Friday, August 31, 2007

The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior (2005)

Kudos to the great Robin Enrico for alerting me to this movie — if we want to be generous and call it that. This 90-minute excoriation produced by the WWE is just one big eff you to their former wrestler, The Ultimate Warrior (real name Jim Hellwig — or at least it was his real name until he had it legally changed to "Warrior"). At no point does The Warrior get to rebut the charges against him which eventually makes you feel kind of bad for the guy even though, by all accounts, he was a total dick.

The Ultimate Warrior was a popular wrestler for the WWF (as it was known back then) during my childhood. I can remember the palpable sense of excitement I felt when I watched Warrior defeat the hated Honky Tonk Man at the very first SummerSlam, and the anxiety and confusion I felt when he squared off against my favorite wrestler, Hulk Hogan, at WrestleMania VI. I also remember spending a good deal of time searching for evidence that there were, in fact, two Ultimate Warriors — as an urban legend that circulated in the early-90s suggested the original guy died and was replaced by an imposter, explaining the Warrior's absence from the WWF for a few months. In reality, there was only one dude, and he was fired for a time after threatening not to show up for a main event match if he didn't get a big chunk of money.

I'd be fascinated to hear about these stories from the Warrior himself, but he's not on the best terms with the WWE at this point, as evidenced by the fact that this DVD, which contains interviews from tons of Warrior's contemporaries and employers, exists expressly to prove what a douche he is. The Warrior seems like an interesting guy — I mean, for crying out loud, the man wrote a comic about himself in which he takes over the North Pole from Santa Claus and then rapes St. Nick. But I suppose we'll have to wait for the Warrior to explain himself another time.

Instead, The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior pretty much makes fun of him for 90 minutes even though, back in the day, WWF made plenty of money off this guy from kids like me. We all thought he was super-cool because he painted his face and he picked guys up over his head like they were made off Nerf foam and he ran around like a crazy person, all things that are fun to imitate when you're 9 years old. For some reason, the Warrior's agenda of beating people up and wearing tassels on his biceps made perfect sense to me then. Now, I see, that the man was kind of deranged.

"Now you must deal with the creation of all the unpleasantries in the entire universe! As I feel the injection from the gods above I only know that the Ultimate Warrior is totally out of controlllllll..."

Okay there Jimbo. Look, if you want unintentional comedy, this DVD is a treasure trove. Oh and speaking of all the unpleasantries in the entire universe, look at what else I found on YouTube.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I can't get Kala out of my head. Maya Arulpragasam's new album, named after her mother (just as her debut album, Arular, was named after her father), is a stunning cacophony of sounds and cultures, from the 18 year old Lagos-born rapper Afrikan Boy (above), to the raspy rhymes of the Australian children's hip hop group, the Wilcannia Mob (right). She sings her favorite Bollywood tune, "Jimmy", covers The Pixies, and samples The Clash. The album is worthwhile for the music she introduces as much as for what she produces herself. This world-skipping wasn't by design. She planned on making the entire album with producer-extraordinaire Timbaland, only to blocked out of the U.S. because of Visa issues (one Timbaland track makes it to the album). Plus, she's a prolific video maker!

Here she is with Spike Jonze and Afrikan Boy:

And here's the video for "Jimmy":

Other M.I.A.'s:
Miami International Airport

Minneapolis Institute of the Arts (whose Nordic Landscape Painting exhibition Michael Anderson posted about over at Tativille)

Migration Institute of Australia

Ministries In Action

The Motorsport Industry Association (Supporting the UK motorsport industry since 1994)

Molecular Information Agent

And my favorite:
the Marble Institute of America (Stone of the Month: Black Granite)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lonesome (1928)

