May 31, 2003
Decade(s) later.You will die still bearing the scars ripped into your soul over a period of a mere four years. By the same token, you probably first discovered the strengths you're capitalizing on now while you were in high school. This isn't to say, of course, that college, work, marriage, parenthood or, going back, all the blessings and curses that can befall a childhood - a move, a death in the family, parents divorcing, what have you - aren't big, formative deals. But it's in high school that you get your first pretty solid idea of how you and the rest of the world are going to be getting along.
Thanks primarily to John Hughes, we know a lot about what high school in the US was like in the 80s - for upper middle class kids who lived in mini-mansions propped up in the gently rolling hills north of Chicago. Don't get me wrong, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) is a landmark comedy and The Breakfast Club (1985) is not only sweet and forgivable within its after-school-special generic context but has also taken on quite a load of nostalgic baggage over time. But I've always wondered how much materialistic envy these movies aroused in the vast majority of American high school kids who didn't have samplers in their rooms.
To be fair, there were exceptions to prove the rule. Rock 'N' Roll High School (1978) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) were a step downscale class-wise, but they also preceded the Hughes wave, were products of leaner, pre-Gordon Gekko period and, because they presented themselves as sort of food-fight comedies, they didn't claim the verisimilitude Hughes did for his comedies.
The idea of high school as a picturesque Ivy League training ground wasn't shaken in the 90s, either. Just think of all that burnt red brick, all those gated front yards in Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999). But there was a 90s high school movie that was like no other and, interestingly enough, it wasn't set in the 90s, but instead, just two years before Rock 'N' Roll High School.
In Dazed and Confused, we go back to the Bicentennial summer, the country still reeling from the OPEC-imposed global recession and getting ready to transition from one forgettable president to the next. Let me go right ahead and admit that there's a special place for Dazed and Confused in my own personal pantheon because 1976 was my junior year, and an eventful one it was all around, and I was in Texas. Not Austin yet, but in Texas.
In 1976, high school kids hated the hippies because their youths had been so much more exciting than ours and we didn't yet know we had punk to look forward to. But ultimately, as Kimberly Jones writes in the Austin Chronicle, Dazed and Confused still works (it just made number 17 on Entertainment Weekly's top 50 cult classic movies list) because it has what she calls "staying power" - in other words, it's timeless because, to raid the pantheon again, nothing ever happens. "But that's really rather the point," explains Jones, "the plotlessness of adolescence."
Plotlessness to prove its own point is always a risky strategy, but it works for Richard Linklater here. As members of the cast and crew gather today near Austin to celebrate the film's 10th anniversary, Jones also reminds us how many faces we know so well now - Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, and briefly, Renée Zellweger, to name a few - were first seen in Dazed and Confused. They made a memorable impression in a memorable film partly because Linklater gave them room to play of almost Altmanesque proportions, but also because, ultimately, while the film may be set in the 70s, it's not irrevocably rooted in them.
A quick whiplash to a not entirely unrelated story on a not entirely unrelated film: a remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark that took seven years and next to no money to pull off. It's a remarkable story.
May 30, 2003
Shorts, 5/30.Can he get a witness? You bet. Carl Theodor Dreyer could hardly ask for more impressive testimony than what Jonathan Rosenbaum offers up today in the Guardian: "For roughly two decades, my three favourite dramatic features have all been the work of the same man - and my favourite among these depends almost entirely on which one I've seen most recently." Today's must-read, hands down.
Meanwhile, back on his home turf, the Chicago Reader, Rosenbaum reviews The Decay of Fiction.
Bangkok-based SF Bay Guardian regular Chuck Stevens has turned up in the other Guardian as well to write not only about Monrak Transistor, the new film by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, "modern Thai cinema's foremost satirist and a hilariously cynical romantic," but also about the state of modern Thai cinema as an ever-shapeshifting whole.
Also in the Guardian, a preview of Cheeky, written and directed by - and starring - David Thewlis. And: Happy Birthday, Christopher Lee. Victoria Barrett's is a good interview, but I still like ours, naturally.
It's only just hit me what this blog's been missing: Funny pointers to can-you-believe-that stuff for sale at eBay. Unfortunately, I'm too late to recommend a bid on that pair of Hanes signed by Keanu Reeves, but the good news is that the $10,100 they eventually went for will be going to charity. If you've got an extra $180K, though, you can still get a bid in on the actual condo in which Bob Crane was killed, as depicted in Auto Focus.
I've been holding pointing to Tad Friend's fine profile of Roy Lee in the New Yorker because I wanted to say stuff about it, but as poet Albert Goldbarth has put it, "The days go by. Then more days go by." So, without the questionable benefit of my commentary: Click here for an explication of this:
Roy Lee's Asian initiative enables Hollywood, in effect, to test fully realized cinematic ideas in front of millions of people, and then go forward with remakes of movies that are already proven hits. Everyone benefits: Asian studios get a windfall; American studios get a buffet of market-tested ideas; and Lee gets a producer’s fee in the range of three hundred thousand dollars whenever one of his remakes goes into production.
Back in March, Nathan Alderman argued in TeeVee that 24 is a blatantly misogynist series. He hasn't changed his mind, either, and has, in fact, gathered more evidence that the show has a "mile-wide woman-hating streak."
Online viewing tip. Besides the trailer, there are six minutes of Danny Boyle's apocalyptic 28 Days Later, the spazzed-up zombie flick that topped the UK charts last Halloween and is now getting ready to roll out in the US. Fortunately for Res, Boyle shot it on digital video, which gives the magazine a good excuse to interview him. The results are brief but solid.
Politickets.A couple of issues are boiling on the front burner that have more to do with what you'll soon be able to watch and how than it may seem at first glance. When you consider that the movie that snagged the top awards at Cannes this year was made by HBO, you begin to get an inkling of how intertwined film and its media cousins really are. Never mind that the major studios are owned by even more major multinational corporations. For a clearer idea of who owns what you watch, read and listen to, make use of this handy searchable database provided by the Center for Public Integrity.
You've undoubtedly heard about that FCC meeting on Monday which will probably result, as Nikki Finke writes in the LA Weekly, in further relaxation of "longstanding ownership restrictions on Big Media so it can become Monstrous Media." Get your ire stirred further by reading Molly Ivins on the agency that's "been captured by the industry it is supposed to regulate" and then follow her over to Bob McChesney's Free Press site and register your concern.
Issue number two. Working Assets is calling on YOU to "Tell Disney to send their disposable DVD plan to the dump!"
And finally, an online viewing tip. The emperor and his vassals are getting together again and Geneva 03 is streaming "live reports from the rallies and manifestations, protests and blockades as well as studio debates and talk shows, movies and meetings, parties, vj- and dj-sessions and concerts" from now through June 3. The stream has been spotty, but it does seem that, one by one, the kinks are getting ironed out.
May 29, 2003
Shorts, 5/29."Ringu (The Ring) is adapted from the last of a trilogy of Japanese horror novels ... what were the first two parts called?" Take the Guardian's quiz on Japanese cinema. If you score ten out of ten, you probably don't even need to read the accompanying interview with Takeshi Kitano; on the other hand, you might be just the sort to enjoy it most.
Brian Hanson guest-writes the "Shelf Life" column at Anime News Network, reviewing, among other new titles, Read or Die ("a bespectacled, nerdy librarian for a quiet, local bookstore... WHO KICKS ASS"), Berserk (Vol. 6, "the finest fantasy anime series ever created"), Dai-Guard (Vol. 6, "quirky office humor combined with giant mecha heroics"), X (Vol. 5, "still great"), Fruits Basket (Vol. 4, "an amiable show that... I find intensely boring"), Mahoromatic (Vol. 3, "just enough visual flair to make it worth watching"), Neo Ranga (Vol. 3, "truly a bizarre creature"), Sakura Wars TV (Vol. 1, "absolutely huge in Japan"), Space Pirate Mito (Vol. 3, "pure, unadulterated wackiness by the boatload"), Yu Yu Hakusho (Vols. 13 and 14, "great show"), Genma Wars (Vol. 2, "downright wretched"), Knight Hunters ("intensely dramatic"), Madara ("simply does not hold up"), Dark (Vanilla Series, "leaves me physically ill") and Variable Geo ("creepy").
David Thomson is everywhere all the time and it's up to us to keep up. Today, it's the LA Weekly where he's reviewing Connie Bruck's When Hollywood Had a King, a "first-rate business history (so long as you stay wary about which gossip or recollections to trust)" built around the life and deals of Lew Wasserman.
Speaking of deals, Michael Sippey has spotted a masterpiece in the making. "Leave it to the Weinsteins," as he says. "Miramax Films is shopping the largest automotive product placement deal ever in a feature film," begins the report in AdAge.com. Whose car will Cato, the Green Hornet's chauffeur and bodyguard, drive? The movie's slated for a summer 2005 release and bidding starts at $35 million - despite the fact that, as Michael emphasizes, there is no screenplay yet, and no director attached.
Four movie-related posts in a row over at kottke.org: Jason catches A Mighty Wind, watches his Matrix Reloaded thread explode, enjoys Microcosmos, but most fun of all, passes along readers' celebrity sightings in and around New York City, all building up to the one featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman "leading a rousing game of Who's Keeping It Most Real?"
For Film-Philosophy, Paul McEwan reviews a collection of essays that appeared in the journal Close Up between 1927 and 1933: "The discussion is primarily in the realm of what might be. That desire to prescribe a future for cinema is what gives the essays in this collection most of their bite, and what makes them so interesting 70 years later."
Back to the future. Sony's PSX aims to be an all-in-one media box you can use to play games online or off, record and watch DVDs or regular TV, listen to music, and I'm sure I've forgotten something, given that the Mercury News and LA Times reports seem to be interested in such different aspects of the new machine.
Hm. Earlier today, a huge CFQ cover story on The Hulk was up on the Superhero Hype! site. And though Movie City Geek is still pointing to it, it's not there anymore. Fairly easy to figure what's happened, I suppose.
Online viewing tip: Helluva site for the film Saved by the Belles.
May 28, 2003
Getting the hell outta Hell.So yesterday, I'm catching up with the new reviews at the Village Voice and one of the "Sponsored Links" up there in a banner at the top of the page (they rotate, and naturally, it doesn't happen to be there now) takes me to a site for Gone, a film about three lawyers for whom "the Rapture has come too soon" and with a tagline reading, "This movie will scare you out of Hell."
The site features what you'd expect it to feature: Reviews, interviews, the trailer and so forth, plus countless quotes like this one from director Tim Chey: "I'm glad to have worked with fellow Believers who have faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I watched the final episode of Survivor where [Gone lead] Dirk [Been] shared his testimony [Season One, 5th Banished, 15 Days, Tagi Tribe] to about sixty million viewers around the world and you know that's God's doing."
I have a couple reactions to this.
First, I've been here before. Yes, decades ago, I was a teenage evangelical Christian. Reading quotes like Chey's, I don't cringe like a lot of people do. I cringe in entirely different ways. Flushed with memories, the hairs on the back of my neck lift and hover and it takes a while for them to settle back down again. Nonetheless, I have fewer regrets these days for that particular episode in my life than I did years ago. For one thing, it's bucked up a thriving and healthy skepticism that's come in handy when similarly structured ideological systems send out their siren calls. For another, it's allowed me to lend a sympathetic ear to those whose Christian beliefs are sincere yet anything but fanatic, to those Christians who struggle hard and honestly with the question, "How should we then live?" I hope I'm not being too presumptive when I say that Darren Hughes seems to be just such a person (see, for example, his "Seeking 'Holy Moments' at the Movies").
I'm also familiar with the scare tactics the sort of evangelicals for whom I have far less sympathy use to convert the heathen. There are two ways to appeal to the conscience, if indeed there is such a thing. In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis chose what seems to me to be the morally acceptable route, calmly laying out the familiar argument that there are such things as universal truths and that, in fact, the very existence of a conscience is the key evidence: It's universally understood that killing is wrong; someone must have written that law. Now, you can pick that argument apart and then part ways with Lewis relatively unscathed.
But what might be called the Late Great Planet Earth approach to winning converts plays much more cruelly on culturally ingrained "universals". This method of indoctrination is all about fear and can be filed right up there with those used by the most merciless of cults.
Other thoughts. The success of the Left Behind series of thrillers points to the existence of audience out there that's probably too big to be classified as a niche. What's more, with the vast majority of Americans professing to believe in some sort of God, one way or another, the potential audience for a film like Gone - if it were a good film, and it certainly doesn't look like one - could rival that for any number of Hollywood releases.
For some, that's a disturbing thought, but regardless, it's also an interesting one in that it should serve as a reminder that there is such a thing as a prevailing set of assumptions shared by most mainstream movie fare. And one of those assumptions is that religion plays little or no role in American life. The assumption is wrong, and I for one am hoping that it'll be a movie along the lines of You Can Count on Me that corrects it rather than a movie like Gone.
Shorts, 5/28.And we begin today with just that: Shorts. Wong Kar Wai, Tsui Hark, Peter Chan, Fruit Chan, Stephan Chow, Joe Ma, Brian Tse, Johnnie To, Teddy Chan, along with the duos Alan Mak and Andrew Lau and Alex Law and Mabel Cheung, are among the directors filming government-sponsored shorts aimed at lifting Hong Kong's spirits months into the SARS crisis. Silvia Wong reports for Screen Daily. (Image sampled from Basefield Projects.)
Laura Miller tackles the befuddlement of many over a pair of visual delights:
Both Far From Heaven and Down With Love seem, well, weird. You could blame that on their being so highly stylized, but when was the last time anyone found the artificiality of The Importance of Being Earnest unsettling? Or, for that matter, the ritualized theatrics of Throne of Blood? We can easily accept that none of the characters in Oscar Wilde's play or Akira Kurosawa's fusion of King Lear with Japanese Kabuki act like anyone we've ever met, because the worlds they inhabit are so remote. Audiences buy piles of tickets to Merchant-Ivory movies and don't walk out fretting because they can't figure out what the filmmakers are trying to say about Victorian society. The problem seems to be that we aren't ready to put mid-20th-century America in the same category.
And here's my take on my favorite film of last year.
Steve Monaco further indulges his appetite for Jose Mojica Marins, aka Coffin Joe, who "belongs in the first rank of '60s horror directors, a group that includes Roger Corman, George Romero, and Mario Bava." Going by the ratings alone, GreenCiners don't seem to agree, but taste's a less relevant factor over in this corner. On the Brazilian filmmaker's "cracked autobiography," Demons and Wonders: "In between these poverty-row recreations of his bad breaks are many newspaper headlines from his past, and they're an unexpected treat - my favorite is the one pertaining to Joe's unorthodox acting auditions: EAT ROACHES AND LICK SKULLS TO GET ROLE IN MOVIE!"
"Q: In The Return of the King, when Sam rescues Frodo, and Frodo is lying in his arms, Sam kisses Frodo on the forehead. Has this small element has made it into the film version? A: I wasn't in this scene but don't think you will be disappointed." Ian McKellen updates his site, answering a dozen or so questions. Via Movie City Geek.
More mail: Bruce Feirstein has a blast typing up a memo from Myndee Brady-Stahr, Director of Development, Trans-National Pictures, to Jayson Blair, c/o David Vigliano Literary Agency, New York: "And I, like, totally agree that Vin Diesel is perfect casting for your character. He's a newsman who kicks ass - and takes names later. Or maybe never. Or maybe he just makes up the names. Whatever."
"For Uday Hussein, the cutthroat son of Saddam, high culture came to Iraq when Russell Crowe entered the arena, sword in hand, ready to kill." Patrick Healy sorts through a masochist's video collection in the Boston Globe. Via Movie City News.
The Otohime Mutsumi in Swimsuit Statue will be the latest in Tokyo Mint's Love Hina series, a cold cast resin figurine and yours as of November for a low, low $149. Which is a helluva lot cheaper than a Murakami.
It's still jolting, hilarious, endlessly inventive, a delight to the eye and mind. I've seen it many times and still laugh out loud. It remains an art-school feminist favorite, appealing in the same way more commercial expressions of rampaging grrrlhood as Times Square or even Freaky Friday are. (It's not a lesbian movie, but some of its best friends are.)
May 27, 2003
Shorts, 5/27.The most fun read in a long while: Wayne Bremser's "Matthew Barney versus Donkey Kong":
Richard Serra plays Donkey Kong, waiting at the top of both New York buildings... Both Barney and Serra are Yale alumni and, by placing him at the top of the order in both sequences, Barney makes it clear that he considers Serra the most important artist of the previous generation. With this casting, Barney praises Serra as Master Mason, but also winks at the art world's Warholian order of celebrity.
Plasticians sort through the recent shift in Bollywood "from its tradition of colourful musical dance extravaganzas towards more adult fare."
In the Guardian and Observer:
Newsweek's Finding Nemo package wouldn't really be worth mentioning if, besides the short review, there weren't also a pair of pieces on Disney's troubles and Pixar's "golden age." Over at Movie City News, Gary Dretzka finds the film not only "fun, fanciful and heart-warming" but also "an undisguised nudge for [distributors] to get with the program" and go digital. A telling quote from Nemo writer-director Andrew Stanton: "Like it or not, the digital format is where your movies live for most of their lives. They're on the screen for a very short time, so we take great care to make sure what you see in your home is the best possible version of the movie."
Also at MCN: Leonard Klady on the astoundingly good opening weekend for Bruce Almighty (see also the Los Angeles Times interview with director Tom Shadyac) and Dretzka's interview with Baltasar Kormákur (101 Reykjavik).
And another interview. With the Star Wars Kid.
Online viewing tip. The top of the world. QTVR.
Updates, 5/27.Two updates to Shorts, 5/19. First, Fraser Lewry has uncovered the identity of those ASCII cats. And collected 99 more stellar performances.
Second, Outlook India has decided that it was a good year at Cannes for Indian cinema after all. True, there were no highlights in competition, but the government and the Confederation of Indian Industry took important steps for both Indian films and India as a "top-drawer international location."
Shorts, 5/8. Ed Finn has been attending that Films From Along the Silk Road: Central Asian Cinema series and writes in Slate, "We get the impression that the people of Central Asia live with a sense of displacement, as if their lives on the fringe of the Soviet empire have ended but life on the fringe continues."
And finally, two updates on all things Matrix now that it's opened in nearly 50 more countries around the world. In a short bit for the London Review of Books, Thomas Jones draws a few interesting parallels between the trilogy and another one: Star Wars. And Slashdotters are sorting through the moral and legal morass following a BBC story on a "high-quality" copy of the film now available via P2P network BitTorrent.
May 25, 2003
Quel surprise!Well, this is a surprise. Dogville had been the talk of the town, at least among critics, and heaven knows, Lars and Nicole kicked up enough buzz. But not only has Gus Van Sant picked up the Best Director award at Cannes, his film, Elephant, of which Screen Daily's Allan Hunter wrote a few days ago, "might have seemed more at home in Un Certain Regard, than exposed to the full glare of Official Competition," has won the Palme d'Or.
At first glance, you'd think the Columbine tragedy seems to have resonated in France almost as much as it did in the States. Just last year, Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, the first documentary to be selected for the Official Competition in decades, was greeted with a 13-minute-long standing ovation. Now that the jury has honored Elephant with its two top awards the very next year, you can't help but wonder in this age of freedom fries what sort of rhetoric we're going to be hearing sloshed around in the next few days. But the jury, of course, is an international lot: three French folk, one Italian, one Bosnian, an Indian, a Chinese actor - and two Americans.
Even so, I'm reminded of a line of thought running through the back of my mind while watching Training Day several months ago. There's a common misconception that American movies are, for everything else they are as well, advertisements for what might be called Americanism - the "way of life," which everyone else around the world is assumed to envy, and the one and only way to attain it: adopt US-style democratic institutions and, above all, "reform" all economies until free markets reign over the globe.
This construct was at its healthiest in the waning days of the Cold War. Germany, and even more microcosmically, Berlin was the lab in which this hypothesis was supposedly proven. East Germans marched through the streets of East Berlin, Leipzig and their other cities because they'd been seeing jeans and pickup trucks and tupperware on the West German television channels they'd been surreptitiously watching all those years. And they could no longer stand the deprivation. Never mind all the other sins of the Warsaw Pact governments - the spying, the corruption, the torture of political prisoners - their inability to give their citizens a house as big as Tom Cruise's in Risky Business or the cars high school kids drive in John Hughes movies was supposed to have been what did them in.
I wouldn't deny that there's a bit of truth in this. Hollywood producers are infamously naive when it comes to the actual standard of living in the US. And their assumption that wealth and luxury are generously strewn across the land from coast to coast does get passed on to foreign markets. But so, too, do alternative assumptions. Imagine a devout Muslim or businessman in spic-n-span Singapore, a fisherman in Greece or a farmer in Hungary catching Training Day. Imagine any parent anywhere taking in Bowling or Elephant. Is it any wonder that they often have very clear visions of what they don't want for their own countries?
These films may be extreme examples, but the slices of real life in the US they depict are not - and the people who live outside the US, whose movie theaters and TV and video and DVD stores and rental outlets are saturated with American product, people who also read the papers and watch the news, realize this. And appreciate the occasional dose of truth as much as they also enjoy taking a ride for a couple of hours in the dream machine.
May 24, 2003
Memorial Day Weekend EditionFirst, thanks a zillion to Craig Phillips for leaping in when I was out and disconnected. So, I'm back in and reconnected and the first thing I see is that while critics and journos are yawning in Cannes, the Seattle International Film Festival is off and running hard and will carry on through June 15 and the thing is just huge. 226 features and docs and 80 shorts from nearly 50 countries over 25 days. Too much for any dedicated cineaste to sort through alone, so The Stranger offers up a handy guide: SIFF Notes. Cute. Comics and illustrations by Jason Lutes, an intro by Sean Nelson and an amusing little something by one Prof. Nigel Grinchgibbins.
The Times of London has a remarkable little exclusive, a magazine piece on all that was Babylonian about Hollywood back in the day - by none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald. Never before published. Because he missed his deadline, evidently, but you'd think it would have appeared in one collection or another before now. Written in 1924, nearly decades before the launch of Cahiers du Cinema, Fitzgerald writes: "[T]he moving picture is a director's business, and there never was a good picture or a bad picture for which the director was not entirely responsible." Well! Of course, he's also got a couple of points to make Bazin and Co. might have a bone to pick with, but still. Via Movie City News.
"Robert McNamara is not the über-hawk, the main instigator of the Vietnam War. I realized pretty quickly it just doesn't work that way. This is not to say he's blameless or absolved of responsibility for what he's done, but that the story is far more complex and far more interesting than I imagined." That's Errol Morris talking to Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times about his new documentary, The Fog of War, recently shown at Cannes and subtitled Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert McNamara. The most interesting quote is probably the last: "He's ostensibly talking about things that happened 40, 50, 60 years ago, but he could as well be talking about next week."
The kick-in-the-gut interview of the week, though, has to be Henry Sheehan's with Marooned in Iraq director Bahman Ghobadi in the LA Weekly: "They eat their breakfast squatting down, ready to run, because there's always someone coming. The Turks are coming! The Iraqis are coming! They've got their backpacks with them, ready to run and carry... You don't learn how to say 'Mom' or 'Dad' first in Kurdistan. You learn 'bomb,' 'war,' 'run, run, run!'"
"It scares me when art becomes artifact." For MCN, Ray Pride segues from Jean-Pierre Melville, whose films "are hushed, deadpan abstractions of space and gesture, and his blunt, efficient cutting of shootout scenes are among the glories of precise, elegant filmmaking. Men with hats. Men with guns..." to a round-up of recent DVD releases by way of a not entirely undue disparagement of the medium and its fanatics: "It's the Pantheon as fetish: Mr. Lubitsch and sensei Kurosawa and crazy-mad Terry Gilliam belong to me." Even so, even he goes all lusty over The Adventures of Antoine Doinel ("[Criterion's] most elaborate box set since Brazil"), Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran, Throne of Blood ("dense, thrilling, lyrical"), Quai des Orfèvres, Derek Jarman's Jubilee, Lars von Trier's Medea ("an interesting footnote in a career that's going to turn out to have more footnotes than a David Foster Wallace novel") and - to close with a bang - Miklos Jansco's 1974 Electra, My Love:
[A]n astonishment, a seventy-one minute retelling of the classic myth on an open, desolate Hungarian plain, camera in constant motion, seldom cutting, with galloping horseman, nude choruses and fireworks underscored throughout by a tattoo of drums.
Bamboo Dong, too, offers up a fresh batch of DVD reviews of another sort at Anime News Network: .hack//SIGN (Vol. 2; "getting better with every episode"); Banner of the Stars (Vol. 3; "both one of the nicest done anime series and also the slowest"); Geneshaft (Vol. 1; "I have a good, throbbing vibe about this show"); Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal Director's Cut ("why tamper with perfection?"); Dragon Ball GT (Vols. 3 and 4; "can't say that it's the best series ever... but it definitely has its moments"); Hello Kitty's Paradise Collection )"the pinnacle of what is known as wholesome family entertainment") and Great Dangaioh (Vol. 4; "doesn't hold its weight against the original Dangaioh at all").
Over the past couple of years, it's come as a surprise to many that the director of Pi and Requiem For A Dream would be interested in making a film based on a comic, but Darren Aronofsky has already tried and failed twice; the third shot may be the charm, reports ICv2, as he aims for Lone Wolf & Cub, a series of samurai graphic novels by Kazuo Koike.
Online viewing tip. A leisurely narrated Cannes slide slow, especially during this, one of the festival's most lackluster years, according to just about everybody, may not sound like riveting viewing, and it isn't. But for a kick-back Memorial Day weekend, Tony Scott's chat is just the thing. You've probably seen it highlighted and floating around on that front page for the New York Times's movie section.
May 23, 2003
This blog entry has been entirely plagiarized from the NY TimesBefore we get to another note about Mr. Guy Maddin (See below), first let me mention that this shall be a short and sweet blog entry today -- as David Hudson is dealing with an apartment move, and specifically with Deutsche Telekom's sluggish internet installation methods, while I'm furiously trying to finish some new "primers" for GreenCine.com before the Memorial Day weekend hits. Excuses, excuses...
Speaking of excuses, The Onion has some amusing ideas as to what else reporter Jayson Blair may have been up to amidst the recent scandal. I also find it appropriately ironic that The Onion is sponsored by the New York Times. Whee!
The BBC reports that Oliver Stone's new Alexander the Great epic, featuring Leonardo di Craprio as the title titan, has ceased filming in Morocco, after Friday's bombing in Casablanca. Producer Dino De Laurentiis didn't want to risk endangering the cast and crew any further, and has shifted the production to Australia. Why did it take them this long to think North Africa might be unsafe? Wolfgang Peterson pulled his Troy production out of Morocco a full month earlier after similar concerns arose, and moved the shooting to Malta, Mexico and London... Brad Pitt as a trojan [insert joke here].
Also in the BBC, Nev Pierce has a quickie column featuring David Carradine on on the topic of QT's upcoming Kill Bill. Carradine describes Uma Thurman's group of assassins in the film as "sort of like a bad Charlie's Angels" -- which sounds redundant but never mind. A trailer for Kill Bill is fun, if you have QuickTime 5. And if you really want to geek out, a leetle bit film-geeky web site called The Tuesday Night Film Club has taken it upon themselves to review the Kill Bill script.
(we wear) Short shorts:
IndieWire thinks that Vincent Gallo has officially gone off the deep end (I thought that happened a long time ago?) with his new directorial effort The Brown Bunny, calling it "one of the most profoundly egomaniacal and obnoxious films in the history of American independent cinema." It was apparently roundly booed at Cannes, but then, it wouldn't be alone with that honor now would it? Cheryl Tiegs is in it! What more does IndieWire want for godsakes?
Speaking of self-indulgent, also in IndieWire is an interview with Matthew Barney, who talks about the final installment of his Cremaster trilogy (which is actually 5 films, but never mind). Those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area will have the chance to view all 5 films, screened in the order they were filmed, not in the order they were numbered (but never mind), at the Castro Theater. Screening start tonight, Friday and run through June 4.
But speaking of the Castro, as for me, I'm more looking forward to Guy Maddin's Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary, which arrives there after the Cremaster departs, and looks extremely cool and grandly guignol.
May 22, 2003
Quinzaine des Réalisateurs"Dear Cannes, I think I misunderstood you. I thought you were a feast from another world. But what the hell?! The truth is mysteriously beautiful, just like GOZU."
That cryptic message from Takashi Miike, along with a trailer and a classic bleeding B-movie font, has gone up on the official site for Gozu, the straight-to-video production slated for release in Japan in July. Since Miike makes a film about once every full moon, yet another one might not be considered news in the strictest sense - except that Tom Mes has caught its showing at the Director's Fortnight and was pretty bowled over. He writes in Midnight Eye: "If anyone still had doubts about the merits of V-cinema, they can safely abandon them now... Pitting a virginal yakuza trainee against deranged suburbanites, a cow-headed demon and his own id, this is the film Hideaki Sunaga's Getting Wild With Our Monkey hoped to be... Whatever your impression of this director might be, Gozu is guaranteed to change it completely."
In an entirely different corner, another Director's Fortnight screening, greeted with a standing ovation, was Osama, director Sedigh Barmak's first feature. Financed by Iran and one of its most notable directors, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the film is set just after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and, according to the AFP, "begins with a visually strong scene-setting image of a demonstration by hundreds of jobless women wrapped in all-covering blue burqa veils demanding work, who meet a spray of Taliban gunfire and water-cannon."
They only appear every couple of months, but when they do, it's the online equivalent of a whole season's worth of Sunday New York Times thumping down on your doorstep. We're talking, of course, about new issues of the excellent Senses of Cinema. There's no point in even beginning to list all the goods this time around. Just. Go.
Online viewing tip. NET-150, which has just been nominated for the Grimme Online Award, a pretty prestigious honor for German journalists.
May 21, 2003
Lars, Nicole and... the Taliban?"Finally, Cannes has a blockbuster." Evidently. Stephen Garrett isn't alone as he raves on about Dogville, "a brilliantly realized elaboration on past themes wrapped in Brechtian artifice, American sentiment, and rich moral conundrums."
Lars von Trier
What is it indieWIRE has with Brecht these days? Or maybe the proper question is, what is it filmmakers have with Brecht these days? In his Cannes-so-far piece for the New York Times, AO Scott calls the film "something like Our Town as reinterpreted by Bertolt Brecht," but regardless, that press screening on Monday...
...was a galvanizing moment: here at last was something to argue about. Was it a sadistic, self-conscious exercise in cynicism or a relentless, formally innovative inquiry into the nature of power, innocence and vengeance? Is Mr. Von Trier, chief theorist of the Dogma 95 movement [sic] and a wily provocateur, a world-historical genius or a clever intellectual fraud? Discuss.
So a good part of the "hoopla" (Nicole Kidman's word choice) Dogville has kicked up must derive from the film itself. But plenty is due as well to the presence of the biggest female star in the business these days right there on the Croisette and to Lars von Trier's penchant for controversy as PR.
Let's start with "Nicole, Nicole, Nicole!" as the crowds chanted, according to Kenneth Turan in the LA Times, who reminds us just how damn much she's working these days. Coming soon: Robert Benton's The Human Stain, based on the novel by Philip Roth, Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain, another literary adaptation, Jonathan Glazer's Birth and a remake of The Stepford Wives. All this has led to marvel, such as Turan's, at her range and willingness to stretch it and to her own comments that she will indeed be slowing down, almost willingly misinterpreted by Fiachra Gibbons (another Guardian at Cannes!): "On a high note, Kidman says it's time to quit." Not really, but it makes a good headline.
So does "Taliban thinking," Gibbons's other report today. It comes from some blooming American idiot at the press conference and was hurled at von Trier for remarks such as, "I would love to start a Free America campaign because we have just had a Free Iraq campaign," a suggestion reportedly met with approval from the European side of the press room.
Summertime set."When it comes to putting together the studio's bread 'n' butter, the action-adventure Franchise Film, it's the producers who deserve the credit," Patrick Goldstein reminds us in the Los Angeles Times. But Matt Zoller Seitz isn't likely to do any lauding. "In the 70s and then the 80s, Zemeckis, Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, hell, even Tim Burton were branded as sensation-mongers, overgrown boys, instinctive enemies of narrative and good sense," he writes, but then asks, "It's funny, isn't it, that many 70s and 80s summer blockbusters once decried as dumb, loud, cynical and insufficiently interested in plot and character now seem like models of classical narrative purity?"
It's a provocative read, and in a good way, too, lambasting the 90s and current crops as "monotonously assaultive, made by people who confuse a visceral reaction such as audiences recoiling from strobe-flash explosions and eardrum-rattling digital sound with an authentic emotional response." (Also in the New York Press: Armond White on I Am Curious (Yellow) and America's slow approach toward the full frontal.)
