Thursday, June 29, 2006

In honor of Superman Returns

This is a fan made film that purports to be the trailer to Roger Corman's never-released Fantastic Four movie. And as someone who as seen Roger Corman's Fantastic Four let me say this: they are not that far off. SHAZAM!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Upcoming movies: I like!!!

Spotted on the Bowery, Tuesday afternoon:

What is brilliant about that poster is it contains no text, no information of any kind. As a sales pitch to the uninitiated, that is just about the worst possible one you could imagine. As a bit of inside baseball to get existing Borat fans excited and juiced up, it is nearly perfect.

Also on the movie horizon, Spider-Man 3, and it's spiffy first teaser trailer is available on Wah wah wee wah!

Monday, June 26, 2006

War Bonds: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

If you want to learn how to be funny on celluloid, you need to watch something by Preston Sturges. Sturges, Hollywood's first writer/director, came from the theater and later the typically anonymous salt miles known as the Writer's Guild. He was known for his talent with words. But the man could direct. He was particularly bold with long takes and fluid camera movements; the sorts of tracking shots that tell jokes without dialogue.

Here is a perfect example. First, an innocuous establishing shot:

Now the camera zooms out as we see Trudy (Betty Hutton) partaking of some Victory Lemonade as a party rages all around her.

Just as she takes a sip we note the ramifications of a lemonade without sugar and, almost clairvoyantly, Sturges provides the punchline.

The rest of the movie is just as delightful. Trudy, whose last name is, ahem, "Kockenlocker," spends a wild night on the town with a platoon's worth of departing troops. A bit too much Victory Lemonade, a konk on the head, and Trudy doesn't remember much more than the following fact: somewhere along the line she married one of the men in uniform. Then a revelation: she's pregnant, too.

Racy stuff for 1944 at the height of the power of the Hays Office, and Sturges dances around the Code's restrictions like a batam around a heavyweight. The whole notion of an absentee husband and father is basically a device to allow Sturges to make a comedy about an unwed mother, and he ridicules that device over and over (the vaguely remembered gent's name is "Ratsky-Watsky"). A how-to guide to making funny movies and annoying prudes, courtesy of Preston Sturges.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Stick It Is a Beautiful Movie

Bear with me. Stick It, and to a lesser extent The Break-Up, are two of the finest Hollywood products of the year. Color me unsurprised, because the two lovable tykes are related. Sort of. Their familial line goes back to that fizzy concoction Bring It On, which as we're all aware I watched drunk in a theater the night before I left for college. Good times. And yet did I miss out on better times by not settling for the natural high of its innocent charms? Possibly. At that time I dismissed such youthful pabulum with a scornful swig of High Life. No more. No matter. What is important here are the names, much abused, of Peyton Reed and Jessica Bendinger. Director and writer, respectively, of the cheerleading movie. They're doing nice things. Entertainments based on character and a modicum of wit. Rare things, both, which is perhaps why I may be accused of overpraising them. Go right ahead.

After the 2000 success of Bring It On they went their merry ways - Peyton Reed with his generally ignored and rather delightful Hudson-Day thing Down With Love, while Bendinger has only done some script doctoring work, on 2004's First Daughter, Jonathan Demme's The Truth About Charlie, and this year's Aquamarine.

And now we're here. Stick It, released in late April, has only made around $25 Million, and was panned across the board, aside from the increasingly invaluable Nathan Lee. I think it largely has to do with the film's assumed genre, the teen starlet self-actualization flick, where Lohan/Duff overcome minor hurdles to get self-esteem and the guy. Critics have templates to pan these type of things, and understandably so, but sometimes quality falls through the cracks.

Consider Bendinger's take on her film, from an interview at Box Office Mojo before the film's release:

JB:" ...I was tired of movies that try to shoehorn romance. Girls need to have a life before they need to have a love life. You don't need a romance or a tiara or a makeover. She needed to have a sense of self first.... I try to build the person first and the concept second. Anytime you're starting with concept, you're f—-ed, because the cart's leading the horse. Unfortunately, the Hollywood model right now is that the concept comes first. That's the formula. Then you're trying to make characters come alive within that formula."

