September 2003 Archives

The Horror of Enigma

When I was nine or so, I saw a movie on HBO at a neighbor’s house. It was slow, had strange music, dealt with a picnic at some desert locale, and haunted me for years. In college, an English and film professor described the scariest movie he’d ever seen. It sounded awfully familiar. My roommate at the time recalled seeing the same movie as a child in a hotel room in Scotland. So we began a long journey to find a video copy of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Werner Herzog uses all the trappings of the story of Count Drac-oooo-lah in Nosferatu the Vampyre but doesn’t approach it as a tale of terror. Instead, he turns Bram Stoker’s basic plot (and F.W. Murnau’s silent classic) into a contemplative study of sacrifice and tragedy.

The Agony of the Bee

Jeffrey Blitz’s 2002 documentary Spellbound is such a completely charming movie that I feel a little bad for wanting more from it.

Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible is such a formal accomplishment that its already repellant content becomes even more so.

Diamond Scars

In 1999, the person I’d just started dating commented in an e-mail that every time she read the Stephen King essay about baseball, she knew what it felt like to be one of those little leaguers, even though she (at the time) knew little of baseball and less of little league. I was struck immediately: It’s not how I felt in little league.

There is the sneaking suspicion reading The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster’s collection of short novels, that the works are related. The hunch is not only that the stories are related thematically or in their ultimate message or outcomes — they most certainly are — but that they represent a single, cohesive work rather than three repetitive novellas.

’Toon Politics

What interested me most seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit recently were the movie’s political implications.

Andrew W.K. is smart enough to understand not only irony but how it is used by artists as a defense mechanism against criticism. That’s more than you can say about most rock stars. How then, does one explain the music of Andrew W.K.?

Psycho Killer

Those who argue that a by-the-storyboard re-make such as Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is a priori a waste of money and time (both the studio’s and the audience’s) fall back on conventional wisdom that seems to apply only to film among the arts.

Fightin’ Words

The dumbest reviews of David Fincher’s Fight Club condemned the movie’s amorality or philosophy. Those that hailed it as profound, original, and daring ran a close second. That didn’t leave many to compete for third.

American Fantasy

The conventional interpretation of American Beauty is wrong, and lauding or damning the movie based on it is a major mistake. Except for the prologue, American Beauty is a movie within a movie, not a straightforward narrative.

Variations on a Theme

If Peter Weir’s movies fundamentally operate on basic levels and within simple formulas, they also resonate more deeply than those of virtually any other working director. Weir creates well-rounded and complicated characters, puts them in a premise, and watches them go. He is, in short, making character-driven movies, generally without pretense or intrusive style, which might be one reason he’s not held in terribly high esteem.

Is the Con King?

I had an amazing moment watching Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men. When the movie’s twist was revealed, I immediately felt cheated. I’ve seen a few con-artist films in my day, and this one — which had seemed so promising and interesting and different — was suddenly just the same as David Mamet’s, particularly House of Games.

True Confessions

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was overshadowed in hype, box office, and awards late last year by that other odd, Charlie Kaufman-scripted movie, Adaptation. But Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a superior work. It is more engaging, more challenging, and more stylish, and it packs an emotional wallop that makes Adaptation feel even more glib and cynical.

I love Jeff Bridges. I love Tim Robbins. I love them equally, and (my gut tells me) in about the same way. We are a ménage à trios, even if they don’t know it yet.

From Dawn to Day

Why are George A. Romero’s zombie sequels so effective? The performances are over-the-top and one-note, the music is dated and bad, they’re directed to showcase special effects rather than advance the story, and — really — they’re not terribly exciting or scary. Yet 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and 1985’s Day of the Dead remain great horror movies, two distinctive and very different films that showcase Romero’s peculiar gifts for social commentary and understanding human behavior.

Magnolia breaks through the self-aware emotional vacancy of the decade’s cool movies (both sterile and knowingly clever, epitomized by Quentin Tarantino) without losing its edge; it gets inside its characters’ minds and hearts with dazzling style. It is afraid of neither elaborate tracking shots nor a good, fairly won cry.

The Cult of Wesley

That Wesley Willis is no longer suffering is a good thing. But there’s a part of me that feels a little sick that Willis was mistreated by his “fans” — the people who bought his music (me included) and paid to see him — and exploited. He was, I fear, a circus-sideshow attraction.

Chance Encounters

When Smoke was released in 1995, it received generally good notices as an intriguing but slight art-house film. Critics noted the literary sensibility of novelist Paul Auster, but they didn’t appear to understand how the movie fit into his body of work.

Captain Kronos

It’s probably only a slight overstatement that Kronos Quartet has done more than anybody else to bring “classical” music to the rock world, by playing the music of Jimi Hendrix and Mr. Bungle but also by taking it seriously, and without sniggering.