Saturday, December 31, 2005

Moustache Rides

Ok, Dial M For Murder was fabulous in the 3-D, Matt's right about the very subtle use Hitchcock makes of the form, with the layered spaces and all, but I'm sure it plays just as well without it. The self-reflexive wit, Grace Kelly's face, and the Inspector's moustache would all survive the transition quite well, I think. And that's all I want out of it.

More importantly, strolling along outside after the film, we saw the star of "The War At Home", and my personal favorite, Deep Blue Sea (seriously), strolling down the street with his family. That's right, Michael Rapaport was soaking in the New York holiday spirit, and we got to inhale the fumes together, for a brief moment of celeb-civilian fusion. It was magical.

Back to moustaches. I saw The Matador last night and was charmed. It essentially recycles the plot of The Whole Nine Yards, except with actual laughs. Brosnan is an aging hit man, who befriends middle-class striver Greg Kinnear, and what ensues must ensue. But Brosnan is great here, moustache or no. He screws everything that moves, pauses to drink, and then jokes his way through severe depressions. Usually jokes involving giant cocks. He's charming and monumentally insecure, both sides feeding the other. It's a complete performance, building on his slicker but equally fucked turn in the fabulous and underseen Tailor of Panama. Kinnear is a great foil, especially when he grows a moustache of his own. It often threatens to go into melodramatic overload, but always pulls back, choosing to stay true to each character's morality. It's a film that treats its actors and its audience with respect. That's entertainment.

Oh, and Brosnan wins Best Wardrobe of the Year by a landslide.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Dial B For Blog

With a single gesture — Grace Kelly, arm outstretched, desperately reaching into the audience for help — Alfred Hitchcock exploits all that is great (and rarely utilized) about 3-D filmmaking.

For a 3-D film, Dial M For Murder is surprisingly restrained. Most 3-D pictures rely on subjective camera angles to shock the audience, putting them, for instance, in the position of a murder victim as they get assaulted by a pointy and impossibly large knife. Hitchcock's use of 3-D is primarily in the pursuit of eliminating the distinction between the people in the audience and the characters on the screen: he plays with layers of distance, obstructing our views of the players with furntiture or liquor bottles. The carefully constructed space invites us to feel like an additional member of the cast.

Where most filmmakers use 3-D to assault the viewer, Hitchcock uses it to unnerve them. He never places us in the position of Grace Kelly's character, who is attacked by a man her husband has hired to kill her, nor does he put us in the killer's shoes when Kelly manages to defend herself and stab him with a pair of nearby scissors. Instead, we maintain our position as observers, forced to watch in great suspense as Kelly unwittingly approaches a ringing phone that is the signal for the murderer to attack. When Kelly plunges her arm towards us it is not to scare us but to upset us: for nearly an hour we've grown accustomed to the visual sensation of being inside this flat with Kelly and her conniving husband. That one movement shatters the illusion in a beautiful way.

Dial M is frequently referred to as minor Hitchcock; in 3-D it's a lot tougher to dismiss. Photographic trickery aside, it also boasts one of Hitchcock's most supremely likable murderers, Ray Milland's untouchable Tony Wendice. It's certainly superior to Rope, and might even give Lifeboat a run for its money. It's playing five times tomorrow at New York's Film Forum. It is not to be missed.

Also, on a somewhat unrelated subject; plenty have called Woody Allen's Match Point a Hitchcockian thriller — Dave Kehr even compared it to Frenzy — but has anyone noticed how much of a debt it owes to Dial M For Murder? In both, a former tennis star marries into a life of wealth, finds his position jeopardized by infidelity, and realizes murder may be his only way of maintaining his position.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Overheard at the video store...

"Stop eating you goddamn hippie!!"

My local video store has a truly eclectic staff — these aren't the stereotypical New York know-it-all video clerks (those work a little further up the block, and I used to be one of them). They're a lot tougher to categorize, though they aren't much friendlier. Case in point: I was browsing earlier this evening and I had my headphones on, but the movie playing in the store was so loud I'd turned off my music. So a clerk restocking the shelves assumed I was listening to something and couldn't hear him, when in fact, I wasn't and I could. He was muttering to himself about inconsequential things, when his coworker, a large bearded man indulging in some convenience store pastry, caught his eye. He shook his head and muttered the above to no one in particular.

