Monday, December 31, 2007

Werner Herzog Needs To Film

Werner Herzog’s passion is ruthless. The wild man director’s like a mother bear from his critical darling doc “Grizzly Man,” trying to protect her (celluloid) cub at all costs. Watching the recently released on DVD “Rescue Dawn,” the narrative version of Herzog’s decade-old documentary “Little Dieter Needs To Fly” about the German-American fighter pilot Dieter Dengler who survived being shot down and imprisoned, and a harrowing escape into the jungles of Vietnam, I can understand why loose cannon Kinski once pulled a gun on him. Fortunately, Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler absorbs Herzog’s directing punches with gentlemanlike aplomb.

There’s not a lazy bone in this director’s body. His obsessive attention to detail springs from a desire to climb inside his subject matter – even a pair of handcuffs’ inner workings is not too insignificant to capture. Herzog only films the movies he absolutely must make. Yet even with dark themes and unstoppable determination Herzog never forgets his wry sense of humor. “5 or 6 months?” Bale’s Dengler asks a comrade in disbelief, referring to the wait for monsoon season that will enable his escape from the Viet Cong prison. “No, I can’t wait that long,” he then adds in the tone of one forgoing a restaurant reservation. The absurd slapstick Herzog employs in “Rescue Dawn” – from a nail being stolen through a ruse involving toothpaste and a dwarf, to the accidental dropping of a machine gun that sets off a round of comic gunfire – is pure visual delight. Even the cathartic rescue of Dengler from the jungle is tempered by “Oh, shit!” as the helicopter medic discovers a live snake shooting from the former POW’s backpack as if from a trick can.

And the actors match Herzog’s tone with perfect pitch. Steve Zahn as Dengler’s desperate, desolate prisoner-in-arms speaks volumes with his eyes. He’s a condemned man, threatening to upstage Bale at every turn – as is nature as a character itself – one that, like man, acts as both friend and foe. As always Herzog’s camera is a visceral tool, the overwhelming beauty and oppressive heat of the jungle mixing to form an Eden in hell. Only the ending of “Rescue Dawn” is a bit of a lengthy misfire. Herzog should have finished his film on a literal high note, with that aerial shot of Dengler being airlifted back to civilization. Yes, Little Dieter did indeed need to fly, but Werner Herzog has scaled comparable heights.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

No Promise

The biggest letdown of 2007 is now available on DVD. Though some would offer “Inland Empire” as definitive proof that David Lynch has finally, completely lost his marbles, I haven’t seen the film so I’m going to go with that other iconoclastic David, Mr. Cronenberg and his “Eastern Promises,” the tale of a Russian driver for a family that’s part of the Vory V Zakone organized crime brotherhood in London, and the midwife who discovers the horrific diary of the Ukranian teenager who died while delivering the baby she saved. Sound heavy? Don’t worry – it’s not. Even Cronenberg’s “The History of Violence,” based on a graphic novel so its often cartoon images could be forgiven, dug deeper.

Yes, this is the film that contains the infamous “sauna scene,” in which Viggo Mortensen’s chauffeur character Nikolai comes within an inch of his life fighting off bloodthirsty thugs while totally losing his waist-wrapped towel. It’s the high point of the movie and not just because nearly 50-year-old Viggo (50!) looks great in the buff. Cronenberg is a master at combining gory special effects with ballet-like choreography, as he proved in the far superior “The History of Violence.” The problem with “Eastern Promises” is that it promises more than it actually delivers. Dealing with themes of ruthless ambition, Eastern-European culture after the fall of Communism, the fine (nonexistent?) line separating “good” from “bad” – even sex slavery! – Cronenberg couldn’t quite get all the pieces to fit into place except in only the broadest, black-and-white terms. And it doesn’t help that the predictable, heavy-handed, melodramatic screenplay by Steven Knight (who better tread similar, human trafficking territory in “Dirty Pretty Things”) sacrifices nuance for nonstop action.