This is not a normal teen movie, even though it apes the structure and style of it. The plot is thus: pop-punk skater Hayley gets nabbed by the cops for inadvertantly vandalizing a housing development on a skate trick. To avoid jail time, she is sent back to her old gymnastics school (!), which she left after refusing to perform during the Olympics, losing her team the gold. So, her coach (Jeff Bridges), trains her to regain her old form, etc., and a national championship montage ensues. But the ending, remarkably, is not what you'd expect.

It is the basic story of self-actualization of the Lohan/Duff mold, except there is no romance, only a richly ambiguous friendship with two guys, and its definition of success is an inversion of the norm: it promotes radical individuality over accumulating social respectability. In the end, the medals mean nothing. After a series of insulting scores from the judges, there is a mass revolt, as each athlete intentionally scratches in flamboyant fashion until the teammate they believe deserves to win does her routine. These women, who are used by their coaches, their parents, the networks, the advertisers, and their fans - here assert their power in a principled, beautifully simple way. In withholding their talents, they regain control of themselves. Exposing a bra strap (which judges deduct for) becomes a revolutionary act.

So there's the template - but it's the nuances that make it sing. The colors pop and the performers echo the energy. Jeff Bridges (who is singled out in every review I read, negative or positive) is excellent as the disgraced coach who pops his collar while fueling mothers' fantasies about gold medals. He has a swagger that's turned sour (his strut is more like a stoop) by multiple failures, and Haley (Missy Peregrym) sees right through his worn out posturing. Missy injects enough smirk into her pout to make her disconsolate youth likable, and shows more than enough athleticism to make her lanky frame believable as a gymnast. The supporting characters are types, but ones that are enriched by the sympathy and conviction with which they're shaped. There's the stuck-up perfectionist Joanne, all sharp lines and up-turned nose, who melts at the chance to go to prom with one of Haley's friends. Since no genre trope goes unquestioned here, when they go shopping for dresses - her date tries them on as well. And then all did cartwheels in lacy primary color getups - I prayed for a musical to break out. No such luck, but there were some Berkely-esque bird's eye shots of geometric training in the gym.

The music that was selected was superb (Missy Elliot, Talib Kweli, Fannypack, Jurassic 5), and in a side note, the music video that accompanies the Elliot song (We Run This (edited clean from The Cookbook)) has Dominique Dawes and Elliot doing routines on the exposed beams of a gutted out building. Good shit. When even the promotional tie-ins are works of art, you know you have a winner.

This film had little or no advertising muscle behind it, and the poor box office was the result. I just hope Bendinger is able to make a few more projects on her own after this. Hopefully the DVD will sell well and recoup some costs - because for a talent like her to be toiling as the fifteenth writer on First Daughter is a near tragedy.

On to a film with a massive advertising budget and a gargantuan publicity campaign: The Break-Up. Saddled with far more expectations and the lifeless Jennifer Aniston, it's still a bracingly mature film about relationships with inventive touches sparkling at the edges of the narrative. It would be hard to call this a Peyton Reed film as clearly as Stick It is Bendinger's - it's far more Vince Vaughn's, who stars, co-produces, and who conceived the story. Thankfully Vaughn continues to be a ceaselessly entertaining performer, biting off deadpan riffs with relaxed charm. As the film unfolds these riffs increasingly become distancing techniques, an ironic jab easier than an emotional confession. Of course, the film pounds this idea home in an unnecessary monologue by Vaughn, who explicitly states this theme as if the audience were schoolchildren in English class. This is Hollywood, of course. But it least it had an idea - and it is followed through - his distancing tactic pushes her away, and during arguments that are refreshingly banal, and which build organically until bile is hacked up. Rather realistic, that.

