Thursday, August 31, 2006

Notes on Thoughts From a Viewing of the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards

What was Jim Jarmusch doing? Boring rock semi supergroup The Raconteurs were the house band for the show, and towards the end, Jarmusch pops up playing rhythm guitar and eliciting feedback as Jack White sings "Internet killed the video star". I can see him playing the Algonquin Club with Woody Allen every week if he keeps this up. C'mon man - Broken Flowers wasn't that bad - you don't have to give in to adolescent fantasies with your rocker buddies just yet.

Lou Reed was The Raconteur's biggest guest - but Reed looked even more bored than usual, and didn't bother to sing half the lyrics to "White Light/White Heat". He showed more vigor when presenting the Rock video award with Pink. They had a good rapport.

Best in Show: Beyonce. Phenomenal performance. It wasn't "Deja Vu", it must've been her next single - which I hadn't heard yet. Donning a trenchcoat and out-manuevering cops while lamenting her lost love - she absolutely owned the room, nailing every phrase and getting guttural with shocking intensity towards the end. There was also some superb poppin' and lockin'.

Second Place: Christina Aguilera. I like where she's headed. Seated in a yellow sequined dressing gown, she belted out a gorgeous ballad with orchestral accompaniment. Keeping her melismatic excess to a minimum, she let the emotion build until she stood up and wailed. Her attempts to get classy are working better by the minute.

Other ace performers: The Killers were the best rock band, while T.I. bulldozed with his charisma. I never got into him before - but now I can see the appeal.

Wish it was better: Justin Timberlake opened the program with "SexyBack", which I adore, but there was too much fan exhorting and his falsetto sounded a bit brittle. There's no way I'm not buying the album though.

Jack Black was shaky the whole night - I don't think he wanted to be there either - flubbing numerous cues and intros, while never realy hitting his comedy stride. Timberlake offered the funniest bit - building a set of shelves in JB's dressing room just because he felt he needed it. Tenacious D's song was rather tremendous though.

I think the Jackass fellows, whom I've greatly enjoyed in the past, have started to become caricatures of themselves - which I didn't think was possible. But now they mug and laugh a little too hard at antics that wouldn't have blinked an eye at when they started out.

Anyway, a fine evening - and please check out the Beyonce segment. I'm sure it'll be on YouTube soon enough, as well as repeats. It only increases my already high expectations for Dreamgirls.

Glenn Ford (1916-2006)

Glenn Ford played Superman's father in the 1978 Superman movie. What an inspired choice. There was something very wholesome yet rugged, tough yet calm about Glenn Ford on screen. Nobody else of that generation could have said more with his mere presence about who Jonathan Kent was, and how he would raise a son, than Ford's did, and that was crucial since the role was extraordinarily brief, lasting just a few early scenes before the character dies of a heart attack.

Whenever an old actor dies, I think the best way to honor them is to simply watch their movies. He's in a bunch of classics: Blackboard Jungle, Gilda, and 3:10 to Yuma, but if you're only going to see one of his films, there's no contest — Fritz Lang's The Big Heat from 1953. One of the finest and bleakest cop movies ever made (and an obvious inspiration for a movie I love, L.A. Confidential), Ford is absolutely brilliant as Sgt. Dave Bannion, a good cop determined to catch bunch of bad Los Angeles gangsters, whose strength is tested after the gangsters murder his wife with a bomb meant for him (the scene in which poor Bannion's wife gets hers is amongst the most shockingly brutal in 1950s American cinema). Roger Ebert has a nice essay about the film in his Great Movies series though, in my opinion, he downplays Ford's contribution to the film.

Next year's 'In Memory' Oscar montage just got a little bit weightier.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

LINK: The Top Ten Greatest Films of All Time

Attention Termite Art readers:

Me and fellow termites P.L. and R. (I need to get an initial) have contributed to fellow NYU alumnus and future Yalie Michael J. Anderson's survey of The Top Ten Greatest Films of All Time on his so-intelligent-I-feel-dumb-reading-it-with-my-dictionary blog Tativille. Each of us contributed a list of what we think are the ten best films of all time (or, perhaps more accurately, simply our ten favorites).

So what did we choose? Well you have to click over to find out, but here's a tease: one of the following movies wound up on one of our lists:

The Magnificent Ambersons by Orson Welles
Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard
Metropolis by Fritz Lang
The Naked Gun by David Zucker

No, not Ambersons. Not that one either. No, 'fraid not. Yes: Leslie Nielsen is amazing. Go already.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The most beautiful sight I've ever seen

Coming January 30, 2007: GYMKATA ON DVD!!!

Though it has yet made no official announcement, the email I received in my inbox today indicates that Gymkata, the greatest worst movie ever made, is now available for preorder through, indicating it is a winner of the DVD Decision 2006 contest.

Thank you to everyone who voted on my behalf. Now buy yourself a copy, and ensure it moves so many units that we finally get the Gymkata 2 we've been waiting for for twenty years and so richly deserve.

Preorder Gymkata on


Saturday, August 26, 2006

More Idle Thoughts

Idlewild has suffered a universal shrug of the shoulders by critics, including a bizarre aside by Manohla Dargis that the film is covertly racist against darker-skinned black women: "It’s disconcerting that Ms. Patton, by far the most glamorized female lead, also has the palest skin." So implicitly the film is setting up some dark skin=floozy and light skin=classy dichotomy? What about the fact that Terence Howard, who plays the villain, is light skinned? Does this not balance the simplistic racial equation for her? This type of reductive thinking on race insults the film, which is trying to reclaim a piece of black history that was actually written by, directed by, and starring an all black cast. It has an intense pride of place - and rightly so - in this community Paula Patton does not have to pass as white to work her way up the entertainment ladder.

A criticism she fleshes out more is just as baffling to me: "Without any ironic inflection, he [Bryan Barber] recycles ideas and tropes that were stale when Edward G. Robinson was chewing cigars and scenery in the 1931 film Little Caesar." It seems she'd prefer the jaded posturing of Chicago than something that actually believes in what it is making. And I greatly prefer films that borrow from a tour-de-force performance like Edward G. rather than say, the empty ironic-winking spectacle of Moulin Rouge.

I respect Dargis and admire much of her work - but this piece was entirely off the mark. And there is much to criticize in the film - it's lead performances, the filming of dance sequences, the dialogue, the jumpy narrative, and much more.

Anyway, Rosenbaum sort of liked it, in a backhanded kind of way. Good for him!

Another note: I wrote a brief piece on Bryan Barber's music video work for IFC News. Check it out.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


The Loews on 84th Street abhors me - or at least the basement-level terrordome that is Auditorium 5 does. First the audio was blown in Miami Vice and now...a shirt-tearing brouhaha that busted out during the climactic scene in Idlewild a few seats away from me. While this gives me ready-made excuses to view these fine works of art again, I prefer to leave my brushes with bodily harm to subway rides and drunks at Shea Stadium. This was no mere instance of macho posturing - the haymakers were flying with malicious intent. After about 5 minutes security broke it up and the gasps subsided - but my view of the screen had become unfortunately oblique. The stated cause of attack was a request to cease knocking the back of a seat - followed by a smack to the back of a head.

I'll mark it down to the energy created by the boisterously imaginative film - a musical scared to fully embrace the joyful excess of the form - but which shows great boldness within its own limitations - the boundary of which is the speakeasy, Church. Most of the singing and all of the dancing take place inside of it - as it provides a narrative reason for all the emoting. One of the only number that takes place in the waking world outside is a rendition of "Church"(off '03s Speakerboxxx) by Big Boi and an animated rooster as he races away from pissed off mobsters (deliriously intercut with with hopped up jitterbuggers at the club). It is what the whole movie should have been - had it not been for a fear of kids cracking up at guys bursting into song at random. God I hate kids. Anyway - that sequence is one of a few expert instances of parallel editing which director Bryan Barber peppers in (another fine example: cutting between Andre and Big Boi meeting their respective loves - their styles in perfect counterpoint). One wonders how so many clunky exposition scenes are dropped in when the narrative is pushed forward so fluidly otherwise. It is his debut film, after all, though.

Much of the soundtrack is off of The Love Below/Speakerboxxx. In addition to "Church", there was "Bowtie", "Rooster", "She Lives in my Lap", "Vibrate", and "Take Off Your Cool." Curious - because that's more than what appears from the recently released (and quite good) album sdtk.

Anyway - the performances inside of the club are hyperactive but, to me, appropriate. Barber gets antsy cutting between the performers on-stage and the astonishing dancers in the pit- but it's all done with a fine sense of rhythm. The sense of space may not be there - but its suffused with musicality, so I forgive its breach of good film form.

A small thing - the use off-screen sound. There are a number of jokes shouted out by characters out of frame as the main action is being filmed - as when lead chanteuse Paula Patton is struggling on-stage, we hear Macy Gray's floozy yelling at her to stop repeating the same lyric (with more curses thrown in). Normally we'd see a cutaway to her saying this - but Barber establishes her in the space earlier, and then her voice recognizably shouts the putdown with Patton firmly in frame. It creates a fuller sense of a rowdy crowd, and of crowded space, than a normal cut-in would.

And it has, quite possibly, the greatest end credit sequence of all time - as Andre Benjamin sings "PJ & Rooster" on a big white stage made famous by set designer Van Nest Polglase and all those Astaire-Rogers movies. There's tap solos, dancing girls, and an OutKast tune. All I could ever ask for.