Perhaps the only saving grace is the film’s impeccable acting, especially by Mortensen, Armin Mueller-Stahl as the grave, Godfather-like Semyon and Vincent Cassel as Kiril, his scarily unhinged son. Unfortunately, that tepid script leaves them little to work with. Even the legendary Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski as Stepan, the “good” guy uncle of Naomi Watts’ midwife Anna, is reduced to tossing off racist bigotry between shots of vodka – where’s the subtlety beneath the caricature? Cronenberg’s formally composed images flow smoothly and rigorously but lack passion. Mortensen’s sauna scene is the only one to breathe much needed life into an otherwise stillborn film, a standard crime procedural masquerading as moral drama. Even the “surprise twist” at the end is a fly swat when it should have been a knockout punch. The real surprise is that “Eastern Promises” is such a lightweight film for a normally heavy hitter. Setting himself up for a homerun, Cronenberg never followed through on his swing.

Friday, December 28, 2007

There Will Be Blood (and Sweat and Tears)

Paul Thomas Anderson's films always inevitably devolve into a cinematographic game of "name that director." And There Will Be Blood, his latest film based on an Upton Sinclair novel [Oil] about an oilman's obsessive, cancerous lust for the black gold, is no exception. Fortunately, what sets There Will Be Blood apart from other pseudo-homages like Magnolia and Boogie Nights, and what makes it his most mature film to date, is a result of the blood, sweat, and tears of one man. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of those rare actors able to rise above his directors' deficiencies. As the oil baron, Daniel Plainview, he grounds the film with the heavy weight of his character's soul and forces Anderson's attention-deficit-disorder directing to remain as sharply focused as the steel bit on a rig.

To read the rest of my review visit Psychopedia at:

One Singular Sensation

Rob Marshall’s Oscar-winning movie Chicago is a workhorse. In a better Holly-world every film would be this good. But in a more perfect Holly-world, only films that went beyond competence would merit 13 Academy Award nominations.

Yes, my review for all you Fosse fans. "Cabaret" clobbers "Chicago" every time!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Yes, but what does the red nose mean?

My favorite comments of the season, courtesy of the good posters at The House Next Door:

Todd said...
I watched Rudolph again Monday night, and man is that a weird piece of television. I hadn't seen it since childhood, and I had basically no memory of anything but the monster and the basic story (which only comes in in the last five minutes). Has it always been so episodic? Has Santa always been such an asshole?

12/05/2007 2:51 PM
TuckPendleton said...
I watched Rudolph again also, and was surprised by how much everyone was pretty much an asshole to Rudolph. Santa, Donner, the coach, the other reindeers, etc. So very dated, and so blunt, and almost brutal. (Not to mention the reasoning behind Rudolph et al deciding to return to Christmastown after Cornelius goes over the ledge with the Snowman -- because "it was time to get the women back to town" or words to that effect.)

However, I had to wonder why this cartoon was so blunt in its ostracizing Hermy and Rudolph. It really is hard to watch. I wondered if this was some sort of attempt to counteract racism (in 1964, it's still only a decade after Brown vs. Board of Ed) and/or homophobia. Or is it just bad, heavy-handed writing?

Happy holidays indeed!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Year In Camp

Oops, I did it again (outed myself, that is!) My 2007 "Best of Camp" list is out, too...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Monkey Town 4th Annual Porn Week

“Attempts to tease out connections between fine art and commercial pornography. Previous programs surveyed works by fine artists that are sexually explicit compared to works by pornographers striving to be artistic, and also works by fine artists who have crossed over to directing commercial porn. This year presents a mini-festival of porn produced by directors based in New York City, combined with live presentations or performances by the directors.”

For a complete schedule of events visit:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Rolling Stone" Rocks!