Now that nuptial bliss has faded into nuptial routine, it's time to watch movies again. And it starts with Paul Fejos' winning 1928 city-symphony romance, Lonesome. A marvel of the late silent period, it depicts New York City as both dehumanizing and filled with wonder, achieved with densely layered superimpositions. The opening parallel editing sequence, which cuts between the two leads, Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon ,preparing to go to work, starts as physical comedy (Kent daintily primps while Tryon, late, flings about with mad energy) and ends as mechanized mayhem, as Fejos layers the images of their day job exertions over an image of a clock, until both protags are deliriously exhausted - but also irrevocably linked visually. Then they both independently decide to head to Coney Island, after being depressed by their lovey-dovey friends. This is where the film truly takes off, with beautiful hand-colored shots of the amusement park, and frames teeming with ticker tape (look at that photo!), carnies, and tentative bits of seduction between the two leads.

The immediate comparison is with F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927), another film that deals with the dehumanizing as well as magical aspects of the industrialized city. I won't put Lonesome on as high a level as that supreme masterpiece, but it deserves to be seen. The main drawback to the film is the insertion of a few sound sequences. The film is a ravishing visual experience that grinds to a halt when the camera gets nailed down and the mics turn on. The rhythm is lost and it takes a while for it to rev up again. The emotional impact, at least for me, was staunched by a sniggering crowd at Film Forum intent upon proving their superiority to a film so unabashedly in love with love. Their loss, which unfortunately distracted me as well. Alas.

The director, Paul Fejos, is a fascinating character, a Hungarian emigre and M.D. who fell into the movie business for a while, and then fell in love with anthropology (he turned to ethnographic filmmaking) becoming the director of Anthropological Resarch at the Wenner-Gren institute.

Oh, and to be honest, the nuptial bliss is still blissful.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Mr. Miyagi: Bad Teacher

I just watched The Karate Kid for the first time since I was a little (karate) kid and I was shocked to see how bad an influence Mr. Miyagi is on Daniel-san. Here is why:

-He uses him as his personal manservant, teaching him only the most basic karate techniques as a crafty means of hoodwinking an impressionable child into doing his housework done for him ("Show me paint the me drive me around me answer my phone for me while I take a nap.")

-He gives a 16-year-old kid booze. Illegal.

-He monopolizes all his time and keeps him from his peers. Right from the start of the film, Daniel-san hits it off with a kid in his new apartment building. Then when the old guy and his young padawan get all chummy where's the kid go? He vanishes! He probably went off to find friends who aren't more interested in codgery old janitors who outsource their chores. And the kid wonders why he can't get a date!

-He convinces this shrimp he can beat up bullies. Hey man, violence doesn't solve everything. It's called conflict management — look it up.

-He would later take Daniel with him to Okinawa and then later get him to give him all his money to start a bonsai tree business, effectively ruining the child's chances of going on to college and ensuring that once that sweet karate money dries up he's pretty much dependent on being Mr. Miyagi's slave for life.

Great movie...great, great movie. Better than I remembered (Also: way more like Rocky than I remembered). But still...Mr. Miyagi left a weird taste in my mouth. Look at this!

"Daniel-san! Show me carry my lazy ass around!"

That just ain't right.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Summer Vacation Checklist, Part 4

4)Visit 4 ballparks in 7 days.

U.S. Cellular Field? Check.

Busch Stadium: The Sequel? Check.

Wrigley Field? Big check.

Miller Park? Checkers.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Make Your Own Atari Cartridge Labels

I've seen this posted on a few sites and blogs already but it is a lot of fun to play with. LabelMaker2600 lets you design your very own Atari 2600 cartridge labels. The possibilites are endless. Here are a few of mine:

Friday, August 24, 2007

That's Entertainment! III (1994)

A brief word of recommendation about one of the most surprising things I've DVRed this summer. Unlike its two much older predecessors in the epic That's Entertainment! saga, which are basically just greatest hits compilations — the cinematic equivalent of The Beatles' Red and Blue Albums — the oddly punctuated That's Entertainment! III mines the vaults of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for incredible moments from musicals that, for a variety of reasons, were never shown theatrically. If we want to stretch my metaphor to the absolute limit, that kind of makes it The Beatles Anthology with fewer thinly veiled drug references (except in the Esther Williams numbers).

For instance, you get to see Fred Astaire perform a strange sort of duet with himself, dancing to the song "I Wanna Be A Dancin' Man." The number, from the rather obscure film The Belle of New York, was shot once with Astaire in casual attire, and then again with the actor in a suit after MGM decided Astaire looked better that way. Directors Bud Freidgen and Michael J. Sheridan play both renditions in split-screen, and we watch Astaire and Astaire work in eerily perfect synchronization — other than the clothes and the backgrounds, the performances are totally identical, a testament to the man's incredible preparation, athletic ability, and unmatched timing. (For an interesting counter-point, and a contemporary use of split-screen choreography, see Donen-Kelly's It's Always Fair Weather).

MGM musicals are famous for their lavish production values and their air of opulence but That's Entertainment! III shows that behind-the-scenes, the studio tended toward thriftiness whenever possible. Sequences, songs, and even costumes that got trimmed from one film would often wind up in another. When Cyd Charisse's version of the song "Two-Faced Woman" was cut from The Band Wagon, that freed up the number to be taken by Joan Crawford, who sang it (albeit a lot less well) in her film Torch Song. Charisse, by the way, has the sexiest, longest legs you've ever seen in your life. Seriously. I mean those things are good. They belong in a museum.

The most affecting portions of the film, though, belong to Lena Horne, an African-American actress whose career was stifled by the racist restrictions of the "Golden Era." Horne gets to narrate her own story, and she doesn't hide her disappointment or her disgust when explaining how one of her numbers got cut from Cabin in the Sky (seeing a black woman enjoy a chaste bubble bath alone was deemed inappropriate) or how she lost out a role that should have been hers in Show Boat (once again, the color of her skin played a significant factor). Watching her performances in the archival footage and realizing how talented she was gives the actress a modicum of revenge. But it's still not enough.

I DVRed TE! III anticipating to fast-forward through a lot of it looking for obscure stuff I'd never seen. As it turned out, I was sat glued through the whole thing. This is really interesting stuff, and that's on top of the sheer bliss that comes with watching these remarkable musical numbers, which already lend themselves well to the anthology format. Context, schmontext.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Termite Television: Sports Night

It boggles my mind just how much of his shows — The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and, yes, Sports Night — Aaron Sorkin wrote single-handedly. I have trouble writing two movie reviews a week and finding time to update this blog. Sorkin churned out twenty plus scripts a year, each at least a hundred pages long. The secret to his success? Pounding down handfuls of crack cocaine! I guess regular cocaine just didn't have enough oomph.

Both of the Sorkin shows I've seen — Studio 60 and now Sports Night — claim to be about one thing (the making of a Saturday Night Live-style television show and the making of a SportsCenter-style television show, respectively) but are, in fact, about another: that being, Sorkin himself. Many of the characters, like SN's Dan Rydell and S60's Danny Tripp, are former drug users (many, apparently, are also named Danny). They are excellent, obsessive writers. They work long hours because they love their jobs. They treat their co-workers like family and their family like co-workers. The focal point of both shows is a strangely-huggy relationship between two male co-workers and best friends. It is interesting that Sorkin's one bonafide TV hit, The West Wing, is the one show of his that isn't quite as blatantly autobiographical as the others. Without having seen TWW, I'd guess it's probably also a little less self-congratulatory, which may also be a factor.