Watch the Matt Singer-hosted COMIC-CON CHRONICLES online!

The moment you've been waiting for has arrived. IFC News' Comic-Con Chronicles 2006 is a half hour of pure geek magic, starring me and featuring appearances by Tobey Maguire, Nicholas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Borat, snakes, planes, and many geeks dressed in funny costumes. It's going to be on IFC all next month but you can watch it for free online right now right here.

Check it out and give me your thoughts.

Termite (Sequential) Art: Batman #656

Yeah it's a film blog. Guess what: I like comics too.

Holy shit, this comic is good.

Way better than it has any right to be. Yeah I like superhero comics, yeah I read them on an almost weekly basis, but with a lot of them, even the best ones, there's a ceiling to how good they can be. They're fun, bubbly, escapist literature, they offer an outlet to parse society's moral dilemmas and, though no one would agree with me, they're just plain cool. Look carefully enough, and you can find fascinating stuff bubbling just below the surface, but that's not what they're designed for. They're made to be fast and fun. Fewer than a few are anything more than that, but that's the way it is with all art forms. Most movies are a big pile of meh too.

Even though Batman, and particularly the just-out-today issue 656 looks like any other comic, what goes for books goes for graphic novels: don't judge them by the cover. This is the smartest thing I've read anywhere — books, magazines, the Internet, on the side of a cereal box — in 2006. It is totally, utterly, brilliant.

For about twenty years, Batman's comic book characterization has been dominated by his portrayal in Frank Miller's watershed 1986 mini-series The Dark Knight Returns. In Miller's vision, now referred to in shorthand along with its myriad imitators as "grim & gritty," Batman was a brutal and brutally dour crime fighter. You can't deny Miller had a point: guy spends every waking moment of his life avenging his parents murder while dressed as a bat, he's probably not someone with fun on his mind.

In many ways, Miller's Batman was a response against the goofy, eyebrow-arched pop art Batman that became a multimedia star in the mid-1960s. Miller swung the pendulum back towards Bob Kane's original vision of the character, as a creepy shadow stalking evil in the night. Miller's was the Batman that inspired Tim Burton and Michael Keaton's, and that version became a massive hit, so it only made sense to keep Batman just that dark, just that depressed in the comics.

With his run on Batman, writer Grand Morrison officially swings the pendulum back in the other direction. An on-the-record admirer of "hairy-chested Neal Adams love god" Batman, it took exactly one issue to tear down decades of sulking and return the character to a state of fun ("big splashy James Bond adventure" is how he puts it). I got to interview him at San Diego Comic-Con this year and within thirty seconds I realized I was talking with a legitimate genius: in twelve words he can succinctly explain exactly what makes comics great (it has something to do with the way comics is the only artform that requires left and right brain participation), and he can do it wearing a fabulously tailored suit.

Morrison's a writer of wild ideas of the sort that are so crazy no one else could think of them, yet so perfectly simple it's hard to imagine how no one thought of them before. How do you declare the return of fun pop art Batman? If you're as smart as Morrison, you set your entire issue inside an art gallery displaying pop art. Nobody sits and examines the art, nobody really discusses it (Bruce Wayne says it's too "high-brow" for him, which is almost too meta for words), it's just sitting in the background of every panel, brilliantly commenting on the action. Take a look (click on the image for a bigger version that's easier to read):

It's the sort of comic that you can't read quickly. It was made with a great deal of intelligence and care and you need to read it with an appropriate level of attention: going through it more than once is a must. It boggles the mind that no one has ever done this before, but, to my recollection, no one has. The comic costs a not-cheap $2.99 but I promise you, if you are at all interested in super-hero comics, this is one to read. And with Morrison just starting what will hopefully be a long run on the character, Batman is going to be a must-read for a long time.

The images for this post stolen with gratitude from my favorite comic book website, Newsarama. Their interview with Morrison is as insightful as it is fun, and it clearly outlines Morrison's intent with the character, and showcases his contempt for the Miller version of the character. And, in other comics news, we've got a bit of comics coverage in the new issue of The Voice, including a grand piece on Alan Moore's Lost Girls plus my sidebar on artist Melinda Gebbie.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Snakes in a Theater

From E! Online:

SNAKES AS A PRANK: Jokesters at a Phoenix movie theater releasing a pair of rattlesnakes at a screening of Snakes on a Plane last Friday, AMC Entertainment Inc. said. And we wonder why no one's going to see this flick.

Dude releasing a couple of harmless snakes in a theater in the middle of Snakes on a Plane might be sort of funny (throwing rubber snakes at the screen, though, that would be pure genius); but aren't rattlesnakes poisonous? What kind of prank is that?!? "Ha ha! Look at the way that snake's ready to strike! Dude, now it's injecting you with its hemotoxic venom which will destroy tissue and degenerate your organs. HILARIOUS!"

It's sad when you go see a movie like Snakes on a Plane and the people in the theater are dumber than the ones on the screen.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

If the producers hadn't taken Samuel L. Jackson's advice and changed the original title, Snakes on a Plane, to Pacific Air Flight 121 it's very conceivable that audiences may have gone into this movie and been shocked to see how silly it is. Even though Hollywood's joined in on the campy bandwagon, playing up the concept's silliness for all its worth, the movie itself (with one key exception I'll discuss later) is refreshingly unaware of its inherent stupidity. As my brother said after he saw it Thursday night, "Even though they knew they were making a bad movie, they managed to make it seem like they didn't."

That, of course, makes all the difference. As Sontag observed, the best camp objects are the ones that don't know their camp, they have to be discovered by the audience: unintentional humor, like so many things, is in the eye of the beholder. And while intentional unintentional humor can be pulled off — see 2004's Lost Skeleton of Cadavra — it's difficult less satisfying and, in a way, less pure than the real deal.

And Snakes on a Plane is most certainly not the real deal. As soon as New Line began paying more attention to Ain't It Cool trolls than their own executives, demanding reshoots that included Jackson hollering the oh-so-satisfying line "Enough is enough! I've had it with these muthaf&#(in snakes on this muthaf&#(in plane!", the line between accidental and coldly calculated was definitively crossed.

But kudos to director David R. Ellis and the rest of the crew: this mutha is so stupid, it's hard to believe they wanted it to be this stupid. I mean the villain alone is the most hilarious of any movie of 2006: a vicious Asian gangster named Eddie Kim, who cackles as he kills a prosecutor then explains his evil plan — y'know, the one that involves the snakes on the plane — by saying "I had no other options!" Well, yeah, when you have no other options, you chuck some snakes on a plane. I do that all the time.

The only exception to Snake's straight-faced approach is Samuel L. Jackson, who grimaces, grunts, and jokes his way through the movie, doing everything possible to display his open contempt for the snakes short of turning to the camera and remarking "Can you believe this shit?" His performance plays like an audition tape for the next Zucker brothers movie. In Jackson's deadpan, profane exhaustion we may have finally found our generation's Leslie Nielsen.

What I admire most about Snakes on a Plane is its restraint. Ellis only killed one guy via snake bite to the penis when a lesser director who have gone back to the well three or four times. By putting a professional kickboxer, Ellis gave himself the opportunity to show a man karate kicking a snake in the head but he didn't take it; instead, he went the classier route, and had the kickboxer karate chop the snake. And where another man might have forced Jackson and Marguiles into an ill-advised romance Ellis — well, okay, he sort of does that. But it's totally tasteful. And sexy.

Still nothing in Snakes on a Plane was half as crazy as the trailer for Jackson's next movie, Black Snake Moan, in which he chains Christina Ricci to his sofa and refuses to let her leave until she changes her wicked ways. "I want this muthaf#$*in white girl off my muthaf$&@in couch!"

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Termite Music Videos: SexyBack


The penultimate shot of Justin Timberlake's video for "SexyBack", directed by Michael Hausmann, proves that the most intense pleasure arrives through its delay. The premise is this: JT is wiretapping the room adjoining his in a Berlin hotel, possibly even rigging it with a bomb. A busty scoop-dressed brunette (stunning, of course) is the tenant, and is involved in some counter-intel as well. These scenes are intercut with JT and his femme fatale eyeing each other at a sleek modernist nightclub - marking the spy scenes as a metaphor for their expert mating ritual.

The best part of the song (aside from Timbaland's tremulous/joyous "take it to the chorus" vocal) is its reversal of sex roles. A snippet: "You see these shackles baby I'm your slave/I'll let you whip me if I misbehave". Coy and sluttish. But also: "I'm bringin' sexy back/Them other fuckers don't know how to act/Girl let me make up for all the things you lack". Braggadocio, but not in terms of dick length, but of what he does with it. He's a man for all lusty seasons.

Back to the video: as JT peeks in on various couplings in the unisex bathrooms of the nightclub, his/our fantasy heats up. The two spy kids hook up in her room in robust table clearing fashion, a particularly predatory coupling. Soon enough, with the fantasy at its peak, the bomb explodes as JT nimbly minces off the balcony rail.

Penultimate shot: close-up in super slo-mo as their two faces edge closer before a kiss, their skittish movement echoing the fractured synth melody. Right before the magic moment of connection, Hausmann cuts away as their image fades on a TV screen. It's that breath before the kiss that's captured, and it's the most erotic moment in the video.

I can't wait for the album.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Crap Movie By Any Other Name Would Stink Just As Badly

I'm on vacation this week, having opted to leave New York during the greatest period of weather in its history in order to venture to south Texas where it's a balmy 103 today. Good times.

As I'm wont to do in all my travels, I snagged the local alt-weekly newspaper which, in this case, is the San Antonio Current. Generally I do this for a few reasons: I like to check out local arts coverage, compare it to the places I work at, and, since the consolidation of the Village Voice and New Times chains, there's always a good chance that no matter where I am, I can pick up a newspaper and see a review I've read elsewhere.

The Current isn't a part of Village Voice Media, so I was in uncharted waters. Their lead this week is a full page thinkpiece by associate editor Brian Villalobos entitled "How (Not) to Name Your Movie." Over the course of a lengthy essay Villalobos highlights what he considers to be a bad period in Hollywood for good movie titles. Citing The Ant Bully, Lucky Number Slevin and The Descent amongst others, Villalobos complains about what he considers an pervasive laziness from the Hollywood marketing machine.

It's a pretty lengthy list and, frankly, it doesn't really include much in the way of constructive criticism. For the first three columns of the article, it seems that no title could please the author (What's wrong with the title of You, Me, and Dupree?). Eventually, he gets to describing what makes a good title:

"What, then, makes a good or effective title? Well, I'd venture that such a handle ought to serve at least two of the following functions: (1) relates in an intimiate way to the story, (2) stokes interest in the story, and (3) has a touch of the pithy or the poet in't. It can be longist (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), not (My Left Foot), or in the middle (The Shawshank Redemption)

Here's where Villalobos loses me. How is The Shawshank Redemption a good title? By Villalobos own definition, a good title must grab the potential viewer and get them fired up about the movie. The opposite was the case with Shawshank: the title was a big part of why what has now become one of the most beloved movies of the 1990s grossed under $30 million at the box office. Nobody knew what the movie was! Eventually word of mouth starting buzzing and turned the film into a cultural phenomenon but it was despite its title not because of it. That's because a good title also needs a certain amount of clarity: since you're basically selling the movie with a couple words, those words better be plenty clear. Here are some examples of this year's best, most precise titles:

-Monster House
-World Trade Center
-Superman Returns

Granted it's not cut and dry: Miami Vice is abundantly clear about what the movie should be, but director Michael Mann trumps expectations with a different sort of film entirely. Of course, the most important title of 2006 — and maybe the best too — goes completely unmentioned in the piece. What happened to Snakes on a Plane, opening today nationwide?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Idol is Back!

I didn't plan on crying tonight. And to clear things up, I generally don't plan on crying any night. Unless it's American Idol finale night. Tonight, my friends and fellow AmIdol-ers, it was that night.

You're saying to youself, "That's absurd! That's like having Christmas in July!" My response: Yes, it is! Listen.

A couple of weeks ago Camille, who you remember from previous Idol reminiscing, sent me The Best of American Idol, Seasons 1-4 DVD for my birthday. She also included a few other goodies, including a fantastically funny article from The New Yorker, "American Idol World Court," that, taken in conjunction with the chocolate bar accompaniment, is probably one of the finest birthday gifts one could receive.

The Best of takes us from the beginning of Idol mania and brings us very near to the present, which as defined by the DVD title is Season 4, the year 2005. Paula does the voice-over that introduces us to the show, or as she tells us is more than such, but is very boldly "a phenomenon." Talk on, sister. We're treated to a solid sequence of tryout season, genuinely the heart of the television series. Again, this is the part of the show where we can gauge the difference between screechy, off-key performers and the buttery smoothness of singers with soul. Tryouts is our first chance to pick a side, find our Idol enemies and allies for the season. The DVD features a good dose of some of Idol's most entertaining tryout moments, like William Huang's rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs," a performance that was diluted by subsequent Subway restaurant and New York City radio commericials exploiting the bit. His flavor went sour quick. But the Best of preserves his minutes before the judges in pristine form, gleefully showing us Randy, Paula and Simon's shock-filled reaction shots, and William's pre-commercialization earnestness, "I have no regrets," he says, he gave it his best. Paula congratulates him for his positiveness. Simon is bored. Yin and Yang.