The “Correspondence” section of this week’s “Rolling Stone” magazine includes an edited version of my response to “JT Leroy: The Famous Writer Who Wowed Bono and Courtney Love – But Didn’t Exist." Here's what I really wrote:

Great reporting, though I wish Guy Lawson hadn’t overlooked the real issue beneath all the surreal drama. The “story” is not Laura Albert so much as the visceral, personal overreaction her “hoax” evoked in those who should know better. Between MySpace “friends” and Britney blogs we’re given the false sense that we truly know – own – our objects of adoration. Sadly, I guess it’s inevitable that dysfunctional celebrities also would buy into this myth, believe an otherwise obvious dream sprung forth from a mentally ill woman desperate not to disappoint. (After all, if the emperor wears Abercrombie & Fitch, he must exist.) The glitterati didn’t “know” JT Leroy any more than I know Courtney Love. They were simply fans – behaving like spurned lovers when the fantasy they collectively helped to create turned out to be just that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Blue Compass

Time: Noon
Date: Tuesday, 12/11/07
Place: Regal Union Square Stadium 14, NYC
Movie: The Golden Compass

The moment Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel appears onscreen I grab Jimmy’s arm, rudely interrupting his popcorn munching.

“Oh, shit! I’m totally fucking turned on already. Aren’t you?”

Any scene in any movie in which this fine piece of rough trade appears immediately takes on sexual overtones, and pretty soon I’ve got a parallel porno running in my head.

“Well, he is a handsome man,” Jimmy concedes between kernels.

I take out my reporter’s notebook. 'Daniel Craig is entrancing as Lord Asriel, the buttoned-up uncle of heroine Lyra Belacqua, played by the ballsy child actor Dakota Blue Richards.'

This is pretty sick of me to be searching for a pornographic subtext in a kids’ pic. Look at the way he owns that body – no way he’s not a phenomenal fuck.

'When Lord Asriel saunters confidently onto the perfectly manicured grounds of Oxford’s Jordan College you half expect to see Harry Potter and his Hogwarts cohorts rush out to greet him.'

Breathe. Concentrate on his nerdy outfit. He’s not showing any skin so calm down. He’s wearing a sweater. A tight sweater. I’ll bet he’s hot under all those lights. I could worshipfully lick every drop of sweat from that muscular chest all the way down to those thick calves. If the camera cuts to his riding boots my stadium seating will catch fire.

'Everything from the British, pseudo-royalty costumes to the CGI “daemons” who act as companions/alter egos in this fantasy set piece is perfectly coordinated, like watching a fine-tuned army engaged in military drills.'

Even Lord Asriel’s CGI leopard is starting to look sexy. Meow. Shouldn’t there be ice bears around here somewhere? I can’t take this. I tap Jimmy’s arm.

“Fuck, man! Don’t you just want to drop to your knees and suck him off – or is it just me?”

“Hmm.” Jimmy ponders, munches his popcorn. “No, it’s just you.”

'This can’t be good.'

But it isn’t bad. For my G-rated review of “The Golden Compass” visit The House Next Door at:

Monday, December 10, 2007

This Is Art!

Like Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now,” Tim Roth’s primal, fearless confusion (“I have no idea what the script means but I’m going to throw myself into it anyway!”) mirrors his character’s confusion – with being struck by lighting and shot backwards into life in “Youth Without Youth,” the latest from Francis Ford Coppola (back in fine 70s form after a long eight years). And like in “Apocalypse Now,” those mirrors reflect endlessly into the jungle heart of the film. Coppola’s passion radiates from the screen, every ounce of his being condensed into a two-hour-plus dream. Walter Murch’s elegant sound design, clocks ticking time like sweet nothings in our ear, will most certainly sweep up that Award, as will Tim Roth’s mesmerizing performance (but when isn’t Tim Roth mesmerizing?) Every meticulously painted image pulses with Coppola’s blood. This is why we still go to the movies, to feel the craftsman’s hand, the soul no CGI can create.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

One Note Wonder

I find the hype around "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody highly insulting to Ms. Cody and to all sex industry workers, as if to say, “Surprise! A dumb stripper can write!” (As if it automatically follows that a “working girl” is – to use a line from Cody’s script – “not the brightest bulb in the tanning bed.”) No one ever looks at Arnold Schwarzenegger – a former male hustler – and says, “Hey, a dumb bimbo can become governor!” The clear-eyed truth is that the sex industry is filled with sharp, cultured, artistic men and women – far too intelligent to buy into the nine-to-five, white picket fence myth. Cody as a stripper-turned-writer should be judged as if she were any other performer-turned-writer, no less and no better.

On that note, visit my review of "Juno" at The House Next Door: