Friday, February 29, 2008

Poetry In Motion

“Paranoid Park,” the latest feature from auteur Gus Van Sant, could teach bohemian wannabes a thing or two about “experimental” filmmaking. Shot on both super 8 and 35mm by one of cinema’s greatest living DPs Christopher Doyle, and using an ingenious mix of soundscapes (mostly by Ethan Rose) and music ranging from Nino Rota to Cool Nutz, the film follows a simple, if morally weighted, storyline about a teenage skateboarder named Alex and his possible link to the murder of a security guard near a notorious skate park known as Paranoid Park. Because the film, based on a novel by Portlander Blake Nelson, is so straightforward, anchored in its plot, Van Sant is able to go as “avant-garde” as he pleases, playing not just visually and aurally, but with structure and time, without losing focus. What most likely would have been a cluttered mish-mash in the hands of an overly cerebral director becomes a poetic revelation with visceral Van Sant at its helm.

To read the rest visit my Paranoid Park review at Psychopedia.

No-Man's Land

"Jar City," Baltasar Kormákur’s tight little thriller based on the Scandinavian crime writers’ Glass Key Award-winning novel "Mýrin" by fellow Icelander Arnaldur Indriðason, takes the familiar crime procedural and injects it with a specific (Arctic) sensibility, much in the way of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s "Insomnia" before it was hijacked by Hollywood, Christopher Nolan at the helm. Kormákur, best known for his adrift if crowd-pleasing Icelandic slacker film "101 Reykjavik," benefits greatly from the strong foundation and narrative focus of a good book. With confidence in his compelling story -- or rather, “stories”, since the film breezes along on two parallel threads -- the director seems better able to concentrate on the details that make a film believable, from the eerie (lack of) northern light, which envelops everything in a deathly bluish glow, to the hardships of being a vegetarian in Iceland (if you are and Reykjavik is in your travel plans bring along a lot of protein bars -- trust me).

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at:

Praising Clayton

So what if Tilda Swinton and her not quite there American accent in “Michael Clayton” won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress over Cate Blanchett because only the most hardcore Dylan fans could stand to sit through “I’m Not There”? The film itself has a “one man against a corrupt system” plot that is nothing less than a fantastic “Erin Brokovich”-styled maguffin. Tony Gilroy’s faux thriller is really a character study about one man facing himself in the mirror, and discovering the ugly reflection that everyone else sees so clearly. (That this man is embodied by the beautiful George Clooney is a brilliant touch.) Clayton is constantly being told that he’s nothing more than a necessary fixer for the prestigious firm he works for, a “janitor” not a lawyer. Even he repeats it throughout the film like a mantra without feeling. But it’s not until the end that the heavy burden of “sin” that his colleague Arthur (the wondrous Tom Wilkinson) confronts straight on – and descends into Lady Macbeth-like madness as a result – overtakes his soul and his conscience takes over his actions. This is heady stuff for Hollywood – and well deserving of its accolades.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Top 10 Oscar Highlights

1) Best Actor

From George to Tommy to Viggo to Johnny – no actor came within touching distance of Daniel Day-Lewis’ sheer camp masterpiece performance as Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood.” Raise a milkshake to the new Norma Desmond!

2) Best Actress

Marion Cotillard wins in a classic case of an actor overcoming a mediocre film. Her ferocious turn as Edith Piaf makes you forget how trite and predictable “La Vie En Rose” (rightly not garnering any other nods) really is.

3) Best Cinematography

Robert Elswit wins for “There Will Be Blood,” making up for Jack Fisk’s Best Art Direction loss to “Sweeney Todd.”

4) Best Original Screenplay

Awarded to Diablo Cody – as a consolation prize. Cooler heads prevailed, otherwise shutting out “Juno” despite all the hype. (Poor Jason Reitman – even he seemed to know he had no business setting foot on the same red carpet as the Coen brothers.)

5) Best Documentary Feature

Michael Moore’s “Sicko” loses in a triumph of thoughtful and intelligent documentary filmmaking (represented by winner “Taxi to the Dark Side”) over populist showboating.