Matt Zoller Seitz notes that Spielberg has "felt partly responsible for the dumbing down of Hollywood blockbusters," but like White, he's a Spielberg defender. "[H]e was a misdemeanor offender taking blame for a wave of felonies." Which leads us to a new magazine, Reverse Shot and its comprehensive symposium on "the world's single most financially successful filmmaker."
"Movies like Blade Runner, Robocop, They Live, Minority Report and the Alien and Terminator flicks have managed, sometimes through no fault of their own, to edge toward the profound. But the Wachowski brothers made it to the top of this heap with the most lucrative sci-fi action empire to feed the questioning, and questing, mind." I know, I know. Matrix, Matrix, Matrix. But when Erik Davis chimes in, it's not quite yet time to move on. Especially when, after chewing on all he has to offer, we can turn to Paul MacInnes for comic relief. It's a good mix.
Shorts, 5/21.Terrific cover there, the June issue of Sight & Sound. Too bad the story's not online. But two meaty ones are: "Bollywood Ending" is actually a pair of pieces, one by J. Geetha, explaining why the global embrace of recent Indian cinema is not being felt at home, and the other, by Anupama Chopra on what-for of all that singing and dancing. In the other online feature, Tony Rayns talks to Kitano Takeshi about his new film, Dolls, which "juxtaposes three highly stylised tales of love gone wrong performed by live actors" framed by traditional bunraku puppet play.
Slant is launching a list of 100 Essential Films. Slowly.
In Movie City News, Gary Dretzka explains why Disney's self-destructing DVDs are a rotten idea. Following a batch of strong ones, he lists a few more and, of course, we'd like to amend that first one. Still, though, he's right.
Andrew Pulver catches Interstella 5555: the 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, the Daft Punk/Leiji Matsumoto collaboration, and The Animatrix: "That they are presented virtually side by side at Cannes... represents the maturing of a generation of westerners who sucked up the first wave of crossover manga comics and anime films in the 1980s, and are now finding a way to return their appreciation by directly sponsoring their creation."
Also in Cannes: J. Hoberman. And also in the Village Voice: Ed Halter's quick summary of Anthology Film Archives appearances on the screen and Andy Warhol's Screen Tests; Patricia Thomson on the current "resuscitation" of Italian cinema; and Elliott Stein on Movie Love in the Fifties, the book and the MOMA series.
Online viewing tip. Two this time. First up is Ben Zelkowicz's sand-on-a-lightbox animated short, The Erlking, based on the poem by Goethe every German schoolkid can recite at the drop of a hat. Go, take a look around and then click "Excerpt" to view a clip. Via Res, which oozes, "Zelkowicz's imagery flows like silky liquid, with images emerging, morphing and retreating with seemingly effortless ease."
And secondly, an update on Chuck Olsen's Blogumentary: He's put a trailer together.
May 20, 2003
A nation of deconstructionists.Tom Tomorrow isn't the first to recast Matrix Reloaded with members of the Bush administration and he probably won't be the last. Just yesterday, Chuck Grimes, having seen the movie the night before, posted to the Left Business Observer list:
The world we experience is maintained through a complex series of manufactured illusions and a great deal of deliberate material misery extracted as bio-energy from and exercised as play-back on the lives of other people we will never see or know. What has changed however is the pure viciousness of this pretend world. The normal has been enormously amplified in its unadorned nastiness and it no longer takes either disaffection or the disaffected to see it.
Grimes cranks up the volume after that and its gets a little too, well, paranoid, but the gist is clear and hard to argue with: "We live in a world of mass deception and fraud," and what's more, we know it. As the summer wears on, though, and T3 is released, the metaphors will change. Neal Gabler, author of Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, is already a step ahead. Back in April, he wrote in Salon: "Under George W. Bush, America is no longer a cowboy nation. It is more like a cyborg nation with a brand-new paradigm - not the cowboy but the Terminator... Call it Pax Schwarzenegger."
Across the board, there's a line of thinking (we used to call it a meme) that the president and his supporting cast are not so much governing the nation and reshaping the world as making a movie. Or at least all those things at the same time. Also back in April, when it was still (or rather, even more) difficult to read the smoldering cinders of the war in Iraq, John Patterson wrote in the Guardian: "Think of George Bush as the lean young studio head back at Pentagon Pictures, urging Rummy, his embattled but allegedly visionary chief of production, to bring back a money-spinning hit if he wants to hold on to that posh corner office suite."
I've touched on this before (see "Mr. Bush Goes to the Movies"), but there's been so much fresh material since to chew on it's time for an update... First, we need to separate two basic threads. They're related, they overlap and they both have a long tradition that precedes GWB, but there're different things going on in each. One of these traditions is to compare the current administration with a movie or some other cultural artifact. Reagan, the actor turned president who occasionally donned a white cowboy hat and jeans before chopping wood out on the ranch, actively encouraged these comparisons and even relished them, whether they were meant derisively or admiringly. They can be as light and amusing as a parlour game, such as the political cartoons that appeared after Jimmy Carter was attacked by a rabbit (the beast was more than once depicted as Bruce the shark in Jaws) or they can make a serious point, such as Gabler's, that GWB is defiling the more honorable characteristics of the American cowboy as the archetype was shaped in classic westerns.
In the other corner is the more concrete and immediate concern: How the White House uses the tremendous resources in terms of access to the media and raw money available to it for sheer manipulation. Like I say, these two issues are related. Frank Rich, for example, blends both when he writes in the New York Times, "The Bush presidency might well be the Jerry Bruckheimer presidency - after the hugely successful producer of Armageddon, Black Hawk Down and Top Gun, the movie re-enacted by Mr. Bush in his flyboy landing on the Abraham Lincoln." Point 1: This presidency is like those movies. Point 2: This presidency is consciously presenting itself as a live, ongoing 4-year-long version of all these movies.
It's this second point that Elisabeth Bumiller digs into in her NYT article. Rather than a though-piece, it's an unusually terrific piece of reporting and a reminder of what makes the NYT, for all its current travails, such a great paper. That Top Gun thing, she writes, "will be remembered as one of the most audacious moments of presidential theater in American history. But it was only the latest example of how the Bush administration, going far beyond the foundations in stagecraft set by the Reagan White House, is using the powers of television and technology to promote a presidency like never before."
As if directing a DVD extra - a thought that's occurred to Greg Allen as well - Bumiller takes us backstage for a bit of "making of" secret-telling and, accompanied by a slide show (scroll til you find it), we get to see the "barges of giant Musco lights" highlighting the Statue of Liberty, we see backdrops unfurled and a load of props like the fake boxes labeled "Made in the USA."
Well, so what? If Bush wants to pose as Tom Cruise, who gets hurt? Here's what. The whole question of blatant propaganda aside, GWB and Co. are pushing their management of global media to the point where it's no longer a matter of juggling symbolism for fun and political profit but where truth gets twisted in not-so-subtle Orwellian fashion. And the scary scenes in upcoming features will be the ones that are just subtle enough.
Case in point would be the Jessica Lynch "rescue." As John Kampfner wrote in the Guardian last week, the dramatic version played out on TV differed vastly from the version experienced by the Iraqi doctors and nurses who'd been caring for Lynch since her capture and had even tried to hand her over to the Americans before they were shot at. Then, when the Americans came, Dr. Anmar Uday tells Kampfner, "We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital. It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors." There's much more to this remarkable story, reported in foreign publications like Outlook India but not receiving many column inches or air time in the US.
It's episodes like these that can directly, traceably shape future chapters of history. Ploys like the Top Gun (or Independence Day) reenactment can be sickening or amusing, depending on how you take them. But a lie as plain as the Lynch operation ought to be a punishable offense.
So, what do we do? Waiting more than a year to vote GWB out of office is the obvious option, but unless you're already actively campaigning for an alternative candidate, it's also a frustratingly passive one. Impeachment has come to some minds, and certainly, if lying about fondling an intern is an impeachable offense, Bush scores far higher on that scale. But come on. That's simply not going to happen.
What can be done in the here and now is a shaking off of the pall of post-9/11 acquiescence to all things patriotic, the fear that exposing a lie would be blasphemous somehow, as if all American institutions had somehow become sacred. The moment of solemnity is long past, the WTC and Pentagon deaths atoned for several times over.
Let's get critical. I'm tempted to say, if this administration wants to present itself as a movie, let's pan it, but that would be buying into their conceit. No. The point is that an administration is not a movie, the White House was not built as a Green Room or backdrop, the press is not a distribution system and the federal budget is most certainly not a cash cow for the production of some imaginary sequel.
More than amusing ourselves and inflating our own egos with our savvy readings of the USS Abraham Lincoln sequence, we need to, as David Corn has done over at The Nation, expose the lie at the heart of it and call the man on it. If drawing attention to the fraud of Jessica Lynch rescue when the US press buries the story means turning to satire, as Barry Lando has done in Salon, lets. Resistance is not at all as futile as Chuck Grimes makes it out to be.
Shorts, 5/20.The covers of this week's international editions of Time have a bit of scary fun with the artwork for Being John Malkovich. Inside Time Europe, a magazine head and shoulders above the US flagship, you'll find reviews of films you won't find all that easily, I'm afraid. Make a note of them, though, and if they ever arrive at your local arthouse or on DVD, chase them down. Matt Rees not only reviews but gives a little backstory on Egteyah (Invasion), a documentary by Nizar Hassan that "explores the aftermath of fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian guerrillas in the Jenin refugee camp a year ago." The thrust: Neither side comes off as "saints."
And Jan Stojaspal introduces Pupendo and its director, Jan Hrebejk. A huge hit in the Czech Republic, the film "sets out to excavate the shameless opportunism and self-censorship of Prague in the waning days of communism."
Another definite, hands-down must-see: "American Splendor, which already made a big splash at Sundance earlier this year, winning the grand jury prize, has taken Cannes by storm," raves Peter Brunette in indieWIRE. "This brilliant mélange of documentary and fiction film, in which 70-year-old Brechtian self-reflexive techniques have been made relevant for a new day, is clearly one of the most fascinating and challenging films to appear among this year's crop of American indie production."
Meanwhile, the reigning blockbuster round-up: Roger Ebert on "How indies survive amid 'Matrix' madness." 50 mistakes and a coupla murders (both via Movie City News). And then, Ken Mondschein at Corporate Mofo:
Watching the movie, I was personally less impressed by the fists of digital fury than by the Brothers' evident familiarity with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the theology of Origen of Alexandria. Seen in the light of the books they're referencing, the movie's plot is brilliant; of course, to the non-initiate, the characters' actions and dialogue seems arbitrary and incomprehensible, and the exposition is just filler between car crashes. It would seem, therefore, that a bit of exegesis of The Matrix: Reloaded is warranted. But be warned: If you haven't seen the movie yet, don't read on. There are some major spoilers.
Manohla Dargis is not enjoying herself at Cannes.
Online viewing tip. A pretty amusing ad featuring Martin Scorsese. And the ad reviewed, by Rob Walker in Slate: "It's much harder to convincingly lampoon your image as a pushy control freak when you really are a pushy control freak."
