Weekly meditations from your humble messenger
Promises (Eastern Promises, 10/8/07): "I'll start this
demurral from David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises with a confession:
I was not all that taken with his last effort, A History of Violence,
either. Once upon a time, Cronenberg made his name with mordant, sophisticated,
utterly satisfying horrors like Scanners (1981), Videodrome
(1983), Dead Ringers (1988), and a surprisingly effective remake
of The Fly (1986)movies that reimagined the tricks and
tropes of visceral horror to say interesting things about our precious,
precarious mortality. Lately, he's gone suspiciously "mature"
on us, turning out conventional thrillers that seem to crave mainstream
Me You Love Me, Julie Delpy (2 Days in Paris; Tell Me You Love
Me, 10/1/07): "A friend of mine has taken to referring to French
actress Julie Delpy as "that Delpy girl." The phrase was meant
to have a perjorative ring ("that dumpy girl"), but with the
release of Delpy's starring roles in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise,
Before Sunset, and now her own directorial debut in 2 Days In
Paris , adjectivizing her surname is starting to make sense..."
So Brave (The Brave One, 9/24/07): "Contact. Panic
Room. Flightplan. All are vehicles for Jodie Foster, and all of
them are slick productions with solid talent to back up their star.
The list is also, aesthetically speaking, about as exciting as a stack
of grilled cheese sandwichesit's hard to remember the last time
Foster was associated with a film (The Accused? Nell?)
that took any sort of artistic risk. Foster has one of the most stubbornly
devoted fan bases of anyone in Hollywooda corps that would very
likely follow her anywhere she wants to go. But instead of developing
her talent, Foster looks intent on managing herself into a comfortable
the Western on Track (3:10 to Yuma, 9/17/07) "The final
and complete death of the movie Western has been predicted for years.
Like the embers of an old campfire, however, it refuses to die. The
success of the HBO TV-series Deadwood certainly helped not only
by showing media moguls that Westerns can deliver viewers and buzz,
but by proving to filmmakers that it's still possible to do something
edgy within the confines of the old genre. To be sure, James Mangold's
sharp remake of the 1957 sagebrush thriller 3:10 to Yuma won't
alone be enough to get the Western off its gurney. But it should keep
its heartbeat going..."
Girl (Paprika, 9/10/07): "Satoshi Kon's superb Paprika
is a reminder of why anyone should bother to make animated movies. To
be sure, it's definitely not for kidsat least not for ones in
young bodies. Instead, it is the kind of film that Luis Bunuel was referring
to when he took a straight razor to a moviegoer's eyeball in the silent
classic Un Chien Andalou (1929). Like the work of Kon's countryman
Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle), it stretches
the limits of what we expect of Japanese anime..."
Bromance (Superbad, 9/3/07): "The major media have lately
caught on to an interesting trend in Hollywood: nobody makes good boy-girl
romances anymore. "Who Killed the Love Story?" Time
magazine recently asked; a few days later The Times of London
explained "How Hollywood Fell Out of Love With Romance." The
trickle of viewers who actually saw current romances like Catch and
Release, The Ex, and No Reservations can attest to the problem.
Indeed, the most successful love stories of late, such as Brokeback
Mountain, haven't included women at all..."
is Painless (Day Night, Day Night, 8/27/07): ""Suicide
is Painless" is the theme song from the Korean War comedy M*A*S*H
(1970), but might as well be the anthem of the modern suicide bomber.
For there can be no doubt that the speed and finalityand indeed,
the painlessnessof blowing oneself up is a big factor in why there
is no shortage of volunteers in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and
elsewhere. It's hard to imagine there would be so many takers for such
duty if the perpetrators had to, say, light themselves on fire. ..."
to the Master (Persona, 8/20/07) "The recent, near-simultaneous
deaths of Sweden's Ingmar Bergman and Italy's Michelangelo Antonioni
mark the real terminus of film's first century, and perhaps the end
of its "classical" age. Though we live in faith that another
Fellini, Welles, or Bergman is always just around the corner, there
are no guarantees that any artform will continue to replenish itself
from some wellspring of fresh geniuses..."
Bag of Courage (The Balloonist, 8/13/07) "It is often
said that journalists write the first draft of history. Thaddeus Lowe,
the pioneering inventor and aviator, was perhaps the first notable exception
to this rule. Rising in his silk balloon over the killing fields of
the Civil War, Lowe instantly got a breadth of perspectivea sense
of who, what, and where on a grand scalethat was previously limited
to scholars of great and tragic events..."
a Marvel (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 6/25/07):
"It's probably not news to anybody who reads this column, but this
boy is no fanboy. From here, the explosion of comic/superhero blockbusters
from Hollywood doesn't look like something to rejoice, but more like
a "fantastic" waste of time. Those who admired Marvel Comics
(Spiderman, Hulk, Fantastic Four, etc.) in their original formas
a smart and edgy alternative to DC Comics (Superman, Batman)can
only look with regret at what Hollywood has done to its stable of superheroes..."
Twangy (Black Snake Moan, 6/18/07): "Craig Brewer's
Black Snake Moan got its first-run theatrical release earlier
this year. It landed with a thud, earning less than $10 million at the
box office despite the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, the guy that helped
that other snake movie, Snakes on a Plane, gross four times as
much. There's no accounting for taste: if you can get past the preposterous
premise, get past the porn title, get past Justin Timberlake in the
cast, and somehow get on Brewer's wavelength, Moan is far more
appealing than a plane full of snakes..."
Long Goodbye (Away from Her, 6/11/07): "Where the other
feature in town directed by a young female newcomer, Adrienne Shelly's
Waitress, displays an almost unbearable lightness, Sarah Polley's
Away from Her is no souffle. In fact, Polley's film represents
the kind of mature dramawe're talking pensive, Bergmanesque intensity
herethat Hollywood has completely abdicated and even independents
rarely risk. In short, it is a miracle. "
of Life (Waitress, 6/4/07): "Waitress is such a pleasant
trifle it's hard to believe it's somebody's last artistic testament.
Writer/director Adrienne Shelly first came to prominence as an actress
in a series of highly overrated Hal Hartley films (The Unbelievable
Truth, Trust). Along with TV (Homicide, Law & Order)
and stage work, she had been lately transitioning to behind the camera.
As anyone familiar with the tabloids is aware, Shelly was found dead
in her West Village office in 2006, an apparent suicide at age 40..."
Showgirl Goes to War (Black Book, 5/28/07): "Paul Verhoeven
is one of the great conundrums of modern movies. At his best, he's produced
some of the better genre entertainments of his generation (in science
fiction, the smart Robocop, prescient Total Recall, and
so-campy-it's-cool Starship Troopers; in sex thrillers, the brilliant
The Fourth Man and infamous Basic Instinct). Though Verhoeven's
storytelling never lacks momentum, the chilly Euro-ambiguity of his
moral vision can sometimes stray into the seedy..."
Anarchy in the UK (28 Weeks Later, 5/21/07): "Sometimes
it does seem as if the green movement is a race between a healthy sense
of responsibility and misanthropic self-loathing.Very much in the latter
category is Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later, the sequel
to Danny (Trainspotting, The Beach) Boyles' 2002 zombie-thriller
28 Days Later..."
Fact and Fiction (The Hoax, 5/14/07): "Not infrequently
your humble reviewer screws up, wasting his time writing about mediocrities
when better fare is available. Lasse Hallström's The Hoax
is case in point. This is one of the best films I've seen so far this
year, and was at Cinemapolis for weeks until it left last Friday. Fortunately,
in the age of DVD no movie ever really goes away. So run, don't walk,
to your video store or Netflix queue and see this one..."
with Guys with Guns (Hot Fuzz, 5/7/07): "Recent events
in Virginia and Iraq have put Guys With Guns back on the agenda. The
Bureau of Justice reports that over the last 28 years, more than 91%
of gun-related murders in the US were perpetrated by guys. Almost 83%
of the victims were also guys. If Guys with Guns were a new product
being tested for safety today, their makers would be laughed out of
court. If the problem was conceived like any other social issue in America,
there would be an official "War on Guys with Guns." And so,
while a light-hearted spoof like Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz provokes
its share of laughs, the laughs now have a decidedly hollow ring..."
in Any Time You Like (Vacancy, 4/30/07): "The slick,
smug Disturbia may rule at the box office, but it's not the creepiest
feature at the multiplex these days. That would be Nimrod Antal's short
(just 80-minute) nightmare, Vacancy. Antal (Kontrol) hails
from Hungarya place better known for its paprikash and its baffling
language than for the quality of its thrillers. ..."
or Amnesia? (Disturbia, 4/23/07): "Clive James has published
a book this year called Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from
History and the Arts. D.J. Caruso's Disturbia probably isn't
in it, but the flick serves as a good example of cultural amnesia. For
how else can we explain trying to get away with releasing a movie based
so obviously on the classic 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Rear
Window without crediting the original, front and center?"
and Other Monsters (The Host, 4/16/07): "There's exactly
a half-century between the original Japanese Godzilla (1956)
and The Host, Joon-ho Bong's cool new South Korean monster movie.
The films are worlds away in tone and style, but they have one thing
in common: the horror is triggered by the Americans. Godzilla was awakened
by a nuclear test, and the chimerical "host" by a toxic chemical
dump ordered by a US army doctor. Monstrous hell-spawn may come and
go, but it seems the outsized arrogance of the Americans is immortal..."
the Laughs on Ice (Blades of Glory, 4/9/07): "Tom Cruise's
stardom was built on a string of movies with the same story. In this
script, Tom is a "natural" at some vocation (jet pilot, pool
player, race-car driver, bartender) but also a loose cannon. After suffering
a setback, the arrogant kid learns a little humility, which ultimately
allows him to excel even more. Recently, Will Ferrell has emerged as
Cruise's comic shadow, playing a dim-but-cocky anchorman (The Legend
of Ron Burgundy), a dim-but-cocky race-car driver (Talledega
Nights), and now a dim-but-cocky figure skater in Blades of Glory..."