I was tragically absent for Season 1 of the show, a bruised part of my past that still hurts. That scar partially healed tonight as I viewed the Queen of Idol, her majesty Ms. Kelly Clarkson rally the first finale crowd at the Kodak Theater with her winning song "A Moment Like This." People, you can't top Kelly. I couldn't believe my eyes as I watched every ounce of her vocal joy send shivers straight on down to the tips of my fingers. She is the essence of American Idol. Season 2 reviewed with the geek-to-studly-Seacrest-look-alike transformation of Clay Aiken, and the soft'n'sweet teary smile of Rubben Studdard. Their season was the last conducted by recorded instrumentals; in all later seasons a live band would orchestrate more textured moments of nuance to the singers' performances. Season 3's highlights were the funnest to relive as we watched the infamous Jasmine Trias slip her way past Latoya London for a spot in the top three. In the devastating scene, Latoya belts out her best, while the remaining three ladies, Fantasia Barrino, Diana DiGarmo, and the aforementioned culprit Jasmine stand to the side listlessly clapping to the beat of London's tune in utter shock. In this same shot America's Cutest, Ryan Seacrest, poses frozen and upright, hands clasped mannerly in front, his lip shrugging a frown. If I had a framed still of this moment I would call it "Idol Shame." But Season 3 stayed alive with the ultimate victory of Fantasia, who Simon so awesomely pronounced, "Fawn-tay-Zee-ah." I mentioned crying at the start of this column, you remember. After Fantasia's stunning "Summertime" and breathtaking "I Believe" I amounted to a mess of snot and tear-drenched tissues. You have to see it (again) to believe it.

The DVD player's menu buttons broke as the Season 4 rewind was about to begin, but I'm sure that segment will give us plenty to scream about, too. How could it not with such players as the controversial Constantine, his rival Bo Bice, and the country girl Carrie?

One Idol performer who I have neglected to mention is the sloth of Season 1, Justin Guarini. Yes, he carries a tune and probably has perfect pitch. But guess what? He is the most odious personality to grace the Idol stage, and he almost makes me glad that I missed Season 1. Almost, but not quite.

I can't be sure that what Camille has termed "the most ghetto (yet fun) DVD of all time," but known to us as The Best of American Idol, Seasons 1-4 is available for rental. I can't imagine there is a serious demand for this at your local video store. But if you're a fan--or just want to feel like one!--go to and purchase a copy. Also available is The Worst of American Idol, Seasons 1-4, and the Limited Edition combination set, The Best and Worst of American Idol, three discs of social life-ending hours of fun. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

This weekend, Termite Art recommends:

From my review of Half Nelson on IFC News (where I write twice a week, remember):

Every school has a cool teacher, the teacher with the rep for exciting students with their unorthodox education style. I knew a cool teacher who, like Mr. Dunn, fought with demons his students never saw (the year after my graduation, my high school's Mr. Dunn — the best teacher I ever had — quit his job and left town in disgrace after an embarrassing arrest). This is not to say that all good teachers are unstable types, but simply to observe to anyone who doubts the plausibility of "Half Nelson"'s scenario, that it speaks from a place of truth. It is the best American movie I've seen this year.

Half Nelson, playing near a theater near you, except where it isn't. And if it isn't, you should make plans to travel to see it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

R. Emmet Sweeney: Guest Blogger to the Stars

He's far too humble to mention it here, but our very own Rob Sweeney is guest blogging all this week on The Dizzies. Go over and check it out as he talks about the Buffalo Bills and country music, and at some point, I imagine, Border Incident.

Rob, do a great job, but not too great, or I'll get jealous.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Last Movie (1971)

Ed Park of The Dizzies threw the gauntlet down:

I can't wait for Termite Artist Matt Singer to post about Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie (1971), which we caught at a screening today. (It'll be at Anthology soon.) Monstrous, hilarious, crazed—somehow, just my cup of tea. It practically beggars description: 8 1/2 meets The Wicker Man in Mexico, with Sam Fuller directing the movie-within-a-movie, and Kris Kristofferson, and Toni Basil in a small part, and Dean Stockwell, and, and, and.

My full review will come over on IFC News when the Anthology's run begins (I'm there twice a week, by the way; this week I covered Talladega Nights). So I've got to save some flavor for then but, "Central" Park is right about one thing: The Last Movie demands attention and lots of it. According to Jim Hoberman, Anthology's print is the last in existence: the last print of The Last Movie. Finality is a BIG with this movie.

Finality and infinity: one viewing can't even scratch the surface of the mad genius (or ingenious madness) Hopper infused in every shot. What is it about? What ISN'T it about! Hopper lampoons Western chivalry, moviemaking drudgery, racism, greed and does every sort of imaginable activity: he becomes a day player and stunt man (Sam Fuller's direction to his actors: "I want you to die with some BALLS!"), tends bar at a glitzy Hollywood party (he steps outside and begins weeping for some reason), frolicks amongst fields of yellow flowers in the Andes, and finds himself the sacrificial lamb on the most effed up movie set in cinema history. Hopper even gets lactated on by a Peruvian woman! In the last movie you want to get a lot of stuff done.

There's a ton to like about the movie (and plenty to hate too, which, oddly, makes it even more likable) but the thing I dug most about it was its total unpredictability. It's easy to pinpoint the moment when you realize Hopper's operating under a completely different set of rules: he's riding his horse through the mountains when Kris Kristofferson comes on the soundtrack singing "Me and Bobby McGee." The moment is in keeping with everything that's come before: The Last Movie is laced with folky drug rock of the period, and Hopper spends a good portion of the film riding his horse. But then Hopper cuts to Kristofferson, sitting on a hill in Peru, singing the song live as Hopper trots past. "They're waiting for you on set, Kansas" he growls.