And in case you're curious, I rented Sweet and Lowdown, to satisfy an urge for more Woody Allen after writing a review of Match Point, and Alone in the Dark the previous masterpiece by the world's most charmingly bad director Uwe Boll, because a)I'm reviewing his next movie b)It stars Christian Slater and Tara Reid and c)I like saying Uwe Boll.

(And in case you're further curious, the goddamn hippie approved of the former and looked interested by the latter. I was just glad he didn't make fun of me for renting a Tara Reid movie)

Let's Get Nuts

I've attached numbers to things I enjoy:
1. The New World; The Intruder (tie)
3. The Best of Youth
4. Kings and Queen
5. The World
6. Oliver Twist
7. Innocence
8. Tropical Malady
9. Good Night, And Good Luck
10. My Mother's Smile

Others that gave me great pleasure were Munich; Cache; Cafe Lumiere; 2046; The White Diamond; Assault on Precinct 13; Good Morning, Night; Wedding Crashers; Turtles Can Fly; Keane; The Weeping Meadow

Unreleased: The Sun, Three Times, Tomorrow We Move (DVD), Clean, The Ister [the first four would have been in the top ten]


The New World. It's beautiful. One needs more than that but it's a good start. Continuing Malick's obsession of contrasting a passive eternalized nature with the scrambling inhumanity of man, it particularizes what in The Thin Red Line was collective, and offers a way out. TRL's (I think it'll catch on) polyvocal voiceover was a choir of disbelief at our finitude as the trees sat there not giving a shit. In The New World we're given only three voices, parceled out one at a time, sketching full individuals in the midst of societal breakdown, until the society fades away and the personal relationships take center stage. Which is what people are pissy about - not getting their full self-righteous rage on about European exploiters. But Malick is a humanist, not a cultural studies nob, he's claiming it's possible to transcend culture, to find truth outside of it, instead of falling back on ideas of relativity (while not denying the culture's formative effects). And there's love. A film that shows that love doesn't start until the swooning ends, that the love-in-separation joint Western culture's been smoking since before Romeo And Juliet is basically BS. Q'orianka Kilcher's radiant, Christian Bale is solid as oak, and Colin Farrell isn't that bad. Really. Plus Malick's cutting it down for national release, so it will be 1/5 less ponderous.

The Intruder. Also beautiful. Also a good start. Images are the thing here. Hands in sand, streamers in sky, heart in snow. All mournful, the body is decaying and there's not a goddamn thing Michel Subor can do about it, despite all his desperation. The new heart is a stranger to him, opening him up to all sorts of unconscious invaders, over the border, into his home, into his head. Escape to paradise won't help, he'll die just like Gauguin, and take his son with him. Also - Best Score of the Year.

Oliver Twist is ugly, which is beautiful in its own way. Dirt seeps through the walls, through the pores, into the speech, until Oliver finds a home with the extraordinary Ben Kingsley, traipsing his skeletal frame around his sodden flat like Nosferatu at a Gwen Stefani concert. Polanski knows how to frame, how to cut. Narrative flows by and you don't notice it, characters fill the space, all personalized, all identifiably human - except for the caricatured owners of the orphanage - looming ogres of decadence who made me laugh. Most Overlooked film of the year.

Action is its own reward. Thank you to: Assault On Precinct 13 and The Cave for unpretentious action sequences that kept people in frame and that proved once again that modesty is the best policy.

Best Blockbuster of the Year: The least modest film of the year was Mr. and Mrs. Smith, agog at it's own star-ness, it winked til it hurt and had the hottest non-sex scene of the year as Pitt and Jolie decimated their designer kitchen with aroused aplomb.

"A man watches a movie..."

"...and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man." Or woman. In both instances. Hi Jamie.

Okay all, since Mr. Singer so deftly opened the door to quotation and meditation, allow me to doff my critical cap and show you what's underneath, before I tell you where my vote for "The Steve Guttenberg Award for the Actor Whose Inexplicable Popularity We Hope Ends Soon" goes. Whenever I'm writing a piece, whether long or short, and I get to that point where I begin to question the basis, validity, and possible/probable ridiculousness of what I'm trying to express, I silently whisper a little critical mantra to myself; a definition of criticism that has always seemed elegant in its simplicity, and usually just what I need to bear down to essentials. Numericals, coefficients, and the like have always thrown me off considering I don't know how to count, so I may not be quite as keen on formulaic translations as is Matt.

Criticism = analyzing and describing one's pleasure (or lack thereof)

Some of you may know I've paid fealty to the house of Warshow in the past -- please bear with me (again, Matt: your fault) as I do it again in hopes of contributing partways towards figuring out why we do what we do, and what exactly it is we do. I can't say it any better than this:

"The movies, the theater, the books and magazines and newspapers -- the whole system of mass culture as creator and purveyor of ideas , sentiments, attitudes, and styles of behavior -- all this is what gives our life its form and its meaning. Mass culture is the screen through which we see reality and the mirror in which we see ourselves. Its ultimate tendency is even to supersede reality.

Now it is precisely this -- the experience of an alienation from reality -- which is the characteristic experience of our age. The modern intellectual, and especially the creative writer, ths faces the necessity of describing and clarifying an experience which has itself deprived him of the vocabulary he requires to deal with it. The writer who attempts a true re-creation of life is forced to invent the meanings of experience all over again, creating out of his own mind and sensibility not only the literary object but also its significance and its justification -- in a sense, he must invent his own audienceā€¦And the writer is par excellence the man of conscious experience; the problem of experience and the problem of a language for experience are for him one problem."
So take that for what you will. If, by entertaining, we're putting forward not merely a "critical face" but also our "own" in a sense (our experience), then I think we're doing our job. Whatever form of expression one chooses to take is right as long as it represents one's experience truthfully. I think. Now, onto the award for "Best Wardrobe." The envelope, please...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Movie Clubs and Critiquing Criticism

This year's participants: Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum Variety and L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas, The New York Times' A.O. Scott, along with Slate's own David Edelstein.

I'm quite fond when people try to define what film criticism, even if I disagree with them completely, and so this quote — by Rosenbaum of Graham Greene — pleased me immensely:

"Film criticism, more than any other form of criticism except perhaps that of the novel, is a compromise. The critic, as much as the film, is supposed to entertain, and the great public is not interested in technicalities. The reader expects a series of dogmatic statements: he is satisfied ... with being told what is good and what is bad. If he finds himself often enough in agreement with the critic, he is content. It never occurs to him to ask why the critic thought this film good and that film bad, any more than it occurs to him to question his own taste...What I object to is the idea that it is the critic's business to assist films to fulfill a social function. The critic's business should be confined to the art."

Everyone on this blog is a critic, and I ask them: are we entertainers? Just for the sake of argument and going wildly off-topic, here's Roger Ebert's definition:

"The critic has to be the ideal viewer, not the ideal director or writer or actor. He has to be presumably the most interested and alert and involved person in the audience. And he has to be able to write about what he has experienced in such a way that the public and the artist can learn something about what happened by reading his piece.

And, if you're curious, here's mine, in handy mathematical formula form:

"Criticism = Evaluation + Interpretation"

Read: Slate's Movie Club

Speaking of polls...

...this is the sort of thing Mr. Sweeney is referring to. This also qualifies as well.

Let's start the insanity.

A Film Poll of Our Own

As the season of chest thumping critics brandishing top ten lists commences, a few industrious interns and writers from the Village Voice film section have decided to start an idiosyncratic poll of their own. You'll recognize us from those pithy paragraph long reviews in the back of the Film section, dense nuggets of wit and erudition. Some participated in the Voice's poll, others not, but we all believe ourselves to be smarter than each other, and of the critical establishment at large. So here we'll have it, a forum of undiluted movie-love, hopefully rich with name-calling and insight. All in honor of Manny Farber, of course.