When Aniston is out of frame, there are some well observed moments - the Favreau-Vaughn patter is on-target juvenelia, while the Vaughn-D'onofrio bits are rich scenes of displaced love. They're brothers. In one wonderful sequence, D'onofrio takes forever to clean out his ears with his handkerchief as he pesters Vaughn to hand in his books (they're in business together). This is after the break-up - and Vaughn wants sympathy. His depression, their mutual distance, and the physical comedy add up to a scene of clashing energy. The film also displays fine taste by shipping Aniston off to see the Old 97s in concert. She gets stood up. Rhett Miller would understand.

I heard lots of rumor and heresay about how the ending of the film was reshot after a poor test screening in order to insert a happy ending. Thankfully, that's bullshit, and the ending is tastefully ambiguous, with Vaughn plastering on an awkward smile after meeting her on the street. So awkward, in fact, that it torpedoes any notion that they're going to get back together. He's forcing it, and wants to get the hell out of there. But it leaves just enough to the romantics to leave with a sliver of hope. A nice way to navigate the demands of the market, I think, which is a nice way to think of the film as a whole - a thoroughly compromised work that found intelligent ways out of imposed restrictions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. Ricky Bobby and I wanted to let you know that humanity's greatest artistic achievement, Gymkata, is inching ever closer to release. According to Amazon, it's amongst the top five vote getters with just ten days left. If you haven't voted yet, go to Amazon's DVD Decision 2006 and vote for Gymkata. The top ten vote getters get a DVD release later this year from the good folks at Warner Brothers.

So vote. VOTE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, VOTE! You'll be glad you did, because once it gets released I'll stop bugging you about this. So it's a win-win.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Driving Lessons: Cars

Last weekend, my brother graduated from college; the speaker at his graduation was Senator Barak Obama. He spoke on a variety of topics, but his persistent theme was improving our country by rededicating ourselves to the principle of helping and thinking of others instead of simply helping and thinking of ourselves. By some strange coincidence, the film I'd seen a few hours earlier carried the exact same message.

Cars is certainly not Pixar Animation's finest film, but it may be its finest animated film. The film was, of course, preceded by a selection of coming attractions and since Cars is a kids film, the trailers tended skewed young, animated, and anthropomorphic. While Pixar must hate to give the competition a boost by giving them a platform to inject themselves into their target market's consciousness, I'd argue they should demand the work from DreamWorks and Fox and everyone else always introduce their films because nothing makes their beautiful art look better than comparing it to the footage from visual mediocrities like Barnyard.

Even though Cars is about the adventure of a talking automobile, there are moments of such staggering visual beauty, that are so picture postcard photo-real, that you often find yourself questioning whether you are really watching animation at all. Then the car starts talking out of its grill and the illusion is shattered (or, I suppose, the illusion is reestablished), but some of the sunsets in this little cartoon about talking Matchbox racers could break your heart. Watch the way light glints off the hoods of the cars as they move through the space, and the way director John Lasseter utilizes the 3D world of digital animation through the fluid use of his camera in the racing sequences (where he gets so close to the track you can see the chunks of rubber bouncing off the asphalt then soars above the cleverly named Lightyear Blimp).

I want to find something insidious about normalizing our children to the idea of accepting gas guzzling cars as members of societies given our current energy crisis (Lasseter couldn't make one of the cars a hybrid?!?) but Cars is simply too touching to begrudge it for its flaws. And it has more than any of Pixar's film since A Bug's Life: the film is nearly a reel too long, and at least three characters too many. But there are Happy Meal toys to sell I suppose.

One final note; Cars is preceded, like all Pixar films, by an animated short. This one, One Man Band is one of the studio's finest, and perfect captures Pixar's dedication to blend humor and pathos and state of the art animation, all in about four minutes. Be sure to be at the theater on time; it is not to be missed.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Further Companionship

Everyone likes consensus. So let me link toned arms with Matt regarding A Prairie Home Companion. Let us praise its generosity to it's performers and to its audience - allowing Kevin Kline to perform the fool with wit and pratfall, letting Maya Rudolph form a complete character through the chewing of gum - and constantly exhibiting the motherly instinct her forthcoming child will benefit from. And what of Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin? The hearts and souls of the film, singing warm harmonies that crack and pop with age. And my goodness how strong in his non-presence Garrison Keillor is, wobbling like a mother hen with his flock, never judging and never revealing anything of within - he's an utter enigma, a pure storyteller who believes to unmask the teller would taint the purity of the tale. Amidst it all is the strong performance of Lindsay Lohan, her disconsolate youth showing surprising amounts of emotional complexity. She radiates the glow of Streep and Tomlin - soaking up reams of knowledge in each scene she plays with them.

Matt discussed the liquid tracking shots and its elegiac tone - but it is the sweetest elegy one could ever come across - never expressing bitterness or resentment, because these folks are wise. They just plan the next show, wherever it might be. See it and smile.


It's over. The love, the loss, the alleyways and the fetid sweat. No more B-Noir for this gentleman. Back to the stolid worries of everyday life. No more reveries on Robert Ryan's hair or Ida Lupion's eyes. A shame.

Only one thing could cheer me up.

A list!

So, in descending order, the 16 films I watched in the series.

1. On Dangerous Ground (1952) dir. Nicholas Ray
2. Crime Wave (1954) dir. Andre de Toth
3. The Phenix City Story (1955) dir. Phil Karlson

Contained moments of beauty and terror:
4. The Set-Up (1949) dir. Robert Wise
5. The Big Night (1951) dir. Joseph Losey
6. Kansas City Confidential (1952) dir. Phil Karlson
7. The Killer Is Loose (1956) dir. Budd Boetticher
8. The Crimson Kimono (1959) dir. Sam Fuller

Technically adept and well paced:
9. M (1951) dir. Joseph Losey
10. Armored Car Robbery (1950) dir. Richard Fleischer
11. The Clay Pigeon (1949) dir. Richard Fleischer
12. My Name Is Julia Ross (1945) dir. Joseph H. Lewis

Contained moments of eccentricity:
13. Follow Me Quietly (1949) dir. Richard Fleischer
14. The Captive City (1952) dir. Robert Wise
15. The Dark Past (1948) dir. Rudolph Mate
16. Thunder Road (1958) dir. Arthur Ripley

Monday, June 12, 2006

Live Fast, Die Young...If You Know What's Good For You

A casual conversation about movies today drifted into a morbid topic: dead movie stars. The obvious consensus was that, after a certain age, many stars are better off dead than alive. James Dean's enduring status as a sex symbol would almost certainly lose some of its luster if he'd bloated and widened in middle-age and started selling home grilling appliances and, to some degree, Marlon Brando's legacy was negatively impacted by said same process of aging and making crummy souldeath movies (Though I heart his moo-moo-laden performance in The Island of Dr. Moreau).

But those are the obvious examples. Who, I wondered, should be added to the ledgers of people whose legacies have greatly suffered as a result of their superb health? The answer:

Chevy Chase.

Understand that I mean Chevy Chase no ill will. I don't wish him dead, and I'm not instructing anyone to kill him. But consider: in 1985, Chase appeared in two wildly popular films: Fletch and National Lampoon's European Vacation. In the decade prior, he'd been the breakout star on the hottest television of the decade, then crossed over to the big screen with a level of success unprecedented for TV stars. He made the largely forgotten but totally charming Foul Play with Goldie Hawn, then connected with two of the defining comedies of the 1980s: the original Vacation and Caddyshack. Thanks to all of those movies, he will never be forgotten. I'm pretty sure they named that town in Maryland after him at some point around that time as well.

But then take a look at what happened in the twenty years since. Just look at the list of titles! They range from the sort-of tolerable (Memoirs of the Invisible Man) to the merely unfunny (Funny Farm) to the dangerously unfunny (Cops and Robbersons) to the carcinogenically unfunny (Nothing But Trouble). Though he had a funny cameo in 2002's Orange County, he spends most of his time these days doing cartoon voices, recent credits include Doogal and — get ready for it — The Karate Dog.

I think being in The Karate Dog pretty much makes my argument for me. But just as we can compare Dean and Brando, Chase has his own ready-made counterpoint: his Saturday Night Live co-star, John Belushi. Belushi's death at such a young age was devastating, but it preserved his legacy just when he began to come down from the peak of five years on SNL followed by the one-two punch of Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Most people today don't even know that he made two widely reviled movies just before his death (Continental Divide and Neighbors). By dying so young, Belushi was eternally preserved as Bluto, the great cheshire cat of college.

Certainly anytime someone dies young, it is a tragedy. That tragedy is magnified when the person who dies is as talented as a Belushi or a Dean. But, morbid as it is, that tragedy preserves them in an odd way, sealing their youth in our collective minds for all eternity while others age and fade. A life is a terrible thing to waste, but wasting a career is nearly as bad.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Another Page From the Termite Art Dictionary

Cult Film — "All cult really means today is that something is popular and no one foresaw its success. Some people get it. Others are assholes." -- John Waters, filmmaker

The term "cult film" has become totally devalued at this point, so it was utterly refreshing to find this rock-solid definition in John Waters' indispensible book Shock Value, freshly back in print after a lengthy absence from bookshelves. It's not surprising that Waters articulates perfectly a term that most hem and haw over; despite his reputation as the dude who made a drag queen eat dogshit on camera (a reputation, I'm sure, he's very proud to have), Waters remains one of the most unique, articulate voices in movieland, and an unsung pioneer of American independent film.

I welcome my fellow Termites to add their own glossary terms wherever they find them, and now, as a thank you for reading, an image of glamour:

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Microphone Home: A Prairie Home Companion

Robert Altman is perhaps cinema's greatest tourist. Over his thirty plus years as a major director, he's touched just about every conceivable genre (war, western, private eye, sci-fi, biopic) and an astonishing range of topics. He's made films about Hollywood producers, professional gamblers, country singers, cartoon characters, politicians, lawyers, doctors, English servants, and even ballet dancers. He only stays long enough to leave his mark before booking his trip for his next destination. His latest cinematic excursion takes him into the world of radio satirist Garrison Keillor.

It is not a world I am familiar with. Though I know of Keillor's reputation, I've never listened to the radio program named A Prairie Home Companion that he's hosted, off and on, for decades. In the cinematic Prairie, Keillor's broadcast is in peril; the company that distributes the program has been purchased by a Texas conglomerate which intends to end the show and bulldoze its home — St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater — to the ground. Altman follows Keillor, as well as the cast and crew of A Prairie Home Companion as they create the final broadcast.

Altman's advanced age and health problems (he recently revealed he's had his heart replaced, and just this week cancelled his publicity appearances to promote the Prairie premiere because of a bad case of the flu), and Keillor's inherently nostalgic aesthetic, made an elegiac tone inevitable and, indeed, the film is completely consumed with the past. Though Keillor winks at the audience with the line, "We don't look back in radio, that's the beauty of it," he and Altman do nothing but look back, with sadness and with a smile. Virginia Madsen plays an angel, and you might observe that in the beautiful picture above, just like in the movie, she is framed to give the impression of a bright halo over her head. Though most of the movie is shot in enough warm browns and reds to suggest sepia tones, Madsen, in a blindingly white overcoat, is always lit with fluorescents, setting her off from the rest of the mortal cast and implying her embrace is not nearly as warm as it appears to be.

Still, despite the wistful atmosphere and the director's advanced age, A Prairie Home Companion is surprisingly lively. The camera never stops moving as the actors flit around the Fitzgerald Theater, running from the stage to the wings to the dressing rooms and back and several shots — a crane that slides up through the stage to follow Keillor in his preparations for the broadcast, a long take that suddenly reveals Madsen from behind a raised window — suggest Altman is a very nimble 81-year-old (the on-stage sequences reminded me most directly of Scorsese's The Last Waltz). Though Madsen's angel of death remarks at one point that, "the death of an old man is not a tragedy," it's very clear that Altman's, be it tomorrow or a year or a decade from now, will certainly be one, for this fan at the very least.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Help Me Bring Gymkata to DVD

My friends, we stand on the edge of a great new era. With your help, we can bring the greatest film of all time to DVD.

I know what you're thinking; you're thinking, "Matt, you boob, the greatest film of all time is Citizen Kane and it's already available on DVD, and a pretty damn good one too." And, yes, it's true; Kane is a cinematic landmark and it's one of the very best of DVDs you can buy. But next to Gymkata and the awesome might of Kurt Thomas, Charles Foster Kane is a titanic wuss. CFK's got the green and the power, but KT? Dude's got the SKILL of gymnastics and the KILL of karate.

Beat that, Chuck.

For those who are unfamiliar, Gymkata (henceforth "The Greatest Film of All Time" or "TGFoAT"), stars real-life Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas, playing Olympic gymnast Jonathan Cabot. He is recruited to undertake a spy mission for the United States government to the phoney baloney Eastern European country Parmistan (where, we must assume, cheese is a major export). Parmistan is in prime position to launch some sort of Star Wars-style spy satellite, and so Cabot is sent to compete in the country's "game" where oily men run for their lives through the beautiful country side of Parmistan, pursued by ninjas and men without shirts. The winner of "the game" is granted one wish -- and the U.S. government wants Cabot to win "the game" and wish upon a star for the exclusive rights to launch a certain satellite. To ensure he wins "the game," Cabot is trained in a special martial art that fuses his existing gymnastic skills with kung fu.

This is very stupid foreign policy, and an even stupider movie, maybe the stupidest ever made. But the sheer audacity and pervasiveness of that stupidity is what sets TGFoAT apart from most other so-bad-they're-good movies. Gymnastic karate moves might have sounded good in theory, but this is the least practical self-defense you can possibly conceive of. It would only be truly useful in the middle of an arena full of gymnastics equipment, so to make Thomas look good, director Robert Clouse litters the architecture of Parmistan with barely-disguised bars and rings, and, in the most infamous sequence, a pommel horse well:

I have a VHS copy of TGFoAT that I purchased on eBay and have watched so many times the tape is starting to skip in spots. Things were looking bleak, until a ray of sunshine from heaven. Warner Brothers and are having a promotion entitled DVD Decision 2006, where shoppers can browse a list of 30 titles and vote on the ones they'd like to buy. The top ten vote getters will get released on DVD. TGFoAT is one of the titles you can choose from.

I implore you to go to Amazon's DVD Decision 2006 and vote for Gymkata. Even if you have no intention of buying the film, but care about my wellfare and happiness, do it for me. Please. Kurt Thomas thanks you. The good people of Parmistan thank you. And I thank you.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

B Noir: The Big Night (1951) and M (1951)

Film Forum trotted out a pair of Joseph Losey rarities last night to packed crowds, and I was grateful to count myself among them. The buzz was around his M remake, but first up was The Big Night. It's a juvenile delinquency film with balls. That is, it shaded every action with doubt, undercutting each moral certainty with the rather brutal facts of living. John Barrymore Jr. plays a fidgety, picked upon lad whose stunned to find his father flogged in front of him on his birthday. Pissed at his father's mute acceptance of this indignity (shades of Rebel Without a Cause), he takes it upon himself to get revenge upon the bookie who did it. So he steals a gun and goes searching, falling deeper into the drunken underbelly of town - and aping Dean's mewling every chance he gets.

The Alice in Underworld conceit is solid plotting, each divey vignette more sordid than the next, and allows for deft character work from the hangers on he encounters - especially from the catty aristocratic drunk played by Philip Bourneuf, who plies him with shots. He hits bottom at a hallucinatory nightclub, where an ace drum solo segues into memories of his father's caning, and where an attempt to complement the black vocalist becomes a racial epithet - his mask of moral righteousness beginning to crack. Adults just don't understand, but he doesn't know jack shit either. Attempting to regain his father's masculine mantle, he opens himself up to a world without absolutes, where the gal who kisses him thinks he's a fool, and in which the friendly drunk turns into a selfish conniver at the first sign of danger. Barrymore's mission becomes confused - and the act itself, when completed, is awkwardly violent, death comes by accident - not by righteous indignation. What is most remarkable is the father's performance, who Preston Foster embodies with zen-like calm - his face in the climax gives away nothing - but when he says he cares for his son, the authority it carries is shattering for all the emotion shuddering beneath his hulking frame.

