October 2003 Archives

Skipping Stones

Stone Reader is a bibliophile’s wet dream, a love letter to reading as well as the texture and heft of the physical book. It’s also an open, expansive, cleverly made film that’s accessible to intelligent people everywhere. I don’t think I’ve read a single book among the dozens mentioned in Stone Reader, and I still loved it.

Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” isn’t about suicide, but it’s certainly a fitting backdrop for one.

Good Fortune

Writer/director Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief is a hoot, and I mean that both positively and negatively. It’s great to see a movie with such balls, and yet it fucks with the audience in a way that degrades it significantly.

All evidence suggests that the people who made Secretary didn’t pay much attention to the failure of David Cronenberg’s Crash. The movies share a similar M.O.: A relatively normal person is introduced to sexual practices that some might consider deviant and violent, and then gives him- or herself over the them. And the films also have the same fatal flaw: They are closed systems that don’t allow access to the characters. Both are beautifully made and so distant that the most I can do is admire their craftsmanship.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I probably would feel more kindly to 8 Mile if it starred anybody but Eminem. I have nothing against Mr. Mathers, but he brings so much baggage to the project that it comes off as more calculated and timid than it probably should.

The youthful, idealistic energy of Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men has been replaced by the grim realities of corporate journalism in writer/director Michael Mann’s The Insider. While the inexperienced Washington Post reporters put their own lives in danger pursuing a scandal that reached to the highest levels of political power, 60 Minutes disembowels a story that could bring the tobacco industry to its knees. The surprise is that Mann’s movie ends up being more of a human story — a touching, potent portrait of a man who did the right thing for the wrong reasons with a phenomenal performance at its center.

A Bridge to Dreams

Lulu on the Bridge stands proudly in the realm of fictions that mine the rich territory of what might have been: the classic short stories “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (by Ambrose Bierce) and “The Garden of Forking Paths” (by Jorge Luis Borges), and the more recent films Jacob’s Ladder, Sliding Doors, and Run Lola Run. What makes Lulu interesting — and difficult — is that it doesn’t try to sell fantasy as reality; Paul Auster offers a story with the logic of dreams — that is to say, no real logic at all.

Alien History

Rabbit-Proof Fence is one of the stranger movies I’ve seen recently. It takes a relatively obscure (for most audiences, and perhaps even Australians) historical subject and treats it relatively straightforwardly, yet it feels like scorched-earth science fiction. The film has an aura of foreignness, a curious distance, that makes it seem unreal.

Curses!

Perhaps baseball teams, more than franchises in any other sport, have memories, and perhaps they behave in relatively predictable ways decade after decade.

New work from Lyle Lovett — he of big hair, golden voice, and cartoonishly ugly face — used to be a cause for celebration for me. From this point on, though, I’m going to approach him skeptically; he only wants my money, and while I’ve freely given it to him in the past, he’s going to have to work for it now.

Out-Tooling Tool

A Perfect Circle seemed, at first, like one of the world’s most blatant rip-offs. Its leader, Billy Howerdel, was a Tool guitar tech, and its vocalist was none other than Maynard James Keenan. And the sound of the band’s debut, 2000’s Mer de Noms, was Tool Lite — less abrasive and more oriented toward traditional songs, but still strikingly similar.

Just as Pulp Fiction spawned a number of crude imitations, it appears that Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves has inspired young filmmakers to mimic his bleak depictions of degradation. The British film Under the Skin brings with it the affectations of von Trier’s film — the hand-held cameras, the grim natural light, the misogyny, the attempted shocks — in the service of a painfully immature story without a shred of psychological understanding or depth in its main character.

Most hot young actors wouldn’t dare trying to play vacuous, affected, manipulative, selfish, back-stabbing rich kids. It would look too much like reality. Ryan Phillippe, though, is one of our great screen artists. He has the guts to play a vacuous, affected, manipulative, selfish, back-stabbing rich kid, and to avoid the criticism that he is simply being himself, he decides to play the role badly.

The two movies at which I’ve had the most fun in the past 15 or so years both came courtesy of Albert Brooks. In each, Brooks played weenie-boy whiners in search of something important: courage (Defending Your Life) or the reason all his relationships with women fail (Mother). In The Muse, the Brooks character isn’t looking for anything nearly so deep; he just wants a good script — something Brooks could have used as well.

If two young women characters in a movie decide to take a vacation to an exotic locale before going to their respective colleges, the viewer can be certain one of two things will happen: They’ll have passionate sexual awakenings at the hands of a handsome stranger, or they’ll be unjustly imprisoned in a fucked-up judicial system with seemingly no hope of ever getting out. In the case of Brokedown Palace, we get both.

As filmmaking goes, Nick Broomfield’s Monster in a Box doesn’t have much to offer. It’s basically Spalding Gray sitting at a desk talking, with some lighting effects and unobtrusive but effective mood music by Laurie Anderson. So, naturally, it’s one of my favorite movies.

No good movie in recent memory has made me feel as perfectly awful and unsettled as David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. The movie is beautifully made, engaging, and sometimes even funny, but it’s also repulsive and disturbing, and not just because of the director’s now-standard disfigurement fetish.

Takeshi Kitano’s Fireworks is remarkable for many reasons, but its greatest achievement is taking a character capable of extreme violence and sweet tenderness and absolutely nothing in between and making him believable and rich. The feat looks all the more impressive considering the character’s perpetual mask of blank impassivity.

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