That's the point you check your own water to see if it's laced with something: the whole crazy movie is one big psychotropic substance. It's a good trip for a while, then a bad one: the whole sequence where Hopper goes to a maddening dinner party, then to a whorehouse is enough to make me want to check into Betty Ford. But you always know that even if the movie doesn't make sense to you, it made perfect sense to Hopper, who basically cashed in every cent of good will he made in Hollywood with Easy Rider to make The Last Movie. I'm not entirely convinced Last Movie isn't just one big middle finger to the moviemaking establishment: Hopper probably didn't want the success that came with Easy Rider, and so he made a follow-up that essentially argues that movies ruin peoples lives and then kill them. But that's a discussion for a later review.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mister Buddwing (1966)

As close readers of this fine site have surely realized, TCM aired Mister Buddwing early on August 2. To recap: Buddwing was directed by a lesser Mann, Delbert, 40 years before the second-greatest Mann released Miami Vice, and one year after the greatest Mann released the thoroughly respectable WWII Norwegian resistance film The Heroes of Telemark . But more importantly - Mr. Thomas Sweeney viewed Budd a few months back - and feverishly espoused its mastery to me over the phone. This man is my father - and so I honored him by watching it.

He explained to me he liked it for the location shooting - at Central Park, Washington Square Park, and their neighborhoods. He didn't mention how utterly weird it is. It opens with a first person POV camera sequence of a man searching through his pockets in Central Park, and then wandering into the Plaza Hotel. The action begins in earnest - after the freeze-frame mirror and swooshing credit introduces James Garner's reflection as our lead. The clues: a busted ring, phone number on scrap of paper, and two pills.

Most of the pleasures in the film come from the character actors he bumps into during his journey - the first is Angela Lansbury playing a boozed up hooker/housewife with a gloriously nasal accent. She asks him a series of questions - he can't remember shit about his identity. Then: "How do you like your coffee?" He weeps and nuzzles his head into her bosom. He can't remember his name - but its how he takes his coffee that sets him off. It's one bizarre little detail in a film packed with them.

Then he begins his journey through NY and his memory - a series of three girls he meets on the street remind him of his wife, Grace - which elicit flashbacks starring these different women. The first is the eeriest - with Garner in a sweater talking about the "slow movement in my jazz octet" to his young beloved (Katherine Ross). She says her favorite month is October because that's when everything dies - and she enjoys weeping. Then, snapped out of the memory, he wakes up screaming in Washington Square Park, whereupon a cop stops him - a crowd surrounds, and an impromptu protest is stirred up because of the cop's crackdown. This surreal imaging of a mid-life crisis most reminded me of Frank Miller's The Swimmer, with the equally stoic Burt Lancaster hiding a secret of his own while swimming in every suburban pool back to his home. A journey of a different kind. But both about the loss of idealism in the 60s and both prone to fits of camp - Swimmer with a party at Joan Rivers' place, and Buddwing with Garner trying to act like a composer (also with an insane close-up of a bum telling Buddwing he's God - and that BW should be his disciple).

It reaches it's delirious peak when Garner as Buddwing (he saw a Budweiser van and a plane once he walked out of the Plaza) hooks up with another drunk - this time Jean Simmons as a slumming rich girl. She's on a scavenger hunt and needs a tall man in a grey suit. Another thing: it's a film of bizarre coincidence - where we're never sure if Buddwing is simply mad - especially when characters start echoing each other's lines - as Simmons does when she tells her cabby he's "had the ride of his life" and shimmies on the stoop. An earlier cab driver told BW a story of a fare who did the exact same thing.

Part of the scavenger hunt is getting $100,000 and your name in the paper. At this point it starts feeling like David Fincher's The Game, as tasks become more opaque in service of some unkown destiny. To win the hundred grand - a man walks up out of nowhere and says they look lucky - and takes them to a high stakes craps game where Nichelle Nichols is raking in the dough. The camera looms under everyone in uncomfortable, sweaty close-ups, and the cut speed up with each roll of the dice, as Garner starts remembering his past with each win. It's quite mad.

The ending is ambiguous, not as deadening as The Swimmer, but certainly eerie - especially since we never see what his wife truly looks like - all we see is a hand behind gauze.

Note: it's based on a book Buddwing, by Evan Hunter (who changed his name later to Ed McBain, crime novelist, but who was originally Salvatore Lombino) - who also wrote the screenplay for The Birds.