There she goes."On Tuesday, May 20, Buffy the Vampire Slayer will dust her final vamp and battle her last demon. And then the world will end." Jessica Lyons (Coast Weekly via Alternet) is more than obviously not alone in her shock and awe. An entire cultural stratum, well-represented on the Web, mourns. A few choice readings for the wake:
Three "Vidiots" at the fine and funny TeeVee, a site that ravages vidiocy but has championed Buffy all these years, list their favorite episodes.
Laura Miller, now a regular at the New York Times, writes the obit for the pub she started out with, Salon: "Letting go and moving on is, after all, what growing up consists of, even for people obsessed with television depictions of high school life." And she interviews the show's creator, Joss Whedon, who says of the final episode: "It will make some people happy, it will make some of them angry, and if people aren't crying at least a couple of times during it, we won't have done our job."
If you think all this is beginning to verge a bit too deeply into the realms of heaviosity, as you probably already know, it goes much, much deeper. Last week, NPR's Neda Ulaby filed a report on Buffy Studies, a lively strain of academia that may persist well beyond the tenures of many profs currently probing the text that is Buffy. That page also features links to other resources for your own further study and wraps up nicely with a quote from David Lavery, professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University: "Nietzsche said the secret of life is to die at the right time - and I think it's true of a television series, too."
The sculptures, by the way, or rather, the "licensed high-end collectibles," come from Varner Studios. On Steve Varner's resume, you'll find a 40-ft sculpture of King Kong for the 1976 version of the movie, Star Trek figures and McDonald's Happy Meal Toys.
May 19, 2003
Shorts, 5/19.The Guardian and Observer combined must have half a dozen journos at least spread out up and down the Croisette and into every other nook and cranny in Cannes where the restored version of Jean Renoir's La Marseillaise will be shown today. The best bet at this point is simply to direct you to the papers' full coverage page and let you do your picking and choosing from there. And don't forget indieWIRE's and certainly not the official site, either, featuring a generous dollop of video this year. In general, the festival seems to have finally clued into the value of a hopping site. Plus, you gotta love those daily cinema quotes hand-picked by Jenny Holzer.
Meanwhile, a couple of those Guardian/Observer gents turn up in Outlook India as Saibal Chatterjee wonders, "Where, pray, is Bollywood?" In Cannes, that is. Derek Malcolm: "India does not know how to promote its films." Andrew Pulver: "Mainstream Indian cinema has gone from being a completely obscure form to an attractive mainstream idea in next to no time. It has leapfrogged from nowhere to Andrew Lloyd Webber. That has been its undoing." Maybe, though, the rising star power of Aishwarya Rai can help put it back together again. Also: One of the most anticipated DVD releases at GreenCine has been Roland Joffé's The Mission. Harsh Kabra reports on the controversy Joffe's been stirring up with his next film, The Invaders, "a period tale of a battle between the British and Marathas starring Vivek Oberoi."
In the New Yorker, Tad Friend previews Action!, the novel coming out next month written by producer Robert Cort (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Mr. Holland's Opus). Heavens: Was Romy Schneider really into spanking?
Speaking of the New Yorker, having lambasted the nation's most respected newspaper for an asterisk, David Poland tears into the nation's most respected magazine. "Why is this particular review so offensive to me?" he asks out loud and then proceeds, point by point, to explain why Adam Gopnik not only doesn't "get" The Matrix but how his review, bloated with "pretense and nonsense," has become "the primary text pointed to when people want to jump on the anti-Reloaded bandwagon."
Back to the Observer for a moment. A flock of 60s and 70s era rock biopics are coming up and Boyd Farrow wonders why. In part, it's demographics, evidently, but producer Nik Powell (The Crying Game, Absolute Beginners) has a pretty good point as well: "It's all about DVD... DVD is made for music and music fans are collectors by nature. Even if the films don't do that well at the cinema they know there are enough fans to want to buy the DVDs for the sound or the extras or whatever." Another reminder of the waning importance of the theatrical release.
In Flak: "The X2 Guide to US Foreign Policy."
"In a city where the movie reviewers are mostly liberals in rusty Hondas, [Michael] Medved is a conservative with a house on Mercer Island and a vaster audience than any local critic could dream of." Which makes him a prime candidate for a profile, conveniently provided by Tim Appelo in the Seattle Weekly.
Natsume Maya has some intriguing figures on the economic status in Japan of those who make anime and manga. Going by the taxes they pay, they don't figure in the top 100 of all Japanese, but in the "others" category (i.e., those not making cars or toppling banks), they score right on up there. Also: An interesting pointer to a piece on the "painterly" computer graphics of the French animation feature, Kaena: The Prophecy.
Online viewing tip. Do you like Japanese animation? Do you like Japanese Flash animation? Do you like a lot of Japanese Flash animation? For the past several months, Fraser Lewry, outstanding tastemaker, trendsetter, well-traveled friend to kittens and penguins and MC at blogjam (and, of course, real-life friend who lent a desperately needed helping hand when it came to getting this very blog out of the starting gate), has succumbed to the mysteriously seductive surreality of odd little non-narratives proliferating throughout the .jp domain. "It's an addiction," he admits, "but at least once I've had my fill I don't seem to need another fix for a few months." Yesterday, Fraser made sure his avid readers' Sunday wouldn't go without its whimsy. "And yes," he adds, "that ascii cat makes several more appearances - I wish someone would explain to me just who he is." Anybody?
May 17, 2003
Weekend EditionWhat a convenient way to wrap up the week. The two biggest stories in the film world at the moment, Cannes and Matrix Reloaded, spliced together for a day. It's enough to make Camilla over at her Keanu A-Z site go berserk. Look at all that news! That's dedication, Camilla. And you gotta love that Pic of the Week. None too subtle, is it? Anyone who does a love scene with the "great actor, musician" and "unique personality, we're sure you'll all agree" gets her head cut off. Basta! You, Camilla, are "one who deserves the utmost respect...!" Watch your back, though. Heather Svokos and Linda Blackford are getting their undying devotion to Keanu published in a real newspaper.
Not that there isn't any serious Matrix-related journalism going on, though. David Poland, in fact, is getting pretty hot and bothered about it. "It's all bullshit," he growls. Something about an asterisk in the New York Times, evidently. And then there's Hank Stuever at the Washington Post. "Are we high? So high." It's actually a nice piece, but the whole matrix-of-the-Matrix thing is wearing thin. With days to go yet before the movie opens in Europe, I'm already thinking, Next blockbuster, please.
So, we turn to Cannes. Which was supposed to be a low-key affair this year, but Derek Malcolm is reporting it's anything but. He's survived the MR extravaganza to see a film he considers a serious contender for the Palme d'Or: Samira Makhmalbaf's Five in the Afternoon. And in the Telegraph, Hugh Davies is a bit disappointed by the low turnout for the screening of what sounds like a pleasant little film, Calendar Girls, with Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.
Oh, this is nasty: the self-destructing DVD.
Kenneth Turan celebrates pre-Code Hollywood in the LA Times. Nice quote from author Thomas Doherty: "More unbridled, salacious, subversive, and just plain bizarre than what came afterwards, [the films] look like Hollywood cinema but the moral terrain is so off-kilter they seem imported from a parallel universe."
"I don't know any race in the world that are more cynical than the English and if you're cynical, you can't like Charlie. If you're cynical, then he's hopeless... he's just unbearably sentimental." That's David Robinson, who's written a biography of Charlie Chaplin, quoted in a Guardian piece on why the Brits are the last people in the world to embrace one of their own - and why that may be changing.
Online viewing tip. Good thing it's the weekend because: "Pianographique is the interactive, multi-sensory brainchild of Jean-Luc Lamarque, and on my shortlist of most engrossing net artworks ever," writes Curt Cloninger at Net Art News.
May 16, 2003
easyLosses.Let's begin by juxtaposing personalities. Opposite extremes - with regard to movies, at any rate. In one corner, a cluster of "cinemaniacs," people who come awfully close to literally living for movies. Instead of punching the clock, they study schedules and catch three to five movies a day. Every day. For DVD Talk, Jason Janis talks to one of them and to Stephen Kijak, co-director of Cinemania, the doc that follows their lives for a couple of years and a festival hit around the world (and now opening for a limited engagement in New York). "It's inevitable that some of the similarities between the intended audience and the obsessive subjects will prove identifiable, painfully funny, and maybe even a little disconcerting," writes Janis. No doubt.
In the other corner, Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Here's his take: "Most people who go to the cinema are indifferent; they just want to go out and be entertained. We're making the cinema into the destination. The film is incidental." Now that's disconcerting. And actually, you'd like to appreciate what the guy is trying to do: bring ticket prices down. But that attitude gets in the way. Stelios Haji-Ioannou is the founder and chairman of easyGroup, whose holdings include easyJet, the no-frills airline; easyEverything, a chain of cybercafes; and a rental car company, easyRentacar. Next up: easyCinema.
The idea, briefly, is to introduce "yield management" to the theatrical sector of the film business. Haji-Ioannou was shocked to learn that four out of five movie theater seats in Britain go unsold. So he'll start selling tickets at 20p each and raise the price as demand rises.
Now, I'm no economist, but it's not too hard to see why all but two distributors are balking at the idea of giving him movies to show. They know that it's not the number of tickets sold that puts bread (or a light salad with a lo-fat vinaigrette) on the table. In 2002, 1.64 billion tickets were sold in the US, an increase of 10.2 percent over 2001. But box offices rang up $9.5 billion, an increase of 13.2 percent. (The numbers come, by the way, from - whom else - Jack Valenti.) The math is easy. Five out of six, nine out of ten, all the seats in the world could go empty as long as that box office number keeps rising.
You've got to wonder if Haji-Ioannou understands anything at all about the business he's getting into. For example, he won't be selling popcorn. Or anything at all other than the movie. But without concessions, most movie theaters would go under, and it's doubtful that selling seats at 20p a pop would save them, either.
All that said, especially for those of us for whom the film isn't "incidental," it would be great to see a movie for a buck or two on a large screen in digital surround and all, and of course, as decent home movie set-ups become more and more affordable, that's beginning to happen. Of course, we could all soon be cinemaniacs. Better than TV addicts.
Shorts, 5/16.In the New York Times: Tony Scott on Cannes and Godard's A Woman is a Woman and Peer M. Nichols on New Yorker Video (Kandahar, The Town is Quiet, Life and Debt, etc.). And Woody's play.
Matrix Revolutions: "global day, date and hour release"?
David Mamet writes about great endings in the Guardian this week. Also: David Thomson on The Missouri Breaks. And he's right, it is "a rich, leisurely treat, with huge surprises," and a DVD release is long overdue.
Win tickets to the 29th Annual Seattle International Film Festival by entering The Stranger's First Annual Junior® Mints Sculpture Contest.
May 15, 2003
Reels and DealsThe first full-blown day of the Cannes fest went off just as it has for years, with a dud of an opening movie and a flurry of far more interesting announcements. Screen Daily's all over 'em: Eric Idle, for example, will direct a Merchant Ivory spoof, Remains Of The Piano. Fun idea, promising cast - Geoffrey Rush, Anjelica Huston, Alfred Molina, Billy Connolly, Orlando Bloom (as Daniel Day Lewis!), Neve Campbell, Tim Curry, Michael York, Patrick Stewart, Catherine O'Hara, Julian Sands and a cameo spot for Robin Williams - but how much overlap is there between the audience for, say, Hot Shots!, or for that matter, The Rutles and the Howards End crowd? If it does work, though, a sequel might tackle the upcoming feature version of Brideshead Revisited.