M is fairly faithful to the Lang touchstone, with a few effective flourishes. Like Lang, it's a portrait of a city, the personalities submerged amid geometric urban planning, the child-killer taking advantage of its anonymity. The opening scene is nearly a shot for shot remake - with the mother setting the table, the girl bouncing a ball, the killer buying the balloon, but instead of a bird's eye view of the staircase, it's low-angle, and instead of a whistle, the killer spits out a tune on a small flute, and it's not Threepenny Opera, it's something not nearly as catchy. But the mother apes the yell, that octave raising second syllable of El-sie that's forever etched in my memory. And then the killing, marked by the balloon in telephone wires and a ball rolling into a street. Ok, Lang is (much) better, more precise cutting (and that looming shadow!), but Losey has L.A. and a strong performance from David Wayne who smartly strikes his own psychotic path despite the lame Freudian baggage he's saddled with (he chokes girls with his mother's necklace). He's less articulate but more physically precise in his motions, sort of an inverse of Lorre - his final speech is a jumble of run-on sentences that comes to little except for the grim faced intensity Wayne gives it, while Lorre's speech is hysterical eloquence, he gains a modicum of sympathy while Wayne is distancing and piteous.

It is a great L.A. film though, especially in its final sections, with a race down a staircase adjoining a highway that ends up in the film historical hothouse that is the Bradbury Building (Double Indemnity and Blade Runner are two of its former occupants - thank you Los Angeles Plays Itself!) The final scene cannot help but be fascinating, here set in an abandoned parking garage, where the lawyer, here given a much more prominent role - as a drunk, disgraced lawyer to the hoods, who redeems himself by indicting the whole criminal establishment in the end. Yes, there is a similar strain in the original, but here the character is built throughout, and suffers a martyrs death in the end. In the end it's a fascinating curiosity, a low-budget location rich riff on Lang's masterpiece.


An unsubstantiated bit of publishing info gleaned from an essay I found linked over at Greencine. According to San Diego Reader film critic Duncan Shepherd, there's a new book of unreleased Manny Farber reviews in the offing. No date is listed, or publisher, but there is a title (Roads and Tracks, also a title of one of his paintings - not the one above, that's My Budd, Boetticher that is) - but I think this a time for everyone to crack open Negative Space once again and get primed for new insights.

Read this Believer piece on Farber to further whet your appetite.

2 Fast 2 Furious: When Straight Movies Go, Uh, Not So Straight

2 Fast 2 Furious is gay.

(Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

I don't mean that in the way my fifth grade classmates meant it when they called me gay, I mean seriously and with no derision intended. I simply mean to say that 2 Fast 2 Furious is about the love between two very repressed men incapable of sharing their feelings. Most of the film, they disguise their love by tooling around Miami in sports cars, working undercover in the mob. But in one fascinating scene, the first the two share together, their unspoken emotions bubble to the surface.

Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner needs to convince Tyrese's Roman Pearce to help him on his undercover work. Brian and Roman were childhood friends who, after a falling out, haven't spoken in years. When Roman sees Brian, the two come to blows and, well take a look what happens next:

I assure you this isn't an Out of Context Screengrab Theater, like I've done before on Termite Art. The scene, even at full speed, involves much straddling and bear hugging and such. Their hearts aren't really in fighting. They look like they want to kiss.

The rest of the movie is forgettable, although I must admit that the original Fast and the Furious, also available in the new "Franchise Edition" DVD that is coming out in time for the new Tokyo Drift sequel, is a far better action film than I remembered it; in fact, I dare say it's blend of mindless action, well-choreographed chases, and airhead acting ("I live my life a quarter mile at a time") is just about perfect. There is plenty of carefully repressed homoeroticism in that one as well.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Film That Wasn't Made

Without a camera, I wore a hat and traveled to the World Financial Center. It was the Bang On a Can marathon. The attraction I couldn't deny would be to Anthony Braxton, legendary jazz saxophonist and composer. He had composed an hour-long piece for 100 tubas. They were split into 4 groups of 25 and marched around the main square in small groups.