6) Best Supporting Actress

Though Cate Blanchett got robbed, it was by fellow non-American Tilda Swinton, keeping all four acting categories firmly in the hands of the Europeans, further proving my point that the days of Brando/Pacino/De Niro are forever gone.

7) Best Foreign Language Film

“The Counterfeiters” wins the World Series by playing Little League teams.

8) Best Visual Effects

“The Golden Compass” causes an upset. Yes, the polar bears were clumsy but Daniel Craig is more than worthy of the prize.

9) No speeches by Schnabel.

10) The Rock struts his black tie stuff as a presenter, looking fit and steroid-free. Who needs “Vanity Fair” – this man is the ultimate after party.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Moment of Silence, Please

Trying to get the weather report on NY1 I ran smack dab into the channel’s resident film reviewer Neil Rosen presiding over his Oscar wrap-up, dismissively referring to “Atonement” – a film I haven’t seen – as a “chick flick.” (I won’t call Rosen a “critic,” since his “criticism” boils down to declaring that “No Country For Old Men” doesn’t deserve its Best Picture nomination because, among other things, the film is “weird.”) Though Rosen may be an easy target, he touched upon something that NY Times critic Manohla Dargis hit straight on in her "A List, to Start The Conversation”:

"I doubt that most moviegoers would prefer the relentlessly honest “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” which involves a young woman seeking an illegal abortion, over “Juno,” an ingratiating comedy about a teenager who carries her pregnancy to term. But I wish they had the choice. “4 Months” is aesthetically bracing, but “Juno” has easy laughs, dodges abortion quicker than a presidential candidate and provides a supremely artful male fantasy. Like “Knocked Up,” it pivots on a fertile hottie who has sex without protection and, after a little emotional messiness (and no scary diseases), delivers one baby and adopts a second, namely the man-child who (also) misplaced the Trojans. Both comedies superficially recall the male wish-fulfillment fantasies of “Sideways,” but without the lacerating adult self-awareness."

What Dargis is talking about is the glorification of the “dick flick.” No doubt there are female and gay male critics who enjoyed “Juno,” but it’s the straight male critics who are so irrationally swept away by the film, whose reviews wax rhapsodic, read like a schoolboy’s mash letter. (Is calling Diablo Cody’s script a “masterpiece” really any more clear-eyed than a woman getting weepy over “Atonement”?) While I don’t doubt that Roger Ebert put “Juno” at the top of his list because it tugged at his heartstrings, I also can’t help wondering where else it tugged.

With that in mind, let’s take a moment of silence away from all the rooting and booing to remember that it’s not who wins or loses at the Oscars tonight, but who, for better or worse, made us face our own individual reflections on the screen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Killing Fields

"Ezra," Nigerian-born, England-educated filmmaker Newton I. Aduaka’s fictional take on the war children of Sierra Leone which follows the tale of the eponymous child-soldier lead, is the first film to approach the same subject broached in Ishmael Beah’s best-selling memoir “A Long Way Gone.” But unlike Beah, who was himself kidnapped and forced to fight in a war he couldn’t comprehend, Aduaka, a child of the Biafran War, was only four when that fighting ceased. According to press notes, it was the French TV broadcaster Arte that approached Aduaka to make his film. And it is this lack of a “burning desire,” an absolute passionate need to put a personal truth up onscreen, that ultimately does Ezra in.

To read the rest visit:

Monday, February 11, 2008

Is There Something I Should Know?

Duran Duran on A&E’s “Private Sessions”

I’ll admit it. I’m old enough to have been a teenager when “Girls On Film” was all the rage in the 80s. And truth be told, I was a hardcore anti-Duranie. Which is why I was interested in seeing the episode of A&E’s new music and film show “Private Sessions” featuring the band. What was it about the quintet of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and the three Taylors (Roger, John and Andy) that had inspired all that teen angst?

A&E’s format for “Private Sessions” is fairly standard – something off the new album, followed by a brief chat with the band, followed by an old hit, etc. The camerawork is what you’d expect it to be – lots of close-ups of guitar chords, pull back to lead vocalist Le Bon shaking a tambourine, cut to Nick Rhodes on keyboards, back to John on bass, to Roger on drums, to the gospel-like backup singers, to the notable absence of Andy Taylor who quit. Duran Duran as a whole look and sound their (middle) age, though to their credit seem comfortable wearing those elder statesmen shoes (platforms?). The problem lies in the intimate studio setting that “Private Sessions” affords. Duran Duran were true masters at hiding behind catchy flashiness. Being up close and personal only serves to reveal the band’s lack of substance.