Anyway, more deals. Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are set for Hua Mulan, described as "Braveheart meets Ran." Aishwarya Rai is slated for The Rising, which is to be more of a Bollywood western than a movie version of the Springsteen album.
And then there's Lars von Trier. These days at Cannes, there's always Lars von Trier. While Dogville competes and his next film, Manderlay, gets backing, von Trier is ruffling feathers. American feathers. The two films are part of von Trier's U, S and A trilogy, so that, plus comments he's made to various Danish film publications (he's against the war in Iraq, for one thing, and for another, "I don't believe that American society is very nice to people who don't have much - to put it nicely"), plus the fact that he's never been to the US and will probably never go, all add up to a piece in the Guardian today headlined, "Danish movie rebel goes head to head with US," which is probably overstating things a tad.
Shorts, 5/15."Formulaic": Critical insult and, evidently, a financial asset. Sue Clayton, a screenwriting lecturer at the University of London, has studied ten years' worth of hits at the British box office and come up with a formula for surefire success:
Good v Evil: 13%
Special effects: 10%
The joke is, she's serious: "Using these elements in the right proportion might just be the difference between making a popular film and one that goes gold at the box office." You don't even need a punchline. But the story's got one anyway: the study was commissioned by Diet Coke.
A gaggle of GreenCiners ventured down to Comic-Con in San Diego last summer and came back with some fun pix and even a self-made comic adventure. Around 60,000 other people were there, too, among them, Mark Hamill, who was shooting a convoluted fictional doc. And now, the site for it is up: Comic Book: The Movie. Via Film Threat.
Well, well. Miramax, the Disney-owned studio that got the post-9/11 shakes and nearly chickened out of releasing The Quiet American and has delayed the release of Buffalo Soldiers umpteen times, is bailing out Michael Moore. Mel Gibson's company, Icon Productions, was supposed to finance Moore's next doc, Fahrenheit 911, which Moore told the NY Times is "in part the story of twin errant sons of different oilmen," OBL and GWB. Where'd this gumption come from all of a sudden? At E!, Josh Grossberg suggests the $40 million Bowling for Columbine pulled in, making it the highest grossing documentary of all time, might have had something to do with it.
Bamboo Dong takes a break from some pretty hardcore studying to review an avalanche of new anime releases for Anime News Network. Among them: Volume 6 of Saint Tail ("boy, is it good"), vol. 2 of Chobits ("the series is headed in a positive direction"), vol. 8 of GTO ("one lively show"), vol. 3 of Noir ("steps up the pacing"), vol. 6 of Revolutionary Girl Utena ("I enjoyed the first season, but the second season blew me away">), vol. 1 of Brigadoon ("nothing is really explained"), vol. 4 of Devil Lady ("just more of what viewers have been seeing in the series so far"), vol. 3 of Descendants of Darkness ("fluid animation and the beautiful artwork"), Ushio & Tora ("so stupid it's cute"), Casshan: Robot Hunter ("pretty boring"), vol. 6 of Fancy Lala ("swings to a surprising and satisfying close"), You're Under Arrest Mini-Specials ("hysterical antics and fresh laughs"), vol. 2 of RahXephon ("my goodness… the animation is dynamic"), Sakura Wars OVA Collection ("thoroughly entertaining") and vol. 1 of Please! Teacher ("a pretty bizarre show").
May 14, 2003
Cannes Day."Aesthetically, the festival is already starting off on shaky ground: tapping American installation artist Jenny Holzer to design this year's poster has led to a hideous pink-on-gold display of bare type screaming out, 'Viva Il Cinema! - both a banal salute to once and future movies as well as a nod to the 10th anniversary of the death of Federico Fellini (the subject of this year's retrospective)." Hey, now. We rather like Jenny Holzer and no one should knock pink and gold til they've tried wearing it themselves. Besides, we've seen both better and worse.
At any rate, it's Cannes Day. Stephen Garrett kicks off his irreverent diary at indieWIRE (and we'll be passing along word from our man on the ground soon enough as well). Going in with highest hopes, it seems, are the Indians and the French themselves. Perhaps the best Cannes piece out there today is the International Herald Tribune's profile of Jury prez Patrice Chereau.
Praising Guy Maddin's Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary as well as "artists [who] are so special and crazy that the world doesn't quite know what to make of them" in the NY Press, Matt Zoller Seitz inadvertently writes a check-list for filling up your queue:
I'm talking not just about Americans like David Lynch, the Coen brothers, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Terry Gilliam, Julie Taymor, Frederick Wiseman and the folks at Pixar, but David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan in Canada, Takashi Miike, Taro Rin and "Beat" Takeshi in Japan, Abbas Kiarostami in Iran, Jean-Pierre Jeunet in France, Mike Leigh and Peter Greenaway in England, Lars von Trier in Denmark, Guillermo Toro in Mexico, puppeteer-animators the Brothers Quay in London andJan Svankmajer, who makes his nightmarish fables in the Czech Republic.
There you go. Though, actually, we suspect the world knows what to do with Spielberg. And vice versa.
Matrix round-up: In the Village Voice, Jane Dark asks "what makes the picture worth a billion words?" And J. Hoberman reviews Reloaded. So do Elvis Mitchell (NYT), Kenneth Turan (LAT) and Armond White (NY Press). And in the SF Bay Guardian, Roberto Lovato argues that the timing of this release "couldn't be better for privacy activists." (Also: one Ray on another.)
Guilty pleasure: blinders taken off blind items.
May 13, 2003
Shorts, 5/13."Why are you going off to do this thing with this cruel director?" That's the question Nicole Kidman says everyone asked her when she agreed to take the role of Grace in Dogville. Time Europe's Jeff Chu profiles Lars von Trier, the Danish director whose infamous manias may yet be reined in by Prozac - though he does tend to pop off, "I believe I am Superman." Maybe, but he's still afraid to fly, which means he's once again driven to Cannes this year.
Speaking of which. "The possibility of Kidman and Sophia Loren's Mini-Me, Penelope Cruz, cat-fighting over Tom in front of the paps on the Palais's red carpet remains the cherished hope of newsdesks everywhere. But it probably won't happen - even though the festival, winningly, double-booked them." Stuart Jeffries gets his fantasies published. But for Peter Bradshaw, it's all about the films. Also in the Guardian: Quite a story, even if it is too brief, about a 16mm student film chronicling a day in the life of John Lennon back in 1974.
"Up until the mid-1990s, tiny Hong Kong was the world's third-biggest film producer, churning out some 300 films a year, with local box office averaging more than $170 million a year," writes the AP's Elaine Kurtenbach. Now, "the number of films made locally has shrunk to about 100. And last year, the box office was an anemic $45 million." And SARS isn't helping, either.
SF Gate columnist Mark Morford "finally" catches Spirited Away on DVD and is "completely taken aback, dazzled and humbled and impressed, at once enthralled and encouraged and also realizing in one sad sighing punch how utterly and embarrassingly bereft American popular culture is of any sort of fresh and ingenious mythmaking."
PopPolitics interviews Television Without Pity Buffy recappers Sep and Ace, who're also quoted in Salon's teardown of Spike. Meanwhile, PopMatters analyses Angel (big theme: consumption) and celebrates Mario Bava.
Online viewing tip: The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time. WMA, about 2 min.
May 12, 2003
Tired of the M-word yet?Or do you fall into the camp that simply cannot wait until Thursday? Either way, there's hardly any getting around it. Much of the globe is now swathed in a matrix of orchestrated hype and genuine anticipation. Ivan Askwith outlines in Salon just how much more penetrant this onslaught is going to get over the next several months.
But before you set up a tent outside your local theater, a few reviews suggest that waiting to catch after those opening weekend crowds might not be so tough after all. Newsweek's David Ansen is impressed with the action sequences but finds the "thrill of discovery" gone. Still, as if in recognition that this is more than just a movie going on here, the New Yorker has sent essayist Adam Gopnik to the press preview of Matrix Reloaded rather than Denby or Lane. And Gopnik, while tipping his hat to the cultural impact of the original, is much harsher on MR than Ansen: "It feels not so much like Matrix II as like Matrix XIV - a franchise film made after a decade of increasing grosses and thinning material."
The harshest critic of all, though, isn't really a critic, much as David Wong isn't really Dr. Albert Oxford, PhD. Have great fun with "The Matrix: Rejected" - and then you'd better call the theater to confirm those reservations for Thursday.
"No small number of nay-sayers have appeared on the horizon predicting that the halcyon days of Japanese animation are all but dead and gone," notes Jasper Sharp at Midnight Eye before quickly snapping back: No way! Outside the mainstream, "Beyond Anime," there's some very exciting stuff going on.
"Peachy. Harry. Jack. Alfie. Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, the mouthful from the Old Kent Road who abbreviated first to Michael Scott and then to Michael Caine, liked them all in their own ways, even though they never won him the best-actor Oscar he says he still craves." Euan Ferguson talks to and profiles the man who's made more than 100 movies over the past 40 years or so.
Also in the Observer: It's an impressive list, the filmmakers who'd planned to be at Cannes but won't make it because their films aren't ready: Altman, Tarantino, Jane Campion, the Coens, Wong Kar-Wai. "Still, there is plenty to savour at this year's admittedly low-key festival," writes Akin Ojumu.
Online viewing tip: David Crawford's Stop Motion Studies, updated.
May 10, 2003
Weekend EditionThe arrival of a handful of new Andrzej Wajda DVDs seems an opportune moment to point to the new Cinema Warsaw in The Polish National Home, tucked into what indieWIRE calls "hipster haven Greenpoint, Brooklyn." The "only Polish cinema on the East Coast," they claim, is currently showing a series of films by Wajda and Roman Polanski. Besides the official site, perhaps the best intro to Wajda is a piece that appeared in Kinoeye, a terrific online publication devoted central and eastern European film, when the director was given one of those lifetime achievement Oscars.
Both Wajda and Polanski have made Holocaust-related films, practically a genre unto itself. In the Jewish News, Suzanne Chessler talks to Annette Insdorf about her new edition of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust.
We've been rather flippantly pointing to various summer movie packages over the past week or two, but when the New York Times unleashes theirs, you've gotta give it at least a double-take. Besides the inevitable package-opener on Matrix Reloaded, which sets the tone - each article devoted to a single flick has plenty to say about the genre it springs from - among the highlights are: Jerry Seinfeld on car chases, Molly Haskell on the batch of originals that have inspired Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor's "affectionate rechanneling of Day and Hudson" in Down With Love and Alexandra Lange on that film's design, Dave Kehr on the DVDs heading down the pipe, Stephanie Zacharek's approving nod to the extras on the 20th-anniversary DVD release of The Right Stuff (coming June 10), David Thomson on how the The Hours DVD (June 24) reveals much of what can go wrong with packages like these, and profiles of Luis Guzmán, Naomi Watts and Lena Olin. As if that were enough for a lazy Sunday morning, Rudolph Valentino is on the cover of the NYT Book Review.