The film I didn't make would be composed of the following parts:

-close-up long takes of Anthony Braxton's arms: gesticulating violently but eliciting only gurgling rumbles from the instruments. He heard more than I did. This will be cut with shots of the 3 other bandleaders, less expressive in their movement but just as exact - the moments when the tubas let out explosive squeals will shock the viewers out of their seats.

-a pretentious tableau of ship masts bobbing in the harbor as the soundtrack makes full use of stereo sound. The groups used call-and-response often, communicating to each other amidst the masses of people. The surround sound will approximate this conversation as the masts nod in approval.

-a girl wearing a black and red striped shirt. she had streaks of grey in her hair like another girl I once knew. I kept running into this new one. Both of us were wandering throughout the different groups more than others, it was better to get a sense of the totality that way. I thought we shared this aesthetic decision. Did she, or did she just need the exercise? This is for the viewer to determine.

-families taking photographs: in particular, a wild-haired baby held by her young beautiful mother as tubas make barely audible sounds.

-one tuba player leaving the pack, and entering the World Financial building. Miraculously, he rejoins the band from the opposite part of the courtyard minutes later. How was this possible? Magic!

-a close-up of people's reflections in the maw of the tuba, we spread out like fans on the polished brass - a loud honking sound will distract people from this curious image.

-admirers following the tuba players into the building at the close - followed by Braxton making a speech I find hard to hear. Something about America and what our potential is. He was enthusiastic and then thanked the musicians.

-a helicopter shot of this new community that has been created, and that is ever shifting, as each group stops, plays, and moves to another spot, the crowd mutating each time. It will be geometrically pleasing like Busby Berkeley, except there will be no dancing. It is not a danceable tune.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Da Vinci Code: Defending the Indefensible

Every rational part of my brain tells me that The Da Vinci Code is a enormous piece of crap. I cannot defend the mediocre direction, the frequently laughable screenplay, or the largely uninspired performances. The rational part of me is telling me not to write this post at all; it, in fact, has demanded I include this disclaimer:

The following blog entry does not in any way represent the logical, professional part of Matt Singer. That part of Mr. Singer apologizes deeply for what follows, and adds that it liked Army of Shadows very much.

I liked The Da Vinci Code. Despite all of its overabundant flaws, I, king suckerman that I am, got drawn in completely by the story that's captivated millions of reasonably literate men and women all over the world. Having not read Dan Brown's original novel, I had only a superficial understanding of what the movie was going to be about, and so, as the story unfolded, I was able to enjoy it for its shocks and surprises as readers of the book were almost surely not.

It doesn't surprise me that fans of the book might be disappointed by the movie; director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman bring very little to the table. The pacing of the first hour — the stuff before the story gets good 'n' juicy — is sluggish, the dialogue borders on flat-out camp (a specialty of Goldsman, who wrote Batman & Robin for Joel Schumacher before discovering respectibility with Howard on A Beautiful Mind and the underrated Cinderella Man), and all the best moments involve jowly white dudes sitting around arguing arcane historical minutiae. Though the Olympic sprinter's pacing of Brown's novel has been compared for years to Hollywood blockbuster storytelling, on the screen it looks rather stiff. Howard, who probably had an unlimited budget, seems desperate to expand the novel visually while simultaneously at a complete loss how to do that without straying from the text and therefore angering hardcore fans. Thus the most visceral and complex CGI effect in the film involves a bullet shell getting lodged in a car door. Ooooo....

AND YET! I liked it. Ian McKellan, MVP of X-Men: The Last Stand is MVP once again, delivering the big reveal about the Last Supper and the Holy Grail and the biblical peeps and whatnot with the sort of zeal and passion that is strangely absent from nearly every other aspect of the production and, really, if only one part of the whole film had to work, it was that one. And, from his big scene on, I was totally and irrationally hooked.