Thanks Dad.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) or: My Long-Awaited Application For Membership in the Howard Hawks Fan Club

Amongst my cinema-literate friends, I have always been the guy who refused to get on board the Howard Hawks bandwagon. Hawks, the common knowledge says, was the second best director of the Hollywood studio system (after Alfred Hitchcock). And though I've liked many of Hawks' movies — His Girl Friday (1940), Rio Bravo (1959), Scarface (1932) — I only really loved one: Red River (1948). There's even a few famous Hawks films I downright dislike (Twentieth Century (1934), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), To Have and Have Not (1944)).

But after I Was a Male War Bride and now Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the pro-Hawks faction within my brain is making major strides. As I'm sure someone with much more knowledge of Hawks has already realized and written extensively about, Hawks was a bit of a feminist before feminism was a word ("Feminism? Meaning what? You want to be a chick?") War Bride was a cross-dressing comedy that cast all the men as boobs and the women as canny spies. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes goes further: the main characters are two independent women: Lorelei (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy (Jane Russell). The pair are hot and they know it; they use their their feminine charms to take advantage of men, not the other way around.

Most of the action takes place aboard a cruise ship from New York to Paris: Lorelei is engaged to the son of a wealthy industrialist (Tommy Noonan), Dorothy is delighted to find the entire Olympic team aboard their ship. Lorelei is to be married in Paris, but must make the Transatlantic voyage without incident; if Noonan's stodgy father hears even whiff of controversy, he will refuse to permit the union. Mean old pops even hires a private detective named Malone (Elliott Reid) to shadow the pair of sexy ladies on the boat.

Hitchcock was notorious for casting appealing actors as villains and boring stiffs as the heroes in his movies in order to force the audience to identify with the bad guys, and I suspect Hawks had much the same idea in mind when he cast Russell and Monroe, two of the loveliest and funniest actresses of any generation opposite the unappealing Noonan and Reid. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is not set in a world of sexual equality — women have all the power and they are having the time of their lives using it to their advantage. When it's Monroe and Russell taking the advantage, it's difficult not to root for them.

Certainly this isn't the sort of movie that would make Susan B. Anthony stand up and cheer, but it's still forward thinking. A decade before the sexual revolution, Hawks lets Lorelei and Dorothy spark one of their own. Every scene has moments of rebellion: the way Marilyn coos the word "lover" as she talks to Noonan, the nude colored bathing suits on the hard-bodied dancers that surround Russell during her ode to lust, the way Lorelei's sexuality and her intelligence go hand and hand.

Both Russell and Monroe get their own musical number where they are the sole female surrounded by an army of attentive men. Russell sings "Anyone Here For Love" which is as subtle as a Barry White slow jam, and Monroe performs the classic "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Though Monroe was the primary lust object of the decade, this movie is no man's fantasy (at least no straight man's fantasy; a dude of different persuasions would probably enjoy that Olympic team's workout as much as Russell does). Hawks lets it be known: sisters are doing it for themselves.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Discussing Premiere's List of the 50 Greatest Film Comedies Of All Time

I'm a little behind on my magazine reading; last month's Premiere ("The Comedy Issue" with Steve Carell on the cover) includes a list and because I, like every other American male between the ages of 18 and 35 is obsessed with any list of anything, here is an analysis. I invite you to play along — that's what the comments section is for!

(In keeping with Premiere, all lists are arranged alphabetically with no consideration to personal preferences)

Movies on the List I Have Seen
Safety Last (1923)
The General (1927)
Duck Soup (1933)
It Happened One Night (1934)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
The Awful Truth (1937)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Bank Dick (1940)
To Be Or Not To Be (1942)
Road to Morocco (1942)
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)
The Ladykillers (1955)
Some Like it Hot (1959)
The Apartment (1960)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
The Producers (1968)
M*A*S*H (1970)
Sleeper (1973)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Annie Hall (1977)
National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
The Jerk (1979)
Airplane! (1980)
Caddyshack (1980)
My Favorite Year (1982)
Trading Places (1983)
National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
There's Something About Mary (1998)
Rushmore (1998)
Best in Show (2000)
Zoolander (2001)
Wedding Crashers (2005)
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Movies From The List I Really Should Have Seen Already
The Gold Rush (1925)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
A Chump at Oxford (1940)
The Sunshine Boys (1975)

Movies From The List I Haven't Seen And Am In No Rush To See
Big Deal On Madonna Street (1958)
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
The In-Laws (1979)
Private Benjamin (1980)

Movie Even I Can't Believe I Haven't Seen
A Shot in the Dark (1964)

Movies Whose Exclusion Upsets Me Deeply
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Ghostbusters (1984)
The Naked Gun: From The Files of Police Squad! (1988)
Clerks (1994)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Movie That Would Have Surely Been Included If The List Was Released Just One Week Later
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)