April 2008 Archives

Burnt Toast

shining02.jpgThe turning point in The Shining comes when Jack Torrance encounters a woman in Room 237. Naked, lithe, and beautiful, she gets out of the bathtub and wordlessly approaches Jack. They kiss, but when Jack looks in the mirror, his arms are embracing a decaying old woman, flabby and with patches of her skin missing.

It’s not your typical turning point. A heretofore pedestrian movie doesn’t begin to redeem itself, and a previously engaging work doesn’t go off the rails.

Instead, things start to get muddled. The movie becomes instantly less creepy — actually uncreepy in my eyes. The horror turns mundane. As Jack goes insane — or more insane, as Jack Nicholson’s performance starts somewhere south of healthy — the casual, drunken violence of his past floods out furiously, dammed up for too long. It becomes clear that an abusive husband and father poses a graver physical danger than the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel.

More importantly, this juncture befuddles the audience’s understanding of the supernatural elements — a confusion that’s reinforced as the story progresses. And most critically, it expands the film’s scope from a haunted-hotel and haunted-child narrative to something messier and richer.

Everything new feels old.

Al Pacino, at age 67, is the lead in a thriller that was filmed in 2005. It’s called 88 Minutes but runs 108 minutes. That’s old times three, methinks.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the fifth Judd Apatow-produced movie released in the past 11 months.

And Keanu Reeves is on top of this week’s Box Office Power Rankings.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

funnygamesposter.jpgOur Box Office Power Rankings have been grim in recent weeks. George Clooney’s Leatherheads tops this week’s rankings — breaking Horton’s three-week reign — and was the second-best-reviewed movie in the top 10 with mediocre Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores of 53 and 56, respectively. It’s a bad crop out there, people.

So it seems appropriate to get grimmer with Michael Haneke’s English-language remake of his own Funny Games. RogerEbert.com Editor Jim Emerson spent much of last month spilling its blood, but I think he expended far too much effort. It’s easy to prove: No matter how good Haneke’s movie is, it’s an abject failure — and it was destined to be.

In one interview cited by Emerson, Haneke said:

“Of course I’m a critic of the studio system. But that doesn’t mean that one can’t work within that system. Funny Games was always made with American audiences in mind, since its subject is Hollywood’s attitude toward violence.”

In another interview, Haneke said:

“I hope that the slap in the face that I’m trying to give works here as well.”

But for all the hullabaloo that Haneke’s shot-for-shot remake has inspired, the writer/director never got to deliver that slap. He might have gotten an American studio to finance the project, but it never gave the movie an opportunity to assault its audience. In four weeks of release, Funny Games has earned $1.3 million in the United States, and it topped out at 288 theaters in its second week.

All of Haneke’s big talk died with a whimper. He wanted to confront American audiences with their own ugliness, but Warner Independent ensured that nobody showed up. Perhaps next time his people should spend more time negotiating distribution.

Continue reading for the weeks’ full rankings and the methodology.

borisyeltsin.jpgPhilip Dickey had a burning question about the pizza place that his band, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, would be playing in January.

It was not about the size of the room, or the setup, or the acoustics.

“Is it really good pizza?” he asked.

I recommended the calzones, but the odd thing was that Dickey seemed genuinely interested in my answer. The question was offered with eager enthusiasm, and the songwriter/drummer/singer/guitarist sounded like he was trying to establish a rapport. As we ended our interview, he not only invited me to the show but suggested that we keep in touch.

The guy wanted me to like him. More than that, I think, he wanted to be my friend.

And how could I not like Dickey? In conversation, there isn’t much that can’t be described as “confusing,” and his band makes charming, lovely, and lively pop music without sacrificing its soul, hitting earnest and honest notes somewhere between the Shins and Weezer, well-suited to the soundtrack of a Wes Anderson movie. Conviction gives the music life, and keeps it from feeling the least bit derivative.

spoon.jpgWhen Spoon was finishing its 2001 album Girls Can Tell, the band didn’t know what to do with “Chicago at Night,” which would close the record.

In an interview last week, drummer and co-founder Jim Eno told this story about what he and guitarist, singer, and chief songwriter Britt Daniel decided to do: “I never would have tried this, but Britt and I were so young, and we were just like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do it.’ We had to turn all the mixes in for mastering. ... We have these two versions, and we like different things about each version ... . So Britt says, ‘Why don’t we use the left side of this mix and the right side of this mix?’”

So Eno broke out Pro Tools, put the left channel of one mix with the right channel of the other, and time-compressed one so they were the same length.

It was a moronic idea — a simple-minded, jokey cop-out.

And you can hear the strangely spectacular results on the record.