Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer of '85: The Strongest Femme In The World: Pumping Iron II: The Women

It's a shame I had to trek downtown to Tribeca to experience “Pumping Iron II: The Women,” which played as part of the 92nd Street Y's "Outsider Sports" series (on a double bill with “Afghan Muscles”— kudos to the creative programmer!). Not that I have anything against attending a free screening of a 16mm print courtesy of the New York Public Library. It's just that George Butler's follow-up to his Schwarzenegger-starring “Pumping Iron” needs to be disseminated on DVD in a 25th-anniversary edition complete with all the bells and whistles. Yes, this semi-doc is a film geek's dream, one that leaves you thinking about things beyond its bodybuilding theme and hungering to learn more.

To read the rest visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Extra Man

It's hard to see what Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, co-directors of “American Splendor” and “The Nanny Diaries,” saw in taking on “The Extra Man,” the story of a socially awkward teacher named Louis Ives (played by the always understated Paul Dano) who leaves behind his sheltered prep-school gig for the wilds of Manhattan. Once there he lands a phone sales job at an environmental magazine and moves into the Upper East Side apartment of an eccentric dandy (played by the predictably cast Kevin Kline). Based on a novel by the script's co-writer Jonathan Ames, the movie revolves around the conceit that Kline's failed playwright/budding-mentor Henry Harrison is an "extra man," a chaste male escort to high-society dames. Unfortunately, like the ridiculously pretentious Harrison, the film fancies itself much more interesting than it is. And screenwriter Ames seems to aspire to be that successful oddball he is most decidedly not: Charlie Kaufman.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Desperate to Be Shocking: Neil LaBute's “Filthy Talk for Troubled Times: And Other Plays”

“Filthy Talk for Troubled Times” had its world premiere 20 years ago at NYC's Westside Dance Project in a production also directed by Neil LaBute and has rarely been seen since. Which comes as no surprise since the play, set in a topless bar ("out near the airport," of course) and featuring five men and two waitresses bemoaning the state of gender relations, is both dated and mediocre. Take, for example, this typical rant from Man 4: "'Silence equals death?' Bullshit! 'Silence' is not speaking out loud. (Beat.) 'Death' is letting some guy put his thing up your ass, right?" Which, in our current post-Borat era, is less offensive than it is pathetic. If anything, “Filthy Talk” only confirms what I've suspected for quite some time, that LaBute is sort of the Paris Hilton for the smart set, forever trying to be outrageous but often ending up the butt of his own joke.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door
at Slant Magazine.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nicolas Winding Refn, “Valhalla Rising”

“Valhalla Rising,” which stars Mads Mikkelsen (best known for playing the much more suave devil Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale”) as a one-eyed, mute, enslaved gladiator who joins a group of Viking Christians on a conquest that turns into an existential journey to hell, is certainly not what one would expect from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. And that’s part of the beauty of the film. Before this latest atmospheric mood piece containing echoes of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Refn helmed the hyperkinetic “Bronson,” about England’s most dangerous criminal turned cult hero who never seemed at a loss for words or fists. Prior to that Refn made his name crafting stories from the drug-dealing underworld in his “Pusher” trilogy (which, incidentally, was Mikkelsen’s launching pad into film). Refn it seems is less like his fellow Dane Lars Von Trier and more like American Steven Soderbergh, both directors in constant motion, striving less to create important art than to simply surprise themselves. And by doing so, they often achieve both.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Valhalla Rising

Nicolas Winding Refn's “Valhalla Rising” is ostensibly about a one-eyed, mute Scandinavian gladiator who, after slaying the owner that's enslaved him like a battered pit bull, joins a bunch of Viking Christian zealots on their way to take over Jerusalem. But, in fact, this Bruckheimer-style storyline is merely an excuse to film a Joseph Conrad-worthy existential journey to hell. It's an intriguing artistic choice from the director best known for the narrative-driven “Pusher” trilogy and the borderline avant-garde “Bronson.” Now with “Valhalla Rising” it seems Refn has pared his vision down to its atmospheric essence, creating another universe that is closer in spirit to Kubrick's futuristic “2001: A Space Odyssey” than it is to any ancient Biblical blockbuster.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Considering “The Big Lebowski: An XXX Parody”

In retrospect it seems inevitable that some enterprising pornographers in Hollywood’s shadow industry would look to the Coen brothers’ quintessential Venice Beach bum The Dude for inspiration. Not only is southern California the hub of the sex biz, The Dude is SoCal made flesh. And now a company called New Sensations has done just this with “The Big Lebowski: A XXX Parody,” a passionate, nearly shot-for-shot recreation that shows that cute porn is not an oxymoron. Sure, New Sensations has already tackled pop culture with “30 Rock: A XXX Parody” and “Seinfeld: A XXX Parody,” but “The Big Lebowski: A XXX Parody” really does feel like something different. This isn’t some mainstream TV touchstone the company is tackling, but a cult film from bona fide indie auteurs. A few years back Lucas Entertainment was the darling of the GAYVN Awards with its serious porn remakes of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” (and “Dangerous Liaisons” prior to that). In its own way “The Big Lebowski: A XXX Parody” feels closer to those earnest gay versions, more tributes birthed from true movie geek love than of-the-moment knock-offs.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

Lisa Cholodenko is one of the more radical visionaries working in American indie cinema today. So it's a shame her voice is often drowned out in a world in which loud-and-proud LGBT films and characters are aplenty, but nuanced, flesh-and-blood protagonists that just so happen to be gay or bisexual are few and far between. From “High Art” to “Laurel Canyon” to her latest “The Kids Are All Right,” Cholodenko has proven herself more like a documentary filmmaker, painstakingly trying to present people on screen as they really are—complicated and messy, forever defying labels and bouncing out of boxes—as opposed to how we wish them to be or how they present themselves. Which, of course, is a damn hard sell.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

“The Rural Life and Spirit” at Rooftop Films

From glitzy, hipster-courting sponsors—including IFC Films and “New York” magazine—to the free flavored beverages (courtesy of Vitamin Water during the show) and free alcohol (courtesy of Radeberger Pilsner at the after-party around the corner), Rooftop Films Summer Series 2010, at first glance, seems to have taken a page from the slick playbook of the Gen Art Film Festival. There’s the indie band to warm up the crowd before the screening and a bulky program the size of “Interview” magazine. There are trailers for the IFC channel’s latest TV hit and for YouTube-sensation-turned-documentary-feature “Winnebago Man.” By the time the nine o’clock program finally rolls, inevitably fashionably late, you’ve nearly forgotten what you came there to see in the first place.

But then the sky goes dark, and one of the 23 features or 21 shorts programs included in this “14th Annual Summer Series of Underground Movies Outdoors” begins. And the magic of cinema slices right through the hype.

To read the rest visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.