent, and the film never portrays Luke as an outsize hero or a martyr, which keeps the story grounded. Rating: ***.

TURNING GATE- I love how Hong only gradually reveals what a dumbass his protagonist is, particularly in his relationships with women; the "do you like my move?" routine in bed is hilarious. Rating: ***1/2.

CASINO- better than I remembered, but still third-rate Scorsese; Pesci is surprisingly subdued when he's not beating the crap out of people; all the voiceover is overkill, but great layered sound track, and the music of course is killer. Rating: **1/2.

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES- pure cinematic heaven, and surely the final word on the Monroe persona; almost incendiary from a thematic standpoint- as long as men rule the world, women must take advantage of their allure while they can, lest they be overlooked entirely- but there's hardly time to sweat the heavy stuff since you're having so much fun. Rating: ****.

THE TRIAL- still awesome. Rating: ****.

COME DRINK WITH ME- highly enjoyable, particularly the interplay between Cheng Pei-Pei and Yueh Hua; lots of ass-kicking in the film's first half, but gradually becomes more elegant until the final fight scene. Rating: ***1/2.

BROKEN FLOWERS- as low-key as Jarmusch and latter-day Murray are, it's a wonder this thing isn't catatonic, but it's not, courtesy of lovely performances (take a bow, Jeffrey Wright) and kid-gloved treatment of a potentially mawkish storyline; also, one doesn't expect female nudity in Jarmusch, not that I'm complaining... Rating: ***.

MURDERBALL- honestly, I wanted more about the sport- history, rules, non-sped-up game footage- and even the relatively small amount of "the disabled are people too" scenes still felt out of place in a movie that's allegedly about guys in wheelchairs beating the tar out of each other; I would've loved a movie just about Zupan. Rating: **1/2.

CALENDAR GIRLS- I wasn't that big a fan of THE FULL MONTY, and this gender-flipped variation did even less for me; Mirren's good, as usual. Rating: *1/2.

SKY HIGH- fun family-friendly junior-superhero comedy is also a twist on the John Hughes high-school movie template (heroes are popular, sidekicks are outcasts); dig Kurt Russell's Adam West routine as the Commander and Kids in the Hall alums Dave Foley and Kevin MacDonald as teachers. Rating: **1/2.

DICK TRACY- awesome stylized visuals, undercooked story; Beatty tries, but can't make Tracy into an interesting character, and Madonna is even less successful with Breathless; Pacino's Big Boy is actually a better Richard III than his performance in LOOKING FOR RICHARD, oddly enough. Rating: **1/2.

RED EYE- standard-issue suspense film is distinguished by the leads, both of whom dive in head-first; Rachel McAdams is wholly convincing as a victim who must think on her feet to survive, and Cillian Murphy is even better as her kidnapper; love his "sea breeze" hissy fit. Rating: **1/2.

THE IMMORTAL STORY- a near-masterpiece in miniature, with Welles giving a wonderfully theatrical performance as an old man who seeks to make real an old sailor's legend; many Wellesian tropes on display here- the lonely rich man, the obsession with storytelling, the decaying opulence; the dinner scene, as Welles and the sailor eat in a room lined with plush purple curtains, feels like the wellspring for a hundred Lynchian dreams. Rating: ***1/2.

THE SEA HAWK- rousing as all hell, but also as much of a rallying call as Olivier's HENRY V (Queen Elizabeth's final monologue makes this plain); having associated him almost entirely with CASABLANCA, I had forgotten Curtiz had such filmmaking panache, but he handles the derring-do magnificently. Rating: ***1/2.

JOUR DE FETE- disappointing only by Tati standards; here he foregrounds himself more than in his later work, and Francois the mailman engages in too much slapstick for my taste (though Tati is good at it); the old woman describing the goings-on is a bit much too; still, it's Tati, and so it's still quite entertaining. Rating: ***.

GRIZZLY MAN- Tim Treadwell was a fool, but he was Herzog's kind of fool, and sensational story aside, that's what the movie is about- a guy on an impossible and illogical (call it quixotic) journey; sequences like Herzog listening to the audio of Treadwell's killing and the coroner's description of the remains are indelible. Rating: ***1/2.

KINGPIN- still my favorite early "bad taste" Farelly movie, even if it's not quite as hilarious as I'd remembered; if nothing else, could be the last hurrah for the wacky Bill Murray. Rating: **1/2.

Posted by hkoreeda at 10:51 PM EDT
Sunday, 14 August 2005
Now Playing: Buck-passing and the Hollywood blame game
SPOILERS contained herein- some which are mentioned, others implied.

So THE ISLAND is a flop. I didn't care for the movie all that much, but that doesn't really matter now. The big story coming out of Hollywood this summer is that box office receipts are down, and the movie the armchair QBs are pointing to is THE ISLAND. Some have called it Michael Bay's HEAVEN'S GATE, but that's a huge stretch- Cimino's film was hugely ambitious, made on a budget that was massive by 1980 standards, but Bay just made a slightly-philosophical chases-and-explosions movie, no big deal in this post-MATRIX era. Hell, even the budget of $120 million is no longer all that newsworthy compared to, say, WAR OF THE WORLDS. But THE ISLAND, as we know, is a box-office disappointment- "the movie that ruined Dreamworks," according to some. And now the film's producers, Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald have come out and placed the blame on the film's stars, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, for the film's failure. In particular they've singled out Johansson for being subpar, stating that (I'm paraphrasing) any TV actress could have done as well or better than she did.

Um, what? As I said, I'm hardly an ISLAND apologist, but when I think of the film's problems the lead performances don't rank highly on the list. I'd say that McGregor and Johansson did as well as they could have under the circumstances, given Bay's less-than-actor-friendly shooting style (choppy editing makes it tough to sustain a cohesive performance). The characters aren't all that deep, but they sell the superficial stuff convincingly enough. And if Parkes and MacDonald are complaining about their leads' lack of star charisma- hey, you're the producers. Shouldn't you have expressed concern about them BEFORE NOW???

No, I think that what went wrong with the film has less to do with the stars than with the studio selling the film. Simply put, THE ISLAND isn't a movie that people are talking about. Working at the exhibition level, I deal directly with the people who are buying tickets, and there isn't a great deal of awareness of THE ISLAND among the ticket-buyers who come to my theatre. Sometimes people come to the multiplex without knowing what they want to watch, and when people are standing at the box office deciding on a movie, the title they seem the least sure of is THE ISLAND. Everyone knows what MR. AND MRS. SMITH is, likewise FOUR BROTHERS. But when it comes to THE ISLAND, they draw a blank. Which leads me to believe that someone should have changed the title somewhere along the line. Say what you will about utilizing abstract titles, but most people would prefer if the title of a movie actually, you know, said something about that movie.

The obvious example this summer is BATMAN BEGINS. What's it about? Well, it's about Batman's beginnings. Oh, cool.

All right, what about THE ISLAND? Um... (crickets chirping). OK, does it take place on an island? No. Are they going to an island in the movie? Not really. What does the island have to do with THE ISLAND? It's the place where they're supposedly going to go, except that there (SPOILER) isn't really an island, and the island is all a lie made up by SPOILER so that they can SPOILER our heroes. Oh.

You see a moviegoer's dilemma. Strange as it seems to a guy like me, most people out there aren't hyper-aware of every movie that's playing, and at the end of a hard work week, they want something they can settle into like a warm bath or a heaping plate of meatloaf- the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. And when the title confuses people, they'll more than likely think, why bother?

Which leads me to another major problem with THE ISLAND- the story. See, when people out there are looking for a fun night at the movies, they need what's called a "hook" to grab them so they'll get interested in what they're seeing. Sometimes that hook comes from the genre- MUST LOVE DOGS is doing well at my theatre because it's the only romantic comedy we have. Other times it's the film's premise. MR. AND MRS. SMITH isn't a hit simply because of its tabloid-ready stars and its big-budget action. What was unmistakable in the ads for the film was the premise- namely, the fear shared by anyone who's married or in a relationship that his significant other may be hiding a huge secret.

On the other hand, what is THE ISLAND's hook? That the heroes are really just clones of people, being hidden in a secret bunker, waiting to be harvested for spare organs? Not exactly what I'd call a universal fear. Hell, even BATMAN BEGINS has a better hook than that, and it didn't even need one, being a BATMAN movie.

It seems to me that what finally sunk THE ISLAND at the box office was that no one knew how to market the film to the public. Let's examine the most rudimentary visual marketing tool at the theatre, the mylar sign that adorns the box office marquee. Because the studio only has a small space to work with, they're only able to place a few elements on the sign, preferably the elements that would make the movie distinctive and appealing to the undecided ticket-buyer. The signs for SKY HIGH and HERBIE play up Disney, FOUR BROTHERS focuses on the poster image of the bi-racial siblings striking a badass-looking pose, and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS trumpets the name of writer/director Rob Zombie. But THE ISLAND... well, it's basically a futuristic-looking title adorned with the names of its not-quite A-list stars. No "from the director of THE ROCK", no images from the film, no tagline, nothing else. Hollywood's answer to this would no doubt be that THE ISLAND is "a tough sell." Given the convoluted story, how could they possibly boil down the movie into an easily-digestible image for ticket-buyers? Well, this is a lesson they'll have to learn, and quickly, lest they risk more mega-budget flops.

As I said before, I'm no fan of THE ISLAND, and indeed I welcome its flopping as a sign that maybe audiences are fed-up with routine Hollywood dreck, and possibly bring about a new renaissance like in the late 60s and early 70s. But I was also at a preview screening, and I know that, my feelings aside, the film plays well with an audience. What I fear then is that Hollywood will learn precisely the wrong lessons from this, that they'll pour an even higher percentage of studio money into "sure things"- remakes, sequels, TV adaptations- rather than actually learning to sell some trickier movies. Because honestly, if they can't even sell a Michael Bay movie, what chance does a real visionary have of connecting with an audience?

Posted by hkoreeda at 12:01 AM EDT
Tuesday, 2 August 2005
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Now Playing: Stuff you've probably already forgotten
THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005, Rob Zombie)- turns out Zombie can direct a movie after all, if this scruffy, violent thrill ride is any indication. Perhaps it took a guy who is more famous as a musician to make a film this unapologetic, amoral and unironic in its violence- since it's not beholden to Hollywood for his livelihood, he's free to crank everything up to 11, be it the story, the gore, or the performances (in particular the snarling indignation of William Forsythe). What's miraculous, then, is that the film is as good as it is- not for everyone, certainly, but surely good for anyone who grooves on a movie with a title like "The Devil's Rejects." The film also works as a kind of corrective to the romanticized "young-hot-fugitives" genre propagated by films like BONNIE AND CLYDE- why are the Firefly family's actions reprehensible, while Bonnie and Clyde became counterculture heroes? Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that Bonnie and Clyde were played by Dunaway and Beatty whereas the Fireflys are dentally-challenged rednecks? The final scene is a kind of masterpiece, rescuing "Freebird" from a thousand classic rock stations and turning it into the keenest re-examining of an old song since Tarantino found his Nancy Sinatra albums. Rating: ***.

BAD NEWS BEARS (2005, Richard Linkater)- think the original BNB mashed together with BAD SANTA, and you've got it. Often very funny, but doesn't really feel like Linklater until the final reel, when the heroes [SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T SEEN THE ORIGINAL] commit to having fun and losing their way. Of contemporary American directors, maybe only Linklater could make a movie this enjoyable and still disappoint. Rating: **1/2.

HUSTLE AND FLOW (2005, Craig Brewer)- between this and DEVIL'S REJECTS, 70s-inspired cinema is out in force. The film's feel for the broken-down dirty south setting (strippers who don't look like models, two-tone cars, lots of sweat- and not movie-sweat either) makes the story feel almost secondary, but for such a formulaic plot- pimp dreams of being a rapper- it still works. I also enjoyed the unhurried feel of the recording-session scenes, in which the characters gradually hammer away at the music to create a finished song. Terence Howard is as good as you've heard here, particularly in his scene with Ludacris (I love the moment where he hangs back for a minute to smoke a cigarette before switching conversational gears), but the whole cast is effective. Also, the sexual politics are something less than cool, but when you're watching a movie about a pimp-turned-rapper, you don't expect political correctness. Rating: **1/2.

DONKEY SKIN (1970, Jacques Demy)- as Stults said, "the more Demy I see, the more canonical he gets." Even within the framework of a fairy tale, the film manages to be absurdly funny, full of the rough edges that get smoothed down by Disney and other American purveyors of "kiddie movies"- the incest plot, the donkey that "expels" jewels, and so on. I also love the repeated nods to Cocteau, from the "future poems" read by Cocteau regular Jean Marais (playing the widowed king) to the doozy of a non sequitur that comes at the film's climax. Some critics have complained about Deneuve's performance, but I liked the heightened theatricality of it- she plays the sheltered princess as an archetype rather than a fully-rounded person, which works in the film's favor, especially in bizarre moments like her duet... with herself. Views of several of France's most beautiful chateaus are icing on the love-cake. Rating: ***1/2.

DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (1929, G.W. Pabst)- not quite as awesome as PANDORA'S BOX, but even more sordid, as we follow run the gamut with Louise Brooks here, from virginal youth to pregnant daughter to reform-school girl to prostitute to respectable woman. What makes the film shocking is how unapologetic Brooks becomes about her sexuality by the end- even today, most Hollywood movies shy away from sexually-frank women, prefering to cast them as prostitute or edgy bad girls like Angelina Jolie. Also interesting to see how Pabst accomodated Brooks' trademark black hair into the style, avoiding any other use of the color until a funeral late in the film. Rating: ***1/2.

MARTIN (1977, George A. Romero)- a wicked piece of work, this, focusing on a young man who seems convinced that he's a vampire, despite his lack of fangs. Martin is a compelling character because he's so awkward socially, and his drinking the blood of others is the only real opportunity he gets to connect, which is not to say that the film excuses it, but merely sympathizes with his plight. It's entirely possible that he might not even be a vampire at all, but from a young age he has been told that he is, and his life has been shaped accordingly. Several awesome set pieces, with my favorite being a late-night home invasion by Martin that yields an unpleasant surprise. This film is proof positive that there's more to Romero than the DEAD movies. Rating: ***1/2.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987, John Carpenter)- in which Carpenter creates a supernatural thriller from little more than a tank of green liquid, some mirrors, and an old church. The film is almost goofy in spots- as when the demonic liquid squirts out of people's mouths- but that's part of the charm. I'm convinced that, if Satan were to return to Earth, it would probably happen more like this than the way it does in movies like THE EXORCIST. The film also works almost like a cautionary tale of how matters of faith aren't to be treated lightly- scientists are called in to investigate strange goings-on, and the ones who perish are the ones who shrug them off and try to walk away. Favorite moment: Walter, trapped in a closet by two possessed colleagues, tries to keep them at bay with a bad Jewish-mother joke. Rating: ***.

Posted by hkoreeda at 5:00 PM EDT
Tuesday, 19 July 2005
Now Playing: Yeah, I know I've been gone a while. Sorry, you two.
(listed roughly in the order in which I saw them)

THE FANTASTIC FOUR (2005, Tim Story)- not quite as lame as I was expecting, but not good either. It's certainly not as dark and serious as BATMAN BEGINS or the SPIDEY franchise, but much of the humor falls flat (despite Chris Evans' best efforts), Dr. Doom makes for a lame baddie, there's no chemistry between Jessica Alba and Iaon Gruffuffuff, and the rather sparse action scenes aren't all that exciting. It's harmless enough- it's probably doing well at the box office because it's less demanding than WAR OF THE WORLDS- but that doesn't quite cut it for me. Rating: *1/2.

HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIEN (2003, Jacques Rivette)- I definitely need to see this again, but on first viewing I was positively entranced. Rivette lovers will find a lot to love here- languid pacing, piles-o'-books art direction, the expected great performances from Emmanuelle Beart and Jerzy Radziwilowicz. Likewise, his ability to apply his unique style to what could have simply been a forgettable genre piece has improved by leaps and bounds since SECRET DEFENSE (my least favorite Rivette of those I've seen). The final scene is sure to be a point of contention between romantics and cynics, but I loved it. Also, Beart boobies, for those interested parties. Rating: ***1/2.

IT'S A GIFT (1934, Norman Z. MacLeod)- everything I love about Fields movies is on display here, especially the uncomfortable nature of the big comic sequences. Fields movies were made by, about, and for put-upon misanthropic men who felt impotent in the face of difficult women, mischievious kids, and the like. That's what keeps them feeling completely modern in our more politically-correct world, I think, as many would maintain that this feeling of impotence has only become more pervasive since then. Rating: ***1/2.

DARK WATER (2005, Walter Salles)- yet another J-horror remake (I didn't bother with the original) with the usual storyline- kid dies and comes back to communicate with the living but can only scare them because, duh, she's a ghost. Yet the movie largely worked for me because the dramatic stuff was effective. Connelly of course excels as the mother whose issues only grow when the ghost comes on the scene, and the supporting cast is pretty awesome too (I especially enjoyed Tim Roth- where has he been lately?- as the only non-shyster lawyer in New York). The horror elements are almost an afterthought here, which may be why audiences aren't liking it, but I enjoyed the atmospheric style. This may be my favorite Salles film, but honestly that's not saying a lot. Rating: **1/2.

PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (1949, Henry Cornelius)- genial and fairly amusing, but I fear a lot of the satirical jabs may have been lost on a non-Anglophile half a century down the line. Rating: **1/2.

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (1951, Alexander Mackendrick)- I fear Ealing comedies may not be my thing, given that this is supposedly one of the greats and I merely liked it quite a bit. Alec Guinness is somewhat colorless (ha ha), though by design, while Joan Greenwood's awesome cultivated-yet-sultry voice and Ernest "Dr. Pretorius" Thesiger steal the show. Maybe I just need to see KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS... Rating: ***.

WEDDING CRASHERS (2005, David Dobkin)- lots of funny moments (dig Vaughn's "just the tip" speech or his demonstration of "motorboating"), but the trouble with a movie with "wedding" in the title is that too often the filmmakers feel the need to appeal to people who come to see a chick flick. Too bad, really, because the earnest romance between Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams clashes with the raucous, foul-mouthed majesty of the early scenes. Plus the "villainous" character of Sack is over-the-top in the wrong way- violent and psychotic, but not in a way that's funny. But Vaughn rules the movie, except whenever Isla Fisher's looney little sis character is onscreen. Rating: **.

THE ISLAND (2005, Michael Bay)- I always feel a little bad when I dislike a Michael Bay movie, since the guy's style is SO excessive, so cranked-up, that it should be right in my wheelhouse. Shame the movies themselves tend to be so stupid, although this one is slightly less so than usual, which creates a bit of a problem, as a GATTACA-style utopia-with-a-secret sci-fi drama careens repeatedly into a smash-'em-up Bay actioner, in which cars don't so much crash as SHRED. Don't know what detracts more- the rudimentary character motivations or the awkward comic relief (e.g. the "dude" scene). Plus there's Bay's usual reliance on all-American imagery, with Ewan MacGregor's "enlightened liberator" character oh-so-subtly named "Lincoln." Still, nice to see Djimon Hounsou playing a badass, even if he doesn't really get anything badass to do. Archetypal Bay moment comes when MacGregor sees a motorcycle for the first time: "I don't know what it is..." [pause] "... but I want one!" Rating: *1/2.

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005, Tim Burton)- perhaps thirty years from now, the third time will be the charm. First movie had a better Wonka (Wilder's dry disdain trumps Depp's Jacko-esque stylings), but in this one the non-Wonka stuff is superior- better kids, better art direction, MUCH better songs. Loved the opening reel or so, with the poverty of the Bucket family a real presence in the film -the house is a design wonder- and real warmth and humor in the family (Freddie Highmore and David Kelly are great as Charlie and Grandpa Joe, respectively). Once they arrive at the factory, pickings are decidedly mixed, and the only time it really cooks from there on in is during Veruca's demise. It can only be a matter of time before an enterprising young editor attempts place Wilder's Wonka into this movie, which could turn out fascinating; but until then, read the book. Rating: **.

WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (2000, Bela Tarr)- my first Tarr film, and now I see what Gus Van Sant was so excited about. I can't say I figured it all out on the first viewing, but I did like how the opening scene sets up the story as dealing with the ideal of cosmic order (as in the demonstration of the eclipse) only to see order pulled out from under the feet of the townspeople with the arrival of the traveling circus. Is the film saying that the whale and the Prince disrupted the careful order of the town (which Auntie Tunde clearly represents), or is the town's order an unnatural affectation to be torn asunder in favor of something more basic and primal (much like Uncle Gyorgy's musings on ransacking contemporary musical structure)? But who has time to answer this question on the first go-round when one can geek out on the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and oh-so-smooth Steadicam work? There's even a side-by-side walking shot here, which Van Sant purloined (and somehow improved upon!) for GERRY. The raiding-the-hospital sequence is a marvel to behold. Is it too much to hope for that someone will put out SATANTANGO in DVD? Rating: ***1/2.

LOS OLVIDADOS (1950, Luis Bunuel)- it's Bunuel. Whaddya need, a map? Rating: ***1/2.

Posted by hkoreeda at 2:29 AM EDT

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