The LA Times runs a longish piece on Tobey Maguire's journey out of and back into the Spider-Man sequel. Also: First-time director Kerry Conran's all-blue-screen World of Tomorrow, now shooting with Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, Tribeca and a big dose of "Ask Manhola Dargis."
Cleopatra cost $44 million in 1963 dollars (that'd be around $300 million today), nearly breaking 20th Century Fox. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and their on-again, off-again romance didn't fare too well, either. David Varela has written a play about the goings-on on the set which'll be broadcast by the BBC on Monday, May 12 (you'll be able to catch it in the archive later, too).
This weekend's online viewing tip comes by way of GreenCine members glamarama and dpowers in the New Release Spotlight topic. Go to the site for Richard Elfman, Danny's big bro. Find "Movies" and watch the clip from Forbidden Zone. Then start exploring for more.
May 9, 2003
Shorts, 5/9.Pride And Prejudice: The Bollywood Musical. No joke. Stuck in the rumor mill for months, now that Miramax is in, it's definitely happening. The all-singing, all-dancing Jane Austen classic comes to the screen at last. Director Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) tells NOW, "It's so naughty. It's going up the ass of post-colonialism and coming back out again. We start shooting in July." With Aishwariya Rai and Martin Henderson, no less.
Nick Poppy's overview of the docs screening in Tribeca in indieWIRE kicks off with one helluva lead. No quotes, just go read it.
Five questions Rebecca Bundy, Anime News Network's Ms. Answerman, hopes you never, ever ask again.
"What in the world happened to Eddie Murphy's career?" asks Manohla Dargis in the LA Times. As for Daddy Day Care, "I laughed a couple of times, but mostly I was bored out of my mind and not a little depressed." But Movie City News's David Poland thinks it's "likely to be Murphy's new top opener."
A brief review of Hollywood's White House: The American Presidency in Film and History.
The Guardian is jam-packed today. Xan Brooks talks to Cédric Klapisch: "I'm French, Danish, English, Spanish. I'm not one but all. I'm like Europe. I'm a real mess." Maddy Costa meets Maggie Gyllenhaal. Luke Harding reports on In the Name of Buddha, "an epic, disturbing account of the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka" that's infuriating the government as it attempts to negotiate with the Tamil Tigers. And Peter Lennon is granted an "audience with one of the great divas of continental cinema," Claudia Cardinale:
The problem with film stars who have the kind of back catalogue Claudia Cardinale can muster is, if you are not firm, that they will devour the time with an unstoppable Oscar-night recitation of names of charming and wonderful people they have worked with. I let her get away with Visconti, Fellini, Mauro Bolognini, Sergio Leone, Abel Gance and Richard Brooks; Lancaster, Fonda, Robards, Delon, Mastroianni and Vittorio Gassman - but stopped her before she got to Lelouch, Connery and Duke Wayne.
The Guardian also provides today's online viewing tip. Seven of them, actually. "The best of May's web shorts."
May 8, 2003
Shorts, 5/8."We were in for the best of what this cinematic tradition has to offer: its wealth and wisdom, beauty and passion, tragedies and dramas, failures and victories and, mainly, its people." Alla Verlotsky, co-producer of Russian Ark, is also a co-curator of a film program: Films Along the Silk Road, showcasing the national cinemas of five Central Asian republics stretching westward from China to the Middle East: Turkmenistan, Tadjikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The retrospective, 39 films in all, runs in New York at the Walter Reade Theater through May 29 and then tours the US and Canada for a full year. Verlotsky writes about her "very personal journey back to the countries and film communities that had forged my personal and professional path" in Central Europe Review.
Of all the "stans," the one most recently on most minds, of course, is Afghanistan. In Salon, Suzy Hansen talks to Taran Davies about his documentary, Afghan Stories: "When I left for Afghanistan, there was only one film being shown on CNN, Beneath the Veil, which served a great purpose but, I felt, didn't give us a sense of who the ordinary Afghans were, the ones who weren't terrorists or refugees, the ones leading quasi-normal lives. These were the people we were going to bomb, too."
"Father Geek" introduces Scott Green's Ain't It Cool News weekly round-up of anime news and reviews (highlight: a link to the trailer for Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy) with an enthusiastic "It's Right Here!," the "It" being the fourth episode of The Animatrix.
Richard Schickel reviews Betsy Blair's The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood and Paris ("not an uninteresting life. But her account of it... is uninteresting, largely because of her blithe detachment"; but Janet Maslin offers more detail and a more positive assessment) and Sheila Weller's Dancing at Ciro's ("there is something haunting - and instructive - in its awareness of how contingent success is, how close we always are to ruinous misstep"). And here's one that sounds intriguing: Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky.
Ah, The Onion. "During a speech Monday, President Bush disclosed for the first time the pivotal role the 1984 science-fiction adventure film The Last Starfighter played in his decision to enter politics."
Online viewing tip. Chuck Olsen is making a documentary about blogs. He's calling it Blogumentary and you can almost hear Rob Reiner adding, "if you will." Anyway, recently, he's been posting clips and the stories he's got to introduce them with are just as amusing.
"My first musical.""Remembering that her famous father, Roberto, used to direct inexperienced actors by tying string to their toes and tugging whenever it was their turn to speak, I had Larry and Speedy tie a little fishing line to Isabella's glass toe. I felt this filament somehow tethered me across time and through his daughter to the father of neorealism. I was instantly pebbled with goose bumps."
Shooting Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary
Guy Maddin is directing his biggest film yet ("$3.5 million budget, a 24-day schedule, and real movie stars") and keeping a production diary in the Village Voice. More on Maddin and The Saddest Music in the World: The Independent, the Globe and Mail and the Manitoban. Cowards Bend the Knee: the Voice and eye Weekly.
May 7, 2003
Murakami's lineage.Miss ko2 can be yours for an estimated $300k to $400k. Takashi Murakami's painted fiberglass sculpture is up for auction at Christie's on the evening of May 14. "In one sense we were recreating an unknown world, the world of the otaku, in a new context," says the Poku artist in an interview that gets sampled for a piece in Model Graphics which is, in turn, extracted for Christie's catalog page.
There's no way that page is going to get away with not mentioning Warhol, and dutifully, it does. But there is, tellingly, no mention of Jeff Koons. Voice art critic Jerry Saltz gets caught up in the Warhol connection as well, entitling his review of the exhibition Takashi Murakami: The Meaning of the Nonsense of the Meaning back in 1999 "Imitation Warhol." And he gets in a terrific paragraph at the end:
You should look at Murakami's art shamelessly, celebrate its seductiveness and clarity, and even adore it. But also hope that he stops trying so hard to make art. In spite of his nod to popular culture, Murakami has fallen far behind it. Too satisfied with too little, his fatal attraction to the art world keeps him returning to the surface. He's forgotten that surface is a thousand miles deep.
That's a zinger of a last line, a moving zinger, even. But how "far behind" pop culture was he really in 1997 when he created Miss ko2? It's hard to look at Miss ko2 and not think of Koons's Michael Jackson and Bubbles. For one thing, it redraws the line a bit between Warhol and Murakami. By making surface the subject of his art, Warhol whiplashed an art world immersed in abstract expressionism into the realization that realism was the true abstract. And though Warhol's real world was mediated, his art nonetheless took as its subjects the tangible objects of that world: Hollywood stars, newspaper photos, soup cans.
With Michael Jackson, Koons took this a step further, imagining for the subject itself the idyll he wanted his own being to embody. Koons, in 1988, mediates a mediation of a real human being, not the real human himself, in much the same way that allegorical Medieval art was meant as a constant reminder that real reality is not to be experienced in this world. But here's the icky part. Sometime between the video for Scream, with all its "loving the alien" black culture influences and anime-inspired storyboards, and the moment, probably in 2000, the flesh-n-blood Michael Jackson himself would begin to try to restructure his own body to appropriate an idyllic face as determined by decades' worth of evolution within the world of anime, Murakami decides to call that idyll into a third dimension.
Seems timely enough.
Shorts, 5/7.Carter Beats the Devil was one of last year's most enjoyable reads. Author Glen David Gold has been adapting his own novel and, Moviehole reports, Jude Law may take the lead. Also: Possible sequel for Wag the Dog.
Rialto Pictures is re-releasing, in theaters and on DVD, seven classic films by Jean-Luc Godard, Vittorio de Sica, Alain Resnais, Jacques Becker, Alberto Lattuada and two by Jean-Pierre Melville. Also in indieWIRE: SFIFF and Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival round-ups.
Hong Kong vampires, Italian beach movies, German school girl reports, Chinese concubines, Godzilla, Ultraman, Blaxploitation, Kenneth Anger, zombies and more, all Friday through Sunday at UC Berkeley: Born to Be Bad 2: Trash Cinema Conference and Film Festival. Looks juicy.
May 6, 2003
Mr. Bush Goes to the MoviesMaureen Dowd, being Maureen Dowd, got to have the most fun with last week's prime-time PR stunt. You remember, Bush jetting into the USS Abraham Lincoln and strutting around: "This time Maverick didn't just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MIG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning."
The Daily Show had great fun, too, but then again, that's their job (see "Rob Corddry reports from the USS Presidential Photo Op"). Poor Paul Krugman, saddled with the job of keeping the straight face on the New York Times editorial page, was stuck with reminding us that the show "was as scary as it was funny" and then pointing out, as if we didn't already know, just how very staged it was: "[A]dministration officials 'acknowledged positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for Bush's speech, with the sea as his background instead of the San Diego coastline.'"
Run a search at Daypop at the moment for "Top Gun" and you get 450 returns from blogs alone. And none of those bloggers are talking about the movie. They're talking about the remake, dreamed up just days before the final production was broadcast live to tens, maybe hundreds of millions of living room screens around the world. Turnaround, even for productions as major as this one, is very, very short these days.
Bush's costume is what makes Top Gun instantly pop to mind, but Andrian Kreye, writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, is 100 percent correct to point out that Karl Rove's real source material is a film even more comically outrageous: Independence Day. "Was George W. Bush aware," snickers Kreye, "that it was a German, of all people, who thought up the image with which he celebrated his victory over Iraq on Thursday?" The reference, of course, is to ID4 director Roland Emmerich.
Much has been made for decades of the pomo melding of life and the movies, and many, like Slavoj Zizek, for example, have sensed that the process has been accelerated since and by 9/11, that on that particular Tuesday morning, two parallel universes were irrevocably seared into a single time-space continuum. Zizek made the point most explicitly in "Welcome to the Desert of the Real," the in/famous article he sent out four days after the event:
So it is not only that Hollywood stages a semblance of real life deprived of the weight and inertia of materiality - in the late capitalist consumerist society, "real social life" itself somehow acquires the features of a staged fake, with our neighbors behaving in "real" life as stage actors and extras... Again, the ultimate truth of the capitalist utilitarian de-spiritualized universe is the de-materialization of the "real life" itself, its reversal into a spectral show.
Bush and Rove, Cheney and Rummy, these guys don't bust their heads much over this. They just do it. It's not hard when you don't have to worry about budgets or locations, distribution or marketing. What's more, the scripts are just lying around. Pop in the DVD, reshuffle the cast and make a few calls. Done.
Here, we get closer to the point Jarret Keene almost nails in his very fine review of X2 at Alternet. Namely, the very simple and straightforward point that filmmakers, and more broadly, pop culture makers, have more responsibility now, with the melding of the real and the extrareal in ultrahigh gear, than ever before. Movies, even summer blockbusters, don't just bubble up unalloyed from some collective consciousness. That is, in part, where they come from, yes. No doubt. But they are also made.
The bigger the movie (or album, or comic, etc.), the tighter the grasp its makers have on the knobs that fine tune the round-the-clock, round-the-globe conversation we're all in on, even if we'd prefer to be mere eavesdroppers. Emmerich may have been shamefully reckless and lazily simplistic with ID4, but X2, argues Keene, raises more questions than it answers. One of Keene's observations stands out: Director Bryan Singer "must have ordered his screenwriters and production crew to put their balls on."
In other words, que es mas macho? Having your president don a flight helmet and zap unseen aliens or demanding "Mutant Freedom Now!" in a note pinned to a dagger aimed at your president's mortal being? "X2 has everything the rubes expect from Hollywood: lavish special effects and violence," writes Keene. "The pill beneath the sugar, though, is that the violence serves as a warning about the direction our country is headed. Mindless fear and policies of intolerance will result in a cycle of bloodshed from which no one will be spared, not even the innocent."
As hard as it is to imagine Tony Scott or Roland Emmerich tackling that one, it's even harder, but all the sweeter, realizing that a global pop event could pack a pill quite like that, however sugary its coating.
"Give us the glycerine."Mother India has come in at the top of a poll taken among 25 leading Indian film directors who were asked by Outlook India to draw up a personal list of the ten best Hindi films of independent India. And that's only one feature of a big and grand special issue devoted to Bollywood. Sandipan Deb kicks off the festivities with an intoxicating rejoinder to Jean-Luc Godard's famous one-liner, "Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world":
Well, who needs the truth? Give us any day the shadows on the white screen in a dark hall telling us tales written in light and time. Tales of heroism and cowardice, love and hate, justice and inequity, of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. And if it is the Hindi film, give us the glycerine, and the trees to dance around, the white saree in the artificial rain, and the rising crescendo of a hundred violins. And endless debate on Sholay vs Deewaar, and Awara as opposed to Shri 420.
Be sure to explore the sidebar on the right of those pages for more on the top ten in the poll and articles on director Guru Dutt, Hindi film's thing for "spectacular death" and the "Ultimate Bollywood Fan Poll": Best bods! Funkiest styles! Biggest hams!
Shorts, 5/6.From the Well-It's-About-Time Dept: The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection, a box set with all three digitally remastered films, plus a fourth of nothing but extras, will be released on November 4.
The horror, the horror. Mickey Kaus fantasizes up a neocon West Wing.
After publishing a few poems here and there, your faithful blogger launched his spotty career in journalism in the Daily Texan (as did a lot of people who wound up at the Austin Chronicle). Anyway, the UT campus paper runs a story on how Disney's $80 million production of The Alamo has the filmmaking community in Austin in a pretty upbeat mood. Says Richard Linklater, currently working up a sitcom for HBO, $5.15/Hr, "Overall, it's just great news for the economy and everybody, and the trickle down from those things is amazing, whether it's an indigenous film like some of mine or Robert [Rodriguez]'s or Mike Judge's or if it's a visiting film. I think that's great. The Alamo, stuff like that, it's great. It's just very important to everybody." At Entertainment Insiders, Jon Ted Wynne offers a multi-part "affectionate retrospect of Alamo movies."
Matrix round-up: Geek nostalgia and style, more mythic analysis (good quotes from Erik Davis), a review, Time's cover story (possible spoilers) and interviews all over the place, but the best seem to be at Moviehole: Jada Pinkett-Smith, Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne.
May 5, 2003
Studio Ghibli returns.On Friday, lucky attendees of the LA Anime Festival (through May 15) saw the first of three US theatrical premieres of the latest films from Studio Ghibli. Anime Tourist has a transcription of the amusing Q & A session with Hiroyuki Morita and Nozomu Takahashi, director and producer of The Cat Returns.
"Miyazaki-san himself appointed Morita-san who was a very, very talented animator and creator," says Nozomu Takahashi. "Miyazaki-san's philosophy was... he's young and he has never directed a film, so in order to avoid any unnecessary pressure, we would start with a small project." But the story boards looked so terrific that Cat, which sees the return of a few characters from Whisper of the Heart, soon became a feature. Nice bits in the interview on whether or not the filmmakers keep an international audience in mind, character design and voice talent.
Shorts, 5/5.Found at Wacky Neighbor: Rules of Jean-Luc Godard drinking game ("Every time there's a jump-cut, rematerialize somewhere else in the room") and a link to the ridiculously addictive IMDb FAQ (in which movie did a boy hide in the walls of a house, what are the first instances of CGI, the f-word, etc., etc., etc.).
"In the mid-90s, after a splendid run in regional markets and film festivals, Hong Kong cinema began to unravel," laments David Bordwell. But there's hope: "Johnnie To Kei-fung has established the strongest track record since John Woo and Tsui Hark... In grasping the new rules of Asian filmmaking, To has emerged as the mainstream counterpart to Wong Kar-wai." (Play the Fulltime Killer game.) Also in Artforum: Geoffrey O'Brien on Aki Kaurismäki.
By closing its doors to new talent and strangling the democratic spirit that made it a worldwide phenomenon in the first place, Bollywood is turning itself into a "fortress," a potential "disaster with a capital D," argues Ratnakar Sadasya in Planet Bollywood.
Online viewing tip. The Net has a new celebrity: The Star Wars Lightsaber Kid.
May 3, 2003
Weekend EditionThe world of Bollywood is famously just as melodramatic offscreen as it is on. Just this week, for example, one of the world's largest cinema's biggest stars, Salman Khan, learned that he would have to face charges of culpable homocide, driving under the influence, causing grievous injuries to victims and driving without a valid licence. Seems running over four people while they slept outside a bakery is only the latest in the series of, oh, mishaps in the life of what the BBC has called a "troubled star."
Meanwhile, Grammy queen Norah Jones is using an interview in the Times of India to fend off efforts of Bollywood director Dev Anand who wants to make a film about her family. "I think it's very exploitative... it's sad because this shows the dark side of some greedy people. He has no idea of our story and he's not going to represent it in a truthful way, I'm sure." The piece is accompanied by some sweet pix of Ms. Jones and her dad, Ravi Shankar.
Chris Suellentrop is currently rousing a ruckus in Blogistan with his take in Slate on what makes The Matrix so goshdarn popular among geeks. The flick is "a sci-fi John Hughes movie, in which a misfit learns that he's actually cool. (Think Harry Potter with guns.)" Scroll down for sample objections. And in another corner of the Web, William Merrin of the University of Wales spots a copy of Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation in Neo's room and has a lot to say about it.
Also in the new issue of Scope: Alexander Dhoest on Marcel Carné, Mikel J. Koven on slasher movies, Mark Shiel on indies in the 60s, lots of book and film reviews and a special section on Asian film. You didn't have any plans for the weekend anyway.
Seriously, though, a must-read to consider at a leisurely hour is Terrence Rafferty's NYT Magazine piece on the DVD, "a gift horse that demands to be looked squarely in the mouth, because it has the potential to change the way we see movies so profoundly that the art form itself, which I've loved since I was a kid, is bound to suffer."
New "Shelf Life" from Anime News Network's Bamboo Dong! Among the reviewed: Kimagure Orange Road, Magic User's Club, Magic Knight Rayearth, If I See You in my Dreams, the first volume of Gun Frontier, the second of Idol Project and the third of Wild Arms. And the LA Times surveys the LA Anime Festival.
Hot dog! Biggest summer movie preview yet!
Online viewing tip. Lobo. It'll open a few windows all at once, but they're worth exploring.
May 2, 2003
2 big Hollywood Peters
Peter Bart, formerly a suit at Paramount and now ed-in-chief at Variety, and Peter Guber, ex-Sony Pictures chairman and now CEO at Mandalay Pictures, have a big, splashy cover story in this week's Friday Review in today's Guardian. Too bad it's just the same old warmed over argument studio execs have been making for years: "Stars are a pain."
There's little doubt in the world that in many cases that is indeed true. Who knows, maybe even most cases. But holding up the aging, infamously flaky Marlon Brando as the bloated punching bag straw man for all actors, as they do in their opening paragraphs, is a bit more than disengenuous. I have a hard time imagining Tom Hanks, say, calling his director "Miss Piggy" or refusing to leave his dressing room because he disapproves of his wardrobe.
But that's not really Bart and Guber's point. What the two big Hollywood Peters are most concerned with, naturally, is money. Stars are demanding so much of it these days it hurts. The studios, that is. Oh, how Bart and Guber pine for the days when the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn were under contract and punching the clock for their salaries so that the studios might "orchestrate a vast public acceptance of them" - because, heaven knows, the public would never have warmed up to them otherwise.
In Bart and Guber's idyllic Hollywood, Jim Carrey would be on his eighth or ninth Ace Ventura flick by now, laying one egg after another that might stink to high heaven but would also glisten as only pure solid gold can. No, instead Carrey had to go off try his hand at "a disturbed, unfunny character like Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon"; nevermind that he was brilliant, several times better than the movie itself, or even that that brilliance will guarantee a long, slow-burning shelf life for the DVD.
Bart and Guber rage at the demands Carrey made while making that catastrophic Christmas tie-in that nonetheless pulled in a "windfall of $50m to $75m in profits" for him, but fail to see the direct correlation between a star's demands and the probable suckiness of the film he's making. In fact, the most obvious point of all goes completely unaddressed: Many of the same stars Bart and Guber are fed up with will work for scale when they get the opportunity to work with people or on a project they deem worth the pay cut (e.g., Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Matt Damon for Ocean's 11 or just about any other Steven Soderbergh movie).
Maybe there's something so ingratiating about working with the likes of Bart and Guber that really does require $20 million plus 20 percent against gross in compensation.
May 1, 2003
Anime @ Cannes.
Spirited Away's Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 2002 was one thing. Its Oscar in March was quite another. But with no fewer than three anime features showing at Cannes in a few weeks, anime's seat at the cinematic table has pretty much been confirmed as more than a one-off guest spot. As ICv2 reports, Miyazaki will be more or less present in spirit via the debut feature from his head animator and "right arm" on SA and Princess Mononoke, Kitaro Kosaka. The story of Nasu - The Summer of Andalsia revolves around bicycle racing, evidently.
Several sites are also confirming rumors that Leiji Matsumoto and Daft Punk are carrying their collaboration further with a "mysterious" feature to be unveiled at the festival. But the most anticipated of the trio may be Steamboy, the first feature directed by Katsuhiro Otomo since he put anime on the international map with Akira 15 years ago. Otomo has been working on this retro "steampunk" sci-fi project set in Victorian England since 1995. You just can't rush these things.