And the overly made up host Lynn Hoffman seems uncomfortable under all those lashes and curls, far too intelligent to be pitching easy, softball questions like “What’s so special about this album?” She looks like she’d rather be working on Anderson Cooper’s show. She flatters rather than investigates. “You guys are always reinventing yourselves.” Say what? Madonna reinvents herself. U2 reinvent themselves. But Duran Duran? The new synthesizer-heavy album “Red Carpet Massacre” sounds straight from ’86 – with lyrics that are just as shallow.

I guess that’s the key to my anti-Duranie-ism. Duran Duran always were the poster boys for superficiality. It showed in their music. One of my favorite 80s bands Erasure, bubblegum pop to the nth degree, had lyrics you could drown your teenage sorrows in. Dead or Alive were fronted by a fabulously subversive, tongue in cheek transvestite. Duran Duran lack irony, are a bunch of pretty straight boys playing it straight. “Girls On Film” and “Notorious,” which they perform on the show, are about as deep as the lead singer himself, who tells of how he came up with the title “Red Carpet Massacre” – then immediately googled it to be sure no one had already used those words. Of course, Le Bon was originally chosen for his look, by a band formed before anyone could play any instruments. “Music is like fashion,” drummer Roger Taylor enthuses. “Duran Duran is a brand,” bassist John Taylor explains, then continues with a comparison to Andy Warhol, to “Tom Ford coming into Gucci.” Unlike Erasure and their ilk, Duran Duran is all about conception, not emotion. Perhaps “Private Sessions” was insightful after all. Maybe Lynn Hoffman was doing the best she could with what she had to work with. She couldn’t exactly ask Nick Rhodes about his views on Islamic radicalism, now could she?

Yet still I longed for an interrogator like Henry Rollins to really tear things apart. When Le Bon states that he wants the new album to be mainstream, not indie, for it to get to as many people as possible, I thought, “Good luck, Simon. The songs sound like they were resurrected from the “A View to a Kill” era.” And the background information about the band’s formation seemed quite unnecessary. Duranies – who are going to make up 90% of the audience after all – already know all this from having downloaded everything Duran Duran off the Internet. Where’s the unique insight that we can’t get from Wikipedia? Why not ask the band members to analyze their influences? Hell, why not do a Bill Maher and ask them questions completely unrelated to their profession? How does John Taylor feel about Prime Minister Gordon Brown as opposed to Margaret Thatcher, who ruled Britain when Duran Duran ruled the airwaves? That would be fascinating, a real inside look.

Or just give us more Ricky Gervais, whose earlier taped question for the band is terrific. “How long do you think you’ve spent on your hair in the last thirty years?” he deadpans before going on to do a great bit on their names, Le Bon, Rhodes “and you just named the rest Taylor?” More of this, please. If Gervais had conducted the interview, complete with the bizarre “bidding for autographed guitars for charity on ebay” break, A&E’s “Private Sessions” would land squarely at the top of the charts.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Paradise Lost

Martin McDonagh is the Quentin Tarantino of the theater, which is descriptive shorthand for something quite extraordinary. The Tony-nominated, Olivier Award-winning playwright has single-handedly taken Tarantino’s visceral, blood-and-guts filmmaking style and transported it to live theater, exploding the possibilities of the stage like a lightning bolt. His most recent plays to reach Broadway, The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, both feature graphic scenes of murder and torture (Inishmore, in particular, is a masterful mix of stomach-churning gore and stomach-holding hilarity). Now with In Bruges, McDonagh’s debut feature starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two hitmen forced to take a vacation in a fairytale Belgian city after a botched job, he’s transplanted his fantastic film/theater hybrid onto the big screen, canceling out his own accomplishment in the process and delivering to us what can only be described as “McDonagh lite.”

To read the rest visit The House Next Door at: