East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, February 28, 2005

Critical hits: Better load that shotgun, Stephanie

According to Movie City News, Salon critic Charles Taylor was fired last week, which means one of two things: either Salon's broke yet again, or their new CEO Elizabeth Hambrecht is about to pull off her mask and reveal that she's really Lars van Trier. Poor Charley can't even try the Time Out trick of fooling his wife into thinking he's still going to work every day... It's impossible to imagine a writer of Taylor's ability not popping up again somewhere. But I'll still mourn the end of a wonderful relationship. Here's some of Charley at his best, which is his most acid:
  • On Guy Pearce: "All I could get from Pearce in L.A. Confidential was a stiff actor playing a dullard straight-arrow whose conflicts didn't go deep enough to seem interesting. [In Memento], done up in a shock of spiky, dyed-blond hair and various creepy tattoos (designed, it would appear, after Robert De Niro in Cape Fear), he's a blank, not even a man tormentedly trying to recover his past. He's so affectless that being a blank seems what he aspires to. The loss of short-term memory is his fulfillment."
  • On Hannibal: "[Ridley] Scott appears to think that if he shows us man-eating boars and spilling guts and cannibal gourmet dinners, and if he does it with studio production values, and if his source is a writer who has won not inconsiderable acclaim, then the result is not a crummy horror movie. Scott will undoubtedly get by with this farrago; audiences will almost certainly make it a hit, and that's almost enough to make you accept his and Thomas Harris' crummy view of humanity. The two of them are like the story's wild boar trainers: They've turned their potential audience into murderous swine. They're convinced that if they lure us in with human screams, we'll come a runnin', happy to gobble up whatever they've placed in front of us, to foul ourselves rooting around in the guts and the shit."
  • On Elephant: "Van Sant's defenders may claim that he's trying to show us the affectlessness of the teen killers. But depicting the attitudes of even the worst characters does not prevent a filmmaker from taking his own attitude toward them. It may look as if Van Sant is exercising discretion when two characters who have taken refuge in a meat locker back out of the frame and we see two hanging sides of beef while the kids are gunned down. But in Van Sant's scheme, the beef has as much distinction as the kids. This, I think, is what finally marks Elephant as a true exploitation movie. It's not that Van Sant is getting off on the killings or asking us to get off on them, but that he is simply using a real-life tragedy as fodder for his little art movie, and that he hasn't even done the thinking that would allow him to say there are no answers for these killings."
  • On Dogville: "If there's any irony to Dogville it's one that von Trier hasn't intended. The movie is being acclaimed as a great indictment of the incipient fascism in American life, or a powerful statement about human venality. And yet it's been made by a director who sees his job as that of a puppet master ('To give up control you have to trust somebody, and it's easier for me to convince females to do this, for some reason'), who is willing to sacrifice the talent on-screen and the characters they portray to the greater glory of his 'vision.' If von Trier's supporters are really concerned with the themes of power and freedom and enslavement he pretends to address, should they really be kissing the backside of the fascist behind the camera?"
Addendum: Matt Zoller Seitz is not happy: "What the fuck was Salon thinking when it fired Charles Taylor, intellectually serious film critic and one of the finest, funniest wordsmiths in American journalism? Will Salon, a haven for provocative criticism and fresh cultural commentary, now become yet another unpaid arm of the entertainment business, serving up 'features' that are actually long, snarky ads for the latest movies?"

For the sake of Matt's blood pressure, nobody show him what happened to Salon's music section.

Misunderestimates: Alias Grace

Brandon Gray's hypothesis is that Diary of a Mad Black Woman did so well because of its title. Panicking studios have announced these renamings of current releases:

Constantine -> Constantizzle
Cursed -> Cussed
Man of the House -> Brotha of Tha Crib
Sideways -> Tipsy
Million Dollar Baby -> 10,000 Benjamin Baby
Hitch -> This Movie Stars Will Smith

The Man with a Movie Camera: Dziga Call (to all my past resignations)

"The Man With the Movie Camera is at once a Whitmanesque documentary-portrait of the Soviet people, a reflexive essay on cinematic representation, and an ecstatic ode to human labor as a process of transformation." - J. Hoberman

in a strange way like Bunuel
deconstructed cinema into its elements
then recombined them into a new visual language
that constantly undermined those languages that already existed
a good Commie only needed to speak Russian
so Vertov was called out as bourgie
Bunuel here raises an eyebrow
and was eventually backed into making run-of-the-mill newsreels
his ideas were extended by Marker
oddly enough
Chaplin in "Modern Times"

Vertov's great Futurist movie was a silent
a hymn to progress made in a dying medium
Vertov's formal aim was to estrange viewers
from their learned ways of seeing the world
take the famous slo-mo shots of throwers and jumpers and vaulters
then as now
we were conditioned to watch sports to see who wins
Vertov makes the identity of the winner irrelevant
What matters is the physical act
and the joy of the athletes at their capabilities
all the jumpers get over the bar
Futurist theorist Aleksei Kruchenykh wrote of
"the world turned backwards"
film allowed Vertov to display causality in reverse
which admittedly Mack Sennett had done a decade earlier
the apotheosis of this family of techniques comes
when we see still frames
juxtaposed with the clips they were pulled from
a display of cinema's power
and a critique of the simplistic ways of seeing we prefer
and not just at the movies

(Yeah, I know I'm Not Dark Yet, but I'm getting there.)

Further reading: DVD Times review

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Box scores: My Big Fat Black Sermon

This weekend's estimates at Box Office Mojo.

Big winner: Diary of a Mad Black Woman, $22.7M (1483 theaters.) Religion sells: film fest programmers have known for ages that they can't go wrong by booking Buddhist movies, so why shouldn't the same hold true for Christian movies (Crix flix)? Meanwhile, critics who put up with all kinds of Zen bull shriek at any hint of Jesus. Nevertheless, as a supporter of universalist filmmaking, I take this latest success as a bad omen for the years to come. I still might see it - I've no doubt it's a mess, but so was Sweet Sweetback. Here's Matt Zoller Seitz's review; hopefully Armond will have something to add.

Big loser: Cursed, $9.6M (2805 theaters.) Don't release a horror movie in late February. Fanboys have already had to stay awake through Hide and Seek, Alone in the Dark and Boogieman (not to mention Constantine;) the market can only take so much bad horror. Christina Ricci might be a draw for the indie kids, but they ain't your target audience here.

Unavoiding the Oscars: The Last Temptation of Martin Scorsese

  • And what way of getting the ball rolling could be less auspicious than Oscar commentary? Red carpet coverage hosted by ABC's bunch of nobodies, including this unfortunate young woman who's telling Hilary how $1M Bebe was about achieving your dream. Wow, Warners really did a great job of stopping the spoilers from getting out. Annette seems tense. Jamie gives a cute little description of being up last night singing old Ray Charles songs - he won't forget the guy who gave him a role to play, unlike certain past winners. Halle is the best clotheshorse in the biz today. Oh man, I think they're gonna show "classic acceptance speeches." I'm out just in case they show Julia's...
  • I'm back in time for the main event. Rock gets the standing O; he's not gonna need to work hard tonight. Stop shouting, Chris. Love how Chris marvels at the number of black nominees this year and the camera cuts to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM (all four, out of a hundred and something). Pretty tame so far... oh wait, here's the political stuff. He's taking the "well you gotta admire Dubya because he's a punk and still got reelected" approach. Jeez, if you're gonna go that far you might as well come out and call Busch a wiener... Dang, that Passion joke was way too safe. If the audience wasn't on his side that would've stiffed... Not a great monologue, though I admire his being able to work in a Pootie Tang reference. Hardly William Buckley in any case... Art direction is first up; yes, having the nominees stand together on stage looks straight outta amateur hour. The Aviator deservedly gets the gong... Is it time for the Morgan Freeman lifetime achievement award already? Thomas Haden Church was better, but you can't say Morgan doesn't deserve it.
  • Giving Shark Tale a nom for animated feature is an embarrassment. The Incredibles is a lock, but I'm not quite sure why it's rated so far ahead of Shrek 2, although it's certainly cleaner in every way... Cate rocks in yellow. Giving out awards in the seats isn't as bad as having nominees stand in a police lineup. I don't have a dog in the makeup fight... which goes to Lemony Snicket... Beyonce does Franglish! The Frenchies where I'm watching are totallly cracking up.
  • Presenting Best Costumes: some guy who's lost his voice and Edna Mode. This makes my night worthwhile. Maybe I'm a sucker for Brad in armor, but I'm rooting for Troy here... instead it's another win for The Aviator... Scarlett looks hotter in the footage from the scitech ceremony... Can Cate hold off the love interest from Highlander II: The Quickening? Yes she can! She shout-outs the Even Greater Kate, bless her.
  • They were doing "we are now into the 161st day of the Academy Awards Broadcast" jokes back in Carson's time?... Born into Brothels takes the doc award, which I'm very pleased at - more people should see that movie... Editing: Go Collateral... but it's another one for The Aviator... Hell's temperature plummets, as Mike Myers quotes Bazin and Godard (who, Martin Scorsese note, have a total of zero Oscar noms between them.) Oh wait, it was just to set up a fart joke... This is the first time in five years I've been glad to see the Counting Crows.
  • Whoops, stepped out for a tick and missed Payne & Taylor collect for what's likely to be Sideways' only award for tonight. Before Sunset shoulda won of course, but "Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ethan Hawke" is too head-exploding for some to contemplate... Visual FX should go to Harry Potter... but instead goes to the more ostentatious Spider-Man 2... Yeah I know I'm outta touch when I complain about ostentatious FX... Al Pacino gives the lifetime gong to Sidney Lumet. At what point do they give up and give Marty one of these?
  • "The 77th Academy Awards: Where You Can Never Get Too Much Beyonce." If I had only one "anything but", it would go to that Lloyd-Webber song, which is so boring that it puts one of the short film nominees to sleep. Your never-to-be-seen-again shorts winners are "Ryan" and "Wasp"... I really don't see how anyone could not pick House of Flying Daggers over the other cinematography nominees... but once again, The Aviator comes up trumps.
  • I'd pick The Incredibles for both sound awards... Sound goes to Ray, which is fine with me, although how hard is it to make Ray Charles sound good? The Incredibles gets sound editing. The unholy alliance of Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana is under par for painfulness tonight.
  • Best short doc is "Mighty Times: The Children's March." I can't even guess what that's about... I was uncharacteristically fond of John Williams's score for Harry Potter; instead, the award goes to Finding Neverland. Friends of that movie sigh in relief at avoiding the shutout... Marty gets present the Humanitarian Award to Roger Mayer, supposedly for providing health care for washup-up actors, although both Marty and Mayer seem more interested in his film preservation work... It's "I see dead people" time, set to Yo-Yo Ma. Canny decision to put Reagan up first... and Brando last.
  • My complaints about Beyonce have aggrieved the gods, as they send her out with Josh freakin' Groban. If I had to pick a best song it'd be the Crows', though I'd just as soon have all five Lacunaed outta my memory. The song from The Motorcycle Diaries wins, and the composer promptly delivers the best singing of the night... Best Actress! A fine bunch this year, I'd go Winslet-Staunton-Bening-Swank-Moreno. Since Hilary will win, the real battle is for "loser who looks the most genuinely undisappointed" (or the Nicole Kidman award, as Chris Rock would have it.) That award goes to... Kate Winslet, showing who's really the best actress around at the moment. You'd think Hilary Swank would've given a better speech on the second attempt.
  • Rock's presenter intros have been much, much better than his monologue, as he introduces the first woman to breastfeed an Apple: Gwyneth Paltrow. She gives the foreign gong to The Sea Inside... All of the original screenplay nominees are good, but Eternal Sunshine is better than the other four put together... Charlie wins! And he manages to get on and off stage without falling over. Good for him.
  • Time for Jamie Foxx to join the A list... Wow. That acceptance speech is gonna lift his standing even more.
  • Right, it's time: head says Clint, heart says Marty. And it's... Clint. Well, that sews up Best Picture as well. Hard not to like him when he's pointing to his 96-year-old Mom in the audience. Don't go yet Clint... Dustin and Babs are presenting Best Picture - is that why they've been cutting to Dustin all night? He seems extremely disinterested. Your Best Picture of 2004: Million Dollar Baby. Geez, they nearly cut off the third producer guy. Clint won't stand for that nonsense.

The big winners: The Clintensteins; Saint Jamie's grandma; Queen Cate - best dressed; Chris Rock - everything after the monologue was fun; Jeremy Irons on hearing a gunshot-like noise: "I hope whoever that was, missed."

The big losers: Marty, who, need I remind you, made the best boxing movie ever; Actresses over 40; Sideways - only one gong, once more proving that critics don't win you Oscars; Me: I'll get funnier in a few weeks. I'd better.