After hearing about his unorthodox style for years, it's a bit surprising to see how conventional Sorkin's storytelling values are: even if his characters talk quickly, even if the air is thick with technical jargon (Instant Sports Night drinking game: take a shot any time a character says "VTR"), the plots are boilerplate workplace drama — disagreements between management and rank and file and will-they-won't-they office romances. The endings of both series I've seen are shockingly upbeat — what other shows give happy endings to everyone in the cast? Sorkin's constantly assailed for writing over his audience's heads — characters within his shows often allude to this fact in conversation with corporate superiors who want to dumb down their work — and you can sort of see the writer's confusion: the guy's just doing rudimentary feel-good melodrama gussied up with a little inside baseball. These shows are thinly-veiled, carefully-dialogued soap operas. They're Melrose Place with a better vocabulary and a big TV control room where the pool should be.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary; Sports Night is good. This is the sort of show I love to watch on DVD because it is so addictive you can plow through the episodes without having to wait a week in between, and it's the sort of show I hate to watch on DVD because seeing how good it is all at once saddens you when you realize that if you'd watched it and supported it when it was on in the first place maybe you'd have more than 45 episodes of it to dig into now. Oh well. Time for The West Wing I guess.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Summer Vacation Checklist, Part 3

3)Denigrate an artistic masterpiece.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Van Gogh, you were one of the greatest artists of the nineteenth century. Hey man, that was over a hundred years ago — what have you done for me lately? That Kirk Douglas movie about your life totally stinks! Who cares if this self-portrait is one of the most stunning paintings I've ever seen — it's old and one-eared! WHAT ELSE YA GOT?


Termite (Sequential) Art: The Flash #231

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

Written by Mark Waid
Illustrated by Daniel Acuna

Comic book writer Mark Waid has an uncanny knack for turning me onto characters I'd previously had no interest in or desire to read about. Waid has a legendarily encyclopedic knowledge of comic book continuity, but he applies it to his work in a way that is inviting rather than restrictive. You don't need to know as much as he does about, say, Captain America to enjoy his ludicrously good run on the book in the mid-'90s. On the contrary, he is, in some ways, the perfect writer for a neophyte reader because he brings the character to you: Waid knows what works about a concept and what is unnecessary, and he can mine those back issues for ideas that were always clever, but never properly exploited. His run on Flash in the mid-90s made a big impact on the way I looked at comics back then, opening my eyes to the idea that rather than following artists I liked or characters I thought were cool, I should really be reading stuff based on who was writing it.

This may sound incredibly obvious but cut me some slack: I was 14 and, at the time, the "cool" comics were the ones by the appropriately-named Image Comics, whose business model at the time hinged on the fact that if Jim Lee or Todd MacFarlane drew a book it didn't matter if a semi-illiterate homeless person wrote it, because nobody would care. For a good long while they were right, too.

Mark Waid was one of the first comic writers who, purely through the quality of their work and the size of their talent, taught me to see through that Image stuff. His run on The Flash was terrifically entertaining but, with the exception of his first artistic collaborator on the book, the phenomenal (and now, sadly, late) Mike Wieringo, poorly drawn. The Flash wasn't particularly fun to look at it, but it was fun to read, an important distinction as well as a good lesson to learn for a 14-year-old weened on cross-hatching.

Anyway, Waid had a long and very successful run on The Flash, before he meandered through some rough stories about one too many alternate reality Flashes (The Flash of the future! The Flash of a world gone mad! The Flash of a universe populated solely by former game show contestants!) He left the book in the hands of the capable Geoff Johns, who also contributed some very good stories before he, too, ran out of ideas. But when Johns left the book, DC killed this version of the Flash (Wally West) and replaced him with a new one (Bart Allen, a younger and, I suppose, "hipper" speedster). The fact that just one year later, DC scuttled the new Flash and brought back the old one — along with Waid back behind the word processor — tells you all you need to know about how creatively and financially successful that dunderheaded decision was.

But Waid and Wally are back and it looks like the time away has done them both good. Waid has reinvigorated the book with a fresh take on his old subject: Wally is now a husband and father dealing with a frustrated wife and two precocious and incredibly powerful rugrats. Though comics' audience have grown older and older the characters have remained, in most cases, completely static, both physically and emotionally. Waid's new twist on The Flash will hopefully give him the chance to use the language of super-hero comics to talk to his older audience about previously verboten subjects. His first issue jabs at diaper changing and home schooling are certainly steps in the right direction.

This first new issue from Waid hints at the uncharted areas the writer will explore and it also signals Daniel Acuna as one of the most talented young artists around. Just look at the work on the expressions in that big panel to the right. His style is airy, his designs are stylish and hip, and if the credits in the book are to be believed he's also his own inker and colorist which means he's also responsible for all the computer effects used to augment the depictions of The Flash's speed.

The cover reads "The Beginning" but it's really more of a return to form, for the writer (who, admittedly, has also been tearing it up lately on the new team-up seriesThe Brave and the Bold) as well as for the book. A dozen years ago, Mark Waid taught me that The Flash and smart writers were cool. Today, he's reminded me why.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Summer Vacation Checklist, Part 2

2) Ignore local color while taking work phone calls.

I don't give a crap if you are the first public outdoor work installed in the United States by British artist Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate. Toronto Film Festival's coming up next month!

(Okay so "The Bean" is actually amazing. Here's a better shot:)


Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm in the Wikipedia!


Matt Singer is the host and figurehead of IFC News.

Most notably, he appears alongside R Kelly introducing Trapped In The Closet on IFC and

Wow. I love that THAT is the most important thing I have ever done in my life.

Summer Vacation Checklist, Part 1

1) Show the Gateway Arch who's the boss.

That's right, I have the magic of photographic perspective on my side, sucka. Eat it, breathtaking architectural marvel!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

YouTubeArt: A Return to Normalcy

I know it's been a little quiet around these parts, but c'mon, it's the dog days and between weddings and vacations it's tough to get a termite word in edge-wise. But I think that's all coming to an end now (well vacations, anyway, not the marriages, at least I hope not the marriages). A return to normalcy. Starting with this:

Let's see ya dance, pilgrim.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Watch IFC News' Comic-Con Chronicles 2007!

Once again IFC News is back with a whole half-hour special all about the San Diego Comic-Con. Full schedule is here, but here are the highlights of when you can catch it on IFC TV:

Saturday August 11, 10 AM
Wednesday August 15, 11:30 PM
Monday August 20, 4:15 PM
Friday August 24, 6:55 PM
Saturday August 25, 7:30 AM
Saturday, August 25, 5:20 PM
Tuesday August 28, 6:45 PM
Wednesday August 29, 12:25 PM
Tuesday, September 4, 10:30 AM
Saturday, September 8, 6:00 AM
Monday, September 10, 6:30 AM
Tuesday, September 18, 12:45 PM
Thursday September 20, 6:30 PM
Thursday, September 27, 4:50 PM
Saturday, September 29, 1:15 PM
Monday, October 1, 4:40 PM
Friday, October 5, 8:00 AM
Sunday, October 7, 5:25 AM
Tuesday, October 9, 5:35 AM
Thursday, October 11, 11:40 AM

Once again, the show features interviews and presentations with and from the big movie peeps who come to San Diego (Judd Apatow! Jon Favreau! J.J. Abrams!) as well as the previously untold story of the making of our IFC News comic book. Hilarious, insightful, and just the slightest bit creepy. Watch and enjoy! (Show should also be up on soon, will post a link when it is available).


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Once (2007)

It's amazing how easy it is to overlook a movie's flaws when it's strengths are so strong. Once is far from a perfect movie. It sort of wants to be Before Sunrise/Sunset for singer/songwriters, but its characters pale before Richard Linklater's for depth. The acting isn't particularly good, the script isn't particularly memorable, and the story isn't particularly engrossing. But Once has an ace up its sleeve, the divine music by its stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Their songs, and their soulful performances of them obliterate whatever weaknesses the movie has. You get swept away by them and it's only later, when you look back upon the movie that you realize that you got so completely sucked in by the film that you didn't notice it's problems.

Hansard plays an unnamed Irish busker. By day, he works in his father's shop repairing vacuums. By night, he pours his heart and soul into fiery performances on a Dublin street corner to an audience of none. Director John Carney establishes Hansard's skill and his dilemma beautifully; over the opening credits, Hansard sings the first of many unforgettable songs in the film, with a voice that can give you goosebumps. The frame is very wide on the musician. The street is empty. We can see that no one notices the magic that is taking place at this anonymous intersection. As Hansard's delivery draws us in, Carney pushes in closer and closer on his face. As the song ends, he pulls back out and suddenly there is one person who is listening. It's Irglova. Without saying a word, we already like her. She's the only one who gets it: this guy is an undiscovered genius.

She doesn't have a name either, at least that we learn. She's Czech and she's got some problem with her vacuum she says she'd like him take a look at, but it's clear she's watching Hansard for the same reason we are. The next day she returns, Hoover in hand, and Hansard dismisses her as an annoyance until he learns that she's a musician too. She takes him to a music store where she plays him something on piano, and then they play one of his songs together, a number called "Falling Slowly."

Hansard lays out the chord progression and some of the notes, and then they begin to play, he on his guitar, she on the piano. She's tentative at first, but then she gets the changes and the words and begins to sing with him adding a beautiful harmony line to his lead vocal. Carney shoots the scene simply, one angle for each of the performers, and lets the actors' talent and musical chemistry carry them. It would appear that he basically just got out of their way and let them do their thing. The effect is mesmerizing, so simple and yet one of the single most captivating scenes in recent memory.

Most of the rest of the movie continues in this manner, low-key but very beautiful scenes where Irglova and Hansard play music together and flirt with starting a relationship (there are various obstacles to their love that I will not spoil here). There's not too much more to the conflicts than will-they-won't-they (as well as will-they-won't they play "Falling Slowly" again, cause I really want them to). It's mostly just pretty folky pop songs with beautiful harmony.

In fact, the stories behind the making of Once might just be more interesting than the film itself. Hansard and Irglova, for instance, fell in love after making the movie, and are now a couple as well as a musical combo. They're made an album and they're touring; last week they made stops on several late night shows. Here's the YouTube clip of them on The Tonight Show doing the song I love so much:

It's still a great song, and it's not a bad performance. But it doesn't have the same heat, the same exhilarating release of energy as the version in Once. There's something special that Carney captured in that particular rendition of the song that the two can't quite approach here, despite the fact that the two are now very much in love. If Carney did indeed just get out of their way, how come his version is so vastly superior to The Tonight Show's? It may be that despite the flaws and the seeming simple pleasures there is a great deal more going on beneath the surface of Once than it might have first appeared.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Siskel & Ebert & Roeper Video Review Archive

I've written about Siskel & Ebert (later Ebert & Roeper) on numerous occassions on Termite Art. Most of those times I was poking fun at the hosts and their contentious promo recording sessions, which often devolved into name-calling of the most childish sort. You can click the links and revisit the posts, and watch the most important critics of their generation playing neener-neener-neener.

Still, all that writing came from a place of love — Siskel & Ebert was always one of my favorite shows as a teenager (though, at that age, I never admitted it to anyone). Though I had no idea at the time, watching the show was incredibly important; those episodes (first on 11 AM on Sundays, later nearer to midnight on Sundays, which was a hardship for a high school student who treasured his sleep, but I made the sacrifices) was probably the first time I realized that a few lucky people got to watch movies as a job. It wasn't long before I decided this is the greatest job in the entire world (short of Gary Cohen's, but there's only one of those).

So I'm absolutely delighted to tell you that you can now watch 5,000 old Siskel & Ebert (& Roeper) reviews on the show's official website The site is searchable by movie so you can check out, for example, a heated debate over PREDATOR or hear what Gene and Roger thought of Twins or Red Heat, The Running Man. They also have reviews of non-Arnold Schwarzenegger movies as well.

This is a wonderful resource, easy to use and absolutely free. Kudos. Now if only they'd put up some of those legendary promo fights and let us watch those as well.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Read the IFC News Comic!

I thought I posted this but I guess not. This year as part of our coverage of San Diego Comic-Con, we created our own mini-comic and filmed the process of making it for this year's Comic-Con Chronicles, our yearly half-hour special about SDCC.

The special is just about finished and will start screening later this week and run all this month on IFC (I will post links and showtimes once they're available). But in the meantime you can read the entire comic for free online. Click this link, and scroll down to the little comic version of yours truly and click it to get a pop up window to read the story of me trying to interview Spider-Man and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi. The art, by the way, is by my good buddy Robin Enrico.

And, in case you are curious, the story of the comic continued at this year's Con. Raimi was at this year's con with his latest project 30 Days of Night — but you have to watch the show to find out whether or not we were able to track him down and give him a copy.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Opera Jawa (2006)

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is screening all of the New Crowned Hope films beginning this weekend, which include the much lauded Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerastehakul, 2006) and I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, 2006). But for my money ($11, to be exact), the greatest of the group is Garin Nugroho's Opera Jawa. The New Crowned Hope festival was a celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday that was held in Vienna, Austria, and curated by Peter Sellars. Part of the festival was a series of grants given to filmmakers worldwide to make films inspired by Mozartian themes.

I've encountered Nugroho once before, when I caught his 2004 feature, Of Love and Eggs at MoMA. A DV-lensed comedy set in a small village near Jakarta, it ran on the idea of community as theater, with the town being entirely studio built, and with young children narrating the action in between narrative strands. Opera Jawa is much grander, but also places its artificiality in the forefront. The film is a Javanese musical, re-enacting a story from the Hindu scripture, the Ramayana. In the original tale, Sita is a princess married to the hero, Rama, a prince and incarnation of Vishnu. Sita is kidnapped by King Ravana, and Rama spends his life trying to rescue her. In Nugroho's re-telling, Sita and Rama are a struggling peasant couple, while Ravana is a wealthy landowner. Nugroho effortlessly incorporates the traditional and the modern, with his Sita (here it's Siti), a dancer who enacts the Ramayana, causing Ravana (here Ludiro) to lust after her and try to steal her away from Rama (here Setio).

All dialogue is sung, and much of the action is performed through dance - and the effortless way in which inner states are manifested through the slightest of movements is often astonishing. In one scene, Ludiro hides underneath Siti's skirt as Setio seduces her onto his bed, warring for position as Siti fends them off and lures them in at the same time, the angles of their bodies lining up so they look as one, an extraordinary visual metaphor for division of Siti's own heart.

Then at one point a troubador character who follows Ludiro, a grossly overweight man with a beautiful voice and mandolin-like instrument, plays a weeping blues ballad in a smoky club, as Ludiro, in mock tuxedo, writhes to the tune of his broken heart (and thwarted lust).

In the end, Nugroho dedicates it to all the victims of natural and man-made disasters in the country, a requiem that honors the country's gorgeous traditional forms of dance and music, while showcasing the phenomenal agility and expressivity of its dancers: so I thank Martinus Moroto, Artika Sari Devi, and Eko Supriyanto, you've made one of the best musicals in recent memory.

Check out Tativlle for a more rigorous (but still enthusiastic!) analysis of the film.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007 and's List of the Greatest Sex Scenes in Cinema

In conjunction with IFC's Indie Sex, IFC News partnered with to compile a joint list of the 50 Greatest Sex Scenes in Cinema. You can read the whole list, complete with comments by the staff of IFC News (including myself as well as the incomparably married R. Emmet Sweeney) by clicking this link. And here, now, is our full list, sans all the juicy comments you need to click over to read:

50)Ken Park
49)Laurel Canyon
47)The Dreamers
46)Sex Lies and Videotape
45)Breaking the Waves
43)Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
42)High Art
41)High Fidelity
40)The Lover
39)The Piano
36)Boogie Nights
34)The End of the Affair
33)The Last Seduction
32)Being John Malkovich
30)Me You and Everyone We Know
29)9 Songs
28)Henry and June
27)Boys Don't Cry
26)Out of Sight
25)Female Trouble
24)The Cooler
23)Brokeback Mountain
22)The Wayward Cloud
21)The Kiss
19)Sex and Lucia
17)Body Heat
16)Coming Home
15)Get Carter
14)Team America: World Police
13)Y Tu Mama Tambien
12)The Night Porter
10)Young Frankenstein
9)The Big Easy
7)My Beautiful Laundrette
6)Betty Blue
5)The Unbearable Lightness of Being
4)Risky Business
3)Mulholland Dr.
2)A History of Violence
1)Don't Look Now

Thoughts? I'm a little upset I forgot about The Hunger.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Scanners (1981)

David Cronenberg's movies are an acquired taste. That's kind of appropriate because Cronenberg's movies are often about acquired tastes — like the uncontrollable desire to have sex in the smoldering wreckage of a horrific car crash, for instance. And, like with any festish, once you're hooked, you're hooked. So beware before diving into Scanners, one of his really Cronenbergian movies. Know what you are getting into, that being, some seriously heady shit.

The title refers to a group of about 300 humans who have developed psychic abilities. They can read people thoughts or, if they get really aggressive, can use their powers to control people's minds or actions. The film is sort of notorious for a scene where one scanner attempts to demonstrate his powers on a volunteer from an audience, but he unwittingly selects Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) from the crowd. Revok is, in fact, an incredibly powerful scanner and he uses the opportunity to show what a scanner can really do, by blowing up the other dude's head in front of a live audience. ("Heady shit," get it? I know, terrible.)

Dr. Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), a corporate scientist with an interest in scanners, decides that Revok is too dangerous to live and so he recruits another scanner named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) to go undercover in the scanner underground, sniff out Revok, and kill him. It is interesting that there are no governments involved in Dr. Ruth's various experiments — only giant faceless conglomerates with names like Biocarbon Amalgamate, something that happens a lot in movies nowadays, but feels pretty prescient for 1981.

Scanners isn't Cronenberg's first film by any stretch of the imagination — he'd already worked for years in television, and made The Brood and his ode to stock car racing, Fast Company — but there is an agreeable roughness to the material and its presentation. The story isn't particularly polished and the actors are fairly dreadful (except Ironside, who even at this tender age is already a magnificent movie badass), but the ideas are wild and the visuals are grotesque in the best sense of the word. Clearly, he was working free of gatekeepers and filters. There is a sense that a lot of this movie was downloaded straight from Cronenberg's subconscious — even the names have weird echoes of movie terminology and dream logic. The hero is Cameron, which sounds like camera; a key doctor in the film is named Frane, which sounds like Frame. Don't ask me how Revok fits in. Sounds like havoc?

I love Cronenberg's incredibly bleak perspective on the world. The scanners concept is straight out of a comic book; you could mistake the synopsis of this movie with any number of popular series about beings born with extraordinary gifts beyond the comprehension of mortal man (X-Men springs immediately to mind). But Cronenberg turns this power fantasy into a nightmare. Being a scanner is no great shake — even under optimal circumstances you're going to pop a few blood vessels while scanning and, if you're not too careful, you could lose an eyeball or the top of your skull. And those things are difficult to fix. In Cronenberg's verson, there are no superheroes, just super burdens (an idea he returned to recently in the marvelous A History of Violence).

So yeah: gruesome visuals, borderline silly dialogue ("We're gonna do this the scanner way!" Ironside belches before a confrontation that visibly swells the vains in his forehead) and total Canadian awesomeness. If you don't love the Cronenberg, if you haven't acquired the taste yet, I suggest you expand your palette and take the plunge.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

YouTubeArt: Part 2 of the SXSW Interview with The Ten

I like that the only comment on this video is "matt singer is a tool" -- the Internet absolutely hates me.